(Just) Another Day – First-Look Movie Review

2009 has been an interesting year for Hip-Hop artists on film. From will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas in the truly awful Wolverine to Common’s truly awful performance in Terminator: Salvation to Cage’s cameo in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, (which I didn’t see but if the movie is anything like the Burger King sandwich based on the film, the Double Stackticon, it’s delicious but truly awful for my entire genetic makeup) putting a rapper in your movie is just as much a Hollywood trend as making something terrible. This is no surprise to those of us, like myself, who peruse every dark corner of Blockbuster and Netflix looking for something ridiculously terrible starring rappers for a night of entertainment. Yes, Hollywood has finally wised up to the independent underworld’s secret of throwing a rapper in whenever possible to connect with a market so next year I’m sure we can all look forward to Sir Ian McKellen starring alongside Dogg Pound member Kurupt in the rumored big budget remake of 2004’s I Accidentally Domed Your Son.

But then, there’s the off-chance that the collision of Hip-Hop and Hollywood works out. While I have a special place in my heart for 1985’s Krush Groove, there’s also 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow which, while not particularly a fan of the film, validates its existence by allowing me to say “Academy Award Winners Three-6 Mafia.” But that’s without even mentioning how well Hip-Hop has translated into the documentary genre. From 1982’s seminal PBS-funded Style Wars to an entire booming direct-to-DVD industry, there’s an entire niche-within-a-niche that’s thriving more than ever. I attribute most of that critical and commercial success to visionary director Peter Spirer.

If you’ve seen a Hip-Hop documentary over the past decade and found it intentionally entertaining, chances are Spirer was the man behind the camera. From 1997’s Rhyme & Reason through 2003’s Beef and up to 2007’s Notorious B.I.G. – Bigger than Life(otherwise known as the GOOD Biggie documentary), Spirer has known how to get out of the way, let the rappers be themselves and let their stories and interactions paint pictures of the industry as well as allow the artists to be both superstars and regular people the audience can identify with.

Perhaps it’s this documentary background that allows his new film (Just) Another Day (2009) to work so well. The film tells the stories of fictional rappers Young Eastie and A-Maze, one on the verge of signing a deal and the other an established major label artist who finds himself burnt-out by the politics of the industry. In the hands of anyone else, the story would be a cliched fable about an underdog succeeding with the overhanging cloud of “be careful what you wish for.” But Spirer adds the device of having all of the films events take place over the course of one 24 hour period. Spirer also shies away from the more absurd gags and violence that “rap industry” movies are known for in favor of a fairly haunting slice of life.

Wood Harris and Jamie Hector (A-Maze and Young Eastie, respectively) do a fantastic job of turning what would be standard caricatures into characters. They’re charming, moody, determined and believable. Neither the actors nor Spirer make it a point to have one or the other be the all-out “good guy” of the film. Instead, they are protagonists who wind up doing fairly despicable things that the audience can’t help but understand.

The choice of rap cameos in the film is an interesting batch that is nonetheless effective. One of the all-time greats Big Daddy Kane gives a surprisingly well executed performance as a record executive who, instead of being the standard slimeball, exhibits a certain logic for why he acts the way he acts. Also enjoyable is Miami’s own Trick Daddy as “Roman,” a local thug (would you expect less from Trick Daddy?) whose reputation in the neighborhood results in one of the many interesting twists that tie these stories together. Most surprising is Ja Rule, as himself, in a rare moment of humility having a laugh at his own expense.

Spirer’s film works because it reflects reality with a certain subtlety often missing from the genre. The 24-hour device gives the film an enjoyable tension and the various twists are shockingly believable. While the version I saw was still a work-in-progress, so far it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year. At the screening Spirer said he made it a point to make the film not come off too cynical, but what’s in place of that cynicism is a stoicism that the pays the film a tremendous service.

We Give it a Four out of Five

Until next time, let’s agree to agree!

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