Tag Archives: Alfre Woodard

The Gray Man (2022) Review

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The Gray Man

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, offensive language & cruelty
Cast:
Ryan Gosling as “Sierra Six”
Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen
Ana de Armas as Dani Miranda
Jessica Henwick as Suzanne Brewer
Regé-Jean Page as Denny Carmichael
Wagner Moura as Laszlo Sosa
Julia Butters as Claire Fitzroy
Dhanush as “Lone Wolf”
Alfre Woodard as Margaret Cahill
Billy Bob Thornton as Donald Fitzroy
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

When the CIA’s top asset — his identity known to no one — uncovers agency secrets, he triggers a global hunt by assassins set loose by his ex-colleague.

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I knew of The Gray Man as it was coming up to its release date, one of the newest movies from the Russo Brothers post Avengers: Endgame. It’s an action spy film with a massive cast including Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas. The movie looked like standard Netflix fare, but I went into it open minded; I found it passable.

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The writing is a mixed bag to say the least. The Gray Man has a generic spy plot and as such it falls into many annoying cliches of the genre. I guess it is fine, but at a certain point the story stops mattering, as there’s a lot more importance placed on the set pieces. You kind of forget what the initial plot setup was by the third act. It is also hard to care about what’s going on despite the script’s best attempts. The characters aren’t that interesting, the only one who is remotely developed is Ryan Gosling’s protagonist. It makes an effort to make the character played by Julia Butters the heart and soul of the film, mainly with Gosling’s connection with her, but it feels lifeless and obligatory. The humour for the most part didn’t work, with some very dry jokes. The pacing is generally okay, but there is a section which has an extended flashback and while I get the reason for that section, it really halts the plot while it conveys the information. I get the feeling that the movie would’ve worked more if it came out in the 90s. As it is released today, its missing the charm that a movie like that might have. Not helping matters is the ending not feeling fully resolved, and its very clear that they were already intending to make sequels to this.

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There is a massively talented cast here and while they are generally decent, none of them are doing great work. Ryan Gosling was the standout as the titular Gray Man. It’s certainly nowhere close to being one of Gosling’s best work by any means. However, he was pretty good with what he was given, it certainly helps that he’s the only character with any form of backstory or development. He was also quite convincing during the action scenes. Chris Evans plays a psychopathic ex-spy sent after Gosling in a rare villain role; it’s the type of role that John Travolta would’ve played in the 90s like Broken Arrow or Face/Off. It seems that Evans is a little miscast, even though he has played darker more villainous characters in other movies and done well at them. I think the problem is that the character is written quite generic, despite the movie deliberately showing how crazy he is. For this character to work, it would’ve required an actor who could deliver a certain kind of crazy to elevate it, unfortunately Evans is not that. For what its worth, at least it looks like he’s having fun and hams it up. It’s just a shame that despite the movie building up the concept of the two facing off, the two actors don’t share that much screentime. The supporting cast are fairly underutilised including Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Rege Jean-Page, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton and Julia Butters, but they are okay in their roles.

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The Russo Brothers have delivered better in their previous movies, their work here is just fine. For a 200 million dollar budget movie, it could’ve been so much more. The movie is generally shot okay, but it can also look a bit bland visually. The action set pieces are nice and chaotic, however the cuts really take away from it. There are lots of drone shots, its fine but probably not as good as in other movies. It especially doesn’t help that earlier in the year, Michael Bay’s Ambulance utilised drone footage in a more exciting way. The Gray Man uses it an attempt to be flashy but ultimately it was pointless.

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The Gray Man is a fairly entertaining yet forgettable spy movie, which is only memorable for the actors in it. As far as Netflix action movies go, it is on the better end but considering some of their other films, that isn’t saying a lot. Its okay. but you wouldn’t be missing much if you didn’t watch it, a shame considering the talent working in the movie.

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

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12 Years a Slave

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence & sexual violence
Cast:
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt
Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey
Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
Paul Dano as John Tibeats
Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
Director: Steve McQueen

In 1841, African American Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, is kidnapped and forced into slavert, under the name ‘Platt’ for 12 years. He faces the hardships of being a slave under the hands of a few different slave owners. Through faith, will power, and courage, Northup must survive and endure those 12 years a slave.

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I had seen 12 Years a Slave many years ago for the first time, and it was quite impactful experience. Having rewatched some other Best Picture winning movies recently, I decided I should give this one a watch again, even though I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant viewing. 12 Years a Slave still holds up 7 years kater and is just as devastating as when I first watched it, a fantastic and harrowing movie that deserves all the acclaim it’s been receiving.

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Considering the subject matter, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movie might take a manipulative approach, especially considering most of the other movies about slavery, and all the awards that this movie won. However, that aspect was handled right, and I’ll get into some of those aspects a little later. This is first and foremost Solomon Northup’s real life story, and follows him throughout his years of being a slave. The story is handled as honest as possible, and never sensationalises any of it. Now from the title, you know that lead character doesn’t remain a slave for more than 12 years, but the experience isn’t any less harrowing. There are some incredibly impactful and emotional moments that are earned and never feel forced, but genuine.

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This cast is large and talented, and all of them perform excellently in their parts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible in the lead role of Solomon Northup, conveying so much emotion and pain without having to say much, or even anything. This film is continuously following him from beginning to end, this is his movie, and he carries it all powerfully. The rest of the cast are supporting players in Solomon’s story, but they all play their parts well. There are two standouts among that supporting cast, the first is Michael Fassbender, giving one of his best performances as a slave owner. Fassbender really performs excellently, with his character representing pretty much the worst of humanity, he has such a captivating screen presence. The other standout is Lupita Nyong’o, who gives an incredibly emotional performance in her part. The rest of the cast are great and make the most of their scenes, with the likes of Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt. Michael Kenenth Williams, and Paul Giamatti.

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Good writing and acting aside, what 12 Years a Slave would live or die on is the direction. This film needed to be handled by the right person, or it could easily fail. Director Steve McQueen was very much the right person for this movie, and knew how to handle this very sensitive subject. The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt was stunning. Not only that, but McQueen’s use of the camera is effective, forcing the audience watch everything that happens on screen, and not allowing them a chance to look away. When it came to the violence and the aspects of slavery, it was handled in probably best way possible. It’s undeniably brutal and doesn’t shy away from that, and you feel every blow. At the same time, it doesn’t sensationalise or fetishize it, if anything it is uncomfortably casual, and was fitting for the movie. A perfect example of this is a standout moment that takes place a third of the way through, without revealing the context or what the scene is, it’s a few minutes long, full of unbroken shots, and it’s incredibly painful and quiet. Hans Zimmer’s score is great as to be expected, and fitted perfectly with the film.

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12 Years a Slave remains an outstanding and moving film, powerfully acted, excellently directed, and is all around masterful. It is incredibly hard to watch (and indeed the rewatch was just as painful as the first watch was) but is a monumental film and quite frankly essential viewing.

Luke Cage Season 2 (2018) TV Review

Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence
Cast:
Mike Colter as Luke Cage
Simone Missick as Mercedes “Misty” Knight
Theo Rossi as Hernan “Shades” Alvarez
Gabrielle Dennis as Tilda Johnson
Mustafa Shakir as John “Bushmaster” McIver
Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard
Reg E. Cathey as James Lucas
Created By: Cheo Hodari Coker

After clearing his name, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) has become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem with a reputation as bulletproof as his skin. But being so visible has only increased his need to protect the community and find the limits of who he can and can’t save. With the rise of a formidable new foe, Luke is forced to confront the fine line that separates a hero from a villain.

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Note: Features spoilers for Luke Cage Season 1

My last tv review was of Iron Fist Season 1, ever since then, The Defenders, The Punisher Season 1 and Jessica Jones Season 2 have all come out and I’ve watched them but I haven’t reviewed them (I may end up reviewing those seasons later on). I recall the first season of Luke Cage well, the first half was really good with great characters and storylines and was a gritty crime drama, and the second half had a massive quality drop and tonal change, becoming really silly and goofy. As whole it is solid but still felt like a mixed bag. So I was really not sure what Season 2 would bring us. On the whole, Season 2 it works quite well and is a noticeable upgrade over the first season, for the mere fact that it is a lot more consistent in quality. Like with most of the other shows, it can still feel drawn out, and on top of that Luke really wasn’t as good here as he was in Season 1. But Season 2 is still a pretty good season and well worth a lot of praise, and it’s a shame that this is the last season of the show before it was cancelled.

Season 2 has yet another one of the Netflix marvel issues, with it being 13 episodes long and once again it does feel drawn out. However, even if the episodes pacing slow down quite a bit, usually they end up making up for it by having great character and acting moments or something similar like that, so you don’t feel like your time is being wasted or anything. There’s lots of storylines going on at once and they all interwoven well, some are more interesting than others but I generally liked them all. The supporting characters were quite interesting and had their own stories going on while Luke was having his. A theme I noticed that was constant throughout this season is the relationship between parents and their children, with Luke Cage reuniting with his father and Mariah Dillard reuniting with her daughter. As for how this season ends, it’s not bad but it’s a really weird way to end the season, bit of a cliff-hanger. The end of the season puts Luke in an interesting position that makes me interested in what direction he’ll go in next time we see him on screen. And I don’t mean next season because as I said, Luke Cage got cancelled, so I’m not sure how or where his story will continue next.

Luke Cage as a character in the first season actually worked well even if some of the supporting characters shined a little more than him, it still felt like his shot. Unfortunately, he has downgraded from the first season. Mike Colter still plays the role as best as he can, but he can’t help but feel rather uninteresting and at times annoying and downright unlikable, especially early in the season. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get much better as the season progresses, he doesn’t go on a noticeable character arc. Danny Rand/Iron Fist in his second season has managed to improve upon all of his faults and became a better character than the first. Luke did the opposite here. Simone Missick as Misty Knight is once again a highlight in this show, here she’s dealing with the aftermath of the events of The Defenders where she got one of her hand cut off (and yes she eventually gets a robotic hand to replace it). She’s also really good in this season as well. Another standout from the first season is Theo Rossi as Shades and he’s also great here. He’s one of the most interesting characters in the show and you don’t really know what he’s going to do next, it’s hard pinning down his character. He has a lot of scenes with Mariah Dillard (who I’ll get into a little later). In terms of new characters, the biggest standout is the late great Reg E. Cathey as James Lucas, Luke Cage’s father. The two of them have a rocky relationship and it was interesting seeing how their relationship was developing. Cathey does give a final great performance and the scenes between him and Colter are really good. We also get some brief but solid appearances by Finn Jones as Danny Rand and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing (from Iron Fist) and they all feel like they should actually be there and they serve a purpose, it’s not just a reminder that all these shows are connected.

Season 1 had one great villain in Cottonmouth and one really poor villain with Diamondback. This time, the two villains this season were both great, them being Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) and Mariah Dillard (Alfred Woodard). It does feel like the show switches between the two villains in terms of focus at times, like one would be the one that Luke Cage has to deal with and then it switches to the other. Bushmaster is a great villain, and like many of the Netflix marvel villains has his own backstory that explain his action and motivations. On top of that, he’s also is a physical threat to Luke Cage and he doesn’t need a goofy suit like Diamondback to do it, so that adds another threatening aspect to him. Mariah Dillard was established in the previous season and she was good, it established her as someone going on a darker path once she kills Cottonmouth (which coincidentally signalled the drop of quality for the rest of the season). In season 2 however, she’s on another level. She goes into way darker territory this time, and Woodard is fantastic in the role. She’s a complicated character and you see that in scenes with her daughter, and it’s just interesting seeing what she would do next. Woodard’s performance is among the highlights of this season, she has some truly fantastic scenes here. I know some people however didn’t really find her character all that great so if you didn’t like her in the first season, just a heads up that you’re going to see a lot of her in the second season.

Like with the first season, Luke Cage does well to separate itself from all the other Marvel Netflix shows with its style, and much of its style has continued over to the second season. Generally the show is directed rather well. The action in Luke Cage is some of the weakest of the Netflix shows. Not that I blame the show too much, it’s hard to have the main character feel like he’s vulnerable against enemies while also being invincible. Jessica Jones has abilities but most of the show is her using her other skills instead so she isn’t involved in too many fighting scenes. With Luke Cage however, some of the ‘fight scenes’ are usually obligatory, to show off that Luke is bulletproof. The reason that it is rather poor is that it usually ends up being Luke walking into a room, people try to fight or shoot him (obviously failing), he knocks them out or gets them to give up information, rinse and repeat. To their credit, they do spice it up with some fights between him and Bushmaster, which are entertaining because Bushmaster can actually hold his own against Cage (in fact its usually Cage who has the more trouble during these fights). Also like in the first season, the fights are all filmed pretty well, you can actually see what’s going on. However, I think its pretty clear that the show’s highlights are more with the characters and the story than the fight/action scenes.

Season 2 of Luke Cage still does have its faults, it can be slow and drawn out, there isn’t much tension in the fight scenes (again), and Luke has downgraded as a character. However, it is much more consistent than Season 1, the supporting characters are great and it just felt better and was solid overall. It’s unfortunate that we aren’t getting another season, it was getting better. I’m not sure when or where we’ll see Luke Cage or the rest of the characters again but hopefully it’ll be soon.