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Xmenfan attends test screening of Ray Charles biopic with Jaime Foxx called UNCHAIN MY HEART!

Published at: Oct. 17, 2003, 4:04 a.m. CST

Hey folks, Harry here... This is a curiousity for me. I absolutely love Ray Charles' music and actually think that Jaime Foxx has the right look to play the young Ray Charles. His performance in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY was pretty strong, but I don't believe I've ever seen anything he's done that would test him the way this story would. If you don't know much about Ray Charles' life, well... there's lots of spoilers here, so beware, but it sounds like a really solid little independent film... Hey... It's got Willow in it!

"Unchain my heart test" screening(Ray Charles biopic)

Greetings to the illustrious Mr. Harry Knowles,

I'm writing you tonight to tell you about a surprisingly great movie I just attended a test screening for that goes by the name of "Unchain My heart".

I've written you before and you even published one of my fast and the furious reviews(way back on Valentine's Day 2001. I believe i was going by Booboo then).

For the uninitiated, Unchain my heart is in a nutshell, a biography about Ray Charles, one of the greatest R and B/Jazz singers of the 20th Century. He's played by Jaime Foxx. Yes, I realize about half to three fourths of you just went,"Jaime foxx? FEH, he sucks. I'm not watching this tripe". Believe me, I was thinking the same thing to a degree when i attended this screening tonight and I have to tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.

I got my two screening tickets when I went to see Kill Bill Vol. I on Saturday night with a buddy of mine at the Amc Barrywoods 24 in Kansas City, Missouri. When we were first offered the tickets and told what the film was and who was in it, my friend chuckled and declined but out of curiosity, I accepted said tickets. So the next step for me was getting someone to go with me to see a Ray Charles movie starring Jaime Foxx. Nobody wanted to go...except my parents. My dad was working late so he couldn't go, so I took my mom instead.

We arrived there tonight at around 6:25PM or so(the movie was to began at 7PM) and boy was it packed. 300 or so seat theatre about 90 percent full(there were a few scattered seats that were sealed off. We were told,"those are for the filmakers". If they WERE for them, we never saw them and they were never announced to us which leads me to believe that they were in attendance at some point and went in and out of the crowd in disguise to gauge reaction to the film). Pretty mixed crowd too. I'd even say it was about half black and half white with a few other nationalities mixed in.

Pretty soon, some marketing guy came in and told us that this was a workprint, might be some sound issues, yada yada yada, etc. And then the movie started(no trailers or anything. remember, test screening).

I really didn't know what to expect from this but what i got was pretty good. Basically the film follows the story of Ray's gradual rise to fame in the 50's and 60's, how he met his wife, how he dealt with his mistresses(ladies on the side), his heroin addiction, and most importantly his feelings about the death of his younger brother and his mother. The latter was told in flashbacks that were interspersed between the regular narrative scenes.

The Acting is pretty good and in some cases, great. We'll start with Jaime Foxx. Admittedly, the first few minutes or so all i was thinking was,"hehehe, Jaime sounds like he's doing an impression of ray charles ala In living color or something" and I could tell the audience was thinking similar things at first because people laughed at damn near everything that came out of his mouth for the first few minutes. It was just sorta jarring to see Foxx act like Ray Charles. But little by little we all warmed up to it and graduatlly as the film progressed, Foxx ended up giving probably his best performance as an actor thus far. Great work by him. I wasn't blown away, neccesarily, but if Will Smith can get a nod for a much less effective turn as Ali, Foxx might be able to manage one as well.

The supporting roles were equally well cast. Kerry Washington(who played Sean Willaim Thomas's sister in "Save the last dance") plays Ray's wife and she's just wonderful. Washington(who i've NEVER seen look this cute. I swear she's just adorable here) brings a lot of heart to the role and i would even go as far as to say this is a real breakout performance for her. She's a star in the making. Also good are Aunjune Ellis as one of Ray's other girlfriends("Men of Honor"), Harry Lennix as a club announcer("Matrix Reloaded), and umm...Eddie Murphy's brother lol as Ray's manager(sorry, mr. murphy, I couldn't remember your name but you did good work here). But the REAL story in the supporting actors is Regina King. She's come a LONG way since 227 hasn't she? Now, when I first heard she was in the film, I thought,"ehhh..doesn't she play somebody's love interest in every movie with african-americans", and yes, that's still kinda true BUT it matters not. Her performance in this movie is her best yet. Out of all the performances in the movie, she is the only one i think could WIN an Oscar. Just excellant. When you get to the "hit the road jack" scene, you'll know what I mean.

Speaking of "hit the road jack", this film had a ton of really entertaining musical numbers. We get to hear all of Ray's greatest hits and how a lot of them came to be. We get tons of scenes inside recording studios and clubs(the focuse group i attended after the show all agreed how great these scenes were). This was one of the film's biggest strenghths.

Now here's where I go into some of the negatives. Okay, first of all, the flashbacks. For the most part, they were good. Throughout the film, Ray would periodically have flashbacks to his youth, his mother, and his younger brother and the events surrounding his brothers untimely death. Like I said, they worked for the most part...until the climax of the film. I won't spoil it for you, but for me, it just felt very forced. Almost like the writers didn't know how to end the film so they threw that on.

Another problem with the movie is the resolution of Ray's heroin addiction. When he goes to rehab we get super directorial druggie trip cliche' city. The director just kinda shook the camera a lot to try to illustrate Ray's withdrawl and it felt very been there, done that to me.

Also, as decent an actor as I think he is, Larenz Tate's small part as a young Quincy Jones didn't work for me. It's not that he was bad, it's just i'm tired of seeing Tate play like 17-24 year old kids. How old is he now, like 28? He's not THAT young. I think it's time for him to step into some more mature roles.

Another BIG problem for me(Most people didn't see it like I did but what the hell, it's my review right?) was that the first 30-40 minutes were TOO humorous. It was like a comedy almost and I wanted more of a dramedy feel. Once Ray gets married and gets his record deal with Atlantic records, it's wonderful from start to finish. Perfect mix of drama and comedy.

Also, although these weren't problems for me, a LOT of people had issues with the lenght of the film. It clocked in at something like 2 hours and 35 minutes and the audience i was with seem to be growing restless a little after 2 hours in(not all, but just a few). STill, even those who called it too long said it was a great movie.

AT the focuse group afterwards, we discussed our various likes and dislikes and people were strongly positive about the film. The biggest gripe for people was the length and others felt his heroin addiction was too big of an issue and there needed to be more about his marital life(he spends more time with his girl on the side, regina king in the movie than he did with his wife).

Despite all those little quibbles, it's still a great film. I talked with one of the marketing guys and he told me they dont' have a studio backing the film...yet, but i don't think it will be a problem to find one. The toughest part will be marketing a serious Jaime Foxx film about Ray charles with a title like "unchain my heart"(I wouldn't change the title though. not after seeing the film. trust me on that one).

In closing, I'll just reiterate that "Unchain my heart" is a very good movie if you give it a chance.

On a scale of 1-10, it would rank about an 8.5

If you'd like to read more of MY reviews or my compatriots(themovieman who is the runner of our site, Mr. White, and MovieCritic Guy), go to this address

CLick Here To read more of my greatness!

I go by the name of Xmenfan. Hope you've enjoyed my review :)

Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 17, 2003, 4:12 a.m. CST

    FIRST

    by mayaV

    Now I'm going to read the articel.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 4:19 a.m. CST

    second

    by SuperJew

    too bored and it shows

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 4:20 a.m. CST

    Brother Ray...a Legend

    by hipcheck13

    'nuff said.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 6:59 a.m. CST

    What ever happened to...

    by KingOfTheFools

    What ever happened to Foxx doing Pieres Anthony's 'On A Pale Horse'? I've been waiting since 1985 for this movie to be made, then I hear it's going to happen and Jamie Foxx was going to star...well...what the hell happened to it? I want to see that movie damn it!! Thank you for your time.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 7:44 a.m. CST

    I saw Ray in concert a couple of years back.

    by FrankCobretti

    He was in a bad mood, chewed out the sound guy in front of the audience, and phoned in his performance. Bummer - I have a number of his records and had been looking forward to the show for a long time.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 8:12 a.m. CST

    What a singer...

    by King Rhythm

    ..my favourite slowie is You Don't Know Me, but my favourite uptempo one is I Don't Need No Doctor.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 8:28 a.m. CST

    Foxx

    by FloydGandoli

    I thought Jamie Foxx was great in "Ali" playing a character that was much older than he himslef is.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 9:51 a.m. CST

    Jamie Foxx in living color!

    by purplemonkeydw

    Hey Jamie Foxx haters... He should get a lot of credit for just being on In Living Color. That show was ground-breaking. Also, I'm pulling for him to play Ray's love interest Wanda.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 10:44 a.m. CST

    "black and white and other nationalities"?

    by Heleno

    Oh dear. So there's a white nation is there? Ugh. Anyway, I'll check it out if it reaches this green shores. Ray Charles rocks. And, for that matter, rolls. One of the many reasons we should be grateful to the Blues Brothers is for introducing a whole new generation to this guy. I rated Foxx in Any Given Sunday, so it may be good.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 12:56 p.m. CST

    Foxx is vastly under-rated

    by numberface

    He was great in Ali, he shuld have gotten an oscar nod for Any Given Sunday. He's really a much better actor than people give him credit for. But when you've got "Booty Call" on your resume, people get the wrong idea. Even Tom Hanks did Bachelor Party...

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 1:05 p.m. CST

    Jesus Christ... just review the damn movie

    by Russman

    It's nice to post but dude, who cares if your daddy couldn't come or if you found some corn in your poop. Just drop the review and go. It's bad enough that Harry and the other editors write too much of that before they write their review so we don't need another. In and out baby - just like you treat a whore.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 2:46 p.m. CST

    In reply to BruceTimmOwns. . .

    by TheRealMovieman

    The review legit. I know xmenfan pretty well and he would not plant a fake review.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 3:55 p.m. CST

    review of the review

    by 1842

    POINT 1. i'm glad there were blacks and whites and other nationalities in the theatre. that's great! hopefully some chinese, mexicans, arabs, and eskimos were there too. i hear they like movies too dude. 2. your mom is a goofball. 3. i hope your dad can catch the dvd when it comes out. 4. while reading, i wasn't ever thinking "EHH". i don't ever think "EHH". 5. ray charles is a soul musician not R@B. 6. i forgot what state your from but it sucks like a chicago cub. 7. if i don't "see what you mean" at the "hit the road jack scene" i'm going to be pissed. 8. you should have let the masses know if the film showed charles selling out, "you got the right one baby". pepsi or no pepsi? that's what's important here. 9. i think i already saw this movie, it was called BIRD.

  • Oct. 17, 2003, 10:01 p.m. CST

    was at the same screening

    by elih20

    Yeah I was at the same screening and I echo Xmenfans review almost down to a tee. I can't think of one thing to add. I really hope this film finds distribution because it will be a shame if people are not able to see it.

  • Oct. 18, 2003, 2:41 a.m. CST

    Ray Is Always In A Bad Mood

    by OsamaBinPlayaH8a

    And he always bitches out the sound man. That's part of his routine! Sort of like Roy bringing out a tiger and telling you it's his first time in the show, just before it attacks him and drags him off stage. Anyway, I think that's just Brother Ray's way of bonding with the audience. As far as "phoning it in," I dunno. Ray blazes through all his classics with surprisingly little variation. But whaddya want, the man is a pro and he's been playing 'em for lo these many years.

  • Oct. 18, 2003, 6:45 p.m. CST

    EDDIE MURPHY'S BROTHER

    by Lil Ze

    His name is Charles Murphy, and what a shame it is that no-one even knows who this guy is. He is a great actor and has been good in EVERYTHING I have seen him in but he never gets any roles. I have been watching his guys career ever since I saw him in Mo Better Blues as one of the doormen. He was WICKED in CB4, and whether comedy or serious, he always tears it up. I even remember him in Snoop's "Murder Was The Case" 17min short film. ANd he was great in that, even though the film itself kinda sucked. I last saw him in a sketch on an episode of The Dave Chappelle show "The Mad Real World", it was fantastic. If ytou haven't seen it, go Kazaa NOW!!! How much of a shame is it that we will never get to see MANY of the great talents that's out there. This guy is one of 'em. To get a clear picture of Charles MurphyJust picture a hardened version of Eddie injected with a syringe of pure grit and none of the cheery comedy stuff!

  • Oct. 19, 2003, 8:36 p.m. CST

    as bundini in _ali_

    by mictlan

    foxx was surprisingly great and insightful in the michael mann film _ali_...

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