American Made

Now that we have talked about the foreigners, let’s discuss a home brewed concoction of history, baloney and Tom Cruise. “American Made” is the supposed true story of Barry Seal, who as a convicted drug smuggler negotiated a deal to assist the D.E.A. in in their investigations. The makers of this film, decide to splice the C.I.A., Iran-Contra and every president from Jimmy Carter up to George W. Bush into this story. I just hope that film goers recognize that Hollywood is a bad place to learn about history, even when it is a good place to make an engaging film.

All of the political material is nearly superfluous, since there is no real agenda in this movie other than to entertain us for a couple of hours.  The time line, characters and general insanity that take place are clearly the invention of creative minds rather than advocates with an agenda. In my opinion, this is the movie that “the Wolf of Wall Street” could have been if that film making crew had stuck to telling an interesting story instead of glorifying in excess and then pontificating at us. Director Doug Liman has the good fortune to have his personable con-man played by the personable Tom Cruise, who shakes off the unfortunate “Mummy” curse with a much more polished performance here.

The visions of excess here do not involve repeated episodes of drug use, sex and humiliation of other human beings. Rather, the situation attempts to lampoon the success of the drug trade by noting how problematic the issue of laundering the money would be. While there is one scene where Cruise as Seal gets covered in the imported product, he does not spend two thirds of the movie cranked up like Leonardo DiCapro. Instead, he is waist deep in cash and can’t find a way to hide the money as fast as he is making it. The story plays out like a comedy version of a double episode of “Miami Vice”. Seal and his wife argue over when he should rake up all the buried cash the dog has dug up. The town that he relocates to is flush with newly created financial institutions that seem to be serving a population of under 3000 with the kinds of banking services you’d find not too far off of Wall Street.

Domhnall Gleeson plays the imaginary C.I.A. recruiter who is supposed to have set Barry down the path to self destruction. He has a great American Accent, but not a very believable role. Sarah Wright plays the spouse of our gun running, drug smuggling, money laundering hero. I’ve not seen her before that I recall but she fits the part as written just fine. Caleb Landry Jones plays the misbegotten brother-in-law JB. Up to the point when his character exits the picture, the film plays like “Hogan’s Heroes” set in Central America. The movie takes a nasty turn after that and you will find that the real life BarrySeal had real life consequences to his actions.

I was a little nonplussed at the inclusion of a sequence that seems to have been taken from last year’s “Jack Reacher” film, also starring Cruise. I suppose the allure of Tom being so untouchable is just too much catnip to resist for film makers. I will however advise that they drop this soon to be Cruise Trope before the next “Mission Impossible”. I don’t think you want your Crown Jewel film franchise to be seen as cribbing from lesser works. Even if they are entertaining.

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The Foreigner

Doesn’t everyone like Jackie Chan? Although he has made some political statements over the last few years that I think are ill informed, I still love the guy. He is a true athlete with charisma to burn and even at his age he makes most younger action stars look like they are standing still. His new movie was produced by him and financed by Chinese media companies, but it is as slick an action spy film as you might hope to see for the price. As an added bonus we get two former Bond veterans to go along with it.

If you watch the trailer you might be expecting a straight action revenge film, but there is a lot more involved here. Quan is a bereaved father on a one man mission to take out the terrorists that killed his daughter. To do so he must squeeze whatever resource he can to find out who is at fault. Here is where the extra material comes in. Pierce Brosnan is a Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland, working for the British, he happens to be a former terrorist with the IRA who now seeks the best interests of the area in peace. There are conflicting goals for the people he represents and he is caught in the middle. The plot is full of multiple double crosses, switching loyalties and complex twists of real political events. It’s the usual spy territory and Jackie Chan just happens to have dropped into it.

 

I’ll make a confession here that will probably result in a few points being deducted from my “Man Card”. As  reference let me include this two and a half minute scene from the 1985 movie “VisionQuest”:

 

The way this character responded to Pele’, is the way I respond to Jackie Chan. I feel elevated as a human being when I see the stuff he is capable of doing. I teared up at “Rumble In the Bronx ” twenty years ago because Jackie Chan is so damn graceful and amazing. I didn’t choke up today, but I should have, because he is older than I am and he still does this incredible stuff. He is also a very solid actor in this part. There is no clowning around in the film. We don’t get a shot of that 1000 watt smile of his. Quan is nearly a broken man, and he fights back the tears and memories in a way that reminds us that Chan is not just an athlete but an actor as well.

Brosnan gets a chance to act as well. He is reunited with the director of his first 007 outing, Martin Campbell. Campbell has twice revived James Bond, first with “Golden Eye” and then a dozen years later with “Casino Royale”. He knows his way around material like this. There are some great action sequences true, but he also gets the drawing room show downs right as well. He may not be anyone’s idea of an auteur, but he clearly knows his way around a movie like this. Brosnan is good as the duplicitous minister with a hidden agenda that ties into the events but also shows how good outcomes can’t necessarily justify bad deeds.

 

“The Foreigner” is a well made , standard issue action spy film that is elevated by the presence of the two stars. It may not play well for MI-5’s public relations but those of us who like to see justice done in the cinema world, now have one more film to add to the list. Now can we please get that Jackie Chan, Liam Neeson, Jason Statham movie going? If Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell are available, let’s cast them too.

Happy Death Day

A horror film for 14 year old girls. It’s not particularly scary, it’s not as funny as it could be, and it is designed to mock those things that the Queen Bees do in belittling and mocking the other girls. It is so derivative of “Groundhog’s Day” that it actually mentions “Groundhog’s Day” at the conclusion of the film. There is little to recommend here despite the fun idea of stealing the Bill Murray premise.

From the moment the film starts, the screenplay fills every crevice with suspects. “Tree” our birthday girl, has what appears to be a drunken night with a handsome but apparently socially outcast stranger. Her sorority house is filled with women who might have reasons to hate her, or at least think they do She is having an affair with one of her professors who is a medical doctor, and she meets his wife when they are almost caught in a clinch. She is dodging her Father’s birthday call and brunch appointment. Oh yeah, there is also a serial killer who has been caught and is being treated in the hospital, we learn this from a news broadcast in the background.

If the repeated deaths that “Tree” has to endure were a little more creative, this could have been a lot more fun. It is only the automobile sequence that seems to care about providing thrills. The college mascot of the University she attends is “The Babies” which explains the creepy masks in every dorm, frat, office and locker room on campus. The murder sequences and red herrings are standard stuff and it just does not pop out at you the way these movies need to. This is another case of PG-13 undermining the point of the horror film.

The one thing that the film does manage to do is humanize “Tree” the same way that Bill Murray’s “Phil” learns a little humility. When the film starts, you are not going to have a lot of sympathy for her, but as it progresses, she starts to recognize the bad choices she has made. She can see the “bitch” in the mirror and she tries to rectify that persona as part of the process of discovering who it is that repeatedly murders her.It’;s not a great reason to see the film, but it does give it a little bit of emotional substance.

 

.happy_death_dayThe rules of the repeating universe she finds herself in are not very clear. The injuries she sustains disappear, except when they don’t. In one scenario she kills herself, and that seems odd. Her motivation for that action is partially explained, but why she thinks that solution is better that stopping the whole process is not clear at all.  I probably should not worry about inconsistencies in a movie like this, but sometimes those thoughts creep into your head and then the story premise gets undermined. I saw this on Friday, and there was a pretty big crowd, it’s so embarrassing to be part of a species that will see this movie but not bother with “Blade Runner 2049”.