(On Cable TV, December 2018) It’s not easy to make a successful ensemble musical biography, but Cadillac Records does manage to put together a fun and intriguing look at the life of Lionel Chess and the heydays of Chess Records, a pivotal Chicago-based record company that played a crucial role in rhythm-and-blues, as well as the formation of early rock-and-roll. The ensemble cast clearly has fun playing musical legends, what with Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Beyoncé as Etta James, Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf and Mos Def as Chuck Berry, with Adrian Brody as producer Leonard Chess. Writer-director Darnell Martin’s script doesn’t stray far from either the truth or the music movies clichés, but it does have a good narrative rhythm to it. It’s perhaps most remarkable for focusing on a label rather than just a single artist, giving us a glimpse of the relationships between a group of people moving forward in time. The characters are memorable, their stories remain interesting and the music is about as good as it could be. Don’t be surprised to want to revisit Cadillac Records only for the music, leaving it as background ambiance while doing other things.
(In theaters, April 2011) I wasn’t as fond of Duncan Jones’ Moon as a lot of people were, but I was really interested in seeing his follow-up effort, and Source Code does not disappoint. The theme of the deceived protagonist is still there, the setting is just as constrained and the scientific premises is just as wobbly (not to mention a nonsensical title), but Jones here has a bigger budget, a bigger concept, bigger stars and a faster pace. Ben Ripley’s disaster-movie premise script is ingenious, but it’s paired with other well-paced revelations and the interweaving of both plotlines is effectively achieved. Jake Gyllenhaal is hitting his stride as a heroic protagonist, with good supporting work from Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and a halting Jeffrey Wright. Still, the real star here is writer/director Jones, who delivers a fast, clever and entertaining film with some depth and artful gloss. The ending manages to be elegiac and optimistic at once, and provides a surprising amount of thematic depth for what could have easily been a straight-up genre exercise. We don’t get quite enough SF movies like Source Code, but given the boost it will give to Jones’ career, chances are that we will get a few more.