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Straight Out of Brooklyn
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Burbling below the surface of the independent film scene is a huge backlog of low-budget films that's slowly making its way to DVD. Two Brooklyn films from the 90's have been released recently in unheralded, modest editions: Gravesend and Matty Rich's Straight Out of Brooklyn. Both films portray the outer borough frustrations of disaffected youth and gritty urban violence and both spawned minor controversies. In the case of Straight Out of Brooklyn the controversy came after the fact. Like Gravesend, Straight Out of Brooklyn was created by an extremely young director (Matty Rich was 17 when he began work on the film and was only 19 when it received its theatrical distribution) with no industry connections and a total outsider upbringing. And like Sal Stabile, the director of Gravesend, Rich rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But more on that later.
The story of Straight Out of Brooklyn is one of urban frustration and anger. Dennis Brown (Larry Gillard Jr) lies awake at night in his Red Hook housing project home listening to his father, Ray (George Odom, a cross between Redd Foxx and Ol Dirty Bastard), beat his mother (Ann D. Sanders), smash their meager furniture and rant about how the world has mistreated him. "Damn the white people!" screams Ray in a performance that mixes unhinged desperation and over-the-top melodrama. There is a real sense that Ray is crazy with undirected rage and his outburst kicks the film off in an uncomfortable way. The rest of this short film (it runs under 80 minutes) consists of various family conflicts and Dennis' not surprising plan to recruit his two best friends (Kevin, played by Mark Malone, and Larry, played by director Rich) to break out of the ghetto by performing that time-honored urban movie ritual: Robbing a local hood. While this plot trajectory may be tired, the film stands out for some of its more raw elements.
The acting is largely amateurish but there's an energy to it that often (if not always) helps overcome stilted line readings. Gillard (who recently played the incredibly underwritten Jimmy Spoils in Gangs of New York) is fine as the constantly pissed off Dennis but the strongest performances are from Odom who plays the father as a violent shell of a man and Rich himself, whose Larry calls himself "Larry Love" and would rather work at a gas station than plan a robbery.
Even though the film's plot is not developed in much detail there are some moments of emotional complexity that add to the film's impact. Perhaps one of the most surprising moments finds Dennis' mother defending her husband's abusive behavior. He just wants to provide for his family, she quietly states, just like any other man. The psychology of a scene like this is dense with turmoil, self-blame and justification. "Your daddy is one of the most wonderful people on the face of the Earth," she says, minutes after he beat the crap out of her. Similarly the two are shown tenderly dancing to some R&B later in the film.
Insight like that is impressive for such a young director. Even when the film is uneven or the plot underdeveloped, Rich shows that he has an ability to get at tough material and characterizations. Still, the director hasn't grown into a seasoned pro in the decade since. His follow-up to Straight Out Of Brooklyn, 1994's The Inkwell was legendary for strife: Trey Ellis, the author of the book Inkwell was based on, took his name off the project (replacing it with "Tom Ricostronza," which roughly translated into Italian as something foul) and Rich's reportedly impetuous behavior on the film led to his total lack of a career. Still, for its faults, Rich's first film stands as a testament to what a young filmmaker with a vision can achieve.
The anamorphic widescreen video is reasonably good considering the low budget origins of the film. The picture is a bit soft and colors are somewhat dull. But print damage is limited and compression isn't really a problem.
The film's Dolby Digital Mono audio is hobbled by the rough source material. Dialog was apparently poorly recorded and often sounds canned or muddy. The soundtrack overall has a very limited range and isn't particularly engaging from a technical stand-point. EXTRAS:
Just a trailer. FINAL THOUGHTS:
Straight Out of Brooklyn is a raw film that feels somewhat incomplete. Compared to more eloquent (and slick) debut efforts like Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society, Straight Out of Brooklyn feels unfinished. Still, there are truths in the characters and the way they relate to one another. Not the definitive ghetto movie, it's an impressive debut from a director who's done little since.