Bluehill Avenue (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is an ambitious attempt to create an African-American version of Once Upon a Time in America. (Not at all to the point, but interesting, is the fact that the two films are connected by actor William Forsythe.)

Four youngsters are shown growing up in south Boston, and eventually slipping into an adult life of drug dealing, ultimately going head-to-head with the usual black crime boss (Clarence Williams III, the guy from the original Mod Squad!) and the mandatory corrupt white cops (including Wishmaster!). As adults, they are sharply dressed at all times, suave with the babes, and inherently honorable despite their choice of professions. In other words, they are highly romanticized gangsters, like the ones in the old-time movies.

As befits its innately romantic world view, it is quite an elegantly filmed movie, and the four main actors did a good job. In fact, it includes some fairly interesting characters among the four boys who grew up on the streets together, and some sexy nudity from the women. It has some very good elements, but when push came to shove, distributors just felt that the film was too derivative and that its weltanschauung was too old-fashioned. Therefore, the general conclusion among potential distributors was that the potential audience was too small for the expense of theatrical promotion and distribution. The film languished in distribution limbo for a couple of years, then went straight to DVD.

Despite those liabilities, it's a pretty damned good watch. I watched it, got absorbed, liked it, even went back to listen to some of the commentary. The film's weaknesses did not prevent me from enjoying a generally well crafted film. There were only two things that kept me from really liking it a lot:


  • Latamra Smith - breasts and buns
  • Wanda Arab - breasts, as a stripper

DVD info from Amazon

  • Excellent DVD transfer in terms of photographic quality, but it played back for me at the wrong aspect ratio.

  • it played back as widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, but everything was stretched horizontally. It should have played back 4:3

  • Commentary by director Craig Ross Jr., and actors William L. Johnson, and Aaron D. Spears.

  • Deleted scenes with commentary

  • Behind-the-scenes/final shot comparisons

  • The "Blue Hill" interviews

1. The film has no humor and shows no light sides of the personalities of the main characters. It just takes itself very seriously throughout, and that makes it all seem to lack depth and appear one-dimensional. But I liked that dimension, even if it was based on the whole romantic "noble gangster" myth.

2. Some of the locations, especially in the opening credits, look really semi-tropical and nothing like Boston. The IMDb says it was filmed in Boston and New Brunswick, but I think some of it must have been filmed in L.A. or Miami.

There's a lot of talent behind this film, and you can expect these filmmakers to move farther through the distribution channel with their future efforts. This director and his cinematographer have talent, and have good films in them if they find the right script.

The Critics Vote ...

  • 39/100 . Too low, in my opinion. The film's quality is better than reflected in this metacritic score, but not as high as reflected in the current near-classic 6.9 at IMDb.

The People Vote ...

  • Budget $1.2m.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. One of the best gangster dramas about African-Americans. It could have been even better with a more realistic attitude and better rounded characters, but it has many positives.

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