Friday, 29 May 2015
TERRENCE HOWARD Feature-EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
"Next time baby!" Terrence Howard looks at the polished iron suit behind him as Robert Downey Jnr shoots off from Stark Mansion as Iron Man. Marveling at "the coolest thing he's ever seen", Howard want its, but doesn't feel ready yet. Opting for another machine in the slick Audi in this ever expensive and expansive, man cave, boy toy garage. As Colonel James Rhodes speeds off, Howard's War Machine would have to wait its turn until the sequel of the 2008 movie that kicked off Marvel's movie assemble of Avengers, that still lasts beyond this 'Age Of Ultron' day. Still when 'Iron Man 2' rolled around and Colonel Rhodes was called to Tony Stark's side in front of a congressional hearing, RDJ looked more than a little surprised as 'Oceans Eleven' and 'Hotel Rwanda' star Don Cheadle walked up to him wearing the machines medals. "I wasn't expecting you"! Downey Jr muses. To which, not missing a beat Don replies; "well, it's me, and I'm here, so get over it and move on!" That's Marvel's funny, tongue in cheek way of telling us that Howard's superhero run had come to an end as he was replaced by Cheadle (and we all had better have been fine with it). No War Machine suiting up. No more "next time baby". Damn!
Still, short of a decade later and Terrence is becoming a War Machine all unto himself, with Howard's new beginning after what most thought would be the end of the press-reportedly troubled but critically-acclaimed terrific Hollywood actor. Right now this big star is back. Maybe not on the big screen (as of yet), but he's dominating the small screen right now. One that seems to be taking over the movie world these days, with its sought after binge watched, shows by the cliffhanger episode. Shows that feel like mini-movies unto themselves and in whole series' even extended and expanded movies. Just look at the most popular thing people are watching right now in 'Game Of Thrones'. Or something like 'True Detective' where movie stars like Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Taylor Kitsch and Rachael McAdams are all suiting up for season 2, behind 'Fast and Furious' series director Justin Lin, after the stellar first, formidable season was big for Woody Harrelson and almost as big as the Oscar and 'Wolf Of Wall Street' cameo for Matthew McConaughey's comeback campaign. Even movie monster franchise Marvel have offered up an all-in-one Netflix binge for their dark but dominant 'Daredevil' series that joins 'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' and 'Agent Carter' in their battle with D.C. Comics' 'Arrow', 'Flash' and of course city of 'Gotham'. Now Terrence is getting in on the act too when it comes to critically acclaimed, immensely popular T.V. shows. The guy who made his on the box debut back in 1994 with 'Family Matters' is making his name bigger in households across the world for more than just appearances in the cult, legendary 'Hawaii Five-O' and 'Law & Order' ('LA' and 'Special Victims Unit') as Senior D.D.A. Jonah "Joe" Dekker (a role he really brought veteran actor seniority and substance to). Take 'Wayward Pines' currently for example. The M. Night Shyamalan produced series based on the books by Blake Crouch, starring Matt Dillon as a man who wakes up from a car accident to a small-town he's more than just passing through that's more than a little bit backward to say the least. To reveal more would be too much of a spoil to one of T.V'.s best and most innovative intriguing series' in recent years. The knife-edge cliffhangers making you wish you read the book or recorded and saved all the episodes weeks ago. Right now after this week, you just can't wait for the next and from the moment Howard's sinister but compelling and captivating Sheriff character shook hands with our lead, you wanted to know more from this character than just how can one man make eating something as sweet as ice cream seem so scary?
Then there's the place beyond the pines at the epicenter of the world in New York City. Or should we say the 'Empire'. The ghetto soap opera, state of mind that sees Howard making his multi-million dollar made dreams in the concrete jungle. Building up a hip-hop, family dynasty and record company empire with Taraji P. Henson from the ground up. As Lucious Lyon a former street rapper turned label exec, Howard's character is dying from ALS and no ice bucket challenge can save him. But as cold as ice and all 'Breaking Bad' at the end from the beginning, Lyon is breaking faces, ready to murder the competition to have his empire and whichever son he chooses as heir on top of the world. I mean (SPOILER ALERT) in the first episode this man puts his gay son in a bin and puts a bullet in his best friends head. It doesn't get much worse than this people. But playing bad has never looked so good. Just like in 'Pines', Terrence does this perfectly. Almost making it impossible to hate this guys characters no matter how atrociously abhorrent they are. Now that's the sign of a great actor. One that can play evil so devilishly good...and make us love him regardless of the ravaging nature of the anti-heroes he plays after years of playing the good guy that no one gave the due to as he finished last. I guess it really is 'Hard Out Here For A Pimp'. Now reuniting with his female equivalent in rising leading lady Taraji P. Henson, this hip urban drama that is attracting the guest star likes of Cuba Gooding Jnr, Naomi Campbell, Anthony Hamilton and Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys and Chris Rock for the second season feels like a spiritual sequel to the original hip, hit movie 'Hustle & Flow'. The rap drama where Howard received an Academy Award nomination for his mic-icon lead, where one of his songs earned southern rap group Three Six Mafia an Oscar, hilariously presented by Dolly Parton. Maybe a country star can relate to it being hard out there for a P.I.M.P?! Alongside his amazing acting, Howard's real and raw rapping earned him an album deal for some more bars, yet Terrence turned this all on its head. Recruiting Mike Mosley for a studio session that turned into an alternative soul album with jazz and country inflections by the note called 'Shine Through It'. This album may have been critically wrote off, but it's actually a surprise classic, coming in the same year he bolted up for Iron Man. Exhibiting great musical range and a soulful sound and versatile voice, Howard shined through on songs like 'Sanctuary', 'Love Makes You Beautiful, 'War', 'Plenty' and lets face it the whole underrated and unique album that really is art and beauty from a deeply introspective and intense actor. We just wish we could hear more.
It's just unfair, like the whole 'Iron Man' mess. A fall out over something relatively mundane and silly. What seemed like his year in 2008, turned out to be a cursed one as his biggest steps, actually ended up leading him to some of his lowest setbacks. Yet, its why he's here today and his careers back in the big bucks, billboard status. Still, in this fickle, quick world of "first they love you, then they hate you", we'd love to see what it was like if fate fell for him the right way. If we heard more albums from that deal that led to a deep, diverse and delightful disc. He'd surely be making more sincere soul classics now. The type that even if mainstream ignored, lead to this 'Hustle' rapper flowing to some Marvin Gaye casting rumors, that hopefully in the future could lead to the light of the day, like more music (if not Marvin there's country legend Charley Pride, reuniting him with 'Hustle & Flow' director Craig Brewer). After all its no coincidence his latest venture sees him surrounded by hit sounds yet again...even if it is Timbaland who is laying the beat. No matter how much Don Cheadle has made the role of Rhodes his own machine as the face visor rose up and revealed a different man. It would have still been so great to see Howard go to war with Iron Man in the right way for more sequels and Avenger films. Still, Marvel's Hollywood family is so huge almost every actor in the industry has had his part and like the separate comic book incarnations, Howard has had his time in his prime for the first and always foremost, franchise cornerstone. His performance in 'Iron Man' had a fighting flair, with heart and humor to bolt. Sure what's come since can't be changed, but what lead everything to this point can't be erased either. Like the reason this man started off as the highest paid actor on the original movie, even more than Tony Stark's muse. Howard's one and done is as great as it is missed...kind of like another alternative music dude who suited up as the Iron Monger in Jeff Bridges. If this country star made it to the sequel too, there would have been an awesome between scenes jam session with other underrated musicians Scarlet Johannson and of course Downey Jr at least. Sound good? Another time maybe?
Still, Howard's career is more than the trouble man sounds and silence of missed opportunity. There's his dynamic, hood to Hollywood, classic debut in 'Dead Presidents', that was for more than just the paper as he stole our attention in this Hollywood heist. The 46 year old from Chicago, Illinois overcame welfare and racism from an early age to break through in 'The Cosby Show' and various other roles that have mad him a family name in every residence across these United States. One of his films or shows will be laying somewhere in your house...even if it is the obvious one. The man who has appeared in Ashanti ('Foolish') and Mary J. Blige ('Be Without You') music videos and NBA Playoff build-up commercials has also starred on Broadway alongside legends like James Earl Jones (in the adaptation of the classic 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof') and has also started his biopic biography (just like when he played Ali when he was Cassius Clay in the T.V. movie 'King Of The World'), joining the likes of Morgan Freeman and Idris Elba in playing Nelson Mandela (alongside Jennifer Hudson in 'Winnie'). The man alongside the likes of Anthony Mackie and Chadwick Boseman is ever so close to reaching the Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and of course Denzel Washington legendary likes of African-American legacy makers in the vein of icons like Sidney Poitier. This star of franchises like 'The Best Man' shows he is one himself in a matrimony of movies where his powerful performances became even bigger than the pictures themselves. Kind of a similar look to his perfect 'Empire' portrait. Just like his early roles in 'The Players Club', 'Best Laid Plans' and 'Big Momma's House'. Or his recent ones in the prolific 'Prisoners', 'Empire' creator Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' and actions like Colin Farrell's 'Dead Man Down' or Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'Sabotage'. Then of course there's his classic good cop over corruption character in the five star hit 'Four Brothers'. His even better one, scene and star stealing in Jodie Fosters vigilante, 'The Brave One', revenge mission. One of his finest and most formidable features in film. Or his star standout in the human, collateral damage 'Crash' ensemble that saw an even more tense and terrifying introduction with 'Wayward' co-star Matt Dillon. Still, it's his original film with Colin Farrell 'Harts War' that really made his and its mark. Even outshining Bruce Willis, Howard in one scene and speech revealed more about his character and his as an actor and as a man in a moving monologue of life and race in the harshest realities of the rawest war that still exists today. Lesson learnt? If only! Those who took heed however, saw more than just a great actors moment. They saw what real acting was really about. Conveying a message bigger than yourself. And this is why this actor is bigger than moments in other peoples big movies, like Jamie Foxx's 'Ray', Outkast's 'Idelwild', or 50 Cent's 'Get Rich Or Die Tryin'. "Que sera, sera"! It's all about the meaning he brings to the likes of 'Pride' or the George Lucas endorsed 'Red Tails' flight in tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, (a group of African-American United States Army Air Forces servicemen during World War II). So many great, underrated roles in a career as such, that deserves more and is about to see that for a man aiming for the top billing and acclaim he deserves as an amazing actor of passion, pride, intensity and integrity. It's these qualities in his acting skill-set that will lead to an even more formidable filmography. Once this man continues to get back to where he's always really been. In the upper echelon. Proving to everybody, surviving through it all, that there will always be a next time...baby!