August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm
Straight Outta Compton
While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.
We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.
We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.
Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.
Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.
We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
August 1st, 2015 — 7:02pm
Zoot Suit – nf
This 34-year-old movie reminds us of the unforgettable classic Westside Story and the more recent movie, Fruitvale Station. It is based on an actual 1940s Los Angeles murder trial. It involves a group of Mexican American young men who were tried and sentenced to San Quentin Prison for a crime they never committed. The film is directed by Luis Valdez and stars his younger brother, Daniel Valdez, as Henry Reyna, the group leader. The Valdez brothers in real life happened to come from Mexican immigrant families. Daniel also directed the great music, which is an important part of this production along with the wonderful dancing. The music of course is decidedly a Latin blend that fits in well with the intriguing dramatic story. It features an imaginary character, El Pachuco, who is in the mind of Henry Reyna. He is magnificently played as a Zoot Suit wearing devilish persona by Edward James Olmos, who proves himself to be a great dancer and singer, as well as a fine actor. There is another familiar face in the cast who you will recognize, and that is Tyne Daly who plays Alice Bloomfield, who is a young woman working with the team trying to set the innocent people free. This 1981 film about the 1940s could have been ripped from today’s headlines as we see accusations of police brutality and controversial trials. It is a refreshingly different film that is worth seeing on Netflix (1981).
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical
July 2nd, 2015 — 2:35am
Love and Mercy – rm
This is a biopic about Brian Wilson, the leader of the Beach Boys. We did not know the story of how he went through a serious mental breakdown with psychotic symptoms for several years. During this period he apparently came under the influence of Dr. Eugene Landry, shown to be the evil doctor (wonderfully depicted by Paul Giamatti). Dr. Landry was said to be a psychologist in the film but was shown to be “over medicating” Wilson. What is very clear is the brilliance of Wilson. It is interesting to speculate whether or not some of his amazing creativity was related to his genius brain, which also may have been the source of his tendency to lose touch with reality. This is also a great love story (apparently true to life) between Brian Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter ( Elizabeth Banks). While it was not shown in the body of the film, she ultimately became his second wife and the mother of five of his children.
Great credit for this movie has to be given to Director Bill Pohlad. We also thought that Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian Wilson (he bulked up to add many pounds to his preexisting physical resemblance to the younger Wilson). We also felt that John Cusack was outstanding as the older, very troubled Brian Wilson. We can only repeat our phrase for Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamiatti in their roles. But as expected the other star of the movie is the music. The soundtrack is constantly playing the old and the newer music created by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys which includes the title song and it adds to the authenticity of the film.
We hope you see this movie and if you’re any kind of a Beach Boys fan, we also suggest that after you view it you read about the trivia connected to the making of this film by going to the following link: CLICK HERE You will appreciate how the filmmakers worked so hard to present the story as true to life as possible
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Musical, Uncategorized
July 2nd, 2015 — 2:21am
Jackie & Ryan -sp
There are apparently a number of American folk singers who travel throughout the United States especially in the West by train hopping. They meet up in various cities, frequently earning their living by street singing for donations. On occasion, they play at local festivals or in clubs and some may even get a recording contract, but they are in it for the love of the music. Ami Canaan Mann, the screenwriter-director and one of the producers met one such person, Nick Hans, who became the inspiration for this movie. He also became the consultant for the music on this film.
Ben Barnes, who is a British actor (with a perfect American accent), known for this portrayal of Caspian X in the Chronicles of Narnia personifies Ryan, a train hopping musician. It is mainly through the eyes of this very likable character, who we learn, has been traveling throughout the West and living through his love of music. He gives us insight into this way of life that is alien to so many of us.
Costarring with him is Katherine Heigl, an accomplished and experienced actress, best known recently for her starring roles in The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses and Knocked Up as well as her work in the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy. Miss Heigl plays Jackie, a former country music recording star, who has now retired to a small town to raise her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Unfortunately, Miss Heigl’s character, Jackie, is not as well developed as that of Ryan and we don’t quite understand what makes her tick. There is obviously chemistry between Jackie and Ryan.
But the real emotion in this picture is the music. It is contagious and draws you to the singers and their love of it. The movie goer gets a wonderful musical experience through the three main characters (which include the daughter) as well as enjoying the other real train hopping musicians that are also in the film, especially a very talented violinist.
We always appreciate being exposed to part of American life that is rich, creative and enjoyable.
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical
October 10th, 2014 — 12:31am
Whiplash –sp As we move into the last quarter of the year, we are more likely to see movies and acting that will be Oscar contenders. This film, especially the performance of J.K.Simmons (You may know him from the Farmers Insurance ads on TV) may fit that category. Simmons plays Fletcher, a fanatical high school jazz bandleader, who is determined to win the prestigious band competitions. He will curse, belittle and do almost anything to his student musicians to seemingly get the best performance out of them. Andrew (Miles Teller) is one of those talented students who responds to his teacher and tries to drive himself to his furthest limit to be a great drummer. Many people in life have been inspired and challenged by a teacher. The movie suggest that there may be a moral question whether you can push a student too far to excel even if that student becomes the next Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. In the process of examining this question the viewer gets lots of jazz and what appears to be fantastic drumming. This film is the brainchild of Damien Chazelle who wrote the screenplay and also directed it. He himself was a musician in high school and was a pretty fair drummer who admits that some of his teachers may have prodded him a little too much and thus inspired this story. He worked closely with Miles Teller who was a rock drummer in his earlier youth but was coached to convert to do jazz drumming for the film. There was a weak romance theme as Andrew briefly befriends Nicole (Melissa Benoist). Andrew also has a very loving and supportive father played by Paul Reiser. These two latter characters added little to the story. Perhaps if they had been strongly interweaved into the main plot, the film itself might have reached a more sophisticated level. Certainly as it is, there is tension, drama and “all that jazz” including a great drum solo. You will come away thinking about this film and the questions raised by it. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical, Uncategorized
August 8th, 2014 — 10:31pm
Get On Up –rm This is the story of a young boy from rural Georgia who was abandoned by his parents, raised by madam from a brothel, fascinated by the gospel music in the local church and ultimately became the godfather of soul music. It is about a young man who spent time in jail, who essentially only had himself to rely on and yet always had tremendous belief in himself to the point of being self-centered, egotistical or narcissistic if you will. But in this case, he had the goods. He became a music legend he of course is James Brown.
The film is the brain child of Brian Glazer who is a well known movie and television producer who combined his talent with the skills of another music legend Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged being a great fan and being influenced himself by Brown. Jagger brought his music skills to the film as producer and music director. There are at least two more essential ingredients to this biopic and that would be director Tate Taylor (The Help) and Chadwick Boseman who previously starred as Jackie Robinson in 42.and now becomes James Brown. He does this by his speaking voice, mannerisms and learning the distinctive choreography of Brown’s movements during song and everyday life. This includes his swagger as well as his splits and the special way he whipped a microphone around. There also was some very skillful lip-synching accomplished by Boseman and the actors who played his band and backup singers since the great singing in this movie was the original voice of James Brown.
In addition to Boseman there was some great acting that needs to be acknowledged. Lennie James play Brown’s tough and angry father while Viola Davis was the woman inside the mother of Brown who loved him. yet abandoned and rejected him but still tried to come back when he was a success. Octavia Spencer was the madam in the brothel who took him in and more or less had the heart of gold. Dan Aykroyd was Ben Bart the white Jewish agent who became very close to Brown throughout much of his career and was called papa by him. Neisan Ellis was Bobby Byrd one the most loyal members of the original Flames which was Brown’s first groupbefore Brown became a phenomenon by himself. Brown’s complicated relationship with Byrd reflects his self-image of seeing himself as something very special but yet having a lingering need for close friendship that he may never have found.
On one hand the film used flashbacks to effectively show the genesis of Brown’s unique character but yet they seemed to abruptly pull us away from the engrossing music and the story of how Brown was rising to the top, dealing with racial issues including the country’s response to the death of Martin Luther King as well as how Brown faltered in his personal life. There were many backup players moving in an out of Brown entourage as well as various women and children We could not always be sure who they were in his life which might be defect in the film. In addition, we and at least one other person agreed that the conversations of Brown and some others were not always understandable which could be the dialect, or an audio problem but would seem to be a flaw. The running time of the film was 2 hours and 18 minutes and while we can’t say what should have been cut, it probably could have been shorter. However,we have no complaints in re-experiencing the great music and moves of the incomparable James Brown.(2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
July 10th, 2014 — 5:27pm
Searching For Sugarman nf -In the 1970s there was a rock singer by the name “Rodriquez” much in the style of Bob Dylan who by many accounts was as good if not better than Dylan. His lyrics were right on for the times and his voice as clear (not like BD) as a bell. He was out of Detroit and a few of the music impresarios who produced many stars of Mo-town thought he was fantastic. His story is the subject of this movie directed by Malik Bendjelloul which won the 2013 Academy Award Oscar for the best Documentary Film. Rodriquez’s music which is played throughout the film will catch your attention Take a quick listen here. For some reason he didn’t catch on and his records didn’t sell. He had played in some dives in Detroit for a while and there were rumors of his death or attempted suicide on stage. (Spoiler Alert!) He didn’t die and in fact he just faded away and for the next 25 years or so, Rodriquez lived in a modest house and worked in construction and demolition. He was a quiet hard working man who had three wonderful daughters. He still enjoyed playing on the guitar now and then but he basically melted into the woodwork as a working guy living in a depressed difficult city. However on the other side of the world in South Africa unbeknownst to him and the record producers who dumped him when he didn’t sell, his records were picked up by other labels and for many years he was “Bigger than Elvis.” His words and music became the voice of the young generation of mostly whites who felt apartheid was wrong but were suppressed by the oppressive government of South Africa. 100.000s, if not perhaps millions, of his records were sold. He received no royalties and hadn’t the slightest idea that his name was a household name there. Every young person including many of the popular musicians who became of age in the 80s and early 90s in South Africa knew his music and so many felt they were greatly influenced by it. There were a handful of people in South Africa, writers and music people, who wondered why they didn’t know more about him. Two guys tried to find out what happened and how did he die – was it really on stage? Somebody set up a website reflecting the curiosity of whatever happened to him. Lo and behold one of his daughters living in the U.S. saw the website. The story of how the people in South Africa found him and how he found South Africa will be a touching moment that you will not forget. The reunion concert with thousands of fans in ecstasy singing along with him was an amazing piece of cinema. This was a great subject for a documentary film as it allowed the viewers to share this unforgettable moment and this amazing story. (2012)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical
June 29th, 2014 — 6:31am
Jersey Boys- rm– If you are of a certain age and when you hear the high pitched voice of Frankie Valli singing “Sherry” in full harmony with the rest of the Four Seasons, you want move around and do some dancing, then this film will be a most enjoyable experience for you. We suspect many other generations will also enjoy the musical re-creation of this 50s group. Director and Producer Clint Eastwood has chosen to take this story and the music to the silver screen after a version of it was a successful Broadway Show. This is certainly more of a musical accomplishment than dramatic achievement. Each member of the group was quite distinctive in their personality and story. Frankie Castellucio alias Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) was shown to evolve from a naïve young man to the star he became. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) was originally the brains behind the group and the one who first recognized Valli’s star potential but didn’t have the know how or the integrity to financially help them thrive and survive as a group. Nick Mass (Michael Lomenda) by dropping out prematurely allowed Valli to complete his career without the intact Four Season. Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) was the last to join the group and was the talented songwriter who probably provided the key ingredient, which allowed Valli and the group to shine so bright. Not only is the music captivating but also there is excellent choreography. There is also some very well done subtle aging of these guys as they grow into mature men. Gangsters and the mob were an important part of the scene in the upbringing of these young men and in their rise to the top. The leading gangster kingpin is well played by Christopher Walken. This is a story about boys growing into men and ultimately loyalty among men is a theme which Director and Producer Eastwood knows well and has brought to the screen many times. The women in their lives are downplayed and almost presented as incidental characters. However there is some attempt to show the meaning of a lost family life. But what will not be lost will be the history of this legendary early rock and roll band and a most enjoyable musical experience.(2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Musical
June 6th, 2013 — 8:06pm
20 Feet From Stardom sp– This is a great title for this documentary about the often unsung backup singers who could really sing! Starting in the late 50s into the 60s up to contemporary times so many great pop artists brought in usually black back up singers to highlight their music. Many got the training doing gospel singing in their churches and quite a few were daughters of preachers. The late Gil Frisen, a long time Chairman of A&M records, originated the idea for this documentary film and he worked with filmmaker Morgan Neville who directed this unique project which covered a subject which has had very little media exposure. This reminds us of another excellent film we saw a couple of years ago titled The Wrecking Crew which told the story of usually anonymous session musicians. The stars of this current film will probably also be be unknown to most viewers but they clearly articulated their lives and there was lots of their great music in it. Of particular note are Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Gloria Jones, Judith Hill, Tata Vega along with some others. In addition there were up close and personal interviews with musical icons such Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Bette Midler and Stevie Wonder who unequivocally expressed their admiration of the talent of these singers and how important they were to the success of the well known stars. So often “ the hook” or the main theme which we remember was put across by these talented performers. In the personal interviews with the backup singers we felt a mixed message of how they loved singing and were usually quite content to blend and be part of musical history of the last 50 years, yet they contemplated and some tried to breakout while most never made an individual name for themselves with the public. We learned how the notorious music producer Phil Spector in his original famous Christmas Album unfairly attributed the work of Darlene Love to the Crystals and how Ms. Love felt about this. We also learned about how supportive veteran music producer Lou Adler was to many of these performers. Credit has to be given to Director Morgan Neville for digging up so many great video clips which featured the performances of the backup singers doing their best work 20 feet from stardom with Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, David Bowie and one outstanding video which featured a young Ray Charles grooving at the piano with his famous Raelettes backup group. While the film has to be enlightening for even the most informed pop music afficianado, it is the great music throughout this 90 minute documentary which makes it so enjoyable and something that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who digs pop music. (2013)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Musical
December 21st, 2012 — 2:31am
Les Miserables sp
During the first few minutes of this epic film we were somewhat uncomfortable in that there was almost no talking and it was all singing. Of course this is based on the well known musical show by the same name but we just were not used to the constant singing of just about every piece of dialogue. Well, for the next two and half hours, we not only were comfortable with this style, but were completely caught up with the story, characters, drama and especially the emotion which was fueled by the wonderful music. Tom Hooper was chosen to direct this adaptation of this well known theatrical musical classic to the screen shortly after he won an Academy Award for The Kings Speech . He had a team of writers and producers who had worked on the original show in both London and on Broadway. In fact the original actor who played Jean Valjean, the thief who turns his life around, more than 25 years ago, Colin Wilkerson, played a smaller role in this movie as a Bishop ( we are sure as a tribute to the great history of this production.} Hugh Jackman carried this role in the modern film and was in fine voice and in character, as was Russell Crowe as Javert, the inspector who is mostly shown as the villain. Ann Hathway played Fantine a tragic heroine, a role originally played by her mother on the stage many years previously. She poured her heart into her major song which was an acting and singing triumph. Amanda Seyfried was excellent as Cossette as was Eddie Redmayne who played Marius the object of her love and one of the young heros. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen provided some comic relief but also demonstrated that they could sing. Interestingly, Hooper did full continuous takes of all the singing and did not have the performers mouthing to their previously perfectly recorded renditions of the songs. This is quite an unusual approach in a musical but it appeared to work quite well allowing many close ups of the actors during these pieces. There were also some great long views of the Paris setting and the barricades which were manned for action. The setting of the story is 1832 in Paris, post French Revolution but at the time of an uprising known as the June Rebellion. This is really a morality play which shows how some people have a deep sense of fairness and justice and how one will not forget what has happened in the past . It is also a great love story. Finally it is a story about death. We are reminded what it means to die for the causes which you believe in and also the sadness when a parent has to die and say goodbye to the next generation. When you deal with such themes with characters you have come to know, add poignant and at times powerful music, you end up with a truly emotional experience and a great movie. (2012)
1 comment » | 5 Stars, Musical