Don Cheadle

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995, Carl Franklin)

Devil in a Blue Dress is almost so much better. Director Franklin gets easily distracted and follows tangents, both in the script and the directing. The latter makes sense–he’s always too enthuastic about the (excellent) production design, recreating late 1940s Black Los Angeles. With Tak Fujimoto’s warm but vibrant photography, the “regular life” part of the film is breathtaking. Sadly, Franklin’s too loose on the mystery side and he can’t bind the two.

The script’s the same way. Franklin has devices for lead Denzel Washington, including the narration, but also just how Franklin directs the scene. How he visualizes the space Washington occupies with the people he comes across. Washington’s a Black WWII vet turned amateur P.I. tracking down missing rich white guy’s white girlfriend Jennifer Beals. Franklin and Washington pay a lot of attention to personal space and what it reveals about character relationships, race relationships. But when they get the most ambitious, the narration fails. Or just isn’t present.

And Washington’s biggest character development arc is out of nowhere, introduced over halfway into the movie, with Don Cheadle’s arrival. Franklin desperately tries to forecast Cheadle through dialogue, narration, even one of the film’s ill-implied flashbacks. Yet when it comes time for Cheadle to get called up, Franklin botches the narration. Franklin sets up Devil in a Blue Dress to need narration–even though he and Washington could easily get away without it, Washington’s great and Franklin’s great with his actors–but he sets it up as an essential, then botches it.

It’s really unfortunate.

There are stops and starts throughout the film–scenes transitions are usually awkward, either too heavy or too light. Fujimoto’s photography on the investigation stuff is bad, which is an additional problem given the first act visual tone doesn’t match the rest of the film. But Franklin doesn’t know what to do with those scenes either. Devil in a Blue Dress tries to avoid film noir tropes so bad it ends up putting its back out.

The acting is either good or great. Washington is great. His performance has a sadness Franklin the director focus on, but Franklin the screenwriter ignores. Cheadle’s phenomenal as Washington’s loyal, unrepentent murderer sidekick. Tom Sizemore’s good as Washington’s mysterious client turned nemesis. Mel Winkler and Jernard Burks are real good in smaller parts. Lisa Nicole Carson’s good.

But then there’s Beals, who’s just okay. Some of it is Franklin’s direction; she’s supposed to be a femme fatale, but Devil in a Blue Dress doesn’t believe in femme fatales and she’s written as one. She’s another victim to Franklin’s indecision.

And Maury Chaykin is just bad. He’s only in a couple scenes, but they’re important ones, and he’s just too much. Same thing. Written as a noir villain, but Franklin doesn’t want to engage it.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is oddly half on, half off. Either way, it lacks personality, which is a no-no for Devil in a Blue Dress; everything else about it exudes personality. Except, obviously, Fujimoto’s “noir” shots.

Devil in a Blue Dress features some wonderful possibilities, some great photography, some great direction, some great performances. It should be amazing. It’s sad it isn’t.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Franklin; screenplay by Franklin, based on the novel by Walter Mosley; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Carole Kravetz Aykanian; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Jesse Beaton and Gary Goetzman; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Easy Rawlins), Jennifer Beals (Daphne Monet), Don Cheadle (Mouse Alexander), Tom Sizemore (Dewitt Albright), Terry Kinney (Todd Carter), Mel Winkler (Joppy), Jernard Burks (Dupree Brouchard), Lisa Nicole Carson (Coretta James), and Maury Chaykin (Matthew Terell).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE COLOURS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY THOUGHTS ALL SORTS.


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Flight (2012, Robert Zemeckis)

There are so many easy targets in Flight. Not really the acting, even though a lot of the supporting cast is phoning it in. They’re good actors–Don Cheadle, John Goodman (doing a riff on Big Lebowski)–and they’re capable at phoning it in.

It’d be impossible for them to do anything else, however, given director Zemeckis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a feature film where the famous songs playing in the background always directly inform the action. It’s either incredibly condescending to the audience or it’s just supposed to be the most obvious movie ever made.

Occasionally, because the acting from Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly is so good, I thought there might be a chance it was all a ruse and Zemeckis and writer John Gatins were lulling the audience into a false sense of security. Flight isn’t about a happy ending, it’s about Denzel Washington, movie star and good guy, playing a fundamentally decent human being who has a lot of problems. But he can overcome those problems… because he’s Denzel Washington, good guy.

The film savors each moment of Washington’s failed attempts at redemption, every time he goes lower into the depths–it’s telling Flight skips ahead during what would have been its most difficult section dramatically.

Ignoring the trite foreshadowing, the manipulative writing, the general cheapness of the film overall, Flight is incredibly watchable. Both for Washington’s performance and, sure, to bemusedly regard Zemeckis’s vapid pseudo-sincerity. It takes major hits in the third act before going down.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by John Gatins; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Zemeckis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Whip Whitaker), Don Cheadle (Hugh Lang), Kelly Reilly (Nicole), John Goodman (Harling Mays), Bruce Greenwood (Charlie Anderson), Brian Geraghty (Ken Evans), Tamara Tunie (Margaret Thomason), Nadine Velazquez (Katerina Marquez), Peter Gerety (Avington Carr), Garcelle Beauvais (Deana) and Melissa Leo (Ellen Block).


Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma)

If it had been made earlier–even with the same flawed script–Mission to Mars would probably have been more successful. Many of its failings relate to the CG special effects. Stephen H. Burum is incompetent at lighting them, but they also bring an artificiality to the film’s tensest sequences. So, while Ennio Morricone might have a fantastic piece of music for a suspense sequence and De Palma might be directing it fine, it doesn’t work out right because of the CG and Burum’s ineptness.

Mars has a lot more problems–Connie Nielsen being one of the bigger ones, the plot, De Palma’s inability to create a transcendent scene (it’s more literal than a grade school documentary about helium balloons), some other terrible supporting performances–but there are a lot of strengths. At the center of the picture are Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins and Don Cheadle as three NASA buddies. All of them are fantastic. Even with Sinise inexplicably wearing eyeliner. His hairpiece, while awful looking, is more understandable.

And the film does have a certain amount of earnestness and general wonderment. It takes De Palma about a half hour before he lets the film have that wonderment, which is a poor choice since he’s already taken it to Mars once without any grandeur. It’s a gee whiz adventure picture from someone who doesn’t know how to feel gee whiz.

Jerry O’Connell is good; otherwise, the supporting cast is lousy.

Mars fails, but does so very unfortunately and very interestingly.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Jim Thomas, John Thomas and Graham Yost, based on a story by Lowell Cannon, Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Tom Jacobson; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gary Sinise (Jim McConnell), Tim Robbins (Woody Blake), Don Cheadle (Luke Graham), Connie Nielsen (Terri Fisher), Jerry O’Connell (Phil Ohlmyer), Peter Outerbridge (Sergei Kirov), Kavan Smith (Nicholas Willis), Jill Teed (Reneé Coté), Elise Neal (Debra Graham), Kim Delaney (Maggie McConnell) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Ramier Beck).


Brooklyn’s Finest (2009, Antoine Fuqua)

When Richard Gere gives the best lead performance in a film, it’s definitely a problem. Gere doesn’t bring any gravitas to this role–a retiring police officer–and, when it gets to his redemption, it’s not clear why he needs redeeming. The film calls him a failure a lot, but it’s never clear why he’s a failure, especially when he’s being juxtaposed against two dirty cops.

Don Cheadle’s at least an undercover cop who’s experiencing morality qualms as his superiors support one drug dealer over another, but Ethan Hawke’s just a scumbag. The film loves to use Catholic as an excuse for anything, like why Hawke and Lili Taylor have an endless supply of kids, one for whenever the film needs to emphasis Hawke’s money troubles.

Fuqua manages to keep Brooklyn’s Finest on schedule, if not on track. His Panavision composition doesn’t fail and, for a time, it seems like the film might squeak out one honest moment (the script’s a collection of movie cliches). But every opportunity it has, it squanders–most of these opportunities go to top-billed, non-lead Gere, whose story has at least two threads left unfinished, though only one of them really deserves any attention.

The supporting cast–Vincent D’Onofrio has a great cameo–is weak. Will Patton’s terrible, as is Ellen Barkin. Wesley Snipes plays a caricature, but is better than most of those around him (surprising since they’re all “Wire” alums).

Too bad they didn’t hire a “Wire” writer for a rewrite.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antoine Fuqua; written by Michael C. Martin; director of photography, Patrick Murguia; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by John Thompson, Elie Cohn, John Langley, Basil Iwanyk and Avi Lerner; released by Overture Films.

Starring Richard Gere (Eddie), Don Cheadle (Tango), Ethan Hawke (Sal), Wesley Snipes (Caz), Jesse Williams (Eddie Quinlan), Will Patton (Lieutenant Hobarts), Lili Taylor (Angela), Shannon Kane (Chantel), Brian F. O’Byrne (Ronny Rosario), Michael K. Williams (Red) and Ellen Barkin (Agent Smith).


Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Boogie Nights is so well-made, so stunningly made–I’m not even thinking about Anderson’s wonderful, lengthy steadicam sequences, I’m thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman alone in his freshly painted car–it’s hard to think about anything else while watching it. The omnipresent soundtrack–Nights is a combination of American Graffiti (the prolific use of songs), Goodfellas (the way music is used to move a scene) and Saturday Night Fever (the general feel of the first hour… and look for the Staying Alive reference in the film’s second half)–the soundtrack draws so much attention to the way the film looks, it’s almost like Anderson is telling the viewer the story doesn’t matter too much. It matters a little–the audience is supposed to be horrified by somethings, laugh at others, dismiss others (the way the overdose scene is handled, for instance, isn’t so much sickening as it is amusing)–until everything changes.

The first half of Boogie Nights introduces the characters and spends a lot of time amusing the viewer. Save the sequence with Joanna Gleason as one of the worst screen parents in history–and the abuse Heather Graham endures in high school–the first half of the film is almost always upbeat. When Don Cheadle’s boss makes fun of him for wearing a cowboy outfit… yeah, the viewer’s supposed to be sympathetic to Cheadle… but also be aware the cowboy thing is dumb.

There aren’t any smart principals in Boogie Nights. Arguably, Burt Reynolds plays the film’s “smartest” character… but he’s not particularly bright. Cheadle, Mark Wahlberg, especially John C. Reilly–these are dumb guys. It’s hard to tell if Julianne Moore’s den mother was at any point intelligent–even as the film starts up with her, she’s nosediving into a suffocating drug dependency. Wahlberg and Reilly’s bromance is hilarious and engaging and it’s kind of amazing how much time Anderson gets away spending on it. Essentially, it’s just treading water in terms of an overall narrative, but Boogie Nights is so perfectly produced, it doesn’t matter.

At the halfway point, Boogie Nights makes a drastic turn. Nothing good happens for a long, long time. Bad things happen over and over. Part of the characters’ joint stupidity is believing in their own rhetoric–the scene with Cheadle getting denied for a bank loan (everyone else in the film, if Anderson gives them enough time, understands the principals’ delusions) is devastating. Cheadle gives the film’s best performance, in one of the film’s only truly sympathetic characters (Anderson basically only rewards two characters and Cheadle is one of them). Anderson takes the inverse of Verhoeven’s Robocop. Instead of tossing the people into the burning pit first thing to garner concern, Anderson makes the viewer like the characters with comedy (and a knowing appraisal of their intellectual limitedness), brings everything negative to the fore, then roasts them until they’re sweating humanity. And he almost gets away with it.

In the end, Boogie Nights comes up with a workable, loopy philosophy and, mostly because of the filmmaking and the torture he’s put the characters through, Anderson gets away with some of it. It’s not a complete success (he drops Moore once her story gets too difficult), but it works. Except–and I remember this from the theater, not from the DVD–not getting to see Reynolds’s face when he embraces Wahlberg (because of the resolution) hurts the scene.

There’s a lot of great acting–Reynolds is fantastic, as is Reilly. William H. Macy is great in his small part, as is Ricky Jay (especially when they’re together). Moore’s good, but her character’s too big for the part she has in the film and there’s chafing. Wahlberg’s solid in the lead role. He’s kind of perfect for it, because he’s so great at being a dimwit. In smaller roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Thomas Jane and Alfred Molina are amazing–especially Jane, who rattles off some great Anderson dialogue better than anyone else in the picture. Luis Guzman’s awesome.

Boogie Nights has a lot of friction of its own, in terms of what Anderson’s doing. Is the film most honest during the Cheadle scenes or the Hoffman scene in the car… or is it most honest when Anderson’s just executing a perfectly constructed scene. It’s a stunning film, but the narrative lacks. It somehow ties Anderson’s hands, like he can’t act contrary to the formula.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Michael Penn; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Anderson, Lloyd Levin, John S. Lyons and JoAnne Sellar; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mark Wahlberg (Dirk Diggler), Julianne Moore (Amber Waves), Burt Reynolds (Jack Homer), Heather Graham (Rollergirl), Don Cheadle (Buck Swope), John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild), Luis Guzmán (Maurice TT Rodriguez), William H. Macy (Little Bill), Robert Ridgely (The Colonel James), Ricky Jay (Kurt Longjohn), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty J.), Nicole Ari Parker (Becky Barnett), Melora Walters (Jessie St. Vincent), Thomas Jane (Todd Parker), Joanna Gleason (Eddie’s mother) and Alfred Molina (Rahad Jackson).


Traitor (2008, Jeffrey Nachmanoff)

Traitor is the Superman IV of terrorism movies. I suppose I need to explain. I think Tom Mankiewicz once told Christopher Reeve you couldn’t have Superman messing around with the real world. Traitor is a Hollywood terrorism movie–in the vein of Telefon, The Assignment, Nighthawks or even The Jackal–except it takes 9/11 into account. The result is a goofy concoction–one I’m sure the filmmakers think is well-intentioned, but comes off as one of the most xenophobic things I’ve seen in a long time.

Simply put, in the world of Traitor, all Muslims–except one or two–are terrorists ready to kill innocent children, even if they have innocent children of their own. These Muslims tend to be Middle Eastern–Traitor has a ludicrous sleeper cell plot point with a female suicide bomber who would have been inserted long before women became suicide bombers–but there’s also a couple Africans. Not African-Americans, who the film has an awkward relationship with, but African immigrants. Not to be pointing fingers at writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, but I think Louis Farrakhan would have done a much more even-handed tale of a black American Muslim who discovers himself (working for the U.S. in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Osama Bin Laden no less) and finds his Middle Eastern brothers a little confused when it comes to the articles of faith.

As for the film’s approach to religion… another pitfall. It really tries hard in some ways, but it can’t escape its active contention (i.e. ninety-three percent of Muslims are heartless, unthinking mass murderers–worse, they all dream of some day getting to be mass murderers), so it’s laughable in the end. But there’s a lot to laugh at in Traitor, starting with its handling of the FBI.

Since 9/11, common knowledge of what American intelligence agencies do has skyrocketed. So when FBI agents Guy Pearce (he’s an Arabic languages PhD who couldn’t find another job… really) and Neal McDonough (he’s a big tough mean agent, who doesn’t know his partner is a PhD) wing around the world–Yemen, France, Canada, maybe England–it seems somewhat unrealistic. They don’t appear to have a boss, either.

Pearce’s performance is somehow good and somehow not. Technically, it’s a great performance, but the character’s so insanely stupid it’s hard to take him seriously. McDonough is bad. Cheadle’s decent–I kept wondering what the filmmakers would have done if they hadn’t signed him–if bland. As the only Arab terrorist with any elements of humanity, Saïd Taghmaoui is amazing–he gives the film’s best performance and if it’d been about him, it would have been something. As the heartless terrorist–who doesn’t even follow Islam’s basic tenets–Alyy Khan is awful. The rest of the cast is, generally, fine.

The first twenty or thirty minutes of Traitor is good. Until the last couple scenes, it’s on a steady decline but it takes a huge plunge at the end.

Nachmanoff’s direction is better than his writing–it’s fun to see them work cross-purpose. Nachmanoff goes the steady-cam route here (for realism, I’m sure), but he’s got tons of goofy Hollywood dialogue.

And Mark Kilian’s music is good. So good I’m surprised I don’t know his name.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff; screenplay by Nachmanoff, based on a story by Steve Martin and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; music by Mark Kilian; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Don Cheadle, David Hoberman, Kay Liberman, Todd Lieberman, Chris McGurk, Danny Rosett and Jeffrey Silver; released by Overture Films.

Starring Don Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Neal McDonough (Max Archer), Alyy Khan (Fareed Mansour), Archie Panjabi (Chandra Dawkin) and Jeff Daniels (Carter).


Ocean’s Thirteen (2007, Steven Soderbergh)

A friend of mine thinks this entry is the series’s most successful, but–while it is a tad confrontational–I prefer the outright hostility to the average viewer the second one exhibits. Ocean’s Thirteen seems to be made more for the remaining audience. The people who got Twelve. The scenes in Mexico, in particular, are the sort of absurdist humor only Soderbergh can get away with. I actually had to pause the film to laugh while the wife wondered why we were stopping.

The film isn’t just missing Julia Roberts, it’s missing needing her. The job becomes so central to the film from five minutes in, the particulars of the characters aren’t important. Clooney and Pitt do have some great scenes together–the Oprah scene is a winner, as is the film’s half-way point emotional scene, with the two back where they ended the first film for a nice moment. Damon’s role is smaller as well.

Instead of filling the empty space–even with the ultra-produced heist summaries, there’s empty space–by bumping up the supporting members of the team, Thirteen just gives it all to Al Pacino. Pacino’s a hilarious bad guy, embracing a touch of silliness I don’t think he ever has before. Besides his scenes with Barkin (she’s great too), he only really has contact with Clooney and, for a moment each scene, it’s jarring. Danny Ocean shouldn’t be talking to Al Pacino that way… it’s Al Pacino.

Even with the stylization of the second film, which was semi-referential as well as strangely affecting, Thirteen is–stylistically–Soderbergh’s tour de force for the series. The color palatte, lots of reds, lots of blues, is lush and complicated. It might be, in addition to the sound mixing, the way Thirteen is most hostile to the viewer. Obviously, with a film mostly set indoors, Soderbergh has lots of fun with his sets.

The general opinion of the cast, as I recall, is Thirteen is the series’s final entry. I agree a break–and a significant one–is in order, but (and somehow more than the second one) this entry raises an intriguing question. If Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt, Damon and team can make such a fun (and technically astounding) film with such a mediocre plot… what could they do with a good one?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by David Holmes; production designer, Philip Messina; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Danny Ocean), Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan), Matt Damon (Linus Caldwell), Andy Garcia (Terry Benedict), Don Cheadle (Basher Tarr), Bernie Mac (Frank Catton), Ellen Barkin (Abigail Sponder), Al Pacino (Willy Bank), Casey Affleck (Virgil Malloy), Scott Caan (Turk Malloy), Eddie Jemison (Livingston Dell), Shaobo Qin (Yen), Carl Reiner (Saul Bloom) and Elliott Gould (Reuben Tishkoff).


Volcano (1997, Mick Jackson)

I’m trying to remember why I queued Volcano. I’ve recently been on a “rediscovering the mid-to-late 1990s” kick, so that reason is possible, but I’m pretty sure it was because Anne Heche was in it and I wanted to go back to when she was going to have a great career. Heche is incredibly good and the lack of her presence in modern cinema is going on my (new, creating it right now in Excel or something) list of what’s wrong with modern film.

Volcano is from that wonderful era when CGI wasn’t as “good” as it is now, but still expensive enough to prohibit network TV from using it in excess (which is why the disaster genre is now all network mini-series). And Volcano has some terrible CGI, it has some terrible dialogue, it has some awful moments when people realize that skin color doesn’t matter and that everyone is the same….

It also has a great cast. Besides Heche, firstly, there’s Don Cheadle. This Cheadle is the pre-(semi)fame Cheadle who pops up in all Brett Ratner’s films. This Cheadle just acts and does it well, makes you like him too. It’s the wonderful 1990s Cheadle. I don’t know if he’s lost it with his notoriety, but he certainly picks a lot worse projects (his latest LA film, Crash, isn’t fit to scrub Volcano‘s toilet). Jacqueline Kim and Keith David make up the rest of the main supporting cast, playing a doctor and a cop, respectively (I think David was also a cop in Crash). David’s practically always good and Kim is–it’s just that she’s in almost no films. Gaby Hoffmann, who’s one of those child actors who shouldn’t have disappeared, shows up as Tommy Lee Jones’s kid and occasionally spouts off terrible dialogue.

Jones is fine (this film’s still from the era when Jones couldn’t be bad), but it’s one of those roles I kept wishing David Strathairn was playing. If you’ve never seen The River Wild, you wouldn’t understand, but Strathairn as an action hero is a wonderful thing.

(I keep forgetting about City of Hope, I really need a good widescreen City of Hope).

Volcano is nicely paced–it must run around one hundred minutes and there’s about forty of setup, then an hour of disaster. I’m not so much a sucker for disaster movies–the Irwin Allen variety, with the big casts, are all right I suppose–but I do like films with a limited storytelling span, especially if they are trying to “entertain” me. I was going to say that Mick Jackson is a fine enough director and should do TV, but he already does. It’s really sad when a movie like Volcano is more interesting than 99% of films coming out today.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Jackson; written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray, based on a story by Armstrong; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Michael Tronick and Don Brochu; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jackson Degovia; produced by Neal H. Mortiz and Andrew Z. Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Mike Roark), Anne Heche (Dr. Amy Barnes), Gaby Hoffman (Kelly Roark), Don Cheadle (Emmit Reese), Jacqueline Kim (Dr. Jaye Calder), Keith David (Police Lieutenant Ed Fox), John Corbett (Norman Calder), Michael Rispoli (Gator Harris) and John Carroll Lynch (Stan Olber).


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