DAR Films: Director F. Gary Gray

Introduction by @TrueGodImmortal
-Now, in film, there are many directors who never truly get their just due. Some directors prove to be inconsistent over the years, while others just float under the radar. Being prolific as a director usually means big blockbusters or Oscar nominated films in this day and age, but for director F. Gary Gray,  it has always been about making something with replay value. Something that identifies with the people and cult classics if you will. Nothing fits that description more than "Friday", his first feature film after directing a slew of music videos. To be fair, his music video output almost exceeds his film work, but also showcases his versatility as a director. Today, the team gathers to talk about F. Gary Gray, his films, his directorial prowess and the future.

F. Gary Gray is responsible for some of your favorite movies and there’s just no denying that. Even if they aren’t your favorites, you’ve seen them or know someone who’s seen them. Behind only John Singleton, Gray is one of my favorite directors. He’s been consistent with his work and he hasn’t exhausted the possibilities with his craft.

If he never decided to direct another film, Gray struck gold with his 1995 debut, Friday. The hood classic starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker is one movie that many can quote line for line. What I love most about it is the small factors that make the movie. Gray so eloquently places different pieces in the movie that one might not immediately catch. For example, Joy had a guy lying beside her in bed when she called to give Craig a hard time. Gray perfectly gave the audience of what could be an ordinary Friday in South Central. Although two sequels emerged from it, Gray’s magic didn’t grace them.

The next year, Mr. Gray took a different approach to life in California. His sophomore project, Set It Off, followed four women who took on the position as bank robbers to survive. Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica Fox, and Kimberly Elise starred as the ladies who each had a different reasoning behind their motives. Gray made sure their stories were told. Set It Off had just enough grit and passion to keep the audience involved.

Gray's resume extended even more as he worked with Oscar-nominated actors and actresses. With movies like The Negotiator, The Italian Job, and A Man Apart, the director moved into a different echelon of professionals. In 2009, Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler starred in one of my personal favorite movies, Law Abiding Citizen. This thriller was one like I've never seen. The way Gray brought us into the mind of a killer was pure brilliance.

2015 was another great year for him. He directed a film called Straight Outta Compton that depicted the life of the rap group NWA. Gray previously worked with Ice Cube on Friday. This time, Cube's son played his father in the movie. To date, the project has made over $200 million worldwide. Gary will be directing Fast 8 in 2017. I'm curious to see how he'll add his touched the latest installment of that series.

F. Gary Gray is one of the most talented directors, in my eyes, because of his range. He's not confined to just one style and that's amazing in this day and age. You know he has vision for the films and he makes sure to tells each of his stories the right way.

So I've, like everyone else here, have been tasked with discussing F. Gary Gray and his career. You can't discuss him, though, without talking his music video career.

This is the guy who directed "It Was a Good Day," "Ms. Jackson," and "Waterfalls." He also directed "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time," the R. Kelly track that was so much better than the video (sorry) and "Show Me What You Got." But, that's forgiven when you've got CGI water people that turn into Left Eye and, in some wonky way, an almost-prequel to Friday in his work with Ice Cube.

In 1995, Gray transitioned to film and his first two films, Friday and Set It Off, are both "urban classics" (read: black people love the shit out of it and were saying "Bye Felicia" about two decades before it crossed over) and the rare "urban classic" that crossed over. Set It Off was like if Thelma and Louise had black babies raised by the Dead Presidents cast. Is that a cliched way to look at the film? Yes. But, if you haven't seen it, there's a reason to see it. Queen Latifah robbing banks and trying to avoid being arrested.

Friday, on the other hand? It's fuckin' Friday. That's all you really need to say. I really wish they would've gotten F. Gary Gray to direct the sequels. That way, Friday After Next may've been saved. But, at least, out of FAN, we got "Top Flight Security of the WORLD, Craig" and stuff.

After these two classics, we got The Negotiator. If you ever wanted to see Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson take on corrupt cops and not have it seem like a sketch from Chappelle's Show, this is your movie. It's more than that, but it's a great flick. It's shot well, F. Gary Gray managed to get the most out of what he was given. Plus, it's one of the few Samuel L. Jackson movies from the 80s and 90s where he didn't die and wasn't a drug addict of some sort.

After taking some time off from directing films, F. Gary Gray returned in 2003 with two films: The Italian Job and A Man Apart. A Man Apart wasn't really that good. Even Gray's stylistic approach couldn't save it from being a cliched piece of drivel. The soundtrack was decent though. Meanwhile, The Italian Job featured fast cars, convincing characters, slick shots, and more. It was Fast 5 through Fast 8 before those things were things. It's probably why (along with, ya know, Straight Outta Compton) that F. Gary Gray's directing Fast 8. It was a movie that helped turn Mark Wahlberg into an action star.

And then we got Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty. Such a cluttered clusterfuck. But, at least Gary owns its failures. Apparently, per an interview with Deadline.com, F. Gary Gray said that because he was floating on Cloud 9 over The Italian Job's success as a PG-13 film, when Be Cool got the same rating aim, he was like "fuck yeah, let's do this." This is after the film was originally supposed to be an R. You can't really do loansharks and gangsta rappers with a PG-13 and have it come out realistic enough to save the movie. So, kudos for owning that failure.

F. Gary Gray got back an R-rating with Law Abiding Citizen. ...it at least looked nice, even if the plot was like something the Cinema Snob would review. Speaking of which, if you ask me "was it really that bad," I'd just laugh at you. Sure, it made $126 million worldwide. So the fuck what? The Last Airbender made close to $320 million. It was still a steaming pile of "What the fuck?"

After taking another respite to just be F. Gary Gray, he returned with Straight Outta Compton. While not a completely comprehensive story of the origins of N.W.A., it did wonders with what it was given. Gray's style made it feel more like Friday than Ray, and that helped capture the essence of N.W.A. more than many directors would've been able to.

So, there you have it. Some classics with a couple miscues. However, the man can direct his ass off. And while I'm still like "why Fast 8?," in his hands, I think it'll do well.

I think the whole entire world was taken by storm when Hollywood announced the release of the biopic “Straight Outta Compton". What a brilliant rap group to focus on and bring the story to life and of course the person to thank for it is none other than F. Gary Gray.

Gray has done tremendous work and has directed some amazing movies, but I’ll get to those in a second. Straight Outta Compton I believe is the highest grossing and most successful project under his belt. I do think the successes are something to be noted as he not only broke records in the opening weekend with SOC, but he also became the highest grossing African American director AND has been recognized and been awarded for bringing social awareness to films.

Other projects he’s credited for are Set it Off, The Negotiator and The Italian Job (amongst others) which are some of my favorite movies. The common thread here is “heist” style and Gray has this impeccable ability to bring intricate storylines and characters to life while incorporating a perfect amount of dramatic effect (think: Neibaum getting shot in the Negotiator, or when Cleo is finished in Set It Off). Gray's talent is definitely in the details, they are subtle, but add a profound and obvious effect to storylines. I point these things out because he didn't write these movies, nor did he cast the actors/actresses, he truly just did the best possible job as a director.

It doesn't end there, as Gray is also responsible for directing music videos like TLC's "Waterfalls" and "Diggin On You" as well as Outkast's "Ms. Jackson" from a very long list of tracks. Needless to say, F. Gary Gray has had a hand in bringing to life some of the greatest and all time favorite movies and videos!

Outro by @TrueGodImmortal 
-Now, is F. Gary Gray a legendary director? I personally would say yes. While not as prolific or championed as a Scorsese, Tarantino, or even a John Singleton in some ways, he has garnered some classics and staked his claim as a force in Hollywood, especially after Straight Outta Compton. He has a crossover cult classic in Friday, what feels like an underground cult classic in The Italian Job, another classic in Set It Off, along with one of the most praised and loved biopic films in Straight Outta Compton. Add in the long stretch of videos and you have one hell of a career.



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