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MUSIC FLICKS: Cadillac Records

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I remember hearing a lot about Beyonce Knowles gaining a few extra pounds for her portrayal of Etta James in the film Cadillac Records, and then of course, I remember her singing James’ signature tune, “At Last,” at President Obama’s Inauguration Ball–and who could forget the quasi feud that followed (James said that Knowles was going to get her ass whipped for singing her song, but later reneged, claiming she was just joking around)? I didn’t hear much about the movie–released last December–that brought about all these juicy headlines, so this weekend I decided to Netflix Cadillac Records.

The film is about Chess Records, the Chicago-based label that brought us the names of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Etta James, and the songwriting prowess of Willie Dixon. If you’re wondering why the film is called Cadillac Records, its founder Leonard Chess (played by Adrien Brody), would buy his artists a Cadillac after they earned their first hit record.

Chess Records’ first success story is the rise to fame of former sharecropper, Muddy Waters (played by Jeffrey Wright)–considered one of the greatest bluesman of all time. He teams up with the meanest harmonica player in Chicago (both figuratively and literally), Little Walter (Columbus Short), and forms the take-no-prisoners band, appropriately titled the Headhunters.

Chess first meets Waters’ crew when they set up their amps in his nightclub, all while another band is performing on stage. A melee ensues, but once Chess hears the sounds of Muddy Waters, he’s hooked for life. Chess takes Waters under his wings, records him in his studio, hits the road, and you can probably guess what happens from here.

As an educational tool Cadillac Records is an excellent look–albeit through the eyes of a big-budget Hollywood movie–at the history of blues and rock-and-roll. Muddy Waters’ soulful blues sound gives way to Chuck Berry’s rock-and-roll stylings, which the Beach Boys end up stealing. Later in the film, we also discover, that Waters inspired a group of English kids to form a band who named themselves after one of his songs–The Rolling Stones (you’ve heard of them, right?).

Unfortunately, Cadillac Records wasn’t able to avoid the pitfall of just about every other music biopic ever made, which is: cram as much as you can into a two-hour movie. The interesting look into Chess and Waters’ relationship starts losing focus once subplots about Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) enter into the equation. Sure, both were part of the Chess Records family, and both are legendary names–portrayed by some current big names in the biz–but Cadillac Records starts feeling like an NBC mini-series halfway through the film.

All in all, the musical performances were enjoyable to watch (although the perfectionist in me did get a little agitated when a performer would stray from their microphone and still sound studio-crisp), and I thought each actor did well representing their respective Chess Records artist. I could have used a little less Etta in the storyline and some more Muddy, especially the can’t-take-your-eyes-off tension between him and fellow bluesman Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker).

As far as music movies go, Cadillac Records doesn’t stray from the blueprint we’ve seen a hundred times, but it does give us a glimpse into the lives of some unheralded recording artists who inspired the household names that Hollywood usually makes movies about.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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