Rufus Thomas

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Mystery Train Review


Weak
Another oddity odyssey courtesy of Jim Jarmusch, Mystery Train is actually his first color film and hardly his best work. Following a triptych of stories in a sleepy, run-down Memphis hotel (the train itself is considerably less important to the story), while the movie has a number of gigglish moments, on the whole it's a disappointment of squandered story ideas that plod on without much happening. Pretty typical of Jarmusch's characters' on-screen chattiness.

Wattstax Review


OK
1972's Wattstax concert was, in no uncertain terms, the black Woodstock. Peace and love, for sure, but based in L.A. to commemorate the 1965 Watts race riots instead of on a New York farm to celebrate drugs, mud, and hippie tunes.

Just as Wattstax the event was a serious social event that just so happened to include a little music, Wattstax the movie is much less a concert film (a la Woodstock or The Last Waltz) and much more a talking head documentary with musical interludes. Depending on your frame of mind, that can be a good or a bad thing. But director Mel Stuart (who made Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory two years earlier) is probably not the perfect person to take a camera into Los Angeles to ask black residents how things have changed (or not) since the riots seven years earlier. There's frankly just not a lot of insight to be gained from the poorly shot man-on-the-street footage.

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Only the Strong Survive Review


Weak
Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker have crafted some of cinema's most impressive documentaries -- especially their musical documentaries like Monterey Pop -- but their look back at the titans of the soul genre comes off as flat and, frankly, lazy.

There's not a lot of setup for why this film is made -- though the half-assed reunion concert that concludes the brisk film comes off as even sillier than the one in Standing in the Shadows of Motown. In the beginning, our narrators state simply that they wonder what happened to pioneering soul singers like Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, Jerry Butler, and The Chi-Lites. Turns out there's not a lot of mystery to it; they're still alive and kicking, and judging from the footage in the film, they're doing a lot of radio appearances. The exception is Isaac Hayes, who would go on to renewed fame by voicing the role of "Chef" on the South Park TV show -- and in fact it's Hayes that gets more screen time here than any of his compatriots.

Continue reading: Only the Strong Survive Review

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