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Juice (4K Ultra HD)
Ernest R. Dickerson graduated from Spike Lee's cinematographer to feature filmmaker with this 1992 drama, which spotlights four black teenagers living in Harlem. The film benefits from strong performances and solid cinematography but does not have quite the impact of contemporaries Boyz N the Hood or Menace II Society. Shot on location in Harlem, Juice marks the big-screen debut of enigmatic rapper Tupac Shakur, who portrays quasi-villain Roland Bishop, a man who becomes addicted to a fast, violent lifestyle. Before breaking bad, Bishop spends time with friends Quincy "Q" Powell (Omar Epps), Raheem Porter (Khalil Kain) and Eric "Steel" Thurman (Jermaine Hopkins) doing what boys do; cutting class, hitting on women and spending time in local arcades and record stores. Juice is part drama and part thriller; a film about what happens when young men turn to violence to impress their contemporaries. Tupac's Bishop becomes the trigger-happy boogeyman, and his former buddies scatter and run for their lives.
The film's opening moments are strong, set to the beat of Eric B. and Rakim's "Know the Ledge," and spotlight the busy Harlem streets where our four young friends are raised. Each man has struggles at home, hopes and dreams, and a definitive personality. Bishop is bullied by a local street gang and, while the rest joke it off, becomes increasingly angry at his surroundings. He concocts a plan to rob a local convenience store and get some respect - "the juice" - in the street, and his three friends reluctantly agree to participate. Q worries Bishop's exploits will rob him of a burgeoning DJ career and is shocked when Bishop quickly escalates the robbery into a bloody mess. The group flees and deals with police, but the men now fear Bishop as much as they do prosecution. Bishop knows he has dirt on the rest and refuses to let them quietly part ways.
Dickerson, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps the proceedings moving for the brief 95-minute running time. There is a lot of humor in early scenes that is replaced by fear and anxiety as Juice charges toward the climax, and the film certainly unravels a bit, losing some of its appeal, as things go south for the Wrecking Crew. Q dates a recently separated woman, Yolanda (Cindy Herron of R&B group En Vogue), who encourages him to use tragedy as motivation and leave Bishop and his lifestyle behind. Q also realizes that he will have to confront a rapidly declining Bishop, who tells Q plainly, "Here's the thing, I don't give a fuck." Bishop does not care about his buddies or himself and has no problem becoming another statistic.
The on-location photography, Dickerson's keen eye for framing and a solid soundtrack, which also features Cypress Hill, Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty By Nature and Too Short, strengthen the material. The lead performances are good, especially those of Epps and Shakur, who manages to make a downright unlikeable character compelling. The filmmakers auditioned a host of other men for the Bishop role but did not find a match. Shakur was present with a friend and auditioned without time to prepare, ultimately winning the part. On the included bonus featurettes, members of the cast and crew remember Shakur as generous, warm, and funny; and clearly are still affected by his violent 1996 murder. The studio strong-armed Dickerson into tweaking the ending of the film, something that hurts the final product but that is not a fatal flaw. Juice offers strong performances and timely dramatic elements and is certainly worthy of your attention.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
The film makes its jump to 4K a few years after a Blu-ray upgrade with a 1.78:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer from a native 4K source and featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10. This is not a slick, clean film by design, but the 4K does good job managing the grain structure, providing a natural, cinematic presentation throughout. Fine-object detail is strong, from the textures of costumes to facial features to the details of the apartments and bars frequented. There are occasional moments where grain appears denser, particularly in a few nighttime scenes, but this is likely a source issue. Colors are often robust and quite striking thanks to the HDR pass. The opening titles are an example, as are some of the costumes, like the striking red jacket a young woman wears in an early scene. Colors do not bleed, skin tones are accurate, and highlights are kept in check. Black levels are generally good, with minimal crush. I did notice a couple of areas where macroblocking or compression artifacts popped up. This only happened occasionally, and this is otherwise a nice presentation.
Audio is presented in a good, if slightly anemic, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and I am happy to report I heard no problems like hiss or distortion. This is a fairly front-loaded mix, and there is not much surround action, even when popular music selections play. Some light ambient effects waft through the surrounds in crowded settings, but action-oriented sequences feel a bit restrained. English SDH and French subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release includes a digital copy. A glossy slipcover wraps the black 4K case. Extras include an Audio Commentary by Ernest R. Dickerson; You've Got the Juice Now (19:12/HD), a nice retrospective about the production; The Wrecking Crew (23:44/HD), about the main cast; Sip the Juice: The Music (12:51/HD); and Stay in the Scene (22:43/HD), a vintage interview with the four leads.
Ernest R. Dickerson's Juice features timely themes and becomes a thriller as late rapper Tupac Shakur's character assimilates into the violence of his community and turns against his friends. Released on 4K Ultra HD for its 30th Anniversary, the film is not as powerful as some of its cotemporaries but is still solidly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.