8 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, March 7, 1994
'Sugar Hill' plays same old song,*
By CHRIS LEPLEY
"Sugar Hill" is the latest Wesley Snipes showcase
which might have been more aptly titled "New Jack City
II: Another Soundtrack." Written by Barry Michael Cooper
(the man who did an absolutely fabulous rewrite on
someone else's script which eventually became the
magnum opus "New Jack City"), this film has all the trite
conventional dialogue and lame melodrama of a bad
"Godfather" imitation, and if it weren't for Wesley Snipes,
it wouldn't have one single ounce of cool.
"Sugar Hill" tells the story of Roemello Skuggs
(Snipes), the younger in a team of mob brothers. Roemello
Written by Barry Michael Cooper;
directed by Leon Ichaso; with Wesley
Snipes and Michael Wright.
is wise and sensitive, and of course he wants out of the
horrible world of violence and crime. His older brother
Raynathan (Michael Wright) doesn't want out, he wants
control of the family empire.
Roemello agonizes over his criminal life-style, but
he's the only one who doesn't enjoy what he's doing.
Raynathan is supposed to seem "trapped" in the underworld
but he comes across as being in his element. Ernie Hudson
plays Lolly, an ex-boxer who is the Skuggs bros. rival in
the drug-dealing business. Lolly, too, supposedly regrets
his life-style, but that's rarely visible.
Every gangster needs a catalyst to set in motion his
desire to leave 'the business' and for Roemello, Melissa
(Theresa Randle) is that catalyst. She's a classy street-girl
and Roemello falls hard for her, deciding to give up
everything that he and his brother have built in order to
make a life with his lady love. Of course, it doesn't work
out that way. If it did, this would be a better movie, and a
lot less melodramatic.
Instead, Snipes and Wright are forced to play endless
rounds of sobbing brotherly conflict, then Snipes follows
up with more sobbing in the comforting arms of Melissa.
There's a lot of sobbing in this film. No outright crying,
though, because it wouldn't be macho.
Every melodrama must have a classic reflection
character, and "Sugar Hill" is no exception. Abe Vigoda
steps down off of the acting pedestal he was on after doing
both "Godfather" movies (he was already seriously
teetering after doing "Look Who's Talking") and
condescends to play Gus, an elderly mob-type guy who
runs a grocery store while in reality controlling most of the
drug business in the city. If the audience can believe that
kind of set-up, they deserve to sit through this film.
The best thing about "Sugar Hill," not counting Wesley
Snipes, is the soundtrack. Terence Blanchard (who did the@
scores for "Do The Right Thing" and "Malcolm X")
provides a fluid and energetic score that's perfect for love
scenes, even if it does leave something to be desired
during the parts of the movie that the audience came to see:
namely, the violent parts.
Like "New Jack City," "Sugar Hill" is a fashion
showcase, with star Wesley Snipes dressed in tailored
Armani suits, presumably to display his more rational
nature in contrast with his brother, who wears Yamamoto
suits in bright primary colors. After watching the film for@
about 10 minutes it becomes rather obvious that more
thought went into the costume design than the script.
So overall "Sugar Hill" becomes nothing more than
another story about sensitive men trapped inside "the
business." What ever happened to classy gangsters who
indulge in orgies of senseless violence and show absolutely
no remorse? The gangster movies of today are nothing
more than one flashy killing scene in the beginning and
then another 90 minutes of the killer agonizing over what
he / she has done. This kind of existential angst on scree
The filmmakers have the most noble of motives in
trying to showcase the plight ofAfrican-Americans trapped
in a world of crime and violence, but a slick production
like this doesn't make that message come across. You
can't feel sympathy for Roemello or Raynathan after
seeing what they're capable of any more than you could
feel sympathy for one of the characters in "Goodfellas."
"Sugar Hill" tries to rise above the melodramatic
music-video style of "New Jack City" and fails miserably.
The two leads are excellent, but even they can't save this*
sinking ship. Some of the best African-American actors
working today are in this film,just as they were in "Juice,"
"New Jack City," "Posse" and "Malcolm X." But after
watching those same actors try like hell to inject some new
life into this old tired story, you get the feeling that the
name of the USS SugarHill ought to be changed to the USS
SUGAR HiLL is plaving at Showcase.
Sexy Wesley Snipes, yet again, is perhaps the only good thing you'll find in "Sugar Hill."
Continued from page 5
famous aria telling of her fantasies
about Pinkerton's return, "Un Bel Di"
("One fine day"), was picturesque
The second leads sung their roles
with precision and to perfection.
Zheng Cao capitalized on the potential
of the role of Suzuki, which is one of
the greatest roles for a mezzo soprano
in all of Western opera. Though she
spent much of her time sobbing with
her hands covering her face, what she
did sing was convincing and
enchanting. Charles Huddleston did
some nice things with Sharpless, who
is really just Pinkerton's lackey. But
he was sympathetic and sincere-
Peter Dean Beck's set showing
the interior of Butterfly's house
worked, but it was oddly-
proportioned. Much of the interior
was invisible to people sitting
anywhere but center (where this
reviewer was). Gary Marder's lighting
provided a few dramatic moments,
but for the most part did nothing
special. And the English supertitles
(by Sonya Friedman) were often late
and sometimes missing.
But the singing, the storyline and
Puccini's music compensates for any
flaws in the production. Giacomo
Puccini, you have won.
Kill Rock Stars
Riot Grrl is a movement much
documented in the press, yet it has
been difficult to find the albums, zines
and supporters of this youth-culture
The release of "Pussy Whipped,"
the aptly named second album from
this pioneer Riot Grrl band, marks the
movement's approach to the
mainstream ( i.e. - the album can be
found at Tower Records).
"Pussy Whipped" is the second
full-length album from this Olympia,
WA quartet. The band consists of
three riot grrls (including singer
Kathleen Hanna, who aside from
leading the revolution is a stripper
and spray-painted the phrase "Smells
Like Teen Spirit" on a certain ex-
boyfriend's house) and one riot boy.
Their white-hot, visceral ferocity
"pussy-whips" the listener's ears into
submission to their garage-punk
Their sound is firmly rooted in
early Sonic Youth and hard-core
stylings, replete with speedy melodies
and lots of screaming, churned into an
anguished low-fi free-for-all.
Standout songs include "Blood One,"
about defying male standards, "Alien
She," about a feminist's relationship
to a non-feminist ("I want to kill her,
but I'm afraid it might kill me"),
"Hamster Baby," which is a wonder
of screaming and feedback, the tough,
anthemic "Rebel Girl" and the pretty,
almost accessible, "ForTammy Rae."
At their best, Bikini Kill are catchy
and frightening in their simplicity and
Though Bikini Kill are vague on
how exactly to smash the system they
rail against, and the overuse of explicit
lyrics tend to deaden their intended
impact for the listener, it is interesting
and important to hear one of the best
RiotGrrl bands lash out against sexism
in an artistic and empowering way.
Not an easy listen, but a worthwhile
- Heather Phares
. . ,
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