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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Impeccable Casting and Captivating Music Foreground a Less Than Original Celebratory Mini-Drama.

Author: jzappa from Cincinnati, OH, United States
9 May 2009

A bone of contention could be picked that modern rock 'n' roll was catapulted not at Sun Records in Memphis, but at Chess Records and its previous South Side locations in view of the early 1950s. The Rolling Stones even recorded a song named after the address. The great Chess inventory consisted of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Little Walter. They initially made Chicago the home of the blues, and then rhythm and blues, which, like Muddy asserted, had a baby, and they named it rock 'n' roll.

Darnell Martin's less than original but nonetheless musically captivating biopic is a chronicle of the Chess story that relies to a much greater extent on music than history, which is maybe as it should be. It's an entertaining account of the progress of a black musical technique, and the confused rationale of the white men who had a proclivity for it. The Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, walked into districts that were dicey for white men after midnight, concealing guns, found or were found by the most gifted musicians of the imminent new wave, and recorded them in a studio so compact it combusted the sound out into the world.

This celebratory mini-drama avoids the presence of Phil Chess and concentrates on the mystifying, chain-smoking Leonard, played with a tonal balance by Adrien Brody. Beginning with a first interface with Muddy Waters, who virtually came to be his creative partner, he visited "race music" radio stations in the South with his artists and payola, both discovered and built an appeal, and gave his musicians shiny new Cadillacs but never a good look at their royalties. Played by Jeffrey Wright, an actor who should've by now become a major star, Muddy was likely given just a divvy of the money he earned, but the more barbaric Howlin' Wolf, apparently less cultured, played by the smackingly intense character actor Eamonn Walker, held onto his money, made his own deals and shockingly even paid health benefits for his band.

Considering the amount of characters and the time encompassed, Martin performs a capable chore of delineating the backgrounds of some of her subjects and doesn't go out of her way to judge Leonard's business approach. Did the singers know their Cadillacs were procured with their own earnings? There is an affecting scene where Leonard clears the decks for the first meeting between Etta James and her white father, Minnesota Fats. And an adjoining showcase of the disconcerted yet lasting marriage of Muddy Waters and his wife.

The casting overall is the foremost element. Columbus Short broaches the mounting internal banes of Little Walter, and Cedric the Entertainer plays the singer-songwriter Willie Dixon as an architect and unifier. It's hard for anyone to play such inimitable and already famous personalities, but it's also hard to reproduce something like the personality of Mos Def, who makes Chuck Berry an incredibly gleeful and enjoyable presence.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Author: TxMike from Houston, Tx, USA, Earth
17 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was born in 1945, and grew up during the 1950s and early 1960s. I remember listening to the evolution of popular music but didn't pay any attention to what was actually happening, what was influencing the evolution. This movie, based on real people and true stories, helps fill in the gaps.

The movie begins following the early time lines of two important players. Adrien Brody was young Jewish immigrant Leonard Chess, who at one point decided to build a recording studio in Chicago. The other was Jeffrey Wright as southern field worker Muddy Waters, who was known in his parts for his bluesy guitar playing and his soulful singing, and made his way to Chicago at the right time.

That these two happened to get together and begin to make records is significant because in the 1950s black owners of recording studios would not have worked. But Chess made his living primarily with the black artists. Eventually that included such hall of fame performers as Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), and Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer).

All the actors are impressive for the roles they play, and as impressive they all did their own singing. Beyonce really did have the Etta James energy in her singing.

Good movie!

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Well worth seeing!!!

Author: Little-Mikey from Italy
13 April 2009

This movie is well worth seeing! One major problem with this movie is the fine balance between realism and time permitted.

To make this movie truly authentic, it would had to have been made into an HBO mini series with at least 4 parts and later released in a boxed DVD set with another 4 hours of extra features.

To cram the history of Chess Records into a single movie within an acceptable time limit, a lot of details have to end up being cut out.

In spite of the time and effort made to make this movie authentic (and it was very authentic) there were some major bloopers.

The first major blooper was in the opening scene in Chicago, 1947. There were too many early 1950s model cars on the streets.

The next major blooper involved the appearance of the Rolling Stones and the appearance of Etta James.

It was not noted the year that the Rolling Stones showed up, praising Muddy Waters and boasting of how his music inspired the band who even proved their love for the blues by naming their band after his hit (Rolling Stone) which is just as well because (in the movie) the band showed up BEFORE Etta James joined the Chess roster.

Etta James joined Chess Records in 1960 and recorded her hit, AT LAST, which charted in January 1961, three years before the Beatles even appeared on ED SULLIVAN (paving the way for the British Invasion).

And it was not until 1964 that the Rolling Stones would make their first appearance in the States.

Still, contrary to the director's commentary, the actors who portrayed the early Rolling Stones, bore a convincing likeness of the band.

This movie truly captured the feel of the blues and provided us with a very moving and fascinating story about the history of Chess Records that held my interest from start to finish.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Don't be looking at me like I ain't wearing no drawers.

Author: lastliberal from United States
11 April 2009

I have no idea how accurate this story is, and I really don't care. It's about the music, about the stars, about some really fine acting.

Jeffrey Wright is a standout in an all-star cast as Muddy Waters. Combined with Columbus Short as Little Walter, it was dynamite. But that didn't last.

Adrien Brody was excellent as the man with an idea that would get him out of the junkyard: open a club and start a record label.

A guitar, a song, and soon you were driving Cadillacs and beating off the women.

Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf brought in some more conflict, but that was quickly forgotten when Chuck Berry (Mos Def) hit the air and brought Blacks and Whites together, Oh, but it got really hot when Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles) arrived. Oh, can she sing! The bad part of crossing over on the charts is that it made it easy for white groups like the Beach Boys to take the music and make it their own.

Then came Elvis and Black Power, and the world was changing.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Enjoyable, but a fraud.

Author: icreeem from Lowell, MA, United States
12 June 2011

I won't slam this movie by being a "facts geek" because I thought it was a fun movie to watch, although I despise "imposter" versions of depicted artists' songs. But as a musician and a history buff I do know the things they got wrong or just simply BS'd. Instead, I opted to enjoy the storyline, which I did. I would have liked it so much better had it been at least a trifle more accurate, but we don't always get that unless we are watching a documentary. We dissect "Beatles" movies for accuracy (such as "Back Beat"), and this certainly deserves more serious attention to detail, but what the heck, I've watched it numerous times and still enjoy it for what it is; an entertaining movie about entertainers.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

a misunderstood triumph

Author: sophiej468 from Northern California
28 May 2009

it's amazing how so many users and critics complain that Phil Chess isn't in the movie-- he's in at least two scenes, in one of which he brings Etta James to meet Leonard. And it's amazing that so many think Cadillac Records should contain the complete biographies of every musician who recorded for them. You want a 200 hour movie? There's a reason the very talented Darnell Martin gave it that title; that's what it's about. Of course it's not the complete history of black music or rock 'n roll. It's one little piece, and beautifully done, although it can't do more than hint at some of the skulduggery and tragedy of the music industry. There's plenty of material there for another couple of dozen movies. I can't wait to see Ms. Martin's other work.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A film worth seeing though slightly historically inaccurate.

Author: from King City, Ca.
24 December 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well, I saw this movie 3 days after it first premiered. I thought it lived up to its 60% billing by movie critics. I read where the movie only did about 3 1/2 million in box office sales over the first weekend. Came in at # 9. So maybe that is a disappointment to the producers.

This review contains spoilers.

Well, where do I begin? The movie starts off with Muddy Waters(Jeffrey Wright) being recorded by the US Gov't Historical Preservation Society in the south. Then it fast forwards to Muddy going to Chicago and playing the street corners. Being chastised by the city slickers, mainly Blacks, until he runs a cord from the apartment of his girlfriend to an amplifier and then his gifted amplified sound now brings crowds. He befriends harmonica player Little Walter(Columbus Short) and the two entertain the street corner crowds. Club owner, Leonard Chess(Adrienne Brody) hears of Waters and hires he and Little Walter. The two musicians woe the crowds and soon start their climb to local fame. Chess see's dollar bills in the two of them and soon burns down his club to get the insurance money to start Chess Records. Howling Wolff (Eamonn Walker) and Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) are signed. One day Chuck Berry (Mos Def) shows up and Chess Records is on top of the R&B charts. Berry soon crosses over (to the White audience) and the money starts rolling in. Chess has a habit of giving a Cadillac to his stable of entertainers, but his stable soon finds out that the Cadillac's aren't free. Soon, Berry gets hooked up with White girls, and the film doesn't explicitly show it, but the connotation is that he violates the Mann Act (transporting a white woman across state lines for immoral purposes) and is sent to prison for a few years, right at the peak of his career. Enter Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) Chess is in need of another hit-maker. Etta delivers and is once again cranking out hits for Chess. Etta has a lot of baggage though, and it becomes evident to Chess not long after she signs with Chess Records. Her father, pool hustler Minnesota Fats rejects her and sends her into a drug and alcohol stupor. Chess soon takes her under his wing and in the process falls in love with her (it appears) although he is married. Chess leaves or sells Chess Records as Etta sings "At Last" as he exits the Chess studio for the last time. On his way home he suffers a heart attack and dies( in reality he dies a few years later). Etta finds out that nothing was left to her in the will, but someone shows up with a deed to her house which she had turned over to Chess before she lost it while she was going through bankruptcy.

The film ends with Waters and Dixon going to Europe and being greeted like long, lost heroes.

All of the actors, I think, played a good part. Although some critics were critical of Beyonce's portrayal of Etta, I couldn't disagree more. The only criticism, I guess, is that maybe she could have been portrayed in a sassier mode, although Beyonce brought out that part of Etta's personality. Jeffrey Wright played a good Muddy Waters in the first part of the movie, but fades in the latter half. I had a hard time understanding what he was saying in the second half of the movie. That may have been how Muddy actually spoke though. The actor who played the best character though, in my humble opinion, was Columbus Short in his portrayal of Little Walter. Walter had many demons in his life and Short portrayed them well.

It's a movie worth seeing and the music will definitely take you back to a better time.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A period in need of a film, this may be it

Author: lem82 from United States
23 December 2008

I never knew how influential and truly amazing blues music was. And living in the Chicagoland area it truly makes me proud and grateful the such history is so close by. And while the film left out certain aspects of the true struggle of the musician/singers of that day, it really brought to mind the lack of compensation for their works and acts of today. The film itself was basically what you expect from a biopic of any music group or styling. The delightful beginning exposure and find of artist, the beginning struggle, their great rise, their slow abusive fall, and their final collapse. But what wasn't so cookie cutter and norm was the content to be found in this picture. Really dynamic music, lots of sex and nudity, and even more pervasive language. This really allowed the characters to come to life, but also demonized the characters and didn't allow you to feel any compassion or loss for their troubled lives. While content allows the characters to live, I think in this case it really was extended without purpose. By showing nudity and including cursing it kind of got loss in translation how exactly you were to empathize with the as good/bad characters. But the acting was superb, the usual characters of solid and great acting of Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, and Mos Def, was compacted on the fact that some unusual suspects brought their A game, even some A+ material. The most surprising to me was Columbus Short character, wow, he really brought the lil' Walter character to life, and really made you hate/love him at the same instance. Gabriel Union focused on being parental and provided exactly what that character needed. And anyone who knows the capability of Eamonn Walker knows he brought that same intensity that he did with roles such as Said in Oz. And Beyonce even surprised, but even if she is a potty mouth in real life it just didn't seem to flow coming from her. Etta James is no sweat heart and she came from a rough street upbringing, bringing some one in with that same attitude and almost same corruptness would have been the more convincing, but she definitely did solid work. I really felt the Chuck Berry character was tailor made for Mos, and he really made you smile and almost relive the events. Even the rauchiness of these musicians were live and direct, which showed the accents of Rock and Roll, and Hip Hop of today. But what limited this film and would have made typical to great would have been a more extensive and true to life form. Lots of info was left out off course due to the matter of time and money, but if you gonna attack a era instead of and individual you should allow you editor and monetary budget to be more extensive, enjoyable and solid, but not great, really brought Blues musicians back to cool...

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Good show

Author: evmachina from United States
30 January 2009

I can't say Cadillac was historically accurate, but it's not designed as a documentary or a history it's entertainment. Personally I really enjoyed the film. I found the story to be an effective means to introduce new audiences to some classic music with some historic elements mixed in for flavor. Cadillac is a well produced piece the look of the film was well crafted, I was able to easily buy into the time period of the costumes and sets. All of the cast performances were enjoyable, Jeffrey Wright's Muddy Waters stands out as does Mos Def's Chuck Berry. For me Eamonn Walker stole the show as Howlin Wolf, his intensity and presence was amazing. Walker and Wright's scenes were the most enjoyable in the film. Watching the conflict between the characters of Waters and Wolf had me wishing for more. The music is performed most by the actors and carries well. Having a cast peppered with professional musicians made this effort quite effective.

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4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Absolutely horrible... nothing flows well

Author: PoisonKeyblade from Long Island, New York
8 January 2009

Don't know how real to life it was, but as a movie it failed horribly. The thing I noticed most was the lack of cohesion. Characters disappeared for long lengths of time (sometimes an hour or longer), and Beyonce's character didn't even come in until an hour and 16 minutes into the movie. The acting and singing were solid, but the rest came up short. Nothing went together cohesively and made for a good movie. It was all too... random. I didn't know much about what I was going to see or the events depicted in the movie, but overall I felt it would have worked much better as a TV miniseries or something. There was just too much information to display all at once and too many characters and things going on at once. It was often difficult to follow the time frame and to distinguish between people. It had some great moments (a scene of explicit police brutality, Beyonce singing for the first time, and a few others including a scene where Adrien Brody is having sex, hears a phone ring, looks at it, and keeps thrusting away), but for the most part it was... terrible. Like I said, great performances does not a great movie make... it was in desperate need of cohesion. This is speaking as someone who knew nothing about most of the people in this movie.

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