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DVD Review: Notorious

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Most people who listen to rap know Christopher Wallace as his rapping alter ego – The Notorious B.I.G. Few of the people who buy his albums and anything connected to him know the real person underneath. Notorious, directed by George Tillman, Jr, gives us Christopher Wallace before and after his infamous rap career took off. The film overall is a little too fast, yet when it stops, it allows you to be drawn into the world of a man few knew behind the scenes.

I personally loved the earlier scenes showing Wallace as a child (portrayed by his real-life son Christopher Jordan Wallace). I wanted to see more of his childhood. What is given to the audience is almost a blip of his younger life. I think to understand and ultimately care about someone you don’t know, you have to be able to get inside their minds. The film's creators must have thought people’s minds work at light-speed.

When the film goes into the later years with Jamal Wallace taking over as Christopher, the film becomes a bit of a bullet-point presentation. We see his first attempts at becoming a rapper, his first meeting with Puffy and his relationships with Faith Evans and Lil’Kim. It kinda whizzes all by you without any time to take it all in.

Jamal Woolard surprised me with how good he was as the older Christopher Wallace. He sounds like him, acts like him and raps like him (although his rapping voice is hard to match). I believe had he been given more scenes of Biggie’s world outside of the music biz, he could have sealed an Oscar for his performance.

Angela Bassett does fine as Voletta Wallace. Some may question whether she was the right choice as she doesn’t completely sound as Jamaican as the real Voletta. Still, she is one of the strongest actresses in Hollywood and showcases it in every part she gets.

Antonique Smith and Nautri Naughton do well in the rather underwritten parts of Faith Evans (Christopher Wallace's wife) and Lil’Kim, a woman who would through Biggie’s help would start a rap career. If I were to pick a good performance out of the two, I would say Smith gives the better of the two despite the little she is given to do. I will say this – you’ll never have to worry about Antonique Smith getting jacked in Brooklyn.

When she beats the hell out of someone – it looks almost real. Ms. Smith probably took a lot of “beating the crap out of someone” classes. If I'd been the white woman she beats to a pulp I would become a monk immediately.

Damn.

Nautri Naughton doesn’t really get a chance to go beyond "ghetto sex kitten" with her version of Lil’Kim. That blame I put squarely on the screenwriters. Naughton does a good job, but may have been directed to not portray much warmth. I think. Lil’Kim, at least in this movie, was portrayed as a bit of a cold-shouldered woman.

I didn’t agree with Kim when she attacked the film for not portraying her accurately. Although I agree she was written as merely an opportunist and a slut who may have loved Biggie in the beginning, I disagree with her argument that she wasn’t given any control over how she was portrayed. And with her attacks on Nautri Naughton’s performance.

The truth of the matter is that Lil’Kim could have told her own story. She chose not to and allowed George Tillman, Jr. and the screenwriters of Notorious (Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker) to do it for her. If the real Kimberly Denise Jones made a point of putting her wealth, her fame and her talent to the creation of her own bio-film, it wouldn’t matter how other films portray her. She should rent The Beatles Anthology for an example of taking control of your own story.

If you are a fan of Notorious B.I.G., the rapper, this movie is definitely for you. If you are a fan of the real person however, this movie might be too shallow in that department for you to enjoy. George Tillman, Jr.’s exodus into making a film about Christopher Wallace the man doesn’t fail completely, it just moves too fast for you to care about anything else besides his fame as The Notorious B.I.G. Notorious deserved to be longer — much, much longer.

There are several DVD features included with this film.

  • "The Making Of Notorious"
  • "Biggie Boot Camp"
  • "I've Got A Story To Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls 
    Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film
    Anatomy of a B.I.G Performance
    Party and Bulls**t"
  • "The B.I.G Three-Sixty"

Most of these showcase the good vibes and hard work that went into making the film. The most surprising revelation for me in watching them was the insistence that Jamal Woolard go to a Biggie Boot Camp to learn how to speak, walk, and rap like Christopher Wallace. The same required of Derek Luke since he was protraying Puffy Combs and performing in some of the concert segments that mirror real concerts Biggie and Combs performed. 

I don't really see the point of showing a view of the street where Christopher Wallace was shot ("The B.I.G Three-Sixty"). We all know how he was murdered, getting a 360-degree view seems unneccessary. The feature seems pointless since it doesn't shed any light on what could have been the motive for his killing.

I will say that both Antonique Smith and Nautri Naughton are stunning beauties that should immediately be given more roles. Naughton's success from this film, especially should be a "take that" moment towards her former girl group, 3LW. I think Ms. Smith on the other hand might have a record contract coming — if not, why not?

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