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Jimi: All Is By My Side Blu-ray Review

Jimi: All Is By My Side (2014) movie poster Jimi: All Is By My Side

Theatrical Release: September 26, 2014 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: John Ridley

Cast: André Benjamin (Jimi Hendrix), Hayley Atwell (Kathy), Imogen Poots (Linda Keith), Ruth Negga (Ida), Andrew Buckley (Bryan "Chas" Chandler), Adrian Lester (Michael X), Oliver Bennett (Noel Redding), Tom Dunlea (John "Mitch" Mitchell), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Lithofayne "Faye" Pridgeon), Jade Yourell (Roberta Goldstein), Lauterio Zamparelli (Mark Hoffman), Danny McColgan (Eric Clapton), Robbie Jarvis-Dean (Andrew Loog Oldham), Burn Gorman (Michael Jeffery), Ashley Charles (Keith Richards)

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It stands to reason that the bigger a biopic's subject is, the bigger that biopic will be. That's not how it works, though. Right now, hundreds of theaters are being filled with biographical films that are featuring heavily throughout the ongoing awards season. One of these features Martin Luther King Jr., but most find the heroism in the stories of people you probably don't know about:
kitsch painter Margaret Keane, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, Olympian turned POW Louis Zamperini, World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, and hiker Cheryl Strayed. Meanwhile, Jimi: All By My Side, a film about Jimi Hendrix, one of the most revered figures in the history of rock music, came and went last fall with little fanfare and a maximum theater count of just 34.

With a reported budget of $5 million, Jimi didn't cost as much as the aforementioned. And with the title role filled by André Benjamin, better known as Andre 3000 of the rap duo OutKast than an actor, this wasn't exactly bursting with star power. But the film does come from talent in demand: it is written by John Ridley, hot off his Oscar-winning screenplay for 12 Years a Slave. For just the second time and the first in nearly twenty years, Ridley also directs. You might assume that this was a writer cashing in on his Oscar success, as Paul Haggis and Bill Condon did, but actually this film had already played at Toronto and Stockholm by the time 12 Years began its blaze of glory.

In "Jimi: All Is By My Side", Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) gets down in a colorful ensemble to cover The Beatles for a crowd that includes The Beatles.

Jimi takes place entirely over a couple of years in the mid-to-late 1960s. We're spared Hendrix's childhood and coming of age in Seattle, Washington, instead beginning with him a nobody guitarist playing to empty clubs in New York City. It is there where Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), who still refers to herself as Keith Richards' girlfriend even though the Rolling Stones guitarist is nowhere to be seen, takes notice of Hendrix. Linda introduces Jimi to acid and then tries to get him discovered musically. Though the Stones' manager is totally uninterested, Linda gets Jimi set up with Bryan "Chas" Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the bassist of The Animals who would like to start managing musicians. Chas likes what he hears and instructs Hendrix to travel to London, which he does, to get his start.

It's a bit slow going over in England, though Jimi does allow assertive hair stylist Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) to steal him from whatever he has going on with Linda. Jimi assembles a band, is freed from his contracts (by the knife-throwing manager of The Animals) and then becomes involved with Ida (Ruth Negga), a seasoned African-American groupie from Milwaukee who hooks him up with pot. Along the way, we get one violent public outburst (which may not have occurred in reality), a performance that drives Eric Clapton off-stage in disbelief, an awkward collect call back home, and an audacious cover of The Beatles performed in front of The Beatles.

As that synopsis should illustrate, a talented and accomplished subject does not necessarily make a biopic rich and compelling. There is not much of a story here beyond Jimi Hendrix's quest to become a musician. Hendrix is a big personality and that much comes through in the film, which is content to simply spend time in his presence, be it tuning a guitar, browsing a bookstore, or trying to patch things up with someone he just beat with a telephone.

After hearing him play, Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) makes it her mission to get Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) discovered. British police officers confront Kathy Echingham (Hayley Atwell) and her boyfriend Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) about his choice in military coats.

Benjamin, who was expected to break through as an actor with Idlewild (a 2006 Prohibition musical nobody saw), does the title role justice...to a degree. It is an impressive characterization which captures Hendrix from his manner of speech to his wild hair. If this was a one-man show, this clearly thoroughly researched performance would wow. Alas, it is not a one-man show; Benjamin only treats it like one. He acts plenty and reacts almost not at all.
That makes the protagonist feel as if he's never in the moment and makes Benjamin's turn feel like he's dictating his autobiography to someone off screen. It's not as if Benjamin's supporting cast is short on effort. The British actors are all more experienced than the lead and all show more awareness that the film is bigger than them. That Benjamin doesn't recognize that is problematic; even a middling film tends to be more interesting than a single performance within it.

The film should be able to overcome Benjamin's near-sightedness, but Ridley makes the rookie mistake of applying more style than the film needs. He's constantly playing with cross-cutting, moments of silence on the soundtrack, blacked-out picture, unsynchronized sound, and documentarians' tools like archival pictures and footage. Ridley's over-edited presentation apes Robert Altman and, to lesser degrees, Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese. The film feels like a constant reminder that Ridley knows filmmaking and is capable of more than just writing a script. While you never doubt Ridley's knowledge of filmic techniques, you do wonder why he's so eager to implement them at the sake of coherency. It's as if he senses the story's thinness and tries to compensate for that, to seize this directing opportunity rarely extended to him.

That's a pretty understandable approach and the excessive style isn't enough to put a damper on this obvious passion project, which at least does as fine job of recreating an era and making Hendrix alive again.

Jimi: All Is By My Side is now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray from XLrator Media.

Jimi: All Is By My Side Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

That low budget and a tiny distributor do not keep Jimi from looking great on Blu-ray. Exhibiting nothing worse than light grain, the 2.40:1 presentation is sharp and nicely defined throughout. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also gets the job done, most coming to life on music (none of which include the real Hendrix or recreations of his best-known tunes) but presenting dialogue crisply and capably as well.

Waddy Wachtel talks mostly about his guitar and Danny Bramson listens in this short bonus interview. The theatrical trailer for Jimi: All Is By My Side sets the setting with a split-screen.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Jimi: All Is By My Side is joined by two short HD bonus features.

"Music by Waddy, Lyrics by Danny" (4:19) is a promotional interview in which score composer Waddy Wachtel and score producer Danny Bramson
speak with Billboard's Phil Gallo. Wachtel, who kind of looks and sounds like Larry David in a wig, does the lion's share of talking: about his career, about Hendrix, and about the prized guitar he bought from Stephen Stills.

The other extra is Jimi's short theatrical trailer (1:39).

The disc opens with HD trailers for The Machine, Poker Night, and Ironclad 2: Battle for Blood, none of which is accessible by menu.

Adapted from the theatrical one-sheet seen at the top of this page, the static, silent menu offers a similarly psychedelic alternative to the cover art. Disappointingly, the Blu-ray doesn't let you set bookmarks and doesn't resume unfinished playback.

No slipcover or inserts accompany the side-snapped blue keepcase.

Jimi Hendrix handles his electric guitar as only he can in "Jimi: All Is By My Side."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Jimi: All Is By My Side is certainly not the definitive Jimi Hendrix biopic, but it engages with the narrow stretch of the music icon's life it dramatizes. It's worth a look for those fond of Hendrix, so long as they don't expect too much. The same is true of the Blu-ray, which is lighter on extras than you would anticipate but at least boasts a winning transfer.

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Reviewed January 13, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014-15 XLrator Media, Darko Entertainment, Freeman Film, Matador Pictures, Subotica, and The Irish Film Board.
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