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Student of the Game
Student of the Game
Price: $11.99
52 used & new from $4.88

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Few Misses - But Better than His Last Album, April 16, 2013
This review is from: Student of the Game (Audio CD)
Student of the Game isn't Noreaga's best work, but it's still an album fans should cop. I've been listening to his music since the CNN days of War Report, and while my preference is for his old stuff, much of what's on the new album is trademark NORE: street life, sex and drugs.

As with all of his albums, N.O.R.E. is highly listenable, even if he's not trying to be especially lyrical. He acknowledges this on Camouflage Unicorns, spitting "I'm the Lefrak king, I don't care what you say to me, say I don't make sense, cool that's okay with me." Where he shines is easily "Built Pyramids", which coincidentally has the best beat on the album thanks to Large Professor. You can also expect some vintage N.O.R.E. with "Faces of Death", which feels a bit like a continuation of "Banned From T.V." Four minutes, no hook, just N.O.R.E. going hard on the track along with French Montana, Swizz Beatz, Raekwon and Busta Rhymes.

Student of the Game has a mix of guest features ranging from longtime artists (Scarface, Pete Rock, Havoc) to a few that have only recently started to get a buzz. The only unusual thing about the guest spots is that Lil Wayne only did the hook for "She Tried", he doesn't drop any verses for the track.

Most of the beats are good, a few I wasn't feeling. Amazon obviously doesn't list them, but the beatmakers for the album are Cookin Soul, Illa, Inf, Pharrell, SPK, Pete Rock, Charlie Brown, Scram Jones, DJ Thoro, Hazardis Soundz, Large Professor, and Jahlil Beats. Standout beats on the album are "What I Had to Do" by SPK, "Built Pyramids", and "Camouflage Unicorns". The last of which has Nore, Havoc and Tragedy Khadafi dropping bars over a music box sample and a dusty beat (samples "Love Story" by Henry Mancini, same as Immortal Technique "Dance with the Devil" if it sounds familiar).

One of the few complaints I'd have about the new album is the number of skits and filler tracks. The album is 19 tracks deep, five of them are skits/fillers. I can maybe understand showing props to Victor Cruz and Kevin Hart by putting them on the album, but I have no idea why Scott Disick (Kourtney Kardashian's baby daddy) is on the album.

Overall, Student of the Game is worth copping. Sometimes he stretches it thin to make words rhyme (or not at all), not every guest feature is on point, and a few beats aren't suited for him. But I still enjoy the new album, and it's an overall step up from Noreality. If you've been a fan for a minute, you'll like the album.

Filly Brown
Filly Brown
DVD ~ Gina Rodriguez
Price: $8.99
57 used & new from $1.68

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Successful Film on Many Levels, April 14, 2013
This review is from: Filly Brown (DVD)
As a movie fan in general, I enjoyed Filly Brown. But as a longtime urban music journalist, I also appreciated just how true to life this movie was. What makes Filly Brown stand out from movies like Hustle and Flow or 8 Mile is both how it deals with women in urban music, and having a female lead that offers a powerful performance.

Filly Brown tells the story of Majo Tonorio, a Latina rapper who dreams of performing for huge audiences. The Los Angeles MC builds her buzz rapping on the radio as Filly Brown, but her desire to get signed gets put into full gear because of her family. Filly's mother (played by Jenni Rivera) is serving a ten year prison sentence, her only hope for early release depends on whether Filly can come up with fast cash. What follows is a story of desire, manipulation, and redemption.

Despite having a low budget, Filly Brown was shot well. But what really stands out about the movie is the cast, a mix of film veterans and new faces. Gina Rodriguez puts on a terrific performance as Filly Brown, with a voice and intensity that made her a great choice for the role.

Edward James Olmos adds some seasoning to the film, and is reunited with Stand and Deliver alumnus Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays the hardworking father of Filly and her younger sister. Film and TV star Emilio Rivera plays Mani, Filly's protective uncle and boss. California rappers Cuete Yeska and Baby Bash add new faces to the cast, with H-Town artist Chingo Bling adding some needed humor to the film as Filly's manager.

Despite this being her first feature film, Jenni Rivera (RIP) offers a moving portrayal of Maria, Filly's drug addicted mother doing hard time. Rivera ditched her trademark stage glamor for a prison uniform to deliver a haunting and memorable performance. Her scenes are convincing, bittersweet considering Filly Brown will be the only time she appears in movie theaters.

As far as the movie's inside look at the urban music game, Filly Brown scores for realism. Hip Hop managers are left hanging when labels strike backroom deals. Female rappers are often denied mainstream attention if they refuse to compromise their artistic integrity. In this case, Filly succumbs to the pressure of "sexing up" her image and lyrics to land a record deal for a fast payout to help her mother.

The movie isn't flawless, of course. Filly Brown offers more than a couple character types common to other movies, which gives several scenes a recycled feel. There are also one too many subplots, which threatens to muddle the film as the end approaches.

Overall, Filly Brown succeeds. Its lineup of actors, surprisingly good Hip Hop soundtrack, and tear-jerking ending all make it a film to remember. Although the film features a variety of established Latino actors and artists, it's a movie that anyone should be able to enjoy. Definitely worth getting on DVD or Blu-Ray.

The Devil's in the Details
The Devil's in the Details
DVD ~ Ray Liotta
Offered by SourceMedia
Price: $4.00
61 used & new from $0.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Waste of Potential and Experienced Actors, April 7, 2013
This review is from: The Devil's in the Details (DVD)
Few movies start out with as much promise yet failure to deliver as The Devil's in the Details. What could have been a memorable film with a veteran cast of actors is instead a massive disappointment.

The Devil's in the Details tells the story of a soldier struggling with PTSD, kidnapped by a drug cartel in an attempt to use his family to help smuggle drugs into Mexico. Combat veteran Thomas Conrad is tortured as his wife and child are held hostage, while everyone's fate depends on the cartel's tasks being performed on schedule.

The only good news about this film is that is features a variety of experienced actors. But that's not enough to redeem all of the problems that plague what had the potential to be a memorable crime thriller. As for the bad news, there's plenty of it.

The movie involves a number of flashbacks, but unlike Slumdog Millionaire or Pulp Fiction, the non-linear approach doesn't do much for this film. It's filled with tiring dialogue and scenes that seem to go on forever. To distract you from the pointlessly long scenes, the camera is always panning around, and there's too much atmospheric background music. Most of the action is off-screen until the movie is almost over, and the torture is unnecessary considering the cartel's hostage plan can work without it. The ridiculous coincidence of what Conrad's family members do for a living is already hard to swallow, let alone the pointless complicated smuggling plan.

Raymond J. Barry and Ray Liotta bring some talent to the film, but are totally underused. Emilio Rivera steals the show as the devilish kidnapper, but sadly his performance will go unnoticed since this film will get little attention. As for the main character Thomas Conrad, I have no idea why Joel Mathews was cast as the lead in this movie. He had only been in one full-length film plus a short by the same director; the 12 year old playing his daughter actually had more screen experience. His performance was just terrible.

Any tension that isn't wasted in the movie builds up to a twist, and it's a weak one. As the seemingly relevant flashbacks continued, I was hopeful that a dark spin was coming a la Session 9 or Jacob's Ladder. So when the twist is revealed (and it's not original), you're left saying "Wait... that's it?" It's such a let down that you're forced to believe it's so brilliant and subtle that you missed something. Well, you didn't.

The only reason I'm not giving the film one star is because of Emilio Rivera, Raymond J. Barry, and Ray Liotta. The sole special feature is a 12-minute behind the scenes featurette with cast interviews. Watch this online before you consider buying the DVD or Blu-Ray. If you're a fan of Emilio Rivera or Ray Liotta, it's worth watching online once, otherwise give this one a pass.

Cocaine Cowboys
Cocaine Cowboys
Price: $5.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Movie Score EP but Missing a Song, April 6, 2013
This review is from: Cocaine Cowboys (MP3 Music)
The original score for Cocaine Cowboys was composed by Jan Hammer, the same musician who created the theme for Miami Vice as well as the TV show's weekly music. The album has almost all of the original music from the movie, including the second track which was the sample for "Cocaine Cowboys" by rapper N.O.R.E.

One issue I did have is that the song that plays when the documentary's title pops up and the intro credit rolls isn't on this album, and it's a song that some people may specifically want. Look up "Cocaine Cowboys Theme Song 01" online and the first result is a video with an incorrect mixtape cover. It's neither on the Rick Ross mixtape nor the official movie score album. Also, the full album download price for only six songs at 17 minutes of music seemed a bit high. I understand the pricing for individual tracks, just seems like the full album cost should have been lowered. But overall, this is a good soundtrack, and worth buying if you're a big fan of the documentary.

I Love Bachata 2013 - 15 Bachata Hits Originales (100% Dominican Bachata Hits)
I Love Bachata 2013 - 15 Bachata Hits Originales (100% Dominican Bachata Hits)
Price: $5.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Songs Aren't All New - But Great Traditional Bachata, April 5, 2013
This is a good compilation of old-school style Bachata. Just keep in mind that despite the album title, these are mostly songs from early 2012. Even though I prefer modern Bachata (Prince Royce, Aventura, Xtreme), I still enjoy the traditional sound from time to time.

What's great about this album is that most of the artists are established, unlike some of the compilations with just a bunch of unknown Bachateros. "I Love Bachata 2013" has Yoskar Sarante, El Chaval, Frank Reyes; a good number of artists with hit songs recently and going back to the 90's. You also get a bit of the modern Bachata sound thanks to tracks like "Por Mentira" by Grupo Vena. My only complaint would be that a few songs such as those from Kiko Rodriguez, El Chaval and Luis Segura are from 2011. At least two of the songs (by Truhanes and Emocion) were on the radio back in 2010. So just know that it's not all 2013 music.

This is a good collection of songs if you like the older Bachata style. The entire MP3 album on Amazon costs less a Starbucks Frappuccino, so there's no reason why you shouldn't buy it now if you like Bachata.

Dandote Bachata 2013
Dandote Bachata 2013

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Compilation of Up and Coming Bachateros, April 4, 2013
This review is from: Dandote Bachata 2013 (MP3 Music)
If you're looking for established Bachata artists like Romeo Santos, Prince Royce, or Hector Acosta, this album may not be for you. But if you want some good Bachata from groups that are still underground, DanDote Bachata 2013 is a decent compilation of songs.

Most of the songs are enjoyable, which is a surprise because many bachata compilations of unsigned or up and coming artists aren't that good. My only real complaint is that you can only tell who the different artists and groups are if they shout their own name out, otherwise the MP3s don't mention the specific singers. Even though the album isn't Aventura-quality, I can listen to a playlist of all the songs on repeat, except for the title track "Dandote" (terrible off-key singing).

Aside from the poor title track, and the record label misspelling the album name on the cover, I thought this was a decent collection of Bachata songs. Overall it's a good album considering the artists are mostly unknown.

Fiesta Latina 2013 (Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Kuduro, Reggaeton, Mambo, Cubaton, Dembow, Bolero, Cumbia)
Fiesta Latina 2013 (Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Kuduro, Reggaeton, Mambo, Cubaton, Dembow, Bolero, Cumbia)
Price: $5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Okay Compilation - But Only a Few Known Artists, April 4, 2013
Fiesta Latina is a decent compilation when the price is less than $4.00 for an MP3 album download, just don't expect more than a couple of big name artists. Out of 21 tracks, about half are from late 2012 and 2011, so it's not exactly all 2013 songs.

If you favor Dominican music, there are five Merengue tracks and four Bachata songs. The rest of the album is mostly Latin Pop, and a little bit of Spanish Reggae and Romantikeo. The best song on the compilation is easily "Echale Salsa" by Ciclon Cubano, but it's also from 2011, so it's not especially new. The one track that should have probably been left off of the album is the "Gangnam Style" track by Miss Evelyn, it's just outdated now. Most of the artists on this compilation are from the same record label, so you're not really going to get any recognized artists. At only 20 cents a song, it's worth getting as a playlist. It was about what I expected for an affordable tropical music compilation.

Fast And Furious 5
Fast And Furious 5
DVD ~ Ludacris
4 used & new from $11.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Successful Gear Shift From Street Racing to Heist Flick, April 3, 2013
This review is from: Fast And Furious 5 (Blu-ray)
Fast Five adds an interesting twist to the Fast & Furious franchise, leaning more towards heist flick than a street racing film. Universal Studios has breathed new life into the series by switching up the formula, and Fast Five won't disappoint action junkies.

Fast Five reunites Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) with cop-turned-racer Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Diesel reprises his role of Toretto, this time on the run from a high-octane federal law enforcement team led by Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson.

Complicating their situation further is Brazilian drug kingpin Hernan Reyes, portrayed by veteran actor Joaquim de Almeida of "Desperado" fame. The only way to dig themselves out of their hole is to pull off a final caper to the tune of $100 million, aided by a variety of former series characters.

What makes the latest addition to the Fast & Furious franchise a success is the amount of adrenaline injected into the film. Fast Five is chock full of tense moments, fast cars and shootouts. Adding a bit of levity to an otherwise hardcore action flick are the duo of reggaeton artists Don Omar and Tego Calderon, who return to the series with comedic relief in tow. Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, and Matt Schulze also reprise their roles to offer a sense of familiarity to viewers.

Fast Five's musical score is a mix of high-energy tracks with greater variety than other soundtracks from the franchise. The film's score doesn't feature as much American rap as earlier films, though it makes up for it with the inclusion of urban Portuguese-language songs from Brazil. International music ranges from Rio's rap to Brazilian Funk, plus the infectious "Danza Kuduro" by Puerto Rican reggaetonero Dom Omar, who returns to the film as the pessimistic Rico. Fast Five is the third film of the franchise that composer Brian Tyler contributes to, with songs ranging from cinematic to industrial rock.

There are two elements of the film that stand out. The first being the too-good-to-be-true clash between Dom and federal strike team leader Luke Hobbs. The two reaching their inevitable on-screen collision hits with the force of a scud missile soaked in testosterone.

The other element is the final car chase of the film. Gone are the intricate CGI shots of the mechanical workings of the cars involved. But what Fast Five loses in computer imaging, it makes up for with hardcore driving. The ultimate chase scene in the movie is far from what you've seen in other heist flicks, and is sure to please even the pickiest of action junkies.

That's not to say that Fast Five is Oscar-quality, of course. To truly enjoy this film, you have accept in advance that this isn't Shawshank Redemption. While much of the cast have experience in film and television, the majority serve up average acting at best. I'm a huge fan of Vin Diesel's movies (Pitch Black FTW), but he looks all of his 44 years in this film, and his acting ability hasn't improved much. While he and Paul Walker both are well-suited for action flicks, don't expect profound performances from either of them. Diesel is given more of an opportunity to flex his acting chops in Fast Five, with it's emphasis on relationships and heartbreak, but I honestly wasn't too moved.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson carries the greatest screen presence of the entire cast, giving off an air of intensity that resonates throughout every scene. But that being said, he wasn't given an opportunity to show off any real range of emotions in the film.

Despite Fast Five having it's fair share of action and suspense, the film does drag on a bit longer than necessary with it's runtime of two-plus hours. While the film's conclusion is fairly clear, it's also given an open-ending that paves the way for the franchise's sixth effort, and the possible return of a significant character from the series.

Overall, Fast Five is simply a fun watch, a guilty pleasure if you're a fan of heist flicks or action movies in general. If you're a motor head, you might be a bit let down at the abandonment of the franchise's original formula, though the change still make for a welcome spin on the series. Definitely get the Blu-Ray to own one of the better movies in the series.

DVD ~ Joe Lando
Offered by Sparks DVD Sales
Price: $8.17
11 used & new from $3.00

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay for Made-for-TV Movie but DVD Cover is Misleading, April 3, 2013
This review is from: Abducted (DVD)
Abducted is about what you would expect for a movie made for TV. The film was first broadcast on Lifetime as "Layover", but the name was updated apparently so that the DVD might appeal to a broader audience. The DVD cover features a member of the cast (Tara Erica Moore), but it in no way reflects any parts of this movie. For the most part, Abducted is a cross between "Taken" and "The Devil Wears Prada."

Abducted follows the story of a pampered executive of a luxury hotel chain who constantly mistreats her personal assistant. After her plane trip is diverted by bad weather, the mean-spirited exec ends up at a cheap hotel in Detroit. She becomes tangled up with Russian sex traffickers, and it's up to her assistant, her security chief, and the FBI to save her.

The good news about Abducted is that it's actually shot fairly well by a first time director, with good lighting and color correction. Which is a surprise considering this was a film by Asylum, responsible for such past gems as "Snakes on a Train", "Transmorphers", and "Titanic II" (I'm not making this up). Film veteran Lauren Holly does a decent job as the snarky executive, and most comments from women I've read seem to be excited by Joe Lando being cast as the exec's security chief.

The bad news about Abducted is that it isn't any different from most low-budget movies that go straight to DVD. The story isn't very memorable, most of the acting is average at best, and a great deal of what happens in the movie is laughably unrealistic (the clues about the abductor's hideout in particular).

As a Lifetime Network movie, Abducted is noticeably geared towards a woman audience, but I think guys like myself could still enjoy. Amazon doesn't list the rating, it's TV-14 for violence (no nudity, occasional b-word). Overall, it was shot better than I would expect, but it's still not remotely what you would expect to see in theaters. It's solidly average, yet worth watching once. Just don't expect a fast-paced or very memorable hostage flick.

DVD ~ David Pasquesi
Offered by Kings Emporium
Price: $3.95
32 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent for Straight to Video - Tries Hard to be a Guy Ritchie Flick, March 16, 2013
This review is from: CONNED (DVD)
For being a noticeably low-budget flick that was destined to go straight to video, Conned is a halfway decent crime thriller. But a mostly inexperienced cast and average writing is what separates this film from other low-budget cult classics.

Conned tells a story of scheming, power grabs and betrayal in the Boston crime underworld. The film follows a variety of two-bit dysfunctional criminals that square off against one another and the police, leading up to a fixed horse race that could potentially leave someone rich.

The good news is that Conned has a bit of good cinematography, and some of the shots are slick and clever. The shootout and robbery scenes are okay, considering the budget. It also offers an interesting twist on crime flicks, which is the introduction of a heist crew and other characters that communicate in American Sign Language (those scenes are subtitled). For this being only the second directing gig by Arthur Luhn, who himself was born deaf, he did a decent job with the shoestring budget he had to work with.

The bad news is that Luhn tries too hard to style Conned after Guy Ritchie movies. The emphasis on cleverly-named characters, the type of music used, and the shooting style are noticeably influenced by "Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" as well as "Snatch." Too many members of the cast were either first-timers in film, or had little feature film experience, so the performances are partly what would keep this from ever becoming a cult classic like a Ritchie/Tarantino flick. Aside from a few funny moments (like the "gamma rays" running joke), there's nothing special about the film's dialogue or story in general.

There area also odd changes in the film's look from scene to scene. Interior shots like those for the intro are great, as are a couple of interestingly-lit shots (warehouse scene, billiards scene), but some of the exterior shots look like they were filmed with a handheld cam with no color correction done in post production.

Overall, Conned is worth watching once if you're a fan of crime movies. Because this is a low-budget flick by a guy that was a newbie director/writer at the time, you also have to cut it some slack. So don't expect "The Departed" by any means, but it's better than your average straight-to-Redbox or Netflix crime movies. Amazon doesn't list the film rating, but there are shooting deaths, cursing, and nudity. Give this one a watch before you decide on buying the DVD.

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