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
@pegsatthemovies

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

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REVIEW: “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Disney Pictures

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32 years after the original Star Wars exploded on our movie screens, the saga is set to continue here in The Force Awakens. Take note that this review is strictly a point of view and won’t contain to much storyline as you should see it for yourself, and definitely no spoilers. One thing before I continue on..Chewie..YOU ARE MY HERO!!!
As the opening log comes on the screen, we are immmediately taken back in time which has to be one of the happiest moments of the film. With that I will just spit it out that first and foremost, this is a good movie, though far far from a great one (It’s no Mad Max) And yes, I just said that.. So all the Star Wars fan-boys can step up now and sue me.. 😀

I’m as big a Star Wars fan as any though after Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace couldn’t even come close to comparing. Attack of the Clones was forgettable..Revenge of the Sith – didn’t even bother to see it at a theatre and actually waited for it to be on cable. And I won’t lie..I have a few issues with this film, though not all of them are bad.
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The opening 30 minutes are less than satisfying and to be completely honest was quite ‘lulz’. Here we are introduced to some new main characters Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac – who is terribly underused here). Finn is actually a stormtrooper, but get this..a stormtrooper with feelings?? no ..stormtroopers are not allowed those. But hey they are taking a risk here by doing that right – which is okay by me. Then Poe, who is head of the resistance pilots, gets captured and Finn helps him escape for which when Poe asks why, gets the answer of “Because it’s the right thing to do” what?? that’s just weak.. sorry but it is. It doesn’t fit in a Star Wars film. So as predicted they crash and it seems only Finn survives. But you also know that there is no way Poe is dead & gone, but this goes unexplained for some time, until he magically shows up later with barely a plausable explantion.

While she is no Furiosa, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has somewhat the same inplausability factor when we meet as her as she & Finn are all about saving each other within minutes of meeting. But then again, I like the risk-taking factor of appointing a strong female lead.
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Along with that part of the main cast, we are introduced to the mostly all Britsh/Irish (I guess a galaxy ‘far far away’ is now the U.K. ha!) cast of the Dark Side, notably General Hux (Domhnall Gleason), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie – also terribly underused) to name just a few.

As expected, the robots especially BB8 (Bill Hader/Ben Schwartz – voice consultants), along with Chewbaca (Peter Mayhew) & Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) steal and deliver the best comedic one takes. While the new characters try, they fail quite miserably at trying to deliver cutesy one-liners that aren’t funny.
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While I loved the flashbacks to the Star Wars of old, including the graveyard of old spaceships, Hans Solo getting back onboard with his old ship is nothing less than classic. And who doesn’t want to see Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Solo reunite after years of separation?!! All these scenes and storylines are simply wonderful.

Another big risk and a sad heartbreaking one at that, is saying good-bye to one of the most iconic characters ever concieved in this galaxy or any other for that matter. Did it have to be done? Maybe so because it seems J.J. Abrams had to basically make us try to forget those three intermediate bad storylines and get us back on track to what is important. Though I found Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to be one of my least favourite characters (and actors) as it just seems to simple to say Skywalker was good out of Vader’s bad, but yet Ren is bad out of Solo & Leia’s good.
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Last note: I’m not the biggest 3D fan, but this film is so enhanced by it, it’s worth it. The final scene of the movie is by far what makes it all worth-while to see this film – as it gives us something to look forward to in Episode VIII and it tells us it will be so much better.

Grade: B-
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REVIEW: “THE REVENANT” ~ POST Q & A ~ LEONARDO DICAPRIO/DIR: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU/PROD: STEVE GOLAN & MARY PARENT

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Since I was lucky enough to be part of the first ever audience to see this remarkable picture with Leonardo DiCaprio & Alejandro González Iñárritu doing the post Q & A along with producers Steve Golan & Mary Parent ~ I think I can safely tell you all…Prepare to be blown away as I’ve personally never seen a film of this magnitude in my life. And here I thought Alejandro couldn’t outdo last years epic ‘Birdman’, well I was wrong. He can and he did.
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Along with the sure-fire Oscar gold performance of Leo DiCaprio here, ‘The Revenant’ follows the true story of the epic adventures of frontiersman Hugh Glass. It is also about someone trying to survive using the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of uncharted America back in the fur trading days, legendary explorer Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), is brutally mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own team. the revenant 7

In an effort to survive, and with a full heart of unimaginable grief and betrayal of trust by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) for the death of his son, Glass is buried alive with injuries most would not be able to withstand. Full of anger he goes to the end of what is uncharted wilderness to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. Guided by sheer will and love for his son, Glass navigates a severe winter in the relentless pursuit to live and find redemption. And revenge. Yes, revenge, because make no mistake about it..this is a film of someone seeking revenge in it’s purest form. the revenant 4

While there are some tough-to-watch graphic scenes in this film, it’s a spectacle that really must be experienced both visually and story-wise. While you can pick up the book and spoil it for yourself – don’t!!!! – this is truly something that must be experienced completely on your own. the revenant 3

The no longer-young boy from Titanic, DiCaprio’s phenominal performance here, in which his character is alone and doesn’t speak for much of the two and a half hours of running time that he carries the film, is joined in tandem by the remarkable Tom Hardy. Here again, the man of many accents has another one, not sure where he picks them up, but they do serve him well. He is the villian of sorts here, but is it that or is he just trying as they all are, to survive the harshness of life in these times. With a supporting cast of Domhnall Gleason as Andrew Henry, Brendan Fletcher as Fryman and Grace Dove to name just some of the mixed cast of French, Native American and American actors that provide the makeup of this of ensemble cast.
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This film is as big as it is bold and like nothing I’ve ever seen before, with many a dark and brutal moments that might be to much for some in the audience. Take that as a serious warning as I saw many seat squirmings and some scenes stayed with me for some time after, but I also loved every minute of this film and for me,  I see #OSCAR#OSCAR#OSCAR written all over it.

Grade: A+

Screening: Sunday, November 22, 2015 ~ Courtesy of the Producers Guild of America & 20th Century Fox.
And a quick shoutout to my movie-going BFF – Jason Watters for only with his invitation was I able to be part of the 1st audience and wonderful experience. Thank you so much!!!
Nationwide release: Friday, January 8, 2016

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POST Q & A WITH Leonardo DiCaprio/Alejandro González Iñárritu/Steve Golen and Mary Parent

Starting off with many questions to regarding the film’s production that has already attracted controversy after reports that it became “a living hell”, with some members of the crew quitting and being fired. Iñárritu noted “As a director, if I identify a violin that is out of tune, I have to take that from the orchestra,” “I have nothing to hide,” the director said. “There were problems, but none of them made me ashamed.” The budget also swelled from $60m to $95m.

In the Q & A, Iñárritu described making the film as “almost like an impossible task” — and when asked about his first day on the set, DiCaprio smiled and said, “To tell you the truth, it’s all a beautiful blur to me.”
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Leo noted that while the book is based on a true life story..but the stories being those told around the campfires of those days in time also can be full of embelishments etc.. it’s like when you tell a story to a person and it travels through 10 people it becomes a different story. There is no way to verify it and he could only read for reference stories told and written by these men. DiCaprio described it as “almost a silent movie performance from me” it’s a father/son story..a love story and a ‘bear’ of a story all wrapped in one.

The script had been floating around for some time but no one could picture how they could possibly make a film of this magnitude with Iñárritu originally passing on the project some time ago. Iñárritu said some days they only had 45 minutes of workable shoot time, other days an hour and a half tops with hours sometimes being take to intricately set up the shot required. They were at the mercy of the weather, which at one point dropped to 40 degrees below zero.
Alejandro noted that the pressure on Leo was immense as once everything was set up..it was up to him to carry it out and lead the way in the short time span avail to them. If he didn’t, then they would have to start all over again the next day. leo & alejandro 1
Rehearsals, they said, took months, with elaborate camera moves worked out with the actors before they ever went to the wilderness locations, many of them near Calgary, Canada. “You felt an intensity, and a unity with the whole crew that you had to grasp the entire shot every day,” said DiCaprio.
Probably my favourite quote by director Alejandro González Iñárritu in answering a question regarding the beauty and harshness of the wilderness in which they shot he noted: “the sky is omnipresent.”

“UNBROKEN” REVIEW ~ UNIVERSAL (2014)

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It might be hard to judge how much art there is in imitation, but Angelina Jolie certainly does this film justice as this is a truly good old-fashioned Hollywood tear jerking biopic in-line with some of the best of them. For whatever that’s worth is where the debate lies in for Unbroken.

As it is, this is the true story of a triumphing American hero if ever there was one. It’s lavishly done, expensive, and altogether a very ambitious epic about Olympic runner-turned-WWII bombardier-turned-POW “Louis Zamperini” (Jack O’Connell). While I’m sure there are many of them, this is, with all it’s harrowing moments, one story that should always be told and if any tale of survival deserves to be made, it is this one. While there’s probably room for a much better movie here, as points of it do drag on..but Unbroken at least benefits from having one hell of a story to tell. unbroken 1

Thanks to flashbacks, we see Louie as a kid (C.J. Valleroy), wasting whatever potential he has by shoplifting and hiding his stolen items in a secret spot where he sits by himself and drinks liquor out of a bottle painted to look like it contains milk. It’s made clear he’s thought of, especially in those times, as a juvenile delinquent of a child. Being an Italian immigrant didn’t help. Luckily, when being chased by a local neighborhood policeman one afternoon, he happens to do a sprint across the field during a school track practice, catching the eye of a friend and his own brother, “Pete” (Alex Russell) who convinces Louie to take up running as a sport. unbroken 2

The main cast doesn’t have the support of any big name veteran performers, and that’s fine as the supporting cast, a lot of them in brief but pertinent roles, ranging from Jai Courtney “Cup”, Marcus Vanco “Lambert”, Ross Anderson “Blackie” and Garrett Hedlund as “Fitzgerald”, are all up to par here..but let’s just call it and say Jack O’Connell leads the bunch very well and it’s his performance that feels a cut above. O’Connell has all the boyish charm his role requires early on, when he’s running and attending the Olympics in flashbacks or while entrenched in a WWII air battle. And then when the rickety plane (yes it seems even back then we didn’t provide our soldiers with all the best equipment) he’s aboard crashes into the Pacific, stranding the few survivors in life rafts, the actor inspires with a brave yet calm resolve that proves key to maintaining the sanity of himself and his fellow survivors, “Mac” (Finn Wittrock) and “Phil” (Domhnall Gleason) as they float aimlessly in hope of rescue. unbroken 6

This part of the movie is handled well, with no cutaways, no escape from the endless floating along. To keep things moving along as thankfully we don’t go day by day..but rather weeks at a time, this section is filled with a lot of visual action, including a few big flashy storm sequences and some jumpy, although rather cheesy shark encounters. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but I liked the idea of sticking with Louis for the whole of this long drawn out ordeal as cutting away just might have taken some of the heart and horridness of what they endured out of it.

Now if only that was the peak of trials and tribulations for Louis Zamparini right there, it would be a mighty impressive tale of determination and resilience all on it’s own. But it’s barely the tip of the iceberg. From there, Louis is rescued in an ominous scene “I have some good news and some bad news,” he informs his raft-mate, Phil, by the Japanese, who throw him into a POW camp somewhere in the jungle, which proves to be a walk in the park compared to the camp he’s then shipped off to, wherein he meets the movie’s chief villain, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (played scarily so well by Japanese singer Takamasa ‘Miyavi’ Ishihara). unbroken 3

Life in the POW camps understandably takes up a large amount of the movie’s lengthy running time (yes it’s 2hrs 20min). The horrors of the brutal imprisonment are put up front and personal without glossing over things too much, but while all the horrible harrowing things that are happening to Louis are quite convincing, the heart-tugging gets somewhat in the way of the real emotional jist of the story. During one of the darkest moments in the ugliest and most dehumanizing of the three POW camps he is sent to, Louis digs deep for the strength he needs to hoist a block of wood over his head in a defiant measure against “The Bird” and O’Connell expresses the emotion well with his face and body, but we also get the obvious with a flashback of a triumphant pre-war Louis at the Olympics. Of course. There comes that bit of cheesy again. unbroken 5

Does it help immensely that Zamperini’s story is one of overwhelming impossible odds, the kind of tale Hollywood loves to tell, yes, yes it does. Because to sum it up, beating up on the movie, tempting as it may be for some, just isn’t much fun. But that alone doesn’t really raise the movie to the level of great, but it does make this heroic tale of the familiar leave a lasting taste with us all.

The real Louis Zamparini with Dir: Angelina Jolie

The real Louis Zamperini with Dir: Angelina Jolie


Grade: B-
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(See grading scale)