Notorious DVD review

Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls in Notorious
Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls in Notorious

On April 21st, 2009, Fox Home Entertainment released the biopic Notorious on DVD. The film tells the tragic story of Christopher Wallace (1972-1997) aka Biggie Smalls aka Notorious B.I.G., a Brooklyn-born rapper who was taken at 24 years of age, a casualty of the now famous East Coast-West Coast turf war which first claimed the life of Tupac Shakur (played in the film by Anthony Mackie). Apparently Tupac first disrespected Biggie by claiming in a record to have slept with his wife, fellow hip-hop star Faith Evans (played by Antonique Smith).

Notorious DVD cover
Notorious DVD cover
The larger issues had L.A. producer Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold) and his batch of artists at Death Row Records, and upstarts from New York City who Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) had recently signed to his new label, Bad Boy.

Notorious does an excellent job of telling the life of Biggie, from his relationships in high school, to growing up and taking on responsibilities as an adult, but doesn’t glorify the issues that over-shadowed his immense popularity. The film is an entertaining slice-of-life tale, that packs tons of solid emotion. It’s a great hip hop film, and a great biopic about a young man who transcended all boundaries to be heard.

Jamal Woolard makes an impressive screen debut in the title role, as the talented rapper trying to get out his surroundings.

I wish the movie shed more light on the mystery surrounding Biggie and Tupac’s murders. I always felt there was a much larger investigation there waiting to happen. But it unfortunately never did. However, director George Tillman, Jr. managed to realize an absorbing tale of a kid from Bed-Stuy, who overcame insurmountable odds set by society and his own demons, to gain the ear of the entire world.

Bonus features include:

  • Unrated Director’s Cut and theatrical versions of the film
  • The first Commentary Track features the director George Tillman, Jr., co-screenwriters Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, along with editor Dirk Westervelt, while the second featured Biggie’s producer and mom Voletta Wallace, along with his co-producers/co-managers Wayne Barrow and Mark Pitts. The second commentary track was excellent and should connect with fans especially.
  • Behind the Scenes: Making of Notorious – is a well-made look at the making of the film, from conception, right through final editing.
  • I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls – This featurette analyzes the lyrics of the artist’s music, acting as a filter for the uninitiated. Understanding what Biggie Smalls was saying sheds light on his character and his views on life and death.
  • Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film – This segment discusses how the film was cast, and most importantly, how a new Biggie was found.
  • Biggie Boot Camp – This featurette explores the steps taken to help the actors capture the essence of their larger-than-life characters, including how to “dance” like Sean Combs and holding the microphone while performing.
  • Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance – This unique vignette dissects a rap performance by the cult figure. For me, it stands as one of the more interesting segments, aside from the great commentary tracks.
  • Party and Bulls**t – Features never-before-seen footage of the real B.I.G. both in front of, and behind the scenes.
  • The B.I.G. Three-Sixty – This multi-segment featurette revolves around the spot on Wilshire Blvd. where Biggie was shot and killed. Spots feature co-writer Reggie Rock Bythewood discussing the reasons behind shooting the scene, and a close friend of Biggie discussing the tragic moment.
  • Deleted Scenes include: Assassin assembles his gun, Taking care of business, Big on his own, Finding inspiration, The assassin watches, In the hotel pool, East Coast in the house, After the accident, The assassin backs up and Extended Concert: Primo Street Rap
  • There is also a Digital Copy of the film, for your iPod, iPhone or PDA device.

The Notorious Unrated Director’s Cut Collector’s Edition is presented in widescreen format (2.55:1 ratio) with English 5.1 DTS sound and French and Spanish subtitles. English subtitles will also be available for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writers: Reggie Rock Bythewood, Cheo Hodari Coker
Cast: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton, Dennis White, Julia Pace Mitchell