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Archive for April, 2008

Fitty of Arabia: 50 Cent’s ‘Blood on the Sand’

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Shitting on 50 Cent is pretty easy but every once in a while, there’s something just too amazing not to talk about and for reasons unknown– initially, I thought this game was some sort of April Fools joke– I haven’t seen a lot of people talking/laughing about this: A sequel to his awful ‘50 Cent: Bulletproof’ game is coming out kinda soon and it’s G-Unit in the Middle-East fighting fucking A-rabs!

From the interview with game producer Aaron Blean:

“…50 and G-Unit are putting on a sold-out performance somewhere in a fictional Middle Eastern setting. This is where the ‘blood on the sand’ comes in. They put on the performance; the people are pleased, but the concert promoter stiffs them and doesn’t give 50 and G-Unit their payment…So, of course, 50 isn’t going to leave until he gets paid, so he hassles the concert promoter, [saying] if he doesn’t come up with the money now, there will be consequences. And instead, the promoter offers him a very valuable gift – something that’s valuable to this particular country – a diamond encrusted skull.

So 50 gets the skull, and as he’s about to leave this war-torn country, when they’re ambushed and the skull is taken. They escape the ambush, but they’re without the skull. So 50’s motivated to get what belongs to him. So basically, throughout the game, he’s trying to track these people down and find out who they are and why he was ambushed.

I think my favorite aspect of it is how it’s a “fictional Middle Eastern setting”; presumably, to neither offend anyone or have any concerns with regional or historical accuracy. It’s all pretty absurd, but it’s kinda great at the same time. The idea of getting to be Lloyd Banks in the desert sounds fun enough.

Rappers “branching out” and licensing their rap persona or something like it is great in-theory because the thing about rap is, for all the shit it gets about being too serious or too this or that, even 50 Cent’s involved in ventures this silly and over-the-top and on some level, he knows it. Of course, when it comes to over-the-top potentially great/potentially horrible licensed rap ideas, I’m still waiting on the ‘State Property’ cartoon!

Written by Brandon

April 7th, 2008 at 9:36 pm

Posted in 50 Cent, G-unit, video games

Music Videos & Patience

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When I talked about Kanye West/Spike Jonze’s video for ‘Flashing Lights’, I was nearly as shocked by its patient and economic cutting as I was by its weirdly brutal ending. And about a year ago, I discussed the videos of Gil Green, who makes conventional videos that avoid super-high concept stuff and rapid-fire MTV editing and replace it with the more visceral excitement of hand-held cameras and a tight video narrative.

This continued movement away from the A.D.D editing that peaked in the late 90s/early 2000s isn’t exclusive to music videos, the overall trend has something to do with everyone getting over the insane freedom computerized editing systems gave them, and it probably has a lot to do with just how easy it is to rip off the lotsacrazycuts style, but it’s still an interesting shift, especially as ‘Idiocracy’-like rumblings only continue. Basically, smart directors now realize that the MTV style needs to be employed as another tool as it is in, say, Richie’s suicide in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ or the beginning of the newest Kanye West video ‘Home Coming’, directed by Hype Williams.

The video uses the quick cuts in a way that works, to introduce the video in an exciting way that matches the song’s appearance on the album: as the previous track ‘The Glory’ comes to a halt, the cheesy-but-great Christopher Cross-type pianos of ‘Home Coming’ pound in for the song’s melancholy hook, the video’s beginning matches this feeling. Then, the cuts slow down, matching the song’s just a few notches above a ballad pace, but the amount of information delivered through the images is still overwhelming but one’s brain can actually process it. Kanye performs on a moving vehicle down a Chicago street, as the cuts bounce between touching ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’-ish images of black Chicago residents, and notable landmarks and pretty-amazing architecture, occasionally punctuated by this weird gray reverse-silhouette of Coldplay’s Chris Martin for the hook.

It’s once again, typically Kanye West in that it wisely–and obnoxiously– avoids categorical thinking and so, the video’s full of shots of–for lack of a better word– “regular” people, which is a nod to the celebrate “the hood”/your hometown video of the 90s, mixed with an architecture fetish that reflects the flossin’ rap videos everyone’s more familiar with, but also updates it in a way by focusing on beautiful art and design and not money and crazy colors and cars. To me, there’s not a difference between the two (I never got why recent rappers like Jay-Z are praised for owning Basquiats instead of gold-encrusted faucets, conspicuous consumpton is conspicuous consumption, no?), but I think it’s what Kanye’s getting at and fits along with Kanye, Andre 3000, and other rappers’ slight contempt for “make it rain theatrics”.

A Simple Equation:

+ 1/4 of This:
Janet Jackson’s ‘Rock With U’ Video

I originally wanted to discuss this video when it came out about a month ago, but it’s one of the most interesting videos that’s been released in a long time, and on the topic of video director “patience”, it fits right in, being this impressive single-take, no cuts video.

The video’s a single-take through three different rooms and then back to the original room, with this like, crazy organic-feeling choreography. The dancing, the camera gliding all around, Janet Jackson and dancers falling into close-up or falling back from the camera, it’s like a single, living, breathing thing that sells this actually pretty weird song really well. Janet Jackson’s a talented dancer and performer and the video grabs onto that and pretty much one-ups any dance video made since the heyday of dance videos in the 90s. Most performers (Usher might be one of the only true exceptions) don’t really go all-out and actually dance or you know, use the dancing to signify or reflect something, but ‘Rock With U’ does.

One of the best aspects of the video– and one of the reasons it’s not very popular– is the way the choreography goes from this insanely organic thing to the dancers basically stopping to move into the next room, which of course, we see because there’s no cuts! It’s both glamorous and realistic at the same time. Dunno if this connection makes any sense to anybody else, but the video’s mechanic naturalism makes me think of something like Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ or other stuff by H.R Giger in its ability to feel both of this world, dirty and natural, and eerily cold and futuristic.

The song’s clearly an attempt to cash-in on the electro-rave R & B trend, but it’s sort of waaaayyy more genuine and of that genre than Timbaland’s updating rave signifiers for a pop audience. Janet’s voice is pretty processed and auto-tuned but it could be worse, and arrpeggiting synths flutter, 808s clap, chopped funk guitar riffs fall in and out mechanically, there’s this ‘Dont You Want Me Baby’ synths, and it’s got some like actually for-the-club bass and not modern R &B/hip-hops sense of what music in a club is supposed to sound like. I think it’s basically a song that’s way too real for the radio and the same could apply to the video as well; whether Janet Jackson knows that or not, I’m not sure.

Written by Brandon

April 4th, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Hollywood Unreality Gets Around to Reality Rap…

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For the same reasons I avoided ‘Control’, I’ll probably avoid ‘Notorious’, unless I hear really great– or really terrible– things about it. Nevertheless, stills like the one above seem really depressing. I know, I know, it’s a big dumb Hollywood biopic but those stills, with essential unknowns as Biggie and Faith Evans make it feel more like, some terrible cash-in made-for-TV bio that would’ve premiered within six months of Biggie’s death and somehow incorporated “gangsta rap” into the title. The plan was to find unknowns as to not overshadow the real Christopher Wallace and company, but if it’s going to be a big, dumb Hollywood biopic, at least fill it with big, dumb Hollywood actors, not arguably less attractive, melty-looking versions!

Like many recent biopics, ‘Notorious’ is riding on its approval from friends and family to convince possibly cynical fans that this movie’s worth their time and will be “true-to-life”. The worst people to look to for an interesting or objective view of Biggie would be those closest to him! It’s funny that the cast is not star-packed except for Angela Bassett, who plays Biggie’s mom. With people like Puff Daddy still in power and you know, producing the movie, don’t expect any hard-hitting revelations about Puffy’s relationship with Biggie or the entire Biggie/Tupac-East Coast/West Coast feud, because all the people involved– and partially responsible for the deaths of two rap legends– are still alive, making money and proudly “squashing” those old beefs that killed their friends and business partners. I’m again reminded of a quotation from film scholar Ray Carney who had this to say about the concept that a movie is good, real, or accurate if those actually involved in the real-life version approve: “Spielberg bragged that Holocaust survivors were proud of Schindler’s List, and World War II veterans loved Saving Private Ryan. That’s not a virtue but a vice. All it means is that he let them wallow in their own clichéd views of themselves.” And wallowing in cliches is exactly what the biopic genre does.

The trend to grab on to the lives of very popular and very troubled artists and turn their life into a simpleminded, linear, idealized–or unidealized idealized– two hours isn’t anything new, but the subgenre’s recent popularity is why we’re now getting a Biggie biopic and why we’re getting a cast of look-alikes: these movies are not interested in working-out the life of the musician at their center, but continuing to bask and in part, cash-in on the image of that musician. We’ll get a narrative that bounces from iconic Biggie scene to iconic Biggie scene with pitch-perfect recreations of the ‘Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems Video’ or maybe, Biggie near a bodega in Bed-Stuy, freestyling to a surprised crowd, but it just won’t mean much of anything. I harp on this cast-someone-who-kinda-looks-like-the-guy logic because it shows just how silly and image-oriented these biopics are. Isn’t it a bit silly to watch ‘Walk the Line’ and see an actor with dyed hair doing a Johnny Cash impression? Was that movie really well-reviewed and respected when it literally has a scene where June Carter literally says to Johnny: “You can’t walk no line!” Can we expect a scene where a groupie whines “Oh, Biggie give me one more chance”?

At the same time, I’m not on some ‘I’m Not There’-type abstract bullshit either because that’s silly for its over-wrought metaphorical casting, just as Hollywood versions are silly when they find a fat dude who can sorta rap to play Biggie, or feel the compulsive need to slap a witchnose on Nicole Kidman for her to play Virginia Woolf. I guess I’m saying some Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon thing, where it’s close enough to not be absurd or too artsy-fartsy, but it’s more finding the actor or person that can embody and interpret that real-life version and not just do a pretty-good impression. I don’t think it would work for how literal-minded ‘Notorious’ probably will end up being, but I still think the best and most interesting choice would’ve been Beanie Sigel.

The casting of Sigel as Biggie would add a realistic edge that is less about looking realistically like Biggie and more like grabbing some of Biggie’s emotional character. Beanie’s neither a heir to the Biggie throne, or too highly indebted to the rapper, but he does have some of that same mix of vulnerability and anger and for you literal-minded dopes, he’s fat enough. Beans is also a pretty impressive actor himself. While he’s yet to be cast in anything that Dame Dash hasn’t been producing, his performances in the ‘State Property’ movies are convincing and real when they really don’t need to be. My fanboy dreams have long planned a kinda brilliant acting career for Beans, especially when Dash Films made its few moves out of the straight-to-video rap movie armpit and aided in the production of the nothing-great but pretty good ‘The Woodsman’ and the bonafide new-generation hip-hop classic ‘Paid In Full’, (which features a genuinely amazing performance by Cam’ron, mind you). Imagine a Biggie bio made by people who really, really care about the guy, who get ‘Ready to Die’.

Get rid of that Hollywood shine and idealization we all know it’ll have and replace it with the still-attractive but way more realistic lensing of someone like Rik Cordero and maybe narrow the plot down to a very small part of Biggie’s life, or even focus exclusively on his early career leading up to ‘Ready to Die’ and flash-forward to those fateful final months- like, start the final part with Biggie’s car-crash…I don’t know, just anything but another bio-pic which will race through his early life, define his career by re-creations of stuff we already know is career-defining, and end it “tragically”…

Some Other Half-Baked Movie Ideas for Beanie Sigel:
-‘Bird Lives!’ – A Charlie Parker Biopic: As a kind of rebuke to the awful, awful, awful, ‘Bird’ by Clint Eastwood– perhaps, the quintessential biopic– I began fucking around with some ideas about a more thoughtful and realistic movie about Charlie Parker. With Beanie as Parker, and the movie focusing on the last few weeks of Parker’s life, not to dwell in his junkie-hero persona, but to ground the movie in Bird’s self-destructiveness and then even at his worst, show him as human and humane, I think a more realistic image of him could be attained. By skipping out on his career and life, played-out scenes like his first big gig or him practicing non-stop or even his first shot of heroin, would be avoided. As so many YouTube videos of a probably-on-purple Beanie would show, he could do fucked-up junkie well, but I can also imagine him doing the humorous side of Parker that biographies have acknowledged with equal honesty. My favorite Parker story is recounted in many places but maybe most famously in the Ken Burns ‘Jazz’ series and it’s Parker, playing Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ to a group of hipster-red out, Bird-worshipping ‘bop heads who all dismiss it as “redneck music” and can’t understand why Parker insists on playing it over and over. “Listen to the stories” he tells his worshippers; I think Beanie Sigel could sell a line like that pretty well.

-‘Untitled Homeless Movie’: One rainy afternoon, like four years ago, I was watching ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and there was this amazing story about a white tennis instructor in Boca Raton who’d befriended a black homeless guy who to the instructor’s rather uptight family, was not only disturbing but maybe even something of a confidence man. The tennis instructor and the homeless guy became good friends, with the instructor eventually allowing the homeless guy to move-in to his rather nice apartment and bringing the still-stinks-like-he’s-homeless homeless guy to the home of his parents for dinner. The instructor began spending lots of his own money to help the local homeless and pretty much became a part of the homeless culture. Eventually, the instructor went missing, his car found parked in a nice neighborhood, his wallet, ID, and keys, on the driver’s seat. The homeless guy– now living full-time in the instructor’ apartment– had not seen the instructor in weeks. This presumably true story seems to be, a pretty entertaining way to address the white liberal’s relationship with a downtrodden culture and with Beanie Sigel as the mysterious homeless guy– mysterious because he’s crazy, not some Bagger Vance crap– could add some interesting ways to address white interest in “blackness” and hip-hop culture. It could easily be a satire, but I’d like to see it a little more straight, with the white guy being genuinely intrigued and affected by it all– enough that he’d get rid of his former life– but still coming off a little absurd. I had this idea in like 2004, when Roc-A-Fella was still a thing and so, I imagined a weird, hip-hop instrumental score by Kanye West or even just a bunch of Kanye instrumentals as the score.

-‘Song Cry’: Once again, an idea I had back when The Roc was real but were still making garbage like ‘Paper Soldiers’ like they weren’t real. Imagine a movie version of ‘Song Cry’, but starring Beanie because it would keep it in the Roc family and Beanie’s just more real in personality and look than any actor who would try to look hard or of “the life”. For some reason, I always imagined ‘Song Cry’ as being about a relationship but Jay’s contrast of his rise to success with the distance in his relationship related to the ‘Scarface’-like success of a drug dealer. Think ‘Godfather II’ or plenty of other gangster movies where the couple pulls apart as more and more money comes in. On ‘Song Cry’, Jay makes this reality a little more tragic and it totally works and is very cinematic: “We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather/So, now we travel first class to change the forecast”. An early romantic scene of the two in the rain, is contrasted with a later scene of the two, now on a plane, flying somewhere exotic but hardly giving a shit. The movie that would come out of ‘Song Cry’ could be full of these like cinematic doubling of scenes; a kind of epic-ish drug-dealer out-of-love story, but starring a kinda grimy Beans instead of like, Denzel Washington done-up to look kinda grimy.

Written by Brandon

April 2nd, 2008 at 8:14 am