Juice: 25th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (11th July 2017).
The Film

Ernest R. Dickerson is no stranger to the movies: he was the cinematographer on John Sayles’ film "The Brother from Another Planet" (1984), he also was the cinematographer on five Spike Lee films including "Malcom X" (1992) before stepping up to direct his first feature film, "Juice", but he is also a movie fan as we can discern Dickerson paying homage to the crime drama genre. Earlier in the film, he shows the boys of the “wrecking crew” hanging out at Steel’s (Jermaine Hopkins) house watching James Cagney lose it in the classic film, "White Heat" (1949), including the infamous “Top of the World, Ma” conclusion. During the film’s conclusion, Dickerson has a scene where former best friend’s Q (Omar Epps) and Bishop (Tupac Shakur) fight on top of a rooftop, and it mirrors a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s "Vertigo" (1958) where Jimmy Stewart tries to save the life of a fellow officer, but fails. Juice is a smart film that is filled with such moments that reflect upon how quickly innocence is lost on the city streets and how effortlessly the need for violence is solved with easy access to guns.

Bishop, Q, Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel are the best of friends, growing up together in Harlem. We see the four of them early on, starting their day, skipping school, hanging out at the local arcade, selling some weed, and generally living the life of a typical inner-city teenager. Dickerson shows us these teens’ home lives, their struggles with their parents, and how they navigate through the maze of basically growing up. The boys are not beyond petty crime as we see them boosting some new vinyl at a record store, but in general they seem to be good kids; we also see them being hassled by a Puerto Rican gang led by Radames (Vincent Laresca) and of course, the local cops. Essentially life is okay, but that is all about to change as Bishop decides that the crew needs to gain some juice by getting some street credibility. His plan is to rob a local store owner, and for that they are going to need a piece, because it is a well-known fact that Quiles (Victor Campos) is strapped. However not everyone is on board with this ill thought out plan: Q has his mind on a local DJ contest and he sees this as his chance to make it big while Raheem, the leader of the crew, is leaning towards Bishop’s frame of mind. All they need to make a stand is to obtain a gat, and that is no big deal because local dealer Sweets (Jacqui Dickerson) is always available for a rod.

None of this is groundbreaking material to be sure. We are all too familiar with this story, and so far, Dickerson has played it safe letting the scenes unfurl naturally until the night of the big contest. This is where we get to see Q in action as he masterfully scratches his way to the top round of the contest; afterward as he makes his way through the crowd, high fiving to all, he runs into his pals, but the looks on their faces is one of sure doom. They are no longer kids playing a game and they know it; this is the big time. The film feels more powerful as we approach the robbery scene; we are all too aware of the consequences of their actions, and Bishop, already referred to as crazy earlier on, is simply itching to bust a cap in someone. This is the moment when Dickerson slowly turns up the heat and as an audience; we can’t but help to squirm as the film proceeds to its own predictable death throes.

As the foursome approach the store wearing gloves and masks, we too are frightened for the boys. They are in well over their heads and they know it, but it is Bishop that pulls the trigger and kills the owner under a false assumption. The boys flee and take shelter in an alleyway; they are stunned by the actions of their friend, the adrenaline is pumping freely, and Raheem and Bishop get into it, but instead of simply fists flying, Bishop once again fires the pistol and kills Raheem dead. Now we have two fatalities, one a local merchant, and the other, a nice guy killed by his pal. Some people feel that they have no choice but to avail themselves to the easy power of a firearm, whereas others, like Q, know that there aren’t any easy answers to proving your manhood to your friends, your enemies, and your hood. “Respect has got to be earned” says Q at one point in the film, and he’s right, but Dickerson doesn’t pound us over the head with a moralistic message. He has set the stage and we watch the players make decisions and act accordingly. I couldn’t help, but think of Shakespeare and his play, "Richard III". Richard knows that he is doomed as well, but he is going to take as many others with him as he can, so too, does Bishop. Later, Bishop, who is well on his way to becoming a full-fledged sociopath, really shows his true colors at Raheem’s viewing by making a speech to Raheem’s grieving mother, telling her that Raheem was his best friend, in fact, he was his brother. While Bishop embraces the woman (Lauren Jones) he gives Q a knowing glance, which clearly signals that he is no one to have as an enemy. I, personally took delight in Tupac’s highly nuanced performance, and was impressed with his natural star like presence in the film. Dickerson clearly was aware of his choice of casting him in this role.

The police waste no time in rolling up on the boys, and they take them downtown to grill them as suspects, but the police aren’t showcased as being clichéd power figures, but as soldiers in a never-ending street war that they can’t win. It seems that the director’s message is that no one makes it out alive. We see Bishop playing it cool while under pressure, and he sets up some payback for Radames by telling the cops that he was most likely the perpetrator of Raheem’s murder. This leads to Radames and his boys cornering Bishop outside of the arcade and applying some street justice, but the scuffle is broken up by the police; Bishop easily shadows Radames into a nearby and empties the revolver into him. The body count is now at three.

Q tries to stay clear of Bishop, and he thinks that the best place to do so is by being in school; Bishop is too wise for that move and corners Q at his locker, telling him that yes, he is crazy, and that he doesn’t care about anyone else, including himself. Bishop is in full psychopath mode now, and he is a truly dangerous foe. The next one to go is the man of Steel. Lured into an alley by Bishop, Steel is an easy target, and Bishop shoots him in the chest, but somehow the big man pulls himself up and staggers out to the street, where he is wheeled into an awaiting ambulance. Q is on the run as well, but he sees the flashing red lights and is witness to Steel being saved. Q is now the only one left that knows the score. From the rooftops above, the ever-present Bishop looms, and he spies Q on foot trying to make it home. After a quick stop at Trip’s (Samuel L. Jackson) arcade, the local source for all street knowledge, Q sets up a final showdown with the menace called Bishop. They are to meet at midnight. Q is armed, but he disposes of his weapon, tossing it in the river, deciding in "High Noon" (1952) fashion to take on his old pal, man to man. Bishop approaches from behind with the pistol pointed at Q’s dome, but Q ain’t going out like that; he is a man and he is going to fight for what is right. Fists fly and the gun goes a flying, out of grasp, but only for a moment. Q takes to the streets and Bishop follows, with a hail of lead, and he wounds Q in the arm. Ducking into an open elevator that is crowded with party goers, Q and Bishop dead eye each other. “What are you going to do” Q asks, “Shoot me in the elevator?” Damn straight he is, and Bishop raises the gat and shoots. The elevator stops and the two tumble off into a hallway, the gun again knocked from Bishop’s grip; a bystander quickly grabs the piece and I thought to myself, there goes another homicide.

Next up was my favorite scene as the two men make their way into a crowded party, and as the camera follows Q, the soundtrack kicks in hard with Cyprus Hill's "How I Could Kill a Man." Bishop heads for the fire escape with Q in hot pursuit right behind him, and then they both are on the roof. Bishop no longer has a gun so he has to fight with his fists, but he still manages to crack Q with a board and a piece of pipe. The two struggle and then comes the climactic scene where Bishop goes over the edge; Q grabs Bishops hand and yells for him to hold on, but Bishop simply lets go and hurls into the darkness below. The camera pulls back to reveal the partygoers looking on in shock as Q shoulders his way through. An onlooker tells Q “Yo, You got the juice now, man" but Q shakes his head no. Q doesn't want that type of juice, not that way. As the end credits roll, we hear a DJ announce the latest track from a new artist, MC GQ; apparently Q has made the big time, in his own way.

“You gotta snap some collars and let them motherf**kers know you here to take them out anytime you feel like it! You gotta get the ground beneath your feet, partner, get the wind behind your back and go out in a blaze if you got to! Otherwise you ain't sh*t! You might as well be dead your damn self!” Bishop.

Video

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen mastered in 1080p HD 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, the film looks great with a color saturated palette of crisp reds, deep blues, and bright greens. The outdoor scenes look realistic and the interior scenes are well defined.

Audio

Two tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. The soundtrack of the film is an authentic winner and really helps define the time period; Hank Shocklee and The Bomb Squad supply the blueprint of the sounds that helped define the 90’s. Dialogue is clear and never overshadowed; the soundtrack supplies the beats for the film. The soundtrack did very well, and made it to #17 on the Billboard 200. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French, and Spanish.

Extras

Paramount has released this film with an audio commentary, a series of featurettes, and a collection of stills in a photo gallery. Below is a look at these supplements.

First up is the audio commentary by director Ernest R. Dickerson throughout the film as a secondary audio track.

"You’ve Got the Juice Now" featurette (19:11), a feature on the roots of the story with the director and the prevalence of gun violence; “the spiral of violence.” This short feature includes edited scenes from the film to illustrate various points. Includes comments from the producers and cast members.

"The Wrecking Crew" featurette (23:44), how a cast of unknowns came together to form the basis of the wrecking crew and how it all worked out to their advantage. Features brief interviews with the cast and director. Includes some scenes with the celebrities that are in the film as well.

"Sip the Juice: The Magic" featurette (12:50), features an interview with Hank Shocklee regarding the soundtrack that they helped produce; they talk about how the beats they devised were completely new and fresh for the soundtrack.

"Stay in the Scene: The Interview" featurette (22:42), features the four actors on the set speaking about their roles, the auditions, the basic story, the locations used. The personalities of all four actors easily shine through.

Photo gallery are a collection of 41 stills from the film.

Overall

Juice never looked better, now available in Blu-Ray for the first time. The extras are rather long and a bit tedious, plenty of praise for Tupac Shakur and the director Ernest R. Dickerson.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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