Monday 27 April 2009

Review: Notorious

Year: 2009
Director: George Tillman Jr
Screenplay: Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker
Starring: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith, Derek Luke

Plot summary is here

Christopher Wallace (A.K.A The Notorious B.I.G, Biggie Smalls, Frank White etc) was my Kurt Cobain. I remember exactly where I was when he died. I used to walk with some friends to the bus stop to catch a coach to school. I had just made it around the girls house and the news ( Channel 4's Big Breakfast program) had come on announcing his death. The report then detailed how a truckload of rap artists had now brought bulletproof vehicles. Seriously, time fucking stopped.

I was 13 at the time and the news hit me for six. It was around that year I picked up Life after Death and got started to get into my hip hop. Bad Boy Record's helped shape one segment of my music listening tastes. Biggie and other are the reason I love East Coast Hip-hop over almost ANY other kind. So when I heard this movie was on it's way I had to watch it.

Now that I've shown you my bias...lets get on with the review. Notorious is SO cliched it's unbelievable. It's hard to watch a film like this after watching spoofs such as Walk Hard, because not only the latter film was so on point with it's piss takes, Notorious decides to almost follow them all. It's hard coming out of a movie like this when two of my favorite films of this year (The Dammed Utd and Frost/Nixon) have "biopics" in the loosest term of the word.

Wallace's life was a brief one it's still hard to place all the volatile elements of that life into two hours of film. Here the filmmaker try and do that, seemingly learning from T.V movies such as this*. One of the main differences between say Frost/Nixon and Notorious is quite simply focus. By concentrating on one moment in time Frost/Nixon provides an tense and dramatic film. Here we see Wallace struggle with jail, drug selling, infidelity, gang warfare you fucking name it. The film buckles under the strain with a script that glosses over insight to just a basic overview. Notorious' story works best when the focus remains on scenes of Biggie's relationship with one Tupac Shukar (One that has already been placed on film before). It's these moments are the most memorable due to Tupac's extreme personality which keeps his character from being a generic caricature.

However, lets not get things too twisted though as there's a lot of good here too. Despite the film's faults, The film helps by having Jamal Woolard in the lead role. After learning all of Biggie's raps and getting the vocal patten right, director George Tillman gets a solid performance out of the big man. Woolard not only looks the part but puts alot of effort into the role. If I want to nitpick about his turn...I'd say rap-wise it's easy to tell Jamal apart from The Notorious one simply because for a big guy Biggie pace and breath control was phenomenal. While Jamie Foxx has been impersonating Ray Charles on Kanye West songs, Woolard is at a tad slower than Wallace and it's probably to make sure he keeps the vocal sounding the same...which in all essence is fine.

Woolard carries the film by being likable to an audience that may still have no idea why they should give a damn. The most of the support give brave turns despite being mostly first timers or mostly unknowns. Naturi Naughton is feisty as Lil Kim while Antonique Smith is sweet as Faith Evans. Derek Luke gets Puff Daddys dancing down to a T while Marc John Jefferies makes the most out of a thankless Lil Cease role. Angela Bassett on the other hand is cruising on autopilot, you can almost see the producers shortlist for strong black mothers to have only her name on it.

Nototious is a typical rise and fall story that will probably only appeal to biggie fans which is a shame because the directors had a good chance to interest more people. Some sloppy storytelling stops the films from being as strong as it could be. 8 mile was a loose fictional account of aspects of Eminem's life but Curtis Hanson's economical direction shows how pull of a cliche movie with aplomb.

When Notorious gets it right however it's an entertaining movie. A lot of scenes carry good weight and I was never truly bored throughout the story despite knowing most of it. I love the music of course and despite the so much of the dialogue being crudely placed lines of biggies songs, it's not as cringe worthy as they could be. I've made this review a bit of a downer but please believe me when i say that I enjoyed the movie, just remember I'm a biggie fan.

It is unfortunate that the focus is as sloppy as it is. The scene's between Tupac and Biggie are short but more revealing than they seem to realise. If the filmmakers had worked more on that relationship and the bizarre and tragic circumstances I would have enjoyed the film even more.

Review: Observe and Report

Year: 2009
Director: Jody Hill
Screenplay: Jody Hill
Starring: Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Anna Faris

Film synopsis is here

Observe and Report is a Marmite film. I get the feeling that people will either vomit with rage/disgust or laughter after watching this film. For me I giggled my ass off. It's the kind of taboo comedy I like. The kind of comedy that lurks in the nasty corners of my mind, the comedy that says "you shouldn't laugh at this, but you are ain't you?!". It's also a comedy that hits home from a personal aspect.

The uncomfortable silences, the over long awkward moments, I enjoyed those moments but what made me laugh is the end of the film; a sudden moment of incredible violence occurs and a character is not reprehended in the slightest. I laughed....hard and i continued laughing after the film ended and I question what happened. No matter how disturbed the lead character becomes, he gets away with everything he does. I laugh because everyone seems fine with some of his outrageous aspects of character, no one (truly) questions him or provides correct help and yet he's allowed to do these things. It's funny because I've seen it happen. The element of truth behind the film is so close to the bone that it scrapes it.

The film constantly reminds me of certain elements of my life that have affected me in the last couple of years that amuse when you see the absurdity of it all*. So absurd, that one wonders...whose the more crazy? The nutjob or the people that allow it?

Writer/Director Jody Hill wanted to make a comedic version of Taxi driver and succeeds due to a comedic performance by Seth Rogen (supported with great turns by Liotta and Farris). Ronnie is a tirade of foul mouth comments, prejudice and visual tics. He's a timebomb waiting to snap and the simple fact that no one seems to recognise that I found hilarious. I hope to see Rogen take more chances with different material like this because it's as far removed from his usual happy go lucky stoner shtick he can get. I read a message board comment complaining that the role is no more than "a Will Farrell bit". Each to their own but I feel that the poster misses the point, as Rogen's role isn't a copy but more of a deconstruction of the Farrell man-child, played to the extreme and play to it's actual pitch. Farrell has made a rep of playing "lovable fools" Rogen's display shows the "man-child" for what it can be: a disturbed human being. Why is that funny? Because it's car crash cringe worthy....we all want to look away. We've all walked on the other side of road to the freaky bastard that talks to himself. Maybe I'm completely wrong but maybe it's funny because the joke is on us.

*Your not going to find out about my personal life.