Tag Archives: Tupac Shakur

Jim Kouf’s Gang Related

Jim Belushi and Tupac Shakur are an odd pairing on paper to star in a cop flick together, but they’re extremely effective in Jim Kouf’s Gang Related, a twisty neo-noir with a great cast and a few tricks up its sleeve. They play two inner city detectives who are corrupt, but the script doesn’t treat them with the same jaded judgment and moustache twirling villainy that some dirty cops get in Hollywood, there’s a surprising empathy towards them especially in Tupac’s performance. After they accidentally murder an undercover DEA agent, they try to frame a nearby homeless man (Dennis Quaid), coach a few witnesses and make it seem like they were never involved. Things get spectacularly messy when they discover that Quaid’s disheveled hobo isn’t just a nobody and there are people in high places, not to mention both the DEA and gang factions coming after their morally duplicitous asses. It’s kind of like a reap what you sow tale, these two guys aren’t especially nasty characters, but they did commit a really shady act and now the proverbial karmic dildo has come back to royally fuck them. Belushi is the tougher, more unflappable veteran who is more willing to compromise his soul with the cover up, while Tupac is the younger, more impressionable cop and fears the road he’s being led down, and well he should. They both put in fantastic performances, while Quaid does well against type and the three of them are supported by Tiny Lister, David Paymer, Lela Rochon, Wendy Crewson, Gary Cole and James Earl Jones. A solid urban crime thriller, fairly overlooked as well.

-Nate Hill

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Bullet: A Review by Nate Hill 

Bullet is a violent cautionary tale about what it means to live a life of crime in New York City’s brutal Hell’s Kitchen, to live (and die) with all the baggage and tragedy that comes along with it. Mickey Rourke is excellent as Butch Stein, a pathetic yet somehow endearing Jewish American hoodlum locked in a personal war with local drug dealer and gangster Tank (Tupac Shakur). Butch still lives with his family, and spends his nights slumming about with slick wannabe wiseguy Lester (John Enos III) and his gangly brother Ruby (Adrien Brody). One gets the feeling that all of them are essentially still little kids who never learned to grow up or use their words, but the sandbox they’re squabbling in now is a dangerous area of town, and their toys are heavy artillery. Butch has another brother, a reclusive weirdo played phenomenally by Ted Levine. He’s distant and strange, but there’s breaks of clarity that shine through, and in those moments he’s pretty much the voice of reason amongst all the tomfoolery that adds to the mortality rate in their district. Levine is unique and shelters the gold in his work until right at the end, letting off an emotional stinger of a cap to his performance that is yet another testament to his skill. Rourke broods through his work with sombre self loathing and a grim resolve, dead set in his ways, perhaps unable to live his life differently, and feeling helpless at the road he’s taken, a dark one that has strayed far from what might have been. Tupac’s role is somewhat underwritten, which isn’t quite fair to the guy, because he has more acting talent than pretty much any other rapper I’ve seen in film. Reduced to a mostly a jive talk sterotype gangsta antagonist, I would have liked to see them allow him to level with Rourke in a way that made their locking horns seem a little bit more than just a petty turf war. Director Julien Temple comes from a music video background, and transitions nicely into the world of the urban crime drama, shooting the seedy NYC locales with glittery precision that suggests festering rot below. It’s an anti-crime film, and I’m always curious to see if such a sentiment is undone by the glorification of such a lifestyle, intentional or otherwise (it’s easy to get caught up in sensation and cinematics, losing sight of what you set out to say in the first place). This one stays true to its word, showing us characters who have irreparably lost their way, and assuring bullet by bullet, death by death, that this isn’t any kind of life for anyone. Searing stuff. 

GRIDLOCK’D – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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“This is gonna be a fucking nightmare day, I can just feel it.” These rather prophetic words are spoken by Stretch (Tim Roth) as he and his best friend, Spoon (Tupac Shakur) start the day trying to kick their drug habit in the film, Gridlock’d (1997). But it’s not going to be that easy as the duo run into bureaucratic red tape at every turn.

The film begins on New Year’s Eve as Spoon’s girlfriend, Cookie (Thandie Newton) overdoses on heroin. This intimate brush with death forces Spoon to face his own mortality. “Do you ever feel like your luck’s run out, man? Lately, I’ve been feeling like my luck’s been running out.” These lines take on a rather eerie significance when you realize that Shakur was killed shortly after this film finished shooting.

And so, the two struggling musicians make a New Year’s resolution: to go into rehab and get off drugs for good. The only problem is that not only are they constantly given the runaround, hassled, and turned away by government workers, but an evil and very persistent drug dealer (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and his henchman (Tom Towles) are also pursuing them.

Now, this may sound like the makings of a moralistic film but Gridlock’d refuses to fall into this trap. Instead, it comes across as a very stylish social satire — a strong indictment against the United States health care system and their welfare programs. The ultimate irony is that Stretch and Spoon want to do the right thing but their attempts are constantly thwarted at every turn by overburdened social workers that are too burnt out to care.

Gridlock’d
marked the directorial debut of Vondie Curtis-Hall, an actor by trade who has appeared in such films as Die Hard 2 (1990), Broken Arrow (1996), and a regular spot on television’s Chicago Hope. Hall wrote the screenplay for Gridlock’d in 1993 and it was originally conceived of as his final film school project, based on his actual experiences with drug addiction in the 1970s in Detroit. “Heroin is the drug of the ’90s. But it was also the drug of the ’70s, when I was doing it,” he said in an interview. Much like the two main characters in his film, Hall and a friend sought treatment for their addiction only to be told that it would take weeks for them to get admitted into a program.

But Hall kicked the habit, paid his dues an actor, and cashed in some favors to get this personal project off the ground. Polygram agreed to finance the film with a modest $5 million budget. Hall sent the script for Gridlock’d to actor Tim Roth while he was working on Rob Roy (1995). Initially, Roth wasn’t interested in doing the film but Hall met and convinced him to do it. For Roth, it was the script that attracted him to the film. “Normally you’d work through a screenplay and say, ‘We’ll have to change that and that and somehow try to make it work’, but here the dialogue was always dead-on.”

Hall wrote the character of Spoon with Laurence Fishburne in mind but couldn’t afford the veteran actor. He had considered Tupac Shakur for the role but thought that the rapper was too young and was also just out of jail. However, someone gave Shakur the script and Hall ended up auditioning the rapper who really wanted to do the film. Shakur made the cut and Hall said that with this film, the rapper “wanted to prove that he was a good actor,” and felt that he was “actually a lot like I was at the time the film was set. He wanted to sort himself out and was looking for some help.”

Gridlock’d
’s strength lies in its two leads. The interaction between Roth and Shakur is excellent. For example, there is a scene where the two men sit at the bedside of their unconscious friend and Shakur delivers a heartfelt speech where he decides to stop doing drugs. It is an emotional moment as Shakur looks over at Roth who says nothing — he gives Shakur a little smile. It is an action that says a lot more about their friendship than any words could. They also display crackerjack comic timing with Roth’s Stretch a manic goofball to the laidback cool of Shakur’s Spoon. They play well off each other which is crucial in a buddy film like this one.

The visuals in Gridlock’d are also worth mentioning. The film’s camerawork is very stylish but never overwhelms or obscures the story or its characters. Instead, the film’s imagery only enhances the mood of any given scene. There is a great shot early in on the film when Spoon and Stretch wait in the hospital to hear any word on Cookie’s condition. The two men are sitting on a bench with a huge mural of an idyllic setting: a peaceful cottage scene complete with lake and a sailboat. It is an ironic image when you consider where they are, what has happened, and how they feel. And yet, coupled with very soulful music on the soundtrack, it is an oddly peaceful image juxtaposed in a fast-paced film.

Gridlock’d
is filled with many clever moments that elevate it above the usual drug movie. Without resorting to preachy sermons, it does an outstanding job of showing how bad the drug problem is the United States and how badly equipped they are in dealing with it. Gridlock’d is a smart film with plenty of humor and action to alleviate the rather serious subject matter. Best of all, it refuses to sentimentalize or romanticize its characters. And in an age of political correctness, this is a refreshing concept.