Notorious (2009)

It was all a dream, I used to read Word up! Magazine…

I could finish the line but fan of Biggie or not, you likely know the lyrics.

Juicy, Big Poppa, Get Money, and a ton of other memorized but not regularly accessed sound-bytes have been playing over and over in my head all day. Thanks to Sprite Green, friends at Fox Searchlight Films, and 21hustle.com I was invited to check out the Premier of “Notorious” last night at New York City’s Lincoln Theater.

The theater was a virtual who’s who in Black entertainment;

you name them they were probably there. This wasn’t your typical caste system, social tiered affair however. This felt like a family reunion, where you see all your aunts and uncles, and then grab a plate and sit with your crazy cousins while they play a family slide show. Looking at old pictures of your mom looking fly or when she was pregnant with you, you share laughs, crack jokes, and reminisce.

The point, I guess, is that the producers of the film pulled it off (Read: “We did it Brooklyn!”). If this movie could be measured on its reflection of the life and experiences of Christopher Wallace it is a success. The people in the theater were in fact a loose knit family, and the images on the screen were photos from a time that we partied the best, or had early successes in our endeavors, and the music was the soundtrack for a great time in our lives.

I will admit I was skeptical. Having seen the real shows and felt the real energy, how could anything man made compare. It’s exactly how I felt about Ali, the movie starring Will Smith. I am such a huge fan of Muhammad Ali that I have tons of photos and complete fight videos at my home. Now I like Will Smith, but not one single frame of that film is more entertaining, emotive, thought provoking, or engaging than watching the real deal. Like Ali, Biggie was well documented. There are reels and reels of footage of Big walking, talking, telling stories, etc all available online. It would take a lot to compare.

In the case of Notorious, that lot came in the combination of masterful casting, wardrobe, and of course the appropriate use of music. There were 4 noteworthy characterizations that made this movie work. To start it off Angela Bassett, though I thought it to be a lofty choice initially (ala Blair Underwood playing Russell Simmons in Krush Groove), portrayed a convincing, lovable, motherly, Voletta Wallace including the accent. Next, the actresses who played Kim and Faith were perfect for the parts. This isn’t plastic surgery, Donatell Versace hanging Kim. This was just out the box Pre-Benjamin’s (“whuh whuh”) Kim, and it was done well. The last and most important of the big performances was the ‘BIG’ performance. Jamal “Gravy” Woolard’s portrayal of Biggie was on point. I would compare the accuracy of his portrayal (not to be confused with the acting) to Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X. Again so you don’t think I said this guys acting is on Denzel’s level here is what I mean. By 2/3 into this movie you may find yourself dropping your minds guard in the suspended belief that you are watching Biggie on screen. He’s got everything down but ‘the eye’.

Of the lesser performances, I felt Derek Luke didn’t capture the essence of Puffy. He had the words, and the message, but his attempts at moving with Puff-like animation seemed contrived and cerebral. Also the casting of ‘Lil Cease was a miss. Seeking an actor with baby face charm, an actor was cast who appeared too young to play the role to the point where it was a distraction.

The film made some cry, and there were laugh out loud moments. Overall I enjoyed watching the recap of something that we were all somehow invested in 15 years ago. This strength is also my concern as a potential weakness of the film. Everyone in that room had invested emotions, memories, and experiences in the story and with the characters. The fact that we all enjoyed the film at least means it was authentic. It will be interested to see how the film performs in the general market especially so many years after Biggie and Pac songs played every hour on every urban radio station.

See the film to support your peers making films and be sure to leave the kids with the babysitter. Be sure to go to a theater with great a sound system.

In my rating scale, its a theater matinee for Hip Hop lovers. I’d love to hear what you think.

“…and I’m Brooklyn’s finest, you rewind this…”

-Be Moore’s behind this

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0 Comments

  • aka Tito

    Reply Reply January 8, 2009

    I am eager to see how it does at the box office. Is it going to be like “Paid in Full” a hood classic but ranking very low on the “Oscar” scale? Or is it going to be like Malcolm X, a good movie whether you knew of Mr. X or not? I’ll tell you what I think when it comes to a theater near me.

  • Toni Blackman

    Reply Reply January 9, 2009

    First congratulations to Mark Pitts and the rest of the Howard fam that contributed energy to making this movie a reality. I just came in from the Brooklyn screening of Notorious at BAM Cinemas.

    It was so cold outside that my lip gloss got frosty on the four block walk from my car. I dreaded the return trip after the movie and was already plotting my mad dash. The really long line in front of the building surprised me. Security was just as cold as the wind chill and cops were more than visible. This was an advanced “exclusive” screening, a major film release, an audience filled with VIP’s and media, but it was still hip-hop and we were still in Brooklyn. I couldn’t believe they had people outside in the cold for that long. My fingers were numb by the time we got in the door. We anxiously found seats before the theater got too hectic. There were the random shout-outs to Brooklyn coming from a few brothers in the audience. Then once Faith and Biggie’s family came in along with local political figures, and of course the good Reverend Jess Jackson, I whispered “this is the movie before the movie” to my homeboy.

    There was mad skepticism around me. Honestly, each time I saw the ad run I would say to myself “I hope it’s good, I hope it’s good”. There were all kinds of collective memories floating through the air in the theater. The energy in the audience was high. The casting was great and it made the experience really authentic. I went with one of my business advisors, a Harlem-raised MBA and one helluva’ critic so I dare not look his way. I never introduced myself to the sista’ sitting on the other side of me, but we laughed and cried together through the whole film. Both Pac and Biggie’s deaths are highlighted, but as I entered my apartment I wasn’t thinking about death. I was thinking about life, my life. I am here thinking about my dreams, the ones I have lived and the ones to come. Going to Howard was an impossible ‘dream’ for people from my neighborhood, but somehow I did it. Living in Brooklyn? Just a dream. Traveling around the world was just a dream. Watching his struggle is reminder of each of ours.

    Don’t go see it because you’re a fan of Biggie or even because you’re a hip-hop head. Go see it because it’s a good flick (and to support your peers). It’s just as good as any of the Hollywood releases that I’ve laid down money to see in the past few years. Maybe I’m just at that age where you start to get real soft and sentimental about the ‘good ol’ days’, but I tell you —the walk back to my car seemed much shorter and a lot less cold.

    Aight……..I’ma play “Juicy” one more time. Then I’m takin’ my grown ass to bed.

  • Lisa Hazell

    Reply Reply January 9, 2009

    A big congratulations to Puff, Mark, Wayne and the entire production.

    I’ve been working in hair department tv/film production for over 15 years now and it was my honor to say yes to being available to work on this production. Initially I said yes because my friends were hair & make-up department heads and had no clue of who was producing the film. While the memory of how awful the “Paid in Full” producers treated production, I shrugged whatever… the rate is scale.

    After being on the roundup for the past year and then getting to set and oh snapping, hugging and working together… was the greatest feeling, beyond description, that we all agreed.

    We all have to stand up and support this film by going to see it in theaters while refusing bootleg versions; it will send a message to studio heads to green light the producers’ future projects. From the crew side, I can confidently say that the producers were revered for being respectful, courteous, friendly and consistently doing a great job in overseeing schedules, accounting, talent and crew. Please note the importance of these points because a production can come to a grinding halt when/if producers do not have some of the qualities noted above especially on first films.

    All this to say, I’m most proud of the work production end of the film and will constantly cheer for the success of their future endeavors and ask the entire roundup to do the same! With the best talent, crews and the public saying yes to their projects… it’s all win win!

  • Kamal Harris

    Reply Reply January 10, 2009

    I like what Toni wrote above about NOTORIOUS. Please go and see this movie. It introduces elements of hip-hop that are truly missing in today’s Hip-Hop arena. It was a nostalgic experience sitting in that audience watching the life of “King of the 90’s” in the rap world. Bad Boy Records had the radio exciting in that era and Puffs vision and what he did to bring artists from the streets into the “Winner’s Circle” was impeccable – A true visionary! Very, Very big shouts to my man Mark Pitts, Wayne Barrow, Zola Mashariki (who made it possible for the movie to get to Fox), Puff, George Tillman (Director) and the entire cast of that movie. Obviously some character portrayals were way more on point than others but that was an all around complete movie in my opinion. As Be. Moore said, that was truly a reunion in Wednesday nights screening. A great deal of emotions were flying around in that theater. That movie was a part of all of us to the point where everyone in there felt as if they contributed to its production. I say TWO THUMBS UP!, A MUST SEE, BRAVO, A WORK OF ART and anything else positive that will encourage you all who are reading this to go see it. Take friends and family, get some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the life of the Notorious B.I.G!!!!

  • Renee

    Reply Reply January 11, 2009

    Well I am going to see this movie for sure. The biggie era was during the time I attended VSU . I remember playing the music in my dorm. I remember when he died everyone standing on the line to get the last CD in Virginia. Biggie was an exceptional rapper and a lyrical genious. lol But no he was nice lyrically. I do notice this movie is getting a lot of coverage, which I am pleased about. I really do hope it does well in the box office.

  • ShakeSpeare

    Reply Reply January 13, 2009

    This movie is a sad excuse to make some last minute money off of a man who changed hip-hop! They should let BIG rest in peace! Ready to Die and Life After Death, was enough of a biography to his true fans! You can just watch the previews for this movie and know that it is not only going to be bad, it is going to be one sided! You cant make a movie about BIG with the perspective of his mother or his wife! You could only make a movie about BIG from his point of view! Which is what they did not do, from what I can tell! Let the man rest in peace!

  • dina

    Reply Reply January 20, 2009

    I absolutely love Biggie and his music was the back drop to so many signifiance moments in my Southern Experience!!! In 1994 my boyfirend and I got matching tatoos just like Puffy and Lil Kim! We thought that we would be together forever…being ‘Bad Boy” amd “Bad Girl”! Although our relationship didn’t last the memory and the tattto did. This era of music will always be sketched in my left ankle and in my heart!! I loved the movie…it was surreal!

  • Stacey Hoffman

    Reply Reply January 20, 2009

    I loved this film; HAD to go out and see it, in my opinion Biggie’s story-this story- is A Redemption Story~ a beautiful story of redemption~ with T&A~ Hah ha!! But seriously, Biggie- see you in Heaven, my man! SEE YOU THERE!! Thank You God for sending Jesus to die in order to save us; You take it all in life and turn it for good,too- You used Big’s friend to touch Big’s life,too- he became saved in prison, and shared the gospel with Big- would he have been saved if not for the years in the pen? God, you work all things for good; Your ways we cannot fully comprehend. Because of this, Biggie was saved when he passed! Psalm 23, Biggie! Pslam 23!! You got it THAT day!HE KNEW- LOVE YOU FOREVER BIGS!!!!

    Psalm 23 (King James Version)

    Psalm 23
    1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

    3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

    4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

    5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

    6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

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