Ewan McGregor

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




When I saw the trailer for Haywire I was instantly hooked.  This was my kind of movie.  I love watching a believable female lead do damage, a la The Bride in Kill Bill.  No weak “chick” fights, I wanna see something real.  To that end, Haywire seemed like it would deliver.  It stars Gina Carano, a real-life world champion MMA fighter.  If nothing else, the scenes promised to be authentic.  When I saw Michael Fassbender drop her with a sucker punch, I was sold.

The man behind the lens is acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Thirteen, Out of Sight), and his imprint is clear.  Haywire was slick and stylish, even when the action turned nasty.  The non-linear storytelling is another common feature of Soderbergh’s movies.  Haywire opens with our heroine outlining a mission gone wrong.  Carano is Mallory Kane, a covert operative who does freelance work for the government.  I think.  She was sent on a rescue mission to recover a hostage, a Chinese journalist.  When he winds up dead, Mallory learns that her superiors have attempted to frame her for his murder.  The storyline wasn’t too complicated, but there were little things that didn’t add up here and there.  One minute it appears that everyone is in on the betrayal, the next minute it seems as if key people are unaware.  Also perplexing was the fact that no reason for the betrayal was ever presented.  Mallory hadn’t acquired any new enemies and was admittedly an asset to her employer.  So why was she set up?  I guess I can just go along with the idea that she was expendable, but there were a couple of problems in the details for this flick.

Despite its flaws, I found Haywire to be enjoyable largely because of Carano.  It’s still odd to see a man and woman fight on screen as equals, and I couldn’t help rooting for Mallory to prevail.  For an inexperienced actress, I thought Carano gave a capable performance, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she reprised the role in the future.  It looks like this movie died relatively quickly at the box office, despite its noteworthy cast.   Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), Michael Douglas (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), and Channing Tatum (The Eagle) round out the cast nicely, though they aren’t given great material to work with.  Usually Soderbergh’s movies are better than this, but fortunately Carano’s deft fighting ability was enough to sustain the film, for the most part.  Less talking, more fighting please.  The format of the movie was intriguing in the beginning, but as the movie progressed, more implausible things started to happen with the plot development.  Mallory’s ability to fight her way out of any situation was actually more plausible than the whole frame-up scenario.

I liked Haywire, but there are too many other choices in theaters right now for me to give it a strong recommendation.  Wait for the DVD.