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March 03, 2003 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2003-03-03

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March 3,2003

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By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer
On too many soundtracks, an impres-
sive array of artists invariably will sound
like bad, hollow versions of themselves,
producing formulaic material that likely
had previously been deemed unworthy
of their own respective solo releases.
Cradle 2 the Grave, the soundtrack
to the film of the same title, success-
fully avoids this common pitfall. The
record delivers good songs from
established artists and showcases
new talents, some of whom will
arouse the optimism of hip-hop fans.
Of these neophytes, DMX proteges
Jinx and Loose seem the most gifted.
On "It's Gon' Be What It's Gon' Be,".
they flow nicely over a mid-tempo beat
with a hard guitar riff, strong drums and
subtle symbols. The latter's delivery is
particularly noteworthy given his deep
Jinx and Loose's label mates don't all
fare as well, though. Neither Big Stan's
delivery style nor vocal tone is distin-
guishing; Bazaar Royale is certainly
peculiar but far from regal, mostly just
annoying; Kashmir has a strong mic
presence yet sounds quite similar to her
Double-R analog Eve. The Line's Ken-
nel collaborate on the record's final
track, "Getting Down," whose inspira-
tion smacks of"Ruff Ryders' Anthem."
Cradle 2 the Grave does not only
trumpet Bloodline's emergence, howev-
er. Hip-hop's newest Billboard champi-
on 50 Cent, the game's reigning king
Eminem and key contributors M.O.P.
and CNN make notable appearances.
50 and his entourage, the G-Unit,
rhyme well over an uninspired flute
loop on "Follow Me Gangster," while
Eminem and DMX standout on the
Mathers-produced, plodding "Go to
Sleep." M.O.P. and CNN's "Stomp-
dashitoutu" is vintage M.O.P., an ener-
getic, rock-infused melee.
As for X, he acquits himself nicely
on this album. He proves he can still
flow, evidenced throughout the album
and particularly on lead single "X
Gon' Give It to Ya."
This soundtrack is a fine one and
only loses merit due to a coterie of bad
songs, ones either unimaginative,
monotonous, or both.


The wonderfulworld of'Oz'

Courtesy-of "War"r Bro.

X gon' give it to ya.

By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer
When Gabrielle Union ("Bring It On") decided to
pursue a career in acting, she likely did not envision
herself robbing a diamond depository alongside DMX
and his rapping, Ruff Ryder cohort Drag-On ("Exit
Wounds"). However, such a scene exists in "Cradle 2
the Grave," and unfortunately, the misguided episode
serves as this ridiculous movie's fulcrum.
Union, X and Drag are three members of a merce-
nary, jewel-pillaging crew who, aided by
fellow ne'er-do-well Anthony Anderson
("See Spot Run"), pilfer rare, black dia-
monds, which are eventually stolen *
(again) and later revealed to each contain C
a synthetic plutonium more explosive CRADLE
than two Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs. GRA
Jet Li ("Once Upon a Time in China") At Showc
plays Su, a Taiwanese police officer vest- Qualit
ed with the responsibility of recovering
the special weapons, aids X's band of Warner
loveable criminals as they attempt to get
the diamonds and save X's daughter, who becomes
involved in the convoluted story. The plot's bizarre
revelation about the diamonds does not even summon
a viewer's incredulity by the time it is disclosed,
though, because the film conditions you to ignore real-
ity from the movie's inception.
For example, in the aforementioned heist, the group
succeeds by using a rocket-propelled device to break
the door protecting the diamond safe, but the unruly
disturbance goes unnoticed because Anderson's charac-
ter, Tommy, successfully occupies the lone guard's
attentionbyappealing to the, guard's homosexual
libido. The scene's premise seems to rest on director
Andrzej Bartkowiak's assumption that the audience

will believe that any man whose sexual interest is suffi-
ciently aroused would disregard a rocket smashing
through walls.
Were such a farce absent, "Cradle" would still suffer
from bad acting. DMX is wooden and recites his lines
as though he were practicing the wink-wink acting style
so prevalent in rap videos. He seems to be expecting a
beat and bikini-clad girls to break out at any moment,
freeing him from the dramatic obligation to pretend that
is central to movies. Li isn't any better, mumbling his
lines as he waits for the next opportunity to display his
well-documented martial arts prowess.
Those who see "Cradle" expecting a
breathtaking display of these abilities
k will only have exacerbated disappoint-
2 THE ment. The fight scenes are filmed with
too many quick cuts and shot at too
VE many odd angles, both depriving view-
ase and ers of the necessary vantage from which
y 16 they can marvel at Li's tremendous
physical gifts. The movie's final scene,
Bros. in which Li and overarching villain
(there are several lesser foes) Mark
Dacascos ("Only the Strong") engage in a martial arts
duel while stranded by a ring of burning jet fuel,
attempts to satiate the audience, yet that doesn't even
The other actors are asked to do little. Union sim-
ply shows up looking pretty and that suffices; Drag-
On does even less. The most memorable
performances are those intended to provide comic
relief. Anderson is amusing as the group's jack-of-all-
trades while Tom Arnold, who plays a black market
arms dealer, drops a few entertaining wisecracks.
"Cradle ,2 ,the yrave" is, es thazn the sum of its
parts and will only interest die-hard Jet Li fans,
Gabrielle Union worshippers and those loyal to the

hile it's always hard to say
goodbye, it's sometimes
the smart thing to do. Take
"Friends" should have said goodbye
two years ago, yet it's still kicking and
dwindling its way into another multi-
million-dollar-episode season next
year. "ER" and "The Simpsons" serve
as similar examples, setting records
for longevity while boring viewers
with mediocrity. All three programs
once staggered viewers with their
freshness, displaying a wit and a for-
mat not common to network televi-
sion. Yet, with a never-ending run of
episodes, the legacies their initial
years created are diluted with a wealth
of uninspired storylines.
HBO's longest running drama,
"Oz," ended its run last Sunday at just
the right time. While seasons five and
six were not as equally spectacular as
their earlier entries, Tom Fontana's
prison drama still found enough ways
to hold on to longtime viewers, even
while killing off some of its most
popular inmates.
Most of HBO's prominence and
press grows from the critical hits and
ratings winners "The Sopranos" and
"Sex and the City." Yet, with a rich
history of original sitcoms and dra-
mas including its old breed of risque
cable fare epitomized by the sexual
fantasy sitcom "Dream On," the key
moment in the HBO turnaround from
T & A to quality was the premiere of
"Oz." Coming from network Emmy
winners "Hill St. Blues," "St. Else-
where" and "Homicide: Life on the
Street," writer/producer Fontana
brought his successful fashion of
drama to HBO's budding original
series department. Fontana's knack for
writing large ensemble casts in con-
tinuous, interweaving storylines found
a new home in the Oswald Maximum
Security Prison, nicknamed Oz by the
inmates inside.
Fontana immediately took advantage

of HBO's anything goes attitude
through Vern Schillinger and Tobias
Beecher, central characters from
episode one to the finale. Schillinger
(J.K. Simmons) made the world of Oz a
quick reality to both newbie Beecher
(Lee Tergesen) and the public with his
brutal hazing, placing a swastika on
Toby's ass. Male nudity and scenes of
intense violence would become regular,
but what truly kept viewers around was
the soap opera ups-and-downs of the
rival gangs and prison personnel. And
amid the immoral characters you some-
how grew to care for, Fontana spliced in
issues contemporary America and its
inmates face in the penal system.
Alvarez. O'Reily. Said. Adebisi. In
six seasons, these names became
more than just criminals serving their
time. Fontana painted a world so
bleak, so hopeless and without justice
that you were almost forced into a
position of rooting for some form of
goodness to finally come to these
deceiving murderers. With the outside
world never actually shown until the
finale's final minutes, the inside of Oz
became a microcosm for all the trials
each human goes through in his or her
fight for finding life's meaning. Of
course, "Oz" did this through its ever-
present presentation of death, show-
ing you the calculated steps and
emotions that lead to each execution.
As the six-year sentence of "Oz"
comes to an end, the future domination
of HBO television looks unclear. "Sex
and the City" and an already declining
in quality "Sopranos" are decidedly
ending after one more season. The lone
stalwart of the lineup with any future is
Alan Ball's "Six Feet Under." Programs
of equal quality and ferocity, like FX's
"The Shield," are now more common
thanks to the ground shows like "Oz"
and "Sopranos" broke. Still, it is hard to
believe that HBO could ever give up the
momentous place in television history it
has made for itself.

'Gale' doomed
to sentence
of mediocrity
By Tara Bilik
Daily Arts Writer

'Gods and Generals' a painful Civil War journey
By Joel M. Hoard
Daily Arts Writer war as well as early battles at Bull Runln

"The Life of David Gale" begins
as anti-death penalty activist David
Gale (Kevin Spacey) sits on death
row convicted of the rape and murder
of a fellow activist. His story is told
to a driven young reporter, the svelte
Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), who
attempts to ascertain the "truth"
about the case before his execution.
Gale, a former philosophy profes-
sor at the fictional University of
Austin, has a checkered past,
including his arrest for the rape of a
recently-expelled graduate student.
However, even after retracting her
allegation, he loses his job, his fam-
ily and emerges from
his travails as a hope-
less drunkard. Gale is
no Hannibal Lecter, so
Bloom sifts through a THE
mass of evidence to DAVIT
determine his inno-
cence. At Showc
Director Alan Parker 16 and?
and screenwriter Unis
Charles Randolph
prove no masters of subtlety. The
characters come across as blunt car-
icatures and the gyrating segues
from flashback scenes to the pres-
ent should cause most viewers to

In one of the finer moments on "The
Simpsons," Apu, while taking a citizen-
ship test, is asked to identify the cause
of the Civil War. Apu's lengthy speech 1
highlighting cultural and economic dif-
ferences between North and South is
interrupted when he is told, "Wait, wait.]
Just say slavery."
The joke is likely lost on Ron
Maxwell, whose Civil War epic "Gods
and Generals," a prequel to 1993's
"Gettysburg," is obsessed
with historical accuracy
and painfully drags out
every detail of the war's
early years. GODS,
One of the joys of GENEF
"Gettysburg" was that,
despite its length, the At Show
film remained unwaver- Qualit
ingly focused, concen- Warner
trating solely on the
three-day battle. With "Gods," Maxwell
tries to tell dozens of stories that take
place over the span of about three years,
and he winds up failing on nearly all
Based on Jeff Shaara's book of the
same title, "Gods and Generals"
accounts for the events leading up to the

Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
Much of the action focuses on Gen.
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen
Lang, "Tombstone"), who divides his
time equally between praying with his
eyes cast to the heavens above, remind-
ing everyone how much he loves his
home state of Virginia and leading his
division of the Confederate army.
In a surprisingly small role, Gen.
Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall) turns up
from time to time to offer bits of advice

Courtesy of Urnversal
Will somebody pass the asparagus?
come down with an acute bout of
A respectable cast can't even save

case and
ty 16

- platitudes like "It is
well that war is so terri-
ble else we should grow
too fond of it" occur
with disturbing regulari-
On the Northern side,
Lt. Col. Joshua
Lawrence Chamberlain
(Jeff Daniels), a profes-
sor at Maine's Bowdoin

ase, Quality

the film from its own
death sentence. Spacey
is truly pitiful as a dot-
ing daddy, while
Winslet does little bet-
ter as Spacey's viva-
cious foil.
"The Life of David
Gale" struggles to
articulate a rational
argument against the

Suh, I say Suh, "The 6th Day" is by no means worse than '"Trixie."

College, is torn from his studies and his
loving wife, Fanny (Mira Sorvino),
when duty calls. Not to worry, however,
because there's ample time for an ago-
nizingly long farewell scene in which
husband and wife find time to discuss
politics and the dangers of war before
saying their final goodbyes. If you miss

the point of that one, fear not, because
there's a similar scene when every other
character leaves home.
The film's length (nearly four hours
including intermission) allows for many
lengthy speeches, and it's not hard to
detect when a character is preparing to
launch into an extended discourse. The
speeches themselves range from Jack-
son's teary-eyed prayers to Chamber-
lain's rousing pre-battle oration, in
which he quotes Julius Caesar. Some-
times dryly informative, occasionally
ludicrous (as when a former slave

quotes Napoleon to Jackson) and often
superfluous, the speeches do little to aid
the film's already sluggish pace.
"Gods and Generals" presents North
and South with impartiality, and goes
to such great lengths to explain the
Confederate cause that the film borders
on being a Southern apologia. In the
midst of all of this exposition, slavery
is overlooked, save a perfunctory anti-
slavery speech and a pair of token
black characters. One of them, a South-
ern cook named "Big Jim" Lewis
(Frankie Faison, "Hannibal"), looks

death penalty. Unfortunately, the
stilted dialogue, half-baked charac-
ters, abysmal score and innumerable
plot leaps prevent the film from
achieving this goal.


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