Critics Consensus

Critics Consensus: Cadillac Records Rocks, Punisher Hurts

Plus, Nobel Son doesn't take home the prize.

by | December 4, 2008 | Comments

This week at the movies, we’ve got red-hot rhythm and blues (Cadillac Records, starring Adrien Brody and Beyonce Knowles), vigilante justice (Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson and Dominic West), and a kidnapping caper (Nobel Son, starring Alan Rickman and Eliza Dushku). What do the critics have to say?

The influence of Chess Records’ output on popular music is impossible to overstate, and it’s difficult to imagine any film about its seminal roster — which included Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and Chuck Berry — doing it justice. The critics say while Cadillac Records falls a bit short of this noble goal, it’s still a well-acted, finely crafted piece of work. The movie stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, a Polish immigrant whose enthusiasm for R&B and blues led him to record some of the best music of the 1950s and 1960s, an era during which the sounds of African American musicians began to reach the mainstream. Chess has a familial relationship with his artists, including James (Beyonce Knowles) and Waters (Jeffrey Wright), but their personal demons — and the huge success of Berry (Mos Def) — creates disharmony at the label. The pundits say much of Cadillac Records is the stuff of familiar biopics, and it tries to cover way too much ground. However, they also note the performances — particularly Mos Def and Wright — are outstanding, and the music is wild and powerful enough to overcome some of the bumpy spots. At 62 percent on the Tomatometer, Cadillac Records has got its mojo workin’ reasonably well. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down some of the most successful transitions by rappers to Hollywood.)

“It doesn’t work for me, Muddy. I gotta have more cowbell!”

 

Punisher: War Zone is the third cinematic try for the Marvel Comics vigilante; previous installments starring Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane failed to connect with audiences or critics. Nor is this one likely to, if the reviews are any indication. Ray Stevenson stars as Frank Castle (AKA The Punisher), a black-clad ex-marine turned one-man killing machine. He runs afoul of a mob boss, who adopts the nom de villain Jigsaw and sends an army of thugs to take the Punisher down. The pundits say War Zone is more brutal than most slasher flicks, but despite its hyperkinetic violence and flashes of sick humor, this is an over-the-top action flick with little of the emotional impact we’ve come to expect from comic book adaptations of late. At 19 percent on the Tomatometer, this one looks like punishment.

“I am not drinking any f—ing Merlot!”

 

It’s an intriguing premise: the son of a brilliant chemist is kidnapped on the eve of his father being awarded the Nobel Prize, but he hates the old man so much he agrees to go along with the scheme. Unfortunately, critics say Nobel Son, despite some sharp performances, doesn’t really work. Alan Rickman plays the father, a mean-spirited, pompous jerk who refuses to pay the ransom for Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), an aimless Ph.D student who just met a mysterious woman (Eliza Dushku). The pundits say Nobel Son is overplotted and too self-consciously weird to work, but the actors – particularly Rickman – are generally solid. At 27 percent on the Tomatometer, Nobel Son is no prize winner.

“That Noam Chomsky is such a cutup!”

 

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • A revival of Federico Fellini‘s Amarcord, in which the master director takes a fond look back at his youth and his hometown, is at 100 percent.
  • The Aussie import The Black Balloon, a coming-of-age tale about an autistic teen who finds love, is at 100 percent.
  • Hunger, based on the true story of IRA member Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in prison, is at 93 percent.
  • Ron Howard‘s Frost/Nixon, about the former president’s series of interviews with an Australian television personality, is at 88 percent.
  • Dust, a documentary about the ever-present substance, is at 80 percent.

Recent Mos Def Movies:

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