Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington gives a riveting performance in Spike Lee's breathtaking film on music and love. Talented trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (Washington) is obsessed by his music and indecisiveness about... more » his girlfriends Indigo (Joie Lee) and Clarke (Cynda Williams). But when he is forced to come to the aid of his manager and childhood friend (Spike Lee), Bleek finds his world more fragile that he ever imagined. Stunning cinematography, a rousing score and superlative performances come together in this unforgettable feast for the senses.« less
Big fan of Denzel Washington but not in this even though others seemed to like this movie. Actors are recycled from other Spike Lee Movies.
A genius musician battles his inner demons.
Brian | SF Bay Area, CA | 03/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a masterpeice. Bleek Gilliam is a talented musician and the leader of the Bleek Gilliam quartet, a famed jazz band in New York. Bleek has a problem. He has three loves in his life. He is forced to choose between his two worshipful lovers - Indigo and Clarke, and his true baby - his music. Further complicating his life are his lifelong freind and mooch - Giant, and his bandmate, Shadow. Giant is in and out of trouble, and Shadow longs to move out of Bleeks shadow to form his own band.This is a visually stimulating film. Spike Lee's uses of colors and lighting creates a mood that is essentially Jazz. The ambiente atmosphere of the film is highlighted by outstanding music composed by Branford Marsalis. Mo-Better blues is an urban tale that will strike at the heart of all. Those who are new to Spike Lee's brand of photography are in for a treat. Also be sure to check out other Lee classics Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Crooklyn, and He Got Game."
My absolute favorite Spike Lee Movie
williedynamite | 07/12/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like that means anything to you, but it is. Mo' better blues is about a brilliant musician battling his inner and outer demons. It's also a love story of sorts. Denzel Washington once again gives and effortless performance as Bleek Gilliam the talented and tourchred musician. Fine support work comes from Wesley Snipes, Newcomer Cynda Williams and Joi Lee. Once again veteren Cinematographey Ernest Dickerson shines his brillian photography.The score by Terence Blanchard is also excellent. Like I said this is my favorite Spike Lee movie. This may not be spikes best work (do the right thing) but this is the first film where spike seeems most comfortable behind the camera. MO better has a real 'im a porfessional'look to it. This movie really has the feel of a jazz movie, with it's bright colors and even better soundtrack makes this movie a pleasure to watch."
So much to feel, so much to enjoy
Earl Hazell | New York | 08/11/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You don't have to be a musician who has found himself grappling with the same fundamental spiritual issues as the main character (and similiar romantic dilemma) to enjoy this movie. MO BETER BLUES is one of my favorite feel good/life lesson movies because of the sheer nobility that underlies and underscores every nuance of character, plot, situation, and every note of the music. Denzel Washington as a self-absorbed, brilliant trumpeter and band leader, discovering the fragility of his life and the unrealized strength of his heart; Wesley Snipes as his ambitious, equally brilliant- and equally alpha male- saxophonist who, though on the surface a seemingly ungrateful rival ready to break and emerge with his own band, loves him more than he loves himself; Turturro as the fundamentally disinetersted producer, an archtype of the music business; two women- one who loves the music more than him, the other him more than the music; a score by Spike's father, musician and composer Bill Lee; performances by terrance Blanchard and Branford Marsalis... deft screenwriting by Spike- in one of the few movies he's made where his presence as a character doesn't take away from the ensemble product... what's not to like in this beautiful film? If you are not a jazz fan, trust me, you will become one after seeing this. A feel good movie that does not let you down; MO BETTER is, "Mo' better"."
williedynamite | 08/02/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the most visually beautiful film with African-American actors I've ever seen (another that comes to mind is Devil in a Blue Dress, also starring Denzel Washington). The opening credits are a masterful combination of music and shadows.
Overall, an enjoyable contemporary story of young, single African-Americans filmed in Brooklyn and Manhattan, a rarity for its time. They're making more of this type of film today . . . but the actors are getting younger and younger!"
C. CRADDOCK | Bakersfield | 06/27/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) plays trumpet and leads his own jazz band. Giant (Spike Lee), his manager, doesn't do such a great job, and he has a gambling problem, but they have been friends since childhood. Shadow Henderson (Wesley Snipes) plays soprano and tenor saxophone. He has also known Bleek since childhood, but they are more like rivals then friends--rivals over women and music. Bleek is the bandleader, but Shadow is shadowing him, scheming to start his own band with one of Bleek's women. Left Hand Lacey (Giancarlo Esposito) plays piano, but nobody can stand his French girlfriend. She makes him constantly late and breaks the band rule about no girlfriends in the dressing room. Mainly, they don't like her because she's white, especially Giant, but he refuses to acknowledge his racism.
Bottom Hammer (Bill Nunn) hammers down the bottom with his bass. Rhythm Jones (Jeff 'Tain' Watts) is the rim shot tempo man. He is also a drummer in real life, and plays with the Branford Marsalis group that at the time was The Tonight Show with Jay Leno's house band. He quit that gig because he was serious about music. Branford is the one who plays the actual saxophone heard on the soundtrack, and Terrance Blanchard provides the trumpet. They both sound excellent, and the scenes on the bandstand are some of the movie's finest moments. Other scenes have excellent music as well, chosen from the archives of Miles Davis (All Blues, to name one) and John Coltrane. Indeed, they wanted to call the movie 'A Love Supreme' but they couldn't get permission from Alice Coltrane and the Coltrane estate. Hmm. Wonder if Branford ever kicks himself for quitting the Tonight Show gig? Easy money.
Washington & Snipes do a good job of acting like they are playing, and acting in between musical interludes. They were coached in how to play their instruments, and though they couldn't really get much out, in the way of sound, they were able to act the part convincingly enough. Denzel even gets in some singing--though it is more like rapping, poetry, or perhaps spoken word with music? He has a good voice, and carries it off splendidly. Washington & Snipes are a great combination of characters, with Wesley like a kind of bleak shadow, an anti-matter doppelganger of Denzel's darker instincts. But Snipes isn't really the bad guy here, he just wants to take one of Bleek's girlfriends, Clarke Bentancourt (Cynda Williams), because Bleek won't even give her a chance to sing, and Shadow wants to feature her in his own group.
If there is one sin that Shadow commits, it is that he wants to sell out, to play smooth jazz if it will make more money.
Clarke isn't really a jazz singer, but Cynda Williams was signed to record an album for Sony. But the project was shelved. She might have made it as a singer, but because of the movie, Mo' Better Blues, that was supposed to launch her career, she was pushed into a jazz bag. She isn't a jazz singer, and I'm not saying she is a bad singer, she is a very talented singer and the part where she finally sings is very enjoyable. But she is not a jazz singer.
Therefore, the fact that Shadow's band which features Clarke flourishes while Bleek's dies a dismal death makes for a very unsatisfactory ending. Smooth jazz? Is there no justice in the world?
By the way, his father, Bill Lee, a jazz bass player, also composed music for the film. Sadly, this was the last movie for his son he was able to do that. The film is a heartfelt tribute to jazz, the music of Spike's father. Kind of like his own riff on Song for My Father by Horace Silver?
One other thing--Bleek's other girlfriend, Indigo Downes is played by Joie Lee, Spike's sister.
John and Nicholas Turturro play Moe and Josh Flatbush, the club owners. John Turturro is really making a name for himself as a character actor, notably in movies by the Cohen brothers. I assume Nicholas is his brother. They like numbers, and have some amusing routines. Some critics found these characters a little unsettling and anti semetic, even.
Robin Harris, a chitlin' circuit comedian, plays chitlin' circuit comedian Butterbean Jones. Mr. Harris passed away soon after the filming wrapped, and the movie is dedicated to him. Though he provided comic relief, he didn't really fit in with the jazz club as run by Moe and Josh Flatbush. He was an anachronism, like when an extra in a crowd scene in The Greatest Story Ever Told is spotted wearing a wristwatch. Samuel L. Jackson plays a sadistic bill collector for Giant's bookie. Samuel enjoys his work too much.
The main problem with the movie though, is when the director (Spike Lee) steps in front of the camera. He is just not a compelling character, but he makes it all about himself. I am struck by the fact that in so many ways he is like Woody Allen. They both like jazz, comedy, and sports, and they both insert themselves into movies they direct. Sometimes to the movies detriment. But I digress...
I loved the movie up to about three quarters of the way, but then began the downward spiral. Bleek was not that bad a guy. The punishment didn't fit the crime. Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, did much worse and were bigger jerks than Bleek could even dream of being. As a morality tale, it doesn't cut it.
Take Chet Baker. He was hit in the mouth by drug dealers, and lost all his teeth. It took him a few years to get his sound back, but he figured out a way to get a beautiful sound, even though he was old, tore up from the floor up, and lacked teeth. Bleek is super dedicated and lives for his music. But we are supposed to just believe that after one beat down, he could never really play again. Sorry if I spoiled the ending, but the ending spoils the movie. Set your watch to three quarters of the way, stop the tape, and rewind it. Repeat as necessary.
The parts where Spike celebrates jazz, the trumpet, the beauty of women, and baseball, are superb. The parts where he takes on issues--race relations, gambling addictions, male/female relations, are half baked. Not that he should never take on issues, but in this movie there were so many issues and so little solutions or insights. He as a director lost control of the material. Do the right thing, Spike. He got in his own way, so to speak. But I am still giving the movie 4 stars, just for the beautiful music in the beginning parts. So, like I say: Set your watch to three quarters of the way, stop the tape, and rewind it. Repeat as necessary.
TOP TEN MOVIES, BOOKS, OR CDS TO WATCH, READ, OR HEAR IN CONJUNCTION WITH MO' BETTER BLUES
1. Let's Get Lost (1988) Documentary about trumpeter Chet Baker. An elderly Chet still has it, and is seen with Chris Isaak and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Also, archival footage of a young Chet who not only sounded great, he looked marvelous.
2. To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar(1995) Wesley Snipes plays Noxeema Jackson, in the best drag performance since Lemmon and Curtis in Some Like It Hot.
3. Training Day (2001) Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his portrayal of Alonzo, a rogue cop. It was a great year for Afro American Actors as Halle Berry also won; making it a sweep of the top 2 acting categories, and Sidney Poitier was also given a lifetime achievement award.
4. Malcolm X (1992) Denzel Washington played Malcolm X. Spike Lee directs. If Spike didn't direct it, then flame me in the comments. I can't afford a fancy fact checker.
5. Glory (1989) Denzel Washington played Pvt. Trip, for which he won an Oscar for best supporting.
6. Round Midnight (1986) This movie starred Dexter Gordon as a character that must have been based on Lester Young. It was directed by a French guy, and they sometimes put things like Jerry Lewis and Jazz up on a pedestal. While they are right to put Jazz on a pedestal, they sometimes come off like Wayne and Garth protesting that they are not worthy. I mean like, they might put mediocre jazz up on a pedestal, just because it is jazz. But it's great to see Dexter because he has such stage presence, even if he's not that good of an actor. Long tall Dexter used to look so interesting he could draw a crowd just by taking his horn out of the case.
7. Bamboozled (New Line Platinum Series) (2000) This movie dropped like a rock before I could see it, but the idea of a Minstrel Show revival being the latest fad to sweep TV is very promising. Would love to see this story get the Spike treatment.
8. Kind of Blue some of this music is featured in the movie. This just might be the best selling jazz album of all time, but it is also one of the greatest. It garnered commercial success as a fluke, in spite of the fact that the music is deep and profound. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderly all gave it their all on such tunes as All Blues, Freddie the Freeloader, and Blue in Green.
9. A Love Supreme was supposed to be the title of this movie, and you can even see a huge poster of the album cover, as well as some of the music, from this classic jazz album that is a spiritual revelation in four parts.
10. Miles: The Autobiography. Hear the great man's story in his own unmistakable voice (it was very raspy after he strained it arguing with Gerry Mulligan, or so the story goes). It makes Mo' Better Blues look like Bleak House by Charles Dickens by comparison."