Tag Archives: Denzel Washington

The Mighty Quinn (1989, Carl Schenkel)

Right until the action-packed finale of The Mighty Quinn, there’s nothing the film can do lead Denzel Washington’s charm can’t forgive. But the finale, which incorporates poorly choreographed and poorly shot capoeira (from obvious fight doubles), a helicopter, a machine gun, suddenly awful music from composer Anne Dudley, and a handlebar-mustached M. Emmet Walsh in a tropical shirt… well, Washington can only do so much. And it seems like Quinn realizes it, because it doesn’t even try to leverage Washington for the rushed epilogue. Actually, it sort of leans away from him.

Because even though Washington is The Mighty Quinn, the film’s never comfortable being about him. Certainly not about his mightiness. Instead, Washington’s protagonist—police chief on a small, unnamed Caribbean island—is in a state of disarray. He’s functionally separated from wife Sheryl Lee Ralph (because he’s trying to sell out like island governor Norman Beaton, though we don’t find out about it until relatively late in the film), he’s a loving but absent dad to son David McFarlane, and he’s a lousy best friend to local pothead and ladies man Robert Townsend. Townsend’s barely in the film, but the whole thing hinges on him. He is the prime suspect in a murder investigation, after all, but he’s also the people’s hero. Washington is not. Washington (we find out—again—very late) went off to the States to join the Marines and then go to FBI school only to return home to the island… presumably for Ralph, but it’s very unclear. Washington’s character revelations usually come either in brooding expository scenes or drunken expository scenes. The film avoids Washington’s backstory, instead concentrating on the mystery… and Washington’s charm.

And the charm focus works. For a long, long time.

The mystery? Not as much.

At the start, there’s conflict with crappy White guy resort manager James Fox. There’s never overt racism from Fox but it’s always there. Until Fox disappears anyway. The scenes aren’t good because Fox is a lousy villain-type. He can’t stand up to Washington, but the character’s written to be pompous and Fox isn’t believably pompous. There’s also the weird way director Schenkel handles tone. Fox’s part of the mystery, including Mimi Rogers as his unhappy, abused, unfaithful wife, is all noirish. Or Schenkel’s version of it, which is stylized and self-aware. After Fox disappears, Rogers sticks around a bit to provide some flirtation for Washington. She’s that part of the film’s femme fatale, even though the film doesn’t really need one, because the mystery soon turns more to conspiracy thriller involving a suitcase of money, a company man (M. Emmet Walsh) arriving in town to clean-up the situation (officially), and a professional soldier (Alex Colon) also in town, but unofficially. Townsend figures into the conspiracy thriller a little, but never the noir stuff.

Not even when the film tries really hard.

After the conspiracy thriller takes over, there’s more of Washington away from the White folks. And the movie’s better when he’s away from them. The mood is lighter. He’s got gross old white man Walsh tagging along for a bit, but for those scenes, Schenkel still has the more playful touch. It’s the best stuff in the film—Washington with McFarlane and Ralph (even though the former scenes are just for exposition on the island’s colonial history and the best moment between Ralph and Washington was created in editing, not with the actors opposite one another), Washington with the other cops, whatever. Everything but the subplot about some other woman after Washington. Because Schenkel can’t figure out the mix on the noir and comedy in it, because a femme fatale stalking a sullen but lovable cop is noir but it’s for laughs. The film doesn’t know how to be sincere. It wants to be, but Schenkel doesn’t make it work.

It’s not all his fault, of course. Townsend is… lacking. He’s amusing enough. And some of the problem is the direction, but Townsend doesn’t have a presence opposite Washington. Fox doesn’t have one either. Only Ralph and Walsh hold up their part of the scene. Rogers does too—mostly—but there are a lot of style problems in her scenes, often both visual and narrative. Townsend needs to be Quinn’s secret mighty weapon and he’s not. Not even when he gets action sequences, which always come off like the filmmakers are trying too hard on their limited budget. Lots of silly at the end of Quinn. Lots of silly.

Until the end, there’s also fantastic editing (except on the action set pieces) from John Jympson and an affable score from Anne Dudley. Neither of them come through in the finish. Though Jacques Steyn’s photography is unchangingly solid throughout the film. It has some good moments, but what appear to be stylistic choices sometime just turn out to questionable standards. Schenkel’s direction isn’t successful, but it’s interesting and engaging. If he could get the mix between comedy and thriller right, it’d be fine.

Washington is mighty but Quinn is not.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Schenkel; screenplay by Hampton Fancher, based on a novel by written by Albert Z. Carr; director of photography, Jacques Steyn; edited by John Jympson; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Roger Murray-Leach; produced by Ed Elbert and Dale Pollock; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Denzel Washington (Xavier Quinn), Robert Townsend (Maubee), Sheryl Lee Ralph (Lola Quinn), M. Emmet Walsh (Fred Miller), Art Evans (Jump Jones), James Fox (Thomas Elgin), Esther Rolle (Ubu Pearl), Norman Beaton (Governor Chalk), Alex Colon (Jose Patina), Tyra Ferrell (Isola), and Mimi Rogers (Hadley Elgin).


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Devil in a Blue Dress (1995, Carl Franklin)

Devil in a Blue Dress is almost so much better. Director Franklin gets easily distracted and follows tangents, both in the script and the directing. The latter makes sense–he’s always too enthuastic about the (excellent) production design, recreating late 1940s Black Los Angeles. With Tak Fujimoto’s warm but vibrant photography, the “regular life” part of the film is breathtaking. Sadly, Franklin’s too loose on the mystery side and he can’t bind the two.

The script’s the same way. Franklin has devices for lead Denzel Washington, including the narration, but also just how Franklin directs the scene. How he visualizes the space Washington occupies with the people he comes across. Washington’s a Black WWII vet turned amateur P.I. tracking down missing rich white guy’s white girlfriend Jennifer Beals. Franklin and Washington pay a lot of attention to personal space and what it reveals about character relationships, race relationships. But when they get the most ambitious, the narration fails. Or just isn’t present.

And Washington’s biggest character development arc is out of nowhere, introduced over halfway into the movie, with Don Cheadle’s arrival. Franklin desperately tries to forecast Cheadle through dialogue, narration, even one of the film’s ill-implied flashbacks. Yet when it comes time for Cheadle to get called up, Franklin botches the narration. Franklin sets up Devil in a Blue Dress to need narration–even though he and Washington could easily get away without it, Washington’s great and Franklin’s great with his actors–but he sets it up as an essential, then botches it.

It’s really unfortunate.

There are stops and starts throughout the film–scenes transitions are usually awkward, either too heavy or too light. Fujimoto’s photography on the investigation stuff is bad, which is an additional problem given the first act visual tone doesn’t match the rest of the film. But Franklin doesn’t know what to do with those scenes either. Devil in a Blue Dress tries to avoid film noir tropes so bad it ends up putting its back out.

The acting is either good or great. Washington is great. His performance has a sadness Franklin the director focus on, but Franklin the screenwriter ignores. Cheadle’s phenomenal as Washington’s loyal, unrepentent murderer sidekick. Tom Sizemore’s good as Washington’s mysterious client turned nemesis. Mel Winkler and Jernard Burks are real good in smaller parts. Lisa Nicole Carson’s good.

But then there’s Beals, who’s just okay. Some of it is Franklin’s direction; she’s supposed to be a femme fatale, but Devil in a Blue Dress doesn’t believe in femme fatales and she’s written as one. She’s another victim to Franklin’s indecision.

And Maury Chaykin is just bad. He’s only in a couple scenes, but they’re important ones, and he’s just too much. Same thing. Written as a noir villain, but Franklin doesn’t want to engage it.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is oddly half on, half off. Either way, it lacks personality, which is a no-no for Devil in a Blue Dress; everything else about it exudes personality. Except, obviously, Fujimoto’s “noir” shots.

Devil in a Blue Dress features some wonderful possibilities, some great photography, some great direction, some great performances. It should be amazing. It’s sad it isn’t.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Franklin; screenplay by Franklin, based on the novel by Walter Mosley; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Carole Kravetz Aykanian; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Jesse Beaton and Gary Goetzman; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Easy Rawlins), Jennifer Beals (Daphne Monet), Don Cheadle (Mouse Alexander), Tom Sizemore (Dewitt Albright), Terry Kinney (Todd Carter), Mel Winkler (Joppy), Jernard Burks (Dupree Brouchard), Lisa Nicole Carson (Coretta James), and Maury Chaykin (Matthew Terell).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE COLOURS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY THOUGHTS ALL SORTS.


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Flight (2012, Robert Zemeckis)

There are so many easy targets in Flight. Not really the acting, even though a lot of the supporting cast is phoning it in. They’re good actors–Don Cheadle, John Goodman (doing a riff on Big Lebowski)–and they’re capable at phoning it in.

It’d be impossible for them to do anything else, however, given director Zemeckis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a feature film where the famous songs playing in the background always directly inform the action. It’s either incredibly condescending to the audience or it’s just supposed to be the most obvious movie ever made.

Occasionally, because the acting from Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly is so good, I thought there might be a chance it was all a ruse and Zemeckis and writer John Gatins were lulling the audience into a false sense of security. Flight isn’t about a happy ending, it’s about Denzel Washington, movie star and good guy, playing a fundamentally decent human being who has a lot of problems. But he can overcome those problems… because he’s Denzel Washington, good guy.

The film savors each moment of Washington’s failed attempts at redemption, every time he goes lower into the depths–it’s telling Flight skips ahead during what would have been its most difficult section dramatically.

Ignoring the trite foreshadowing, the manipulative writing, the general cheapness of the film overall, Flight is incredibly watchable. Both for Washington’s performance and, sure, to bemusedly regard Zemeckis’s vapid pseudo-sincerity. It takes major hits in the third act before going down.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by John Gatins; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Zemeckis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Whip Whitaker), Don Cheadle (Hugh Lang), Kelly Reilly (Nicole), John Goodman (Harling Mays), Bruce Greenwood (Charlie Anderson), Brian Geraghty (Ken Evans), Tamara Tunie (Margaret Thomason), Nadine Velazquez (Katerina Marquez), Peter Gerety (Avington Carr), Garcelle Beauvais (Deana) and Melissa Leo (Ellen Block).


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The Pelican Brief (1993, Alan J. Pakula)

If you’re ever stuck watching The Pelican Brief, you can amuse yourself wondering if the film would be better had Pakula shot it 1.85 as opposed to Panavision. Pakula shoots it empty Panavision, the right and left sides of the frame empty for easier pan-and-scanning. It’s an inexplicable choice from Pakula, but not as inexplicable as him doing a Grisham adaptation in the first place (wait, never mind… money). It’s the modern Hollywood version of his paranoia trilogy (which was seventies Hollywood and, therefore, quite different).

The film is a disastrous piece of garbage. It’s boring, it’s long, it’s stupid—James Horner is just recycling scores again. There’s nothing like a Julia Roberts movie with Star Trek II music.

It’s also not a real conspiracy thriller. All of Roberts’s fears are validated… ad nauseam. Of course, since it’s a Grisham movie, it’s unlikely, but uncertainty might’ve improved the film.

Roberts is terrible. She’s supposed to smart in Pelican Brief, which is hilarious. It’s absurd to think she might have even found the LSAT testing room.

Denzel Washington’s great, in Warner’s attempt to turn him into a marquee star. But John Lithgow (as his boss) is horrendous—and Lithgow’s constant concerns over a racial discrimination suit are painful.

The supporting casting is phenomenal. Robert Culp’s good as the stupidest president ever. John Heard’s good, Stanley Tucci’s wasted. James Sikking is good. William Atherton and Anthony Heald are wasted in small roles. Sam Shepard is slumming.

It’s a dreadful film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by Pakula, based on the novel by John Grisham; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Tom Rolf and Trudy Ship; music by James Horner; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Pieter Jan Brugge and Pakula; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Julia Roberts (Darby Shaw), Denzel Washington (Gray Grantham), Sam Shepard (Thomas Callahan), John Heard (Gavin Vereek), Tony Goldwyn (Fletcher Coal), James Sikking (FBI Director Denton Voyles), William Atherton (Bob Gminski), Stanley Tucci (Khamel), Hume Cronyn (Justice Rosenberg), John Lithgow (Smith Keen), Anthony Heald (Marty Velmano), Nicholas Woodeson (Stump), Stanley Anderson (Edwin Sneller), John Finn (Matthew Barr), Cynthia Nixon (Alice Stark), Jake Weber (Garcia) and Robert Culp as the President of the United States.


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