Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Based upon the Marvel Comics series created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld
Screenplay Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Directed by Tim Miller
** (two stars)

OK dear readers, I've made it to the party and I've finally seen it. I have now finally seen the comic book film that earlier this year became not only the 5th highest grossing film of the year so far, it has also become the highest grossing film of the "X-Men" film franchise to date as well as the highest grossing R rated film of all time. Yes, the film I am obviously writing about is the subject of this latest review, Director Tim Miller's "Deadpool," his adaptation of the subversive Marvel Comics series. And now, that I have seen it, I am equally of the minds of why so many of you loved the film and also as to why I avoided it for so long and have remained ultimately soft over the end results.

Granted the character of Deadpool is one I really have only known by name as I think he is a figure that emerged long after I ceased reading comic books as my interests gravitated elsewhere. I was more than aware of the fervor over the possibility of a movie version for this character yet once the trailers hit, I was decidedly skeptical to underwhelmed. Yes, I could see that this film was being launched as the Marvel movie to upend and skewer all other Marvel films as well as being unapololgetically R rated to boot.

But even so, didn't the so-called subversive Marvel movie already happen with Writer/Director James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy" (2014)? That film was one I found to not be nearly as clever or as subversive as it thought it was, so with "Deadpool," I feared that it would be more of the same. Additionally, the fact that it was going to be an R rated feature complete with all manner of profanities and graphic violence was not something that I felt to be terribly groundbreaking--maybe when I was 12 years old, but not now. And therefore, I was also fearing that we would end up with something on the level of Director Matthew Vaughn's odious "Kick-Ass" (2010), the likes of which I never wanted to sit through again. While "Deadpool" was thankfully not as repugnant an experience as "Kick-Ass," it was not a grand success for me either, and that for all of its considerable energy and effort, the film was undone by its own ambitions which never really seemed to find a way out of the initial conceptual stages to become something truly inspired.

"Deadpool" stars Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, a former special forces operative (as well as master of an endless stream of self-indulgent sarcasm) who now works as a mercenary in New York. Upon meeting Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), an escort (and one equally adapt with an endless stream of self-indulgent sarcasm) at a local bar, the twosome begin a year long relationship that reaches its own crossroads: a marriage proposal merged with the news that Wade is afflicted with terminal cancer.

Not wishing to allow Vanessa to marry him only to watch him die, Wade is soon approached by a sinister recruiter from a secretive medical program who offers Wade the opportunity to partake in an experimental operation that will cure him of his cancer. Reluctantly leaving Vanessa behind, Wade agrees to the operation but is soon found in the clutches of Francis (he really hates being called that) Freeman a.k.a. Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his henchwoman Angel Dust (Gina Carano) inside of a laboratory and forced to intake the serum of Weapon X, a formula designed to awaken latent mutant genes after being triggered by a series of unspeakable tortures. Once those latent genes are brought to fruition, the victims are to be sold as superslaves to the highest bidders.

Once Ajax traps Wade inside of an airtight tube, cutting off his oxygen, Wade's mutant genes are released, curing his cancer, unleashing a new powers of super strength, agility and healing, thus making him essentially indestructible. On the downside, Wade's body and face are now completely disfigured with a mass of burn-like scars of which Ajax professes to have the sole cure. Escaping the chamber and surviving their first battle after seemingly being left for dead by Ajax, Wade, now christening himself as Deadpool, goes on the hunt for revenge against Ajax wile also hoping to reclaim the love of Vanessa despite his appearance and also continue to rebuff the offers to join the Uncanny X-Men by an ever persistent Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), a Russian born mutant with powers to transform his body into organic steel.

Now,, if all of this sounds to you like the current standard of superhero origin films, then you would be 100% correct. Although, with Tim Miller's "Deadpool," we are given this story with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek just moments before it spits in our eyes with a barrage of four letter words, CGI blood and gore and that aforementioned endless stream of sarcasm and self-congratulatory snark that Ryan Reynolds dolls out with undeniable glee. "Deadpool" is kind of like Marvel's id gone amok.

Yes, this film is easily the movie "Guardians Of The Galaxy" wished that it could have been as far as blowing a hole clean through the superhero film genre and the Marvel films in particular. "Deadpool," through its constant self-reflexive humor, breaking of the fourth wall--even within its own opening and ending credits--and a collection of in jokes that skewer the X-Men films and even Ryan Reynolds himself  But even so, when all is said and done, "Deadpool" exists as a one-note movie because it really just is a one joke movie: a superhero/anti-hero that curses profusely and decapitates his foes with a rampant disregard for...well...anything. Snark for snarks sake may be fine for some (and from the massive box office, it clearly worked on a mass scale) but for me, it was just not enough.

For the steady and rapid fire stream of jokes, I can say that I only laughed heartedly a handful of times during the entire film. Maybe it was because a lot of jokes that were peppered throughout the film's ubiquitous trailers had already landed but mostly because the screenwriters just haven't cracked that inexplicable code that makes dirty words exist beyond being solely dirty words. As far as its level of humor is concerned, it did kind of wear on me that "Deadpool" wallows in the homo-erotic tension/fears of 12-year-old-boy locker room humor and never climbs out of that specific arena which really should be left behind in middle school (and truth be told, is often considerably meaner and funnier)...or at least, the films of the 1980's.

I've said it many times before upon this site, but there is a real artistry and swing to making vulgarity artful and with "Deadpool," once again, the filmmakers had the word but not the music or the rhythm to make it all sing. And once the violent splatter entered the scene, I found the film to be numbingly excessive just to just be numbingly excessive. There was no true release. Nothing to sail the words and the bloodletting over the top into being something truly unique where the nastiness works beautifully and you want more and more of it.

I'd say that "Deadpool" was only really confirming my initial reservation about it for the first third or so and I was resistant to it specifically because there is a real art to R rated humor, comic brutality with graphic violence that so few filmmakers have mastered. Of course, the firsts of its kind for me was indeed Writer/Director John Landis' "An American Werewolf In London" (1981) where its tone was a pitch perfect melding of significant horror and special effects with satirical humor. In more recent years, the likes of Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow and to a more consistent and brilliant degree, Quentin Tarantino are the new masters as they never take their eyes of of what is the storytelling prize, where their deeply drawn characters, situations and motivations are at the forefront and decidedly not the language and violence, a combination "Deadpool" never really reaches or understands.

For all of its supposed genre-busting, "Deadpool" too often upholds the conventions it claims to be satirizing. As a story, it is greatly generic, yet another simplistic revenge story and again something that Tarantino has re-invented and revitalized over and over again, making pretty much everything else pale in comparison. "Deadpool" also finds itself caught within the standard and tired extended climax, whic his indeed the cho of every other big budget climax that we have seen and still, there is no emotional or satirical payoff as the characters and story are so thin.

Returning to Kevin Smith for a moment, it just dawned upon me that he would have been absolutely perfect to imagine a character and concept like this for the silver screen--if not to actually direct it, but certainly to write it. Smith, a self-professed comic book geek, understand the nature of the comic book genre passionately and as he exhibited with his own cinematic universe in "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001), Smith worked with a level of satire that was so brilliantly labyrinthine that he poked fun at himself, his own creations, his film, his industry of choice, his audience and his critics to the point where there was absolutely noting anyone could say about or against the film that it didn't already say about itself.

Granted, Kevin Smith's outrageously vulgar in joke was not a film for everyone and...it never should have been. It was a vision that was so delightfully idiosyncratic and original that mass appeal was really never in its sights in the first place. "Deadpool," by contrast has those Marvel dollars (or better yet, Disney as they own Marvel) to think about rather than existing as an oddball cult film starring a titular figure who really should not care a whit about whether the audience likes him or not.

In this case, the demands of the industry won over something that could have been truly subversive and dangerously entertaining as the Marvel boat cannot be rocked too terribly (if at all). Furthermore, as far as likability is concerned, no amount of foul mouthed self-deprecating humor and blood drenched battles and killings in the world can change the fact that we are meant to be rooting for Deadpool from the very beginning rather than feel anything remotely challenging, disturbing or complicated.

Even so, "Deadpool" is far from a failure as it is a first rate production and Ryan Reynolds undeniably owns the role with his off-kilter, sing-songy delivery suggesting a hint of madness the film otherwise does not tap into. It is clear that Raynolds is hungry for this part and performs it to the degree where it assures that this character will be his signature character for as long as "Deadpool" movies are made.

Whether I can be attracted to signing up for another go round myself is a whole 'nother story.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

INSUFFICIENT FUNDS: a review of "Money Monster"

Story by Alan Di Fiore & Jim Kouf
Screenplay Written by Jamie Linden and Alan Di Fiore & Jim Kouf
Directed by Jodie Foster
*1/2 (one and a half stars)

During my college years, I often frequented a small campus four screen multiplex theater called University Square 4, now long defunct and replaced by an upscale high rise apartment building for student housing plus large grocery store, underground parking, offices and even the home base of the campus radio station WSUM. Yet, in my time on campus, I visited that movie theater as often as I was able to nearly anything and everything that arrived on those first run screens.

It was the theater where I first saw highly controversial features like Oliver Stone's "Born On The Fourth Of July" (1989), Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" (1991)Ridley Scott's "Thelma And Louise" (1991), Philip Kaufman's NC-17 rated "Henry & June" (1990), I even crossed a picket line to see Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1989) and it was also the home of the campus midnight movies, where I engaged myself in repeated viewings of Alan Parker's "Pink Floyd The Wall" (1982).

Even so, this theater was not an arthouse by any means as other now long defunct theaters around campus and the downtown area of Madison handled those sorts of features more frequently. University Square 4 was the home of the mass marketed commercial studio feature--most of them released through Universal Studios--featuring all manner of comedies, dramas and thrillers and believe me, I saw them all, regardless of quality or pedigree. The time period of the late 1980's/early 1990's was run rampant with mid-range quality, mildly diverting films that all seemed to run no longer than 100 minutes. Fairly entertaining as you watched but fully forgotten once the house lights brightened between daily showings, those types of movies had the run of the theater screens and for an enthusiast like myself and on a tight student budget, University Square 4 made it very easy to keep up with all of the latest releases without breaking the bank, even though the overall quality was lacking.

Nowadays, even as movies have grown to be more homogeneous, they have also grown to be more sophisticated in their presentation, which makes a movie like Jodie Foster's "Money Monster" an odd kind of throwback almost. It is indeed a mildly diverting film, an intermittently involving thriller that runs a hair less than 100 minutes and true to so many of those types of films from the past, its level of artistic quality is surprisingly low. Certainly, I have seen many films much worse than this one but it was unquestionably so disappointing that a film that carried this level of pedigree and talent in front of and behind the cameras could come up with a full length feature so cliched, formulaic and conceptually shallow considering its especially timely subject matter. Trust me, I wouldn't steer you wrong. "Money Monster" is not worth the amount of money that you would spend for a night out at the movies.

"Money Monster" stars George Clooney as cable television financial expert/huckster Lee Gates, a figure that makes even "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer look subtle by comparison.  24 hours before the fateful broadcast as depicted in the film, the IBIS Global Capital's stock inexplicably crashed due to a "glitch" in the algorithm, costing its investors a loss of $800 million. As Grant prepares for a puff piece interview with IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West from HBO's "The Wire") to explain the reasons of the crash, Camby has unexpectedly departed to Geneva on business...supposedly.

As Grant's staff attempts to locate Camby and has alternately placed IBIS Chief Communications Officer Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) as his proxy for the interview, unbeknownst to the entire crew, deliveryman Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) has infiltrated the studio armed with a gun and a vest of explosives which he forces Grant to wear on live television. Kyle, who has lost his entire life savings in the IBIS crash after investing due to Grant's endorsement of the company upon his television program, now demands answers and revenge.

With only a tiny studio crew plus the program's director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) remaining in the control room, this day's episode of "Money Monster" turns into a televised hostage crisis situation where one increasingly unhinged member of the working class threatens to take the upper class down in flames with him.

For all practical purposes, the plot of "Money Monster" easily has potential for being a tightly wound pot-boiler that taps angrily into the intense tenor of the times and our socio/political and economic climate. In fact, I think we actually need a film like that right now, in order to keep the conversation about economic disparity and inequality at the forefront, as well as piggy-backing off of the critical and box office success of Adam McKay's Academy Award winning "The Big Short" (2015).   Yes, "Money Monster" is essentially a "popcorn movie," but that does not mean that this brand of popcorn cannot be substantive, as it could have utilized a palpable sense of outrage to fuel the thriller narrative to crackling effect.

Unfortunately, Jodie Foster's film fails in that regard. I would say the economic outrage is apparent during the film but only in fits and starts and overall, instead of urgency, "Money Monster" is often flat and even boring. Such a shame as the film clearly has much inherent material to work with including a sly yet teeth baring satire about our societal addiction to fame and living life through all manner of screens, consistently blurring the lines and perceptions of reality and fantasy. And yet, "Money Monster" is toothless, painless and by film's conclusion, considerably pointless.

My criticisms are not designed to suggest that the level of ambition a project of this sort woud require is out of Jodie Fosters' creative reach. Quite the contrary, Foster possesses more than her fair share of projects within her filmography that find the common ground between entertainment and the provocative, most notably Jonathan Kaplan's "The Accused" (1988).  In fact, it feels more than clear that Foster perhaps wished for this film to exist within the same cinematic universe as the likes of Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975) and Spike Lee's "Inside Man" (2006), two highly celebrated crime themed films starring New York City and the latter in which she co-starred. In fact, even if she didn't want to aim as highly as those films, she could have aimed for a first rate urban thriller along the likes of F. Gary Gray's "The Negotiator" (1998). 

Certainly the presence of both Julia Roberts and George Clooney suggest something much more prevalent than mere star wattage as between the two of them, some of their finest films include the Steven Soderbergh's "Erin Brockovich" (2000), David O. Russell's "Three Kings" (1999), Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana" (2000), and Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton" (2007). 

In all of those earlier films, we had been given distinctly idiosyncratic characters to become involved with via smart, sharply written screenplays in service of the expert performances and direction. In every case, these were complex, unapologetically adult films that never dumbed down their material at the expense of mass appeal.

And yet, as I watched "Money Monster," I felt as if all of the major participants just were not trying hard enough. Nothing felt terrible, by any means. The performances are good, I guess and Foster's direction is serviceable enough but I found myself too often being sidelined by the weak screenplay, which contained a collective of underwritten characters that never extended beyond cardboard. While the motivations contained within the film's primary conflict are strong enough, it was in the execution that I felt that "Money Monster" never extended itself beyond being workmanlike. I needed passion and anger and all that I saw and felt was a by the numbers thriller that rarely provided any thrills. Truth be told, Brett Ratner's populist comedy "Tower Heist" (2011) contained a more honest and obvious level of rage against the machine than any one moment contained in Foster's film.

Dear readers, there really is not much more that I can say about "Money Monster" because it was the type of film that just did not inspire much thought about it while I watched and definitely not afterwards. Even now as I write, my memories of it are quickly evaporating. I just find it difficult to accept how creative individuals like Clooney, Roberts and Foster could have allowed themselves to just go with the flow of material that is so markedly lesser than many of the films they have each previously made.

You know, if they wanted to have some fun and hang out together, that's just fine. But maybe next time, just go out to dinner and not spend millions upon millions of dollars under the pretense of making an "important" film that seemingly none of them cared very much about in the first place.

And like so many of those movies that I saw long ago at University Square 4, Jodie Foster's "Money Monster" is rapidly finding its way into the realm of forgotten films of my past. Don't let it be one of yours.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

SUPERIOR SHOWDOWN: a review of "Captain America: Civil War"

Based upon the Marvel Comics series created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Screenplay Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
***1/2 (three and a half stars) 

Now this is how you get the job done!

In the continuing rivalry between the building and on-going cinematic universes of Marvel and DC, Marvel remains the clear victor. Yes, Marvel has had a several years worth of a head start but even from the very beginning with Director Jon Favreau's inaugural "Iron Man" (2008), the Marvel Cinematic Universe was initiated and has remained committed to producing a collective of films of overall high quality, substance and high flying entertainment that leaves audiences more than ready for the next installment in this collection of interlocking, serialized episodes.

Yes, I have grumbled often about the sheer prevalence of these superhero movies and the assembly line nature of their output at the expense of other films that could be made. But, aside from a couple of underwhelming features, the Marvel films have insisted upon maintaining a certain high standard that I do appreciate greatly as they not only keep me coming back for more, but it does seem as if the filmmakers have been studying their own work, the criticisms as well as the praise in order to learn from any past missteps.

"Captain America: Civil War," the third (somewhat) solo entry of our red, white and blue clad and mighty shield wielding hero is easily one of the best Marvel entries to date, strongly extending from all that has arrived before while paving a provocative path for its future. Returning to the Director's Chairs are the Russo Brothers, who helmed the excellent "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) and unlike Writer/Director Joss Whedon's strong but straining "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" (2015), these filmmakers feel to be more than up to the challenge of executing what is known to be Phase 3 of the Marvel films, they seem to be positively invigorated by it. What we have received is a superhero film that certainly delivers considerable bang for our buck but more than any pyrotechnics, the Russo Brothers have ensured that "Captain America: Civil War" never falls off of the rails into mindless CGI bombast at the expense of characters, story and interior motivations, and surprisingly, it feels as if the filmmakers have explored their own destructive tendencies to a most refreshing and stirring degree.

Continuing from the previous installments, "Captain America: Civil War" finds Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), still consumed with locating his childhood friend turned brainwashed terrorist Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). As the film opens, Rogers and the Avengers who include Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), are on a mission in Lagos, Nigeria as they attempt to stop the theft of a biological weapon from a laboratory. Unfortunately, the mission concludes in chaos as innocent civilians are killed during the melee.

Back home in Avengers headquarters, the team now joined by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Lt. James "Rhodey" Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany), meet with U.S. Secretary Of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) who brings the group to task for all of the destruction, violence and loss of innocent lives in the events from "Avengers" (2012), "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Avengers: Age Of Ultron."

The Avengers are presented with an ultimatum: Sign the newly drawn Sokovia Accords, a U.N. document that will establish a U.N. committee that will oversee the actions of the team or retire. Stark, consumed with guilt and remorse (plus considerable PTSD) agrees to the team being regulated while Rogers refuses, a course of action that divides the team, especially when a terrorist attack in Vienna that kills King T'Chaka of Wakanda (John Kani), the Father of T'Challa/The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), implicates the fugitive Bucky Barnes.

As The Avengers take separate sides and turn against each other, they are also unaware of a secretive puppet master behind the scenes in Sokovian colonel turned terrorist Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).

With the now thirteenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe upon us, Anthony and Joe Russo's "Captain America: Civil War" is one of the finest episodes to date and terrifically shows no signs of any creative strain or sluggishness whatsoever. The Russos merge comic book flight and fantasy with the grounded, gritty, propulsive realism and and two-fisted action of a 1970's espionage thriller or even elements from a "Jason Bourne" adventure to seamless effect through their tight direction which is fueled by a strong, perceptive and often witty screenplay, fine performances from the entire cast and never allowing the special effects to overwhelm the proceedings, ensuring they only enhance superbly (most notably, the terrific moment of seeing Robert Downey Jr. as young as he was in the 1980s).

Certainly, comparisons are inevitable between this film and Director Zack Snyder's "Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice," which arrived not even two months ago to serious critical and, to an extent, fan derision. And for my money, rightfully so. Where that film was a visually stunning feature with intermittently effective characters and moments (Ben Affleck's Batman easily being the strongest component), these elements were unfortunately surrounded by a muddled morass of unclear to stupid character motivations and a level of ear shattering bombast and unending violence that was bludgeoning and frankly, boring.

With "Captain America: Civil War," the Russos essentially get everything absolutely correct where Snyder went terribly wrong over and again. Essentially both films are almost the exact same movie as they each sport a "brother against brother" narrative fueled by themes of dangers of unregulated power, the consequences of violence and also, they explore how the burdens and sins of the parents fall squarely upon the shoulders of the now psychologically damaged adult children. But where Snyder had his film exist at the most basic, shallow level, where ultra-violence was the answer to every conceivable issue, the Russo brothers have injected healthy doses of nuance, coherence, subtleties and honest pathos to the continuing adventures of Captain America and his ever growing band of teammates and adversaries.

One major issue I had with Snyder's film plus his "Man Of Steel" (2013) was the feeling that despite the ambition and risk taking, it seemed that Snyder never really understood exactly who his main characters actually were in the first place by having them behave in ways that were contrary to their own comic book mythologies. With "Captain America: Civil War," the Russo brothers have also taken some liberties with some extremely familiar characters and their respective mythologies, but at the core, our heroes remain just as we have always known them, behave in ways that remain true to who they have always been, therefore making any conceptual risks work within the parameters of the story being told.

When confronted with the Sokovia Accords the the philosophical divide that occurs within our heroes, it was fascinating to me to see the perpetually rebellious Tony Stark agree to be reined in while the patriotic, all American Steve Rogers vehemently rejects the idea of government control in favor of having the unlimited freedom to make his own choices regarding his means of protecting the country (might this be a sly suggestion that our Cap is a Libertarian?).

But before the movie (and for that matter, the audience) can be simply divided into either "Team Iron Man" or Team Captain America," I deeply appreciated how the Russo brothers demonstrated that there are in fact, no easy answers as the shades of grey are extremely hick and even when sides are chosen, compromises always occur and the goal line is always moved.

For Tony Stark, the one of the Cheshire Cat grin, quick with a quip and armed with seemingly nine lives, the events of the past have come to take a...ahem...stark emotional toll. From surviving a voyage through a wormhole and cheating death only to emerge shaken with PTSD, to nearly losing the love of his life despite his greatest efforts to the contrary in Director Shane Black's "Iron Man 3" (2013), to seeing the virtual manifestation of his own hubris run amok with the unleashed Ultron, Tony Stark has seen the limitations and consequences of his own genius and arrogance, despite his best intentions. Now, he nearly finds himself in a period of defeat. By agreeing to sign the treatise, it is as if Stark feels that the best way to save the world would be to protect it from himself. And even still, despite his best efforts, he realizes that he is unable to bend the world to his will now that he is at odds with Steve Rogers, a relationship fraught with rivalry but one that has now revealed a deep friendship and reliance that threatens to find itself undone permanently.

For Steve Rogers, his reluctance and ultimate refusal to align himself with the treatise feels to make even more sense given his past in the 1940's where he was utilized as a symbol of government propaganda for the supposed "greater good" of the war effort in Director Joe Johnston's "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011). Combine his ambivalence with his friendship with Bucky Barnes, a relationship that provides a strong dramatic undercurrent to the character of Captain America, as Barnes truly represents the last piece of the life and time Rogers knew before being thawed out in the 21st century. Again, he is the ultimate "man out of time," a figure eternally displaced in a world he has adapted to but may not ever understand--meaning the only thing he is able to understand is his own moral compass, which will also forever be out of step with the times, including Tony Stark, despite their friendship.

Since their emotional states and motivations affect their alliances with each other, they also spiral to the motivations and alliances of their friends and teammates thus causing the split, which explodes in the film's dazzling centerpiece, an all out superhero brawl in an airport hanger--an excursion that could have been a conceptual disaster but beautifully brought me back to my inner 12-year-old as the Russo brothers made those Marvel comics pages burst to vibrant life. It is indeed hero again hero as current and former Avengers plus some surprising new arrivals mix it up to a deliriously enthralling effect. And even then, all of the fighting is story driven as the themes of alliances, violence and vengeance within all of the characters play off of each other. Captain America wants vengeance against those who captured and tortured his life long friend. Iron Man wants vengeance against all of his worst impulses and inner demons. Black Panther wants vengeance against Bucky Barnes for supposedly being responsible for the murder of his Father. Even Helmut Zemo's full arch stems from a place of vengeance and retribution.

With that, "Captain America: Civil War" becomes a two and a half hour exploration of the futility of vengeance, how violence begets violence, and how revenge does not lead to redemption. Nearly all of the characters within the film are wrestling with their own respective levels of guilt, remorse, responsibility and the dire consequences of their own actions, which only further mount in complexity and weight. Whereas by contrast, "Batman V. Superman:  Dawn Of Justice" strongly felt to exude the concept that violence is the only answer and it should be utilized by any and all means necessary, consequences be damned.
The Russo brothers are also wise enough to understand that every superhero film does not need to conclude in yet another yawn inducing apocalypse, as Zack Snyder seems to have not met an overlong, extended finale that he didn't like. In its own way, "Captain America: Civil War" grows quieter and more sobering by film's end. While the climax of the film is ferociously knuckle bruising, it is also a sequence of painful intimacy and revelation.

But hey...there is one--well, look...the most crucial difference between what the Russo brothers have delivered compared to Snyder's effort is that "Captain America: Civil War" is actually...FUN!!!!! For all of the serious themes, these are superheros and the Marvel films have always ensured that audiences will be given a terrific piece of entertainment, therefore we are entertained without sacrificing any substance or being crushed under its own conceptual weight. The Russo brothers keep all of the elements moving briskly and purposefully. I was immensely impressed that they were able to keep all of these costumed characters interesting and in control, unlike other comic book movies (like the "X-Men" series for me), where filmmakers have struggled and often felt to be shuffling characters from scene to scene not really knowing what to do with them.

By now, you are all aware that Spider-Man (now played enthusiastically by Tom Holland) has been re-booted for the third time in 14 years and believe me, I was more than worried that his addition to the proceedings would be one more hero too many. Surprisingly, it was a superb injection as we are now given possibly the youngest version of the wall crawler yet (and that also goes for Aunt May who is now played by the unbelievably foxy Marisa Tomei) and his boundless energy, agility and innocence, especially when contrasted with a figure like Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, made for terrific comedic banter, supplying the film with palpable lightness as well as signifying great promise for his own upcoming solo feature. Just as Joss Whedon accomplished with his two "Avengers" films, the Russo brothers have also ensured that ever character has their role and moments to play, no one is expendable or extraneous, and everyone combines to give the film the biggest, best punch we could ask for.

And at the core, it is the story of Steve Rogers whose life as Captain America is not treated as world weary burden or tortured pose, but as nothing less than his calling to do the right thing as he views it. If one is to join him on his quest, he is indeed grateful for the support but he is more than willing to walk the world alone if need be, thus providing that classic Marvel comic melancholy that always sits at the heart of their characters. "Captain America: Civil War" succeeds greatly as it firmly accomplishes what really feels to be a near impossibility in our superhero movie saturated times...it more than satisfies while simultaneously leaves you wanting even more!

So, what else am I even left to say at this time but to conclude this review with a rallying cry of "MAKE MINE MARVEL!!"

Saturday, May 7, 2016

HAPPY/SAD/BEAUTIFUL: a review of "Sing Street"

Story by John Carney & Simon Carmody
Screenplay Written by John Carney
Directed by John Carney
**** (four stars)

Yes, I know that all of you are most likely out seeing the latest Captain America adventure but please do allow me to point you in the direction of something that is not only far off of the beaten path, it is also one that has sailed directly onto my personal list of one of the best films of 2016. Times are indeed becoming increasingly tougher for the smaller film to survive among the big budget behemoths and I seriously wish for this wonderful film to not slip through the cracks.

In a movie year that has already delivered Richard Linklater's raucous, astutely perceptive and deeply heartfelt "Everybody Wants Some!!" and Don Cheadle's audacious, poetic, rule breaking "Miles Ahead," we now arrive with something truly beautiful. Writer/Director John Carney, who previously delivered the lovely, Oscar winning "Once" (2007) and the criminally under-appreciated "Begin Again" (2014), now presents "Sing Street," not only his third ode to music and romance but unquestionably his finest film to date. It is a film of harsh realism combined with delirious optimism and musical fantasy, merged so effortlessly that by the film's end, you will find your heart and spirit soaring with inspiration and possibility.

I honestly do not know how Carney achieves such a feat over and again but I am now beginning to see him and his talents existing as a full blessing to cinema as movies have only continued to grow darker, more cynical and crass and driven solely by the bottom line. With "Sing Street," you can feel the adoration John Carney has for his subject matter flowing rapturously from the screen. It is obvious that he believes in every single moment he has placed on camera and every single word that he has written. And in doing so, our own levels of cynicism completely fade and we become believers right along with him. Please do yourselves a favor and head straight out to see this film for it is a glowingly special experience that just may have yo finding yourselves singing all the way out of the theater.

Set within inner-city Dublin circa 1985, "Sing Street" tells the story of teenager Conor Lalor (a thoroughly winning Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who finds himself transferred from his private school to a rough public Catholic school named Synge Street CBS, after his family faces new financial and personal woes. Conor's Father Robert (Aiden Gillen) finds business for his architecture practice waning as well as his marriage to Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) failing as fights grow more frequent and he falls deeper into alcohol. While Conor's older sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) remains studios, his older brother Brendan (a terrific Jack Raynor) is a wayward, music obsessed college dropout.

At his new school, life becomes even more turbulent as Conor is the subject of torment from not only the school bully Barry (Ian Kenny) but also the unrepentant and violent school principal, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley). After finding himself befriended by the diminutive yet clever, fast talking Darren (Ben Carolan), the twosome spot the stunning sight of an older girl standing petulantly across the street. For Conor it is love at first sight.

In a moment of pure boldness, Conor introduces himself to the girl named Raphina (a wonderful Lucy Boynton), who presents an affect of worldliness and claims to be an aspiring model. Following suit and in an even bolder move, Conor invites Raphina to play a role in the upcoming music video for his band. Except, and unbeknownst to Raphina, there is no music video because there is no band.

Not yet...

Soon, Darren introduces Conor to multi-instrumentalist Eamon (an excellent Mark McKenna), and the band, soon to be named Sing Street is formed alongside keyboardist Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), bassist Larry (Conor Hamilton) and drummer (Karl Rice), with Darren serving as producer, manager and music video director. After being creatively pushed his brother to not just play in a cover band but to actually generate his own material, Conor, with great aid from Eamon, becomes a promising songwriter. Now armed with his band, self made music and videos and emerging self confidence, Conor strikes out to win Raphina's heart and quite possibly, mend his family as well.

As with both "Once" and "Begin Again," John Carney's "Sing Street" is a rapturously affectionate film that revolves around the joy of inspiration and the supreme connection that is formulated between disparate individuals when creating music and playing together. The sequences of songwriting, performance and video making instantly took me back to my own teenage years when I served as drummer for a band and also made a short movie for Arts Week one year. For me, those times were not only confidence building but experiences where the only expectations were ones my friends and I placed upon ourselves. We were building our own worlds together and the energy that sparked between one person's talents and ideas and everyone else's was infectious. We never had any claims to what the future may have held for any of us as musicians, writers and filmmakers but we thrived just on the fact that we were being creative and inventive, surprising ourselves all along the way. Now that those years are far behind me, I can easily look back to those times and realize that those periods fully paved the way for my adult creative life as a writer and as a radio DJ. And I still carry my drumsticks inside of my daily, and increasingly ragged satchel because...you never know...

Despite those specific personal moments and emotions, "Sing Street" expertly tapped into that wider and almost inexplicable drive that the young (and I would gather any creative individuals) happen to possess when thrust into the world of creating art just at the point where they are discovering (to continuing to discover) themselves and their specific places in the world at large. In some respects, that particular spirit is fearless because there are no wrong answers, the rules and boundaries are of their own making, therefore absolutely anything is possible.

Also, and as with Carney's previous musical film entries, "Sing Street" is loaded with a collection of original songs (many co-written by Carney) that are superbly pitch perfect and fit lusciously alongside their mid 1980's counterparts by the likes of Spandau Ballet, The Cure, Hall & Oates, Joe Jackson and others. This particular tactic also served the film greatly not just through being instantly accessible and crowd pleasing songs but in the perceptive quality that showcases how budding songwriters and musicians need to crib from their sources of inspiration to find themselves as well as displaying Conor's inner life, hopes, fears, frustrations and ever growing dreams.

"Sing Street," like its predecessors is also a deceptively simple film. Yes, it is primarily the story of a boy who wishes to impress a girl by forming a band. But, the details within and underneath give the film a tangible dramatic weight, eve when the film is often flying sky high due to the music and its boisterous comedy. Yes, Conor's life as songwriter/singer/musician may have explicitly begun to impress an older girl, but what it becomes is a source of self-expression leading to growing independence, an exploration of sexual identity and rebelliousness, courage, strength and even salvation.

Carney is extremely sharp and wise to utilize the realities of 1985 Dublin as the hardened backdrop to a story this romantic. The scent of violence looms subtly in the air as does a societal sense of hopelessness as economic disparity grows larger. Carney will have these quick matter-of-fact moments where Conor and Eamon are writing songs together in an idyllic setting yet Eamon's bicycle is stolen right behind them. Another moment presents Conor and Raphna hand in hand with songs in their heart racing through the nighttime streets as a drunk citizen vomits profusely in an graffiti drenched alleyway. The songs serve as rainbows to life's clouds to be certain, but they also illuminate and inform Conor about the role he possesses in determining the course of his future.

Once Conor gets it into his head to begin a band, yet has no idea whatsoever as to what music they would even perform, he fumbles into the idea of his band existing as one that is "futurist." With "Sing Street," Conor's eventual clash with the possibilities of his own future arrive rapidly and turbulently as he is forced to face conflicts with his dreams and realities with the state of his family, his school, his homeland and even with Raphina. It is here where we realize that the core of the film is not necessarily Conor's romance with Raphina but his endearing relationship with his brother Brendan, who guides him in music and ultimately. in life via witnessing his brother's own disappointments and failings. For what sort of future does Conor wish to have for himself, and how would those dreams conform to the extremely limited environment in which he currently lives?

While the pain of Dublin realities arrive, vanish and return over and again throughout the film, Carney maintains his optimism, which is as urgent as it is clear eyed. Because honestly, what could be more daring in a world where despair is on the rise, giving into that despair or fighting against it to create a better future for yourself? The film's final moments are definitely Carney's most dramatically extreme to date, providing us with visual and emotional metaphors for the storms we all shoulder within life and how we can either face or fear them. For Carney, optimism is a defiant choice, not a defeat. A virtue, not an unrealistic hindrance. And his sense of hope and community, especially in our extremely divisive and vitriolic times is a much needed necessity.

As our hero Conor, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is first rate in a performance that is rich, warm, vulnerable, completely involving and engaging and it also must be noted that he performs all of his own singing within the film and wonderfully so. Lucy Boynton is his terrific equal as she conveys many levels of strength and jadedness alongside innocence and a deep sadness that supplies Raphina with a palpable and realistic pathos. These young lovers conjure an angst and adolescent and romantic urgency that feeds into the music and vice versa so beautifully. You will indeed root for these kids and their friends to remain true to themselves and their spirits and to not find themselves beaten down by life. If these were real human beings that one could converse with, I believe that you would instantly wish to take each of them aside and provide them with the right amount of encouragement and support to keep them moving forwards regardless of life's obstacles.  

John Carney's "Sing Street" is a triumph, a number one hit with a bullet and fully deserving of your embrace at the box office. Captain  America will be just fine. He doesn't need our help. But for these talented, creative, heartfelt, love-struck kids from Dublin, just imagine where they could go with some devoted love from all of us.    

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

IN THE KEY OF MILES: a review of "Miles Ahead"

Story by Steven Baigleman & Don Cheadle and Steven J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson
Screenplay by Steven Baigleman & Don Cheadle
Directed by Don Cheadle
**** (four stars)

I have met Miles Davis.

Yes, it is true, dear readers. Long ago, I did indeed meet Miles Davis. I shook his hand as well, while hearing that unmistakable quiet yet firm rasp in his voice. I was 17 years old and the meeting occurred backstage a short while after a performance at the Chicago theater. And even so, the whole exchange was quite lost upon me at the time, as in my mind, Miles Davis represented my Father's music and for my Father, this meeting was a lifetime in the making.

For me, as I have grown older and have incorporated Miles Davis' unprecedented music and artistry into my life, I am stunned that I actually met the man himself. Considering his legendary mercurial and often impenetrable persona, I am further surprised to realize that my memory of the backstage visit was certainly brief but warm and for that matter, I can say that I have never seen my Father so excitedly nervous in my life, before or since, as he was at long last having a moment with a lifelong hero. There was no sense of disappointment or uncomfortableness about the visit and as I look back, now armed with a greater knowledge concerning what I understand about the man as well as the urgent and restless creativity and inventiveness within the music itself, I have often wondered how his mind actually functioned, not only regarding his art, but his relationship with those who admired and revered him, placing him upon the pedestal of icon as well as those who existed and persisted as vultures.

Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead," which he co-wrote, directs and gives a performance of sensational grit and pathos in the title role, IS NOT a biopic. Defiantly, audaciously and without any sense of concern to any potential detractors or polarization, the film is a wildly entertaining plus deeply impressionistic and passionate exploration of Miles Davis and for my sense and sensibilities, it is as courageous as they come. In fact, I felt it to be a film that often feels to exist a few minutes ahead of most films being released these days due to its overall poetic nature merged with its vibrancy. As impressed as I often was, the film is indeed quite the head-scratcher as well, a quality that certainly stopped me from sailing over the top with my impression of it. But, that is a minor quibble for a film that is demonstrably breaking the rules and charting its own creative path...much like the music of Miles Davis itself.

"Miles Ahead" proudly eschews all biopic cliches and trappings as well as the "cradle to grave" narrative structure by utilizing a completely non-linear narrative all set within a period near the end of Miles Davis' (played by Don Cheadle) five year, self-imposed sabbatical and exile from public life, studio recording and live performances. While extending a toe back into creating new music, Davis is at first pursued and then joined by Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), initially for an interview and soon, on a car chase and bullet ridden hunt for a set of Davis' stolen master tapes of new material. And through the feverish pursuit, Miles ventures back and forth from the intense solitude of his isolation and out into the larger world as well as between the present day and his memories, all the while attempting how to move forwards in his art and life unequivocally upon his own terms.

For those of you who are looking for a film that will provide you with a new insight into the world and therefore, the motivations and inner life of Miles Davis, Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead" is demonstrably not that film. Well...not in any traditional sense. What Cheadle has created is worlds away from something like Director Taylor Hackford's "Ray" (2004) and don't worry, it is not as all out bonkers as Director Ken Russell's Franz Liszt fantasia "Lisztomania" (1975). "Miles Ahead" is much more in the similar vein as the likes of Director Bill Pohlad's outstanding "Love And Mercy" (2015), based upon the life of Brian Wilson or better yet, Writer/Director Todd Haynes' truly forward thinking "I'm Not There" (2008), his nearly impenetrable, non-linear exploration of the music and various personas of Bob Dylan, and perhaps even more fittingly, Director Michael Mann's "Ali" (2001), his more overtly abstract exploration of Muhammad Ali.

For a figure as inscrutable as Miles Davis, it is more than fitting to me that he deserves an equally inscrutable film. "Miles Ahead" is precisely one film that throws the rule book out of the window and flies confidently by its own creative whims and excursions, defying all expectations and forcing the audience to catch up to it and conform to its will in order to fully enjoy and comprehend. In that regard, Cheadle's film is a triumph. Often electrifying in its energy and swaggering style, Cheadle utilizes the figure of Miles Davis to somehow bridge the gap between the esoteric art film and ruthless Blaxploitation. It is not only as if we are seeing a film that the real Miles Davis may have enjoyed viewing, it is the type of film that Miles Davis could possibly have made himself about himself.

For the matter of discovering any insight into the personality and persona of Miles Davis, I felt that it was deeply intriguing that Cheadle chose to focus his portrait within a period during which this artist was not being creative, therefore adding to the impressionistic style of the film itself, and making the experience, which sees more than its share of action, a decidedly cerebral journey. In many ways, the entire film works as a metaphor, or a series of metaphors, in which the iconography of Davis' life and persona congeal to create an amalgamation of symbols and signposts which then build up the film's drama and character portrait, which we are then invited and challenged to work out for ourselves. Even Miles Davis' music, which is featured wall-to-wall upon the film's soundtrack alongside a score by Composer Robert Glasper, also provides signals as to Miles Davis' state of mind throughout this unorthodox motion picture.

To me, it felt that Don Cheadle used "Miles Ahead" to extend beyond his primary subject in order to explore the idea of the artist's perception of himself, his successes and failures versus the perception the fans and critics have of him and his work. In one terrific sequence early in the film, Miles Davis, ensconced within his chaotically arranged abode--a presentation that houses shades of Howard Hughes combined with Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941)--hears a radio program on which the host professes his adoration over Davis's seminal "Kind Of Blue" (released August 17, 1959). Miles, fitfully irritated, then calls the radio station and admonishes the host, exclaiming that the album never met his own standards. As the film continues, it could be inferred, that perhaps "Sketches Of Spain" (released July 18, 1960) was the album on which Davis felt he had possibly hit his creative zenith, due to sequences where Cheadle lovingly depicts the recording sessions and Davis' collaboration with Gil Evans (played by Jeffrey Grover). With this aspect about the film in place, I wondered if all of the running around after the stolen master tapes was essentially a metaphor for the music itself that Miles Davis may have been chasing inside of his artistic spirit during his five years away from the public eye. The music. Just think about it for a moment. Present yet elusive. Simultaneously within and just this far out of his grasp.

Furthermore, Cheadle spends a large portion of "Miles Ahead" regarding Davis' turbulent eight year relationship with his first wife, dancer Frances Taylor (played by Emayatzy Corinealdi), the figure who adorns the cover of Davis' "Someday My Prince Will Come" (released December 11, 1961). Certainly, we witness a relationship of tenderness, sexuality, and romance but also one that was fraught with tension, obsession, infidelity and abuse. Even as we are presented with a domestic drama, to me, the marriage also functioned as a possible metaphor as it felt that Cheadle is presenting Frances as the love of Miles Davis' life both literally and figuratively.

If Frances functions as Davis' muse, it would seem that in the world of "Miles Ahead," we are again witness to the tension that exists within the artistic process as Miles Davis attempts to bend that ever elusive sense of inspiration itself to his will...something all creative individuals will know and understand is often filled with frustration. Inspiration arrives when it wishes. As much as we attempt to force it into existence, the harder it is for inspiration to make its presence known, And even when it does arrive, it is nearly impossible to tame. In doing so, "Miles Ahead" builds and becomes an astute story of power and control, which of course, leads me and the film into the concept of artistic autonomy.

It felt more than fitting to me that I have now seen this film after the tragic death of Prince, even though the film was made long before his passing. Not only was Prince once friends and recorded and performed with Miles Davis, Prince is now heralded as a figure who spent a large portion of his career being an advocate for artists' rights and the control of one's own master tapes, publishing rights, and intellectual property, all of which he attained near the end of his life yet Davis did not. The pursuit of the master tapes within "Miles Ahead" speaks directly to this battle as Davis is often depicted in heated and even violent contact with record label executives as well as with the film's primary antagonist, Harper Hamilton (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), a sleazy agent/producer unctuously guiding the career of young trumpeter Junior (played by Keith Stanfield), who may also serve as a representative of Davis himself in his early days as a younger, greener musician on the rise.

As previously stated, and in all areas of the film as I have described for you, Don Cheadle utilizes the music of Miles Davis to underscore and serve as signals to Davis' deteriorating mental state. Throughout the film, just watch Davis' mood alter when the music within the film grows more lush compared to other sequences featuring the agitated urgency of Davis's drug fueled, fever dream fury during his post "Bitches Brew" (released March 30, 1970) period of the early '70's. Also, I do not think it to be unintentional of the frequent boxing metaphors within the film, most certainly referring to Davis' penchant for boxing matches plus his own rock music driven yet devotional album "Jack Johnson" (released February 24, 1971).

Returning to Prince for a moment, he once described himself as feeling like Jack Johnson during his lengthy battles with the record industry and Warner Brothers in particular. With that comparison in mind, I can only imagine that Miles Davis quite possibly felt exactly the same with regards to the music he wished to create, in addition to how much music he wished to create, as well as when he would and even would not choose to record and/or perform. Miles Davis was the sole architect of his art, life and destiny, a figure who refused to be pigeon-holed or hemmed in by any constraints other than whatever he placed upon himself. He could not be contained and whenever one tried, beware his wrath. And still, even creative geniuses house their own specialized brand of insecurities, fears and demons.

Quite possibly the most audacious move Don Cheadle could have exhibited with "Miles Ahead" was to load his film with a series of of fictionalized characters and events in what many would expect to serve as a dramatic musical biopic. From what I understand, Ewan McGregor's Rolling Stone reporter character never existed in real life. I cannot find any mention of a real world Harper Hamilton anywhere. And I am more than certain that the real Miles Davis was never involved in car chases nor did he fire a gun in the offices of his record label and further shake down record executives. In essence, the character of Miles Davis that Cheadle envisions is one of combined artistic genius and streetwise gangster. So, for all of this fantasy, it would be more than understandable for you to ask of me just what the overall point of "Miles Ahead" happens to be and how I could have enjoyed it to the degree that I did when much of the content was indeed fabricated.

To that, all I can offer you is what I have previously stated: the film is an impression of Miles Davis, not a biography, a technique which gives Don Cheadle a healthy artistic license to just allow his creativity to fly freely and with a strong sense of command over such a difficult subject and a dizzingly complex execution that is as dynamic as it is often surreal. In a way, it is possible that the entirety of "Miles Ahead" takes place deep within the confines of Davis' own mind, with the fictionalized characters all serving as metaphorical stand-ins for the real figures he was in contact with.

In fact, what is Miles Davis' cluttered, wholly disorganized home in the film other than a representation of his mind, crippled by drugs and a body fraught with injuries from chronic hip pain? Perhaps his isolation houses not only his memories, regrets and ghosts but an even more frightening and mounting sense of insecurity and doubt, something the world at large would never see but nonetheless a private pain which threatens to consume him. Truthfully, who would possibly be more insecure than Miles  Davis  himself for no one else would be more acutely aware of his own talents, artistry and overall legacy than himself. Therefore, the five years away and out of sight, would certainly present itself to posses considerable soul searching threatened by those demons that woud plague any artist: Is my talent still with me or has it evaporated? Am I able to do it all over again? Am I able to create anything new? Do I have anything else left to say?

The always wonderful Don Cheadle superbly emerges i as a formidable triple threat as actor, co-writer and director. Cheadle is nothing less than fearless behind and in front of the camera, demonstrating that no one else could have made this specific material about this idiosyncratic artist within this fashion. As an actor, Cheadle delivers what just may be his finest and most immersive performance with his unquestionable bravado--which feels like an extension of his excellent work in Director Kasi Lemmons "Talk To Me" (2007)-- combined with his lithe, athletic frame (as that of a boxer ready to strike). Eerily, Cheadle has indeed nailed the iconic rasp of Miles Davis' voice, which often left me questioning if I was hearing archived Davis interview footage instead of the actor. But, the performance is truly set deeply within Cheadle's eyes which always convey the drive, determination, rage, sorrow and of course, a haunted quality that is riveting to behold. By encapsulating the outer physicality with an intense interior dimension, Don Cheadle's performance transcends mere imitation and becomes a work of fury and grace, much like the music of Miles Davis.

In 1991, I was 22 years old. I had graduated from college and had then decided to live in my adopted city of Madison, WI as I began taking my first steps into making my way in the world. For a time, I worked part-time at a record store for several months and on the early morning of Sunday, September 28th, I ventured into the Walgreen's' near the store before we opened to peruse the morning papers. Picking up the Chicago Tribune, and discovering tucked into a lower portion of the front page was the news that Miles Davis had passed away at the age of 65 from the combined effects of a stroke,pneumonia and respiratory failure. While the magnitude of the news was lost upon me at the tie, my thoughts immediately turned to my Father who treasured Miles Davis above all others of his musical heroes. And yet, because of what Davis had meant to my Father, I was aware that music had lost someone of towering significance so much so that I did feel it to be more than odd that the news was relegated to a less prominent place on the front section of the Sunday papers.

What has been proven to me is that the legacy of Miles Davis since his passing has only increased with a slew of lovingly presented posthumous releases that treat the man and his music with the reverence it deserves. Over the same years, I have found myself becoming more and more immersed within the man's musical legacy, all the while learning and slowly beginning to understand precisely what had touched my Father so powerfully. I have seen music articles discussing Miles Davis' legacy only increase in frequency and his name has not evaporated into the recesses of the past as artists still invoke his name to this day. In the film's stunning final sequence, which I will not reveal, Cheadle fully addresses this reality by suggesting that the presence of Miles Davis is everlasting through all those who choose to listen and most especially within the artists themselves: those who were his contemporaries who remain creative and exploratory and to the younger musicians who currently defy classification. In doing so, it is as if Miles Davis is still  here with us, never relegated to past but one who remains so powerfully present.

As Davis states to Brill near the opening of the film, "If you're gonna tell a story, then come with some attitude." Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead" has attitude to burn but also substance and high flying, improvisational artistry that flows through the triumphs and turbulence, the memories and madness of Miles Davis with dynamic aplomb. With the summer movie season behemoths just itching to burst out of the gate and head straight into the theaters and the top of the box office charts, a film like "Miles Ahead" is doomed to become lost in the shuffle. In fact, in my home city, it is already nearly on its way out of town. But, again, and as I have implored of you repeatedly upon this site, we cannot allow films of such high quality to become forever lost in the shuffle and therefore ignored, especiall when you have one that is as inventive and artful as what  Don Cheadle has so passionately achieved.

Miles Davis famously dismissed the term "jazz" in favor of describing his art as "social music." And what could be more social than to take in this film and find ourselves lost in discussion, interpretation and the music of the eternal Miles Davis.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


To my beloved Savage Cinema, I extend to you a heartfelt apology.

Dear readers, the extended hiatus of this blogsite was first somewhat intentional but has now transformed into being completely unintentional. I had planned on trying to see three movies during the month of April and yet, I saw only one. Now a part of this had to do with life getting itself in the way of my personal plans. But, in another way, my lack of movie going may be a result of a larger issue within the film industry.

I won't bent your ears anymore about my distaste with all of the reboots, sequels, re-imaginings and superhero movies all over again but I am feeling that the glut of those types of films at the expense of every other kind of film has now led to the issue of what just may or may not be finding its way into our local theaters. Writer/Director Jeff Nichols' science fiction thriller "Midnight Special" arrived and left my city before I truly noticed that it had eve arrived...and at only one theater at that. Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead," only in town for one week (and which I will get myself to screening today) is also already almost on its way out.

Granted, the pickings for film-going lately has been slim, and the bigger studios and more high profile releases are always going to receive ore attention. But even so, for films that are riskier or smaller, I am fearing that the chances for those types of films to have even a window of a chance at the box office is growing slimmer, something that is detrimental to all manner of filmmakers as well to us as an audience.

Seeing the long lines around my city during the Wisconsin Film Festival was proof positive that audiences are hungry for so much more than movies that go "BOOM!" Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with big budget movies designed for the masses, but if that's all that we had to choose from...you get the picture.

With all of that being said and with "Miles Ahead" waiting in the wings, the one movie that I already know that I am gearing up for (and which has already received a healthy share of glowing reviews) is of course...
1. Yes, I am not immune to the superhero movie, especially if it is a good one and the Marvel Comics Film Universe, while not always successful, has been more than consistent over the last 8 years and now, I actually feel ready to see the next installment "Captain America: Civil War" as directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, who previously helmed the superior "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014).
2. Beyond those two, I am hoping that "Sing Street," Writer/Director John Carney's latest ode to music and romance arrives in my city for a healthy theatrical run.

The massive and the decidedly smaller. I love them all and wish to see as many as life will allow. I'm feeling hungry for the movies again after quite the lengthy break. So, as always I ask for your well wishes...

...and I'll see you when the house lights go down!!!!