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Movie Blog: ‘Tribe’ Doc Not On Point; Nor Is ‘Help’

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A Tribe Called Quest

(credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

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Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
By Stephen Swanson, CBS Minnesota

I think I speak for fellow fans of rap legends A Tribe Called Quest when I say that news of the much-deserved documentary on the seminal group was both exciting, and cringe-creating. Why the latter? Well, at the helm is, um, Michael Rapaport. Yes, that annoying actor and alleged poseur. (I’m the one making the allegation, by the way.)

Rapaport is the go-to guy whenever an obnoxious Brooklyn accent or grating hip-hop affectatin’ schlub is needed. (Hey, Woody Allen’s hired him twice!) Anyway, I walked into the movie with ample doubts, which I initially dismissed after the first 15 minutes. Initially.

Tribe formed in the late ’80s, alongside NYC contemporaries De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah, among many others. They were a breath of fresh air in a rap world which was just beginning to be dominated by West Coast acts who, although rife with social insight, were propped up by violent posturing.

With the distinctive dueling MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg and the jazz-obsessed DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Tribe brought an ultra-cool, bizarre, playful and clever alternative to the imminent status quo.

Beats, Rhymes & Life starts out as a booming, kinetic ode to the Jamaica, Queens musicians. There’s some inventive animation thrown in, and music by the untouchable producer Madlib, who was heavily inspired by Tribe’s pioneering samples from the wonderful world of jazz music. And best yet, Rapaport is never seen, and only heard occasionally off-camera!

Sadly, the energy soon dissipates. The focus should be all about the music, but Rapaport loses sight and takes a rough turn onto the exit ramp of VH1’s Behind the Music-ville, fixating on the rather flat feud between rappers Phife and Q-Tip. The overemphasis on the gulf between the long-time friends undermines the documentary, as does the contrived conclusion. Despite a couple fantastic for-fans-only tidbits about the origin of some music samples and lyrical references, Beats bores.

And worse, Rapaport’s true colors appeared just a few weeks before the film’s release. During an MTV interview, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed revealed that they received an email from Rapaport that was not intended for them. Basically, it divulged that Rapaport and fellow producers were scheming to take away production credits from the rap legends, and were looking for other ways to cut them out of profits.

Who knew that a man who can barely navigate the mysterious world of email has no concept of sustaining a compelling documentary! What a disappointing footnote to an ultimately disappointing project.

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a little help Movie Blog: Tribe Doc Not On Point; Nor Is Help

(credit: Freestyle Releasing)

A Little Help
By Eric Henderson, CBS Minnesota

I’m going to be charitable and assume that we not actually supposed to empathize with the lead character of the new indie Dramamine dramedy A Little Help. Because she’s not just a pill. She’s a pathological piece of work.

Jenna Fischer, the utterly charisma-free star of NBC’s The Office (you know, the one who handles all the show’s worst scenes), stars as Laura, a damp pity sponge in the shape of a dental assistant. Her husband is cheating on her, her family is overbearing, her son is a liar, and that damned dog next door won’t stop barking!

What’s a girl to do? Every time she makes an attempt to assert herself, karma cold-cocks her with a fierce left hook. When she confronts her husband Bob (Chris O’Donnell) about his creepin’ ways, he promptly collapses dead from arrhythmia. (Not actually much of a spoiler; it happens in the first 15 minutes.)

Her shrewish, jealous sister insists on a lawsuit against Bob’s doctor, and Laura allows it, despite knowing details about the nature of his death that would probably compromise the suit.

Laura’s brat son transfers schools and tells all his new classmates that his father was a fireman and died helping people escape from the burning Twin Towers on 9/11. Does Laura put an end to the charade? Nope, she plays along.

Written and directed by veteran King of Queens scripter Michael J. Weithorn, A Little Help is flat and episodic, never boring, seemingly jerry-rigged to get you to the next commercial break. Only without them, it seems as stifling and frustrating as life itself does to poor Laura Porgy Put Upon Pie.

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