NOTORIOUS – UNRATED DIRECTOR’S CUT (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 24, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Jamal Woolard brings Biggie back to life in this magnificent biopic showcasing the life of Christopher ‘Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace, one of hip-hop’s greatest. Well-cast, beautiful cinematography, very slick editing and simply an amazing release on Blu-ray! Biggie fans…this Blu-ray disc is highly recommended!”
TITLE: NOTORIOUS – UNRATED DIRECTOR’S CUT
DURATION: Theatrical version: 123 Minutes, Director’s Cut: 129 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: The NOTORIOUS Unrated Director’s Cut Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Disc is presented in widescreen format (2.55:1 ration) with English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and Spanish 5.1 Audio with French and Spanish subtitles. English subtitles will also be available for the deaf and hard of hearing.
COMPANY: Twentieth Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: April 21, 2009
Based on the original novel by Stephanie Meyer
Directed by George Tillman, Jr.
Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker
Produced by Wayne Barrow, Edward Yates, Trish Hofmann, Mark Pitts, Robert Teitel, Voletta Wallace
Executive Produced by Sean ‘P.Diddy’ Combs
Co-produced by George Paaswell
Music by Danny Elfman
Director of Photography: Michael Grady
Editing by Dirk Westervelt
Production Design by Jane Musky
Art Direction by Laura Ballinger
Set Decoration by Alexandra Mazur
Casting by Twinkie Byrd and Pamela Frazier
Jamal Woolard as Christopher ‘Biggie’ Wallace
Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace
Derek Luke as Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs
Dennis L.A. White as Damion ‘D-Roc’ Butler
Marc John Jeffries as Lil Cease
Christopher Jordan Wallace as Young Christopher ‘Biggie’ Wallace
Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur
Kevin Phillips as Mark
Antonique Smith as Faith Evans
Amanda Christopher as Keisha
Cyrus Farmer as Selwyn
Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim
Ginger Kroll as Debbie
Ricky Smith as Wally
Chronicling the extraordinary life of Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, NOTORIOUS follows the young rapper from the tough streets of Brooklyn to the heights of superstardom as he juggles the increasing demands of fatherhood, marriage and a music career. Amid chaos and controversy, Biggie’s remarkable talent and fierce determination help to solidify his legacy as one of hip-hop’s greatest MCs.
The death of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace in 1997 was a big shock to hip hop fans around the world.
The events preceding his death was well-known, well-documented in the media in regards to the major riff with the East Coast vs. West Coast hip hop feud.
Considered as one of the greatest hip hop artists ever, “Notorious” is a biopic that documents the life of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace and grossing over $43 million worldwide.
The film was directed by George Tillman, Jr. (“Soul Food” and “Men of Honor”) and a screenplay co-written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker (the author of “Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G.”) which showcases and celebrates the rapper’s life.
The film features Christopher Lawrence as a child being raised by his mother Voletta and enjoying hip hop music but no one expected him to succeed because of his weight. But Lawrence, was always seeing people in Brooklyn with the cool clothes and gold necklaces and if he wanted to have those luxuries, he was going to need some money. So, with wanting to make it big, Lawrence got involved with selling drugs at the age of 12 and made a considerable amount of money as he got older.
Unfortunately, because of his drug dealing business, he would miss out of school and also, get his girlfriend pregnant at a young age. And so, with a new baby, Wallace ended up focusing his efforts on his drug dealing business.
The film also showcases how Wallace became financially successful in the streets as a drug dealer but the repercussion he had to face at a young age. While in prison for almost a year, the budding music artist used his time to focus on his rhymes and eventually when he got out, used his talent as a way to get off the streets and attracted several people involved in the music industry. One which includes Uptown Records A&R and record producer, Sean “Puffy” Combs and detailing how the two went on to become a force with Bad Boy Records and how Combs became a positive influence on him to stop selling drugs.
As the film showcases Wallace’s rise to stardom, the film also features his life as a father but also a guy who enjoyed having his women. From his romantic relationship with Lil Kim to marrying Faith Evans not long after the two met and also showcasing his variety of affairs.
The film would also show how Biggie and his friend Tupac Shakur got involved in a well-publicized, media driven feud between the East Coast rappers featuring the Bad Boy Records crew and the West Coast rappers featuring Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre and those on the Death Row Records label.
And of course, the film showcases everything leading up to how his leg was shattered up to the promotion of his album in Los Angeles and how he was murdered.
“Notorious” captures the life of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Lawrence from those who knew him well but also showing the life that many people may have not known about.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
The NOTORIOUS Unrated Director’s Cut Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Disc is presented in widescreen format (2.55:1 ration) with English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and Spanish 5.1 Audio with French and Spanish subtitles. English subtitles will also be available for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Picture quality for “Notorious” looked amazing as you can see the skin pores quite clearly on high definition but what is most amazing is how New York was captured on film. From the beauty of the city to its gritty side, the level of vibrancy in the colors, beautiful cinematography and wonderful editing really made this biopic come alive.
As for the audio, audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. Audio is crystal clear during the dialogue department but its even more exciting during the musical segments as your speakers really showcase the drum and bass, giving your subwoofers a workout. From the performance of “Party & Bulls***t”to the overall atmosphere with the crowd going wild, the soundtrack is well done!
The “Notorious” Blu-ray Disc is jam-packed with special features. The 2-Disc Blu-ray version includes a digital copy and also the unrated director’s cut and theatrical version of the film. Special features included are:
- Commentary with Director George Tillman, Jr., Co-Screenwriter Reggie Rock Bythewood, Co-Screenwriter Cheo Hodari Coker and Editor Dirk Westervelt – This commentary features the filmmaking side of “Notorious”. Really well-done and there is a picture-in-picture segment featuring the screenplay and interviews with the talent.
- Commentary with Producer/Biggie’s Mom Voletta Wallace, Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Wayne Barrow and Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Mark Pitts – This is a very unique commentary. For one, Ms. Wallace was very instrumental for the film but what I enjoyed abut this commentary and hearing his co-managers talk is them actually chiming in what was different in terms of the real Chris Wallace and the version portrayed on the film. Small situations such as when Chris goes to prison for the first time, his first and only call is to his mother and for Chris, panicking he cusses. His mother was clear that her son knew better than to cuss around her and never did. So, that was quite interesting to hear.
- Behind the Scenes: “Making of Notorious” Featurette – (27:22) Interviews with Voletta Wallace, Director Frank Tillman, Jr., Christopher Wallace’s friends and the talent. Learning on how the casting director’s searched for the right talent to play the certain roles for the film. Behind-the-scenes footage of the planning for the film from casting auditions to how authentic the crew wanted to make this film and making sure New York during that time was captured correctly. Interviews with the actual people close to Biggie and the people portraying them.
- I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls – (9:28) How Notorious B.I.G. was an icon. Interviews with radio DJ’s, magazine interviewers, friends and family of Biggie explaining to the viewer how great a guy he was and how humorous he is.
- NOTORIOUS Thugs: Casting the Film – (9:05) Interviews with the casting directors Twinkie Byrd and Pamela Frazier and how and why they made their final decision in casting the main characters for the film.
- Biggie Boot Camp – (6:48) Interview with Director Frank Tillman, Jr. and how the characters had to go through a boot camp in order to prepare for their roles and make the film as authentic as possible. From acting coach to the live performances.
- Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance – (5:15) Interview with Director Frank Tillman, Jr. & Little Cease about getting the details right for Notorious B.I.G. shows. And basing the live footage of the film from the actual recorded live performances. How there was no lip syncing and how the talent had to make the crowd move.
- Party & Bulls**t (never-before-seen footage of the real B.I.G.) – (3:42) Oldschool never-seen-before live footage of Party & Bulls**t.
- The B.I.G. Three-Sixty – A segment featuring the filming of the murder of Notorious B.I.G. near Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave. A 360 segment which the viewer can go left and right and each section has a video of certain segments that deal with the shooting of the murder scene.
o The Petersen – (1:13) Going behind the scenes of the Petersen Museum for the party that Biggie attended, hours before he was murdered. Interview with producer Trish Hoffman, Wayne Barrow, co-writer Cheo Hodari Coker and Director Frank Tillman, Jr.
o Directing the Last Moments – (2:10) Director Frank Tillman, Jr. discussing how difficult the scene was to shoot.
o It Happened Right Here – (1:23) Interview with Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Wayne Barrow discussing the spot where Biggie was killed.
o The Petersen Exit – (2:15) Interviews with crew and talent in regards to the scene when Biggie and his friends leave the Petersen Exit minutes before he is killed at the stoplight.
o The Shooting – (4:12) Interview with Director Frank Tillman, Jr., Cheo Hodari Coker and Reggie Rock Bythewood (co-writers) and Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Wayne Barrow and producer Robert Teitel discussing how difficult it was to shoot the heartwrenching scene and shooting in the actual corner of where it all happened.
o The Impala – (1:12) Interview with Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Wayne Barrow discussing the Chevy Impala that the killer drove.
o The Unfortunate Violent Act – (1:09) Interview with Reggie Rock Bythewood (co-writer) on how they shot the scene because the investigation to Biggie’s death is still ongoing.
o The Window – (1:30) Interview with FX Technician Larz Anderson on how they made the broken glass window affect without firing a bullet.
- Deleted Scenes – (12:13) A total of nine deleted scenes and an extended scene with a brief text introduction to each scene.
- o Assassin assembles his gun
o Taking care of business
o Big on his own
o Finding inspiration
o The assassin watches
o In the hotel pool
o East Coast in the house
o After the accident
o The assassin backs up
o Extended Concert: Primo Street Rap
- BD-Live Feature – The Music: get even closer with the music of B.I.G. with this interactive trivia track and tag and track your favorite songs throughout the movie.
- BonusVIEW – Life After Death: Making NOTORIOUS
“NOTORIOUS” was an absolutely, wonderful film and the Blu-ray Disc was magnificent!
What I loved about the film is how much was put into making the film look authentic when it came to the kind of clothes, the type of haircut, the type of vehicles, the live performances and of course, the talents.
The crew’s determination to achieve authenticity was just amazing, James Woolard as Christopher Wallace was well-acted and his mannerisms was well-captured. I also thought that it was so touching for Biggie’s son, Christopher Jordan Wallace playing his father at a young age. The young man did a great job portraying his father.
Angela Bassett really showcased Voletta Wallace’s strength and caring for her son as a single mother and portrayed her quite well with emotion of happiness, sadness, anger, etc. Bassett definitely gave a powerful performance especially capturing the moment when Voletta realized how important her son’s music was to his fans.
Derek Luke also portrayed Sean “Puffy” Combs quite well and capturing his mannerisms, especially onstage and doing Puffy’s dance moves.
You also have give credit to Biggie’s entourage as Dennis L.A. White did a great job as Damion “D-Roc” Butler, capturing the time they were hustling on the streets and then afterward as a friend and being there when he died. Marc John Jeffries as Lil Cease as Biggie’s small friend but with a big heart and always there for him. Also, Kevin Phillips as Biggie’s manager Mark, did a good job showing his concern and for his sake, as well as his mother’s sake, taking care of him.
The ladies in Biggie’s life was well played by Antonique Smith as Faith Evans, Amanda Christopher as Keisha and Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim. Antonique having an impressive voice and having grown up listening and singing Faith Evans songs, definitely brought her beauty to the film. Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim was well-cast, especially for the actress showcasing the actual talent’s sexiness and how she became the sex-driven hip hop artist. That was quite interesting to know.
Well-cast and again, kudos to the crew for making sure these talents got down the mannerisms of their real counterparts.
Another major positive for the film is the cinematography and editing. Cinematography and capturing New York in a variety of forms from the area Biggie grew up to capturing the buildings and bridges and overall, Brooklyn. Director of Photography Michael Grady (“Wonderland”, “Hotel for Dogs”, etc.) did a phenomenal job. Editing was also done very well by Dirk Westervelt (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”). Cuts are tight and just the overall amount of editing from capturing New York to the live performances and making sure you feel the energy of the performance was well captured in the final cut.
And last, this film would not be successful without the well-written script by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, who knew Biggie Smalls and worked with his family and friends in making sure they got certain parts as accurate as they can. Overall, pacing of the story was just right and made you care for the characters.
If there was anything negative that I found, the film tends to focus on the more positive sides of Christopher Lawrence and less on his well-publicized bad-boy past which he has gotten in trouble for. Aside from the drug dealing, Lawrence has had some major problems in his life with the law that were not shown in the film. But then again, there were so many layers that needed to be covered in the overall film such as his many relations with the women in his life, his best friends, his manager and other performers, if anything, the people who made this film are those who loved the man for what he did for them and the music he created for people. He touched a lot of lives and this film produced by the people most close to him, wanted to celebrate that.
I just can help but be amazed by how much is on this blu-ray disc. You get the original theatrical and unrated director’s cut, you get a digital download disc, you get a film showcasing the beauty of New York and the gritty side of the city with amazing picture quality.
Audio quality was just great especially with the music of Notorious B.I.G. and hearing the subwoofer’s lower frequency and the bass drum making things sound amazing during the musical segments. Audio is crystal clear and easily understood.
And of course, the Blu-ray features many special features with in-depth footage of the making of this film and getting to learn about the life of Christopher “Biggie” Wallace and also the heartbreaking scenes of his murder and having to shoot those scenes for the film. Also, kudos to the idea of including Voletta Wallace for the commentary segment a reality. Just a nice touch to hear Biggie’s mother speak about certain scenes and about her son.
Suffice to say, you’re getting your money’s worth with this Blu-ray release. Awesome picture quality, magnificent audio and jam-packed with features. I give “NOTORIOUS – UNRATED DIRECTOR’S CUT” a high recommendation and for Biggie fans, this Blu-ray disc is definitely worth having in your collection!
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