Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Django UnchainedBy Peter Bradshaw @ The Guardian

Quentin Tarantino‘s brilliant and brutal revenge western is a wildly exciting return to form: a thrilling adventure in genre and style climaxing in a bizarre and nightmarish scenario in a slave plantation in 1858.

The movie is managed with Tarantino’s superb provocation and audacity, with a whiplash of cruelty and swagger of scorn.

It is superbly acted by Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and, particularly, Samuel L Jackson, who creates a masterpiece with his chilling character Stephen, the grey, stooping servant-elder to DiCaprio’s unspeakable slave-owner Calvin Candie.

Just to make liberals everywhere uneasy, Tarantino and Jackson make Stephen the biggest, nastiest “Uncle Tom” ever: utterly loyal to his white master, and severe in his management of the below-stairs race in the Big House. He fixes everyone with a chillingly shrewd, malevolent stare made even more disquieting by an unsettling Parkinson’s disease tremor — an inspired touch.

Stephen is overwhelmed with disgust for uppity racial politics (though that isn’t how he phrases it) and he and Tarantino drop the satirical N-bomb, targeted with sadistic tactlessness and muscular bad taste at the white man’s Vichyite collaborators in the Old South.

Slavery is a subject on which Hollywood is traditionally nervous and reticent. Perhaps it takes a film unencumbered with good taste to tackle it. Lars Von Trier’s Manderlay was one.

Here is another.

Continue Reading At The Guardian

 

Released online just as financial markets took a historic plunge, the full-length collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West revels in self-described “luxury rap.” Two of hip-hop’s biggest stars tell us in rhyme form that even in this economy, they can afford fine art, haute couture, even top-tier German home appliances.

If you can forgive these self-satisfied rap titans their name-checking of Mark Rothko, Dries Van Noten and Miele, though, “Watch The Throne” has more on its mind.

Celebration of the high life is undercut by regrets, loneliness, and snatches of mournful social commentary. Like West’s acclaimed solo effort last year, the album title reveals itself as both boastful and paranoid, proud and furtive.

Watch us on top, they seem to say, but know that we don’t always like what we see from here — both looking outward and in.

“Murder to Excellence” encapsulates the theme in a two-parter that shifts beats halfway through. West begins by quoting an old Jay-Z line — “I’m from the murder capital, where they murder for capital” — to decry black-on-black violence in his hometown of Chicago. Jay-Z then describes ascending to “the new black elite” with Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey. “Only spot a few blacks the higher I go … that ain’t enough. We gon’ need a million more,” he raps.

Isolation infuses the Swizz Beats-produced “Welcome to the Jungle,” where West drinks away his struggles: “Just when I thought I had everything, I lost it all. So que sera. Get a case of Syrah, let it chase the pain.” Jay-Z places himself in the shoes of fellow musicians at their lowest points, linking Eminem, Michael Jackson, Pimp C, 2Pac and more through coded couplets that reward repeat listening.

Even more dour is the RZA-produced “New Day,” with odes to sons the two may eventually father. Over a plinking piano and Nina Simone sample, West flagellates himself for mistakes, from his choice in women to post-Katrina telethon appearance, noting: “I’ll never let my son have an ego.” Jay-Z is even more direct: “Sorry Junior, I already ruined ya, ’cause you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuing ya.”

Oh, poor millionaire rappers. Go cry into your Armand de Brignac Champagne at your yacht parties, you may find yourself responding. But this type of intimacy and honesty doesn’t come easy — or often enough — in commercial hip-hop. West’s feverish, sometimes needy soul-baring has jolted the oft-aloof Jay-Z to attention, just as his sped-up soul samples did the first time they worked together, on 2001’s classic “The Blueprint.”

“Throne” is sometimes guilty of failing to let its lyrics breathe, as West and other producers drown out the duo’s rhymes with distracting vocal samples or ever-escalating arrhythmic electro beats.

“Who Gon Stop Me” is an ambitious but ultimately failed rap-dubstep mashup. The playful wordplay of “Gotta Have It” gets lost in the Neptunes’ multiple James Brown samples.

Beyonce showcase “Lift Off” wants to be a successor to West’s regal, star-studded “All of the Lights” but feels incomplete, like it was prematurely ripped from an engineer’s hands to beat a deadline.

Moments of determined calm hit their target more effectively. Frank Ocean, part of the buzzy Los Angeles collective Odd Future, croons a soulful, effortless chorus on the gorgeous memoir “Made In America,” an album highlight.

He’s joined by The-Dream on the provocative album opener “No Church In the Wild,” filled with striking images and poetry.

The 23-year-old Ocean’s presence signifies the “Throne’s” attempt to blend old with new. Despite all the nods to hip-hop history — “Apache” and “Top Billin” samples, quotes from Outkast and Wu-Tang — the 34-year-old West and 41-year-old Jay-Z have crafted a bleeding-edge nontraditional hip-hop album.

Over the course of 12 songs (plus four bonus tracks in the deluxe edition) West has pushed his “big brother,” one of hip-hop’s few true legends, into riskier territory, sonically and lyrically, than he’s gone in many years.

Not including Jay-Z’s R. Kelly collaborations — and really, the less said the better — these hard-working rhyme partners have touched on their genre’s familiar aspirational themes repeatedly over the course of a combined 16 solo albums.

On top, done counting their Basquiats and all-black Maybachs, they’re left to assess: What else is there?

Source:  Ryan Pearson @ Associated Press

Imagine, if you will, you are Jay-Z. It’s early December (2001) and you are getting’ ready to celebrate your birthday with a large group of friends and family. Christmas is right around the corner, your multi-platinum album The Blueprint is still goin’ strong, and you have a highly anticipated “unplugged” album set to drop.

Ahh, all is well in Gotham. Then . . . WHAM! (the street release single “Stillmatic”), BAM! (“Got Urself A Gun”), BOOM! (“Ether”). You’re suddenly blind-sided by a series of napalm bombs, courtesy of one Nasir Jones. Jay Hova had been lyrically annihilated quicker than a Taliban Toyota pick-up caught in the crosshairs of a next generation smart bomb.

The obvious question arose. Would he rebound, would he seek revenge with a “Takeover, part deux” A-Bomb of his own? Everyone was waiting, but instead, Jay rushed his reply and came out with the infinitely weak, “Superugly”, an attempt at redemption ridiculed by everyone from Allen Iverson to Jay’s own mother.

Jay confirmed his defeat by appearing on the radio the next morning, sounding like a whining, broken individual. His voice cracked, he sounded hurt, scared, and shook up, talking about how the vulgarity of “Ether” was offensive to him as a man.

The King of New York had been knocked from his throne, but for how long? Well, if his recent release The Blueprint 2 is any kind of indication, it may be a while. And to make matters worse, and more to the point, Nas keeps putting out the hottest music in rap, as evidenced by both tracks like “Doo Rags”, “Purple”, and God’s Son‘s lead single “Made U Look”, as well as his guest appearances with Scarface, 2Pac, and J. Lo earlier this year.

God’s Son is monumental in terms of the current power struggle in hip-hop. Whether you like it or not, “Ether” did this. With God’s Son, Nas has the opportunity to cement his status as the King of N.Y., at least for another 3-4 year term, or he could prove that he is not the savior that hip-hop fans should be pinning their hopes on.

As if anticipating this, Nas comes out with all guns blazin’ on “Get Down”, where he provides the kind of mental imagery that only he can. Simply put, kid is sick and very few MCs on this earth can match him verse for verse.

One such master of the mic who could go tit for tat with the Queensbridge native is the man many right-wingers are calling evil incarnate these days, my melanin deficient brother Slim Shady. Em took a lil’ time out from promoting 8 Mile to provide the bumps for the hot little ditty “The Cross”.

Now before you start fantasizing about Marshall and Nas spittin’ back and forth at one another, go ahead and kill that thought. For reasons unknown, the virtuoso of venom does something more producers should take note of these days and lets the artist do their thing while he just mans the mixing board. Never the less, the track is dope.

The lead single, “Made U Look”, has been getting’ mad airplay for a while now and should make any rapper tryin’ to either establish, maintain, or elevate his/her status take notice. No Beyonce, no Bobby Brown, just some bangin’ ass lyrics. And that pattern continues on the cut “Last Real Nigga Alive”, where we find Nas discussing the complex inter-personal dynamics between NYC artists, ranging from himself to Jay-Z, Puff, the Wu, and Biggie.

On “I Can”, the listener finds a rather simple hook and an elementary beat wrapped around a noble message. A positive track encouraging kids to stay focused and never give up on their dreams, instilling the belief that anything is possible, it’s easy to overlook the cut’s production shortcomings.

Claudette Ortiz of City High and The Neptunes’ good pal Kelis, of ODB’s “Got Your Money” fame, drop in to sing the infectious hook on “Hey Nas”, a joint that makes me wanna dial up Nelly & Ja Rule to tell ’em how to make an R&B joint and still stay street. This jam and a re-working of the acoustic version of 2Pac’s “Thugz Mansion” only add to the album’s appeal.

The most introspective Nas track in years, “Dance”, has our man pleading for one last opportunity to express his gratitude towards his recently deceased mother Anne. One can feel the guy’s pain, giving us a glimpse of the kind of humanity rarely seen from someone in his profession.

While this album isn’t quite as good as the now legendary Stillmatic, it is one of the best hip-hop discs to drop in some time. A collection of volatile, insightful, thought-provoking lyrics set upon a variety of sonic backdrops, it’s a must have for anyone who dares to call themselves a connoisseur of hip-hop.