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Miles Ahead is the new biopic of Miles Davis, one of the great, if not the greatest, jazz trumpeter and composer of all times. It’s written by Steven Baigelman and the director and star Don Cheadle. The filmmakers do everything they can, from non-linear storytelling to all sorts of directorial flourishes, to keep the audience enthralled.
And they succeed, at least for a while. Flashbacks, jump cuts and various stylistic juxtapositions that feel inspired by jazz music, give the film a certain electric immediacy.
But it’s not long before it feels that all this tinsel and sawdust is, well, not a lot more than tinsel and sawdust, there to hide the fact that in the end, the movie, though often entertaining, is really just another, as I and a friend like to call it, typical Warner Brothers biopic, the reference being the prestige pictures of the studios made in their heydays, like The Story of Louis Pasteur, The Life of Emil Zola and even more recently, Gandhi. All worthy, but all still somewhat bland. Read the rest of this entry »
Iron Man 3 is one of those movies you don’t really look forward to seeing, but when you do, it actually turns out to be much better than you ever thought it would be. In fact, I think I’ll go out on a limb a little bit here and say that it’s a pretty nifty movie and you won’t be disappointed.
The beginning did fill me with a sense of foreboding. The whole thing begins with a flashback in which all the actors pushed their characters just a bit much (Guy Pearce is particularly weak here; well, actually, I thought he was embarrassingly bad, but perhaps that’s just me) and the humor was just a bit too, too. But once everything jumps to 2013, the film quickly finds its sea legs and we’re off on an adventure that is basically, as is the norm for a Marvel superhero, an existential crisis meets the apocalypse.
Not everything works quite as well as it might. Robert Downey, Jr., back once again as the man in the tuna can, can’t quite sell his anxiety attacks and his voice over is a bit clunky at times (though it does lead to a nice little punch line at the end which means, non-spoiler alert, you must, MUST, stay in your seat until that last little credit has left the screen). But let’s not be petty. Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, has filled the dialog with tons of wit of the tongue planted firmly in check kind and has come up with a story in which excitement abounds by leaps and.
But perhaps what really makes this entry is an unexpected delight of a first rate supporting cast. In fact, in many ways, that’s all this movie is. Not a series of action scenes filled with CGI special effects in which a director is trying to make up for his penis size, but a series of roundelays in which Robert Downey, Jr.’s acting style has a pax de duex with one character after another. In fact, as a friend of mine pointed out, this was an Iron Man movie without Iron Man since Tony Stark is separated from his body armor for such long periods of time, he actually has to solve the problem as a mere mortal like the rest of us. He’s also more than dependent on his sidekicks than usual, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pot and Don Cheadle as Rhodes, both of whom made the wise decision of sticking around for the paycheck (they’re both very good, Paltrow surprisingly so).
But to get back to subject, these scene stealers include such cameos as the not seen enough Dale Dickey as the mother of a suspected suicide bomber (I guess she’s the person you go for if you can’t get Melissa Leo); Andrew Lauer as an “I’m your biggest fan” satellite technician; and a series of guards who quickly realize that they aren’t paid enough for this shit. But certainly special note should be made of Ty Simpkins who plays a precocious tyke whose cajones haven’t dropped yet, but he still has enough of them to try to guilt trip Stark. If he’s not brought back for the next installment, his manager should sue.
Still, with no reflection on the aforesaids, no one can quite steal a scene like the sly Sir Ben Kingsley. Like the movie, his first scene as the Mandarin (or Man Daren in the Chinese version) filled me with a sense of foreboding as he employs just about the worst American accent I’ve heard in some time. But suddenly, he…no, sorry, I’m not supposed to say, it’s one of the best twists in the movie, and he gives the best performance in the film. I mean, when he…no, I can’t, I just can’t. You’ll just have to see it.
And what superhero, studio blockbuster would be complete without villains, villains and more villains. In fact, that was about the only thing worth the price of admission for Iron Man II, Mickey Rourke’s powerhouse performance as Ivan Vanko. Here we have Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a scientist who does some sort of rigmarole with the brain and DNA that has the unfortunate side effect of creating human time bombs (my friend said he wished they had dealt more with that and I said they could have dealt with it for the entire movie and I still wouldn’t have had any idea what they were talking about). Pearce gives one of his more relaxed performances in awhile. Oh, and Rebecca Hall is his second in command, but you’ll have to forgive me if I almost forgot her since she doesn’t really have anything to do.
But speaking of the villains, I do have to be honest and say I am a bit squeamish in the movie’s attitude toward terrorism, blaming it on bullying and a hell hath no fury like a woman scorned one night stand. It’s all a bit cartoonish, even for a comic.
But hey, arrive for the CGI and stay for the Kingsley.
Tell me what you think.
Flight, the new film from writer John Gatins and director Robert Zemeckis, has an incredible set piece near the beginning of the movie in which a pilot (Denzel Washington) is forced to crash land a plane in nightmare conditions by making it roll 360 degrees (flying upside down for awhile) and coming down on a field near a church about ready to do some Sunday go to meeting baptisms. It’s an amazing technical feat (and not just the landing, but the filming as well) and it’s an exhilarating start. When this section is over, the movie sets up an equally incredible enigma: Whip, the pilot, was drunk and had cocaine in his system when he performed this unbelievable stunt; but that wasn’t the cause of the crash. And Whip’s handling of the landing was something that ten other pilots couldn’t have done sober. So the whole movie seems more than ready to tackle issues and questions brought up by this fascinating conundrum.
And then the movie becomes…something else, something else entirely, and something that has nothing to do with either the crash landing or what sort of punishment should be given to a pilot who is able to make a miraculous landing (Gatins’ words, not mine) while drunk. It actually becomes a rather routine, formulaic The Lost Weekend, The Days of Wine and Roses, When a Man Loves a Woman, Clean and Sober (fill in with your favorite film in the genre) story about an alcoholic.
Six people died in the crash and a huge number of people were seriously injured. But is this their story or is the story about the crash and what it means? No. Believe it or not, all of this is chopped liver. All of this is a macguffin, because the only reason for any of this, the only purpose for all these deaths, the only purpose of the crash, the only reason for all this destruction is so that Whip will start going to AA.
I’m not kidding. I am totally serious. And to back up this idea, there’s a ton of talk about God in the movie and whether everything is preordained or has a purpose, whether everything that happens is just part of an overall plan. To be fair, all this mention of God at times tends to be a bit metaphorical in that whenever the big guy’s name is mentioned, He’s a stand in for all the unforeseen and uncontrollable things that happen in life, as when destruction from a hurricane is an “act of God”. But still.
And it’s not that the movie is without its positive aspects. But oddly enough, it’s not when the film focuses on Whip’s journey, but when it focuses on the issues related to the crash that the movie really comes to life. Both Don Cheadle, as a long suffering lawyer, and Peter Gerety, as the owner of the airline, stand out as the few who really seem to understand what is really going on and that the meaning of the crash is the crash and that Whip’s journey is actually a hindrance and just getting in the way of the real issues. When Gerety tells everybody off, I thought, finally, someone who really gets what it’s all about.
Washington is fine as Whip, but he’s always a lot more fun when he’s playing anti-heroes like here, people you would not want to meet in a darkened alleyway. Melissa Leo also makes her mark at the end because, like Cheadle and Gerety, she’s in a different movie. The low point, though, has to be John Goodman as Whip’s connection. Goodman is one of our finest character actors, but here, as in Argo and some other recent films, he’s been reduced to playing, well, John Goodman roles, and he deserves better.
In all fairness, I should point out that many in the audience around me were deeply moved. But I just couldn’t join in. For me, if truth be told, I was bit offended. Here I thought that Leibnitz and the philosophy of “the best of all possible worlds” ended with Voltaire’s ruthless satire Voltaire. But apparently not. No matter how awful things are, no matter how many people die, no matter how much destruction there is, it’s okay, because there’s always a silver lining. People can die, but their death has meaning because it helped someone enter a recovery program. Really.