Terrence Howard

The Best Man Holiday

I’ve always enjoyed ensemble movies.  They’re entertaining and usually characterized by good chemistry amongst the cast, as well as layered performances.  Fourteen years ago viewers were introduced to a group of college friends who were reuniting for a wedding in The Best Man.  Lance (Morris Chestnut, Kick-Ass 2) and Mia (Monica Calhoun, Love & Basketball) were college sweethearts tying the knot after a fulfilling but trying relationship that tested Lance’s fidelity.  The titular best man was Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs, Between Us), best friend of Lance and good friend to the couple.  In the days leading up to the wedding, friendships were tested, but love prevailed.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the friends have experienced a large measure of success.  Jordan (Nia Long, Mooz-Lum) has become an even more powerful television producer, though she is still unmarried.  Harper and Robin (Sanaa Lathan, Contagion) have married and both have enjoyed success as a best-selling author and chef, respectively.  Julian (Harold Perrineau, Snitch) and Candace (Regina Hall, Think Like a Man) are married with children and have opened a charter school for children.  Shelby (Melissa De Sousa, Miss Congeniality) is hilarious as one of those fame-hungry “Real Housewives” that the Bravo network has made famous, and Quentin (Terrence Howard, Prisoners) has also made his mark in the entertainment industry, irreverently charming as ever.  Once again, Lance and Mia are requesting the honor of everyone’s presence.  This time they are inviting everyone and their families for a holiday weekend of fun at their New York estate.

In a group of friends, you will find all sorts of emotional dynamics at play.  Usually at least one person will have entertained a romantic or lustful thought about another friend.  In the movie, Jordan and Harper have a history, and Harper and Mia have a history.  There are residual emotions that have lain dormant over the years, including envy and guilt.  Secrets abound, as everyone isn’t quite as successful as they appear to be.  Harper’s last novel flopped, and he’s suffering from writer’s block.  Julian’s school is in financial trouble, and Jordan seems like a commitment phobe destined for a life of solitude with her blackberry, despite having a handsome boyfriend (Eddie Cibrian, Good Deeds).  Most significantly, Lance hasn’t truly forgiven Harper for old transgressions.  He and Mia seem to be hiding something, even though by outward appearances they have it all.  When the gang is reunited, old insecurities (and drama) resurface.

Although I’ve mentioned the original film, I don’t think it is a necessary prerequisite for viewing the sequel.  Director Malcolm Lee masterfully referenced the original movie in the opening credits, neatly updating the audience on all that has transpired since 1999.  Brief but pertinent flashbacks to The Best Man created the perfect opening scene, from both a functional and artistic perspective.

The performances were solid, with Taye Diggs turning in the most impressive effort, in my opinion.  In the original movie, Terrence Howard stole the show and has subsequently had the most commercial and critical success, but here it was Diggs whose performance touched me most.  The storyline called for some emotionally draining subject matter, and the movie takes a melodramatic turn in its third act.  I liked the weightiness and relevance of the storyline, but it did get a little corny towards the end.  I’m really only thinking of one scene in particular, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it detracted from the movie.

I hate to sound like a cliché, but I laughed and I cried.  I was entertained throughout, and I thought Lee recaptured much of what made the first movie so enjoyable.  The characters had distinct, relatable personalities that were clearly drawn and familiar.  The cast enjoyed a chemistry with one another that made viewers feel like they were catching up with old friends themselves.  While I don’t expect The Best Man Holiday to unseat Thor as the #1 movie in America, I know that most who saw it found it immensely entertaining.  I was looking forward to this one, and I wasn’t disappointed one bit.  Grade: B+

This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.


As summer draws to a close, we move away from the popcorn fare that has flooded theaters for the past three months.  I enjoy such movies, but I welcome those that have a little more “meat on the bone.”  Boasting an acclaimed cast and frighteningly realistic plot, Prisoners was such a movie.  Hugh Jackman proves his versatility as a leading man, whether it’s showcasing his vocal ability (Les Miserables) or pushing his body to its physical limits (The Wolverine).  In Prisoners, he gives an emotionally wrought performance as a father amid a devastating tragedy.

The movie begins in a small Pennsylvania community on Thanksgiving.  Keller Dover (Jackman) and his wife Grace (Mario Bello, Grown Ups 2) are joining good friends Franklin (Terrence Howard, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis, Won’t Back Down) for dinner, along with each couples’ two children.  Anna and Joy are 6 and 7, while Ralph and Eliza are in high school.  Thanksgiving is a time when families strengthen the ties that bind, and director Denis Villeneuve struck the perfect familial tone to contrast sharply with what follows.  The four kids go for a brief walk in the neighborhood, where the younger pair happens upon a strange RV.  They climb on it briefly, before their older siblings shoo them away.  An eerie sense of foreboding washes over the viewer here, foreshadowing the crux of the storyline.

After returning home, Anna asks if she and Joy can walk back to her house.  As the lazy day unfolds, Keller notices that Anna and Joy haven’t returned.  Initially the girls’ families are calm and composed, but as the girls remain unaccounted for, a feeling of dreadful panic swells within them.  They frantically search the neighborhood after Ralph mentions the strange camper they’d seen earlier.  When the RV is found in a wooded area hours later, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch) responds to the call.  Loki finds Alex Jones (Paul Dano, Looper), a teenaged boy with some cognitive deficits.  Alex seems psychologically disturbed, but there’s no real proof that he did anything wrong, which leads to his ultimate release.

Keller’s grief and frustration are ratcheted up to an overwhelming level, and he abducts Alex, holding him prisoner to question him on the girls’ whereabouts.  Don’t worry – I haven’t revealed anything that wasn’t in the trailer.  The movie follows Keller’s desperate actions and Detective Loki’s investigation.  Alex is a viable suspect, but it also seems that Keller could be mistaken.  And if he’s wrong, has his quest to find the monster that took his child turned him into a monster himself?

Prisoners was successful in crafting a disturbing, somber tone that never felt too heavy.  Thrillers like this often run the risk of really bringing you down; but I never felt that way.  The notable cast features an impressive total of four Academy Award nominees and one Golden Globe nominee, and their collective talent shone through.  Jackman, Bello, Howard and Davis gave four unique performances, and I found the distinct coping mechanism of each family interesting and well portrayed.  Although Keller had his perceived culprit in tow, Villeneuve shaped a suspenseful narrative that kept viewers wondering throughout.  If I have a criticism, it’s that the details became briefly muddled.  Red herrings can be an effective tool if used properly, or they can feel insincere if the audience thinks the filmmaker is playing “gotcha” by casting false suspicion on a particular character.  Overall though, I thought the movie was very suspenseful and expertly acted, making it well worth the price of admission.  Grade: B+


This review first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.

Red Tails

African-American cinema is a tricky thing.  There is enough diversity within the genre to avoid painting it with a broad brush, but there are certain negative things that come to mind when you say something is a “Black” movie.  Does this mean there will be buffoonery, and is there something wrong with laughing at ourselves, as long as we’re the ones telling the joke?  I think our experiences run the gamut, but unfortunately some of the movies that are most profitable aren’t the most edifying.  Movies like Norbit and any one featuring Madea come to mind as examples of movies  that I tend to avoid.  Every now and then, however – a movie comes along that is worthy of our collective attention.  I think Red Tails was such a movie.  More than just a “Black” movie, it is an American story.

Red Tails is the story of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black aviation unit that served with distinction in World War II; despite initial reluctance to place the soldiers in combat situations.  Jim Crow’s insidious reach extended to the armed forces, and Black soldiers were deemed inferior due to the bigoted perception that they lacked the mental aptitude and courage for war.  Of course nothing could have been further from the truth, and when the airmen were given their opportunity to serve as bomber escorts, they made the most of their chance.  Comprised largely of the 332nd fighter group, the “Tuskegee Airmen” came to be known as Red Tails due to the unique scarlet markings on the tails of their planes.   Displaying uncommon bravery, the Red Tails proved to be heroic and victorious in their abilities.  Red Tails brings the story of the airmen to a new generation, and it is an important chapter in American history, not just Black history.  Produced by George Lucas, the movie reportedly had a difficult time being made because studios doubted the profitability of telling this story.  I’m happy that Lucas was willing to personally finance its creation, though I wish the movie reflected more of his deft story-telling ability.

Red Tails boasts a young, talented cast whose camaraderie and chemistry radiated off the screen.  Nate Parker (The Great Debaters), Tristan Wilds (The Wire), Terrence Howard (Law & Order: LA), David Oyelowo (The Help), and Cuba Gooding, Jr (The Hit List) were just a few notable cast members.  Parker and Oyelowo had the most screen time and gave the most inspired performances as “Easy” and “Lightning,” respectively.  Easy is the more level-headed and practical leader, while Lightning plays the flashy showboat.  Through it all, they are loyal friends who have each other’s backs in the air and on the ground.  I don’t want to nitpick, but this is a review, right?  Everything wasn’t perfect, and I had an issue with a couple of the casting decisions.  I adore young Tristan Wilds, and I think he’s talented.  However, I thought an older actor would have been better suited for his role of “Junior.”  He looks like he’s about 19, yet his character is supposed to have a wife and child and is told by another soldier that he is the bravest and best he’s ever met.  I guess that is possible, but his character’s backstory seems like it would belong to a more seasoned individual.  Similarly, Cuba Gooding’s role as Major Stance was a little derivative.  We’ve seen the grisly old pipe-chewing commander before.  I could have sworn I’ve seen Gene Hackman or somebody do this already.  Gooding seemed to be over-acting a lot of the time, and it got old.  Terrence Howard wasn’t as irksome as usual, so thank God for small cinematic favors.

I’ve found that you can never underestimate what the younger generation doesn’t know, and I’m pretty sure there are some folks who saw this movie and learned something new.  That alone is reason enough for me to give it my stamp of approval; because this is a story that needed to be told.  HBO made a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen years ago, but it needed a grand stage.  In this day and age our military more accurately reflects the tapestry of American life, but it is nice to have a reminder of our less than glorious past sometimes to appreciate what we have now.  G.I. Joe? No, the Tuskegee Airmen were real American heroes.