Dishonorably Spent

Avenge the Crows: The Legend of Loca (Theaters-NA; Streaming-December 2017) Rated: TV-MA —  Runtime: M Crows 201796 minutes

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Thriller

els – 3.0/10

IMDb – 5.4/10

Amazon – 4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 5.0/5

Metacritic Metascore – NA/100

Metacritic User Score – NA/10

Directed by: Nathan Gabaeff

Written by:  Nathan Gabaeff

Music by:  Spencer Brock, Nathan Gabaeff

Cast:  Danay Garcia, Michael Flores, Cesar Garcia, Lou Diamond Phillips, Danny Trejo

Film Locations:  Los Angeles, US

Budget: $NA — Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office: $NA

Loca (Danay Garcia), is a down on her luck gangbanging, murdering, thieving, slutty, drug dealing, junkie with a bad temper.  She’s the movie’s protagonist, the champion, the heroine who screws everyone and everything just to become a little more amoral and mercurial than yesterday. She’s the object of a prison gang’s mysterious hit sanction, which she must defend herself and her innocent cousin against and, just to thicken the plot, she must outsmart and outflank a Mexican drug cartel and the opposing LA street gangs.  All by tomorrow.

This is  Nathan Gabaeff’s second effort as a writer and director, the first being the poorly received 2016 Boost, also featuring Danay Garcia and Danny Trejo.  Avenge the Crows is a low-budget film that comes across as being written and directed as an allegorical, non-judgmental documentary of gang life on the streets of LA, complete with flickering static and choppy breaks in the film.  The story is brutal and stupid, the violence and sex are cheap, bordering on pointless. Then there’s the dialogue capable of contradicting itself  in the same scene.  Garcia tells her cousin that it must be the RR prison gang that is responsible for stalking them and then in the next sentence tells her cousin that the gang has no Earthly reason to stalk them.  Well, which is it? How do you arrive at the conclusion that it’s the RR gang when you have no reason to suspect them.

There is some good acting in this movie, Phillips and Trejo, despite the screenplay and direction, but that doesn’t include Danay Garcia.  The women can’t act, but as long as she keeps taking her clothes off the money folks will keep casting her.

Gabaeff was able to pull in some of the most recognizable names in Hispanic acting; Garcia, Phillips, Trejo, for this low-budget movie.  I can’t fathom how he was able to convince these actors sign up for this stinking dog of a movie and, sadly, he has more of these losers in the pipe-line.

This is a movie about the worst of the human condition and its degrading impulses. It passes on declaring any judgement; moral, ethical, or legal; neither for nor against: pathetic.  The movie is artistically dead and morally bankrupt.

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.

 

Stockholm Syndrome

The Pirates of Somalia  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 116-118 minutesM Pirates 2017

Genre:  Biography-Drama

els – 6.0/10

IMDb – 6.9/10

Amazon – 3.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore – 54/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.8/10

Directed by:  Bryan Buckley

Written by:  Bryan Buckley

Music by:  Andrew Feltenstein, John Nau

Cast:  Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Melanie Griffith, Al Pacino

Film Locations:   Cape Town and Western Cape, South Africa; New York, US

Budget:   NA

Worldwide Box Office:  NA

Jay Bahadur (Peters), a young, idealistic Canadian, aspires to be a journalist, but his job prospects are poor to nonexistent. Going to Somalia to observe, interview, report, and write a book on the pirates is just the scoop he needs to break into the profession. He wrote a term paper in his first year of college romanticizing the peaceful transition to power of a newly elected government in Somalia, in which he extrapolates from that occurrence, a country that is a charming spot of sand, full of peace and love, not so different from his beloved home country of Canada; minus the sand of course. He naively weaves this theory throughout the movie, and beyond, with conviction, never contemplating that Somalia life and politics may be just a tad more complicated and less perfect than this young, inexperienced man may imagine.

With some journalistic mentoring from a retired newsman, Seymour Tolden (Pacino), Jay sets off for Somalia without any real inkling of what he is up against. Using Tolden’s contacts in the country, along with bribes and khat, a local addictive stimulant, he gains access to the pirates and is able to document their side of the story. The pirates see themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking from the multinational corporations what is due them. Due them for past wrongs, due them for the British and Italian colonization and to help set matters right. I suspect the Nazis, the Mafia, Castro, Chavez, and countless others saw matters in a similar light; it was their due and they were going make everything alright.

The movie is based on a biographical account, chronicled in the 2011 New York Times bestseller: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World by Jay Bahadur. The movie was filmed in early 2016, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017 and was released in the US on 8 December 2017.

Leaving the kid’s politics aside, just for a moment, this is an interesting and well filmed and acted drama, with the exception of the tongue-in-cheek over prints and narratives which are fun and irritating at the same time, depicting life in Somalia and the pirates claim to authority and respect in this peaceful country.  At the end of the movie Bahadur appears to have made a very good living off his book, movie and consulting; telling the world about the wonderful and peaceful land of Somalia and its citizens.

The problem with his story though is that he never successfully bridges the logical, the cerebral disconnect between the peaceful transition of the newly elected government with the existence of the shadow government run by the pirates; much less contemplate the very peaceful, 1991 civil war, precipitated by the smooth transition-to-power-coup that claimed up to 500,000 lives and resulted in 1,000,000 plus refugees, or using the pc correct term: displaced persons. Add to that, the bloodless 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, that claimed 19 American lives, 73 wounded and 1 captured, which was subsequently documented and portrayed, poorly, in the 2002 film: Black Hawk Down.  An interesting aside is that in this movie the Somalis complain that no Somalis were used as actors in depicting the butchering of Americans in Black Hawk Down. The irony is lost on Bahadur. Jay Bahadur is naive and likely not very bright, he wanted to go into journalism for cripes sakes, but watch the movie anyway, it’s a useful lesson in ignorance and a trusting nature leading to self-deception.

Prison Blues in Rage of Orange

Brawl in Cell Block 99  (2017)  Rated: NR  Runtime: 132 minutesM Brawl 2017

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 7.2/10

Amazon – 3.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore – 79/100

Metacritic User Score – 6.9/10

Directed by:  S. Craig Zahler

Written by:  S. Craig Zahler

Produced by:  Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier,  Gregory Zuk

Music by:  Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler

Cast:  Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson

Vince Vaughn, son of Vernon, brother to Valerie and Victoria, V for Victory; fresh off a successful role as Sgt. Howell in Hacksaw Ridge, teams up with S. Craig Zahler to produce the greatest prison movie since Cool Hand Luke in 1967. This is a grinder of a movie where hard luck, bad luck, and no luck leads Vaughn straight to jail without passing Go, with Vaughn playing his part with the reticent verve of Charlie Brown crossed with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bradley, not Brad, Bradley (Vaughn), starts off the film with a bad, no good, awful day by first getting laid off his lousy paying, tow truck driving job followed, in short order, by broken locks, a trashed out yard, and a cheating wife, culminating in a one round boxing match with his wife’s car.  The car lost. Bradley calms down, keeps his wife, and goes to work for a drug dealer.  All is peaches and cream until a drug delivery goes bad, involving Bradley, not Brad, in a shoot-out, his subsequent capture and arrest by the local police.  The arrest quickly manifests itself into a 7 year prison sentence for Bradley where matters progress from bad to hellish in the blink of a black eye.

This is a well directed, written, and acted, virile, manly movie that provides all the testosterone you will need for the week. The only weakness in the film is the music; R&B tunes that just don’t fit; Jimmy Page and Johnny Cash would have been the right choice; thanks for asking.  Ignore the music, open a beer, kick back and enjoy this flick.

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