Friday, January 16, 2009

I just saw "Notorious"

I just got out of the matinée for "Notorious," the Biggie Smalls biopic. It ranks somewhere between "La Bamba" and "Walk The Line" in terms of music biopics for me, meaning it's good and at times great ("La Bamba" is a good movie with its flaws, while "Walk The Line" is my all-time favorite musician biopic).

Jamal Woolard plays Biggie with boyish charm and nervous menace glazing the surface. I used to hate pretty hard on Woolard, the MC formerly known as Gravy, because his most notable moment prior to the film's release a shooting incident in front of Hot 97 FM in New York, where he was reportedly shot in the ass and still showed up for the interview (a similar scene had played out on an episode of "The Sopranos" a few months before that).

In "Notorious" he steals the show, at moments becoming Biggie on screen. It's pretty mesmerizing.

His performance anchors the film when it leans dangerously toward the edge of parody, particularly when other real-life characters are introduced. Diddy, Lil' Kim, Faith Evans and, of course, Tupac Shakur all figure prominently in the film. While the ladies do a good job capturing their characters both physically and emotionally, the men sometimes fall a little short.

Which makes it difficult to get really excited about the film for me, because I already had this attachment to the real deal. Unlike Johnny Cash or Ritchie Valens, artists who I was not privy to during the height of their fame, watching "Notorious" is tough because I remember watching a lot of the story unfold in the music and stories of that time that I was listening to.

But then, a close-up shot of Woolard erased most of that, because for the long two-hours plus (the movie is looong), he becomes Biggie.

I recently watched "Dark Knight" for the first time (yeah, I know, late pass), and watching Woolard reminded me of the unsettling experience watching Heath Ledger become the Joker. It was a case study in reverse, where as with Ledger we're watching a dead man come back to life through his character on screen, Woolard manages to bring Biggie back from the dead with his spot-on take.

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