American Made Review

American Made movie posterSynopsis
Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), an American airline pilot, is approached by a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who offers him a job taking covert pictures of insurgent operations in Central America for the US government. Seal is soon approached by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and his crew and is recruited into smuggling drugs into the US.

Review
I’ll admit, the only reason I really went to see American Made was because of Tom Cruise. Biopics aren’t normally my type of film and there haven’t been very many that I have greatly enjoyed. However, I was hoping that with Cruise at the forefront, this might actually be a biopic that I’d like. While it does contain several of the aspects of the genre I don’t care for, there was plenty more to enjoy than other biopics.

As I thought would be the case, Cruise’s charisma is one of the driving forces of the film. He plays Barry Seal in such a way that you like him, even though you know he is a terrible person and that you should detest him. It creates a very interesting experience. With Cruise’s infectious grin, you’ll be rooting for Seal all along the way.

Another actor who I thought did a great job was Domhnall Gleeson as the CIA operative Schafer. He was just as charismatic as Cruise except we don’t get much information about him. I supposed this works out alright because since he is CIA, this helps to build that air of mystery about him. I just wish I was able to see more of him and Cruise together because they both had an energy about them that was fun to watch.

The subject matter of American Made is actually pretty dark but you might have a hard time seeing that with the way it is presented. I’m sure part of it comes from Cruise’s charisma I brought up earlier but there is a lightheartedness to the film that was unexpected in a movie about a drug dealer. I think its unique tone made it more enjoyable for me because there are plenty of movies about criminals and drug dealers that are very grim and to see one that wasn’t was a breath of fresh air.

In the film Inside Man, the movie sporadically jumps into the future with interviews with the hostages to set up the upcoming scene. This film makes use of a similar technique. Throughout American Made, commentaries about what Seal was thinking and doing are interjected between scenes to prepare the audience for the scene ahead. I thought Inside Man should have made more use of this approach to telling its story, whereas here I think it is used the right amount. It never takes away from the experience too much and gives the audience a better insight into Seal’s character. Since this is a movie about Seal, it only helps better our understanding of him.

I thought American Made was GOOD πŸ™‚ Most biopics have a hard time keeping my attention it seems but I didn’t have that feeling during this movie. The lighthearted nature of such a dark movie and the energy from Tom Cruise and Domhnall Gleeson makes it enjoyable. While I don’t think I will go out of my way to see it, I won’t shy away either if I happen to come across it.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Doug Liman – Director
Gary Spinelli – Writer
Christophe Beck – Composer

Tom Cruise – Barry Seal
Domhnall Gleeson – Monty ‘Schafer’
Sarah Wright – Lucy Seal
Caleb Landry Jones – JB
Mauricio Mejia – Pablo Escobar
Alejandro Edda – Jorge Ochoa
Fredy Yate Escobar – Carlos Ledher
Jesse Plemons – Sheriff Downing
Jayma Mays – Dana Sibota
Benito Martinez – James Rangel
E. Roger Mitchell – Agent Craig McCall
Jed Rees – Louis Finkle
Robert Farrior – Oliver North
Alberto Ospino – Manuel Noriega
Daniel Lugo – Adolfo Calero
Jayson Warner Smith – Bill Cooper (Snowbird #1)
Mark McCullogh – Pete (Snowbird #2)

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Lightning Review: Home Again

Home Again movie posterSynopsis
Alice (Reese Witherpoon), a recently divorced, single mother, moves into her childhood home in Los Angeles. After meeting Harry (Pico Alexander), Teddy (Nat Wolff) and George (Jon Rudnitsky), she lets the three filmmakers live in her home while they try to get their big break, causing her life to take an unexpected turn.

Review
I don’t normally see films like Home Again in the theaters but I found myself in a theater-going dry spell of sorts and my mom was visiting and we hadn’t seen a movie together in a while so I figured why not. For a romantic comedy, this movie didn’t lean too heavily on either. There are the romance parts and there are comedy parts but neither completely overtake the film. First-time writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer has a story about Alice she wants to tell and she uses the romance and the comedy to tell it, however, they never become the central focus. And it never becomes over-the-top or way out-there and never resorts to a cheap laugh. Every comedy moment feels natural and genuinely funny. You might need to suspend some disbelief but this is a movie we’re talking about here! That pretty much comes with the territory, regardless of genre.

I wouldn’t call Reese Witherspoon one of my favorite actresses but I do generally enjoy her movies that I’ve seen. This seems like a very typical fair for her but she is as charming as ever. As for the rest of the cast, I am mostly unfamiliar with them, so I can’t compare their performances to what they’ve done before. Although, I can say that in Home Again, I thought they all did very well. The three filmmakers who move in with Alice, Pico Alexander, Nat Wolff, and Jon Rudnitsky, were fun and believable together. They felt like actual friends and seemed like they were having a good time together. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones with Rudnitsky and Lola Flanery, playing Alice’s oldest daughter. Together, they had many playful and heartwarming scenes.

I thought Home Again was GOOD πŸ™‚ Romantic comedies aren’t usually a type of movie I go out of my way to see so I don’t have a ton of experience with the genre. However, I did enjoy the story this film told. Reese Witherspoon and the rest of the cast gave enjoyable performances with some moving and heartfelt moments. I’m sure it’s far from the best rom-com out there but running at about one and a half hours, it never feels tedious and offers a feel-good story.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Hallie Meyers-Shyer – Director / Writer
John Debney – Composer

Reese Witherspoon – Alice Kinney
Pico Alexander – Harry
Nat Wolff – Teddy
Jon Rudnitsky – George
Lola Flanery – Isabel
Eden Grace Redfield – Rosie
Michael Sheen – Austin
Candice Bergen – Lillian Stewart

Lightning Review: Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky movie posterSynopsis
When Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets let go from his job, he convinces his siblings, Clyde (Adam Driver) and Mellie (Riley Keough), to help him rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Logan and Clyde recruit experienced bank robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them get into the vault. But first, they have to figure out a way to get Joe Bang out of jail.

Review
Part way through Logan Lucky, I thought β€œWow, this is a hillbilly Ocean’s Eleven,” which felt much more original until the movie made almost the same joke and I saw that it was directed by Steven Soderbergh (the director of Ocean’s Eleven) in the credits. In any case, it had many of the elements from Ocean’s Eleven that I enjoyed in that film. Like Ocean’s Eleven, it is a fairly slow burn for the first two-thirds of the film. Most of the run time is spent on the Logans concocting the plan / setting up all the pieces. However, also like Ocean’s Eleven, the fun characters, well-written dialogue, and great chemistry between the actors make this time enjoyable and entertaining. Once the heist actually happens, the payoff is well worth it. Keeping the film close to a formula that has worked well before and twisting it slightly was a brilliant move by Soderbergh. It keeps the film familiar yet still manages to keep it feeling new and fresh.

Having a great cast too doesn’t hurt the film either. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as the Logan brothers are absolutely a blast to watch. On the surface, they seem like they might be a pair of dim-witted rednecks but you soon realize that’s not necessarily the case. Add in a Southern-accented Daniel Craig as Joe Bang and you know you’re going to have a good time. To my surprise, Joe Bang’s two brothers, played by Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, were two of my favorite characters in the film. Several of their lines had me cracking up the most. I would love to see a sequel if only to see those two characters on screen again.

I thought Logan Lucky was GOOD πŸ™‚ There is nothing original story-wise in this film but it uses what has been tried and true before and makes it work again in an unconventional way. The vibrant cast is clearly having fun, giving a fun Ocean’s Eleven vibe and keeping my attention despite not really picking up until the end. There are many better heist films out there but few of them are as whimsical or playful as Logan Lucky.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Steven Soderbergh – Director
Rebecca Blunt – Writer
David Holmes – Composer

Channing Tatum – Jimmy Logan
Adam Driver – Clyde Logan
Riley Keough – Mellie Logan
Daniel Craig – Joe Bang
Jack Quaid – Fish Bang
Brian Gleeson – Sam Bang
Farrah Mackenzie – Sadie Logan
Katie Holmes – Bobbie Jo Chapman
David Denman – Moody Chapman
Seth MacFarlane – Max Chilblain
Sebastian Stan – Dayton White
Jim O’Heir – Cal
Rebecca Koon – Purple Lady
Katherine Waterston – Slyvia Harrison
Hilary Swank – Special Agent Sarah Grayson
Macon Blair – Special Agent Brad Noonan

Lightning Review: The Mummy Returns

Synopsis
Meela (Patricia Velasquez) the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun, locates Imhotep’s (Arnold Vosloo) body in the city of Hamunaptra. She hopes to use Imhotep’s powers to defeat the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) and take control of the army he commands. Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) calls upon Rick O’Connell (Brendan Frasier) and his wife Evy (Rachel Weisz) to once again defeat Imhotep.

Review
What makes The Mummy so enjoyable is that it never took itself seriously and just had fun with its story. The Mummy Returns is much of the same which, like any sequel, is both a good and bad. The core group of Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo returns and have the same fantastic chemistry from before. Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay has a much bigger role this time around and syncs with the group very well. The film’s sense of humor is pretty much the same as before, although the comedy is not as prominent this time around. It seems this time, there was more of a skew towards the action-adventure side of things instead of a pretty even balance like before. Not that that’s good or bad, it just gives the film a different feel. Newcomer Shaun Parkes as Rick’s pilot pal Izzy is my favorite of the new members of the cast but he feels underused, especially since he is a funny addition. The Mummy Returns is Dwayne Johnson’s first big movie role. I say big but he only appears in the opening scene and as CGI in the final battle scene, which has not aged well at all.

I thought The Mummy Returns was GOOD πŸ™‚ While not nearly as charming as The Mummy, it is still a decent popcorn flick.

Also read my reviews of The Mummy and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Sommers – Director / Writer
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Brendan Frasier – Rick O’Connell
Rachel Weisz – Evelyn Carnahan
John Hannah – Jonathan Carnahan
Freddie Boath – Alex O’Connell
Arnold Vosloo – Imhotep
Oded Fehr – Ardeth Bay
Patricia Velasquez – Meela / Anck-Su-Namun
Alun Armstrong – Mr. Hafez
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Lock-Nah
Shaun Parkes – Izzy
Dwayne Johnson – The Scorpion King

Lightning Review: Goal! The Dream Begins

This review was originally posted as part of theΒ Play to the Whistle Blogathon, hosted by Film and TV 101 and Reffing Movies.

Goal! The Dream Begins movie posterSynopsis
Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) is an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles working multiple jobs to support his family. However, his passion is to play football professionally. When Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a retired Newcastle United player, notices Munez talents, Foy sets him up with a try out with Newcastle United. In hopes of making his dreams a reality , Munez travels to England.

Review
As a soccer player and cinefile, it can be difficult to find a movie about the sport, let alone a decent one. Thankfully, Danny Cannon realized this and worked with FIFA, the international soccer organization, to create Goal! The Dream Begins. What makes this a good soccer movie is that it gives a down and dirty look into the sport. The camera angles are low and near the ground during the action, not up high like a commentator’s booth like you would see on television. You feel every hit, clearly see every move, and feel like you are on the field with the players. What makes this a good movie is the sincerity and heart it brings. From the beginning, Santiago Munez’s (Kuno Becker) love for his family and humility are felt very clearly. This gives the audience a connection with Munez and a reason to want to see him to succeed. It is nothing new to films, let alone a sports film, but it is used effectively. Becker brings an innocence that makes it that much easier to connect with and relate to.

I thought Goal! The Dream Begins was GOOD πŸ™‚ It is very much like many other underdog, rags-to-riches sports films, such as Rocky, but that isn’t really a bad thing. There is a lot of heart to the story and Santiago Munez is the type of character you can relate with and can’t help but root for. Goal! is a soccer movie that fans and players of the sport alike can enjoy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Danny Cannon – Director
Mike Jefferies – Story / Screenplay
Adrian Butchart – Screenplay
Dick Clement – Screenplay
Ian La Frenais – Screenplay
Graeme Revell – Composer

Kuno Becker – Santiago Munez
Cassandra Bell – Christina
Alessandro Nivola – Gavin Harris
Stephen Dillane – Glen Foy
Sean Pertwee – Barry Rankin
Marcel Iures – Erik Dornhelm
Tony Plana – Hernan Munez
Miriam Colon – Mercedes
Jorge Ververa – Cesar

Alien: Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant movie posterSynopsis
The Covenant is on its way to the remote planet of Origae-6 to start a new human colony. Along the way, the ship is hit by a neutrino burst from a nearby star, forcing the crew to wake up early from stasis to make repairs. After repairs are made, the crew receives a distress signal from a nearby planet and travel to the planet’s surface in search of the signal’s origins.

Review
The Alien movie franchise is an interesting one. It spans nearly four decades, while consisting of only 6 films. The first two are two of science-fiction’s best films, which are then followed by three mediocre films. In Prometheus, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise to begin delving into the origins of his mysterious Xenomorphs, but ended that film with more questions than answers. Scott returns yet again to direct Alien: Covenant, which is inching closer to where we first met them at the beginning of Alien.

With the exception of Aliens, each film in the franchise after Alien has attempted to recreate the horror aspect of the original 1979 film. This film has so far been the closest to recreate the horror that made the first film so engrossing. Although this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given both are directed by Scott, the visionary behind the franchise. He understands that it is the fear of the unknown and mystery surrounding it that makes Alien great. Having several decades to become familiar with it, that atmosphere cannot be replicated, which is why the sequels have failed. However, that style can be honored. This movie still draws on the fear of the unknown for its tension but rather than the Xenomorph, it looks towards a fairly unexpected place.

What did surprise me, and what I really enjoyed, was that the horror didn’t always come from the alien but rather David. David is a truly twisted being and that is where a lot of the tension come from. He is an android who has no emotion and is only seeking perfection on life. And to him that requires sacrifice, sometimes at the cost of others if need be. His distorted view on life and the pursuit of perfection is sure to keep your attention. It’s a different kind of villain but one that works amazingly well.

Of course, a lot of David’s memorability is due to Michael Fassbender’s excellent portrayal of the character. It was an excellent idea to keep him in the franchise after Prometheus because he was the highlight of that film as well. He also plays another android, Walter, an updated model of David. At first I wasn’t sold on the accent he gave the character but after a while it grew on me, especially after a few scenes of the two androids together. Fassbender portrays the two characters in two very distinct ways that really highlights his acting ability.

Although it may be difficult to remember, there are other cast members besides Fassbender. Katherine Waterston as Daniels gets the most development and keeps the Alien franchise’s bad-ass heroine streak going. Danny McBride’s Tennessee also gets quite a bit of screen time but not as much development. Everyone else pretty much exists as Xenomorph fodder, just like in all the previous movies. However, with this kind of a movie, and what has become expected of the franchise, that’s alright. Not every character needs a deep rich background, especially if they aren’t going to last long anyway. Scott understands that we are there to see one thing: the titular Alien. And if we get a great character like David along the way, then that’s just icing on the cake.

I thought Alien: Covenant was GOOD πŸ™‚ The Alien franchise has had its ups and downs over the years but it seems to be finding a groove. The β€œalien” is slowly becoming less and less the alien Xenomorphs and more of an android alienated from humanity. If Michael Fassbender keeps up the great work as the android David, then that is completely fine with me.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ridley Scott – Director
Jack Paglen – Story
Michael Green – Story
John Logan – Screenplay
Dante Harper – Screenplay
Jed Kurzel – Music

Michael Fassbender – David / Walter
Katherine Waterston – Daniels
Billy Crudup – Oram
Danny McBride – Tennessee
Demian Bichir – Lope
Carmen Ejogo – Karine
Jussie Smollett – Ricks
Callie Hernandez – Upworth
Amy Seimetz – Faris
Nathaniel Dean – Hallett
Alexander England – Ankor
Benjamin Rigby – Ledward
Uli Latukefu – Cole
Tess Haubrich – Rosenthal
Lorelei King – Mother (voice)
Goran D. Kleut – Xenomorph / Neomorph
Andrew Crawford – Neomorph