Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac


Scene of the crime.

(2021) Documentary (Gravitas) Nick Broomfield, Suge Knight, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Danny Boy, Pam Brooks, Simone Green, Lipp Dogg, Mob James, Leila Steinberg, Russell Poole, Doug Young, Krystal Anderson, Joe Cool, Alison Samuels, Xavier Hermosillo, Tracy Robinson, Yaasmyn Fula, Greg Kading, Frank Alexander, Violetta Wallace, Delores Tucker, C-Style, Tracy Robinson. Directed by Nick Broomfield

 

During the rise of hip-hop in the 1990s, Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls, were two powerhouse figures in the genre. They had been close friends for many years, but became bitter rivals after Shakur finished a jail term (for sexual assault) and after being bailed out by Death Row records label chief Marion “Suge” Knight, became a member of that roster. Both men however, met the same end – gunned down in the prime of their careers in homicides that to this day remain unsolved.

British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield was drawn to the parallel stories and in 2002 made a film called Biggie and Tupac which looked at the lives of both men, culminating in their murders. At the core of the cases stood Suge Knight, a man who ran his record label very much like a criminal gang boss. His entourage included many members of the Bloods gang and red – the gang color of the Bloods – was in evidence throughout the label’s offices and on the person of Knight and his crew.

Knight is currently serving a 28-year sentence of voluntary manslaughter for deliberately running down Terry Carter, a friend and founder of Heavyweight Records, in the parking lot of a burger joint following an argument on the set of Straight Outta Compton. With the notoriously volatile and vengeful Knight tucked away in prison, Broomfield thought it was time to revisit the story and talk to those who were reluctant to talk to him earlier for fear of reprisals from Knight.

The results here aren’t as game-changing as you might think. Certainly there is some new information here, much of it revolving around the role of crooked L.A. cops who were essentially on the payroll of Death Row records, but not really a significant amount. Most of the investigative work came from Russell Poole, a former l.A. cop whose investigations into the Shakur murder would lead to him getting fired and shunned by his former colleagues. Poole, who passed away from a heart attack in 2015, provides much of his testimony in archival interviews with Broomfield, some dating back to the original Biggie and Tupac sessions.

Broomfield is something of a guerilla filmmaker who got a reputation as an in-your-face interviewer. He has thrived with reluctant interviewees. With most of the people here – employees of Death Row, friends and associates of Knight, Shakur and Wallace – almost eager to tell their stories, he seems a little bit out of his element.

There is a great deal of commentary on the gang culture that was tangled in the hip-hop scene of the time, and particularly at Death Row. Although some speak of Knight with fondness, there’s no doubt that he is a ruthless man with a criminal mentality. He had a great ear for talent, yes, having helped with the careers of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, along with Tupac, but at the end of the day he likely did hip-hop as much harm as he did good.

In any event, there’s not a lot here that hasn’t been covered in other documentaries and those who have seen a lot of them on the lives of Biggie, Tupac and Death Row will probably not find this a terribly useful or enlightening work. Those who are less familiar with the murders, this is as good a place as any to get informed.

REASONS TO SEE: The story remains as compelling as it ever has.
REASONS TO AVOID: Talking head-heavy and a bit repetitive at that.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of profanity including drug and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original score was written by, of all people, Nick Laird-Clowes of the dreampop band Dream Academy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 55% positive reviews; Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Biggie and Tupac
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Alliances Broken

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It


Ed and Lorraine Warren hold each other against the darkness.

(2021) Horror (New Line) Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Keith Arthur Bolden, Steve Coulter, Vince Pisani, Ingrid Bisu, Andrea Andrade, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Sterling Jerins, Paul Wilson, Charlene Amoia, Nick Massouh, Stella Doyle. Directed by Michael Chaves

 
The third Conjuring film (and the eighth in the franchise overall) is a bit of a seismic shift from the previous films. James Wan, who directed the first two Conjuring films, knows how to develop a good creepy atmosphere as well as a decent scare. He is sorely missed here.

The movie opens with demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of 11-year-old David Glatzel (Hilliard), attended by David’s parents (Paul Wilson, Amoia), his sister Debbie (Hook) and her boyfriend Arne Cheyenne Johnson (O’Connor). Things get dicey and during the ritual, Ed suffers a massive heart attack. While he’s on the edge of consciousness, he witnesses Arne imploring the demonic presence to leave the boy’s body and come inside him, which the spirit does.

Shortly thereafter, Arne gets into a dispute with his landlord (Blevins) and stabs him together. As Ed recovers and tells Lorraine what happened, the police arrest a stunned Arne who suspects he’s done something terrible. The Warrens convince Arne’s lawyer that Arne wasn’t responsible for his actions; literally, the devil made him do it. It’s one thing to claim that, and another to prove it. They consult a leading expert, Father Kastner (Noble) who leads them down an unexpected path where a malevolent occultist (Bondurant) awaits.

The first half of the movie is largely focused on Arne, Debbie and David, turning to the Warrens once the grisly crime is committed. The film’s strength is in the performances of Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who effectively capture the deep affection, mutual respect and abiding love – not to mention Catholic spiritualism – of the couple. There are those who believe the Warrens were con artists; I won’t make a judgment one way or the other, but the two actors portray the Warrens as we would like them to have been (they’ve both since passed on).

Like the other films in the series, the story is only loosely based on what actually happened. In real life, the presiding judge immediately rejected the plea of not guilty by reason of demonic possession, stating (quite correctly) that it wasn’t provable. Johnson and his lawyer instead offered a self-defense plea and eventually ended up convicted of manslaughter and served five years of a ten to twenty year sentence before being paroled. Both Arne and his wife Debbie, who are still married today, confirm the Warrens’ version, although other members of the family have disputed this, most notably Carl Jr., David’s brother, who doesn’t appear in the film, who sued the author of the book The Devil in Connecticut for defamation of character and invasion of privacy. The author, Gerald Brittle, who received much input from the Warrens and whose book is listed as the basis for the film. Regardless of who you believe, you do know that things get embellished in these movies to make them more cinematic, right?

Chaves continues to develop the relationship between Ed and Lorraine but he isn’t as adept as Wan at creating tension and delivering on genuine scares. He relies a great deal on jump scares and at the end of the day, those are the cheapest of all, the horror equivalent of tripping on a banana peel. Plus, the movie just feels unfocused, as if the director’s mind was on his grocery shopping list more than on the film. Also, the big bad – the Occultist – isn’t fleshed out very much. She’s just EE-VILLE and the somewhat monotonous delivery of Bondurant doesn’t help matters. This is the weakest film of the trilogy by far to date; hopefully they can convince Wan to return and direct the next one – if indeed there is a next one.

REASONS TO SEE: Farmiga and Wilson continue to make an effective pair.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as focused as previous entries in the franchise.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, scenes of terror and brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chaves previously directed The Curse of La Llorona which is peripherally related to the Conjuring universe.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (until July 4)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews; Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: God Told Me To
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Super Frenchie