Wednesday, 13 April 2016

I SAW THE LIGHT, MILES AHEAD, BORN TO BE BLUE - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - Why so many music Biopics all of a sudden? 3 movies about 3 musicians released within 2 months. Go figure.

Bottom right: MILES AHEAD **
Bottom left: BORN TO BE BLUE *

Born to Be Blue (2015)
Dir. Robert Budreau
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie,
Stephen McHattie, Janet-Laine Green, Dan Lett, Kevin Hanchard, Tony Nappo

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If you've seen Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's haunting 1988 feature-length documentary about the sad, sexy, tragic genius Chet Baker, there's no reason to see Robert Budreau's dreadful biopic misfire Born to Be Blue. Weber's documentary succeeds because it harrowingly focuses on Baker's drug addiction as much as his turbulent life and extraordinary music. Rather than obviously charting tried-and-true rise-and-fall beats in Baker's life, we get subtle glimpses into just how Baker's demons were as much a part of his art as they were what ultimately destroyed him.

Born to Be Blue is a fruit-loopy, simple-minded fantasia on Chet getting his musical mojo back after having his teeth knocked out by some scumbag dealers. Writer-Director Robert Budreau's film reduces Baker's life to some kind of Brian Grazer-like "winner" story dappled with plenty of fake dark touches. Amalgamating all of Baker's wives into one convenient punching bag/inspiration (Carmen Ejogo) feels horribly by-the-numbers and on-point.

Hello, my name is Ethan Hawke.
I can be tortured, eh. Just like Chet Baker.
I'll concede the film could not have possibly shoehorned Baker's whole existence into ninety-or-so minutes, but why it felt the need to concoct so much nonsense and avoid even a smattering or pie-slice of the man's genuiely fascinating life as a microcosm of the whole, is beyond me.

Ethan Hawke is a fine actor when he's in good movies, but he seems to take on a lot of garbage. He must know when it's crap, but sometimes, how's a fella to really know? I'm sure he thought the role in Born to Be Blue would have been a supreme challenge and maybe even Oscar bait, but aside from bearing an occasional resemblance to Baker, his performance is never more than skin-deep. We see no demons in Hawke. All we experience is an actor pretending that they're there and working overtime to prove it.

Most of all, though, Baker is presented as a man on the road to self-discovery, hence "success". Neither the film nor Hawke let us forget it. Give me a break.

Skip this. Just watch Let's Get Lost again.

Born to Be Blue is an IFC Films picture in very limited theatrical release.


Shaft? Superfly? Nope. Don Cheadle as Miles Davis.

Miles Ahead(2015)
Dir. Don Cheadle
Scr. Steven Baigelman & Cheadle
Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corineald

Review By Greg Klymkiw

As jazz legend Miles Davis, there's no denying Don Cheadle's charismatic work as an actor. Veering from the afro-and-shades-adorned 70s cocaine addict to the suave, dapper young man in the 50s flashbacks, Cheadle is never less than engaging and his performance comes close to capturing the genius of this great musical artist.

Unfortunately, we have to put up with the film. Reducing the 70s Davis to some kind of participant in a lame, TV-movie version of a Blaxploitation programmer, then clumsily flashing us back to Davis's loving, but ultimately abusive treatment towards his wife (Emayatzy Corineald), the picture is all over the place and rife with dullsville cliches.

The Miles Davis Story as Cop TV show
melded with supremely lame 70s Blaxploitation.
Worse yet, we have to put up with the increasingly insufferable Ewan McGregor. Here he plays a scruffy freelance writer pretending to be a Rolling Stone journalist. Far too much of the movie is Cheadle and McGregor verbally jousting, and not too convincingly at that. What really begins to pale, though, is an endless subplot involving the disappearance of Davis's master tapes to his new album and McGregor helping him retrieve them. The whole movie turns into an endless episode of "Starsky and Hutch", replete with a supremely lame car chase and gunplay action.

Cheadle's direction is, at best, mildly competent and at its worst, barely competent. That said, his performance, especially during his coked-up crazy-ass scenes, is never less than a blast. There was probably a terrific movie with Cheadle as Miles Davis - somewhere out there. Miles Ahead, sadly, is not it.


Miles Ahead is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.

Tom Hiddleston as fine a Hank Williams
as Gary Busey's Buddy Holly was.

I Saw the Light (2015)
Dir. Marc Abraham
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Maddie Hasson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Marc Abraham's Hank Williams biopic might not go too far beneath the surface, but it hits key points in the life of the famed post-war American country crooner with a spate of lovely performances and an evocative attention to period detail. With only enough manipulation of the facts and compression of the events to make approximately 10+ years of Williams's life pass by amiably and entertainingly in a surprisingly breezy 123 minutes, this is by far the best of the recent trio of musical biopics.

Abraham's screenplay for I Saw the Light is based upon the book “Hank Williams: The Biography” by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William Macewen and as such, it seems less concerned with exploring the ennui which contributed to the singer's unique renderings of hits like the title track, “Why Don’t You Love Me,” "Move it on Over" and among others, “Lovesick Blues”, as it is with charting key events in Williams's life. We go from his romance and marriage to first wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), when he was a local radio performer and follow him on his endless gigs in smoky honky-tonks until he eventually achieves the necessary chops to headline at Nashville's "Grand Ole Opry".

The story doesn't shy away from his Jekyll and Hyde-like transformations from kind, loving and charming to mean-spirited, hard-drinking and philandering. He's both a good father and a negligent father. He's as caring as he is violent. As he rises to the top, we see him abandon his first wife (who insisted too strongly upon performing with him - her voice was, at best, spiritedly competent and at its worst, bordering on caterwauling) and eventually settling down with second wife, Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson).

Husband and Wife Duet
One Sings, The Other Doesn't
Abraham lets the narrative plane touch down on Hank's squabbles with the record company and promoters, his debilitating back pain and his eventual reliance upon highly addictive painkillers. A good chunk of the film is imbued with a pleasing sentiment and basks in the warm glow of Dante Spinotti's gorgeous cinematography.

The real star of the picture is the music. Leading man Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Thor movies) is nothing less than compelling when voicing Williams's work and much of the running time is pleasingly toe-tapping. If anything, I Saw the Light shares a great deal with Steve Rash's Buddy Holly biopic with Gary Busey - it's old fashioned and goes down easy.

The picture's like a nice, mellow moonshine. It cuts through the dust in the throat, clears the pipes, the senses, the raw emotions and finally keeps us glued to the proceedings just long enough to leave the cinema satisfied, but also compelled to whip out our own vinyl and CDs of Hank's music, so we can keep our toes a tapping and the tears a flowing.


I Saw the Light is in national release via Mongrel Media.