NOTORIOUS:

Biopics about entertainers need to show me what it was about their subject that made them distinct enough to merit film treatment. As much as I dislike hip-hop for its dearth of lyrical substance, I found myself drawn into this movie about rapper Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard), who rose from an amoral fat kid whoíd sell crack to a pregnant buyer, into a larger-than-life artist who impacted the fledgling hip-hop industry. The musical sequences are well directed by George Tillman, Jr. (MEN OF HONOR), who captures the energy of live concert performances while adapting them for the medium of film. Most notable, though, is the casting of actors who bear a remarkable resemblance to their real-life counterparts including Smallsí actual son, Christopher Wallace, Jr., who portrays his father as a child. (Tidbits like these are why you should stay through the closing credits.) This isnít stunt casting because all of the ensemble players are quite convincing, especially newcomer Woolard, who does his own singing a la Sissy Spacek in COAL MINERíS DAUGHTER (1980). Even though B.I.G.ís mother, Voletta Davis, co-produced the movie, it manages to avoid being a vanity project with its honest depiction of the title character as an adulterous husband and a crappy, inattentive father. The origins of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry among competing record labels that led to the musicianís murder (which remains unsolved) are rather murkily treated in the screenplay, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. Here, however, thatís not an unforgivable sin because the acting, direction, musical scoring and writing of the work are above average enough for even the most ardent of hip-hop haters to appreciate its positive qualities.

MOVIE YOU SHOULD TRY TO WATCH BEFORE/DURING THIS SUPER BOWL WEEKEND: Robert Shaw (JAWS) plays an Israeli intelligence agent out to thwart an international terrorist plot to bomb Americaís most overhyped football spectacle in BLACK SUNDAY (1977). The movie is highlighted by Bruce Dernís (COMING HOME) turn as a really disturbed former Vietnam POW attempting to pilot an explosives-laden Goodyear blimp into Super Bowl X between the Cowboys and Steelers (back when Dallas actually made the playoffs). The pre-CGI climax of the iconic zeppelin crashing into the old Orange Bowl in Miami is spectacular and also seems eerily prophetic in the post 9/11 age.