REVIEW: “AMERICAN MADE” (2017) Universal Pictures

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“American Made” feels like an honest-to-god Tom Cruise movie – like suddenly, his smile means something again. The man who has done truly his share of good and bad work in the past decade or so, (most recently the bad with ‘The Mummy’ ), shines in this film. Like it almost seems unthinkable after watching this film that it could have been done with anybody but Tom Cruise in the lead. These types of film remind us all, that Cruise is a really good actor and is clearly not done yet with bringing us the good stuff.

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot frustrated with the grind of hopping from city to city, flying planes on autopilot and coming home to crash asleep before his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), can even put on her welcome-home-honey lingerie. It’s the late Seventies, the era of oil fortunes being made overnight and social turmoil being the norm. Barry has also been doing some minor smuggling on the side, transporting illegal Cuban cigars into the US. Into his life pops Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), the overly-eager-to-please-his-bosses CIA operative, who’s wanting to recruit Seal’s aerial talents to fly covert missions into Latin American countries and take spy photos of resistance movements. Not exactly telling his wife he’s actually left his job at the airline, he moves forward into his ‘new’ job as the CIA provide him with a sweet twin engine superplane, his own front company, and lots of money. Barry in complete shock as any of us would be, and can’t stop laughing in disbelief. And neither can we once you see the absolute insanity his journey takes him on. But yet, Barry Seals, was a real person and even though this film might be done up some with some dramatics I’m sure, it still really did happen.

You see what went on with Manuel Noriega (Alberto Ospino) (yes, the U.S. supported this man’s power at the time, yet eventually arrested him also – remember Imelda and the shoes 🙂 ), which then leads him to the Contras (again we supported) who it turns out are more interested in porn & alcohol than in being trained for fighting a war. So where do the guns go? Well only to the biggest cartel in the world at the time. The infamous Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia), Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) & Carlos Ledher (Fredy Yate Escobar), better known as the Medellín Cartel. Sound hard to follow – yeah maybe so – but as it really happened and with cut-aways to video-taped confessions done by Barry himself, we do follow how it went down. And there are points that you just can’t help but laugh with disbelief.

Along the way, you can’t help but feel flashbacks to Top Gun, they way that once again, Cruise handles this whole situation that is unfolding and of course the plane stunts. But it’s a good feeling – one that you makes you want more, a.k.a that Top Gun sequel that they are promising us now gives me hope. One thing is imminently clear here, Director Doug Limon has succeeded in giving us clear-eyed, in-your-face cynicism about this country and all it symbolizes not only then, but now, in bold fashion, all the while pulling Cruise back into being what we really want him to be – a good actor doing good movies.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Monday, September 25, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
‘AMERICAN MADE’ is now playing in theaters nationwide

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REVIEW: “BATTLE OF THE SEXES” (2017) FOX SEARCHLIGHT

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“Battle of the Sexes” is the true life story of the behind-the-scenes of the now-famous exhibition tennis match between Women’s tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and now has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

The film goes into some major detail here and takes us through the paces of what lead up to this now famous match, but has some serious pacing problems throughout the first half and some overly drawn out scenes tend to make it drag in places. Surprising to me was the film being billed as a “comedy”, as it’s not funny in the typical comedic sense at all except for maybe the fact that you can laugh at how things were back then. With Riggs, once a successful tennis play, now a habitual gambler-schemer of bad business deals, who is lucky enough to have married into money with wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), they smoothly slide over the actual first ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match between Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) and Riggs, to which she then lost. In goes Billie Jean, whom at that point was leading the way in not only tennis, but fighting the good fight women’s rights and equal pay in tennis along with a great cast of supporting women’s players at the time who risked it all for equal pay.

Thankfully, things start to come together once King and Riggs agree to and start promoting the match and, which we see all the crazy fan-fare that was done at the time. By the end of all it and watching the match, even though you know the outcome, everyone in the theatre (men included) are cheering cfor Billie Jean as we watch her take control and realize what she truly accomplished, can get you a bit emotional to say the least. Stone and Carell are well-cast and do right by their characters. With Stone even going so far as to getting right the slighest things of say, getting the tennis stances of King & Riggs, something as a tennis fan, I notice. In particular, she nails King’s conflict with her own sexuality and the scenes between her and lover Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) are eye-opening especially when you think of all it entailed at the time.

So the script and direction might be a bit uneven, but it’s good enough to make all of us cheer for King by the end and maybe even have a bit of a laugh as it regals us with truly how out of touch the sexism of the early 70’s now seems to us. Sure, there might be some slight deviations from the real events however, Carell does a fine job of recreating the 1-man flying circus that was Bobby Riggs with Stone providing a fine performance as one of the most influential Americans of the last century. Also we can note that when Bobby passed, Billie Jean noted they had become good friends after all in life and she was one of the last people he spoke with.

The history of it all whether you were there or not, is well worth seeing again.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening: Friday, September 22, 2017 ~ Courtesy of LACMA/Film Independent
“BATTLE OF THE SEXES” is now playing at select theaters

REVIEW: “KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017) 20th Century Fox

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“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” picks us up after the events of the first film where we were left ‘Firthless’ with the demise of Harry (Colin Firth). Or were we? Kicking off with an extremely high-paced opening scene with Charlie (Edward Holfcroft) whom we thought had met his end as well as one of the blown-up henchmen for Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), pops up in a “Let’s Go Crazy” taxi-car fight scene with Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Eggsy, now a full fledged Kingsman after the death of Harry, is called into action after a deadly missile strike rocks the organization and leaves him and Merlin (Mark Strong), as the last men standing. With little to no resources to seek retribution and in clear need of assistance, they find a ‘drunken’ clue which leads them to find and turn to “The Statesman,” whom are essentially the American verion of the Kingsman and are based where else, but in the good ol’ whiskey-making state of Kentucky. The Statesman come off as good ol’ country boys who love good whiskey, country music and all things America. Channing Tatum does a spin at cowboy here playing Tequila, Jeff Bridges as the main honcho Champ (short for Champagne), Halle Berry is none other than Ginger as in Ginger Ale and Pedro Pascal is – you guessed it – Whiskey. Together, they must stop Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), our drug lord villianess du’jour, who has formed an organization called ‘The Golden Circle’ from which she is planning to unleash a deadly disease called the ‘Blue Rash’ thru all kinda of recreational drugs. Holding millions of lives for ransom, Poppy wants to negotiate a deal from the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood), who is pretending to acquiesce to the demands, but is secretly not going to follow thru as he feels he will then be rid of the scourage of these people. (Doesn’t that last part almost sound as if it could be true…)

There are many twists and turns here with the plot and while maybe everything doesn’t hit the nail on the head – most do. The film itself seems to know at times, how ridiculous it can be and how like the first one, walks a fine line of going over the top or not. One too many fight scenes or one ridiculous gagdet to many, can throw a wrench in all of it. As a result, the jokes land very well for the most part. And while it might not hit the benchmark as much the first Kingsman did, it does well with how it sets up each character. For instance, Julianne Moore simply knocks her villian role out of the park, coming off as both creepy and yet downright sweetly psychotic. With her love of 1950’s memorabilia set-up of the middle-of-the-jungle, Poppyland is complete with 50’s diner, movie theatre includes a kidnapping of Elton John, in a fun spin here, whose only purpose is to play & sing what Poppy wants. The only thing that is not modern about her operation is her use of robots (Including robot dogs) because she claims they obey orders better than humans do.

Egerton and Strong along with Holcroft do very well once again as the main leads. Some of the bigger name supporting cast such as Berry, Tatum and Bridges, are relegated to smaller roles giving them less screentime than I expected. Hanna Alström as Princess Tilde is now Eggy’s girlfriend and this gives her a bit more to do here also. But alas – it is Pedro Pascal and his lasso that steal the show here. In a “Manners Maketh Man” bar scene that rivals any so far, he whips his way through a bar with the best of them.

Overall, Matthew Vaughn gives us yet another crowd pleaser with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and crossing my fingers we will get another one …eventually.

Spoiler – at the end of the film, the POTUS is impeached.. showing us anything is possible! 😉

Grade:B-
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Media Review Screening ~ Thursday, September 14, 2017 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE will be released in theaters on Friday, September 22, 2017

REVIEW: “THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD” (2017) LIONSGATE

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So what’s this movie about? Well it’s about a guy Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), who used to run a Triple AAA Protection Service before he lost a big-time client Kurosawa (Tsuwayuki Saotome), who was murdered after boarding a plane and while in the ‘security’ of Bryce. Flash-forward to two years later and we see Michael’s business failed in a big way, now having become a personal bodyguard for low-end, eternally coked-out paranoid players. Now being forced by ex-girlfriend/agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) to transport an important ‘witness’ to The Hague, Netherlands to testify against a murderous Belarus dictator (ring any bells anyone?) Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), only to discover when he arrives that star witness is none other than Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) the world’s most deadly assassin, who is only doing this in exchange for his wife Sonia’s (Salma Hayek) freedom. Now with half of Eastern Europe hot on their heels, Bryce is discovering that being the bodyguard of a hit-man turned informant is no easy task. And viola’ ladies and gentlemen – that is how we have “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”.

While the story sounds interesting, it plays out in a pretty typical and predictable way, not that I should have expected much more as after all, it is billed as a action/comedy film. But all predictability aside, the story does get the job done. Yes, you’ll be able to figure out how the film will end within the first 30 minutes or so, but truly in the scope of all that’s going on, it’s not all that important, because it’s all about the journey to that very predictable, albeit quite fun, entertaining and satisfying ending.

Ryan Reynolds on the other hand is, once again, cast as the somewhat fussy do-gooder who’s in over his head and constantly put upon, but manages to pull through because he tries really, really hard! The results are pretty fun though and the chemistry between Jackson and Reynolds is very spot on throughout the film, while the storyline between Michael and Amelia is well..boring, the one between Darius and Sonia is on a whole other level and they may just win the ‘crazy movie couple of the year’ award. Sadly the rest of the cast doesn’t really hold up as well as it’s leading men. Gary Oldman is very much here for the paycheck, as Belarusian President (cough) Dictator, while Salma Hayek is given near nothing to do as Kincaid’s incarcerated wife, though she makes her mark in her few scenes. Elodie Yung’s character does have a little more bearing on the plot, but her early-onscreen promise to be noted as a capable Interpol agent is set aside so she can be honored with the role of the proverbial last act love prize. *sigh

As formulaic as ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is, it’s light – maybe even too light for all the blood-splatter that takes place – but it never insults its audience by say, trying to even begin to explain why Samuel L. Jackson can take a bullet to the leg then jump a multi-story building like it’s nothing. It’s can be dumb but it never makes you feel dumb for watching it. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously and I was perfectly fine with that because it’s was more than enteraining to watch.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening ~ Wednesday, August 9, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate Film

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 18, 2017

REVIEW: “DETROIT” (2017) MGM Pictures

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With “DETROIT” Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s new turn at making another hard-hitting film, just doesn’t connect completely. Though again, Bigelow takes on delicate subject matter with the expertise of a great filmmaker, and it is a very good film – for about 60 minutes of the 2 1/2 hour run time.

‘Detroit’ takes place in 1967 during the midst of the riots after a black owned Blind Pig bar where patrons were kicked out due to lack of liquor license and eventually leads to the towns people rioting and destroying the nearby businesses, even with tags of “Soul Brother” as a way to try to protect their black owned business. However, most of the film centers around the several young men and 2 women staying in the Algiers Motel. Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) has a starter pistol which he shoots in the air, and police mistaken it for a sniper, and begin to surround the Algiers and harass and intimidate the guests beyond recovery.

‘Detroit’ is filmed wholly hand-held, and the shakiness that comes along with that direction choice is effective and not the nausea-inducing type that can sometimes happen with this type of filming, The opening scenes before the riots even start and as watch them proceed brought a note of flashbacks for me, having been through the L.A. riots, it’s not something you easily forget. The storyline that follows is where the weakness of the film sets in. If I didn’t know that this was actual history, I would have thought this part to be made up as you get introduced to the characters Larry (Algee Smith), Michael (Malcolm David Kelley), Morris (Joseph David-Jones), Jimmy (Ephraim Sykes) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) who make up the singing group the Dramatic’s. Once they are told to leave the stage before their biggest performance to date, because of the riots is where the film really starts to kick in. This is where the shocking nature of what takes place really begins and you will be set on edge throughout the next 60 minutes by what unfolds in front of you. It’s also where we meet the rest of the characters to whom this appalling and disturbing event happens to.

Dismukes (John Boyega), the security guard who witnesses everything that happens, though honestly, I don’t think he was in the position to stop what was happening. Julie (Hannah Murray) & Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) are the two white girls who happen to be at the hotel also, partying with their African-American male friends Green (Anthony Mackie) Aubrey (Nathan Davis Jr.) and Lee (Peyton Alex-Smith), which in the 1960’s still was not accepted. This alone creates tension that is only ratcheted up little by little as the film progresses. At this point we also meet the police officers involved Karuss (Will Poulter), Demens (Jack Reynor) and Guardsmen Flynn (Ben O’Toole) who along with the terrifying nature of the situation, help make this feel like what happened is something out of a horror film.

Every actor here gives a near flawless performance. this is actually a film without a standard Hollywood- style star. These actors are treated as equally important details in a larger event. The performances here are emotional, powerful, but most of all, real and feel instead as though each actor embodies the real life people that lived through these events and that let you get to know them as people, allowing you to genuinely care about them.

While this is a great film, it is a hard watch. This is an emotionally grueling film for the most part. With that being said, the two and a half hour run time of this film is exhausting and the length is something that can really work against this film. While I do recommend it as a watch because of it’s intrinsic value that it carries, it’s not as brilliant of a watch as I expected it to be.

Grade: B-
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Review Screening – Wednesday, August 2, 2017 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film Group
“Detroit” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 4, 2017

REVIEW: “WIND RIVER” (2017) Weinstein Company

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Writer/Director Taylor Sheridan is a wonderful screenwriter in his own right, however, he’s a terrible writer of film titles. Think Sicario, Hell or High Water or this latest title. “Wind River”. All had me questioning whether or not to see them before-hand based on title alone. Luckily for all of us, like the previous two, this film is much better than it’s title, and also gives the title sense as to where it came from.

Fortunately, this latest film “WIND RIVER” – his debut as a director – is a solid modern day western-type that starts us off with a slow burn leading into the plot of a Native American woman being found frozen dead and barefoot by local Fish & Wildlife hunter/employee Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). The young woman turns out to be the daughter of a friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) and the similar circumstances surrounding the death of his own daughter means that when Elisabeth Olsen’s FBI agent Jane Banner comes from the closest bureau office, which happens to be Las Vegas, and turns up clearly completely out of her element, being both underdressed and overwhelmed, you do get a feeling things could go terribly wrong. Along with the completely understaffed Reservation Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene), she asks him to please tag along and help bring the killers to justice.

The trail leads them through the reservation – with its social problems of drugs, criminality and social exclusion pointedly presented – and up into the wild. Here, Cory is the expert and Jane’s role is confined to hanging onto the back of his snowmobile for dear life as they plow their way through the snow. The investigation doesn’t allow her much scope to use her skills as one clue leads succinctly to the next. There are surprisingly few twists and turns, instead like Cory, the film doggedly follows the tracks. In apparent recognition of this, the film abandons mystery and reveals all with an expository flashback putting you the audience, completely in the emotional-fed moment right with them before sneakily edited into a tense stand off.

Renner confirms himself as a very respectable action lead, (despite the mis-step of Jason Bourne effort). He is a quiet professional here, a rugged sober man who is not afraid to show his sensitive side, as when he commiserates with the father of the murdered girl by baring his own grief. Olsen has less to do, but she manages with the thankless task of following Renner around and agreeing to follow his advice. The underwriting isn’t confined to her character. The motivations and actions of the villains also appear to be random and the sudden escalation of violence doesn’t make much sense except for providing us with a slickly realised set-piece.

All in all this is a satisfying and entertaining work from Sheridan. The portrayal of a forgotten American community – albeit from the point of view of a white-man saviour type deal we sometimes just see to much of – at least gives some visibility to an isolated part of the country. Though “Wind River” is far better than its title suggests and a promising directorial debut.

Kudos to director and all others involved in this remarkable outdoor production. The entire production was filmed in the middle of a brutal winter in Utah although the setting is supposedly Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation i.e., why the title finally makes sense. An added reality perk, real Native American’s play the actual Native American characters which for me, gives it a more realistic approach to the story at hand. A story that while starts slow, winds itself up into a vast emotional tug-of-war that left me thinking about the film long after it ended.

Grade: B-
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Review Screening: Tuesday, August 1, 2017 ~ Courtesy LAFTV Film Meetup
“Wind River” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 4, 2017

REVIEW: “ATOMIC BLONDE” (2017) Universal Pictures

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Ever since Mad Max: Fury Road, I felt as though Charlize Theron could really do no wrong at playing a kick-ass, strong female character – as let’s face it, she should have been nominated for that role. With “Atomic Blonde”, it feels as though what I thought is correct. Theron’s character, Lorraine Broughton is a concoction of James Bond shaken (not stirred) with a bit of John Wick and perhaps even a little Bourne as an added twist of sour lemon. That is of course except for the simple fact that she could probably kick all their asses while barely mussing up her hair.

“Atomic Blonde” isn’t all sex and violence, though yes, it’s what drives the film, as there is a story in here, though I will say it’s not the most well written one. It’s a 80’s spy flick turned upside down as it’s lead character takes us on a thriller of a ride, done mostly in flashbacks during an investigation being conducted by Eric Gray (Toby Jones), and our own CIA exec Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), who seem to be trying to work together here..sort of. With some fantastic 80’s fashion and a soundtrack that is in and of itself, it’s own character, as every song fits perfectly into it’s scene and makes a huge impression on the audience by making you want to stand up and dance, but instead, you sit because you’re being transfixed by some crazy fun, fantastic action scenes.

The setup: Lorraine is an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin in the days before the Wall comes down to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a important list that asylum seeking agent code-named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), which contains the names of double agents that’s fallen into the wrong hands of Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Møller). James McAvoy plays David Percival, a fellow agent who’s probably been in Berlin a little too long as he’s clearly running a black market on the side and doesn’t really seem to be on the up and up agent-wise. Berlin is at the point of time where there are protests every day with the East & West sides wanting the downfall of the infamous Berlin Wall that separates them. So of course with all that going on, it’s in a complete state of chaos which predicates the plot here. Things are changing and changing fast with Lorraine being basically sent into an impossible situation, which in order to stay alive, she’s needs to not only be one step ahead, but going to have to fight like hell just to survive and get herself out, let alone fulfill the mission.

All in all, it’s the action that makes this film and leaves the storyline in the dust, with Theron truly being an “Atomic Blonde”. The acting beyond the action, isn’t really there. Sofia Boutella, whom usually is the one doing all the ass-kicking, is really in her first role here that she doesn’t, and honestly, you could have left her French agent character Delphine Lasalle out and no one would have missed her, unless of course the sex scene between her and Charlize are important to you, but it’s truly not an addition or would it be a subtraction that would be missed to the plot. Lastly, you know how picky I am with accents but I do give a hush-hush wink-wink to Theron’s playing a British one here. 😉

Grade: B-
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Media Review Screening: Monday, July 24, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“Atomic Blonde” will be released in theatres nationwide on Friday, July 28, 2017