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Archive for the ‘Don Cheadle’ Category

Iron Man 3

04 May

Ironman 3 – directed by Shane Black. Comic Book Adventure. The Iron Man irons things out. 130 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

Robert Downey Junior is suave, witty, and sexy, and his enemy, Guy Pearce, is suave, witty, and sexy. So the question is not whether one will best the other, but whether charm will best demolition.

For the skies, the earth, and the waters are laced with explosions, collapses, blasts, mass burials, attacks, and not a policeman in sight. Oh, Good!

In all this, I can only give praise to Downey, who is so cool as to be cryogenic. Nothing fazes him. He rises from every blitz with perfect aplomb. He always has a jest to impart and it takes no fall from high places to make him dizzy beforehand. He also has the astounding ability to make pins drop at certain moments with the reality of his response, as for instance with certain women with whom he is at the same moment absolutely sincere and absolutely false. It is very endearing of him. He is such a prick you cannot but let him off scot free, particularly with that wonderful actor’s face of his with its flexible mouth and huge black eyes that are always begging forgiveness. And all that bounce! He’s our Dark Angel, isn’t he? Valuable….

He is paired at various times with that marvelous actress, our belovèd Gwyneth Paltrow, who always arrives in a film role followed by porters bearing enormous quantities of luggage, all Vuitton. Don Cheadle, a welcome presence here as elsewhere, backs up Downey as a military person in charge of just what we never know. Ben Kingsley earns another deposit in our continued respect for him, as The Most Evil Person In The World. Dale Dickey gives a fabulous turn as The Wife Of The Man With The Files. And Ty Simpkins refreshes the entire film as a little boy with a crush on our super-hero.

But none of this and no one —  save perhaps the gifted Guy Pearce who is fascinating and fun as a businessman rogue — none of this and no one is given enough screen time and anything like a scene that we may dwell upon before the screen once again is splashed with visual violence.

The story, if there is a story, seems completely out of control. It takes the form of a smash and a splat. And the plot gathers no strength in its reins when it arrives, very late at the party. Until then, we are raped with the spectacle of calamity upon calamity, and none of them moved me or scared me or more than distantly entertained me, although they are very pretty even when they are hard to follow. And they are hard, for they are edited so spastically who can register them? It is the way with such films. We are not supposed to follow them. We are supposed only to be impressed. The problem is that the effects are impressive without making any real impression. Except for one marvelous air rescue that is really quite simple and a treat. But what we have here is a story in which no one is in peril, which means an adventure story without an adventure – meaning without danger. The explosions are too cataclysmic to threaten anybody.

You sit back and you haven’t wasted your dime. Not a bit. The actors are somewhat wasted amid the monotonous detonations, some of them internal.

Nor can we forgive the stifling excess by claiming it is a comic book, and meant for the mentality of boys. Of course it is. That’s why one goes. But that does not exactly excuse incompetence, does it?  Or maybe it does – if that’s the true subject here.

Yes. That must be it. It is a blockbuster about how everyone flops! Trouble is you never know what they were trying to do to start out with!

But still, it is impossible, it really is, it is impossible, to really dislike it.

 

Flight

09 Nov

Flight –– directed by Robert Zemeckis. Melodrama. An alcoholic and drug addicted pilot saves a disintegrating passenger plane from crashing, and then suffers the consequences. 138 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★
You might want to go in order to see the performance of James Badge Dale as a free-associating cancer patient on a chemo-high. His appearance is so welcome one hopes that the film will take off in this direction of brilliant decor, as Renoir’s films were wont to do –– but no. The film remains predictable from its unpredictable start, which takes us into an exciting crisis aboard a malfunctioning aircraft. To save the ship we have that old reliable ship-saver Denzel Washington. Washington is, as Sydney Poitier was the proud black hero, the powerful black hero. With what wit, what sangfroid, does he give the odd orders that will save his nose-diving airliner! Wonderful! And then…and then he has to face the music of have a blood test come out positive for a snort of cocaine and two mini shots of vodka. Ah, I had hoped to see a rare performance here. Washington has been doing serious stage work, so when he comes under official scrutiny, he has drunk scenes to play, which he plays well, and scenes of personal insecurity, which he plays well, but the time comes when he has to tell the investigating board, spearheaded by Melissa Leo, about those two shots of vodka, and boy does he chew the scenery. He rolls his tongue into one cheek and then into the other, then back to the first, just as Olivier used to do, in similar straits, straits which in Olivier’s case he caused himself by doing such things. Washington pauses until an entire freight train can pass, he hesitates, he under-projects, he does everything a human actor can do to disguise the lousy line he has to answer: “In your opinion did the stewardess drink those two bottles?” It’s not a line any investigator would speak, for the answer to the line is, “It’s not proper to offer an opinion on the matter. It’s not proper of you to ask the question. Opinion has nothing to do with it.” And then, of course, he tells the truth and pays the price. But so do we, for we next find him in a prison speaking to an AA meeting, but in such a dour, gravid, and solemn manner that it is impossible for us to swallow the medicine prescribed. We’d rather see him drunk. Or, no, we’d rather see him happy, joyous, and free, as is the speaker at the AA meeting he first attends with his girlfriend. So we are left, not with a message to black males from their idol, Denzel, about the wreckage addiction causes, but with an almost caddish preachment, which will beguile no one towards the path of sobriety at all. So the film ends by the actor making the character dull. The light in his eye has gone out. No one applauds. The film is perfectly and usefully cast. Don Cheadle plays his lawyer, Bruce Greenwood his ally at the union. Pete Gerety is marvelous as the owner of his airline. They have very good lines. Their scenes, each by each, are effective and surprising. John Goodman, always a welcome presence, plays Washington’s drug fixer in a turn that delights the senses. The material in its details is unexpected. But the films as a whole falls flat. This is inevitable when a main character is given star treatment, because its actor is a star. Washington has presented himself as the power hero for years. Poitier was never sexually powerful (righteous people seldom are), but he was beautiful and earnest, and firm. For Washington whole chapters of acting are open that Poitier was never called upon to explore, and, besides, Poitier did not have the gift for exploration. He had anger and a searching eye. Moreover he was not American, he was Jamaican, while Washington is American all through. Poitier would lack believability in a role such as this. But also such roles as this did not exist in his day, which is not far past. But the danger artistically is the same for both of them: to exploit their star presence and replace acting with it. There are moments here when Washington does just this –– the mouth drawn down in taciturn authority, for one. I wanted a great piece of work from Washington here, and why isn’t it here? In that odd scene with James Badge Dale (uncuttable because it’s the scene where the hero and heroine meet), you see Dale alert, standing within himself, doing it, whereas you see Washington sitting back inside his star authority on a break. His choice might better have been to be eager for Dale to shut up, so he could get to talk to the girl. So his is a performance interesting in certain details but not in all, and not in its overall arc, which, like the film itself, is politically and politely pat.

 

Talk To Me

14 Mar

Talk To Me — directed by Kasi Lemmons. Backstage Bio-drama. A wild-talking ex-con shoots for a job as a DJ on a stuffy Washington radio station. 118 minutes Color 2007.

★★★★★

This beautifully written and directed picture ought not to surprise, since its star Don Cheadle has fostered a number of interesting projects in the past, except that one finds him here far to right of the mode of Hotel Rwanda, and its saintly hero. Cheadle has the eyes of a saint, so it’s natural for him to be cast as the good boy getting even better. However, in this piece he is cast as the devil incarnate. He dresses like a circus and he talks like one too. It’s a really brilliant turn, and it stays in the delightful realm of a horse movie until the character, Petey Greene, who is a real-life person, must go on air to calm the rioters on the death of MLK. The film becomes very moving, nowhere more so than in the performance of Martin Sheen as the head of the station. At which point the story focuses on Petey Greene’s mentor, Dewey Hughes, who wants to raise Petey to national prominence as a stand-up performer of black palaver. His manager is played by another superior actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, always fascinating to watch. (You will remember him from Dirty Pretty Things.) It’s interesting for me to see him act through his eyes, for it’s through the strength of the daring of their big open vulnerable plains that everything is delivered. With Cheadle, his eyes are where everything is hidden. He allures with half-lids. Dancing between these two is Taraji B. Henson, whose Afros get huger with every scene and who scallywags through the film with brilliant spontaneity doing a female impersonation that is extremely funny and always on target. The director has commanded all sorts of forces to her aid, and they all do well: the costumes of the period of the late 60s and the riots and the lighting of the black actors to register their skin tones for us properly. I found it quite satisfying, and as with Cheadle’s other efforts both gripping and educational. Educational. Is that a bad word? Not for me. For me it means an experience that is both humbling and enlarging.

 

 

Crash

15 Nov

Crash — Directed by Paul Haggis. Detective Story. A fender bender leads to a web of universal bigotry. 112 minutes Color 2004.

* * * *

Anger is an emotion easy for actors to access, and this film registers as blatantly misdirected from so much of it being allowed them, anger, anger, anger, Venetian-blinded with tears, another easy access for actors. This is too bad, because it makes the film hermetic, self-congratulatory, and monotonous, or rather bi-tonous. Thandie Newton is clearly an excellent and well-trained actress, but she is allowed both expressions to a degree which cancels out her role quite nicely; fury added to the lachrymose equals nothing, because either one subtracts the other, either concurrently or sequentially, that is, either in a given scene or in scene by scene. Crash is written and directed by white males, who seem mightily pleased with themselves for having essayed the subject of bigotry out loud, and I do not know whether this causes the picture’s scenes with the black actors to fail, but they do —with the one exception of Terrence Howard’s, and for a very good reason, that being that he allows his character to bring a degree of modulation into the playing. There is only one actor who should be allowed tears in this film, and that is Beverly Todd, playing the mother of a slaughtered son. And there are only two characters who should be allowed out-and-out anger in this story, and neither one of them are angry because of bigotry but because they were born angry. The second of them is the storeowner played by Shaun Toub who is brilliantly horrible as a stupid berserk patriarch illiterate. The first is Sandra Bullock whose rage should set a tone which should never be duplicated again in the picture, but modulated and pulled underground by the actors, to make visual what the story actually tells which is that everyone is overtly or secretly a bigot. The scene in which the Don Cheadle character is offered a job in return for shutting up about a certain cop-slaying is a scene played with an excellent actor, William Fitchner, who simply is misdirected to play for excitement or insensitivity, whereas something else would be much more interesting, sympathy, for instance, o=r “Will you offended by what I am about to say?” As it is, we immediately take sides against him, which loses the conflict and thus loses the scene. Over and over again the direction causes the material to fall back in on itself, no more noticeably than when the music stoops to soften us up at the end with a dictatorial sentimentality. Because the film is essentially well written, the execution needed to be more subtle than glaring – after all, bigotry has already been put forth: Elia Kazan made Pinky way back when – and so all we get as our allowed response is “Aint it awful,” but, in fact, sadness and sympathy are not enough. Everyone’s done good? Nah. They have, but smugness is the wrong thing to end up with. Sandra Bullock’s playing is a miracle of impenitence, but she ends up in the arms of her Hispanic maid, saying, “You’re my only friend,” when the fact is that the maid would have many friends, of whom the Sandra Bullock character still knows and wishes to know nothing, while Sandra Bullock’s character unbeknownst to Bullock, is not one of the maid’s friends at all. It won Oscars that year for Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Film, and many other awards from other awarders. Matt Dillon did not win best supporting actor Oscar, but his moments while saving from a burning car while he’s lying on top of her a woman whom he has molested are remarkable in this actors long, underestimated, and remarkable career. Michael Peña is excellent as the locksmith whom Shaun Toub is too incensed to make sense of.  The picture is worth seeing for its diction and for the modesty of most of its cast, insofar as they were allowed it: Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, and many others.

 

 

Traitor

11 Mar

Traitor – Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff – Spy Action. A CIA agent tracks down a Muslim demolition expert. 117 minutes Color 2008

What makes makes an actor excellent – sometimes without our even knowing it? Why does the appearance of Guy Pearce on the screen of this picture elevate the level of everything going on in it? Judy Garland had this ability and so does Alice in Alice In Wonderland. I do not know the answer, but certain qualities are worth considering and watching for. Let’s set aside his technique. Technique, it has been said, is the ability to make things right when they are going wrong – but this does not apply to film acting, because if an actor of the level of stardom of Pearce goes wrong, they just reshoot, so you never even begin to see the crash. There are other aspects of technique besides the ability to adjust in an emergency. For instance, Guy Pearce is a master of vocal disguise. It’s a gift, meaning he has a bent for it and it’s easy for him, once he has husbanded a particular accent, to sound natural in it. In this case, listen for President Jimmy Carter, softened. Also listen to his voice production; he doesn’t whisper; he’s fully audible; he is playing a balanced, soft-spoken, even-tempered character. You never have this played out for you; Pearce arrives with it, before he gets to the door. So you are given a certain character tuning, and a certain Southern accent, and a certain vocal volume. So much present are these that they fall by us unnoticed, as they should. For Pearce does not present himself as a virtuoso performer – as Frederic March does. He is not here for his craft to be noticed. He is here to do an honest job and play the role. One wonders how he can sustain a performance of this tactical moderation opposite the over-acting of the other actors, all of whom conventionalize their parts. The film is quite bad, bad direction, bad music, and bad script by the director who should have not done this to us. An absurd film, unconvincing at every point. An action-adventure spy story which is meant to whitewash Muslim devotion, and does the opposite because its hero is basically fanatic; one wonders why Don Cheadle engaged in it. Cheadle seems to have elected himself the heir of Morgan Freeman in the moral black male role model line. It is ruinous for an actor to be “good”. Pearce, although he is out to get the bad guys never strikes that note. There’s honesty in the gaze of his rectangular eyes that skirts all pretense. It looks, it searches, it responds. It allows us to be there. Watch for him, whenever he appears, and see him.

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