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I was able to see this wonderful little film at a special screening prior to its release in New York. I was charmed from beginning to end by the characters, situations, and John Sayles' great ear for dialog. It is 1950 in a small town in the South. Segregation is still the norm except for the recently reopened Army base nearby, which has integrated its barracks in response to Presidential order and is preparing young black and white soldiers for the newest war, in Korea. Danny Glover, in an understated, effective performance, plays Tyrone,the owner of a small blues club on the outskirts of town. A former blues pianist himself, he stays loyal to the old blues musicians who still perform there, to an almost empty house. You see, the times, they are a-changing, and the young people are drawn to the hot music available on the juke box at the bar next door. Broke and desperate, already stealing electricity because he can not pay the bill, Tyrone and his loyal friend Maceo (Charles S. Dutton) come up with a crazy plan. Advertise a Saturday night appearance by Guitar Sam, the local musical icon, charge admission, sell all the drinks he can, pay his debts, and retire into the night. Simple, right? At the same time, a young drifter wanders into town carrying a new fangled electric guitar, and sets about wooing Tyrone's lovely innocent young daughter. Add the corrupt local sheriff (Stacy Keach) who smells profit: Tyrone's tired, disappointed wife, flirting with evangelism to salve her unhappiness, and a wise and witty blind musician who comments on the action like a bluesy Greek Chorus, and the stage is set for a very eventful Saturday night. John Sayles has always excelled at portraying his characters as real people with real lives. His dialog rings true without clichés born of racial stereotypes. His men sound like real men, his women authentic. The film takes its time but is never boring; the music throughout and the highly entertaining acting are all the more enjoyable for being leisurely. Sayles is evoking a different time, and does so with wit and precision. The critics missed the boat on this one, and that is their loss. See it early and often.
Saw the movie, Honeydripper, with Danny Glover at the Palm Springs Film Festival today and it was wonderful Music was delightful and great characters, great photography, and I predict a big hit in 2008. It has been an audience favorite and probably be in the Best of Fest next Monday. Glover is outstanding; may be a little long, but every person in the film is well characterized. As a movie reviewer, I have given it FIVE STARS. I would like to know when it goes into general release so I can tell people all over the country. The blues music, rock n roll blends together. I recommend it highly. If this film came out in 2007 it would easily be in my top ten films of the year.
OK, let me say right off the bat I am a little biased. This film was
shot here in Alabama, and most of it was filmed right here in my home
county of Butler. One of my high school classmate's son is featured
throughout the movie as "Lonnie" and other folks I know served as
extras or performed as part of the choir.
And I loved seeing the people and places I know up on the big screen. I think Maggie and John are "da bomb." The woman is a hugger; I love that warmth. John's the most down-to-earth guy.
That being said, I can also honestly report to you "Honeydripper" is a good movie - not perfect, but very much worth seeing. I think Danny Glover is sensational in the lead role as Pine Top and he and Charles Dutton are totally believable as two old pals fighting the odds to save Pine Top's blues club. Keb' Mo' is delightful as the "Greek Chorus" known as Possum, a mysterious and witty blind guitarist.
If you love blues music and early rock 'n' roll; if you enjoy a story that takes its time, one filled with complex characters and some memorable lines penned by Sayles - a movie made with love and lots of heart - then "Honeydripper" just might be for you.
John Sayles, never one to avoid a political focus in movies, now brings
us "Honeydripper". The movie is set in 1950 Alabama. The Jim Crow laws
are still in effect, and black-white relations are limited to
African-Americans performing only the most menial jobs: a number of
people work in a cotton field for practically nothing (slavery has
risen again!). Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis (Danny Glover) owns a restaurant
and often has singers come and play. Business hasn't been doing too
well recently. Pinetop has worked hard his whole life and barely gotten
by...but the possible arrival of a New Orleans singer might change
Aside from the great music, one can also see this movie as a look at the pivot era in the South. It's set during the Jim Crow era, around the start of the Korean War, just a few years away from the civil rights movement. One notices that even though this is still the age of institutionalized racism, many of the characters do what they can to try and have civil relationships with white people: Sheriff Pugh (Stacy Keach) is on pretty good terms with Pinetop, and Pinetop's wife Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton) manages to carry on a conversation with her employer (Mary Steenburgen). The music, of course, is really the best part. I certainly recommend this movie, as I have recommended every John Sayles movie that I've seen.
Also starring Yaya DaCosta, Charles S. Dutton, Vondie Curtis Hall, Keb' Mo', Kel Mitchell and Gary Clark Jr. I think that I saw John Sayles in a bit part.
John Sayles has done it again. He has taken a world class cast (including Danny Glover),some crisp photography,a very well written & directed script & a music score to die for, and has made screen magic. The story concerns an embittered juke joint owner (Glover),an ex musician himself,trying to make ends meet with a club on the outs,who is trying one last move to avoid closure by hiring a well known musician named Guitar Sam,to try & fill his club. Add a few other elements (a wife who is serious about re-connecting with her faith,a corrupt sheriff,and other elements),and the formula for a successful story is all set. The story is set in the racial segregated South of 1950. Although the film was shot in 2007, it is now just getting some scattered distribution. This film deserves far better than it's getting. The music score (composed and/or arranged by Sayles' favourite composer,Mason Daring)is a out & out toe tapper (which includes Delta Blues,Stride Piano,Gospel,Rhythm & Blues--years before it would be coined 'Rock & Roll' by Alan Freed). Honestly, Honeydripper (the name of the juke joint coined by the films title) is one for anyone who is interested in early creative black music(s).
Good movie to watch on the anniversary of our involvement in Korea, and
a new base opens down the road to prepare troops to be sent to the war
that will apparently never end. But, this movie is worth watching for
the music alone. If you like blues and early rock and roll, this is the
film for you.
But, it isn't just about music. It is also about relations between Black and White in the 1950s South. There are some powerful performances by some powerful actors like Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, and Stacy Keach; and interesting new faces like Yaya DaCosta (Take the Lead).
A good story with an great backdrop. Maybe just a little long.
This is not a great movie by any stretch, but it is a very GOOD one. My
rating should be 7.8. IMDb, invest in some higher technology! John
Sayles proves yet again what can be done when there is unity of vision
on a film, and when everyone involved passionately believes in what
they are doing. Any limitations this film has must surely be due to the
budget (was there one?) rather than any creative lapses on Sayles'
In fact, the only problems I have with "Honeydripper" are technical: some of the shots are out of focus, some of the scenes drag, and there is not a lot of dramatic tension to carry the piece along. It is enough, though, for those of us who can handle something more relaxed than the kinetics of Michael Bey or Steven ("I'll do anything for an Oscar!") Spielberg.
"Honeydripper" is really a small character study of a working class man, surrounded by good people, who is trying do do right by them and himself. It is a romance for the nostalgia of the Deep South in 1950, a period where Jim Crow was on the cusp of yielding to John Kennedy.
It is also a romance for music, where Gospel and Blues was about to fuse and metamorphise into Rock 'n Roll. Sayles loves everything he is doing; you can feel the writer/director's respect and integrity through the camera and the screen.
Unusual for a Sayles film, Danny Glover anchors the piece as its central character, the axis upon which the story and all the characters revolve. All the characters are complete human beings, with only a few drawn as caricatures. I don't mind.
This would be a good film to show as a double bill with "The Great Debators". Several themes overlap, but "Honeydrippers" is the more mature film. Here, a man's biggest grievance is not being able to live in dignity as a man who pays his way. Sayles' characteristic character arcs provide us with many dignified men and women who achieve that dignity by finding ways to honestly pay their way. They do it with joy, love and creativity.
Another fine Working Class film from Cinema's Working Class Hero.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In one review I wrote recently I said that some films come along with a
big reputation that leave you feeling "yeh, so what". On the flip-side
of that coin there are other films which very nearly slipped under the
distribution network, little gems that you almost missed, but were so
pleased that you didn't. Honeydripper is one such film. Released in the
UK a few months back it has hardly been seen outside of London - I can
not recall it even having been screen anywhere in my nearest big city,
Bristol, yet, with luck and great foresight, the film club in my own
little town of Clevedon decided to screen the film as the climax to the
'07/'08 season. Was I pleased that we decided to show this little gem
of movie! The actual screening attracted people not only from Clevedon
itself but from all round the district, and even as far as Birmingham -
about 150 miles away! On to the film itself. It is a simple story, some
may even say clichéd to a fault, about a little lounge bar that is on
the verge of going under if it can not raise $200 by Monday, leaving
the owners with a big problem. This problem they hope to solve by
having a well known radio star - Guitar Sam - play and pack the house
out, but, naturally, things do not go quite as planned until a young
guitar picker by the name of Sonny rolls into town and... Plus there is
the figure of a blind bluesman acting like a Greek Chorus, and
conscience of Pinetop.
That is basically it, add in the cotton field, the near-by military camp,a real sod of a sheriff and some pretty women, plus some of the best blues and early R&B that you can wish to hear and there is your film. So what sets this film above many others released this year. Well, the settings feel authentic, you can feel the heat in the cotton fields, you can smell the damp in the lounge and you can see the look of desperation in the eyes of some, hope in others, as the story progresses. The acting is, as one would expect from such a cast, quite wonderful. Danny Glover is outstanding as Pinetop Purvis, with excellent back up by Lisa Gay Hamilton as his wife and, all cuteness and hope for the future, Yaya DaCosta as China Doll. Then there is Gary Clark Jr as Sonny, confident, proud and, oh boy, he can play! Another outstanding performance comes from Stacey Keach as the sheriff, as nasty as Southern sheriffs come.
Director John Sayles has fashioned a film in which the simple nature of the story allows for many issues to be tackled in a way which is enlighten but never preachy. The casual racism of the day, the role of women, the way religion is interwoven into everyday life, and the passing of one generation to the next are all dealt with here. This is best seen by the passing of Bertha May, superbly played with such dignity by Dr Mable John, an old blues singer who in seen in the opening scenes of the film playing to bar empty apart from a couple of winos and Pinetop and his family. Later, when Sonny lets rip, we see the place jumping, and the new generation, the generation that would give us Bo Diddly, Little Richard, Fats Domino etc and give the world Rock 'n' Roll - with a little help from a few white fellas! Is it any coincidence that the guitar that Sonny plays is very similar to the home made guitars that were the trademark of Bo Diddly - I think not, nor is the fact that his sound is not dissimilar to that of Louis Jordan - another great that played the type of R'n'B that we hear here. I feel that the film can easily be read as a homage to these, and all those that strove to move the music forward and spread it out of the cotton fields and small lounge bars onto the radio, the jukeboxes and, eventually across the globe.
Finally a brief word on the music itself. This has to be the most authentic sounding music of this era that I can ever recall hearing in a film. Some of it is real, but the rest has been recorded for the film, and I would bet that only an expert could tell the difference! It is not only the Blues and the R'n'B music, but also the Black Gospel which is very moving and powerful. This is one soundtrack that I will be adding for sure to my collection! John Sayles has made a film of real beauty here, one which needs and deserves a wider distribution within in this country. If you have not yet seen it then look out for the rare screenings of it - it needs the big screen with a good sound system to really get the full benefit of this little gem!
The movie was enjoyable. Only complaint would be that it moved slowly,
and with a two-hour length ... made it seem quite long. Reasonable
plot, well composed, well acted & directed. The supporting actress for
the character of China Doll had some very good moments. Tighter editing
and better pacing would have made it much much better. It is not the
best film in the world, but of good quality and very much worth
watching - it will probably fall under the radar for Hollywood and the
The really outstanding thing was the music. While not a musical, it does stop whole-heartedly to focus on the performers and the music. Think "Black Snake Moan" but without repeated cuts/editing. Those who love blues, six-count blues and early rock-and-roll will likely enjoy the film. I intend to get the soundtrack. It apparently includes Ruth Brown's final recording, as well as work by Dr. Mable John & Keb' Mo. Newcomer Gary Clark Jr., a Texan actor and musician shows good potential. Although this performance at Chicago and New Your music festivals last year (with the "Honeydripper All-Stars" promoting the film) have larger dynamic and vitality to them. His performance of the song China Doll, which John Salyes apparently wrote/co-wrote, is on the other hand quite entertaining.
This is a story right out of the "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!"
cliché. One implausibility piled on top of another in a "feel
good"/"right will triumph" pattern that is SO OVERWHELMINGLY dominant
in American movies. John Sayles has long been one of my favorite
directors/screenwriters, so the foolishness of this movie came as a
What happened? Where has the creator of "Casa de los Babys" and "Lone Star" gone? What happened to the creator of such exhilarating plots as "Limbo" and "Passion Fish"? I can only guess that he farmed it out to one of his kids, or an intern, or something like that. This movie fits in more with the rush job of the Scorcese-produced blues films than with a Sayles project.
Here is my "disclosure" statement. I have been a working musician and have spent most of my adult life in the company of musicians. This movie reveals some of the biggest complaints musicians have about their portrayal by non-musicians. The biggest is that non-musicians don't understand the role of rehearsals, individual practice and the huge amount of work and effort it takes to seem "talented." This movie is another example, and a rather extreme case at that.
I also have a question for Keb Mo. Why do you sign on to so many projects that undervalue your efforts? I am thinking of the NPR Blues History radio series and now this. Don't you have more leverage than that?
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