'Just Another Day' follows a day in the life A-Maze (Wood Harris, 'The Wire'), a rapper who is finding it more and more difficult to get his career back on track due to a feud with another rapper named B-Bone. We also meet a wannabe rapper named Young Eastie (Jamie Hector, 'The Wire') who is trying to make a name for himself in the crowded rapping world. The link between the two men is a manager by the name of Gary who manages A-Maze's career, but is also looking to sign new talent like Young Eastie to the new record label he's starting.
The story plays out over the course of a day, hence the title. Like most every other such drama, 'Just Another Day' shows the slums that these characters are living in and trying to claw their way out of. People are shot on a daily basis, kids are forced to sell drugs just to keep their families afloat, and each of them has a dream of making it out – like Young Eastie with his rapping – but, the ghetto keeps pulling them back in.
'Just Another Day' is shot documentary style with ultra-close ups and shaky camera work. Oddly, it works for such subject matter, giving the film a more gritty, life-like feel.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ability of this direct-to-video feature to get me as involved as it did. I'll be the first to admit that much of the lingo spoken here flies completely over my head, but the characters are well rounded and surprisingly rich.
It's easy to feel for Eastie as he tries his hardest to crawl out of the desolate area he lives in. His mother grows increasingly disenchanted with him, he's forced to sling drugs just to pay for his rap demo tape, and when everything seems to be finally going his way the ghetto pops up and latches on without mercy.
On the other hand, A-Maze is fighting to deal with his descent into music world irrelevancy. Producers, photographers, people that make him money are growing tired of him and his prima donna antics. They pay lip service with happy smiles to his face, but the first chance they get they disown him. He's also got his greedy entourage to deal with, and doesn't have much time to listen to up and coming rappers like Young Eastie.
While 'Just Another Day' doesn't reinvent or redefine the ghetto struggle genre – this is no 'Menace II Society' – it is a somewhat striking portrayal of what can happen when the mindset is one of violence. The way it's filmed makes it a slightly more intimate experience. Director Peter Spirer, who has spent his career studying the rap scene with his series called 'Beef,' shows here that he knows what he's talking about.
This is a valiant effort at trying to portray some of the problems that face young black males in this country, especially those trying to make it into the rap scene. While the movie overall lacks an emotional core to truly get you invested, Spirer crafts a bleak landscape of violence that convincingly depicts just another day on the block.
'Just Another Day' was shot on high definition video. The 1080p transfer, using the AVC encode, does justice to the original high definition source, but still comes away with quite a few problems.
Lighter colors, especially whites, burn way too hot, erasing any sort of fine detail that might be found on shirts, skies, or A-Maze's giant white Cadillac. At times, the video seems like you're watching a whitewashed version of something you know should look a lot better. Blacks suffer a similar fate, never becoming inky or providing any depth to the image. The end sequence where Young Eastie goes to meet A-Maze at his show is a hotbed for crushing, especially in the low lit parking lot. Colors range from not-so-great to dreary. Source noise is minimal, but crops up on occasion as blips and flecks on the screen.
Overall, for a low-budget movie like this it looks OK. It definitely looks better than that other gritty ghetto drama I reviewed a few weeks ago called '.'
One area where 'Just Another Day' could have really shined, fizzles out pretty bad.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which is full of bass-laden hip-hop music failed to register what should be expected of a soundtrack with so much thumping LFE. The music is focused in the front, hardly ever giving an ambient feel in the rear speakers, even during the concert scene. Bass is muted and never reaches its potential. This becomes frustrating as hip-hop song after hip-hop song bursts onto the scene with less of a roar and more of a whimper. Dialogue is another hampered aspect. A-Maze talks a lot in soft, gruff whispers that get lost somewhere in the nether regions of the sound field. He's extremely hard to hear, and you may find yourself rewinding it to pick up some of the stuff he says. Gun shots even sound underwhelming, giving off a canned pop instead of a loud bang.
Everything about this movie lent itself to some awesome audio potential, but it's been squandered big time.
I wasn't expecting to like 'Just Another Day,' but I did. It isn't as great as something like 'Menace II Society,' but it's an interesting look into life in the ghetto, how the rap business is run, and what it takes to make it. For what 'Just Another Day' is, I enjoyed it. Too bad the video is bland and the audio isn't nearly what it could be. Add all that to a completely dry set of extras and this one is just a rental.