Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle’s tribute to Miles Davis. Cheadle is Miles Davis and he gives an Oscar worthy performance. He also co-wrote and directed the film. In this regard, Cheadle’s performance does not quite equal the quality of his acting. The movie primarily takes place during the five years in the 1970’s when Miles did not produce an album. It ends in 1980 with Miles’ comeback concert with cameos by Herbie Hancock, who is now 76, and Wayne Shorter, who is 82. Unfortunately, performances by Miles and others are limited, although the background music by Robert Glasper is excellent. The film focuses on Miles’ temper and his drug use with multiple flashbacks involving his wife. The timelines are blurred and some of the scenes are pure fiction. Nonetheless, there are parts that are absolutely brilliant and, if you are a Miles Davis fan, there are little things that occur during the 100-minute run time that are impressive. There is a brief scene where the television is on and you see the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, wrapping up his humiliation of the then Great White Hope, Jim Jeffries. In 1971, Miles dedicated an album to Jack Johnson, but there is far more to the connection. Throughout the film, we witness the blending of Jack Johnson’s attitude and the free flowing spirit of a Miles album. I suspect the more you know about Miles, the more likely you are to enjoy certain scenes with a proportionate amount of frustration with the factual liberties that are taken. Emayatzy Corinealdi gives an excellent performance as Miles’ first wife, Frances Taylor. Unlike the reporter character (Ewan McGregor), Emayatzy is believable. Arguably, she and Cheadle are the only truly believable characters in the film. The more I think about Miles Ahead, the more impressed I am with the film, with the most impressive element being Don Cheadle’s performance. Seldom do I find a singular acting performance sufficient reason to see a film. Cheadle’s portrayal of Miles Davis is on par with George C. Scott playing General Patton – totally dominating and magnificent.
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Marguerite: French film with subtitles. The time is 1921 and the place is an exquisite residence outside Paris. A fund raising event is occurring and the final presentation is an operatic performance by the event’s host, Marguerite (Catherine Font). As the film unfolds, we learn that Marguerite and her husband, Georges Dumont (Andre Marcon), have been sponsoring these concerts on behalf of a music society for quite some time. The events are always private, however, a reporter has crashed this particular concert, which is a benefit for the war orphans. Lucien, the reporter (Sylvain Dieuaide), writes a review entitled “The Orphan’s Voice” and describes Marguerite’s singing as “the human truth”. Marguerite befriends Lucien and the storyline heads towards Marguerite giving a public concert. A major character in the story is Marguerite’s butler and driver, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who is key to hiding the truth from Marguerite - that she cannot sing. His motivation has an evil twist to it. This 128 minute film is told with humor and, despite the Madelbos character, with respect for the singer. The story is presented in chapters and leads with a photograph of Marguerite posing in an operatic role. What unfolds in each chapter is consistent with its title. The director, Xavier Giannoli, co-wrote the screenplay with Marcia Romano. We are told at the beginning that the story is based upon true events. A significant difference, however, is that the real individual was an American socialite, Florence Foster Jenkins, and not a French woman with a moniker mockingly similar to the Marx Brothers’ character Margaret Dumont. I understand a movie has been made starring Meryl Streep as Jenkins. Frot is marvelous as the clueless chanteuse and her performance alone makes the film worth seeing. But really, does her voice have to be so painfully off-key?
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Eye in the Sky: an excellent thriller addressing serious ethical questions about war. The plot line is simple: British military has located two Al-Shabaab extremists who are meeting in a safe house in Kenya. The original plan is to capture the terrorists. However, before the plan can be executed, the two individuals, one British and the other American, move to a second, more secure compound. With information gleaned from drone surveillance, the “eye in the sky”, the military learns the terrorist are planning a suicide bombing mission. At this point, the military’s mission changes from capture to kill, but they must first obtain authorization for the new mission. During this 102 minute film, the issue of collateral damage is fully explored. Helen Mirren, in another Oscar worthy performance, plays British military intelligence officer, Colonel Katherine Powell, who is advocating for the strike. She reports to Lt. General Frank Benson, played by Alan Rickman in his final movie role; Rickman died of pancreatic cancer in January 2016. Rickman is excellent. Lt. General Benson is in a room with the British Attorney General, a British foreign secretary and others who have the authority to authorize the strike. Initially the authorization is given, however, a young girl enters the strike zone to sell bread. The drone pilot, played by Aaron Paul, who is located in Las Vegas, insists on obtaining new authorization before he will release the bomb. At this point, the film gets really interesting as the authorization requests travel up the administrative chain on both the American and British sides. The screenplay by Guy Hibbert is excellent and the dialogue concerning collateral damage is realistic. The actors are outstanding, even those in more minor roles such as the Somali undercover agent played by Barkhard Abdi, who is operating a drone inside the compound area. The film is directed by Gavin Hood. Most military thrillers are all about the action. This film focuses on technology and the ethical issues which arise from the plethora of information made available through the new technology. Most importantly, the film addresses the conundrum of the value of a single life when the consequences of saving that particular life will most probably result in the death of multiple others. Further, the film speaks to the belief that a drone pilot is conscious of his role in a real life operation and is fully aware that he is not simply playing a sophisticated computer game. The adage spoken by Rickman at the end of the movie, “never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war,” is driven succinctly home. I highly recommend this film.