Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

936full-something-from-nothing -the-art-of-rap-posterStarring Ice-T, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaataa, Big Daddy Kane, B-Real, Bun B, Chino XL, Chuck D, Common, Dana Dane, DJ Premier, DMC, Doug E. Fresh, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Ice Cube, Immortal Technique, Joe Budden, Kanye West, Kool Keith, Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One, Lord Finesse, Lord Jamar, Marley Marl, MC Lyte, Melle Mel, Nas, Q-Tip, Raekwon, Rakim, Ras Kass, Redman, Royce da 5’9″, Run, Salt, Snoop Dogg, Treach, WC, Xzibit, Yasiin (formerly known as Mos Def)

Directed by Ice-T (with Andy Baybutt)

Expectations: High.

fourstar


During Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, the point is made that rap is not given the same respect as other American musical genres such as jazz and blues, one of the reasons being that people just aren’t listening to it the right way. This is a simple point, but it is a profound one. Something from Nothing isn’t about beats or bling, it’s strictly focused on the art of the rhyme. Rap is perhaps the most misunderstood of musical genres, but as time goes on, its effects and staying power will be undeniable. Like parents who told their children in the early part of the 20th century that jazz was the devil’s music, hip hop has been similarly derided. It’s an inherently more violent and vitriolic music, yes, but it’s a reflection of the streets that it originates from, and this power and honesty is what people respond to. Rap is a musical language like any other genre, and if you’re coming from a place where that type of music doesn’t immediately hit you viscerally, it requires a certain warm-up period to acclimate to it, just like jazz and blues before it.

And like rap itself, this film must also be approached from a specific vantage point. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap doesn’t seek to chart the genre’s progress from street corners to Madison Square Garden, nor does it seek to illuminate newcomers on key tracks or albums they should pick up. Instead, the film focuses on what makes rap unique and intoxicating: the lyrics. And not just the lyrics, but the craft of writing those lyrics and the power they can possess. This is a movie seeking not only to paint rap as an art, but as a skill, and as such it’s going to play best to people inclined to write songs of their own.

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Mini-Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge, Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Xzibit, Fairuza Balk, Michael Shannon, Vondie Curtis Hall

Directed by Werner Herzog

Expectations: Low due to Nicolas Cage, but optimistic because of Werner Herzog.


Until now, I had not seen a Werner Herzog movie I didn’t enjoy. I unabashedly love his documentaries. His fiction films are less interesting, but so far I’ve seen enough to know that his work is usually engaging on some level and worth my time. This is not the case with Herzog’s latest, Bad Lieutenant. Nicolas Cage plays the same character he’s been playing for years, the washed up drug-addled fiend that can’t quite get his life together. Does he at least play it well? Not really, but I’ve never been a big fan. To his credit, the supporting cast is worse than he is, with an overweight, bored Val Kilmer at the top of the trash heap. Brad Dourif plays a bookie and has the distinction of being one of the few believable actors in the film.

Cage plays a drug addict cop that is slowly slipping over the edge into oblivion. He is surrounded by the rest of the clichéd corrupt cop genre characters; the call girl, the useless partner cop, the dealer, the woman with a baby at the door of the dealer’s house who let’s on where the dealer is hiding. You get the idea. Cage is investigating the murder of a family of immigrants from Senegal, but the story goes haphazardly between the mystery and Cage getting off in some way, be it sex or drugs or both. Herzog likes to deal with madness and obsession in his films, and Cage’s character has both in spades, but he doesn’t do anything to make it engaging. I love a good obsession film, but this was just boring. Cage really should hang it up at this point, or at least take a few years off. It would be unfair though to lay all the blame on the actors as Herzog seems to be as uninterested in the story as I was. I was hoping that the film might rise above the swampy filth it had been sulking in, but alas, the pull was too great. On a positive note, the film’s score by Mark Isham is pretty good in spots.

So yeah, I hated it. I do have an odd desire to re-watch it, though.

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