Thursday, May 05, 2005

Reviewing Movies in my Spare Time: Ray... 

Last week, about this time, I had alluded to the fact that, the last time my wife and I went to rent movies, we rented 4 films (of which, I watched 3). Since I've already reviewed Sideways, an activity that placed me in poor favor with at least one reader, I figured I'd give another one of the movies which we rented "the treatment," as it were, and see what else could be stirred up...Ready? I know you are. Here we go...
Today's review selection is the (critically acclaimed) Ray (2004) featuring Jamie Foxx

I'm often asked whether it's working as an oldies radio disc jockey that led me to love old music, or if it's my love for old music that led me to be an oldies disc jockey. The fact is, I've been enamored with the music of the 1950s for most of my life, I just ended up "lucking out" when it came to being hired by an oldies station...Anyhow, one of the artists that I've been a huge fan of for a long time is the late Ray Charles. Ironically enough, though, it's Ray Charles whom I probably knew the least about. Where was he from, how did he come to be a performer, etc. The fact that I knew so little about the man's life motivated me to want to see the movie Ray from the moment that it was released. Typical for me, though, I waited until it was released on DVD.

eh. Better late than never...

Since I didn't really know much about him, I had kind of an idealistic image of Ray Charles built up in my mind, somewhat of a kind person with a big heart who overcame not only his blindness, but the ugly obstacle of racism, to ultimately become a huge success. I expected THAT kind of Ray Charles to be portrayed in the film Ray.

Boy, was I wrong.

There is no question as to the fact that Ray Charles was a genius. His musical and vocal talent are legendary and his body of work stands as one of the most impressive, and diverse, of any artist, living or dead. That said, Ray Charles the man was pretty much an "asshole." It's true that Ray himself was the subject of ridicule and discrimination all throughout his life, especially while he was growing up in the south, but if we are to believe the portrayal of him in this movie, a portrayal which apparently received the blessing of Ray Charles himself prior to his death, Ol' Ray gave out abuse just as good as he got it. In Ray, Ray Charles is shown as a remorseless drug addict and womanizer who simply used people up and spat them out. It was Ray's way or the highway and once he became a successful commodity in the music industry, he played that card to his every advantage, even to the point of alienating his family and wrecking the lives of some of the people around him. The portrayal of Ray Charles in the movie made him so completely unlikeable that I felt compelled to seek out information that would tell me whether or not the movie had been accurate in it's portrayal of Ray Charles. In certain areas, the events were quite dramatized, but this was to be expected. After all, Ray is a movie, some creative license is going to be taken when putting together a feature film. One of the things that the movie suggests is that, following his stint in rehab (which occured after numerous heroin-related arrests), Ray Charles was totally reformed, a changed man who was off drugs, at peace with the world and easy to work with. This, apparently, is quite far from the truth. According to some sources which I found, including Ray's biographer, Ray's wife ultimately left him due to his abuse and indiscretions. In addition to that, even though he no longer abused heroin, Ray stayed high for the rest of his days courtesy of gin and marijuana. He was just as unapologetic about his drinking and smoking as he had been about shooting up, saying that it "never got in the way of his work."

Perhaps not, but his personal life surely suffered because of it...

Now, with all of that said, the movie Ray was truly spectacular. I've read reviews from people who say that this movie was nothing more than a "period piece," which is an interesting way to sum things up. Stupid, but interesting...Granted, as "period pieces" go, Ray is easily one of the best that I've ever seen, but the movie is significantly more than just that. The work done on the sets are some of the best I've seen in a long while. In addition to that, the characters in the film were exceptionally well cast, to the point that, after watching Ray, you kind of feel as if you were there, physically witnessing the shenanigans and "goings on," as opposed to merely watching them on a screen. Now, I know that I'll just be beating a dead horse here, but Jamie Foxx's performance as Ray Charles is easily one of the best bits of acting I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Foxx didn't merely portray Ray Charles, he BECAME Ray Charles. It was, in fact, so well executed that there were many times during the film in which my brain ceased to separate reality and film fantasy. This damn movie pulls you in and takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride for 2 and a half hours. It leaves you a bit shaken and kind of sad, mostly because you end up caring about the characters as if they were your own family, no matter how mad they made you. I think that's kind of a hallmark of a well made drama, you believe it to be real. You feel it. It seems as if you lived it, at least for a little while...This movie does that and does it well.

For the movie Ray, I present an A-. It could've earned a higher grade, but I'd just be lying to myself. I could've easily done without the corny flashbacks and hallucinations regarding his brother's drowning, the "absolution" which comes in the scene where Ray is talking to his long dead mother in a dream/vision/hallucination/manic episode AND he can see. In addition, the way the film ended was so abrupt, yet so tidy, that it made me wonder if the filmmakers actually made a 5 or 6 hour movie and then realized "shit, we'd better cut this down a bit," kind of like the Back to the Future sequels...Regardless, I may now have a lower opinion of the man after watching Ray, but my opinion of the film is high. Ray is awesome, if you haven't seen it yet, you must.

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