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Entries in Don Cheadle (4)

Thursday
May022013

Iron Man 3

If you ask me “The Avengers” was one of the most overrated movies of last year. For those of you who haven’t already stopped reading, allow me to explain. Despite some good laughs and some high flying action, I found “The Avengers” to be narratively unfocused. Its tone was inconsistent, its drama fell flat and the character progression that had developed through each hero’s individual movies was brought to a screeching halt. With the exception of perhaps Thor, every character ended the movie exactly the same as they began. While not necessarily a bad thing to shoot for mindless popcorn entertainment, I wanted more, especially given that the majority of the other films had done such a good job getting those characters to that point. “Iron Man 3,” at least in this sense, is a return to form. Tony Stark is still the lovable goof we know him as, but we get to see a different side of him this time, a side that one might not expect from a world renowned superhero. Despite some terrific action, this is substance over style and that is its greatest strength.

The film takes place after the events of “The Avengers” and Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is even more of a celebrity than he was before. However, those events have caused some emotional trauma within him and he’s finding himself unable to sleep at night, despite his gorgeous girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), laying by his side. He instead spends most nights tinkering with his tools and building Iron Man suits. This may prove to be a good thing, however, because a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been blowing up landmarks all across the country and now has his sights set on the President. After one of these explosions puts his old bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital, he takes it upon himself to challenge the Mandarin and sets off to stop him before he harms more people.

Robert Downey Jr. did a marvelous thing when he first became Iron Man back in 2008. He took a comic book character that, at least when compared to the heavy hitters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, was considered third rate and instantly made him his own. The character he created out of Tony Stark instantly hooked viewers, catapulting Iron Man to A-list status, right alongside those aforementioned heroes. However, the success of the character and the movies themselves didn’t rest entirely on Downey Jr.’s performances, but rather his performances were complemented by clever stories and witty dialogue that fleshed out the character. In “Iron Man 3,” his character comes along even further.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Tony Stark is afraid. He’s suffering from what could only be classified as post-traumatic stress disorder and has become uncertain of his abilities. The pressure has become too much to bear and at multiple points in the movie, he has to battle panic attacks, knowing all too well that he is the only one that can stop the evil Mandarin and his terrorist lackeys from killing again. Watching a superhero try to cope with these conflicting thoughts and emotions—the desire to do what’s right with the fear of failing—is fascinating and though it’s not an entirely unexplored area in superhero movies, doing so with the otherwise cocky Stark gives it more weight. He’s not a character that openly wrestles with his emotions, but rather one that hides them under the veil of confidence. To see them finally surface makes this “Iron Man,” at least in regards to character exploration and progression, the best of them all.

This theme isn’t entirely consistent throughout the movie, however, particularly when he essentially becomes a stealth assassin and singlehandedly infiltrates the Mandarin’s hideout while taking out a number of armed bodyguards on the way (all outside of his suit, too). To follow up scenes of doubt and dread with some of the boldest actions he’s ever pulled off in the calmest demeanor he’s ever had shows an all too obvious conflict between the film’s desire to provide thrills while also telling a meaningful story. Yet one can’t help but be thankful that theme is at least implemented. This is a film that aims higher than popcorn action like “The Avengers,” which didn’t try to hit these emotional levels at all.

What some may find surprising—and the reason this character evaluation succeeds despite some stumbles—is that Tony Stark spends far more time outside of his suit than in. “Iron Man 3” is far more focused on character and plot than bangs and booms. This focus doesn’t only relate to Stark either, but the other characters as well. In particular, one terrific plot twist brings about some huge laughs and makes us reevaluate the antagonist in a way we rarely get to at the movies.

“Iron Man 3” has nearly everything one could want from a superhero movie and wraps up the trilogy in an exciting and satisfying way, and that’s in spite of its flaws. It’s tough to say if this will hold up alongside the plethora of other big name action movies being released in the coming weeks, but it’s a terrific way to start the summer and proves that superhero movies are far from running their course.

Iron Man 3 receives 4/5

Friday
Nov022012

Flight

It’s been 12 years since director Robert Zemeckis stepped behind the camera for a live action feature. Having become seemingly obsessed with motion capture technology over the years, he has pumped out The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol in that time, raising the visual bar while neglecting the raw emotion that made his previous movies like Cast Away and Forrest Gump so successful. Finally, Zemeckis is back trying to capture that feeling again with this week’s Flight. Although the attempt is nothing less than admirable and welcome, the execution is inconsistent. For every subtle point it makes, it pounds you over the head with another and for every emotional scene it creates, it ruins it with over-the-top melodrama soon after. What could have been a truly great movie, one that vied for end of year awards and “Best of 2012” spots turns into a functional, if underwhelming, drama that strikes out just as often as it home runs.

The film begins with a man named Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) waking up in a hotel room, hung over from the night before. It’s instantly clear that the man has a substance abuse problem and he verifies it soon after by snorting a line of coke. Whip is actually a pilot and he’s scheduled to fly just a few hours from now. When he arrives on the plane, he seems his normal self, but he’s still under the influence of the alcohol and drugs in his system. Unluckily for everyone on board, there is an equipment malfunction and the plane starts going down. Calm and collectively, Whip takes drastic measures to land the plane as safely as possible and ends up saving 96 out of 102 people on board. Soon afterwards, he becomes a national sensation, partially because of his heroic actions and partially because of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board that found drugs in his blood. With the help of attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) and the love of a recovering junkie, Nicole (Kelly Reilly), he sets out to clear his name, despite his wrongful actions.

And thus begins a film whose structure has you at constant odds with yourself. Whip clearly put the lives of the people on the plane in danger when he showed up drunk and high on drugs, but the cause of the crash was not his own. There was a mechanical failure that caused the plane to go down and it was Whip’s clear-headedness and professional actions that ultimately saved those people on board. As pointed out later in the movie, there are only a handful of people who could do what he did—other pilots acting out simulations all failed and killed everyone on board. Without him, they would all be dead. But does that fact excuse his state of being? Should he be brought to justice for the drugs in his body or should he be heralded as a hero? Finding a clear answer isn’t easy and this is where the film works best. It doesn’t ever seem to take sides one way or the other and it lets you come to your own conclusion based on the evidence that is presented.

With a narrative such as this (spoilers!), the main character needs to have some type of redemptive moment, some type of realization that he’s heading down the wrong path in life and needs to shape up. This is where the film misses the mark. Rather than create an arc for the character, his eventual redemption comes suddenly and all in one late scene, so close to the credits that the emotional repercussions don’t have time to resonate. Whip’s decisions prior to this moment hardly do enough to set up such feeling, so it likely won’t matter to the majority of viewers anyway. This late climax is followed by perhaps one or two quick scenes, which are full of the most heavy-handed monologues and dialogue exchanges you can imagine, that further devolve Flight into little more than an average experience.

In the end, what really convinced me to recommend Flight is its incredible plane crash opening. Although I can’t speak for its authenticity when looking at it from a real world perspective, I can say that it’s one of the most frightening and intense things you’ll see all year. It sets the bar high for a movie that should have been as emotionally gripping as it was viscerally exciting, but, unfortunately, that bar isn’t reached or even come close to. Like many of this year’s so called “Oscar contenders,” Flight has the ingredients to be something special, but struggles to get off the ground.

Flight receives 2.5/5

Thursday
May062010

Iron Man 2

There are superhero movies and then there’s Iron Man. The original movie, when it was released back in 2008, was about as fun as anybody possibly could have hoped for. My reluctance going into it stemming from my lack of faith in the character—a hero I considered a B-lister—and doubt in Robert Downey Jr.’s ability to pull off the role set me up for amazement. And amazed I was. Iron Man was a comic book adaptation done right and it blew me away. It suffered from mild problems here and there, but was otherwise a fantastic summer action flick with a solid structure and substance to back it up. Its sequel, unfortunately, fails to elicit that same excitement. While still fun in its own right, the whole of the film runs into some large setbacks that keep it from reaching that rare “better than the original” status.

Iron Man 2 begins six months after the events of the first movie. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has outed himself to the world as Iron Man and is now reveling in the glory that comes with such a title. He’s a celebrity, but the government considers his suit to be a weapon and demands its handover, a demand he easily refuses. Meanwhile, a Russian man named Ivan (better known as Whiplash, played by Mickey Rourke), has set out to destroy him. After an early encounter, Ivan winds up in jail, but is busted out by a powerful weapons mogul competing with Tony’s “Stark Industries” company named Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

That seems to be the least of Tony’s problems, however, because it turns out that the energy source he uses to keep him alive is poisoning his blood and slowly killing him. He has been keeping this news to himself and hasn't yet told his personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his new secretary Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) or his friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle taking over the role from Terrence Howard), the latter of whom steals Tony’s Iron Man technology and hands it over to the government for testing. But things don’t slow down yet, because Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is visiting him to find out if he is a suitable candidate for S.H.I.E.L.D., some type of agency that Tony knows little about but hopes to get to the bottom of soon.

If not already evident, Iron Man 2 suffers from Spider-Man 3 syndrome. It tries to pack too much into one movie. On top of the new character introductions, including a reintroduction of an already established character in the form of Rhodes as War Machine, this movie tries to incorporate the story at hand, the mystery of S.H.I.E.L.D., the romantic relationship between Tony and Pepper and the unknown past of Tony Stark, delving into the relationship he had with his father and the significance it holds in present day, into one cohesive whole.

Its hands are certainly full, but Iron Man 2 doesn’t stop there. It tries to juggle comedy and drama while still being a fun action flick and keels over because of it. Its tone is all over the place. Much like the other recent superhero movie, Kick Ass, no single tone is ever established and the abrupt and sudden turns it takes are unpleasant and amateurish.

Due to this, some characters don’t get their required screen time. Whiplash, for instance, is mostly relegated to engineer work, tinkering inside of giant robots and sitting in front of computers. His first big action scene is a blast and, though short, the concluding fight with him is fun to watch, but everything in the middle is a bore. He goes missing for a good chunk of the movie despite being the prominent evildoer and this is where the film starts to go awry by trying to pack in its laundry list of to-dos.

The one thing Iron Man 2 has going for it that outshines its predecessor are its action scenes. Many, including me, complained about the mediocre brawls in the first movie, including an anti-climactic final battle that finished out the picture with a whimper. That downfall is rectified here and the action scenes are a thrill to watch, even if some do come about arbitrarily.

But the substance from that first film is missing. The villain, played by Jeff Bridges, was more compelling because as we learned about Tony Stark, we also learned about him. We got to see both evolve over the course of the movie, one using his technological prowess for good while the other spiraled out of control into pure hate and rage.

Iron Man 2 misses all of that. It’s a shadow of its former self and is a rather substantial step backwards for the franchise. If the first was truly great, this sequel is merely okay. It has some positive characteristics, like a great sense of humor (though isolated by its poor mix of drama), and the performances, especially from Downey Jr., are terrific, but it’s too cluttered for its own good. It's worth seeing, but don’t be surprised when you’re primary feeling walking out is underwhelmed.

Iron Man 2 receives 3/5

Friday
Mar052010

Brooklyn's Finest

It's been eight years since director Antoine Fuqua brought us Training Day, the gritty crime drama that netted Denzel Washington his second Oscar. In between that terrific film, he has helmed a few pictures that have been hit and miss among fans and critics, Tears of the Sun and Shooter among them. Now it seems as if he's trying to strike gold twice with Brooklyn's Finest, which can only be described as Training Day-lite. While this movie deals with some similar issues (and even goes so far as to cast Denzel's counterpart in that film, Ethan Hawke), it's unfocused, meandering and it tries to justify evil if the end result is good, which I would hope any moral, upstanding citizen could see the hypocrisy in.

The film follows a number of cops as they deal with crime in Brooklyn. Hawke plays Sal, a dirty cop trying to pay for a new home for his family, Richard Gere plays Eddie, a suicidal police officer only a week away from retirement, and Don Cheadle plays Tango, an undercover cop who finds himself struggling with his allegiance because he has a duty to bring down the bad guys, but one of those bad men by the name of Caz, played by Wesley Snipes, previously saved his life and he refuses to bust him. A dirty cop, an undercover cop and a cop one week away from retirement. It's three cliches rolled into one.

The three stories do intersect at times, however rarely that may be, but I suspect the physical intersections are not the crutch of the movie, but rather the way each character's emotions get in the way of their true goals. In that regard, they all find themselves in the same boat, yet their stories play out so differently that that argument would be hard to make.

The most irksome part of Brooklyn's Finest, however, is its portrayal of these men as good men despite the evil things they have done or, in some cases, are doing. As previously mentioned, Sal can't afford a new home for his family. He has a wife and a couple of children and twins are on the way. The house they live in is encompassed with rotting wood and his wife's lungs are working three times the amount they should be due to her asthma and her breathing in mold. He needs to get them out of there. I understood this hardship and I felt for him, but the way he gets things done is inexcusable. He murders drug runners and steals their money. The film tries to make the case that there's nothing else this man can do and besides, he's killing bad guys so it's ok, right?

Eddie, on the other hand, is a cop who turns the other way when bad things go down. Early in the movie, he's on patrol with a rookie cop and the young man tries to break up a dispute between a feuding couple after the man slaps the woman. This is the right thing to do, but Eddie pulls him away and they drive off. He tells him to think nothing of it and just go home. Of course, Eddie has a change of heart by the end of the movie, but one good action does not forgive his years of neglection.

This happens with damn near every character. The film puts them on a pedestal and tries to rationalize their way of being. It doesn't work and instead of feeling for the hardships these characters are going through, I ended up loathing them all. None deserved my sympathy.

I suppose Brooklyn's Finest is technically a well made film. Fuqua directs it competently and the performances, though hit and miss at times, are far from bad, but its the twisted vindication the picture gives each character that really derails it. It tries to ask questions about what is considered right and wrong, but what's right and wrong doesn't change simply because the situation you're in calls for it to. Wrong is wrong no matter the predicament.

Brooklyn's Finest receives 2/5