Saturday, January 24, 2009

"And If You Don't Know, Now You Know" Notorious Review

"We can't change the world unless we change ourselves." That is the motto echoed throughout George Tillman Jr.'s inspiring new film, Notorious, which follows the life and death of one of the greatest rappers of all time, Biggie Smalls.

As usual, skepticism seeps in when one thinks of a film that will be created based on a famous person's life, especially one as legendary as Biggie. The thought is will the film do him or her justice. Well, Notorious did in ways I did not expect.

Once again the music was the core element to hold the film together. The most memorable scenes in the movie were either the performances or the ones that that had his songs blaring in the background. From his first street freestyle battle to Biggie's Yardfest debut performance (the mock fighting scene was hilarious!), I was bobbing my head to the music the entire film.

Even more amazing was Jamal Woolard's portrayal of Biggie himself. Although Woolard was not as "fat, black and ugly" as Biggie, he definitely had his soul. Everything from his breathy (from asthma), booming voice (had to use cotton balls in his mouth) to his mannerisms and his walk was exuding from Woolard. If you closed your eyes, you would think it was Biggie in the flesh.

Not only did he look and sound like Wallace, Woolard gave a likable quality to Biggie even when he was not always likable. He has this sense of humor that one would not normally think of when looking at Smalls (e.g. scene in which he tells off his teacher). With his many contradictions and flaws, the audience by the end of the movie still felt that deep down he was a nice guy. Despite how he treated Lil' Kim , cheating on Faith, sometimes neglecting his daughter T'yana and his drug dealing, I felt he was always trying to change and make himself better than his circumstances.

The rest of the cast in general provided okay support for Woolard, even though sometimes their performances did not seem as believable or were underdeveloped. Angela Bassett (one of my favorites a musical biopic legend herself from What's Love Got to Do With It. She should have won the Oscar!), stars as Biggie's mother, Volletta Wallace and again gives a strong performance as an important figure in Biggie's life. However, I had a problem with Angela's fake Jamaican accent; it did not really work.

Derek Luke's Puff Daddy (aka Sean Combs aka Puffy aka P. Diddy aka Diddy. He's as bad as Prince!) was what I thought it would be. At first, I could not see Luke as the extremely ambitious producer, but he semi pulled it off enough to believe he could be Puffy. Still I wish I could have seen more of his personality like his supposed hot-headedness. Antonique Smith, who plays Faith Evans, was not very memorable besides the scene where she smacks some white girl that Biggie slept with all over the room (hilarious scene!).

On the other hand, the choices for the two characters, Lil' Kim and Tupac, I did not like it all. Both actors did not seem right for the role. Even though she was trying to show her vulnerability, Naturi Naughton's Lil' Kim was too soft and she was trying too hard when it should have come naturally. Plus, the sex scene between her and Jamal is awkward to say the least.

Tupac's character, played by Anthony Mackie, was not much better. Although it was important to show that Biggie and Tupac were friends and the incident that led to the end of the relationship anf the stupid East Coast/West Coast battle, Mackie just failed to portray that revolutionary, poetic thug essence of Tupac.

Only the other lesser know characters were really good in the film. Lil' Cease (Marc John Jeffries), D-Roc (Dennis "L.A." White) and little Christopher Wallace (his son Christopher Wallace Jr.) were more interesting than the other characters. Marc was the comic relief and great protege to Biggie. I liked the White's character; he was the friend who was a bad influence, but willing to take the fall for his friend to get ahead (during a drug bust). Finally, Christopher was cute and definitely is Biggie's son.

So, even though the supporting characters are lacking, Jamal Woolard holds the movie up enough for the audience to enjoy it. The story may have innacuries and does not go into depth often (Can you blame them? It is a 2 hour movie. If they did, then it would be 10 hours.), I did learn a lot about Biggie's life (e.g. his mother had breast cancer, he was actually a good student, he was jailed for drug possession, his friend took the rap for him, how Tupac and Biggie's friendship ended, etc.)

The movie does re-introduce fans to the rapper and intoduces new fans to him and inpire them to look up information on his life. Basically, Biggie was a man with a story to tell and we were willing to listen.

3.0 out of 5

(Rated R for nudity, cursing, sex scenes, etc.)

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