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Capone digs the sweet soul sounds of CADILLAC RECORDS!!!

Published at: Dec. 5, 2008, 6:52 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey folks. Capone in Chicago here. This story of the Windy City's legendary Chess Records and its founder Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody) is actually pretty good, despite some efforts to make it less so. Right of the bat, the CADILLAC RECORDS' grandest mistake of all was not making this movie about Muddy Waters (played to absolute perfection by Jeffrey Wright). But there's certainly enough of Waters to make the film a remarkably cohesive and entertain surface treatment of the company that brought blues, R&B and early rock 'n' roll to the mainstream. Part of the reason I wish the film had been centered on the rise of Muddy Waters is because it's a far more interesting story than that of Chess Records. Not that the Michigan Avenue recording studio didn't have its incredible share of talent coming through its doors (including Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker and even the Rolling Stones, who recorded much of their Now! album there. But filling the screen with famous faces of today (Beyonce Knowles as James; Cedric the Entertainer as Dixon; the scary as shit Eamonn Walker as Wolf; Mos Def as Berry) played famous people of yesteryear only carries the film so far. Waters' journey from the cotton fields of the south (discovered by folk music song collector Alan Lomax) to Chicago is such as more notable and interesting tale. Fortunately writer-director Darnell Martin is smart enough to see the inherent drama in Waters' life and make him the secondary focus of her film. He was a cheating man (his loyal woman is played by Gabrielle Union) who insisted on loyalty from everyone around him. His concerts were electric and sometimes dangerous, and even his side players went on to be famous. Wright couldn't be any more perfect to play this part. With a souped-up hairstyle, the right threads, and a southern mumble in his voice, he completely and totally embodies Waters. And with all of the actors singing their own parts, Wright even manages to nail the Waters' vocals. As much as this film does little more than skim the surface of Chess Records history (the company was nicknamed CADILLAC RECORDS because of Leonard's tendency to buy that brand of car for all of his employees), it does not gloss over the lives of anyone. Little Walter was a ferocious drunk and borderline crazy, James was a heroin addict who swore like a drunken sailor (this film is R rated for language since the Chess Records folks seem to love the word "motherfucker"), and Berry has a thing for underage white women, a fact that derailed his career at its peak. Leonard Chess himself was no alter boy and often would "borrow" from one artist who was doing particularly well to give money to those who weren't. I wasn't a fan of director Martin's choice to paint these people's very real problems as some sort of dysfunctional family, but in a way that's what the company was. The smartest decision any director could make regarding a film about any record company (rather than a film about a particular artist) is to overload us with great music, and CADILLAC RECORDS does just that. I will own this soundtrack the day it comes out (actually, I think it is out already, so I own it!) because these renditions are stellar. The movie captures the musicians' sense of chaos, sexual awakening and racial injustice that was a part of their lives every day, and it does so with a clear love of the music and the times. CADILLAC RECORDS is by no means a great film, but there are great things about it (beginning and ending with Wright's performance, which is better than the movie itself) that make it worth checking out. -- Capone capone@aintitcoolmail.com



Readers Talkback

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  • Dec. 5, 2008, 6:54 a.m. CST

    1st

    by landrvr1

    Hmm

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:22 a.m. CST

    Damn You MCMLXXVI

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    Damn You MCMLXXVI

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:36 a.m. CST

    Sounds good but I'm sick of Beyoncee

    by Stalkeye

    She's overrated, not that good an actress and alot of her songs are full of man bashing.(Sorry beeotchee, but everyone gets heartbroken, not just women/you.)<p>Oh and what asshole put the idea in her head that she can play wonder woman let alone Lois lane? other than that, I just might check this out.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 9:25 a.m. CST

    Not going to see this because

    by ImJustSaying

    I really can't stand Jeffrey Wright. And don't fucking get me started on Beyonce.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 10:44 a.m. CST

    Looks interesting, but...

    by thot

    Beyonce as Etta James is, at best, questionable. She's a pretty poor actress. I'll be renting it though.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 10:53 a.m. CST

    I'm playing Howlin Wolf's 'London Sessions'

    by zinc_chameleon

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 10:56 a.m. CST

    I'm playing Howlin Wolf's 'London Sessions'

    by zinc_chameleon

    right now, converting them from a 1971 LP to an MP3 using Linux. Eric Clapton on lead guitar, the Rolling Stones for a rhythm section. You could make a movie about just that, and it would be a wonder.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 11:22 a.m. CST

    this review

    by DocDaneeka

    makes me wish i could see a muddy waters biopic, starring wright and helmed by a better director, instead of this movie.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 4:32 p.m. CST

    Howlin Wolf is God

    by jah_kingdom

    Read Moanin at Midnight and see why.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 5:12 p.m. CST

    Been looking forward to this.

    by The Funketeer

    Hoping this opens some people's eyes to the great music that Chess put out.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 5:49 p.m. CST

    ImJustSaying

    by Screwbini

    Can't stand Jeffrey Wright? You just disqualified yourself from being taken seriously ever again. If you ever were.

  • Dec. 8, 2008, 8:09 a.m. CST

    Muddy

    by Giltar

    Agree it's an entertaining (but not great) flick. Jeffery Wright was very good acting-wise, but in my opinion DID NOT nail Muddy Waters vocal -wise. Sort of unfair to expect the latter.