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Featuring an all-star cast of multiplatinum rap artists and the visual wizardry of one of the most innovative directors of our generation, Belly is a dark, poignant urban thriller starring Earl Simmons, aka DMX, as Tommy Brown, an ambitious upstart street hustler on a desperate quest for money, power and respect. Nasir Jones, aka Nas, is Sincere, his best friend who is equally determined to turn his criminal life around. Technically dazzling, brutally realistic, yet always mesmerizing, "Belly" vividly captures the desperate forces driving today's urban youth culture.
For more about Belly and the Belly Blu-ray release, see Belly Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 9, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Nas, DMX, Taral Hicks, T-Boz, Method Man, Frank Vincent
Director: Hype Williams
» See full cast & crew
Belly Blu-ray Review
This highly stylized urban drama lacks substance.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 9, 2008
I sold my soul to the devil. The price was cheap.
Hype Williams, the acclaimed rap music video director, makes his cinematic debut with Belly, a gritty urban drama about life in the drug business, the perils of the street, and the importance of redemption. Unfortunately, the film is a great idea lost in an overwhelming and confused plot that picks up and drops plot lines on a dime and is generally hard to follow. The music video style shines through, the movie taking a new direction every few minutes, about the time span of a typical video. Underneath the gritty veneer, engaging soundtrack, and interesting direction is a movie that wants to be the next in a storied line of films featuring the life and times of today's urban society, showing the best and worst the culture has to offer. Sadly, this one just doesn't work, but it certainly receives an "A" for effort. There seems to be good intentions behind the film, a social commentary that delves deeper than the many superficial action movies that populate multiplexes these days, but unlike films such as Boyz n the Hood, this one fails to elicit any real emotional response.
Belly is the tale of two friends, Sincere (Nas, Ticker) and Tommy (DMX, Exit Wounds) who revel in the dark underworld of drugs, crime, hate, and murder. Labeling themselves as a modern-day Butch and Sundance tandem, the two will do anything for more money. Tommy lives a life of luxury built on the wealth he's acquired from drugs and violence, while Sincere tries to downplay his status by attempting to make things work in a middle-class home where he cares for his woman and infant child. When a new drug hits the streets, the pair find themselves deeper than ever in the underbelly of the darkest corners of the world where one wrong move, one wrong word, one wrong look can get you killed. Theirs and their friend's lives will be torn apart from the ground up, but each must come to terms with their pasts, face their demons that plague them both on the street and inside their souls, and search themselves for answers that will lead them to redemption.
Belly is a film worth watching if for no other reason than to take a look at the directorial style of Hype Williams. Forget for a moment (or for a screening) the convoluted, patchwork story and the sometimes incomprehensible narrative and revel in the visual style of the film. Between the gritty, grainy opening shots, Tommy's impeccably clean domicile, and the unusual and exciting camera angles spread throughout the film, there is always something to behold, visually, in the film. Belly, unfortunately, is a textbook example of style over substance, where plot takes a backseat to admittedly impressive shots and angles that try their hardest to showcase the raw emotions of the story, and therein lies one of the problems. It often felt that the acting and plot took a backseat to the style and soundtrack, and Williams seems to rely more on those things that generally compliment a story rather than tell it to drive the narrative home. Nas, DMX, and company do the best they can within the confines of the style and script (penned in part by Nas), and while there is a sincerity to the performances, there is never much in the way of urgency or drama. There is also plenty of action, but little context through which we can frame the violence. Belly certainly leaves audiences with something to talk about, but in the end, they'll be talking more about what went wrong rather than what director Williams managed to do right.
Belly Blu-ray, Video Quality
Belly busts onto Blu-ray with a transfer that seems true to the schizophrenic-like nature of the photography employed throughout the film. The highly stylized nature of the picture is evident right from the opening credits that exhibit a tremendous amount of noise and grain. The interior of the club is bathed in fluorescent blue and red. Even the opening credits themselves exhibit a blue bleed shadowing them. These dark and blue themes contrast sharply with the almost too clean white house where Tommy lives. Everything from the wall to the pool table are a bright, crisp white, symbolizing the sanctuary of home versus the harshness of life outside, the clean world that the dirty has built. Dark scenes are extremely dark, so much so that we can barely see what's happening at times (this is addressed by director Hype Williams in the commentary track), and the rough edge of the movie is more evident in these darkest scenes than anywhere else. The level of detail is generally high. A close-up of Ox in chapter four reveals all his facial details wonderfully. His living room also has a pleasant, realistic, clean look to it, again with many white furnishings, this time accentuated by a bit more color than what we saw in Tommy's house. The print shows some speckles and imperfections as well that cannot be attributed to grain or style. In many places, Belly looks fantastic, clean, clear, colorful, and sparkling in high definition. Colors, generally seen on bright, sunlit streets, are vibrant and realistic, and detail and depth are also impressive. Taking the film on a scene-by-scene basis, understanding the director's intended look for the film, and going in with an open mind, the strengths of this transfer definitely outweigh the weaknesses, real or perceived, based on the style of the film.
Belly Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Belly's 7.1 channel DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack is generally lively and exuberant, filled with hip-hop beats, gunfire, and street-smart dialogue, all of which make for the best aspect of the disc. The singing over the opening credits, completely a cappella, features a great rear-channel presence that matches the main content found up front nicely. The deep beats of the rap music blend nicely into the soundtrack, too. In chapter three, as Sincere and Tommy discuss going deeper into the drug business, the music plays underneath the dialogue. Its presence is generally loud and thumps come from the subwoofer with a nice authority that barely rumbles your seat, but the dialogue remains loud enough to make out every syllable with ease. The combination, and both at just the right volume, don't make for a refernece-quality listen, but rather a pleasant, realistic experience. Chapter eight offers one of the best immersion experiences you'll have in quite a while as the hip-hop music surrounds you and invades your senses, placing you in a smoky, electric club where the sound literally comes from all directions with some reserved, but solid, rumbles of bass. Gunshots pound with devastating authority, including several shots from a .50 caliber Desert Eagle handgun. Dialogue is handled well with no volume or placement issues. The film offers plenty of surround activity, but little in the way of natural ambience that leaves a mildly cold and distant feel in the listener. Nevertheless, Belly offers up a solid listen that should be a crowd pleaser.
Belly Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Belly arrives on Blu-ray with only a few extras of note. First is a feature-length commentary track with director Hype Williams. Williams delves straight into the themes of the film, beginning with the reason behind the voice over and visuals that open the film, leaving his introduction to a few moments later. His film is meant to be a cross-generational one that would convey the lives of urban youth today to anyone who cares to discover it, and he defends the artistic merits and his perspective on the importance of the film. Williams also delves into the varied looks of the film and does a commendable job defending the film. Spoken Word (480p, 39:00) is a series of shorts where quotes and themes (pride, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, lust, redemption, blowin' up, and the hustle) from the film are expanded upon by on-stage performers discussing the theme. Grand Finale Music Video (480p, 4:04) is next. Concluding the supplements is a deleted scene (480p, 3:32) that we can either watch (in Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0) or listen to (in a full mix or instrumental only varieties) and 1080p trailers for Rambo, War, The Condemned, Crank, and 3:10 to Yuma.
Belly Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Belly is a film with admirable and lofty goals, but without the reach and plan of action to achieve them. Hype Williams shows some promise, and I'd love to see another project with him behind the camera in the future. Belly is a decent first outing for this longtime music video director, but his style over substance approach can only carry the film so far. It ultimately collapses under the stress of the production values as there is little thematic substance to counteract the awesome weight of the style. The result is a film that is fascinating to look at, but a letdown to watch. Belly debuts on Blu-ray with a transfer that will not appeal to all high definition fans, but it is one that seems true to the source based both on the director's comments, the varied quality of the visuals, and the context of the story. The audio is generally strong, but the supplements are rather weak, save for a good director's commentary. Belly is worth a rental for the curious.
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Belly Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Doors and Belly Special Features Revealed - July 16, 2008
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has revealed the supplemental features for the upcoming Blu-ray releases of 'The Doors' and 'Belly', both due to hit store shelves on August 12th. As previously reported, both titles will be presented in 1080p widescreen video accompanied ...
• Lionsgate Announces Belly for Blu-ray - May 20, 2008
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the rapper-infused film 'Belly' to Blu-ray on August 12th to coincide with the DVD release of 'Belly 2: Millionaire Boyz Club'. Official specs have not been announcd, but we expect that video will ...
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