Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies about Music/Making Music/Musicians

I know, I know. I almost missed Thursday Movie Picks this week. I really did almost skip this week, but thought better of it when I realized I actually suggested the topic for this week. It would be a bad look if this is the week I choose to flake out after giving you suggestions every Thursday for over a year, now. Our host, Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves would probably not look kindly upon such a thing.

I meant to put this together last night, but real life interfered and I just didn't get around to it. By real life, I mean I got caught up watching Empire with Mrs. Dell and after was busy...then sleepy.

As it turns out, watching Empire was very apropos for this week. If you haven't heard, it's about a fictional family-owned record label that focuses on hip hop and R&B and all the shenanigans that go along. It's unabashed melodrama at its most gloriously trashy. The main stars happen to be a couple of actors who have also had very successful movie careers: Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. You know what? They'll be popping up again in this post. Let's get started.

What? You say I haven't told you what the topic is? No problem.

Today, we're talking movies about music, and/or making music, and/or musicians. The kicker is that none of these can be biopics or focus on real life musicians. Sorry, no Walk the Line, Ray, The Doors, What's Love Got to Do With It, etc. Now, we can get started.

Yo DJ, drop that beat!!!

Straight Outta LoCash
A crazy mothaf**ka named Gusto
I f**ked ya wife, cause the b**ch is a big hoe
I f**ked ya sister, I f**ked ya cat
I would have f**ked ya mom but the b**ch is too fat!
Before there was Straight Outta Compton, there was this movie about a gangsta-rap group that came straight outta LoCash. MC Gusto (Chris Rock) took his name from a real life thug who isn't too pleased about it. Sure, his group CB4, short for Cell-Block 4, has risen to superstar status, but they're constantly looking over their shoulder for the real Gusto. Plus, they have to deal with the strains of success. And yes, CB4 is modeled heavily after NWA, even borrowing some of that group's songs and reworking them for the film. This is the first, and still the best, parody of hip hop ever committed to film.

8 Mile
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin'
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out
He's chokin', how, everybody's jokin' now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
So yeah, if you know anything about rapper Eminem, you can probably pick out a lot of the things in 8 Mile that were ripped directly from his bio. It even stars Eminem, himself. However, that still doesn't make it a biopic. That's because it's about an aspiring emcee who goes by the name of B-Rabbit. Dumbest name ever, but whatever. I can let it slide because the movie overall is excellent. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't Rocky set in the world of battle rapping in Detroit nightclubs. That's exactly what it is. Still, it works wonderfully. Em kills it, both on and off the stage, including in the song quoted above, "Lose Yourself." It won an Oscar for Best Original Song. Hmmm...a rap song winning an Oscar? That'll never happen again...

Hustle & Flow
In my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs in the streets
Gotta couple girl workin' on the track just for me
But I gotta keep my game tight like Kobe on game night
Like takin' from a girl don't know no better, I know that ain't right
Going for that raw, dirty south grit over comedic stylings or impromptu wordsmithing, this one gives us DJay, a pimp who wants desperately to be a rapper. He has a small stable of women who would do anything for him. This includes Shug, who just so happens to be pregnant at the moment. In these two roles are the two folks I talked about in the intro, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively. The movie does the impossible and makes a hardened street criminal into a sympathetic figure who has some seriously complicated relationships with women. Anthony Anderson gives arguably his best performance to date, largely because he's not playing the Anthony Anderson persona. Howard earned a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars. In a huge surprise, the group Three 6 Mafia actually took home the Oscar in the Best Original Song category for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."

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  1. Oh, these are awesome films including CB4 which I think is very underrated. It's a film that doesn't get its due.

    1. CB4 is flat out awesome. So glad you like it!

    2. I've heard of two of these, 8 Mile and Hustle and Flow, but haven't seen any of the three. I hate that! But being neither a hip hop nor a rap fan and finding both Eminem and Terrence Howard noxious I don't think it will be corrected anytime soon. I think that's going to hold even more true for CB4 but all three fit the theme very well.

      Terrific choice of a theme by the way, I was a bit surprised when I didn't see your link this morning but life does get in the way sometimes. Since the theme could cover so many different types of music I cast around and found one each that dealt with classical, jazz, rock and a brass band.

      Humoresque (1946)-Violin prodigy Paul Boray (John Garfield) is scraping by because his temper and impatience with others less talented than he keeps getting in his way. One night performing at a party he meets Helen Wright (Joan Crawford), a neurotic socialite on her third husband who takes him under her wing and turns him into a star at great cost to them both. Amazing music, beautiful noirish photography and perhaps Crawford's career best performance.

      Blues in the Night (1941)-"Jigger" Lane's jazz band is so down on their luck they are catching a lift in a boxcar when they befriend a gangster, Del Davis who happens to run a roadhouse and offers them a job. What seems at first a break is just the start of their troubles. Del's moll Kay takes a fancy to Leo, one of the band members, causing much pain to his wife, the band's singer Character. Jigger tries to distract her but is driven to madness by Kay's cruelty and things only go downhill from there. Atmospheric music drama, not a musical. Good cast including Priscilla Lane, Jack Carson and in a rare acting role future director Elia Kazan as one of the boys in the band.

      Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)-An ambitious young reporter (Ellen Barkin) latches onto the story of the mysterious death of rock legend Eddie Wilson (Michael Pare). Through her research and the reminiscences of former members of Eddie’s band she begins to uncover hidden facts that make her question the known facts of the band’s rise and his demise. A pastiche of the legends of James Dean, The Doors and Bruce Springsteen this rock & roll drama produced a soundtrack album by John Caffrey & the Beaver Brown Band that was far more successful than the movie ever was.

      Honorable Mention-Brassed Off (1996)-The coal miners in a northern England town play in a brass band which is as old as the mine itself. Now when it is faced with closure the band members pull together to offer support and a chance at survival. Like 8 Mile this stretches the rules a bit, it’s not a strict bio but is based on the some of the experiences of the band who provided the music used in the film.

      I'm skipping next week because I know nada about Asian cinema.

    3. Completely understand why you haven't seen any of my choices. They're not for everyone. Likewise, I haven't seen any of yours. I feel like I should have seen Eddie and the Cruisers since this was a big one (for a time) from my era. I just never got around to it. I might have to check it out and some point to see what I missed.

    4. I'm not as surprised that you haven't seen the others, though I'd recommend all highly, but you did catch me a bit off guard with Eddie and the Cruisers just because of its ubiquity when cable was a new thing. I would swear that there was one station that had it on a continuous loop back then, every single time I turned on the TV for a while there it was!! It's a fun film if no work of art but avoid the sequel, it's not very good at all.

    5. It just didn't interest teenage me at all. Back then, I was a lot pickier with my viewing selections.

  2. I've never seen C84, but I love 8 Mile so much. I especially love that Lose Yourself won an Oscar because that's a great song. I wasn't crazy about Hustle and Flow, but the guys in Three 6 Mafia were so excited when they won it was impossible not t be happy for them.

    1. Yes, the Three 6 acceptance speech is one of the all-time fun Oscar moments. CB4 is hilarious.

  3. I have never been able to decide if 8 Mile is good or bad, if Em and Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy and Mekhi Phifer are good in it or not, etc. Hustle and Flow, though, is a DAMN good movie. Terence and Taraji have the most incredible chemistry in that and on Empire (which is going a bit off the rails in the second season but is still appointment viewing).

    1. Interesting feelings about 8 Mile. Glad you love Hustle & Flow. Howard and Henson are great together. And yes, Empire is flying off the rails every episode this season.

  4. One heck of a rap song. Trying to think of another good one in a major film. Gangsta's Paradise?

    1. The Men in Black theme song by Will Smith was a huge hit. Shine on 'Em by Nas for Blood Diamond ia excellent. Plenty more I like, but not sure the films they belong to qualify as major.

  5. I would never thought 8 Mile would work as a movie because it was somewhat of a biopic but not really. But it does work, I like it. Not a rap person either, but I did like the song.
    And hey, I'm glad you didn't flake out :)

    1. Glad to hear a non-rap fan enjoyed both the movie and the song. Yay, rap!