Music provides the means to describe one’s life with a different set of adjectives. Songs are the milestone markers during the journey. I cannot remember a time where I did not have music in my life. Anytime I hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony I am transported back to the time I was 4 years old and taken to my 1st outdoor concert, where we sat on long brown painted benches in the cool autumn air. How many of us hear a particular song that squeezes a small tear out of our heart, reminding us of a love long gone? There are so many songs in the jukebox of my mind that bring a specific date in time to the forefront of my thoughts. I cannot imagine there being a person who does not experience an emotion or feeling when they hear music. Besides the personal aspects of music there is another side that becomes political. Throughout history songs have been used to define significant moments; such as a protest, a battle, a rally or even defining a generation. One of the things I love most about musicians is the fact they can be classically trained or simply be born with the gift of music. GODFATHER of Soul was the label given to the man in this biographical film and aptly so, for his raw talent was something that came with him when he was born into this world. Chadwick Boseman (Draft Day, 42) portrayed the iconic performer James Brown. This dramatic musical movie covered James from a childhood of extreme poverty through the time where he was called the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” The cast included Viola Davis (Ender’s Game, Prisoners) as his mother Susie Brown, Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help) as Aunt Honey, Nelsan Ellis (Secretariat, True Blood-TV) as Bobby Byrd and Dan Aykroyd (Trading Places, Behind the Candelabra-TV) as his manager Ben Bart. All of them were strong with their characters; they needed to be since Chadwick was outstanding as the sweating, fleet-footed James Brown. Familiar with a good portion of James’ life, this film tried to cover the different aspects of it but skimmed over the darkest chapters. The main issue with this film was the way the story jumped around chronologically. I felt I never got the chance to absorb the full effect of what I was watching on the screen. With things jumping back and forth, the film started to feel like a series of quick vignettes. Since I am fond of music, the musical numbers were outstanding in this picture or maybe I should say groovy. Whether or not one is a fan of James’ music; the fact remains this man was monumental in paving the way for future generations to get their groove on.
2 3/4 stars
Many times I have been told change is good. I am not 100% sold on it, though I will agree to the idea of evolving. Change is something done by a traffic light. Look at all the consumer items that keep changing; are they all really necessary? I believe these changes in packaging or designs have contributed to us becoming a disposable society. There are some things I prefer keeping just the way they were created. I have an old candle holder that used to sit on our dining room table when I was a little kid. It is tarnished and scratched but I do not care; the memories associated with it span my youth. A friend of mine has a wooden, hand carved, standing ashtray made by her father. She does not smoke but the piece is so exquisitely detailed and beautiful that she uses it as a candy dish. A serving bowl would be easier but the stacked column of small elephant figurines has been a great conversation piece, made by her father’s own 2 hands. There are just some things that do not need to change; they were perfect right from the start. Such is the case with the changes in this animated musical film. The story takes place after the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, voiced by Lea Michele (New Year’s Eve, Glee-TV), returns to Oz to help save it from the evil jester, voiced by Martin Short (Innerspace, Father of the Bride franchise). The cast was comprised of a formidable group of celebrities such as Dan Aykroyd (The Campaign, Ghostbusters franchise) as the Scarecrow, James Belushi (Red Heat, The Ghost) as the Lion and Kelsey Grammer (Fame, Cheers-TV) as the Tin Man. The voices and the singing should be considered the only positive element to this family film that was wrong on so many levels. The animation was uncreative and lifeless to the point I thought it had dulled my senses. I found the story lacked any excitement, fun, joy, tenderness or surprise: I could keep going on if you wish. The spattering of adults and children around me in the theater had no reaction to any of the scenes. It was so quiet that at one point I was hoping a baby would have started crying just to see if everyone had been sleeping. I could not find a reason why this awful movie needed to be made. There is a reason some things are considered classic; they do not need to be changed because they are timeless. This film was made for a disposable society, so toss it off of your to do list.
1 1/3 stars
There was something about the piano that attracted me to it. I did not play with musical toys as a baby, but I had two aunts who each had a piano in their home. Whenever we would visit these relatives invariably I would be found sitting at the piano, pressing the keys in different patterns. I never pounded on the keys; in my mind I thought I was actually playing a song, though I could not read a single note of music. What fascinated me was the infinite combinations I could create with all those keys at my fingertips. It was later when I realized other musical instruments had the ability to create the same combinations, but it did not have the same flourish like a pianist. I remember one of the first concerts I attended had a pianist front and center. The way his fingers rippled across the keys, creating sounds as soft as a cat’s purr to booming roars of harmonic fireworks; I wanted to play the piano just like him. For eight years I took piano lessons so I have an appreciation for any skilled musician. If you add outlandish outfits and lavish sets, you will have the star of this biographical drama. Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Wonder Boys) was amazing with his performance playing Liberace. The story was based on the autobiographical book written by Scott Thorson, who had a tumultuous relationship with the entertainer. Though Michael Douglas won an Emmy for his performance, Matt Damon (Elysium, Promised Land) as Scott was equally as impressive with his acting in this Emmy winning movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Side Effects, Magic Mike), there was a steady layout of scenes. It was during the quiet scenes where the story really shinned. To balance out the weighted dramatic parts, Rob Lowe (Wayne’s World, The West Wing-TV) as Dr. Jack Startz and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places) as manager Seymour Heller handled the comedic elements. One of the biggest surprises for me was finding out who played Liberace’s mother Frances. I am not going to mention her name in this review and I hope you do not try to find out before seeing her in this film. With the understanding we are seeing the life of Liberace through Scott’s eyes; this still was a glimpse behind the flash of rhinestones and sequins only to find a dark, troubled life from a different era.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
Just from the movie title, this comedy should get an extra star in its rating. Unconditional love is a powerful combination; a term I have always tried to live my life by. For anyone who lives with unconditional love, I say more power to them. Besides having a great movie title, I am doing a different type of review because I was an extra in this film. I will share my observations as I was fulfilling one of my dreams–to see and be part of a movie production. Kathy Bates (Misery, Titanic) played Grace Beasley. Devastated when her husband Max, played by Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters franchise), told her he did not want to be married to her any longer; on an impulse, Grace decided she would fly to London to attend the funeral of her favorite entertainer Victor Fox, played by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). While in England Grace convinced Victor’s partner Dirk Simpson, played by Rupert Everett (Hysteria, My Best Friend’s Wedding) to fly back with her to Chicago to find out who had killed Victor. There was a trail of madcap events that ensued which would put the couple in danger and have an affect on the entertainer’s estate. This was a fluffy, harmless comedy caper with a robust cast of characters. The story was silly for the most part, but I still enjoyed it. Kathy Bates was an incredibly warm person who would come to the set each day in a full length fur coat, fluffy house slippers and her little pet dog. The staff told us we were not allowed to look Rupert Everett in the eyes, nor speak to him unless he spoke to us first. He was surly and ignored everyone except his fellow actors. Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters, Peter Pan) who played Victor’s sister Nola Fox was absolutely charming, sitting with the extras in the general dining area. Throughout the day the extras were fed pizza and doughnuts between takes. Luckily I brought some snacks that were a little healthier. The scene I was in included Barry Manilow and Sally Jessy Raphael. Between shots Barry entertained everyone by singing and playing the piano. Sally would walk behind the set after each take, where her husband dutifully waited for her. My scene was at the very end of the movie; I was an audience member of a television show. It took 2 1/2 days to film that one scene because Dan Aykroyd purposely kept changing his lines, causing everyone to crack up with laughter. If you look beyond his shoulder you can see a younger me with a full beard and more hair on my head, having the time of my life.
2 1/2 stars — DVD