“MILES AHEAD” PREMIERE & Q & A ~ DON CHEADLE, EWAN MCGREGOR

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It’s made clear to us right off that this film is not factual. There are some factual elements in the film – Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) did stop making music for 5 years, became a reclusive person and something made him start making music again.
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The film starts us in the later years of Miles’ life. He has already reached fame and fortune. But his drug addiction has turned him into a Howard Hughes recluse. And he has temporarily turned his back on music. The story opens with Miles alone in his home when he is aggressively approached by Rolling Stone magazine writer Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) who is interested in writing about Miles’ new project. The opportunistic Brill gets swept into a fantastical series of events that include following Miles as he confronts his record label, procures cocaine and is chased through the streets in a hail of gunfire by unscrupulous folk looking to advance their worldly standing through the theft of Miles’ still-in-progress demo tape.

By way of flashbacks, we get a glimpse into the more serene life of Miles Davis before drugs off-tracked his career. A clean cut Davis is seen rising in ranks through the Jazz clubs of America and eventually falling for Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who would eventually become his wife of 10 years.
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The film doesn’t dive too deeply into the domestic violence between the two lovers that became headlines back in the early 60’s nor does it touch too intensively the racial tensions in America at the time. There is a scene where Davis is unprovokingly harassed by police officers and taken to jail for simply showing kindness to a woman of white skin, but the film has no message to present in terms of Miles’ involvement with racial divides at the time. Instead, Cheadle keeps the camera focused on a single day in the broken down icon’s history. This works largely to the films advantage but sacrifices giving us a glimpse into the life of the historic character.

Don Cheadle is a revelation as Miles. The raspy voice, the trumpet playing, the belligerence. All are played exactly on key. The supporting cast does amply in tow but there is little to look at outside of Cheadle’s performance. Still, it’s ironic that while Cheadle seems to get not only jazz, but the concept of creativity – starting off the movie with the Miles Davis quote “When you’re creating your own shit, man, even the sky ain’t the limit”
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But a jittery hand held camera may throw some viewers off in spots and the film can be dark and discombobulated at times. Trying to follow the story between modern day and the flashbacks was confusing. Not knowing where the time line was going will leave some confused. Did all the craziness in Davis’ life really happen? or was it Hollywood license

We end up with Cheadle/Davis back on stage blowing his axe in patented ‘Miles style’. **Miles Davis died in 1991 at age 65 universally recognized as one of the most influential and innovative American musicians of the century, jazz or-no jazz.

Grade: C

@pegsatthemovies

POST Q & A WITH DON CHEADLE, EWAN MCGREGOR, EMAYATZY CORINEALDI
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Per Don Cheadle on the basics of the films: It took him ten years to write the script for the movie and shot it all on a budget of 8.5 million dollars. The movie was shot in 6 weeks with 30 shooting days, pre production took 6 weeks and it was all shot in Cincinnati where afterwards they had to go in and cut out certain things like hills and change all the license plates to reflect it being in NYC.

He also wanted to make it perfectly clear that “It’s not a biopic” and he notes “I wanted to do Miles Davis. I wanted to do something crazy and make it like a composition of Miles’ life”. Cheadle chose to pick the time in Miles’ life when he had stepped out of writing and music. “You get to 1975 and he just shut it down” on Miles Davis’s music and impact.

Everything inspires Don Cheadle when it comes to his music, acting, and writing. “The most I could, I would stay in that character” Don Cheadle on being Miles. “The hardest part is staying healthy and getting through it” Don Cheadle on wearing so many hats while acting and directing the Miles Ahead movie.
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For Ewan – him and Don met while in Rwanda back when Cheadle was shooting the heart-wrentching, but so well done film, ‘Hotel Rwanda’. They had arranged to meet at Ewan’s house to talk about this film and Ewan, being the motorbike guy he is, went for a ride, lost himself in it as you do, and was 1/2 way to Malibu when he suddenly remembered he had the meeting with Don..felt so bad and rode furiously fast to get back home to find Don just hanging out reading a magazine.
Had fun with it all, and noted that at times how odd it was as Don would be in character as Miles, directing Ewan as Miles, so really he had 2 directors on the project.

Don Cheadle counted on his entire crew to make sure the movie was being done right! There were no deleted scenes and there was one shot that was not in the movie Don Cheadle wanted to empower everyone on his crew.
Cheadle still continues to play the trumpet used in #MilesAhead, playing with the Roots recently. “I played this morning.” he noted.

And with that, the post-premiere party was one of the more fun ones I’ve attended. Had a great time meeting so many people and was lucky enough to meet, chat and have a fun time with someone I truly admire and adore – Mr. Michael Ealy. #bucketlistmeeting

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REVIEW: “STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” (2015) Universal Pictures

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Art comes in many forms. A Masterpiece for instance is usually a word used in the art world as a painting or portrait that is brilliantly done and is usually invoked by inner thoughts and feelings of so many emotions. That could sum up the feeling of this story and what a story it is. This film has everything you see invoked in a masterpiece painting. Love, war, death, money, drugs, power, sadness, happiness and most of all, music. It’s a story about art in the truest sense of the word. These 5 young men –
Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young,
Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright,
O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson,
Lorenzo ‘MC Ren’ Patterson, &
Antoine ‘DJ YELLA’ Carraby
changed the world with what they did and this more or less, is their story.

Director F. Gary Gray takes us through the years from the group’s origin in 1986 to Dr. Dre’s founding of Aftermath Records in 1996 and while it’s the N.W.A. story..it’s mostly a three-man show focusing on Dre, Cube & most especially Eazy-E. It does justice in recreating a Compton from back in the day so perfectly and dare I say it, beautifully, as if the time & place and what the street life of the city truly was like, came straight out of a time machine. This is a big plus throughout the film.
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Opening with a drug deal gone bad for Eric ‘Eazy-E’ might seem somewhat cliched way to enter the story but is actually quite fitting especially since Eazy is the truly the main focus of the first half of film. He was the money, albeit it was from those deals, that enabled them to get studio time to record “Boyz in the Hood” and it was that song that attracted and brought manager ‘Jerry Heller’ (Paul Giamatti) to them. Heller knocks on the doors and pounds the pavement to connects them to their 1st label, Priority Records and we all get a laugh when we find out from that the only group ‘Bryan Turner’ (Tate Ellington) and the company had ever recorded before signing N.W.A was the California Raisins. Yep..you have dig real deep and go way back to remember that one!! But cash those checks from that Turner did, enough to land the company N.W.A. As we watch the group go from playing skating rinks to huge massive arenas across the nation. Meanwhile, Jerry also manages to finagle himself into part of starting up Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records where we see everyone but E get underpaid & overlooked.
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This leads to acrimony between the guys and while on tour Ice Cube, reminding everyone that he is the one who has written most of the music, departs the group. But before he leaves though we do get the anthem that penned the groups title as ‘the world’s most dangerous group‘ mainly because they scared the bejesus out of middle America with their anthem “F**K the Police” which comes straight from Cube after we witness multiple scenes of humiliation and harassment of not only him, but the group, their friends, their neighbors for just basically being.
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The movie clearly focuses on the big three of the group, ‘Dr. Dre’ (Corey Hawkins) and ‘Ice Cube’ (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) with ‘Eazy-E’ (Jason Mitchell) taking the lead, with ‘DJ Yella’ (Neil Brown Jr.) & ‘MC Ren’ (Aldis Hodge) getting only minor attention. They easily brush right over their misogynistic lyrics as women here are barely given the time of day and only the wives or girlfriends of the moment get a few lines at best. Though as with most bio-pics, while we might not be getting the complete story here – it’s still a very good story.

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We see bits of the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry that started up. And once Cube is gone we get right in the middle of his lyrical riffs with the remaining members of the group badmouthing each other back n forth through their music giving us surely what is only a glimpse into this and then with Dre also going his own way with the ever and still unscrupulous ‘Suge Knight’ (R. Marcos Taylor) – showing the forming of and his subsequent abandonment of Death Row Records.

We catch beginning snippets of ‘Tupac Shakur‘ (Marcc Rose), ‘Snoop Dogg’ (Keith Stanfield) (or as his character notes – that’s Snoop D. O. double G.), ‘Jimmy Iovine’ (Mark Sherman) & the beginnings of Interscope Records. Along with this, we get clever allusions to what is to come – Everything from Cube’s films ‘Boyz N The Hood’, ‘Friday’ and it’s sequels, to Dre when walking out on Knight, almost cheesily referencing Aftermath. The film closes with updates on the band members careers post-1996 with various interview clips in large focusing on Dre and Cube’s successes, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent, among others, paying homage to Dre showing the fruition of what both his and Cube’s visions came to be. Also, the sad and untimely passing of Eazy-E from AIDS. Noticeably absent are updates on DJ Yella and MC Ren.

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For all it’s small flaws here and there, this is still a hellava story to be told. N.W.A helped to change the musical culture of the time because they actually told the world what was happening in their own backyard through their music. And in doing so they succeeded in making themselves one of the most powerful groups of the time.
Oscar buzz? Probably not. But fan favorite (and one of mine) – definitely.
RIP Eazy-E.

Grade: B+
@pegsatthemovies

Screening: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 – Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nationwide release: Friday, August 14, 2015

“SELMA” (2014) Q & A w/Ava DuVernay,Common, Carmen Ejojo

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Yes, I should have done this review ages ago as it’s been a month since I attended an Oscar screening of this film along with an after-screening Q & A with Director: Ava DuVernay; Cast members Common, Carmen Ejojo, and Henry G. Sanders. Not even sure why I waited so long, but I will say I’ve thought some about it since then. Maybe it’s because the movie, while I’m not even going to pretend it isn’t a strong, powerful film, just missed a few things for me. And historical inaccuracies aside, as let’s be real, many prestigious movies take dramatic license with historical events and pretty much all bio-pics have them, I think I’ve just been trying to put my finger on what it was. Could be the slower pace of it or the fact that, some needlessly added small odd scenes, at times I thought I was watching a MLK biopic instead of a Selma one, or for me the too strong religious aspect of it. Yes I am fully aware and know MLK was REVEREND Martin Luther King..I am aware of the fact he was a religious man, but since they are taking liberties with some things, including re-writing the “I Have a Dream” speech, this would have been what I would have chosen to tone down some as some of it comes off unnecessary in parts. But whatever it was, I think a lot of it has to do with everything going on from Ferguson to New York to Paris, maybe I’ve been trying to come to terms with man’s atrocities against each other in every way and this film started that for me as it couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. Selma 1

As the opening of the film opens with a heart-wrenching explosion we move along quickly to the man “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” (David Oyelowo), pulling off a performance that seems true to the man without being a caricature or overly reverent. The film acknowledges that King was a man, with faults like any other, but in a way that makes him affecting. Oyelowo doesn’t look especially like King, but he does capture a good rendition of the heart & soul of the man. However, he’s only a piece of the puzzle, with this being a true ensemble film with at least a dozen good roles, from Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife Coretta, to pros like Wendell Pierce as “Rev. Hosea Williams”, musician/actor Common “James Bevel” and Martin Sheen “Frank Minis Johnson” as some of the allies King encountered along the way.
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The film does a great job portraying just how much the people in the march, from all walks of life, were risking their lives by participating, against a southern resistance ranging from ignorant yokels to devious politicians, to definitely more than a few sadists, who were so keen to inflict harm to the peaceful marchers that at times it’s painful to watch. There are scenes of people riding horses and brandishing whips, covering wood clubs with spoke-like wire to inflict as much damage as possible on the marchers. While some might think it’s puzzling as to where this hate comes from, but even more so in that the film tries to keep an even hand in showing both sides. Tim Roth as “Gov. George Wallace” could have easily played him as demonic, but he tries and somewhat succeeds to humanize him as much as he can, which is not easy when you’re playing one of history’s truly great evil bastards. Tom Wilkinson is very effective as “Lyndon Johnson“, who’s not above playing the good ol’boy card with Wallace, but also sympathizes with King, even if he’s reluctant to stir up trouble and makes a few horrible decisions along the way.
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In a cast of ‘names’ many of which I have been a fan of for a long long time, yes I’m looking at you Lorraine Toussaint “Amelia Boynton”, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi “Lee White”, Wendall Pierce, Tim Roth and yes, even Oprah Winfry as I wasn’t an ‘talkshow’ Oprah fan, but I am an ‘actress’ Oprah fan. My three standouts of this film that made me sit up and take notice are Stephen James as “John Lewis”, Trai Byers as “James Forman”, and lastly Alessandro Nivola as “John Doar”.

Hopefully the best thing about “Selma” that we can take away from it is that it’s not a movie about blame or hate. Rather, it’s hopeful in that it shows how people can come together and change things for the better in a non-violent manner ~ a message that should always be kept in mind when things get out of hand as they often do. Even with it’s faults,“Selma” is a strong film that sends a clear message to a new generation about what standing up against intimidation in any form is all about. It is a passionate work about a towering figure who left an enduring legacy, but one that, as recent events might indicate, is still short of completion. selma common 1

Additional note: I love Q & A’s after films with directors/producers/cast etc. They really give you insight sometimes into things about how the film got made or a fun antidote or two.. This Oscar screening was on Thursday, December 18th,2014 at The Landmark Theater with Dir. Ava DuVernay giving insight into that this project was really made because of David Oyelowo who took it and ran with it (which explains the large Brit casting also! 🙂 ) getting Oprah & her team including Brad Pitt & others involved, including picking her as the director, even though she didn’t have much experience and convincing everyone to get onboard. Also, reasoning behind not using the actual “I Have a Dream” speech..the rights to it are held by someone else who has never used them and they could not get them for this film so she ended up re-writing it herself. As for something I completely did not know, at the end of the film we see a shot of a bridge ~ it’s the “Edmund Pettus Bridge” ~ as DuVernay noted was named after the leader of the Klan back then..it’s name remains today.
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Grade: B-