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Notorious - Blu-ray DVD / drama DVD / action adventure DVD review
NOTORIOUS Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Angela Bassett, Naturi Naughton
Director: George Tillman Jr. Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
DVD release: 21 April 2009 Runtime: 123 min.
(2 discs)
Format: AC-3, Collector's Edition, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen, Blu-ray
DVD features: 1080p High Definition, Aspect ratio 2.25:1, Audio tracks (DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround - English; 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround - Spanish, French), Subtitles (English SDH, Spanish, French), Unrated Director's Cut and theatrical versions of the film, Commentary (dir. George Tillman, Jr., writers Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, editor Dirk Westervelt), Commentary (producers Voletta Wallace, Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts), Behind the Scenes: "Making of Notorious," I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls, NOTORIOUS Thugs: Casting the Film, Biggie Boot Camp, Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance, Party & Bulls**t , The B.I.G. Three-Sixty, Deleted scenes, Digital copy, BD-Live Feature - The Music, BonusVIEW - Life After Death: Making NOTORIOUS

Though I am not a fan of rap music, I was aware of the meteoric rise to fame and tragic death of The Notorious B.I.G., as well as how his murder was the key moment in a brutal and senseless "East Coast/West Coast" rap feud that erupted in the late 1990s. Like a good biography, Notorious is both informative and moving in the way it tells a true rags-to-riches story, albeit one that ends cruelly, robbing not only the music world of a talented artist, but even worse, robbing a young man of the chance to right past wrongs in his life, "become a man" (in the words of his mother), and start in a new direction.

The film begins when its protagonist was simply Christopher Wallace, a heavyset child raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. He soon falls into the world of drug-dealing, not only for the money, but for the "street cred" he receives. When he inevitably gets arrested, he turns to writing his rap songs while doing his time, finds he has talent, and is encouraged by others to follow his dream.

The middle section of the films moves quickly, showing the rise of B.I.G.'s career once his demo is heard by a young music entrepreneur named Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke). He catapults to superstardom based on the strength of his music and dynamic live performances (which look quite authentic in the film), then finds he has to juggle the demands of fame, romance and parenthood, all at the age of 20 (though the film is sympathetic toward its hero, it does not let him off the hook for neglecting his first child, nor for his insatiable appetite for women, including one on-again, off-again romance with future rap star Lil' Kim).

The film's turn toward its dark, tragic conclusion occurs when B.I.G.'s then-friend, fellow rapper Tupac Shakur, is shot in B.I.G's studio. In a rather controversial move, the film clearly takes a side and claims that B.I.G. had no involvement with the shooting, that it was solely the actions of two thuggish men Shakur mistakenly let into his inner circle (men B.I.G. warned him about).

B.I.G.'s actual involvement in the shooting has never been fully revealed. What is known is that the shooting was the origin of the East Coast/West Coast feud, exacerbated by the words and actions of the infamous rap mogul (and oft convicted) Suge Knight. In the end, the feud left two young men, two of rap's biggest stars, dead.

I am not a huge fan of biographies; the story is already written, leaving less room for surprises. For most biographies to work, the film must reveal something new about its subject while also being as authentic as possible. The strength of Notorious, lies in its authenticity, particularly the performances. As B.I.G., Jamal Woodward is remarkable. He not only looks uncannily like B.I.G. but also effectively brings B.I.G.'s performances to life. Save perhaps for Anthony Mackie as Sean Combs, all the performers look and act remarkably similar to their real life characters, including Basset as Wallace's mother.

I most highly recommend Notorious for fans of B.I.G., but it is a well-done, compelling film worth seeing by fans of biographies in general. It also serves well as a warning: two men rose to fame through a culture and pose built on violence, but in the end, being too close to such a culture cost them everything.

Extras for the Blu-ray:
The sound and picture deliver high quality Blu-ray performance. Fans of B.I.G.'s music will be temped to crank up the sound system.
  • 2 commentary tracks:
    • One with director Tillman, co-screenwriters Reggie Bythewood Cleo Coker and Editor Westervelt
    • One with Violetta Wallace (B.I.G.'s mother) and B.I.G. producer/co-managers Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts
  • Two making-of features
  • BD-LIVE: Customize playlist, purchase songs and trivia track
  • Notorious Thugs casting feature
  • Biggie Boot Camp
  • I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of B.I.G.
  • Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance
  • The B.I.G. 360, a 360-degree angle feature
  • Concert footage
  • Deleted scenes
  • Digital Copy
As can be seen from the list above, there are hours of extra features offered for fans of the film, as well as fans of The Notorious B.I.G.
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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