Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film Review: Notorious

Film Review: "Notorious"
Brooklyn Rap on Inauguration Day

by Eric Green

Somehow it was poetic justice to watch "Notorious" on the same day as watching the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. And, watching the film in a Brooklyn theatre where Notorious B.I.G. was well known to the almost, 4pm, full house audience; that made the film experience even more important.

A Family Affair

The incredible part of the film is the involvement of so many people who were close to the lead character, Christopher Wallace, aka, Notorious B.I.G; or as he was professionally known, Biggie Small.

The film was a creation of a major figure in the Hip Hop world, Sean "Puffy" Combs, and the mother of the lead character, Voletta Wallace. In the film the great Angela Bassett played Voletta Wallace. Wallace was, and is, a middle strata Jamaican woman who gained her graduate degree during the course of her son's brief life.

His real life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, whose mother is, the singer, Faith Evens, the only love interest that B.I.G. married, played the 8-13 year old Christopher Wallace. In his short 24 years, he fathered two children. Antoinette Smith plays Evans.

The director of film, George Tillman, Jr., previously directed, Men of Honor, a film in which he directed icons of Hollywood, Robert DeNiro, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Charlize Theron. This film was probably a more challenging directing effort since he had to direct a brand new crew of actors and actresses in a film which he had to deal with highly difficult, super charged event in music industry, that is, the era of the Gangster Rap---the 1990s.

Tillman made it possible for Jamal Woolard a Rap singer, but new actor to play this lead role and steering him to accurately portray this music icon was a great job.

Was this film an accurate description of that period, or just one that Combs and Mrs. Wallace wanted to portray? Did the writers Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodair Coker get it right?

Well, the film certainly had the feel of an accurate film effort. And, by seeing the responses to the film they seemed to have done a great job.

One key figure in that rough, mostly male world was, and is, Lil Kim a Brooklyn singer who had a love relationship to B.I.G. Naturi Naughton played Lil Kim. [Naughton is an honor student at Seton Hall University in New Jersey where she majors in Political Science.] She was amazing and could have stolen the show. Her singing, emotions and physical dimension made her Lil Kim. That Lil Kim is still alive and singing probably made this all the more difficult.

East Coast West Coast

I have to make a clear disclaimer. I know almost nothing about the Rap, in this case, Brooklyn Rap period, with its music and artists. I watched like many others the tragic outcome of the infamous deadly fight between the West Coast singers; lead in part by the murdered icon Tupac Shakur and the East Coast lead, in part, by B.I.G.

Sean "Puffy" Combs is credited with discovering B.I.G. and plays a key role throughout the film. He is well played by Derek Luke..

The raw depiction of those events didn't pull any punches. Sometimes it was hard to watch. Sort of reminded me of "The Wrestler" in that regard.

The Records

B.I.G.'s released two albums. The first "Ready to Die" in 1994; and, the second was released two days after he was killed, in 1997, "Life After Death." The latter record has grossed over $10 million. During the film Christopher Wallace performed the songs and many in the audience sang along; yes, an old fashion sing-a-long.

Obama and Cosby

Both President Barak Obama and actor, Bill Cosby, will probably see this film…they should. They are both highly concerned and have voiced that concern about the abandonment of children fathered by Black men. This film has that dimension, but on more than one occasion, the writers, directors and actors made it clear toward the end of the film, that changing the typical reality had to take place. B.I.G. seemed to be moving in that direction before he was killed.

In one poignant scene, h told his daughter, after cursing out a woman, using the "B" word liberally, that she should never allow a man to call her that "B" word. He used the full word in both instances.

This is a crude, difficult film to see, but it is a must see. The interplay between the street drug industry and the music industry is well put. Both are seen as making a living when no other good jobs are immediately available.

The cinematography of the film was very different, but very well done. The Brooklyn scenes were clear and to the point. The Brooklyn Bridge never looked so good.

This film shows that the struggle ahead and avenues for change won't be easy, but that road will be traveled.

Could this film been made better? The better question would be did Tillman and everyone else associated with the film do a good, if not very good, job in fitting the short, but life filled life of Christopher Wallace into a 2-hour film time frame? I vote yes.

In the closing credits, each of the main characters of the era is shown both in their real photos and the actors who played them. This was very well done.

NOTE: Lastly, Christopher Wallace kept a close relationship with his mother. He is seen congratulating her on her successful college; and, in her struggle against breast cancer. When Voletta tells him that she has breast cancer, he tells a close friend and is overwhelmed with fear for her future. His friend told him that his mother died of breast cancer. Public health and medical people familiar with this breast cancer know that the prevalence of breast cancer among Black woman is well above all other sections of women.