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Friday, June 19, 2009

Movies Revisited...Mo Better Blues

This is a repost from my other blog "Soul Sis-Star Reviews" (Movies Revisited), where Issa Rae and I give our two cents on Black Film we've watched. Please join us over there and give your two cents as well :-)

Even though this movie was highly anticipated when it came out, and I did indeed see it then, there were only a few details I remembered...the beautiful clothes, how pretty everyone looked, slightly crushing on Wesley Snipes (long gone, of course). But watching it again brought me a bit past my original superficial thoughts on the film.

For those of you who don't know, the plot synopsis is this (from IMDB--not a very good one, sorry):
"Opens with Bleek as a child learning to play the trumpet, his friends want him to come out and play but mother insists he finish his lessons. Bleek grows into adulthood and forms his own band - The Bleek Gilliam Quartet. The story of Bleek's and Shadow's friendly rivalry on stage which spills into their professional relationship and threatens to tear apart the quartet."

Like many of Spike's films, I found parts of Mo Better Blues to be pretentious and cartoony, edging on corniness--the dialogue of the children in the scene where Bleek Gilliam, the main character played by Denzel Washington was a child, the overly studied and propped shots of "the hood" that would even be too much for a photograph, the very familiar moving dolly shots that were part of Spike's trademark.

For some reason this time around they were endearing to me, maybe because it was a woeful reminder that there is a severe absence in trademarks or style in today's Black Cinema. There are some up and coming directors that are notable, to be sure, but none of them have established a familiarity of like, say, a Spike, Tim Burton, or Wes Bentley. Earnest Dickerson, the cinematographer on this film, was also on top of his game here--the colors, the crisp, professional look of the film, the surreal atmospheres, the intimacy of the jazz club, the way he made everyone look so lush and beautiful...even Spike almost had a handsome look in this one.

I got lost in the beauty of the movie, and wondered why I never crushed on Denzel back in the day. When I worked for The Studio That Will Henceforth Remained Unnamed, Denzel's production offices were right downstairs, and I was never even remotely curious. After viewing this film, I wondered for the rest of the day what planet I must have been on....yes, he was deserving of the sex symbol hype he garnered in the 90's--Denzel was hot as fish grease on the sun in this.

If this film were made today it would do gangbusters--the different moods of the film, from brooding, to comedic, to romantic flow very well together. The storylines--Bleek's sometimes acrimonious relationship with his right hand and sax player Shadow (Wesley), the shenanigans and gambling issues of his manager, Giant (Spike), the two timing love relationships that he had with his women, Clarke (Cynda Williams) and Indigo (c'mon, really, Indigo?) played by the one mega-weak link in the film (besides Cynda's anticlimatic "big" singing debut), Joie Lee, Spike's sister...the storylines mesh and never overwhelm each other.

I understand Spike has love for his sis, but I believe this would have been an infinitely even better film if a stronger, or at least more interesting actress would have been cast in ger role. Joie's personality (and I use that term loosely) seems to fade into the background; her look is different and while attractive in it's own right, is not particularly big screen worthy. In her love scenes with Denzel she has zero sex appeal--she made kissing on him look like a chore...what was up with that? Maybe she was uncomfortable with her brother shooting her that way...if that was the case, someone really should have let the Assistant Director step in.

I must admit, because of the dearth of interesting Black film (interesting to me, anyway) I have found that lately, rewatching film that are 10, 20, 30 years old, that I have a much deeper appreciation for the work, time, and creativity for movies such as this one. Mo Betta Blues has moved up more than a few notches in my book--if you haven't seen it, rent immediately--if only to reminisce on the comedic stylings of the late Robin Harris, the house comedian in the jazz club and to enjoy the jazzy score. Here is the trailer:


Anonymous said...

I SCREAMED and got a cut-eye (what y'all call a side-eye) from a

Mo' Betta Blues is one of my favorite movies of all time. The struggle of quality vs quantity and at what cost? Just BRILLIANT!!

Invisible Woman said...

@soulafrodisiac: you are too funny! I got some different themes this time around, and that was surely one of them.

Marvalus said...

Whenever I'm asked to explain why I like Mo Better Blues, I say its the music, and Denzel doing what he does well...

But it really is getting to see Wesley put it down with Cynda...whew, chile!


msladydeborah said...

Mo Better Blues is okay. It is not my favorite jazz film. That is definitely Round Midnight.

I just watched this film again about a year ago. I find that my initial I don't really give a daymn about the main characters still lingers on. Which is important to me as a viewer. I wtched to see if Spike was going to hold true to his claim that he could produce a better jazz film that Eastwood. I remember reading an article on MBB in which Spike had some major issues with films about jazz players dying in the end. I believe that Spike just has an Eastwood issue period. After my first couple of viewings of the film I cannot honestly say that I thought MBB surpassed Bird. I thought Forrest Whittaker did an outstanding performance as Charlie Parker.

I think what I feel is missing is the depth of the individual players. I know a lot of jazz makers and they are complex people.
That seems to be somewhat just skimmed across in this particular joint by Spike.

Invisible Woman said...

@marvalus: Ummmm...

Check and double check!!! lol

@ms lady: i agree, compared to those two films MMB was more lightweight as a jazz film.

but MMB was more about other things than the music. Bird did focus on the music, but I thought it lacked a lot about the history of Bird and his personal life and motivations. I actually got tired of seeing Forest get high, play music, play music, get high.

Round Midnight is the superior film of all 3 as a jazz purist film--Spike should have just kept his mouth shut and put it out there as simply a story--not an entry into the jazz film genre.

Anonymous said...

hey you know what i could never get through this film. lol i think i may have finally sat down and watched the whole thing one day. i always hated the scenes of his love affairs. however, this is the jazz movie if you can think of one. i like this film way better than "devil in a blue dress" which always felt like it was a similar film to this one. i think this is one spike's better films but i just have a hard time watching it after a certain point.

Invisible Woman said...

@mlm: i felt that way the first time i saw it too said...

Hey gurl!

I haven't been by here in a while!!

I see you are still burnin' it up!

I had completely forgotten about "Mo Betta Blues"!! I am getting old....

Invisible Woman said...

@bwbtt: aren't we all? lol

uglyblackjohn said...

Damn... just watched it again last night.
It was (is) one of the prettiest movies by Spike.
The club scenes were (are) what I try to immitate when ever I open or take over a club.

Coltrane and GangStar are the reasons I even began to listen to Jazz.