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In just a few short years, Notorious B.I.G. rose from the streets of Brooklyn to become one of the most influential hip hop artists of all time. B.I.G. was a gifted storyteller; his narratives about violent life on the streets were told with a gritty, objective realism that won him enormous respect and credibility. His stories were universal and gave a voice to his generation.
For more about Notorious and the Notorious Blu-ray release, see the Notorious Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 5, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Jamal Woolard, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
» See full cast & crew
Notorious Blu-ray Review
'Notorious' makes for a reputable Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 5, 2009
In the beginning, God gave me a clean slate.
The East Coast-West Coast Hip-Hop War of the 1990s cost the lives of two of the genre's most talented artists -- the West's Tupac Shakur and the East's Notorious B.I.G. Christopher Wallace, A.K.A. "Biggie Smalls," A.K.A. "Notorious B.I.G.," has left a lasting impression on his fans through both his impressive vocal talent and his lyrics that express his life, his thoughts, and his dreams. His life and times now captured on film in a sometimes riveting, sometimes bland, but always intriguing 2009 film aptly titled Notorious, longtime fans have the opportunity to relive their hero's rise to the top and untimely demise, while newcomers to the artist's music, life, and death just might come out of the experience with a new respect for the frailty of life, the meaning behind the lyrics, and an appreciation for the musical style that both took Biggie to the top and, ultimately, cost him his life.
Notorious begins in 1983 Brooklyn where a young Christopher Wallace (Christopher Wallace, Jr. in his film debut) comes to realize that he must do more than pen his own lyrics if he is to survive life on the streets. Despite the attempts of his mother (Angela Bassett, Meet the Browns) to keep him in school and raise him right, Christopher, by age 17 (Jamal Woolard also in his film debut), finds himself knee-deep in the Brooklyn drug scene, dealing for a living and continuing to write lyrics on the side. What was once a small business run out of his bedroom has become a thriving enterprise -- until he finds himself under arrest. While in prison, Christopher hones his rapping and lyric-writing skills, and upon his release, his talent is immediately recognized. Soon thereafter, Christopher signs a record deal with Producer Sean Combs (Derek Luke, Miracle at St. Anna), birthing the rapper known as "Notorious B.I.G." and "Biggie Smalls." Notorious chronicles the ups and downs of Biggie's life, focusing on his women, his children, his associates, and the rivalry with the West Coast and rapper Tupcac Shakur (Anthony Mackie, We Are Marshall) that will ultimately cost Biggie his life.
While Notorious proves to be a highly watchable biopic and serves as a decent primer for newcomers to the rapper's life, music, and legacy, the film as a whole never manages to rise above the level of "mediocre." The artist's life and untimely death makes for fascinating material, but the movie goes about showcasing it rather blandly and without much enthusiasm. Once Biggie reaches stardom, the movie takes on a generic and tedious feel as it meanders towards the inevitable. Although Notorious does a decent enough job of portraying Biggie as a character that most audiences should come to care for, if not even, perhaps, relate to in some way or another, his death comes without as much raw emotion as one might expect. It comes both suddenly and expectedly, though the former, at least, does both reflect on and speak of the frailty of life. Perhaps it is a case where the shock is lessened by the anticipation, but the scene fails to elicit as powerful a response as it should. Angela Bassett provides what there is of an emotional core, her character remaining strong and loving throughout, and her reaction to her son's funeral procession that sees the streets lined with thousands of adoring fans pulls the heartstrings more than any other scene or development in the film.
Notorious, despite a rather bland second half, is well-directed by George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor). He allows his stars to shine brightly and with minimal intrusion by shots that take attention away from the performances and dialogue. Indeed, the performances in Notorious are generally above-average, with young Christopher Wallace, Jr., Biggie's real-life son, portraying his father in the film's early segments. Christopher brings talent, enthusiasm, and respect for and understanding of the material to each of his scenes, the entirety of his performance inspired and seemingly far beyond his years. As the adult version of Biggie, Jamal Woolard delivers a contemplative and tough yet also carefree and tender performance. While one's acceptance of the performance will likely depend on one's familiarity with the artist's life and work, Woolard captivates in most every scene and brings a sense of wonder to the Hip-Hop lifestyle. His performance is particularly enthralling for newcomers who may know little more than Biggie's face or a beat from one of his songs; for the uninitiated, Woolard becomes Biggie, a character that is easy to embrace despite some questionable life decisions. At worst, audiences will glean from his character and performance a greater understanding of the inner-workings of the Hip-Hop lifestyle and maybe even a respect for the man and his music.
Notorious Blu-ray, Video Quality
Notorious comes to Blu-ray with a high quality 1080p transfer, framed inside a 2.40:1 window. The imagery as presented is consistently sharp and crisp, accompanied by well-above-average levels of detail in most every scene. Colors, too, are bold. The many shades of blue, green, red, orange, and others seen throughout, particularly in the bright and bold clothing, offer strong clarity and vibrancy, with a natural flair that lends to the movie a good, realistic appearance. The urban jungle that is 1980s Brooklyn looks fantastic, too, cinematically pure and revealing all the texture and detail of the bricks, pavement, and other objects seen scattered about the streets. The film sees several dark, smoky interior shots, and these, too, hold up well under the scrutiny of 1080p. Film grain spikes, deliberately so, here and there, but is generally minimal in appearance throughout the course of the movie at normal viewing distances. Finally, flesh tones remain stable and natural throughout. Notorious offers a fine representation of how a movie with plenty of varied looks can excel on Blu-ray.
Notorious Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Notorious pumps out the beats on Blu-ray with an often stellar DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. One might expect a film chronicling the life of one of the world's most famed Hip-Hop artists to offer tremendous levels of bass, and that assumption is proven correct here. Notorious packs quite the punch on the low end, and in every scene where bass accompanies the visuals, the track shines. From the many Hip-Hop beats to the rumbling of an idle car engine, this track manages to shake the foundation, rattle the windows, and roll the rib cage in every one of its intense sequences. The track features decent environmental ambience, too; the sounds of the city at street level or the background ambience in a club or concert hall generally create a noticeable atmosphere. Dialogue reproduction is also superb. While the track excels in most every area, there is no doubt that the highlight remains its music and bass. Beats thump out of the speakers with a great deal of authority and the many concert scenes engulf the listener with sounds that often "Hypnotize." No doubt about it, Notorious makes for another winning lossless soundtrack from the potent Fox/Blu-ray combination.
Notorious Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray edition of Notorious features both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film, not to mention a long list of bonus materials. First up is a pair of commentary tracks, the first featuring Director George Tillman, Jr., Co-Screenwriters Reggie Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, and Editor Dirk Westervelt. This quartet delivers a passionate track that discusses plenty of technical details, including the film's accuracy to real-life events. Mixing film-speak and discussions of the real-life events, cinephiles and B.I.G. fans alike should enjoy this track. The second track features Producer/Biggie's Mom Voletta Wallace, Producer/Biggie's Co-Manager Wayne Barrow, and Producer/Biggie's Co-Manager Mark Pitts. A more personal track, Ms. Wallace provides an insightful and heartfelt commentary while the other two participants discuss more in the way of technical background on the film and the characters and events depicted therein. The Music is a pop-up track that displays trivia during each song heard in the film and even allows users to create a playlist to purchase through iTunes.
Life After Death: The Making of 'Notorious' is a BonusView (Blu-ray profile 1.1) picture-in-picture feature that takes viewers behind-the-scenes of the story, its characters, and the film. The segments are also available separate from the movie via a "play all" menu option (1080p, 26:45). Behind the Scenes: The Making of 'Notorious' (1080p, 27:22) features an interesting look at the process of assembling the film, beginning with the casting of the title character and moving through to how the film came together to find the very essence of the life and times of Christopher Wallace. I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls (1080i, 9:32) looks at the meaning behind the words and the man who wrote them. Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film (1080i, 9:05) examines the casting of the film's additional characters.
Next up, Biggie Boot Camp (1080p, 6:48) looks at the several-month-long program that prepared the actors for portraying their real-life counterparts. Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance (1080p, 5:15) examines how the team brought accuracy to the film through the study of concert footage. Party & Bulls**t (480p, 3:43) is a recorded performance of the song as performed by B.I.G. The B.I.G. Three-Sixty (1080p) allows viewers to more closely examine the locations and the making of the scenes leading up to Biggie's death. Concluding the supplements on disc one is a series of ten deleted scenes (1080p, 12:15). Disc two features a digital copy of Notorious. Replayed on a second-generation iPod touch, the video appears adequate for a portable presentation, featuring good colors and detail but, again, with heavy blocking in many scenes. On the audio side, the track pales compared to the lossless soundtrack and lacks the range and clarity of the Blu-ray, but thumps well enough with strong dialogue reproduction.
Notorious Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If nothing else, Notorious is likely to leave filmgoers with a desire to learn more about its title character, though the film also manages to use Biggie's life as a theme on the importance of understanding and working through differences, living one's dreams, and the frailty of human life. The film is played out with plenty of explicit language and adult situations, and is definitely for mature audiences only. That said, those with an appreciation for the artist depicted in the film, the Hip-Hop culture, or the history of the East-Coast-West Coast rivalry will get plenty out of the movie, but it also delivers well enough for newcomers looking for material that may expand their musical (not to mention cinematic) horizons. Notorious debuts on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox with, as expected of the studio, well above-average results. Featuring near-reference quality video and audio, not to mention a plethora of bonus materials, Notorious is at least worth a rental for the curious, and the disc is a must-buy for fans.
Notorious Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Details for Notorious Blu-ray Release Revealed (UPDATED) - March 5, 2009
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Notorious: Unrated Director's Cut Collector's Edition', which is due to hit store shelves on April 21st, day-and-date with the DVD release. ...
• Fox Reveals Three More for April - March 4, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has revealed that they will bring the 'The Wrestler' and 'Notorious' to Blu-ray on April 21st, followed a week later by 'Bride Wars'; all three will be day-and-date with the DVD release. ...
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