Captain America: Civil War

Wind River

I love many genres of film, but dramas and thrillers are my favorites. I particularly enjoy a good mystery or well-crafted psychological thriller, e.g. Prisoners or Gone Girl. Moreover, independent films tend to be hidden gems. Wind River got my attention with its unsettling, mysterious plot and talented cast. Starring Elizabeth Olsen (Captain America: Civil War) and Jeremy Renner (Arrival), the film is a slow burner, both suspenseful and unsettling. Obviously many great elements comprise a successful film, but for me the most important element will always be the story, the foundation of any movie. Wind River was perfectly structured, for my tastes. The film began in arresting, chilling fashion, but was sustained throughout by the quiet intensity of its story. It struck an emotional cord, exploring the hollowness of grief and the tragic loss of a life extinguished needlessly.

Wind River established an early quiet tone, beginning in the remote locale of a Northwestern Indian Reservation. The setting is an unmistakable driver of the film, insulating its main characters with peaceful solitude, but isolating them from the familiar comfort a community breeds. The cold and desolate locale is a haunting place to spend one’s last moments, but that is the fate that befalls teenaged Natalie, who begins the film running for her life. The scenario is the stuff of horror movies: a young woman chased by an unseen psychopath. Barefoot, she runs full tilt until her lungs give out. Mentally impervious to the freezing temperatures and stinging snow, we know that the prospect of the unknown is less frightening than whatever hell she’s escaping. Wind River asks simply, what happened to Natalie?

We know the question, but who’s asking it? Enter Cory Lambert (Renner), an animal tracker who’s familiar with the landscape and has a personal connection to Natalie. His insight will prove invaluable to the FBI agent assigned to the case, Agent Jane Banner (Olsen). Banner is earnest and sincere, but refreshingly unabashed in her complete lack of preparedness. She is the proverbial outsider, unfamiliar with the physical and cultural terrain. She frankly enlists Lambert’s help, and the two of them set about piecing together the last moments of young Natalie’s life. As the pair close in on a suspect, their lives fall in jeopardy, and Banner shows that although she’s new in town, she’s no stranger to putting someone on their back when necessary.

Wind River was a subdued, yet satisfying film with enough mystery to leave viewers intrigued throughout. There was an ominous, foreboding air about the movie and an emotional vulnerability conveyed through performances tinged with melancholy. Renner and Olsen delivered their performances with emotional intensity, but with the proper restraint demanded by the story. I usually wouldn’t enjoy such a bleak film, but the compelling air of mystery tempered its somber tone. Atypical summer fare, Wind River is worth seeing.

Grade: A

Jason Bourne

I try to keep celebrities’ personal lives separate from the way I view their work, but sometimes it’s hard for me to draw a line between the two. Matt Damon (The Martian) was one of my favorite actors, and I thought of him as cool and smart, and he is – but recent comments have lead me to believe that he’s tone deaf at best, and ignorant at worst as it pertains to diversity in Hollywood. As an aspiring screenwriter, this troubles me. I still appreciate his work as an actor, but I can’t divorce myself from his recent statements and opinions. That being said, of COURSE I was going to see Jason Bourne. I own the first three installments in the trilogy on DVD, and I’m a big fan of the franchise.

Jason Bourne promised to reveal the secrets that have always tormented the super spy from the beginning. Who is he? Who can he trust? Has his government betrayed him? Unfortunately, I think the film was long on promises and short on results. It opens with the familiar face of Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, 11:55) whom you may recall is one of Bourne’s few allies. She hacks into the CIA database, accessing their black ops files in the hopes of gaining intelligence that might help Bourne piece together his past, including information about his father. Meanwhile, our hero is off the grid, earning a living as a bare-knuckle boxer. When Nicky reconnects with Bourne, she leads The Agency right to him, as they began tracking her as soon as the files were hacked. Headed by Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, Criminal), the CIA dispatches an operative (Vincent Cassel, It’s Only the End of the World) to dispose of both Jason and Nicky.

What follows next is an exotic game of cat and mouse, as Bourne criss-crosses the globe in an attempt to exact revenge upon the CIA for betraying him. He is as formidable as ever, dispatching foes with ruthless efficiency. However, from a viewer’s standpoint, these scenes didn’t excite me. Part of the appeal of the first three Bourne movies was witnessing great hand-to-hand scenes like this one: . If Bourne is knocking people out with one punch, where is the fun in that? Furthermore, the intrigue and mystery just weren’t there for me. The backstory involving his father was never fleshed out in a satisfying manner. The movie just felt like an opportunity for Damon to cash in, though he certainly doesn’t need the money. I thought he had moved on from this franchise? That’s why Jeremy Renner (Captain America: Civil War) stepped in for The Bourne Legacy. Now we have another installment with Damon and instead of rewarding, it’s just disappointing.

The film’s final act was effective, but after two hours of mediocrity, it wasn’t enough for me. And I wanted to like this movie, trust me. This franchise should’ve ended in 2007 and been limited to the true trilogy it once was. Grade: C

Miles Ahead

Sometimes it seems like an actor was just destined for a role. Think about how inextricably linked Angela Bassett and Tina Turner are after the 1993 classic What’s Love Got to Do With It. Over the last decade or so we’ve seen a host of biopics centering on everyone from James Brown to Steve Jobs. When a biopic covers a musician it must be particularly hard for filmmakers to nail the depiction, because they have the added task of accurately capturing the subject’s artistry and creative process in addition to just an impersonation or exercise in mimicry. Don Cheadle (Captain America: Civil War) looks perfect in the role of Miles Davis, and his involvement with the film on a cellular level reflects the passion and commitment he brought to portraying this legend and musical genius.

The film opens in the ‘present’ year of 1979, as Miles is being interviewed. His record label is hounding him to hand over tapes from a recent recording session, while Miles demands to be compensated first. He lives reclusively, his large brownstone a lonely, haphazard jumble of papers and clutter. Enter Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars: Episode VII: – The Force Awakens), an intrepid nuisance determined to pen the Miles Davis comeback story. Through Miles’ conversations with Dave we are taken via flashback to the 1950s, when Davis first rose to prominence on a national stage. He is particularly haunted by memories of his first wife Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi, The Invitation), a vibrant and lovely woman whom Miles stifles in his demand that she give up her love of dancing to be his doting wife.

Cheadle was the uncanny embodiment of Miles Davis, from his signature rasp to his seemingly affable, accessible demeanor. He captured an interesting duality, showing that Miles was very aware of his own greatness, yet he had an approachable, selfless air about him. The epitome of cool. Most importantly, he provided a glimpse into Miles’ creative process, as we see him work on studio arrangements with other composers and delightfully improvise at home with Frances, during some of their more tender, intimate moments. Not that he needed it, but Cheadle humanized Davis, even in some of his darker moments. The film never demonized Davis, even as it exposed drug abuse and womanizing infidelity.

What an interesting, artful film. I don’t have any real criticism, only a few observations. Cheadle obviously selected a very narrow slice of Davis’ life to explore, rather than an extensive chronology of his childhood, musical beginnings, or other lovers (I had no idea he dated Cicely Tyson – she’s not referenced at all). I felt that the film presupposes a basic familiarity with Davis, and I guess that’s ok. I applaud Cheadle for his unique approach. Not every biopic is going to read like a step-by-step biography. The film was filled with musicality and warmth, yet left an air of mystery around the legendary jazzman. Cheadle did a masterful job on and off screen, and I hope he is rewarded for his performance. This was an emotionally gratifying portrayal and I recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different at the theater. Grade: A