Monday, March 29, 2010

Urban Trilogy-Thoughts, Ruminations and Recoil

I honestly can't count how many negative comments I've read about the "Urban Trilogy" of films released in 1999. I really can't, be it when someone mentions the musical career of Ice-T, the name Pyun, or even if you talk about Snoop Dogg appearing a film, these show up.  So, I thought it was time to strap on my Pyuniversal Soldier contamination suit and settle in for a few nights with Ice-T, Snoop Dog, Vincent Klyn, Silkk The Shocker, Big Punisher, Fat Joe and a whole lot of guys playing out Boyz In The Bratislava Badlands.  I watched the three films back to back and have the following thoughts...What follows may shock you as little as Ice-T saying "DIE YOU MOTHERFUCKER" 76596* (approximate) times between three films... or will it? 
Can I recommend you spend as much time with these as I have? Not in good conscience...but I can also say that if you read all this you just might find them worth a rent.  Two of the US discs contain Albert Pyun commentary-I listened to the first few minutes, and will review them separately.  I did not want to color what I'm writing now, because I just KNOW there have to be some crazy stories...a few of which appeared in little pieces in various blog posts at the official AP site.
So come with me...cue the music...bob ya' headz...simulated gunshot sound ...

The Films / The Line Up

Wrecking Crew-This one tells the story of three gangs all trapped in one little warehouse-they posture and talk a lot of shit...but someone is coming after them. A man called Menace and his Wrecking Crew have come to wipe out The 111, The Cartel and the...umm...other guys.  Frankly, I think they are all the same guys just swapping clothes or tossing on some rags to hide their faces.  But whatever.  We know the Wrecking Crew is serious because Ice-T looks pissed off as he watches TV and takes out his first target, DRA-MAN!  Snoop Dogg plays Dra-Man, but he doesn't because this is some documentary footage and then we get one scene that you'll see later on and is taken down by the Wrecking Crew.  Really, the gangs talk, fight, run into rooms and have mass melee battles of bullets and falling bodies... Ice-T almost rules the day, but lucky for us one gang leader, played by the sadly underused TJ Storm (and I don't mean underused here because you see him a lot!)...because Ice-T is really ready to take over the streets with the cops bankrolling the whole operation by accident. 
"If they can't handle in the FUCK are they gonna handle ME??"
I also had to laugh when I was watching this, The Cartel goes all the way back to the first Ice-T album!

Corrupt-This flips the script a bit and casts Ice-T as the pimpatronic CORRUPT, a man that a bunch of wannabees try to rip off. BAD plan, and certainly don't try to rip off a thug that wants to get in to your sisters pants! That won't get you any special dispensation from a guy like Corrupt (or Ice-T!)  The plot wanders between the story of the sister and Corrupt, the younger brother in trouble and being hunted down and (yah!) TJ Storm as sister's boyfriend who finds out she is drinking deep of the Ice-T but doesn't know why.  Silkk The Shocker is probably a nice guy...but the best thing I can say for his performance is that he screams well when he gets stabbed WHILE HIDING IN A TRASH CAN!!  Another gun battle, the same one from Wrecking Crew, finishes up this tale.  I must say though...Ice-T has some great lines in this film, his use of the phrase "MY SEXY" for his female companions is awesome.  But...this is easily the least interesting of the films.

Urban Menace-Hey now...this one is a horror film that takes the gangster milieu of the previous entries and casts the unbelievably tall Snoop Dogg as Caleb. A spirit out to kill the bangers that destroyed his church.  More running around the warehouse! Ice-T as an awesome narrator/social commentarian that rants in to the camera.  Hell, his ranting is perhaps the highest point in the films!  You'll be laughing with him and not at the gangsters that look like they just parked the Mystery Machine and are being chased around by Snoop Doggy Scooby Doo.  This one manages to work pretty well, whenever the situations pick up, Pyun zips around in post production and gives us some really fun moments that include lots of off screen screaming and digital ghost blips.  If you watch one, this is the one to go for.
"This is some crazy demon shit!!!"

Zee Perspectives-The Urban Trilogy hit from different angles

It's all about the bizness!  
I found this great quote from Ice-T... "You can't come out on a record dissing the system and be on a label that's connected to the system."  The mixture of Albert Pyun, Ice-T and what both were doing at the time created something utterly unique.  Ice-T and Filmwerks present these films, a real mixture of lo-tech artistry and the D.I.Y. of off label rap wrapped in to one package. A major element of the films is Ice-T bringing along his album The Seventh Deadly Sin along to push the movies along, garnering rap icons like Snoop Dogg and the somehow popular at the time Silkk The Shocker to pull in the video renters and ears for his work.  Shooting fast and cheap, Pyun is the DJ to Ice-Ts demented MC.  They shoot scenes that work like assets and samples and spread them around, remixing and slicing them apart.  Sure it looks cheap-not only was it shot on video (as good as HD would be in 1999)-but a mishap with Air France saw one of the two boxes of master mini-tapes LOST. So, using "dirty dupes" aka low rez tape to replace it, the scenes and sources were mixed around and hit with one of those balls out awful "film look" programs that were all the rage at the time.  Pyun has mastered HD video in my opinion, but these look ugly.  But in a way it again feels like a tapes out of the trunk affair.  You are buying direct from the camera...ugly and raw and it might just cause you to have a real bad trip, but it is what it is. 
And don't forget that you are dealing with DJ PyunOMATIC and his cyberbrainiac DJ Rippah Reddi!  But more on that later...

All three films fall in to the Zombie Lake school of respect for me.  You can say it sucks. You can call it worst movie evah!  You can do all that, but you know what? People in Turkey, Japan and all points in between BOUGHT this movie. Filmwerks is certainly Off Hollywood as much as Ice-T's Coroner Records was Off Sire/Big Labels.  Other rap labels tried to do this kind of project and they could not get anywhere outside of a tiny little wave of VHS tapes.  I was working in video shops as a buyer and we had all kinds of promo material from little rap labels in 1999-the only one that springs to mind (or that I can remember!) is the No Limits releases from Master P.  What he needed was Master Pyun and his head crushingly dedicated drive to distribute films as fast as Ice-T could recommend the act of getting butt naked and fucking. 

On the streets it is all about sales...Ice-T got his indy release on his own label into a ton of video stores, and I'd wager that these films turned a profit.  Sometimes we forget that exploitation films CAN be art, not that they have to be.  If they aren't making money, why are they being made?

The Stars...Capitalize to get Capital 
Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, Big Pun, Fat know they are going to put rental dollars in the till. So, drag 'em around the world and let them shine.  Ice-T has skill in the acting arena, we know that. You might want to call him out for being a TV Cop, but I'm a fan of his music and don't watch cop shows. Snoop is pretty good as well, he seems to like playing the monster and is pretty damn big.  Not exactly scary looking, but big.  Now, those other two...Big Pun in a Big Pun T-Shirt reading off a cue card and only sounding excited when talk turns to Burger King says it all.  Silkk The Shocker doesn't fare much better, though he does get more screen time at least.   But there are some other stars worth mentioning for the Pyun fans.  Vincent Klynn makes a great rigor mortis face at one point, falling towards the camera!  TJ Storm does a tiny amount of Kung Fu!  Ernie Hudson Jr. tries...  But there is something for the rap fans and something for the Pyuniverse as well.

We might remix it and split it and in the end David Z might just like it a little bit!

But we are in the Pyuniverse aren't we...and the Urban Trilogy features some completely Pyunomized Moments.  Sure, the images are flat when they come out of that video camera.  The performances are what they are.  But once the films were taken in to the Filmwerks digital studio some VERY strange things happened.  Some were strange cool, others strange bad and some were just bizarre.  Look for indoor lightning effects, some bizarre fire gags that are all superimposed to varying degrees (I did like Ice-T walking in to a group of guys covered in jelly and complaining that he had a rash from "some trick he picked up" before he burns everyone down)...and crazy editing and effects that set this film out of Bratislava. Out of the Urban Renewal hellhole and firmly in to some bizarre Prison Planet in the Pyuniverse where Ice-T is the baddest motherfucker of all.  

The biggest success of the films is in something that is important in many Pyun films, the input of Tony Ripparetti-here cast as DJ Rippah Reddi (yeah, I'm sticking with that!).  He contributes some interesting bridges while mixing all kinds of songs from Ice-T's Seventh Deadly Sin and some other tunes.  For a 1999 release, these all have that hardcore rap with piano riffs that tend towards the horrorcore offerings of Gravediggaz-though no disrespect to Ice-T, but no way does he come close to an album like Niggamortis / Six Feet Deep.  Between the music constantly shifting and shit talking, Riparetti uses his skills to give the images a life they could not have had in less capable hands. The synthetic environment created in post production makes the films unique. They shift from being a late 90s riff on Blaxsploitation films and Iceberg Slim tales and become otherworldly at times-and Riparetti is largely responsible for keeping the aural atmosphere thick and fast paced, even when the films are crawling from point A to point A 1/2 to point B.  Digital explosions and mixed music are possibly the films highlight.  
But the coolest part, to me, is the credits. Yep, you know it may be a backhanded compliment to call credits the most interesting part of a film-but these are wild.  Perfectly set in an animated world of shifting grafitti, hip hop music and groovy fonts, I just love them.  If Ice-T wanted a promo piece for his album and label, these were exactly that.  These sequences sent me looking not only to get a Seventh Deadly Sin CD, but to find some of the other music in the films!  The actors reprise sections make each and every participant look like a star. And hey, if you add all the credits up from the three films, you have almost as much running time as Corrupt!!  

So, are these great films? No. Are they great Albert Pyun films? No.  But are they interesting? Yes they are... a remnant of a time in music, a time in independent film, a time in technology, a time in marketing and a time in the kind of films that could pop in a consumer driven market hungry for entertainment.  The Urban Trilogy will live on, from Japanese re-titlings to Turkish VCDs sold for pennies.  The US DVDs from Sterling aren't bad at all, though I could only load Wrecking Crew to get screengrabs for some reason. The soundtracks are in 5.1 and 2.0, there are two commentary tracks...actors, director and even isolated music.  Pretty damn sweet. 

Hearty Pyuniverse Travelers may want to dip in to these films and feel a very peculiar funk-the type that you might want to cover yourself in jelly after feeling.  Just be sure to bring your digital flamethrower!!  More Urban Trilogy coming with commentary thoughts soon!


  1. A gift for your bravery: