Out of Time and Out of Clues

DATELINE: Dean Cain & Denzel Back in 2003

Dean & Denzel

Like Bruce Willis, for twenty years or more, Denzel Washington has showed a knack for picking interesting films and character roles. One of these is called Out of Time, a hackneyed suspense drama.

In 2003, he tried his luck as a semi-corrupt small-town sheriff in the Florida Keys. The film has all the workings of film noir in the 1940s that Robert Mitchum could have played.

Denzel is an anchor among some flashy performers, and the opening wit is entertaining before it devolves into a mystery muddier than anything Raymond Chandler could dredge up.

You will enjoy seeing Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain as a couple of reprobates, but their general dubious crime associations are masked by their attractiveness. The first-half fun is replaced by a phony suspense device in the second half.

Eva Mendes as Denzel’s ex-wife and John Billingsley as his slob of a medical examiner are worth having their own pictures. Sanaa Lathan and Eva play ping-pong with Denzel’s balls.

Plot holes start to do in the viewer as the complications become less amusing and more ridiculous. It seems Denzel’s sheriff is a dope (self-admitted by film’s end) and must work to extricate himself from a set-up that, for unknown reasons, makes him a fall-guy.

Since he is a charmer and likeable, we figure that drug dealers have it in for him. We might be wrong, as usual. However, clever clues are not forthcoming to help armchair detectives figure out the thriller mystery. Yet, Dean Cain and Denzel are at the peak of their youthful good looks in this one, and they are highly watchable.

All your natural action ingredients are tossed in, and there is a time handicap that never really becomes a deadline of importance. The suspense is botched.

Yet, for Denzel’s fans, it is another masterful performance in a well-produced movie. For the rest of us, it’s a ho-hummer, beating the clock for an hour.

 

Advertisements

Fences: Trite Metaphor Aside

DATELINE:  Denzel Directs

denzel & viola

Viola Davis & Denzel Washington: Superb Performances

Denzel Washington’s double duty in the movie version of August Wilson’s play Fences pays overtime.

Playing against heroic type, he comes across in the early scenes as an affable trash collector named Troy Maxson, living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. His demeanor seemingly hides a disappointed life, as his great talent as a baseball player was over before desegregation of the major baseball leagues.

As a result, he is deeply bitter that his life did not conjoin with the times. Though he seems to take the losses in life well, with easy banter with his wife, brilliant Viola Davis, we begin to see there is far more below the surface.

His family bristles under his demand for respect, compensating for what he feels is missing as his due from society.

He has spent time in prison and has sons by different women, though his younger son with Rose (Viola Davis) also wants to play football in college, which he irrationally refuses to allow.

His friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) witnesses the behavior helpless, until he too gives up on the missing humanity in his friend.

Under Washington’s direction, the film seems bigger, but he does it with a narrow play-like focus to reveal what a heel, misunderstood, Troy truly is.

When, ultimately. he betrays his long-suffering wife, Viola Davis is able to provide a powerhouse performance.

Perhaps he is a victim of harsh social conditions, especially racism in baseball, but what he demands of his family may be cause for true alienation, though they bear with him.

Thoughtful, well-acted films are usually from the 1950s when socially-conscious dramas were common. This film is set back then and matches the quality of old-fashioned movie-making.

Short on Magnificence, Presenting The Okay Seven

DATELINE: The Non-Remake

okay-seven

Will Smith and Denzel Washington seem to make alternating good and bad movies. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one we are watching.

Denzel chose to remake The Magnificent Seven, a brilliant 1960 Western with Elmer Bernstein’s stirring, quintessential music score.

This time they kept the title and threw away almost everything else.

Why bother to keep the title? The audience for this film never saw the Yul Brynner-Steve McQueen classic—or the Kurosawa source The Seven Samurai.

Filmmaker Antoine Fuqua built in self-destruction by so obviously stealing a title and fond memories of the original(s). This infuriates the true followers, and plays up to the young audience who know nothing about what they are missing.

This movie version seems so familiar on every level: gathering together the sociopaths to save a town, now a mining location under the control of mousy Peter Sarsgaard who spent the pre-credits scenes attempting to establish what rats robber barons could be.

This is a pale rider script—not much effort or creative thought went into the screenplay. It expected the charming cast to carry the heavy weight.

Indeed, the cast has its singular performers—from Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke to Vincent D’Onofrio (this time playing a fat old trapper and Indian killer).

The motley crew, even disparagingly called ‘strays’ by the bad guys, have a big first-hour set-up to show their mettle.  But, this group is the sort that brings a knife and arrow to a gunfight. Yes, there is a sort of Ninja in this new progressive Seven—and a last of the Comanche tribe type to round out the stereotypes.

Several of the magnificent ones seem to be consenting adults, but this is a modernized version with political correctness at the trigger finger.

The film was universally panned by critics, but actually it is workmanlike. How could it not have some merit, simply out of the stellar actors in their roles?

If you love Westerns, you take whatever you are given nowadays. This one could be worse—yes, we were prepared for terrible and received passable. Call it The Okay Seven.

All Things Being Un-Equalizer

DATELINE: Recycled TV Shows

Robert McCall

 As a fan of the original Equalizer with Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, we were braced at the notion of a new version, even with the permission and cooperation of creator Michael Sloan.

The old show was a Reagan Era artifact, one of the unusual pro-CIA programs ever, featuring a laconic Control in the person of Robert Lansing—and a bunch of cowboys that made McCall resign.

Now the chickens have come home to roost. Denzel Washington is hardly the silver-haired man with a newspaper ad. And, the CIA cowboys are now the ones resigning.

In this version, McCall is a man of habit and singular protocols, looking like someone in deep undercover or in witness protection. He works at a lumber company in Boston, and he has a certain number of dangerous skills that he is averse to using, but ultimately understands he must be what he is.

The deadly slow pace, punctuated by sudden bursts of violence, may not be what the average movie viewer wants, but we found it true to the original spirit of McCall. Hemingway metaphors hang in the balance. Imagine an action hero who spends time reading books during the movie.

The final hour of the film turns into a showcase for Robert McCall’s deadly agent. We see less of the vigilante for the downtrodden and more of the knight in shining armor for an age where he is an anachronism.

Whether the film turns into a franchise for Washington’s depiction of McCall is doubtful, despite Denzel’s intriguing performance. The times have changed, and McCall’s sociopathic killings in the name of peace and justice have become about as common as putting out a webpage that asks people if they need help.

 

 

 

 

He Still Got Game

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 Image

Ray Allen and Spike Lee will not let the ghost go. They are planning a sequel to the original basketball classic entitled He Got Game.

It gave Ray Allen his nickname, which is no sobriquet. It is the character’s moniker: Jesus Shuttlesworth. The name is almost as preposterous as the idea of bringing back the story with all the characters twenty years later.

Denzel Washington played Ray Allen’s father—though today his youthful looks better prepare him to play Ray’s younger brother.

A few years back when Allen played for the Boston Celtics, Denzel came to watch his screen son play when the team came to Los Angeles. The reunion was sweet.

Spike Lee’s movie of 1998 was far more intriguing than the notion of basketball issues and family torment. It was a film that drew upon great music from Aaron Copeland, including the film score from Our Town during a graveyard visit and the shootout music from Billy the Kid.

That sort of rich heritage beyond the game made the movie important on its own level, but hardly would make a dent in the psyche of basketball devotees who were charmed with the deification of a basketball hero.

The original story put Denzel’s character into a hotseat. He was released from prison for one week to convince his son to attend the governor’s alma mater.

Burdened by his life of missed opportunities, Shuttlesworth failed his son and lost his chance. Where does the story go twenty years later? The dynamic of fathers and sons at 40 and 60 are not quite the same as when the old man is 40 and the son is 20.

Nevertheless, a sequel twenty years after the original is intriguing in an age when many are filmed back-to-back to save money and actors throw some flour in their hair to look older.

Ray Allen’s career in basketball likely was far more successful than anything Jesus Shuttlesworth could have accomplished, but the resonance may add to the allure of a sequel.

We await the results.

 

 

 

 

Flight to Nowhere with Nobodies

 

DATELINE: HUMOR!

When Denzel Washington received another Oscar nomination, we were intrigued. He always seems to select interesting roles and manages to play them well, whether he is the good guy, or even better if he is the bad guy.

 

So with awaited our chance to view Flight, in which Denzel plays a heroic airline pilot who brings in a plane and saves nearly 100 lives. The plot revolves around the aftermath in which he is discovered to have illegal substances in his system.

 

Whether the substances have caused the accident, or he was heroic despite them, is the crux of the storyline.

 

However, within a few minutes of the feature’s opening, we were uncertain if it mattered much to us.

 

Denzel’s character is with a stewardess in bed and snorting cocaine, drinking vodka straight. He has a flight within an hour or so. Worse, he becomes friends with a porno actress with heroin addiction problems.

 

This immediately drove from our psyche the idea of Doris Day bringing in the disabled plane, or watching Peter Graves get food poisoning in his cockpit. Those were the old days of movies about crises in our airlines.

 

Not exactly moralist in viewpoint, we were taken off our feed with the characters in Flight. Perhaps these realities are part of the 21st century. Perhaps pilots are drunk and coke users in many instances, but we do not have to plunk down our money and spend two hours with such people.

 

The pilot brings in his plane to a cornfield, like the one in which Jeff Bridges was a passenger in Fearless. Yet, we were inspired, uplifted, awestruck, or delighted with this film. We were left queasy with air sickness by Flight.

 

Call us misguided, but we always want our movies to make us feel clean, not sordid. Catharsis even makes tragedy palpable. Yet, this film left the bitter taste of ashes.