Don Cheadle

Flight

flight_photo

2012

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Produced by Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parks, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey

Written by John Gatins

Denzel Washington is such a magnificent actor that’s easy to forget just how good he is because he does it on such a consistent basis. He’s one of the few actors that you actually have to rack your brain to come up with a movie where he turns in a bad performance. And just for the record, my choice for that would be 1990’s “Heart Condition” a truly wretched comedy he did with Bob Hoskins. And he excels at playing just about every kind of character you can think of but it’s really something to see him play William “Whip” Whitaker, an airplane pilot who consumes alcohol and cocaine in such quantities that’s it a wonder he can find the bathroom, much less fly a plane.

But in FLIGHT it’s exactly his drug and alcohol addiction that is at the core of the movie. Of course, Whip had no business getting on the plane while high. But would a sober pilot have taken the chance of flying a commercial airplane with 102 people on board upside down to bring it out of a dive? A dive that certainly would have killed everyone on board. Whip crash-lands the plane in a field. Six people are killed but still it is nothing less than a miracle that anybody at all was able to walk away from the plane. The movie raises the definitely controversial suggestion that it actually was Whip’s breakfast of vodka and cocaine pumping in his system that enabled him to pull off the unconventional maneuver.

Denzel-Washington-in-Flight

Whip is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, who performed a toxicology screen on him while he was unconscious in the hospital after the crash. Whip’s slick union lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) is positive he can get the toxicology report buried. If he can’t then Whip will find himself up on manslaughter charges. But there is an excellence chance that the cause of the crash was a malfunction in the plane’s structure itself. Of course it would help if Whip can stay sober until after his hearing so as not to give the press even the slightest suspicion that there’s anything wrong with him.

Good luck with that. Whip’s alcoholism actually gets worse even though his heroin addicted girlfriend Nicole (Kelly Reilly) is getting help recovering from her problem and she soon realizes that staying with Whip isn’t exactly good for her sobriety. Whip’s old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) finally has to admit that Whip’s illness is far worse than he knew and absolutely beyond his control to deal with.

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Not that there isn’t a lot of blame to go around with the crash of SouthJet Flight 227.  The night before Whip and one of his flight attendants (Nadine Velazquez) partied it up with plenty of booze, coke and sex. The senior flight attendant Margaret (Tamara Tunie) knew that the both of them were high when they stepped on the plane and later on, Whip’s co-pilot Ken (Peter Gerety) admits to Whip that he called his wife to tell her that he was worried as he could smell the alcohol on Whip. But neither he nor Margaret said anything which makes them just as responsible if the NTSB finds that Whip was responsible for the plane’s crashing.

Whip Whitaker is the sort of role that an actor takes when they want to show that they can ACT and while Denzel Washington long ago proved that, I do see why he wanted this role. It’s wildly against the type of role we like to see Denzel in and after seeing this movie I understand why so many black women disliked the movie. They didn’t want to see an alcoholic, drug addicted Denzel Washington messin’ around with a heroin addicted white woman. They got enough on their hands dealing with brothers out here already doing that. In addition, Denzel isn’t his usual suave, handsome self. He plays an alcoholic mess and he truly does look the part. Although I wonder if a guy who gets as high as Whip does on a regular basis could hold down his job as long as he did without his problem being detected or affecting his job.

The supporting performances don’t really stand out as this is Denzel’s show all the way but I liked them all. John Goodman breezes in and out as Whip’s drug dealer, bringing dependable comic relief with him. Kelly Reilly is an actress I’m unfamiliar with but she does a capable job. Don Cheadle is a guy who is usually all high energy but not here. He’s calm and relaxed, even when he’s faced with such a train wreck of a client. The always wonderful-to-watch Melissa Leo shows up in a small but pivotal part at the end of the movie. And Bruce Greenwood is always a pleasure to watch.

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So should you see FLIGHT? If you’re a Denzel Washington fan you probably already have. It’s a movie I definitely wouldn’t have expected from director Robert Zemeckis as it’s a fearsomely dark movie which is most certainly not light entertainment. It’s an exploration of addiction at its most harrowing and out of control. It’s not a fun movie but it is an exceptionally well-made one and if you have a strong stomach, I recommend it highly.

Rated R

138 Minutes

Brooklyn’s Finest

2010

Overture Films

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced  by Basil Iwanyk, John Langley, John Thompson and Elie Cohn

Written by Michael C. Martin

It struck me even back then as somewhat unusual and even slightly humorous  that the two police/crime movies to hit theaters that year were actually throwbacks.  “Cop Out” is a homage to The 1980’s Buddy Cop Movie.  If you’ve seen “Lethal Weapon” “The Last Boy Scout” “Bulletproof” “Bad Boys” “Money Train” or “Running Scared” then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

BROOKLYN’S FINEST reminded me a lot of an old school cop movie from the 70’s or 80’s.  Amped up with a lot more violence, drug use and sex but still, it’s a throwback to an era when directors, writers and actors weren’t afraid to make their characters unlikable and unsympathetic.  Many of the characters in BROOKLYN’S FINEST do some pretty reprehensible things.  Including the three police officers the movie follows as they walk a moral tightrope that threatens to break under them every day.

Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) has been a beat cop for twenty-two years and he’s down to his last seven days before retirement.  He has no family, no future and no desire to do anything more than ride out those last seven days as quietly as possible.  The last thing he needs or wants is to be given an ambitious rookie to train.  But his commanding officer appeals to his last crumb of pride; “Don’t you want your last week to mean something?”

Detective Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) needs money and a lot of it.  He’s got a too small house full of kids and his wife (Lili Taylor) is pregnant with twins.  On top of that, her lungs are clogged with wood mold that aggravates her asthma and jeopardizes the health of their unborn children.  Sal heads up drug raids on crack houses where the bathtubs are full of money and he’s been helping himself here and there.  But it’s not enough.  The bills are piling up and there’s this brand new house he needs a down payment for.

Clarence Butler (Don Cheadle) aka ‘Tango’ is an extremely successful undercover detective.  He’s been working the drug trade in Brownsville and is best friends with Casanova Phillips (Wesley Snipes) one of the most powerful and successful drug lords in Brooklyn.  Tango, despite all his instincts and training has developed a real friendship with Casanova.  A friendship that means nothing to his boss Lt. Hobarts (Will Patton) and an ambitious Federal Agent (Ellen Barkin).  They want Tango to set up Casanova for a federal bust.  It means a way out of the undercover game for Tango.  A game that has already cost Tango his marriage and threatens his sanity, not to mention his life as Casanova has suspicions there’s a snitch in his camp.

Sounds like a hell of a thriller, doesn’t it?  Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this but while it is entertaining enough; BROOKLYN’S FINEST isn’t exactly the home run you would think it would be from the cast and director.  Remember that Antoine Fuqua is the director who gave us “Training Day” which really did put a new spin on the cop movie genre.   But while watching BROOKLYN’S FINEST I got the distinct feeling of ‘been there, done that’.  The influences of movies such as “Deep Cover” “New Jack City” “Cop” and “Report To The Commissioner” run through the movie.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Not at all.  But it’s just that there’s nothing ambitious about BROOKLYN’S FINEST and no attempt to bring anything new to this familiar story of When Good Cops Go Bad.

One of the major flaws is that I never got the sense I was watching one cohesive story.  The three cops all work in the same precinct but never interact except for one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchange between Dugan and Procida.  And there’s a brief scene where Dugan and Tango literally bump into each other and that’s it.  The movie is constantly bouncing between the three stories and quite honestly, the Dugan story sucks the life out of the other two.  Every time we cut to Dugan the pacing and energy of the movie slowly dials down and when we get back to Tango’s story or Sal’s story, director Antoine Fuqua has to work twice as hard to regain that momentum back.

The acting is as good as you would expect from the cast.  Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle are so good on screen together and their scenes snap, crackle and pop so much that you’ll wish the movie had been more about them.  Cheadle also has some great scenes with Ellen Barkin as Federal Agent Smith.  Barkin goes toe-to-toe with Cheadle in the acting ring and gives just as good as she gets.

Richard Gere is very good playing the soon to be retired Dugan.  We’re told several times during the movie that Dugan’s career was ‘undistinguished’ and ‘unmemorable’ but I think he’s a guy who sees being a cop as just a job and not a Holy Calling.  He’s not out to save the world like his ambitious trainee.  He just wants to go home at the end of the day and drink himself into oblivion.

I did find it funny that the tanned, handsome, obviously well-fed, fit and distinguishably silver-haired Richard Gere is supposed to be the burnt-out alcoholic when it’s Ethan Hawke who really acts like one.  With his greasy hair hanging in his face, pale as milk skin, twitchy mannerisms, chain smoking and looking as if he’s only read or heard about the beneficial personal daily use of soap and water, Ethan Hawke’s character is so wired it’s as if he’s about to run through the screen right at us screaming like a madman at any moment.   It’s also funny that even though we’re constantly told the Gere character is a raging alcoholic we only see him take a drink twice during the movie’s 133 minutes running time.

So should you see BROOKLYN’S FINEST?  I’d say yes but it’s not what I would call a Must See.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s as solidly professional a movie as you could hope for.  The acting and direction are right on point.  But the story (or should I say stories) aren’t anything new and there’s some fancy juggling the writer has to do at the end to finally have the fates of the three cops all play out in the same building in Brownsville’s Van Dyke housing project that I didn’t entirely buy but what the hell.  If you enjoy a down-and-dirty cop movie that isn’t afraid to wallow in its own excess of drugs, sex and violence then by all means check out BROOKLYN’S FINEST.

133 minutes

Rated R:  And it lives up to its rating so don’t say I didn’t warn you.  This movie has extremely vulgar language, brutal and bloody violence as well as graphic sex scenes.

Iron Man 2

2010

Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Kevin Feige and Susan Downey

Written by Justin Theroux

Based on “Iron Man” created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics.

I think the success of the first “Iron Man” and IRON MAN 2 has to be given to both Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau.  Nothing in their past movie work indicated that either of them were capable of producing such a hip, smart and fun superhero movie as the first one and they’ve pulled off the feat of making a sequel that is just as hip, smart and fun.  IRON MAN 2 isn’t better than the first one. But it’s just as good and sometimes when you’re making a superhero movies that is examined with such a critical eye by lifelong fans of such a wildly popular character, ‘just as good’ is as good as you can possibly get.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) seemingly has the world on a golden string.  Thanks to his Iron Man technology he’s made the world a safer place.  He’s hosting a Stark Expo, reviving a tradition started by his late father Howard Stark (John Slattery) where he outlines a plan for world peace.  Tony’s so beloved by the American public that he can tell a Congressional Committee on national TV to go to hell.  The Committee, headed by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) demands that the Iron Man technology be given over to The Defense Department and Tony being the arrogant narcissistic genius that he is (hey, that’s what it says in his file) refuses, assuring the Committee that the rest of the world is years away from having anything remotely close to his technology.

That’s before Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) shows up, wielding fearsome whip-like weapons powered by a duplicate of the arc reactor that powers Iron Man and keeps Tony Stark alive.  The secret of Vanko’s power source is wrapped up in a mystery involving Vanko’s father as well as Tony’s.  A secret that is shared by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who is aware that Tony is dying from palladium poisoning.  Palladium is a necessary component of the arc reactor and won’t work without it.  There’s only one way to save Tony’s life but that involves the impossible: creating a new element.

But Tony may not have time to accomplish that feat seeing as how his best friend Air Force Lt. Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes has given the Defense Department Tony’s Mark II version of the Iron Man armor.  The suit is handed over to Tony’s main business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) with instructions to weaponize the suit to the max.  Doing so will turn the wearer of the armor in a veritable War Machine.  Fortunately Tony has plenty of help thanks to his able assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who steps up to the plate and takes over running Tony’s company while he’s dealing with his multiple problems.  And as always, Tony is ably backed up by his bodyguard/chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) And if that isn’t enough, there’s Tony’s new assistant Natalie Rushman ( Scarlett Johansson) who is really S.H.I.E.L.D. agent extraordinaire Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow.

Now even in that brief summation of the plot you should get the impression that there’s a lot going on in IRON MAN 2 and you’re absolutely right.  There’s a whole lot going on but the story isn’t anywhere as confusing as I’ve heard folks say it is.  And I appreciate a superhero hero movie that has a lot of pieces in play.  There are a lot of characters in the movie and they’ve all got their own agendas working.  It makes for a story where all the characters have something at stake and aren’t just hanging around.

Robert Downey, Jr. once more does a masterful job of playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.  I don’t know of another actor today who can play such an arrogant jerk and make us love him.  I put it down toDowney’s unpredictability as an actor.  You just don’t know what he’s going to do next but you know it’s going to be amazing.  The rapport he has with Gwyneth Paltrow on screen is nothing short of terrific.  It’s truly fun to watch anytime they’re on screen together.

Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Tony’s best friend Rhodey and it’s an upgrade as Cheadle is by far the better of the two actors and he and Downey have a much better on-screen rapport.  Gary Shandling is surprisingly good in a small but pivotal role.  Sam Rockwell doesn’t play the Justin Hammer of the comics but his incarnation of the character is just fine by me.  Sam Rockwell is one of the most dependable actors working today as I don’t believe he’s capable of turning in a bad performance.  Mickey Rourke fits in surprisingly well as the main bad guy.  Rourke’s character doesn’t say a whole lot but his actions are what sets everything else in the movie in motion and Hammer as he is in this movie simply isn’t strong enough of an antagonist for Tony Stark/Iron Man but I strongly suspect we’ll be seeing Justin Hammer again and he’ll be a lot meaner next time around.

What else?  The screenplay by Justin Theroux is marvelously smart and witty and contains actual dialog and not stock conversations we’ve heard in a dozen other action/superhero movies.  Everybody has a unique voice and it’s always a pleasure to listen to dialog written by somebody who knows how to write it.  My major gripe with this movie?  You’re not gonna believe it but here goes: would it really have killed them to name Clark Gregg’s character Jasper Sitwell?  Because I don’t care what they call him, that’s who he’s playing.  And I want more Black Widow movies starring Scarlett Johansson.

So should you see IRON MAN 2?  Chances are you already have and at this point are either giving me a nod of agreement or giving me the digitus impudicus.  I thought it was a whole lot of fun and that’s what I want to see in a superhero movie.  I like to see a superhero movie where the superhero is having fun being one.  I like to see superheroes having adventures and overcoming adversity and defeating bad guys and saving the day.  I’m tired of superhero movies where the so-called hero is whining that he can’t catch a break or pay his rent (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man) or wrestling with his inner turmoil and existential angst while bemoaning that he must labor under the curse of having superpowers.  Sometimes you just want to recapture the wonder and excitement you felt when you were twelve years old on a summer Saturday afternoon with nothing to do but read a stack of your favorite comic books.  IRON MAN 2 will make you feel like that if you give it a chance.

PG-13

124 minutes

After The Sunset

2004

New Line Cinema

Produced by Beau Flynn, Jay Stern and Tripp Vinson

Directed by Brett Ratner

Screenplay by Paul Zybyszewski and Craig Rosenberg

Story by Paul Zybyszewski

I strongly suspect that the main reason why AFTER THE SUNSET was filmed was so that the cast and crew could have one hell of a working vacation in The Bahamas.  The movie was filmed on Nassau and New Providence Island and showcases the gorgeous Atlantis Hotel and Resort.  The movie makes The Bahamas look so beautiful and so much fun that halfway through the movie I wanted to shut it off, wake up The Wife and go book a flight down there right away.   Which is part of the problem with AFTER THE SUNSET.  You’re so busy looking at the gorgeous scenery and the cast enjoying it so much you’re really not paying much attention to the story.  And with a killer cast like Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris and Don Cheadle you would think you’d be on the edge of your seat savoring the remarkable acting talent on the screen.

You won’t and I’m willing to bet you won’t even care.  AFTER THE SUNSET is such a lightweight movie and it’s obvious that the cast aren’t even going deep into the bag of acting tricks that they’ve all proved in the past they’re more than capable of.  There are no heavy performances in this one and no big scenes.  AFTER THE SUNSET is as amazingly laid-back movie with no more substance than cotton candy and it’s a movie you’ll be hard pressed to remember three days after you’ve seen it.  But while you’re watching it you’re enjoying what you’re seeing.

Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan) is a Master Thief of the old school.  He’s never been caught and his trademark is that he always has an absolutely unshakeable alibi.  Matter of fact, Max always has concrete evidence that he was somewhere else whenever a heist was pulled.  Max’s latest heist involved stealing the second of three large diamonds once owned by Napoleon.  Max has already stolen the first.  The second diamond is being guarded by ace FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) but Max is able to steal the diamond right out from under his nose with almost ridiculous ease that makes Stan the laughingstock of the FBI.

Max and his gorgeous lover/partner Lola (Salma Hayek) head off to The Bahamas for a well-earned retirement.  Stan has been suspended and his career is on the verge of the abyss.  On his own he tracks them down because Stan knows that the third Napoleon diamond is on a cruise ship heading for The Bahamas and he knows that Max knows.  And Max knows that Stan knows that he knows.  And Lola knows that Max knows that Stan knows that Max knows.  You see, Lola doesn’t want any part of the heist.  She honestly wants to retire and give up boosting ice.  But Max has a clever scheme to get both Stan and Lola to help him steal the diamond and the best part of it that the two of them won’t even know it.

It’s driving poor Stan crazy trying to keep one step ahead of the wily Max, even with the help of local police detective Sophie (Naomie Harris) who has her own problems trying to put local crime boss Henri Moore (Don Cheadle) behind bars. But seeing as how Henri and Max enter a partnership because Max is going to need Henri’s island contacts to steal the diamond, she agrees to team up with Stan to get the goods on both of them.

If this sounds to you like a harmless caper/crime/screwball comedy/romantic thriller you’re absolutely right.  AFTER THE SUNSET incorporates all of these elements as well as those of the buddy film since Max and Stan surprisingly develop a real friendship.  Max puts Stan up in the $25,000 a night Bridge Suite in The Atlantis Hotel.  Stan calls up Max and says he can’t be bribed that easy.  Max says it’s no bribe: he just wants Stan to see how Max lives.  There’s a really funny scene late in the movie where Max and Stan have messed up their respective relationships with Lola and Sophie.  Max goes to Sophie to try and talk her into taking Stan back while Stan pleads Max’s case to Lola.  The disbelieving look on the faces of the two women is priceless.  Max and Stan become so buddy-buddy that at one point Stan’s boss asks him seriously: “Are you and this guy dating or something?”

But that’s also a problem with AFTER THE SUNSET: it switches gears so fast that you’re never able to get comfortably into a mood.  The romantic scenes between Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are either full of steamy sexual energy or seem as if the screenwriters are using lines and gags stolen from “I Love Lucy” reruns.   The heist scenes are either full of action and tension as any of Brosnan’s James Bond movies or so incredibly devoid of any common sense and logic you wonder if Max Burdett studied under Wile E. Coyote.  The scenes with Brosnan and Woody Harrelson are either deadly serious as when they’re pointing guns at each other in a John Woo type standoff or completely slapstick as when they’re on a boat fishing and catch a shark.  What happens next wouldn’t be out of place in a Martin & Lewis comedy.

Brett Ratner isn’t exactly one of my favorite directors as I absolute detest the “Rush Hour” movies and well made as it was, “Red Dragon” was a totally unnecessary film.  He’s all over the place here, never settling down for more than a minute as if he figures we would get bored if the movie was an out-and-out heist thriller and threw in as many elements as he could to keep things jumping.

I’ve got no complaints with the acting.  As I’ve said earlier, everybody in the cast looks like they had an absolute blast making this movie and it comes across on the screen.  And it’s worth watching just for the supernaturally beautiful Salma Hayek.  She looks so good in this movie it made my toes tingle.  I know women who have said that they’ve never thought about being a lesbian but Salma Hayek could make them change their mind in a New York minute.  It’s literally impossible to take your eyes off the screen when she’s on it.  And she has a really good rapport with Pierce Brosnan.  I’d really like to see them do something else together, maybe a modern version of “The Thin Man” Brosnan goes through 90% of the movie unshaven and rather scruffy looking but I don’t think the ladies are going to mind one bit. Don Cheadle has fun with his role as a crime boss but he has way too little screen time.  And his last scene is so abrupt and out-of-left field you may feel cheated by its resolution.

So should you see AFTER THE SUNSET?  It’s very difficult for me not to recommend this one.  The main thing in its favor is that it’s thankfully unpretentious.  It is what it is and that’s all it is.  It’s not trying to be a Big Important Film or win any Academy Awards.  It’s light, easy on the brain and the eye.  The guys have Salma Hayek and Naomie Harris to drool over while the ladies can groove on Pierce Brosnan, Don Cheadle and Woody Harrelson.  The locations and scenery are beautifully photographed and you feel like you’re catching a tan just looking at the movie.  It’s an okay Late Friday Night movie to chill with the wife or girlfriend.  AFTER THE SUNSET definitely isn’t going to make either of you feel like you wasted your time.

Rated PG-13

97 minutes