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January 16, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-16

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2006 - 5A

A 'Dog'
d r
Daily Arts Writer
Happiness in "Alpha Dog" is as fleeting as the
brief tranquility of its opening credit sequence.
With a dreamy rendition of
"Somewhere over the Rain-
bow" in the background,
grainy home footage sets Alpha Dog
the scene of an ┬░idyllic At the
childhood before the film's Showcase and
uneasy sense of lost inno- Quality 16
cence sets in. Universal
Amid a numbing barrage
of four-letter words, "Alpha Dog" is a fictional
version of the downfall of drug dealer Johnny
Truelove (Emile Hirsch, "The Girl Next Door"),
a doppelganger for real-life criminal Jesse James
Hollywood. At just 20 years old, James became
the youngest person ever to land on the FBI's
most-wanted list for the alleged kidnapping and
murder of a 15-year-old boy.
The boy's abduction is only the latest in a
series of horrifically violent acts which result
when drug addict Jake Mazurksy (a furious Ben
Foster, "X3") fails to pay a long-standing debt to
Johnny. When Jake's innocent teenage brother
Zack (Anton Yelchin, "Along Came a Spider")
accidentally falls into Johnny's hands, he and pal
Frankie (singer Justin Timberlake, who acquits
himself admirably in his role) suddenly find
themselves in a situation that's far more serious
than peddling pot.
Luckily, their young hostage is actually glad
to be free of his overbearing parents, and the
abduction initially seems like a harmless frat
prank. With a clean-cut baby face and timid
voice, Yelchin gives Zack an endearing vulner-
ability which makes his involvement with these
two-bit drug dealers feel all the more unjust.
Timberlake, who's pretty much the only rea-

For Nas, hip hop in
critical condition

You gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?

son to watch this desolate film, delivers a sound
performance as Johnny's easygoing sidekick,
and even manages to overshadow Hirsch's John-
ny, a lackluster central figure whose only notable
attribute is a primitive instinct for self-preserva-
tion. Frankie perhaps ends up the most sympa-
thetic character simply because he comes closest
to recognizing the magnitude of the situation.
Director Nick Cassavetes ("The Notebook")
clearly thought he was injecting the film with
copious amounts ofreality, but what "Alpha Dog"
lacks is redemption. Each character mechani-
cally performs the actions that the plot demands
of him without any moral deliberation. Even
Frankie gives in far too easily to the warped peer
pressure that somehow illogically places the
penalties for kidnapping as worse than outright
murder. With their real-life counterparts now in
prison or on death row, this is a film that starts
at the bottom and is only capable of descending
further into depravity as it develops.
No matter how powerful the crime, it needs to
be enacted skillfully and artistically to constitute
a worthwhile film. "Alpha Dog" does neither.
Instead, it opts to unapologetically illustrate one
of the darkest sides of humanity without offer-
ing any reason for why the story deserves to be

Cassavetes fails miserably in his insensitive depiction of
today's troubled youth, but not all pessimism is so art-
less For a healthy dose of depression, check out:
Mean Creek (2004): Siblings gang up against an
apparently unforgivable school bully.
Elephant (2003): Gus Van Sant delivers a quietly
disturbing drama based on a Columbine-like school
Thirteen (2003): Supporting actress Nikki Reed co-
wrote this tale of two young girls gone a little too wild.
Kids (1995): Director Larry Clark's alarming classic
about AIDS in New York youth culture is still hard to
watch - and to stomach.
told. in lieu of a well-executed film, we are mere-
ly given a mixture of bad decisions and their
legal consequences accompanied by a disturbing
authenticity of detail. While Cassavetes's quest
to portray the life of the infamous Hollywood
may ultimately be considered a legal victory, it's
a hollow one at best.

Daily Arts Writer
With the title of his latest album,
Nas has created a forum of debate
regarding the
current state*****
of hip hop.
Even with so Nas
much misun- Hip Hop is Dead
derstanding Def Jam
over an album
with such a controversial title, no
one could comprehend what Nasir
Jones was bringing to the table.
With incredible focus reminiscent
of his earlier years, Hip Hop Is
Dead does more than claim the end
of the genre - it profoundly exam-
ines hip hop's life.
The album is a personal account
of not only his long-standing jour-
ney in hip hop, but other notable
black artists who made stands in
different popular mediums years
before him. But the title only tells
part of the story. The album's more
potent message seems to be Nas's
will to keep hip hop alive. Every
song reflects the timeless New
York-style Nas controls with the
knowledge and educational tactics
he possesses.
Nas offers an
optimistic take on
modern hip hop.
Apparently, Nas has a deep pas-
sion for Iron Butterfly's "In-A-
Gadda-Da-Vida" because he flows
over a sample of the song for the
second time in the track "Hip Hop
Is Dead," produced by will.i.am
from the Black Eyed Peas. Though
will.i.am doesn't seem to stray far
from the original beat for "Thief's
Theme," he does provide a raspy
cry for hip hop's death - sounding
much like an old man wailing over
lust love.
By employing a mock Humphrey
Bogart/old-time gangster voice,
Nas (from the perspective of a Dick
Tracy-style detective) personifies
hip hop as a girl on "Who Killed
It?" She becomes his interest when
Pretty Mike stabs Two-Face Al
over her at a club. The old-school
New York style of quick drums and
claps adds a real downtown style to
the caper. The story climaxes when
he meets up with the mystery lady.
She tells him how she began with
the rhymes of slaves and kept mov-

ing until she fell in love with DJ
Kool Herr. But before Nas can get
any further with her, she dies on
the floor saying "If you really love
me, I'll come back alive."
Production is nothing short of
eclectic with Nas calling on beat-
makers from near and far. Past the
title track, will.i.am also creates a
remarkable sample from the Nat
King Cole masterpiece "Unfor-
gettable" on "Can't Forget About
U." The soft taps of piano keys
behind turntable scratching, ring-
ing bells and heavy drums pow-
erfully accent Nas's rhymes and
Chrisette Michele's vocals. Nas
also uses producer L.E.S., who
he has consistently worked with
since his first album "Illmatic."
The guestlist goes on as he uses
beats from Kanye West, Salaam
Remi and, oddly enough, Philadel-
phia 76ers Forward and University
alumn Chris Webber.
The album's collaborations are
exceptional and unique, most nota-
bly the appearance of West Coast
Doggfather Snoop Dog, on a beat by
Scott Storch. Nas further explores
California style with the Game and
Marsha (of Floetry) on an authen-
tic West Coast beat by Dr. Dre for
"Hustlers." After the stunning
truce called over the summer fol-
lowed by Nas signing to Def Jam,
he and Def Jam President/CEO,
Jay-Z, lyrically unite on "Black
Republican." The duo's tag team
effort resounds the New York-style
with its chorus: "Can't clean my act
up for good / Too much thug in 'em
/ Probably end up back in the hood
/ I'm like fuck it then."
The song "Hope"-provides an
insightful ending to an unreal
album with Nas rapping about try-
ing to get into New York hip hop,
ending with "If you're asking 'why
is hip hop dead?' /It's a pretty good
chance you're the reason it died."
Chrisette Michele's sultry and
soulful voice is spellbinding, fading
out with a hypnotic chant "Live hip
hop, live." In the end hip hop really
isn't dead. According to Nas, hip
hop is forever.

A good old romp in the 'Yard'

Daily Arts Writer
Can a single strength overshad-
ow and reconstitute an otherwise
film? 7k 7
Despite the
numerm. eplot Stomp
:oblems that the Yard
plague "Stomp At the
The Yard," the Showcase and
film show- Quality 16
cases some of Screen Gems
the finest and
flashiest choreography of recent
dance movies. Like in "Step Up"
and "You Got Served," it makes for
incredible viewing.
DJ (Columbus Short, "Accept-
ed") has it rough. At home in Los
Angeles, he's a gifted and well-
admired street dancer, but his tal-
ents tend to get him into trouble.
After a brawl erupts following
DJ's victory in a local dance-off, he
moves to Atlanta for a fresh start.
Using the connections provided
by his gruff uncle (Harry Len-
nix, "Ray"), DJ narrowly escapes
his criminal record and enrolls in

lovely n
are vagt
sible a:
in histo
this gen
dance cl
two riva
ly good
and DJ
ing - a
dance st
much as
It's n'
ing frat s
for DJ-
edly pro

University is one of those dancer, and those skills alone are
novie colleges where ages enough for the hurdles of exams
ue, alcohol is easily acces- and big competitions thrown his
nd the main character way. Lame plot echoes of "Drum-
ies adversity to do well line" are notable here, but in
ry 101. In the midst of all "Stomp the Yard," they're almost
eric university strife, DJ's forgivable.
hops get him recruited by For one thing, the use of rapid
i fraternities, one obvious- montage moves the film along at
and the other even more a quick pace, enlivening the stor-
ly evil. yline's familiarity. As disorienting
ately,theformertriumphs, as the style may sometimes get, it's
joins Theta Nu Theta's a much-needed refresher, espe-
d tradition of stomp danc- cially when the film gets down to
quick, athletic and showy business: dancing.
tyle that the frat values as Agreatmixofinterpretivedance
and performance art, stomping
is more electrifying than any $20
million action set piece. It's abso-
e ol' plotlines, lutely impossible to understand
Sincredible how some of these dancers move
t e b their bodies, defying conventions
of human speed, flexibility and
lew moves, mobility. When DJ and his brother
prop themselves on one forearm to
mock their opponent, it's hard not
its brotherhood. to stare in awe. When the boys of
ot long before the oppos- Theta get down at about 50 moves
tarts presenting problems a second, the lyricism in their step
- or, of course, before a is enviable to even the most visual
emerges. But DJ repeat- of films.
ves himself a formidable In "Stomp the Yard," the very

presence of stomp dancing com-
pensates for everything else
happening in the film. Sure, it's
garishly over-cut, the story's arc is
as tired as they come and at times
it feels like yet another backward
step in the recent proliferation of
urban-targeting films.
But they sure can stomp.

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