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City of Lies (2018)
Good film; flawed theory
This was a film was well-paced with a lot of mystery, suspense and very good acting from both Depp and Whitaker (they are very talented actors... especially Whitaker) and provides interesting insight into the corruption of the Los Angeles Police Department during the period in question, specifically because it sticks close enough to the facts that a very educated person on the subject of these two assassinations (though, the murder of Biggie Smalls is the primary focus of this film) would have a hard time determining when and where the film made use of its artistic licence. However, despite the film's apparent adherence to the facts of the case, it is those facts that call the film into question.
Whitaker plays the role of the journalist who, years earlier, reported that Biggie Smalls payed for the hit on Tupac Shakur by Southside Crips. This theory was maligned at the time and in this film for the simple fact that the story told was one of Biggie Smalls sneaking into Vegas and checking into one of the more prominent hotels on the strip undetected, to oversee the assassination of Tupac from a nearby location. It always seemed fanciful that Biggie Smalls would have gone to Vegas to organise the assassination of Tupac Shakur from a luxury hotel and, moreover, that he would have been able to do so undetected. However, the source of the information about the assassination itself was members of the Southside Crips.
So fanciful was the idea that Biggie Smalls would visit Vegas to oversee the assassins at work that it discredited the idea of Biggie and Combs involvement in the assassination of Tupac Shakur, despite the fact that Tupac had become a literal mortal enemy of Biggie and Combs after being shot five times at Quad studios in New York City... to such an extent that Marion "Suge" Knight, the owner of Death Row Records and the man who, at great cost, bailed Tupac Shakur out of jail in exchange for a three album deal with his label, was himself suspected by many (admittedly, not in the know) of plotting the murder of his close friend and most valuable asset and, extraordinarily, that he planned to have the hit take place when he was directly in the line of fire, sustaining injuries to his head and chest in the process.
Thus, the fanciful detail of Biggie Smalls travelling to Vegas to organize the hit on Tupac served the purpose of obscuring and re-directing the independent (i.e non-law enforcement) investigators into Tupac's murder in the even more fanciful direction of "Suge" Knight. (A story that was also generated by Southside Crips.)
Unfortunately, this film seeks to achieve the same end; misdirecting attention from Biggie Smalls and Bad Boy Records towards Death Row Records and "Suge" Knight in the murder of Tupac Shakur.
Despite the fact that this is overtly a film about the murder of Biggie Smalls, the facts surrounding the case ensure that the presence of Tupac looms large. (A common feature of the relationship between Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur was the outsized abilities, talents and accomplishments of the latter over the former.)
Reality is what undermines the film more than anything. What pervades the film is the notion that the alleged involvement of Biggie Smalls murder in Tupac Shakur's death is an ugly smear... but this is not so. The film draws attention to the outlandish claim of Biggie's presence in Vegas as a means of attempting to discredit the notion of Biggie's involvement outright. But anyone who knows anything about such crimes knows that the last place Biggie Smalls would want to be if he planned the murder of Tupac Shakur is at/near the scene of the crime. Obviously, his absence does not preclude his involvement (though this is exactly what is being suggested) and facts that have only recently emerged serve to legitimise the claims of the article the the film so maligns... as do the rapper's own words.
What makes the maligning of the article the pointed the finger at Biggie Smalls even more absurd is that the apology the fictional writer of that very real article apologises to the actual mother of Biggie Smalls for maligning him as a murderer... because it is the tireless endeavours of Biggie's mother (Voletta Wallace) that did the most to implicate her son in the murder itself.
It was her lawsuit that forced the Los Angeles police to effectively re-open the case into her son's death and (providing further evidence of the LAPD's corruption) only insofar as they sought to generate enough evidence to clear the department of involvement in Biggie's murder according to the civil (not criminal) standard of proof.
In the process, the truth (insomuch as it can be) surrounding the two murders was obtained. The substance of the article that the film maligns turns out to have been true all along.
Was Biggie in Vegas? It's highly unlikely. (Biggie's crew claimed long ago to have paperwork proving that he was in a recording studio in New York but that material appears to have never been brought forth and wouldn't constitute proof even if it was... such records can always be forged.)
But did Sean Combs (owner of Bad Boy Records and close friend of Biggie Smalls, his label mate and boss) put a million-dollar hit out on Tupac Shakur and "Suge" Knight with the Southside Crips? Yes. Keefe D, the sole surviving member of the hit squad, confirmed this. He was in the car the drove up alongside Tupac Shakur and "Suge" Knight and it was his nephew, Orlando Anderson, who fired the shots from the backseat of their rental car.
These admissions were made to the police in exchange for his freedom. If he had failed to cooperate, he would have gone to jail. If he lied, he would have gone to jail. So, his admission of involvement (already known to those close to the assassination) is highly likely to be substantively true. That he claims to have not been paid for the hit and that his fellow gang member got $500K for the partially-successful hit and made off with the money is to be treated with caution. His claim that he thought he saw Tupac reach for a gun are also unlikely to be true. (One of those reasons being, that no member of Tupac's entourage was ever identified by the police officers who obtained them was identified as being in possession of a firearm.) But, substantively, his claims are true and his claims implicate Sean Combs in the murder and, by association, implicate Biggie Smalls.
(I skirt over the assault on Orlando Anderson by Tupac and Mob Piru gang members hours prior to the shooting for the simple fact that the attack itself merely served as a casus belli, a cause for war. It was the act that provided the assassins impetus and justification for their crime as an act of retaliation but it was not the explicit cause of the crime. The million dollar reward was and, given the money on offer from Bad Boy and Combs, it is very possible (if not probable) that, by effectively presenting himself in front of Mob Piru gang members, Death Row employees and Tupac, his was a deliberately provocative act designed to draw and attack to provide his fellow gang members with the incentive to carry out the hit, that the Crips had yet to actively pursue, then and there.)
Would Sean Combs have put a hit out on Tupac Shakur without consulting with Biggie? Highly unlikely. Moreover, in light of recent revelations, we can now clearly see that Biggie Smalls implicated himself in the crime on record.
Look at the lyrics of Long Kiss Goodnight, a song recorded after Tupac's murder. (Harsher lyrics are known to have been written and recorded about Tupac by Biggie but have yet to see the light of day.)
Combs: "See... I told y'all motherf'ers."
Big: "That stupid n man."
Combs: "I told y'all to stop!" Big: "He f'd up, yo."
Combs: "I prayed for you to stop."...
Big: "N, please. Blood flood your dungarees." A reference to the dungarees Tupac used to wear.
Big: "Laugh now cry later, I rhyme greater." This is a reference to the tattoos on Tupac's back.
Big: "I ain't mad at cha." The title of Tupac's last single. The video for which sees Tupac shot dead in a drive-by and ascending to a heaven.
Big: "I'm flammin' gats, aimin' at, these f'n maniacs, put my name in raps, What part of the game is that?" A reference to Tupac's derogatory references to Big in his songs... Hit 'Em Up being the most provocative example of this.
Big: "You're bleedin' lovely, with your spirit above me, or beneath me, your whole life you lived sneaky, now you rest eternally, sleepy, you burn when you creep me, rest where the worms and the weak be."
Big: "Look what you made me do, brains blew, my team in the marine blue, six coupe... given long kisses, bitch."
Marine blue is an obvious reference to the same South-side Crips that are known to have killed Tupac. Blue is the color of the Crips; red for Bloods. This indicates quite clearly that Biggie had inside knowledge of who killed Tupac and why. He even says that the hit was carried out at his behest.
The chorus of the song is "Time for you to die, as I kiss your ass goodbye." The only way he could have done more to implicate himself would have been to offer up a confession at a local police station.
The inside knowledge he had of the crime, coupled with his bragging of his own involvement in it (criminals have a tendency to want to brag about the crimes they have been able to get away with... rap lyrics were taken much more seriously at that time by both object and subject than most people realize to this day) and the first-hand information we now have of Combs desire to see his rivals murdered at great personal cost to him clearly implicate him in the crime the film seeks to portray him as being entirely innocent of.
Thus, while I liked the film a lot, the entire premise of the film (that Biggie was unjustly maligned as a murderer) is terribly flawed.
What Could Have Been Great (It So Nearly Was) Becomes a Disservice to Truth
I decided to write a review of the previous episode because of the way in which a Biggie Smalls interview with a radio station in LA, where he was to promote his new album, Life After Death, was deliberately misrepresented. In the segment in question, Biggie Smalls was made to appear as if he had been terribly mistreated by the listeners to the radio interview because, when asked about Tupac's death, he only quickly stated that it was a loss to the music industry before dismissing his death as being none of his concern, stating that he had his own problems to deal with.
That such a lie is peddled by the program-makers is reprehensible. The reality is that Biggie blatantly dissed Tupac during that interview by rapping the lyrics from a song off of his new album called Long Kiss Goodnight... in which he celebrates the murder of a bitter rival. Sound familiar? Anyone listening who knew anything about Tupac would have picked up the lyrics Biggie rapped that day: "Blood floods your dungarees", "laugh now, cry later", "I ain't made at cha", you're bleedin' lovely with your spirit above me, or beneath me", "your whole life you lived sneaky, now you rest eternally sleepy, rest where the worms and the weak be", "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO, MY TEAM IN THE MARINE BLUE" (a blatant reference to the the colors of the South-Side Crips), "" brains blew", "slugs hit your chest tap your spine, flat line, heard through the grapevine you got f'd fo (four) times (the number of time Tupac was shot in Las Vegas; this could not be construed as a reference to Tupac's previous shooting... he was hit five times in New York in 1994). Thus, the hate that was directed at Biggie by listeners to that radio interview was not because of Biggie's quick dismissal of Tupac's murder. Rather, it stemmed from Biggie's desire to dance on Tupac's grave and even admit involvement in his murder, openly and publicly, that was the cause of legitimate outrage on behalf of the listeners.
When I saw how terribly the radio interview in question was dealt with by the program-makers, I immediately suspected (but hoped otherwise) that this series would do a disservice to its subject and its viewers by skirting the truth so spectacularly. Unfortunately, my hope was misplaced. This episode failed to tell the truth about the most significant aspect of the case. That the very same witness that the program-makers themselves interviewed and admitted murderer of Tupac Shakur (Keefe D) had clearly stated in his interview with Greg Kading that Sean Combs (AKA Puff Daddy and/or P. Diddy) offered to pay him and the South-Side Crips a million dollars to murder Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight and that Keefe believed that one of his Crip conspirators in the murder received a payment of 500,000 for a job half done and made off with the money. (He believed this because, as he stated when talking to Kading, Combs himself told him that he had handed Keefe' co-conspirator the 500,000 in full.)
At no point does this feature in the documentary. (The closest the program comes to airing this truth is when Suge Knight (the series' villain... and you can't trust a villain) is heard to say that people in the east (Bad Boy, Sean Combs, Christopher Wallace is who he means... though this is not made clear in the episode) caused a gang war between Bloods and Crips by paying them the latter to side with them.) This could only be because Sean Combs is someone who, possessing great wealth, could make life extremely difficult for the program-makers if they dared include the evidence against him in the documentary. Knight doesn't have the resources to cause the program-makers legal problems, so the (I strongly believe) accurate accusation against him, that he had Biggie murdered in retaliation for the murder of Tupac (the last half of this subordinate clause not being included in the program), can be made without there being any significant legal repercussions against the backers/makers of the series. Thus, the truth remains untold.
Instead of Biggie's murder being the result of his bosses (and seemingly, by his own admission, his) satiated desire to have Tupac killed (thus, categorizing of the murder of Biggie as blow back (the consequential reaction to negative action that you yourself have undertaken)), Biggie is portrayed as an innocent victim of Death Row and Suge Knight... rather than as the likely murderer (of Tupac) that he almost certainly was. (Does anyone really believe that Combs would have put out the hit without the backing of Wallace?)
To add insult to injury (as far as the truth is concerned and as happened in City of Lies), Voletta Wallace (who in the Biggie and Tupac documentary said her son was a good boy, despite his actual arrest sheet proving otherwise) is trotted out. A clip shows her saying, regarding the death of her son, "The truth will come out." Indeed it did, but not if the maker of this series have anything to do with it. (In City of Lies, the journalist who initially implicated Biggie Smalls in the murder of Tupac (played by Forrest Whitaker) is seen apologizing to the actual Voletta Wallace for having so terribly slandered her son by implicating him... that this scene was even suggested, let alone shot, let alone included in the final cut, is astonishing given the fact that it turns out the Biggie was not slandered at all.)
Kading even speaks of visiting Ms Wallace and telling her what he knew about her son's murder but that Knight was not going to be charged for her son's murder. They both cried, he said. However, Kading doesn't tell us what Ms Wallace was crying about. Was it because she had finally found out who murdered her son? Or was it because Kading told her of Sean Combs involvement (AND HER SON'S BY IMPLICATION... and in the radio interview in question, he implicated himself) in the murder of Tupac Shakur? Because the program-makers dare not tell us of Combs involvement in the first place, we aren't allowed to know what Ms Wallace said when she finally found out the unpalatable truth about her son: Not who murdered him, but who he murdered. Instead, the informed viewer is simply left to ponder that question. While the ill-informed on the subject (thanks to the makers of this series and City of Lies) don't even know to ask.
Fat Man and a Halo
I would have preferred to have given this episode a higher rating than two out of ten but could not do so because of a terrible inaccuracy regarding Biggie Smalls and his reaction to the death of Tupac Shakur, which is especially egregious given what we now know about the important factor that motivated the assassination of Shakur.
The documentary itself is incredibly informative and interesting; a lot of this owes to the subject matter as opposed to the documentary-makers themselves, who have edited the footage of Biggie's radio interview in LA to mislead the audience... and it is hard to believe that the misleading editing of the producers of this particular episode was anything other than malicious.
Setting the scene: It is six months since Tupac Shakur was assassinated in Las Vegas. Biggie is releasing his second album and is in LA to promote it. Big is described as brave for simply visiting LA despite the vibe being put out by Death Row that he isn't welcome on the West Coast. ( Independent of this show, an ex-bodyguard of Biggie's spoke of Big having a large security detail throughout his stint in LA to promote Life After Death.)
During the radio interview that features in the episode, Biggie is asked about Tupac's murder. Big is shown expressing regret over the death of Tupac and says he sympathizes with his family for all of two seconds before saying that he can't be overly concerned about it because he has his own problems.
Thus far, the episode has depicted the encounter accurately. However, it is at this moment that the footage and discussion of what Big said in the interview ends, to be immediately followed by claims that the radio station started receiving death threats and other hostile messages directed at Big because of the way in which he dismissed the death of Tupac.
It is here that the episode becomes deliberately deceptive, so much so as to portray the murder of Christopher Wallace as being akin to murdering a saint. One contributor to the documentary even says that Biggie was killed because of something he had no involvement in and had not contributed to/started... that would be the overtly (but not covertly) one-sided beef between himself and Tupac and Tupac's subsequent murder, both of which he is being portrayed as being wholly innocent of.
To convey innocence on Biggie, the documentary-makers had to edit the most significant statements that he made during the radio interview out of the program. Thus, at no point do we get to hear Biggie rapping during the interview. This is significant because of the content of the rap itself. Without the inclusion of which, the viewer would be left to believe that the outrage that accompanied Biggie's dismissal of Tupac's death was wholly irrational. The logic being that, since the two men didn't get along, his relative lack of interest in discussing Tupac's death is understandable and the reactions to his comments by the listeners who called in were misplaced.
Thus, those outraged by Biggie's statements are terribly misrepresented to the benefit of Mr Wallace's reputation, because the concerns of the listeners is hardly likely to be a consequence of Big's dismissal of Tupac's death so much as the lyrics of the rap he performed on the show that day, in which he blatantly mocks Tupac and even implicates himself in the murder itself... something that might have provided those who were planning to do him harm the final push they (and it has to have been a they) needed to go through with their plans.
The lyrics in question would have been understood perfectly by those who tuned in to listen to Biggie's interview that day. The lyrics from the song he performed that day were from Long Kiss Goodnight, which is a song that celebrates, without a hint of subtlety, Tupac's murder.
Statements like "Blood floods your dungarees", "Laugh now, cry later", "I ain't mad at cha", "I'm flamin' gats, aimin at these... maniacs, put my name in raps" (who else other than Tupac did that?), you're bleedin' lovely, witchyo spirit above me, or beneath me, You're whole life you lived sneaky, Now you rest eternally sleepy", "Rest where the worms and the weak be", Look what you made me do, brains blew, My team in the marine-blue" (it is here with his blatant reference to the South-Side Crips, who were then known to have killed Tupac and Biggie Smalls' and Sean Combs' own relationship with them and his statement about having to resort to killing the subject of the song, Tupac, that he implicates himself in the crime itself), "slugs hit your chest; tap your spine, flat line, heard through the grapevine you got f'd four times" (the number of times Tupac was hit by bullets in Vegas... not to be confused with the time he was shot five times in New York).
It was this that was the true cause of the outrage that Biggie's radio interview was met with, and to tell it any differently is to put Christopher Wallace in a misleadingly positive and innocent light and to present those who were angered by the statements he made as being completely irrational and, moreover, wrongheaded that is amazingly disingenuous... and, given the deceptive editing, ranks as little more than propaganda; as it seeks to misinform and mislead rather than to inform and enlighten.
This is especially so considering that fact that we now know that Biggie's close friend, Sean Combs, offered the same South-Side Crips who killed Tupac a million dollars (approximately 1.635 million in adjusted dollars for the year 2019) to kill both him and the owner of Death Row Records, Suge Knight, a matter of months before the hit was actually carried out. As only Tupac was killed, a member of the South-Side Crips is said to have been paid/made off with (leaving his fellow gangsters high and dry) 500 K.
Thus, the depiction of Biggie Smalls as a saint, a victim of circumstance, in this section of the documentary is wholly and deliberately misleading... and this is without getting into a discussion as to the reason why Tupac and Biggie became enemies to begin with.
Not Dead but Lifeless Nonetheless
At one point in time, this show was pretty cutting edge and had a slightly different feel (out of necessity) to The Walking Dead, it's predecessor and sister show. For approximately four seasons, there were interesting story lines, characters and conflicts. Moreover, the show appeared to have a reason for being, an underlying logic the justified the series existence in a world where a regularly-aired post-apocalyptic zombie series was already in an advanced stage of development in the minds of the audience that was most likely to watch a similar incarnation of the original series.
However, since the near-simultaneous stripping of the two lead characters from the show entirely not so long ago (maybe because they were too white and hetero for the modern film industry to bear... who knows?; the show was initially built around the relationship between a hardened career mother and her mentally checked out, drug-addicted son, both of whom had the ability to carry the show as co-leads and, in the case of the actress who played the mother, as the sole antagonist in this post-apocalyptic drama), the show has been in a precipitous decline and now merely drifts aimlessly from one uninteresting event to the other... however, it does so minus the interesting characters and conflicts that previously occupied the series.
In place of the dynamic mother/son lead duo, the series has pushed Alicia, who up until recently was a relatively peripheral figure, despite being the daughter of the one-time female protagonist, into the lead role and, unfortunately, the character doesn't have the personality to pull it off.
Alicia is largely a blank slate and a dull one at that. She has very little to offer beyond her character's overly-emphasized, one-dimensional angst. To make matters worse, her co-male lead (a cast-off from the original series) is just as one-dimensional, morally-prudish and angst-ridden as is his co-star... and in an anarchic environment which you would not think would be all that hospitable to the extended practice of moral philosophising and, moreover, as the world around them burns.
Adding to the list of brooding and uninteresting characters that have robbed this show of the excitement and interest it used to possess are John, June and Althea, who each give the viewer no reason to care about them whatsoever.
The show's only interesting characters since the departure of the mom and son duo have been Victor (whose character originally possessed the backstory, charisma and personality to carry the show but whom now, since having been domesticated, more closely resembles a carbon copy of the dependably-dull Morgan) and the almost-completely sidelined Luciana (who possesses an understated charm and sense of vulnerability that ensures that the viewer actually cares about the fate of the character).
All in all, the killing off of Madison and Nick was a huge mistake. As was the senseless termination of Troy, who was an extremely interesting and engaging character who met his demise at the hands of Madison when she and her crew lost control of the dam. Additional mistakes includes the recruitment of uninteresting and lifeless background characters from the original series to fill prominent roles in the show going forward, the elevation Alicia (who possesses both the looks and lifeless persona of a standard beauty-pageant participant) to prominence is also the consequence of a huge error of judgement.
The addition of an extraordinarily uninteresting and obviously lesbian character (which helps fuel suspicion that political correctness has motivated the removal and introduction of a number of cast members that has so harmed the show as of late... the irony being that of the most interesting and engaging current characters in the show, one is a gay/black man and the other is a Latin female) is completely unnecessary. While even the most gruesome death possibly imagined for the likes of John and June is highly unlikely to elicit much concern from the viewers.
Of all of the new characters introduced to the show, only Charlie is intriguing enough to, along with Strand and Luciana, fill the shoes of the departed.
I have not even gotten into the completely confused path that more or less the entire crew has decided to willingly embark on, which seems to involve very little in the way of planning, logic, foresight and an awful lot of senselessly flying (sometimes literally) by the seat of their pants, leading to one artificially-contrived tangle after another.
In summation, nothing can now be done about the departure of previously engaging characters. However, the most interesting characters (Victor and Luciana... joined by Charlie) in the show need to become the focal point of the series and quickly. While the group itself needs to set upon a logical/feasible objective to provide some semblance of realism and structure to what is a surreal environment but at the same time a pretty directionless and confused show... for the time being, at least.
Roswell, New Mexico: Pilot (2019)
Cheap and Unsophisticated Agitprop
I've always thought that there was room for a Roswell-inspired television series with the story of Alien-invaders being told in a sophisticated and thoughtful fashion, as I found the original to be pretty disappointing back when it first aired and extraordinarily cringe worthy the last time I attempted to re-watch some of the old episodes of Roswell (which is in complete contrast to The X-Files, a show whose early episodes were running at the same time as the original Roswell and that easily stands the test of time).
Unfortunately, this new incarnation appears to be wholly a product of the election of Donald Trump and was re-envisioned as nothing more than pure left-liberal SJW propaganda, as it permits the open substitution of Alien-invaders from another world for illegal aliens from south of the border.
The show appears to depict America towards the tail end of Jim Crow rather than as the modern and overwhelmingly non(anti)-racist society that it, in fact, is and never misses a chance to identify whites that oppose illegal immigration as bigoted.
The fearful depiction of the invading aliens as ruthless and blood-thirsty killers by a (not-coincidentally) white US military officer, run alongside the images of just how loving and, in fact, human the invading Aliens really are (as if anyone ever doubted the capacity of illegal Aliens to be, on the whole (MS-13 exempt), human), is the propaganda at its worst.
The opening salvo against Trump, however, killed me. A promising scientific breakthrough sabotaged because the evil racist Orange Man wants five billion (a veritable drop in the bucket when it comes to actual budget allocations) for border security!
All in all, with the increased interest in science fiction, this new incarnation of Roswell is an opportunity that has been well and truly wasted on anti-Trump hatred.