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NXNE 2012 Review: Ghostface Killah & Toronto’s Apollo Kids

Ghostface Killah & Toronto’s Apollo Kids is a film with nothing but the best intentions. The film was directed by Jeffrey ‘Vargas’ Vallejo as a way to publicize and promote a Parkdale youth group run by Vallejo, one that is designed to help keep kids off the streets by getting them in a recording studio. At a post-screening Q&A at the Toronto Underground Cinema, Vallejo explained how he and the rest of his collaborators on the film and social project managed to get Ghostface’s attention in an Ottawa hotel lobby with the project, which Ghostface was glad to participate in. The Wu-Tang Clan member even invited Vallejo to shoot an upcoming concert in London, Ontario, which is what makes up the majority of the film. Intercut with footage of Ghostface visiting the Apollo Kids in a Toronto recording studio, the film is part concert film, part promotion for the Apollo Kids program itself, and part motivational tool for kids dealing with the same issues as the kids in this film. While in the studio, Ghostface explains to the kids how he came from a similar situation when he was growing up in Staten Island, and how they should embrace their opportunity to write and make music as a way to channel their negative energy into something positive, which is a sentiment Vallejo echoed in the Q&A.

Taken on its own merits, however, Ghostface Killah & Apollo Kids just isn’t a very good film. It is primarily a concert film, but the way the concert is shot and cut together at times sort of feels like they just sort of splashed together a bunch of camera phone footage from the audience and cut it with a soundboard recording of the show. The colours coming from shots on different cameras look wildly different, as does the actual image quality. Large portions of the show are shot through the crowd, and it is often difficult to tell the perspective we are looking at the stage from. The editing is similarly confusing as well, and there appears to be no real flow to the movie because of this.

The concert aspect of the film is kind of boring as a result of the poor filmmaking, despite Ghostface doing a mix of his own work, Wu-Tang classics, and good songs he guested on. Ghostface himself is clearly not giving the performance of his life either, as he admonishes the lifeless London crowd for not giving enough energy throughout his performance, and looks visibly annoyed when the crowd fails to rap along to recordings of Nas’ verse on Verbal Intercourse and Inspectah Deck’s opening lines on Triumph. (This is a totally valid response, as those are debatably two of the best verses in the history of the genre.) However, Ghostface remains professional throughout the film, particularly once he realizes the crowd won’t get much better, and generally gives a good performance (as does the LOX’s Sheek Louch, who remains on stage throughout) that is simply hazily captured.

The messages Ghostface delivers to both the kids and Vallejo (in a post-concert interview toward the end of the film) are fairly simple ones about believing in yourself despite the negativity surrounding them, and to remain creative, but these statements never appear as anything less than truly heartfelt. It is clear that Ghostface means what he says, and wishes nothing but the best for the kids in the film, not unlike Vallejo does. In the post-film Q&A, Vallejo again re-iterated how open to the whole project Ghostface was, a statement backed up by Ghost’s contribution to the kids’ mixtape, and how much he enjoyed talking to the kids themselves in the recording studio. Vallejo also discussed how they have plans to work with another as-yet-unnamed artist in the future on a similar project.

I feel kind of bad about calling Ghostface Killah & Toronto’s Apollo Kids a bad movie, but it is. If this were a review based on social intentions, it would certainly be a five star assessment. However, this is a film review, and Apollo Kids is a bad film. Its intent is extremely positive, and due to the rushed production and total lack of funding Vallejo and crew had to deal with, all of the problems are understandable. But as a film, it is simply awful, and would be pretty much unwatchable to somebody who isn’t already a Ghostface fan.

[star v=1]

Alex Stephenson

Alex is an avid film fan, with an appreciation for both low and high culture. He loves Steven Seagal movies, but he can break down all those womb metaphors in The Graduate, too.