Art Imitates Life

American Made (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2018)  Rated: R  Runtime: 115 minutesM American Made 2017

Genre:  Action-Adventure-Biography-Comedy-Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 6.5/10

IMDb – 7.2/10

Amazon – 3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore – 65/100

Metacritic User Score – 6.8/10

Directed by:  Doug Liman

Written by:   Gary Spinelli

Music by:  Christophe Beck

Cast:   Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Film Locations:   Atlanta, Ball Ground and Madison, Georgia, US; New Orleans, US; Araracuara, Caqueta and Medellin, Columbia

Budget:   $50,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $135,581,390

Barry Seal (Cruise) is a hustler, a con, a drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering, CIA operative; a Medellin Cartel useful stooge, and all around terrific husband and father who will not let anything get between him and an illicit mountain of cash. Seal is a TWA pilot who can’t make ends meet or fulfill his adrenaline needs, so he turns to flying drugs from South American to supplement his legitimate wages and feed his risk cravings.  He soon attracts the attention of the CIA who need a gofer to conduct business between the agency and Panama’s Noriega. This leads to running CIA supplied guns to Panama and the Cartel in Columbia.  Return flights are loaded with Columbian cocaine netting Seal $2000 per kilogram smuggled.  The amount of drugs involved eventually causes Seal to run out of banks and closet space for his green abundance. The entire story is told with more humor than drama, concentrating on Seal’s/Cruise’s smile and devil be damned style. You know Seal is man without a conscience but he is so darn likable and fun.

American Made is aptly directed by Doug Liman who keeps the focus of the movie light and airy, bordering on silly, against a background of drugs and the ensuing trail of death and ruin; and somehow it all works. Liman last worked with Cruise in the fantastic and critical acclaimed 2014 sci-fi flick: Live Die Repeat: The Edge of Tomorrow.  A little known, but talented writer, Gary Spinelli wrote the screenplay for this movie and auctioned it off to Universal for a cool million back in 2014. At that time Ron Howard was pegged to direct the movie. Filming started around May 2015 and continued off and on until January 2017.

This film is blithely marketed as a true story, a biography. As with all things Hollywood, that statement stretches reality to the breaking point. Barry Seal was a pilot for TWA and he was a drug smuggler; that part is true, after which the rest of the story gets the Hollywood treatment where the truth is pitted against fiction; may the highest gross potential wins.  The CIA part of the story may or may not have happened but the official line is it did not or at least not till much later in time.  Seal was busted for drug smuggling and money laundering and was facing serious time in the pen. He cut a deal with the DEA to help bring down the Columbian Cartels in exchanged for a lighter sentence.  At this point it appears the CIA, in conjunction with the DEA, stepped in to also gather information on the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.  Subsequently, Seal, at an airport in Nicaragua, took photos of Pablo Escobar, Ochoa, plus a Sandinista government official, Federico Vaughan, directing the loading of cocaine onto a DEA aircraft.  These pictures leaked out to the general public, after which Escobar placed a bounty on Seal’s life; supposedly $1,000,000 for capture and return to Columbia or $500,000 for his death. In early 1986 Seal was assassinated by Escobar’s hit men in front of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana Salvation Army facility.

Seal’s American Made life is a comedy.  Seal’s real life was a tragedy. Aristotle said in the 4th century BC, that art imitates life, mimesis, whereas Oscar Wilde in 1889 said the life imitates art, anti-mimesis. Here art imitates life, but comedy polled better than tragedy: money wins. Ok, that might be a bit heavy.  It’s a good movie so kick your feet up and pass the popcorn.


Vengeance is Bad Until it is Good

American Assassin  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 111-112 minutesM Assassin 2017

Genre:  Action-Spy-Thriller

els – 5.5/10

IMDb – 6.2/10

Amazon – 3.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 4.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore – 45/100

Metacritic User Score – 6.0/10

Directed by:  Michael Cuesta

Written by:  Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz

Music by:  Steven Price

Cast:  Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan

Film Locations:   Birmingham and London, England; Rome, Italy; Valletta, Malta; Phuket, Thailand

Budget:   ~$33,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $66,000,000+

Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) lost his fiancé, minutes after proposing to her, to mass murdering, middle-eastern terrorists on the beaches of Spain (actually shot in Phuket). Rapp vows revenge for her death and begins training himself to go after and kill all the terrorists involved.  The CIA notices him and monitors his progress, eventually deciding to bring him into the fold and continue his training under the former SEAL, Stan Hurley (Keaton). The plot begins to thicken as Rapp and Hurley investigate a series of terrorist attacks that eventually lead to the realization that middle-eastern elements are trying to acquire a nuclear device and use it to start a world war.

The movie is based on Vince Flynn’s 1994 novel of the same name with plans for making the movie beginning back in 2012, finally leading to actual filming in 2016. The movie is obviously intended as the opening shot for a long running spy-thriller franchise.  It appears that the choice of O’Brien to fill the lead as a 20 something young adult is meant to demonstrate, with time, his progression into a personage with a Bourne or Bond countenance in the subsequent movies. Hopefully it will work.

The professional class of critics have panned this flick with no mercy. The major dig being that the story is stale and has been told a million times before, and usually better. On the other hand the movie paying public likes this movie for the action and the mindless entertainment that it is; nothing more. The filming and cinematography are beautiful with competent acting all around. Yes, the story could have used some sprucing  up, mainly around the convoluted messaging on the morality of revenge, but I’ll reserve judgement until after the sophomore release.  Feet up and pass the popcorn.


Unlocked  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 98 minutesM Unlocked 2017

Genre: Action-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 4.5/10

IMDb – 6.2/10

Amazon – 4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 4.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.5/5

Metacritic Metascore – 46/100

Metacritic User Score – 6.1/10

Directed by:  Michael Apted

Written by:  Peter O’Brien

Music by:  Stephan Barton

Cast:  Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich

Film Locations:  Prague, Czech Republic; London, England

Budget:  NA

A PTSD undercover CIA agent, Alice Racine (Rapace), assigned to a desk job in the immigrant slums of London, unlocks, or extracts information from an Islamic currier that has the potential to bring unfathomable terror to London and the world. The information she obtains is immediately compromised by a mole inside the CIA, and thus, begins a shoot ’em up race to find the mole and stop the terrorists from releasing a deadly biologic agent into the city population.

An all-star cast, along with an accomplished director: Apted, give their all to make something out of an incredibly predictable, misguided and sophomoric screenplay, but in the end it isn’t enough. When Eric Lasch (Douglas) makes an appearance early in the movie, you can get up and leave, the general outline of the movie is writ large and by continuing to watch the show you only gain the details and a headache.

Peter O’Brien is wholly responsible for this mixed up attempt of a spy thriller. If he had written this story without a Hollywood PC twist it may have worked, but instead his fantasy world beliefs make a total and unbelievable mess of the plot. This script makes some sense when you realize that O’Brien’s previous efforts included writing scripts for video games; his greatest credit being for Microsoft’s Halo: Reach.  What doesn’t make sense is how any one paid money to turn this script into a movie. Hopefully after this fiasco he will leave the movie business, and return to the realm of first person shooter games where the story is buried beneath the body count.

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