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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Very Young Man with a Horn
by Donald Levit

A succinct seventy minutes with endless end-credits, Louis is difficult to categorize. Good natured rather than lewd ample bosoms and sexual rôle-playing, plus a killing in the past, a planned infanticide, a knifing and a shooting in the 1907 present, and political and police venality, get an “R” rating. So it’s not for family viewing. Live musical performance by Wynton Marsalis and Cecile Licad and a jazz ensemble of ten will enliven the special one-night-in-each five-city showings. Shot against bleached flattish backdrops by Hungarian-born Vilmos “William” Zgismond (who appears as a Hungarian photographer) in sepia scene openings merging into color highlights and, music aside, “reimagined as early silent film” complete with titles and iris-ins (circle-ins), director-cowriter Dan Pritzker’s drama/comedy is not serious about its potential action, of which there is little, anyway. So it probably won’t attract the adolescent-minded testosterone crowd.

Not intended for one audience or another, the result is a pleasant enough bauble, a novelty act done with love if, like its central character’s real-life reminiscences and legend, somewhat tall-tale-ing the facts.

That subject is Daniel Louis Armstrong (Anthony Coleman) way before he became “Satchmo” -- he preferred Louis, with the s pronounced -- six years old in storied Storyville, earning extra money attracting notice for two kindly whites who sell stone coal and wood kindling from a wagon. A good boy who helps mother and baby sister -- mom, he realizes, sells her body for food money -- he has a cheap simple horn, tries to toot along with the foot-stomping street bands of Frankie Dunson (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) and Black Benny, and has his eye on an unaffordable cornet in the pawn shop window.

Parallel to the boy’s story, to cross and merge with it, are those of Grace (Shanti Lowry), star of Mahogany Hall bordello in her “Triumphant Return” after giving birth upstairs to Jasmine and praying for “strength to raise my child.” Seemingly far away from the light-skinned dancer-prostitute is Judge Leander Perry, “Feeding at the Public Trough,” collecting “taxes” from the several madams through agent Tom Anderson (Joe Chrest), and campaigning for governor. As the corrupt politician, Jackie Earle Haley has his walrus whiskers trimmed and dyed and spends the movie hamming general and specific (e.g., Modern Times) Charlie Chaplin.

Jasmine sharper than your average newborn, Grace revealing a confusing past and a desire for the baby to know her father and yet not to know him, and the candidate manicuring his public image but overcome by parental emotions, all impinge on young Louis.

Befriended by Grace and overhearing a double-murder plotted by a bordello owner jealous of that beauty’s attracting clients, the boy uses the newly acquired cornet to save the situation even though he cannot play the instrument until later on. As with other points like separate graves, a knife-in-the-chest goes unclarified and unprosecuted, but hero Louis will learn and be embraced. Coleman’s chubby figure and cherubic face come through as goodness unimpaired. Indeed, with race not really emphasized in the equation, and with the elegant bawdy house choreographed out of Broadway shows topped with visions of the boy’s grown ladyfriend floating above staircases and clouds, the grime and crime of an era and a place are transformed into the sweet memory people imagine for Huck Finn without realizing the darkness behind his and Louis’ stories. 

(Released by Dipperflicks and rated “R” for some sexual content.)

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