2010s movies

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown

JB and his poppa.

That’s MISTER James Brown to you, and he called everyone “Mr.” too. While technically growing up James, he was always called “Jimmy” and to a young Brown, “Mr.” connoted respect — both given and received. As a kid who grew up a call-girl wrangler and shoeshine boy in terrible circumstances in the Deep South, he almost miraculously morphed into THE greatest entertainer of the 20th century (forget Sinatra, Elvis, and yes, Michael Jackson). Much RESPECT indeed.

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is a a look at that journey, a peek into the life of a demanding, tyrannical (and at times lonely) genius who fined his bandmates for wardrobe slip-ups and missed notes, and even got into armed confrontations with them!

Drummer Melvin Parker (brother of sax legend Maceo) tells of a backstage altercation where JB had planned to pop Maceo in the mouth so he couldn’t blow his horn, so a packin’ Melvin intervened. It’s terrific pistols at dawn stuff, but really, that’s just one fascinating kernel in a documentary that puts Brown’s music into the context of the tumultuous Civil Rights movement and the assassination of James Meredith and Dr. Martin Luther King. Or, as it’s said in the doc: “Brown’s whole sound is an assertion of black beauty and black pride.”

There’s some great music nerd stuff, as trombonist Fred Wesley recalls how he was a less-than-enthusiastic funk music fan, but appreciated how James Brown was doing something different, so he decided to join the band when the offer was extended. Mick Jagger talks about 1964’s seminal concert film, The T.A.M.I. Show, and how he stole a bunch of Brown’s moves (Maybe Adam Levine would’ve written about JB if his name were an extra syllable). Questlove, the effortlessly cool drummer from The Roots, breaks down “grace notes” and how a tambourine is used in church and how JB’s two drummers created the nasty funk sound.

But what’s so great about Brown is…that he made poet Ezra Pound’s famous modernist injunction, come true: ‘Make It New!

That’s what Brown was all about.

Cold Sweat, is arguably the first funk track, throwing everything on “the one.” Brown basically created a sound that has its reverberations to this day in hip hop. Most people are lucky enough to create one style of music, let alone lay the foundations for another. LEGEND.

***1/2 (out of 5)

 

31

If Malcolm McDowell (no stranger to terrible movies) heeded the advice of the film agent he played on Entourage…well, he’d have told himself to pass on Rob Zombie’s 31, a boring, ugly, stupid, awful misfire that makes RZ’s Halloween reboot look like the summit of achievement.

31 sees Rob Zombie channeling Quentin Tarantino with another number— the 70s — rehashing the sepia and grunge that gave his earlier works their Texas Chainsaw Massacre aesthetic, + slick QT-talk like “the dirtier the work, the luckier you get.”

To quote Steely Dan’s Dirty Work,
“Times are hard
You’re afraid to pay the fee
So you find yourself somebody
Who can do the job for free…”

It’s pretty pathetic for someone as rich and successful as Rob Zombie to crowd-fund their art, essentially double dipping as it’s getting people to pay for a finished product, not once, but twice. Thankfully, this reviewer happened upon 31 through a library digital streaming service, Hoopla.

But no fanfare for this tale, about a bunch of carnival freaks in a touring van who are forced to fight to the death in a game of the same name — 31.

It’s painstakingly drab, cheap-looking, and not even juiced by the presence of a wrinkly, baked-in-the-hot-sun Meg Foster or a neo-Nazi midget (if you can’t shock with a neo-Nazi midget, then it’s time to find another line of work).

One thing 31 has going for it, sorta, is McDowell camping it up like a powder-wigged Amadeus harlequin, the Svengali figure who goes by the name of  Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder…Why? It’s just pseudo-smart syllable multiplication, speaking of numbers…

Harlequins, carny folk, big tops…It’d be nice to see RZ put aside his clown obsession. Then again, it’s even bled into his other business as well: he and his band performed the Grand Funk Railroad classic rock radio chestnut “We’re an American Band,” on Kimmel, bedecked in clown make-up, which provided more frights than this.

Variety nailed it with their take: [31 is a] “fanboy’s highlight reel of homages, without any of the credibility or context that made most of the films he’s inspired by so fine.”

*1/2 (out of 5)

[Listen to us talk House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects!]