American Made

September 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”)
Written by: Gary Spinelli (“Stash House”)

Based (somewhat loosely) on a true story, “American Made” finds Tom Cruise finally returning to the type of role that gives him some vulnerability—something which has been sorely lacking in a decade filled with high-octane “Mission: Impossible” movies, the dull “Jack Reacher” series, and this year’s dreadful reboot of “The Mummy.”

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA airline pilot who, in 1978, is bored of welcoming passengers to Bakersfield and Vancouver. While in Canada, he and other pilots run a low-level smuggling ring, bringing Cuban cigars into the United States for a few extra bucks. This attracts the attention of a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who plays into Seal’s boredom to recruit him to fly a twin-engine plane over communist training camps in Central America, snapping photos for Uncle Sam. Barry agrees, but doesn’t tell his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), who pesters Barry for more money for their growing family. When he’s shut out of a raise by Schafer, Barry accepts an offer from the men who would become the Medellin drug cartel, led by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), to smuggle cocaine into the United States for piles and piles of cash.

When Barry is arrested and thrown into a Colombian prison for drug smuggling, Schafer again comes to his aid with an offer: deliver guns to communist-fighting Contras in Nicaragua. Again, the cartel steps in and offers to buy the guns from Barry, who becomes obscenely wealthy from the smuggling, attracting the attention of the FBI, ATF, and several other law enforcement agencies.

Directed by Doug Liman, who previously helmed the under-appreciated (and poorly titled) Cruise sci-fi vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow,” “American Made” aspires for the breezy, comedy-drama feel of “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short” and ends up mostly succeeding. There are times when the plot feels hacked up to get the running time just under two hours, with stunted characters like Jesse Plemons’ “look the other way” small town sheriff getting featured introductions and significant follow-up scenes only to end up with little to do afterward and the sudden fore fronting of one of Barry’s vague associates in the final act.

It’s a small quibble, really, and it doesn’t do much to detract from the enjoyment in finally seeing Tom Cruise really sink his gorgeous teeth into something for the first time since “Magnolia” or “Vanilla Sky.”

Edge of Tomorrow

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Jez Butterworth (“Fair Game”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”)

Okay, sure, “Edge of Tomorrow” looks like a sci-fi spin on “Groundhog Day” and yeah, that’s the premise in a nutshell. When you have a guy reliving the same day over and over and over again, the Bill Murray classic is instantly top of mind. But more so than that, though, the film is a mildly satirical, exceedingly clever adventure featuring the most accessible and likeable performance by Tom Cruise that we’ve seen in years.

As a TV-friendly officer charged with selling a land war with aliens to the world, Cruise’s Major William Cage is ordered to the front lines with a camera crew to record the great victory over the so-called Mimics. When Cage resists, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) cooks up a conspiracy to bust him down to private. Cage is assigned to J-Squad under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) where no one cares if he lives or dies. The next day, after some hasty training and brutal hazing, Cage suits up in his futuristic exo-skeletal armor and is dropped in the middle of a massacre with the rest of the infantry. Cage manages to survive the firefight long enough to come face to face with an “Alpha,” one of the rarer Mimics, only to be burned to death by its blood. Immediately upon dying, though, Cage awakes to relive the previous day, destined to fight and die again. This happens over and over and over, with Cage improving his skills every re-lived day with the help of military superstar Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the one person who understands what he’s going through.

“Groundhog Day” memories aside, “Edge of Tomorrow” brings a fresh and funny perspective to what, on the surface, looks like another futuristic snoozer on par with last year’s “Oblivion,” also featuring Cruise. Director Doug Liman never leans too heavily on the overarching gimmick, instead using the days Cage relives that we don’t see to move the narrative forward. When we think we’re seeing progress toward the goal of defeating the Mimics, Rita slowly discovers she and Cage have been in this situation dozens—if not hundreds—of times before. You absolutely feel Cage’s frustration, doubly so if you grew up playing video games without save features in the ‘80s, when a lengthy quest could come to a maddening end just to leave you back at the very beginning. Like Cage, all you’re left with is the accumulated knowledge of what you went through. And, like lots of ‘80s video games, “Edge of Tomorrow” falters near the end, foregoing creativity for mindless action. But truthfully, getting there is all the fun.

Fair Game

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“The Last Legion”) and John-Henry Butterworth (debut)

Moviegoers on the more conservative side of the aisle might snicker when they hear others call “Fair Game” a fact-based political controversy about former CIA operative Valerie Plame, the internal leak ending her career in the agency, and the grand jury investigation that followed, but the film is compelling, thought-provoking cinema nonetheless.

For those who believe Plame’s memoir “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” from which the screenplay is adapted (along with her husband Joe’s book “The Politics of Truth”), “Fair Game” just might a maddening experience when you piece the narrative together.

“Fair Game,” directed by Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), tells the story of Plame, whose identity as a member of the CIA is printed in a 2003 article of the Washington Post. Added to this disclosure of top secret information is the supposed reason behind it. Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), who was sent to Africa to investigate a possible nuclear weapons deal between Niger and Iraq but found no evidence of such, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times degrading the George W. Bush Administration for invading Iraq and using the intelligence he gathered (in this case proved false) on his trip as a component of the motive for the attack.

Again, “Fair Game” is from one point of view, so depending on your politics (and depending if you judge a film based on those politics) the film might feel as fictional as a fairytale. Leave the politics off the table, however, and you’ll find an intelligent, well-written and sometimes heavy-handed account of the events that may or may not have taken place.

Aside from what went on inside the White House, “Fair Game” also examines the personal life of Plame and Wilson as their marriage is tested and professional careers are dragged through the mud during the ordeal. These elements of the film give a nice balance between the ugliness of the political world and what a controversy like this can actually do to a family.

Jumper

February 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Jaime Bell, Rachel Bilson
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: David S. Goyer (“Blade”), Jim Uhls (“Fight Club”), Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: The Last Stand”)

Imagine not having to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, being able to wake up five minutes before an important meeting on the other side of town and getting there on time, or traveling anywhere in the world without ever buying a plane ticket. With the power of teleportation, you could do all of that and more. That’s exactly what David Rice (Christensen) does in the new slick-looking but prosaic action flick “Jumper.”

During a near-death experience, David’s life is spared when he somehow teleports away from danger and to another location. With his new-found talent to travel beyond space and time – and because he is unhappy at home with his verbally abusive father – he decides he can survive on his own by “borrowing” a few bucks from the bank and getting his own place. Hey, if you could move in and out of anywhere without opening a door, wouldn’t you visit a vault?

Flash-forward eight years and David has perfected his skill to teleport across the world. From having lunch on top of the Sphinx in Egypt to surfing the biggest waves in Fiji, David can do anything he wants with the power that has been granted to him. His trouble-free life, however, is interrupted when he finds out he is being hunted by a man whose soul purpose in life is to kill “Jumpers” like himself.

Roland (Jackson), who has been searching for David ever since he heard about his first bank robbery, is part of a unit of hunters known as Paladins. Unbeknownst to David, Jumper and Paladins are at war with each other and have been for thousands of years. Call it jealously or call it their mission, Paladins hate Jumpers because they feel no one should have the gift Jumpers do except God.

Now on the run, David returns home and visits his childhood crush (Bilson), who he strikes up a relationship with again by wooing her with weekend trips to Rome. The script is at its weakest here as David is never questioned about where he has been for the last eight years. Everyone thought he was dead, but who cares now? When you have an endless supply of money and can charm a girl by flying her out to the most extravagant cities, you can get around just about anything.

Excessive on the special effects but sputtering tremendously on the storyline, “Jumper” is illogical and a poor attempt at science fiction. Where the movie could have found its appeal was through David’s actual leaps through wormholes and dimensions. Instead, it becomes a drawn-out chase scene with far too many plot holes and flimsy characters.