February 16th is the recorded date of birth of the great Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow, recording artist, hip-hopper, rapper, rock star, reliable presence, forceful actor in both TV series and films, raconteur, rabble-rouser, shit-stirrer, truth-teller.
It’s a fine occasion to celebrate, and to remind you all to check out the Final Level podcast, which after just three episodes has been firmly established as a must-listen. In a world where everyone and their cousin has a podcast, here’s one that sounds different than the rest, comes at you fierce, and doesn’t waste any time. We’ve got to stop just short of calling it the single best on the net, since we’ve got our own podcast to promote, but it’s a hearty recommend.
And now, a meager tribute in posters and videos to a man whose contributions to music are readily apparent and who even gets the appropriate amount of respect for his steady work on shows like SVU, but whose contributions to film remain strangely under-acknowledged. There’s a lot of greatness here.
We’ll start with the music video for COLORS, from the movie directed by Dennis Hopper (!) and starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. Ice-T isn’t in the movie but this is the lead-off song from the soundtrack album and the movie’s signature tune.
Two sentimental favorites are the BREAKIN’ films, in which Ice-T cameo’d as a party rapper. This would have been the first time yours truly became acquainted with the man in question.
RICOCHET is a mid-period Joel Silver production, directed by Russell Mulcahy and co-written by DG contributor Fred Dekker, which was an early starring role for Denzel Washington. Denzel plays a young and super-photogenic cop and Ice-T is an old friend who went the other way, into a life of crime. When the evil and histrionic John Lithgow sets Denzel up for murder, Denzel turns to his buddy for help. Ice-T’s character is named Odessa, which is fucking rad, and he’s crazy entertaining in the movie, which was already pretty entertaining to begin with.
NEW JACK CITY should need no introduction; it’s a formative movie to guys (and girls) of my generation. Mario Van Peebles directed and stars in this crack crime epic, but the movie really belongs to Wesley Snipes, as the madly charismatic villain Nino Brown, and to Ice-T, as undercover cop Scotty Appleton, who becomes dedicated to taking his ass down. He has unforgettable chemistry with a young Chris Rock as Pookie, the live-wire crackhead who’s a casualty waiting to happen. Killer soundtrack on this one also.
TRESPASS is a lesser-known B-side from the filmography of the great genre auteur Walter Hill. Bill Paxton and William Sadler play firefighters who enter a condemned building in a bad neighborhood looking for loot, which puts them on a collision course with some tough customers. This movie is probably most important to history as the titanic team-up of the two Ices, T and Cube, but it’s worth seeing for so many more reasons too. And once again: phenomenal soundtrack. If NEW JACK CITY‘s goes heavier on the R&B, TRESPASS‘s soundtrack is a strong mixtape of some of the best rap acts of the time.
Really just a cameo, but this is great evidence that one of the most supposedly intimidating figures in rap also has a wicked sense of humor.
Like RICOCHET and TRESPASS, SURVIVING THE GAME is a solid piece of pulp filmmaking, a great crowd movie. An update on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, this early directorial effort from the great DP Ernest Dickerson finds Ice-T as a vagrant who is scooped up by a group of recreational hunters whose preferred prey is human beings. The hunters include Rutger Hauer, Gary Busey, F. Murray Abraham, Charles S. Dutton, and John C. McGinley (a lot of initials in that crowd), so Ice has his work cut out for him.
Based on an underground comic by one of the guys who later designed the Gorillaz project, TANK GIRL is a whole lot more entertaining than you may expect. It’s silly and crazy and has a cameo from Iggy Pop. Maybe most important in the grand scheme for showing the greatness of Naomi Watts to the world, TANK GIRL is nevertheless a singular experience for giving us Ice-T in the form of a mutant kangaroo man.
A cult item deserving of a bigger cult, MEAN GUNS was introduced to me by the Projection Booth podcast. It’s a high-concept, low-budget action movie from prolific director Albert Pyun, where Ice-T plays a malevolent criminal mastermind who drops a bunch of his enemies into an abandoned prison with a various and copious amount of guns. The cast is full of faces you may recognize without knowing the names, but of course one guy reigns supreme over the movie.
Here’s the truth: Ice-T isn’t in LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD nearly enough — Warwick Davis, as the evil Leprechaun, is a gas as usual but Ice kind of drops out of the movie after the early scenes where he and the Leprechaun face off over the latest Leprechaun-coveted magical artifact. (The Leprechaun kills over a different artifact pretty much every movie.) There’s too much dead space in this movie for it to be mandatory viewing, but Ice-T brings it to life in the few scenes he appears. A Leprechaun is only as good as his toughest enemy, and Ice-T is, by a wide margin, the greatest Leprechaun nemesis since Jennifer Aniston in the first film.
GOOD HAIR is a marvelous and valuable documentary from Chris Rock, addressing black culture in general and the matter of women’s attention to their hair in particular. This issue is more culturally pertinent than it may seem at first to the outside eye — it cuts deep and wide. As with the best of Chris Rock, important truths are addressed in the funniest possible way, with expert commentary from a wide bench of celebrities. In a movie which features guests as momentous as Maya Angelou and as distracting as Nia Long, without question the star player is Ice-T, who runs away with the movie with observations both incisive and hilarious. The last word in the film is his.
Most people love ANCHORMAN the best. Plenty others prefer STEP BROTHERS. My personal favorite of the Ferrell-McKay comedies is THE OTHER GUYS, which is set in New York and features voice-over narration from Ice-T. Is that mere coincidence?
If this post is good for anything, let it be to convince all fellow hip-hop fans who somehow missed this movie to see it. SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP was co-directed by Ice-T and he hosts the film, a documentary that goes more into the mechanics of the craft than arguably any other. Ice-T discusses his own approach and talks to some of the biggest names and most necessary trail-blazers in the culture. Along the way, you’ll hear plenty of the best music ever made, no exaggeration. A must-see for anyone who appreciates good music and the hard work that goes into it.
Now, please understand this is an incomplete tribute, focusing primarily on films. There’s plenty more to talk about, but this is hopefully a great start. Give some of these movies a look, all right?
Happy Birthday Ice-T, from your pals at Daily Grindhouse!
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