Terrence Howard

Sabotage

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2014

Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, David Ayer, Ethan Smith, Paul Hanson and Palek Patel

Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer

I’m going to put my neck out there and say that I truly and honestly admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for what he does in SABOTAGE. This is a Schwarzenegger who realizes that he would look downright silly trying to do the same kind of action movie he did back in the 1980’s. He can’t be the One Man Army Killing Machine anymore. Sure, he’s still in better shape than 90% of us but he’s no kid anymore. And he doesn’t try to hide it unlike the other two members of The Holy Trinity of Action Movie Heroes. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are still trying to convince us they’re still able to pull off stunts they did 30 years ago. But not Schwarzenegger.  He’s got respect for our intelligence. Oh, he still does physical stuff but nothing like the stunts he did in say, “Commando” or “Eraser” These days he’s relying a lot more on story, characterization and supporting casts to give his movies weight.

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SABOTAGE isn’t a movie he could have made back in the 1980’s. He had to wait until now to make a movie like this where he could make his age work for him and for the character he plays. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t Schwarzenegger doing Hamlet (and I still say he should have done it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t pay to see that?) but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.

John “Breacher” Warthon (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ramrods an elite team of wildass DEA agents. These agents are just one notch above being full blown renegades. A couple of them (Sam Worthington and Max Martini) appear to have severe psychological issues while Lizzie (Mireille Enos) is the team’s loose cannon, brazenly flaunting her drug habit and sexual promiscuity in the faces of her boss, her teammates and her husband (Worthington)

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During a raid on a cartel safehouse, Breacher and his team help themselves to $10 million of the cartel’s money and blow up the rest to cover their theft. They hide the $10 million but when they go to recover it, they’re pissed off beyond words to find it’s gone. In the meantime, the DEA has somehow found out about the stolen money. Breacher is put on a desk job and his team suspended pending an investigation. Six months later and with no concrete evidence tying them to the money, Breacher and his team are reinstated.

Turns out that isn’t a favor at all as a couple of team members are gruesomely killed and there’s only two possibilities: either the cartel is killing off Breacher’s team in revenge for stealing their money or it’s a team member who is killing his (or her) partners to keep all the money for themselves. Either way, Breacher’s stuck in the middle. Unable to trust his team or the DEA, he has to rely on the help of Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) the homicide cop assigned to the case. But can Inspector Brentwood trust Breacher? Because during the course of her investigation she discovers that Breacher just may have more motivation than anybody else on his team to steal and kill for the money.

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By now you should have tumbled to the fact that Schwarzenegger isn’t playing his usual good guy. In fact, this may be the closest we’ll get to see him playing a bad guy as Breacher nor his team are likeable characters. In fact, they’re all really not much better than the criminals they go after. But that’s okay by me. I don’t need my characters to be likeable. As long as I understand their motivations for doing what they do, I’m cool.

The supporting cast in SABOTAGE is an unusually strong one for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and yet another sign that you’re not getting your usual Schwarzenegger Shoot-Em-Up. Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway are members of Breacher’s team while Harold Perrineau is a cop partnered with Brentwood and provides the movie with much needed comedy relief. Believe it or not, it’s Sam Worthington who walks off with the acting honors in this movie as well as Mireille Enos. Their characters are complicated enough to deserve a movie of their own. They’re married DEA agents who have long ago surrendered to corruption and spiritual degradation in the pursuit of justice. Mirelle Enos just about steals the movie from everybody in sight during the third act.

What else? Oh, the violence…seriously, this just may be the most violent movie Schwarzenegger has made and considering his track record, that’s really saying something. Director David Ayer is not interested in cartoon violence or the glorification of it. The violence in SABOTAGE is amazingly cruel, bloody and horrifically messy. And Schwarzenegger has got quite the potty mouth as well. I gave up counting after his twentieth F-bomb.

So should you see SABOTAGE? If you’re a longtime Arnold Schwarzenegger fan like me you probably already have. But if you haven’t, give it a chance. It’s not his usual action movie and has far more of a mystery thriller aspect than the trailers would lead you to think. I appreciate him always trying to expand the range of what he can do in films and I think that with movies like this and “Escape Plan” in which he also played a different kind of character than we’re used to seeing, he’s showing that Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a lot to offer us.

109 minutes

Rated R

 

The Brave One

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2007

Warner Bros.

Directed by Neil Jordan

Produced by Susan Downey and Joel Silver

Written by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort

Maybe because she’s been around for so long we tend to take Jodie Foster for granted and forget just how terrific an actress she is.  I remember first seeing her in the psychological thriller “The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane” way the hell back in 1975.  And in recent years I’ve tremendously enjoyed her in “Maverick” “Contact” “Anna And The King” “Flightplan” “Inside Man” and of course, “The Silence of The Lambs”.  She’s one of the few child actresses who successfully made the transition to adult stardom.  She enjoys great critical and financial acclaim and it’s sort of amusing to me when I read professional critic reviews of movies she’s done such as “Flightplan” “Panic Room” and “Silence Of The Lambs” all of which are actually Grade B potboilers in art house movie drag as is THE BRAVE ONE.

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) has a life that appears to be perfect.  She’s the host of a highly popular radio talk show and she’s engaged to be married to a drop-dead handsome doctor (Naveen Andrews).  That life comes to a tragic and brutal end one night.  While walking their dog, Erica and her boyfriend are attacked in Central Park.

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Erica is beaten so badly that she’s in a coma for three weeks while her boyfriend dies on the operating table.   Erica recovers and tries to put her life back together.  But she knows she’s not the same person she was before that night.  In a very real sense she died as well and she struggles to deal with her traumatized emotions and find a way to re-integrate her shattered psyche.

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Erica grows increasingly frustrated with the lack of police progress in finding her boyfriend’s killers and tries to buy a gun.  Driven into a fit of anger because she refuses to wait the required 30 days, she purchases one illegally and goes out at night, deliberately setting herself up as a victim and before you can say ‘Charles Bronson’ New York’s crime rate drops sharply as there’s dead bodies of would be rapists, stick-up guys and muggers littering the streets.

Complicating the situation even more is Erica’s relationship with Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) who is assigned to investigate the vigilante slayings.  At first, Erica manipulates Mercer because he’s a fan of her show and she plays upon that to get close to him and find out how far along he is in his investigation.  But as they grow closer and more trusting, Erica discovers a true respect and even admiration for both the cop and the man.  At the same time, small things Mercer notices start to add up and he starts to have a horrible suspicion that his newfound friend may be the vigilante killer.  But Erica can’t stop her nightly activities, especially when due to a really bizarre twist, she discovers the identity of one of the men who killed her boyfriend and if she can find one then she can damn well can find the others…

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When I saw trailers for this movie I was convinced this was a remake of the classic 1974 “Death Wish” starring Charles Bronson and directed by Michael Winner.  It’s a film that after all this time probably still is the definitive thriller advocating vigilantism as a legitimate response to the problem of urban crime.  And after seeing THE BRAVE ONE I really think there’s enough similarity to the earlier film that it can legitimately be considered a semi-remake.  But it’s the way that the movie is acted and filmed that elevates it.  I mean, after “Death Wish” there were plenty of movies produced back in the 70’s and 80’s with the same revenge plot but those were filmed with a lot less pretension than THE BRAVE ONE is.  It’s a movie that works hard at trying to be a serious, mature study of a how a woman deals with a life-shattering trauma.  The direction is measured and even because the movie is determined to be taken seriously.  As a result the tension is dialed way down until the last fifteen minutes.  In fact, if the rest of THE BRAVE ONE had been as exciting and as suspenseful as the last fifteen minutes we’d have really had something here.  As if is, we end up with a movie that tries to be both a character study and a urban thriller and really doesn’t know which one it wants to be.  The material of THE BRAVE ONE is solid pulp/grindhouse exploitation but the director and the actors play it as if they’re all going for next year’s Oscar.

Now, that’s necessarily isn’t a bad thing.  Hey, it worked for “Silence Of The Lambs” which has similar B-movie elements that was elevated by the talent of the director, actors and crew to winning five Academy Awards (and I firmly believe that Jonathan Demme included Roger Corman in the movie as a sly nod to the exploitation roots of that movie) but I don’t think that THE BRAVE ONE is going to pull the same trick.  It takes itself way too seriously and spends way too much time trying to be deep and meaningful when what it needed was more thriller elements and more cat-and-mouse between Erica and Mercer.

That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable.  It’s worth going to see just for the performances of Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard, both of who are stunningly good.  One of my favorite underrated actors, Nicky Katt is here as Howard’s wisecracking sidekick who brings some much needed humor to the movie.  Mary Steenburgen plays Erica’s boss and she does her usual solid supporting role.

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So should you see THE BRAVE ONE?  Sure.  Especially if you’re a fan of Jodie Foster and/or Terrence Howard.  It’s a well made psychological revenge thriller and on that level it’s worth your time. Enjoy.

Rated R

119 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iron Man

2008

Marvel Enterprises

Directed by Jon Favreau

Screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway

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

Produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feigh

 

When I was growing up and my friends and I devoured Marvel Comics as fast as we could get ‘em, all my friends liked Spider-Man.  Which I could never understand.  Spider-Man was a nerdy loser who was always broke, never got the girl, was picked on unmercifully at school and things just never seemed to work out for him.  Which is what my life was like at that stage of my evolution.  So I could never fathom why I would want to read a comic about somebody whose life was as crappy as mine.  Hell, I didn’t have to read comics to know that life wasn’t fair.  I lived it.  I wanted to be Tony Stark.  Now that guy had the life.  Billionaire technological genius.  Brilliant inventor.  Had so many fine women he tripped over ‘em constantly.  Fleets of sports cars and private planes.  Let a team of superheroes live in his mansion and bankrolled their operation.  All that and he had the world’s most powerful weapon: a suit of hi-tech armor that turned Tony Stark into the greatest fighting machine on the face of the Earth: IRON MAN.  Watching the movie  brought back a whole lot of feelings for why I fell in love with the character years ago.  And a lot of that has to do with the outstanding performance of Robert Downey, Jr. the direction of Jon Favreau and the excellent screenplay.  Everybody involved with this movie obviously took time to do their homework and read the comics because what’s up there on the screen is extremely close to the tone and spirit of the comic books.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is delightfully enjoying his blatantly hedonistic lifestyle filled with women, liquor and trips around the world at a moment’s notice.  He’s babysat by his BFF Air Force Colonel James Rhodes (Terrance Howard) and his loyal Girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who both worry and fret over Tony like Jewish grandmothers.  But Tony assures them there’s nothing to worry about, that’s he’s got it all under control.  Except when Tony has to demonstrate his latest weapon of mass destruction, the fearsome Jericho missile system in Afghanistan.  His armed escort is wiped out and Tony himself is captured by the terrorist group known as The Ten Rings who demand that he build the Jericho for them.  Complicating the situation is the fact that Tony has a chest full of shrapnel that ironically came from a bomb his own company built.  With the aid of a fellow captive (Shaun Toub) Tony is not only able to construct a device to keep the shrapnel away from his heart but also to build a crude but highly effective suit of iron armor that enables him to get away from his captors.

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Not that his situation back in the United States is much better.  Tony’s business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) doesn’t like it at all when Tony has a moment of clarity and announces that Stark Enterprises will no longer manufacture munitions.  Even Pepper and Jim Rhodes wonder if this is for real or some sort of publicity stunt on Tony’s part.  But Tony is quite serious.  So serious that he seals himself up in his basement workshop and proceeds to improve upon his armor design.  And he’s going to need it, especially when The Ten Rings find his crude prototype armor in the desert and begin piecing it back together.  But they need help to upgrade and improve the armor.  And that forces Tony Stark to come to terms with who has been and what he wants to be in the future.

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While I thought IRON MAN was simply outstanding I can’t shake the feeling there’s going to be those who will complain that like the Ang Lee directed “Hulk” IRON MAN doesn’t have enough action.  But the movie isn’t so much about action as about Tony Stark understanding what he’s become and his desire to be better than what he has been.  To leave a legacy other than one of death and destruction.  And the wonderful thing about Tony Stark is that he’s just as badass and cool when he’s out of the armor as when he’s in it.  He’s not like a Superman or Batman in that their alter egos are radically different from their superhero personas.  Tony is a man used to using technology to accomplish his goals and that’s what the armor is: another piece of technology that enables him to save lives instead of taking them.  And if you want another reason for why this movie isn’t action heavy…well, actually Tony Stark doesn’t become Iron Man until the end of the movie.  This is very much an origin story and it’s a really good one.  The motivations are there, the characterizations are there and as Tony learns about the capabilities and potential of his latest creation we’re right there with him.

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Robert Downey, Jr. owns Tony Stark/Iron Man much in the same way that Michael Keaton owned Batman/Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeve owned Superman/Clark Kent. Downey and Favreau understand that if we don’t care about Tony Stark when he’s out of the suit we sure as hell won’t care for him when he’s in it. Downey’s Tony Stark is certainly a major prick in the first hour of the movie but he’s one of those charming pricks who can make you love him even while he’s screwing you over.  This is another terrific performance from one of my favorite actors and it’s really fun watching Downey at work.  Gwyneth Paltrow radiates sexy intelligence as Pepper Potts and the scenes between her and Downey are really great.  Terrence Howard could have had more to do as Jim Rhodes but he does have a nice little bit in Tony’s workshop when Rhodes looks at one of Tony’s prototype armors that is a foreshadowing of the bigger role the Rhodey character has in the two sequels.  Surprisingly enough, the only actor I have a problem with is Jon Favreau who cast himself as “Happy” Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver.  Since he’s also the director Favreau gives himself way too many scenes where Hogan is standing around looking over Stark’s shoulder looking all serious but not really contributing anything to the scene or the story overall.

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The special effects are outstanding.  There were a lot of scenes where I’m positive I wasn’t looking at CGI but at a man in a suit of hi-tech armor.  But after awhile I gave up trying to figure out when Iron Man was CGI and when he wasn’t and just sat back to enjoy the ride.  I dunno about you but I enjoy watching a superhero movie where the superhero is actually enjoying using his powers for good and there’s a definite sense of fun and adventure.  That’s not to say that IRON MAN doesn’t have its darker moments but the wit and intelligence of the characters and the story lifts it out of the “oh, I have such a burden to bear…woe is me” bag that most superhero movies are in.  These characters don’t have time to sit around and moan about how bad their lives are.  They’re smart enough to get up and do something about it.

Jeff Bridges almost steals the show as Obadiah Stane and Clark Gregg is quietly hilarious as Agent Phil Coulson.  In fact, one of the most amazing things about the Marvel Movie Universe is how Clark Gregg/Agent Coulson became the MVP of the MMU.

So should you see IRON MAN?  If you haven’t already I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  It’s a really smart, fun movie with engaging characters and a bedrock solid plot.  The writers have done a great job updating Iron Man’s origin and I applaud them for not shying away from portraying Tony Stark as what he is: a weapons manufacturer with all the ramifications that go along with that profession.  IRON MAN doesn’t get heavy into the politics but just enough to give the story added weight.   IRON MAN has rightly earned its place as the crown jewel of Marvel movies.  It, along with “Captain America” the two “Thor” movies, the two “Hulk” movies and of course the magnificent “Avengers” are the Marvel superhero movies I’ve been dreaming, hoping and praying to see ever since I was ten years old and I’m glad I’ve gotten to see them.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

 

 

 

 

Red Tails

2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Anthony Hemingway

Produced by Rick McCallum, Charles Floyd Johnson and George Lucas

Screenplay by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder

By now the story is legend.  The Tuskegee Airman were heroic African-American fighter pilots that fought in World War II, earning honor and distinction as bomber flight escorts. So successful were they at getting bomber groups to their targets and back to friendly airspace safely that soon commanders of bomber flights were specifically requesting that they be escorted by the 332 Fighter Group aka the RED TAILS.

This isn’t the first movie to tell the saga of The Tuskegee Airmen.  There’s the HBO movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” from 1995.  In fact, Cuba Gooding, Jr. who stars in RED TAILS was in that one as well.  It’s a story of true sacrifice, heroism and courage that took George Lucas 25 years to bring to the big screen.  And I give him a standing ovation for finally accomplishing that task.  And while I enjoyed RED TAILS for the most part I feel that the really great, epic movie about The Tuskegee Airmen has yet to be made.

Over in 1944 Italy, Major Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) struggles to keep his pilots on a tight leash.  Chomping at the bit to see some real action, “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo) “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley) “Smokey” Salem (Ne-Yo) and “Ray Gun” Gannon (Tristan Wilds) are fed up with meaningless recon patrols in broken down planes that their chief mechanics “Coffee” Coleman (Andre Royo) and “Sticks” (Method Man) are barely able to keep flying.

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That changes when orders come from their commanding officer, Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard) who has been in Washington battling to get his squadron a real mission.  It isn’t easy dealing with the blatant racism of Colonel Mortamus (Bryan Cranston) who is more than eager to disband the squadron.  But with the help of Captain Tomilson (Lee Tergesen) he gets that mission and The Tuskegee Airmen get their chance.

And while The Tuskegee Airmen are busy making legends, they’re also making enemies in the form of a German ace they know only as “Pretty Boy” (Lars van Riesen) while “Lightning” is equally busy making a future life with a village girl named Sofia (Daniela Ruah) he’s fallen in love with and wants to marry.

Despite all of these characters, RED TAILS really skimps hard on the characterization.  Which I suppose is why all the major characters have colorful nicknames.  It helps to keep them straight.  There are is some effort made to show the racism that The Airmen had to confront but it doesn’t seem to go into that very deeply.  I get the impression that the filmmakers take it for granted that we know about The Tuskegee Airmen and their struggles against racism and so concentrate more on the action in the sky.

Not that I minded.  I always appreciate a good dogfight and there’s plenty of good ones here. I give director Anthony Hemingway credit for getting Cuba Gooding, Jr. to behave himself and act like a human being instead of a live action cartoon.  And I’m willing to bet that Gooding grew up watching more than his share of World War II movies.  Both he and Terrence Howard have a lot of fun delivering stirring speeches about never giving up and fighting for their country.

So should you see RED TAILS?  There’s a lot to like in the movie.  It’s professionally made and acted.  Just don’t look for much depth in the characters or the historical background of The Tuskegee Airmen and you’ll be fine.

121 minutes

PG-13