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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Taylor Hackford
Cast:
Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry J. Lennix, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, Sharon Warren, C.J. Sanders, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, Larenz Tate
Writing Credits:
Taylor Hackford, James L. White

Synopsis:
Jamie Foxx stars as the one-of-a-kind innovator of soul who overcame impossible odds to become a music legend. Ray is the triumphant and remarkable story of one of America’s true musical geniuses, Ray Charles. From his humble beginnings in the South through his meteoric rise to the top of American music charts, Ray’s inspirational journey is a tale of hope, redemption and the power of the human spirit. "Ray is Electrifying" hails Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. Witness the incredible true story of a musician who fought harder and went further than anyone could imagine.

Box Office:
Budget
$40 million.
Opening Weekend
$20.039 million on 2006 screens.
Domestic Gross
$73.047 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 153 min.
Price: $44.99
Release Date: 2/1/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Taylor Hackford
• Extended Version
• Cast and Filmmakers
Disc Two
• Deleted Scenes
• Expanded Musical Scenes
• “A Look Inside Ray
• “Stepping Into the Part” Featurette
• “Ray Remembered” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Ray: Special Edition (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 4, 2005)

As I write this in early February, we don’t know who’ll win prizes at this year’s Oscars, but things certainly look good for Jamie Foxx. He’s in the running for two awards: Best Supporting Actor for Collateral and Best Actor for Ray. I doubt he’ll win both, but usually when a performer is up for two trophies, they win at least one, so it seems likely Foxx will go home with a prize on Oscar night.

Right now popular opinion puts him as the front-runner for Ray, a look at the life of musical legend Ray Charles. The flick starts in 1948, as we see Ray Robinson (Foxx) leave Florida to head to Seattle. He plans to pursue a career as a musician, so he goes to Seattle to hook up with his partner Gossie McKee (Terrence Dashon Howard). When he arrives after the cross-country bus trip, he can’t find Gossie, but bar owner Marlene (Denise Dowse) throws him on stage and he wows the crowd.

This lands Ray a regular gig, though Marlene and Gossie use him. He figures this out when he gets an offer from Jack Lauderdale (Robert Wisdom) of Swing Time Records. Ray signs with the label, makes a record, and heads out on the road. We also see him change his name to avoid confusion with boxer “Sugar” Ray Robinson; they use his middle name to call him Ray Charles.

From there, the movie mostly follows the progression of Ray’s career and his relationships. His major professional move comes when he signs with Atlantic Records; there he develops his own sound and becomes a hit-maker. Personally, Ray meets Della Bea Antoine (Kerry Washington) on tour in Texas and quickly falls for her. They marry before too long, and it’s her inspiration for “I Got a Woman”, the first time he fuses gospel with R&B.

While Ray enjoys the love of a good woman and becomes a star, he also suffers from negatives. For one, he becomes a heroin addict, and this intensifies as the years progress. In addition, Ray can’t stay away from other women, so he often cheats on Della. This leads to prolonged affairs with some singers in his band. First he hooks up with Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis), but she later splits when Ray also connects with “Raelette” Margie Hendricks (Regina King). She becomes Ray’s most significant affair, and that relationship causes problems.

Most of the movie stays in Ray’s adulthood, but it occasionally flashes back to his childhood. We see young Ray (CJ Sanders) with his mother Aretha (Sharon Warren) and younger brother George (Terrone Bell). We watch events that strongly influenced his life - some of which left him emotionally scarred - as well as how he lost his eyesight.

Though Ray earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, most of the attention accorded it has stemmed from Foxx’s lead performance. He’s earned uniformly strong notices for the way he transformed himself into Charles. And much of that praise is merited, as Foxx indeed throws himself into the role quite well. He certainly looks and sounds an awful lot like the musical legend. As I noted when I reviewed Malcolm X, actors who play famous figures run into particular challenges since we’re so familiar with the real thing. The actor needs to do more than just mimic the actual person, but he also needs to bear enough of a resemblance to allow us to suspend our disbelief.

In that regard, Foxx clearly succeeds. He plays Charles in a fully believable manner beyond the simple mannerisms and vocal inflections. I’m not as sure that he gets to the character’s heart. One of the reasons I raved about Denzel Washington in Malcolm X was because he turned the character into such a full-blooded person. He made Malcolm grow and change in a dynamic way, but I didn’t quite get that feeling from Foxx’s Ray.

Actually, that’s not totally true. We do see Ray go from a robust young man to an addled junkie, and Foxx makes this transition smoothly. I just don’t feel like we ever get to the heart of the character. I thought that the movie kept our knowledge of Charles on the surface. We saw what he went through but didn’t get a great understanding of what made him tick.

I don’t think this is the fault of Foxx, who does throw himself into the role. Instead, I feel the problem comes from director Taylor Hackford. He’s always been a reliably competent but unexceptional director, and these workmanlike tendencies mean that Ray stays with the usual biopic issues.

In general, the movie feels kind of like a “greatest hits” with the occasional stab at personal insights. The movie’s main psychological thrust deals with the influence of Ray’s mother and the death of his younger brother. Hackford introduces a nightmarish water motif at times to symbolize Ray’s continued guilt over his brother’s drowning. Unfortunately, this works as little more than a cheesy cinematic technique that doesn’t go anywhere. Hackford uses it too inconsistently for it to make a difference, and it just acts as cheap symbolism.

I guess I didn’t think the flick really tied the childhood scenes to Ray’s later life. Yeah, the movie gives us some idea of his mother’s influence, but that’s about it. Did any of these issues lead to his flaws as an adult? Maybe, but the film draws no real connections between childhood concerns and adulthood excesses.

It would have been nice to get more insight into Charles’ personality and why he behaved the way he did. The movie paints him as a womanizer and a junkie without any real rationale. We get some glimpses of his early interest in music, but otherwise the film fails to delineate his personality traits in a concise manner. Perhaps there aren’t easy explanations for Ray’s negative behaviors, as life isn’t always that simple. Nonetheless, the absence of many strong attempts to dig into his psychological side makes Ray stay on the superficial side.

At least the movie always remains entertaining. With its combination of success and pathos, Charles’ tales clearly is an interesting one. His great natural talent and his ability to overcome his disability offer inspiration, while his drug use and infidelity give us his darker side. Those make for perfect movie fodder, and they ensure that the flick offers a consistently engaging piece.

Unfortunately, Ray never rises above this level. It follows a standard construction and explores its subject reasonably well. However, it simply doesn’t do anything particularly creative or innovative to make it a richer piece of work. A strong performance from Jaime Foxx bolsters it somewhat, but Ray remains a fairly average film.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Ray appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only minor problems cropped up in this generally strong transfer.

For the most part, sharpness looked very good. The occasional wide shot came across as slightly soft and indistinct, but those instances weren’t frequent. The majority of the flick was detailed and concise. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but I noticed some light edge enhancement at times. Print flaws remained absent, as I saw no specks, marks or other defects.

Ray went with a stylized palette that depended on the setting. The main differentiation was between the “modern day” shots and Ray’s flashbacks. The former went with a somewhat muted, golden look, while the latter demonstrated exaggerated greens and other tones. Within the restrictions of the visual design, the colors were firm and clear. Blacks also seemed deep and firm, while low-light shots displayed good definition and delineation. The minor softness and edge enhancement knocked this one down to a “B+”, but it was satisfying overall.

Given the film’s focus, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack maintained a logical focus on music. Charles’ songs dominated the mix and demonstrated very good imaging. The tunes showed strong localization and spread smoothly across the front channels. The surrounds bolstered the music somewhat, but those elements remained heavily oriented toward the forward speakers.

Other than the music, the track stayed oriented toward general information. The movie didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for slam-bang action, so environmental material was fine. The track created a decent sense of place and worked just fine.

Audio quality also worked nicely. Speech consistently came across as natural and distinct, with no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects didn’t play much of a role, but they stayed accurate and clean. Music fared pretty nicely. The various songs appeared well-rendered, as they demonstrated smooth tones and clear delineation of the various elements. Overall, the soundtrack served its movie well.

When we look at extras on this two-disc set, we start on DVD One with an audio commentary from director Taylor Hackford. He presents a very active affair that covers many good elements. Hackford talks about the facts of Charles’ life and various liberties taken, the cast and their work, shooting mostly in New Orleans and adapting it for other locations, the music, story and pacing concerns, the story’s long path to the screen and various concessions made along the way, and the film’s visual scheme.

Hackford maintains a brisk pace throughout the commentary, as he seems excited to discuss his flick. His enthusiasm makes it fun to listen to the track, and Hackford fills in the time with many interesting tidbits. In fact, he gets so carried away that he makes some goofy mistakes; for example, at one point he refers to the presentation of the songs in “alphabetical” order, when he clearly means chronological order. It’s a very strong chat that goes by quickly.

We can watch Ray as either its theatrical cut or as an extended edition. If you choose the latter, it adds nearly half an hour to the flick’s running time. When a new scene appears, the movie branches off automatically, but I definitely wouldn’t call it “seamless”. Before an added clip appears, some musical notes pop up at the bottom of the screen, and then it cuts to the new sequence. On my player, this moved acceptably quickly, but it still created some jarring shifts that didn’t flow terribly well.

Also, I don’t think my player caught all of the extra scenes. On DVD Two, we’ll find a set of deleted scenes, and I think almost all of those appear as part of the extended edition as well. I know one with Ruth Brown isn’t in the longer version, but otherwise, I believe the extended cut includes all DVD Two’s deleted pieces. Nonetheless, a few of them didn’t look familiar to me. These might not be included in the extended cut, but because of potential player error, I don’t want to claim that as a definite.

I’ll discuss the specific scenes a little more when I get to that area on DVD Two, but I do want to note that some odd choices show up as part of the extended cut. Most of the scenes expand on appropriate topics, but a couple seem like weird additions in this forum. The primary offender comes from one bit that simply shows additional takes of the same scene. While it’s fun to watch Foxx improvise, it really takes away from our involvement in the movie. That kind of sequence should be left for an outtake reel and not be part of a film. The extended cut simply throws in everything without much rhyme or reason, so I think these clips work best when viewed separately; you’re probably better off just watching the theatrical version of the movie.

Note that another problem stems from the presentation of the added scenes. They’re non-anamorphic 1.85:1, so they’ll stand out when viewed on anything other than a standard 4X3 set. For my WEGA, I use the “anamorphic squeeze”, and that made the extra bits look squished. These scenes also use different color timing, as the filmmakers didn’t finish them to match with the rest of the movie. Again, these are reasons why the sequences fare best when viewed separately and left out of the completed flick.

Finally, Disc One presents Cast and Filmmakers. This area includes biographies for actors Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Dashon Howard, Richard Schiff, Aunjanue Ellis, Bokeem Woodbine, Sharon Warren, Curtis Armstrong, Regina King and Larenz Tate as well as Hackford, writer James L. White, and producers Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin and Karen Baldwin. These entries vary in quality but offer decent overviews of the participants’ careers.

As we move to DVD Two, we start with 14 Deleted Scenes. Via the “Play All” option, these run a total of 27 minutes and 43 seconds. I already talked a little about these when I went over the extended edition; as I stated, it looks like everything that got reintegrated into the flick also appears here. While I didn’t like them as part of the final movie, I do think a lot of good material shows up in this section. The scenes help expand on characters and relationships and give us a little more depth. They’re definitely worth a look.

We can watch these scenes with or without commentary from Hackford. He mostly talks about the material and what he wanted to do with the sequences. Hackford provides only rudimentary details about why he cut the shots, though time factors seem to cover the lot of them; he clearly likes them and occasionally lets us know that they got the boot due to length. Although I’d have liked more specifics about the rationale for the edits, Hackford still gives us a lot of good information here.

In addition, two Expanded Musical Scenes appear. We get “What Kind of Man Are You” (three minutes, 10 seconds) and “Hit the Road, Jack” (1:18). Both also pop up through the extended cut, so they’ll look familiar if you examined that version.

Three featurettes come up next. A Look Inside Ray goes for a mere three minutes and 20 seconds. We see movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and remarks from Hackford and actor Jamie Foxx. It provides a very basic overview of the production but doesn’t tell us much. Other than a couple of interesting looks at Foxx with the real Ray Charles, there’s nothing useful here, and “Look Inside” stands as a glorified trailer. Skip it.

Somewhat stronger, the 10-minute and 40-second Stepping Into the Part focuses on Foxx’s work. It includes notes from Foxx, Hackford, actor Larenz Tate, music producer Quincy Jones, and co-producer Ray Charles Robinson Jr. We find some insights into how Foxx got into the part as well as his interactions with the real Ray. More fun behind the scenes footage of the pair appears, and a smattering of good details pops up as well. It’s fluffy and light, with a lot of praise for the actor, but the shots of Foxx with Charles are worth a look.

For the final featurette, we discover Ray Remembered. In this four-minute and three-second program, we get comments from Foxx, Jones, Hackford, actor Sharon Warren, and musicians Al Green and Reba McEntire. We also see some text plaudits from other notables. Essentially an homage to the late musician, everyone involved reminds us of Charles’ greatness. I suppose a piece like this was inevitable due to Charles’ demise, but it’s not really very interesting.

Lastly, DVD Two includes some ads. We get the trailer for Ray itself plus some others in the Previews area. That domain includes promos for Cinderella Man, Friday Night Lights, The Motorcycle Diaries and Vanity Fair.

Although Ray presents a consistently entertaining experience, it rarely rises above the level of a fairly standard film biography. A rich lead performance from Jamie Foxx helps, but the movie just doesn’t manage to turn into anything particularly distinctive. The DVD presents consistently positive picture and sound along with a roster of extras highlighted by a slew of deleted scenes and an excellent audio commentary. There’s enough here to merit a rental, but the movie doesn’t impress me to warrant a stronger recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.12 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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