Pan & Scan Welcome to PAN & SCAN where you will find film reviews of some of Hollywood's latest productions.

These reviews were originally written for and hosted @ AbsoluteWrite. A terrific website run by Jenna Glatzer which focuses on all types of writing.


The Wood   Starring: Omar Epps & Sean Nelson

  Genre: Drama/Comedy

  Running Time: 106 Minutes

  Rating: Rated R for language & sexuality.

  Video Release: 18 January 2000

  Tagline: "From boyhood to manhood, you can always
       count on your best friends."

The Wood is USC grad Rick Famuyiwa's feature film debut. Unlike many collegiate turned pro filmmakers (who prefer the edgy or artsy) Famuyiwa has directed his energy into a bittersweet coming-of-age tale from his days in the middle-class neighborhood of Inglewood, CA.

The film opens in present day California where Roland (Taye Diggs) is missing in action three hours before his wedding. Long time friends Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) are set to the task of finding their AWOL buddy and return him before the ceremony is to commence. They find Roland, drunk as a skunk, at his ex-girlfriend’s (Tamala Jones) home and now have the obligatory job of sobering him up and getting him back before anyone realizes he is missing. What follows are the three friends reminiscing (via flashback) about their past experiences as Roland ponders over the freedom he's to lose and the new life that awaits him.

Flashbacks and voice-overs are two devices that have been beaten to death, yet are quite effective when used properly. Such is not the case here. The majority of the film is actually set within a flashback, so while the 1999 scenes are suppose to be the focus, the younger versions of Mike, Roland and Slim (set between 1986 and 1989) are far more compelling. Another played out device is breaching the proverbial "fourth wall" where the characters talk directly to the audience (Think "Wayne’s World"). While The Wood begins with Mike addressing the camera, it doesn’t last very long -- a smart move by the director.

Examining the 1999 scenes, the adult versions of the trio are interesting only because we have grown to know and understand them during their youth (via the fb). While there are several humorous scenes, it is Jones’s portrayal as the quick-witted and sharp tongued Slim who steals the show. The only time he is upstaged is when the equally vivacious Tanya (the ex-girlfriend) is featured, who can hang with the boys but is never vulgar in her delivery.

One scene, in particular, is quite comical (especially if you’re a Seinfeld fan) when the three leads are butt naked as they rinse themselves off with a garden hose and experience "shrinkage." I could hear George Costanza screaming from here: "I told you so!" -- but I digress.

The meat of this film indeed lies in the flashbacks where the younger version of the trio find themselves grappling with friendship, sex, and the turbulent emotions of adolescence. We track their adventures through the years, from junior high to junior prom, yet the only difference between the two time periods is who could "grab the booty" and later, who could "get the booty" first. Despite its location in "gangsta" territory, the trio is more concerned with prepping for school dances and getting girl's numbers and while the director briefly touches on the negative aspects of the hood, it's hardly at the head of the story.

Yes, The Wood should be applauded for the above, though it will more likely be stigmatized for focusing on the younger trio’s obsession with the opposite sex. It is this element that will attract more teenagers than anyone else, forcing this film into the same category as a dozen other teen sex farces. The film does try to enrapture an adult audience -- in particular, adult males -- by featuring these three intelligent, 20-something men who have formed a close instinctive bond. But they are mere mechanisms through which the real story transpires.

The Wood is effective for its refusal to resort to exploitative stereotypes making this an uplifting experience for audiences of all ethnic backgrounds. The coming-of-age tale is hardly a new one and the flashback sequences unfold haphazardly causing the transitions to be a bit on the bumpy side. Looking beyond that, a new director has decided not to take the easy (read as "marketable") route by following the lead of other films on inner city violence. Instead, he has channeled his vision (via Mike's coming-of-age exploits) with camaraderie and compassion, focusing on positive events that will hopefully wear off on other future filmmakers.

Because of this, I was overall pleased with the film and gave it a "3."

© Terrence J. Brady

The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).