Don Cheadle

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



Iron Man 3

It’s time for the summer movies to start rolling in, the popcorn fare that entertains us during those dog days.  Iron Man 3, the third installment in Marvel’s popular franchise, kicks off what should be a promising season for super hero movies.  This time around we find Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) recuperating from the otherworldly showdown that capped off last year’s Avengers.  He is physically fine, but his shaken mental state leaves him in a reflective mood.

The movie opens with Tony thinking back to a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve 1999.  After attending a glamorous party with then girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, The Town), Tony runs into a scientist, a developer named Aldrich Killian, who wants to discuss some exciting new ideas for his technology company.  Aldrich (Guy Pearce, Prometheus) appears nerdy and disheveled, not the kind of person who leaves an impression.  Tony snubs the man, unwittingly setting him on a course of scornful retaliation.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Aldrich has reinvented himself.  Gone is the meek intellectual who could barely a muster a sentence. With a new hairdo and some much-needed dental work, he is confident and bold.  His intentions have grown more nefarious since Tony spurned him all those years ago.  He has created Extremis, a chemical that could restore limbs to maimed soldiers returning home from war.

Unfortunately, Extremis can have terrible side effects, including spontaneous combustion, which would sort of defeat the purpose of regenerating a lost limb, wouldn’t it?  These spontaneous explosions are related to a series of terror attacks that have been charged to a radical extremist known as “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley, Hugo).  His relationship with Aldrich isn’t immediately clear, but the pair is up to something fishy.  When Aldrich kidnaps the president in a misguided attempt to further their twisted terrorist agenda, Tony and his buddy Colonel James Rhodes (War Machine aka Iron Patriot) (Don Cheadle, Flight) come to the rescue.

Hope I didn’t give away too much; I tried to keep it simple.  Iron Man 3 was exciting and entertaining, and I understand why it opened at number 1, given its format and the time of year.  The special effects were cool; particularly the way the Iron Man suit strategically broke away from Tony and then quickly reattached itself, piece by piece.  The movie was funny, and even though he’s a billionaire, Stark is one of the more accessible superheroes because he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously.  There were lots of one-liners, and Robert Downey Jr. will be missed if it’s true that this is his last outing.  You know what though?  I was rather underwhelmed.  I actually dozed off for a quick second.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe I like a darker protagonist.  This was a feel-good movie for all audiences, which is great.  I’m sure I have the minority opinion, but I just didn’t love it.  Good movie, but no big deal. Grade: B+