by LaRue Cook
Despite all its biopic clichÃ©s, tropes, and pitfalls, Talk to Me has enough jump-jivin' energy to overcome its own mediocrity, thanks mostly to its main character, â“Peteyâ” Greene.
Greene is played by Don Cheadle, who sloughs off his Hotel Rwanda stoicism to conjure the spirit of one of the most colorful, controversial yet underappreciated characters of the 1960s. And much the same way the real-life con turned radio DJ uplifted the black community of Washington D.C., during the tumultuous times of the civil rights movement, Cheadle's performance keeps a mechanical script alive and moving, marking time to the beat of perhaps one of the most dynamic rhythm and blues soundtracks of any Motown-era-based film.
Greene's story is the epitome of a rags-to-riches tale: He's incarcerated for armed robbery, talks his way into the prison's radio booth and after conning the warden into a shorter sentence, convinces D.C. radio station manager Dewey Hughes to take a chance on an unconventional DJ with an even more unconventional style.
In the early part of 1966, the nation's capital was a hotbed of political and civil protests. Yet, radio stations like D.C.'s WOL 1450 AM were more or less ignoring the change going on outsideâ"DJs were simply playing the tunes and fluffing during the breaks.
But Greene came along to help birth the movement of shock-jocks, inciting debate with incendiary commentary. In between the Sam Cooke and James Brown, Greene's husky, gravel voice bobbed and weaved, occasionally throwing knockout blows to help ignite change for a black population that made up nearly 75 percent of D.C. Petey piped his two cents over the airwaves, rapping on his own alcoholism and the racism running rampant in the nation's capital.
Talk to Me has most of its fun during the first hour, focusing on Petey's most influential period, the two years leading up to the death of Martin Luther King. Director Kasi Lemmons (rent Eve's Bayou if you haven't seen it) opens with a signature Greene line, â“Wake up Goddammit!â” and whisks us into Petey's rough-and-tumble world. Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discovers Greene by accident when he visits his imprisoned brother at Lorton. He's leery of Petey and his brash demeanor, and Petey doesn't trust Hughes' stiffened gait, calling him something to the effect of a Sidney Poitier wannabe.
But Greene later learns during one of the film's most well-played scenes that Hughes was from the wrong side of the tracks as well. Only he found a way to infiltrate white corporate America, and he teaches Petey how to feign servitude to the white commander-in-chief (in this case, Martin Sheen who plays station head E.G. Sonderling) just long enough to get a break.
As Petey's following grows larger, Hughes becomes his manager and attempts to earn the stardom that he, not Petey, is yearning for. Hughes was Dr. King to Petey's Malcolm X. Hughes saw what might be accomplished from a national reach, whereas Petey saw leaving D.C. as selling out, not being true to what he really was: an ex-con, not a preacher.
The film's focus oddly begins to shift toward the career of Hughes after a rift between he and Petey, which is somewhat inexplicable since it's Petey that the audience is truly rooting for and becomes invested in.
Yet, the egregious mistakes are lost in the music. For whatever reason, Village Voice critic Nathan Lee felt it appropriate to call the soundtrack â“rousing if predictable.â” If Lee would've noticed, most of the artists weren't with major labels. Lemmons chose soulsters like Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, who were on the Stax label, not Motown, to keep with Petey's underdog theme.
When Sly Stone's â“If You Want Me to Stayâ” fills the theater and Petey parts with Hughes, you realize Lemmons knows her soul. The track couldn't have been better placed, and it's not an overused soundtrack hit so it's fresh, unlike the countless Marvin Gaye songs we're so accustomed to hearing. As Sly sings, For me to stay here I've got to be me.
Petey was just being himself, just speaking the truth. And that's something you rarely hear on the radio anymore.
Movie Guru Rating:
In March of 1997, Private Parts , Howard Stern's adaptation of his autobiography, premiered at theaters. The movie grossed more than $41 million at the box office, and received mostly positive reviews. Critics called the film mild and even sweet, especially in comparison with Stern's on-air persona.
More than 10 years later, this praise still holds true. The movie is funny and, while the humor can be crude, it's not as raunchy as his show. The coming-of-age portion of the show is entertaining if exaggeratedâ"Stern himself says you have to suspend belief to watch this movie. But the most interesting part, in retrospect, is the central theme of the movie: his love for his wife Allison and how much of his shtick she can stomach.
In 1997, you could predict the future of Stern's family life by asking, â“Who is the real Howard Stern?â”
He seems to want you to believe that he's a relatively normal guy who puts on an act while he's at the microphone. At the same time, his seminal revelation in the movie that leads to his success is â“I just need to be me when I'm on the air.â”
Regardless of whom you think the real Stern is, the movie closes with the line, â“I'm still on the air, I've still got my kids, and I've got Allison.â”
Two years later, they were divorced, but supposedly remain friends. He still has his kids, but for a time he did lose his show. Radio giant Clear Channel dropped Stern from the air due to heavy FCC fines. On Jan. 9, 2006, Stern made a permanent switch to Sirius satellite radio to avoid government interference with his work, but his career as a terrestrial broadcaster appears to be over.
However, he landed sexy swimsuit model Beth Ostrosky, who is 18 years his junior, to fill in for Allison. And loads of people still tune into his Sirius show to see what he'll say next, so life can't be too much different for the King of All Media than it was in '97. â" Eric Connelly
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