Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 08 December 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
As the title implies, this is the story of a musical era, specifically that of
And a formidable lineup it was. Chess was responsible for discovering the likes of Blues legends McKinley Morgan aka Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), and Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker); Chuck Berry’s (Mos Def) unique sound and style was introduced by Chess Records onto the airwaves, as were Etta James’ (Beyonce Knowles) torchy and tortured love songs.
Intermittently narrated by songwriter/musician Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer)
Chess was a progressive and innovative businessman, unafraid of controversy or resorting to payola (bribing D.J.’s) to further his interests. The film paints him as a sympathetic boss, always ready to throw money or automobiles at his frequently wayward, high-strung or just plain strung out artists. The money came out of the artists’ royalties, a detail Chess never admitted until long after the fact.
Despite segregation and seething racial tensions, Chess ushered his new sound, Chicago-style Blues, onto the airwaves, a pioneer path fraught with conflict, raw talent, explosive emotions and personal implosions.
The Mocambo, the small nightclub Chess owned and operated featuring local black talent, was where Waters and Little Walter made themselves known through a bar fight that ended up with an extended engagement. Waters was a singing Mississippi farm hand who played a mean blues guitar and was so well known for it that a folk historian showed up at his house one day to record him. Hearing his voice played back, Waters noted, was “like meetin’ myself for the first time.”
Throughout it all, there are powerful musical numbers, and the soundtrack is a mix of original recordings and re-creations from the talented ensemble cast. The actors lose themselves in their roles
Adrien Brody balances a basic decency with shady maneuverings to pull off a conflicted performance of a capitalist trying to be loyal to the people that made him rich. Jeffrey Wright combines quiet dignity with simmering rage to make his Muddy Waters a multi-faceted musician full of rationalizations.
Columbus Short’s reckless Little Walter illustrates the perils of what is called “the mean streets” by his hairtrigger temper and deteriorating health. Mos Def’s playful Chuck Berry captures the spirit of the man. Eamonn Walker’s Howlin’ Wolf will make you pray you don’t meet him when the moon is full. Menacingly charismatic,
Gabrielle Union and Emanuelle Chriqui remind us of the quiet struggle for exclusive identity women fought and frequently lost when they stood behind their frequently straying men.
Writer/director Darnell Martin (I Like It Like That) captures the violence, excitement, triumph and tragedy that marked the birth of the blues and its offspring, rock ‘n roll. She features the music as much as the musicians, letting its rhythm pound and passions ignite, keeping the carburetor and the turntable in good working order.
As a result, you’ll want to take both the Cadillac and the records for a spin.