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PCR #454 (Vol. 9, No. 49) This edition is for the week of December 1--7, 2008.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Cadillac Records"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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"Cadillac Records"  by Mike Smith
Time Warp Toy Box '08: Part 1  by ED Tucker
The Juice Isn’t Loose Anymore .... Will Monte Volunteer? .... Plaxico Shoots Himself .... Nfl Picks .... .... .... ....  by Chris Munger
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Tri Star     
Starring: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright and Beyonce Knowles
Directed by: Darnell Martin
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 49 mins

When most people hear the words “rhythm and blues music” they instantly think of one record company: Motown. Easy choice since Berry Gordy’s company was home to such acts as The Supremes, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder. Some may even think of Otis Redding, Issac Hayes and Stax Records. But very few give credit to the company, and the men, that started it all: Leonard Chess and the great Muddy Waters, founders of Chess Records.

1941. Chicago. Leonard Chess (Brody) is a white man with a problem. He loves “race” music…bluesy tunes performed by black artists. His goal: to run a nightclub that caters to the music and its fans. In Mississippi, McKinley Morganfield is working in the fields, singing aloud to make the day pass quicker. One day he is approached by two gentlemen who ask him to record a song for them. Impressed by his sound, Morganfield heads to Chicago to pursue a new trade with a new name: Muddy Waters (Wright).

A first rate film with an outstanding cast, “Cadillac Records” is the story, warts and all, of one of the most influential group of musicians to ever stand in front of a microphone. Chess was very similar to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegen in that he knew the sound he was looking for and when he found it, he recorded it. The highs and lows of Chess Records are portrayed here in an almost reverent way. As the years progress and such talents as Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Howlin’ Wolf (Eammon Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Knowles) join the label’s roster, the company grows in leaps and bounds. Each new artist not only enriches Chess personally, they learn from, and influence, each other. But the business isn’t easy. “Just because you sing the blues doesn’t mean you have to live them” Chess tells them. But suffering is what makes the music so good. Of course, by the time Cleveland DJ Alan Freed (Eric Bogosian) plays Chuck Berry’s “Maybeline” on his show, thereby “integrating the airwaves,” the bad times seem few and far between. But this isn’t to say that things are all bad. The film’s title alludes to the cars Chess presents to his artists when they hit it big. And some hit it big more often than others.

As Waters, Wright gives a powerful performance as a man who knows he has talent but can’t seem to control it for his own good. He records the occasional hits, but soon finds himself taking a back burner to newer sounds. Even when a young group of Englishmen drop by unannounced and tell Waters they named their group after a song of his, Waters seems unfazed. The rest of the cast is just as good, an added bonus being that they sing their own songs. Beyonce Knowles stands out as Etta James, a woman who just wanted to be loved by anyone that would accept her. Brody does well as Chess, only taking center stage when the need arises.

But the attraction here is the music. Even now, six decades later, it continues to influence. There would probably be no “Beach Boys sound” if not for Berry. Don’t believe me? Try listening to “Surfin’ USA” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.” And who knows what would have become of the band that named themselves after Muddy Waters’ song “Rolling Stone” if they hadn’t been such a fan of the music. The fact is that everyone portrayed here DID influence countless other to follow them. Another fact is that every single last one of them (Waters, Dixon, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, James…even Chess himself) is now an inductee of the rock and roll hall of fame. A fine company indeed.

On a scale of zero to four stars I give “Cadillac Records”


This week's movie review of "Cadillac Records" is ©2008 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2008, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.