One Flight Stand (American Made review)

Criminal activity always seems oh so sexy, doesn’t it dear readers? But I swear it isn’t until the bitter end of the barrel that the people who live this way become regretful of their actions. A tale as old as time, but an entertaining one nonetheless.


American Made (2017)

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia, Fredy Yate Escobar
Director: Doug Liman
released on blu-ray January 2, 2018
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Doug Liman is an American director and producer. He’s made Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, and The Wall, but he is best known for Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow – because those last five movies are good and the others are just eh. Friends with Jon Favreau, he made Swingers for $250,000 and it made $4.4 million, launching the careers of its actors and Liman.

He also shot that commercial for Nike of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his club repeatedly before driving it. Just so you know that he is capable of both brilliance and drivel, he also made the garbage fire starring Hayden Christensen, known simply as Jumper.

Thankfully American Made is an excellent film.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the late 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a pilot for commercial airline TWA, is contacted by CIA case officer, calling himself Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). He asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America using a small plane with cameras installed.

Later in the 1970s, Schafer asks Seal to start acting as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega (Alberto Ospino) in Panama. During a mission, the Medellín Cartel picks Seal up and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States. Seal accepts and starts flying the cartel’s cocaine to Louisiana. The CIA turns a blind eye to the drug smuggling, but the DEA tracks Seal down. To avoid the authorities, Schafer moves Seal and his family to a remote town in Arkansas called Mena.

Later, Schafer asks Seal to run guns to the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras, Central America. Seal soon realizes that the Contras are not serious about the war and starts trading the guns to the cartel. The CIA set up a Contra training base in Mena and Seal flies the Contras in, but many of them escape as soon as they arrive.

Seal’s freeloading brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) moves in, needing a job. Eventually, he starts stealing money from the Seals and is caught by Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons) with a briefcase full of laundered cash and is arrested. Seal gives him money and a plane ticket to Bora Bora so he can leave. JB demands weekly cash and insults Lucy. Barry tries to chase him but JB’s car explodes; it is implied Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) had JB’s car rigged with explosives, killing him so that he would not snitch.

Eventually, the CIA shuts the program down and abandons Seal, who is arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and Arkansas State Police simultaneously. Seal escapes prosecution by making a deal with the White House, which wants evidence the Sandinistas are drug traffickers. They ask Seal to get photos that tie the Medellín Cartel to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal manages to get the pictures, but the White House releases them as propaganda against the Sandinistas. Seal is prominently shown in the pictures, which leads to his arrest, and to the cartel plotting revenge.

Seal is convicted but given a light sentence, 1,000 hours community service for the Salvation Army. Moving from motel to motel fails as a way of remaining in hiding because the community service is performed at the same building every night. Assassins sent by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and the cartel easily locate Seal and kill him; the CIA then destroys all documentation and other evidence to avoid being implicated in drug smuggling. But in spite of this Herculean effort at covering everything up the CIA still becomes embroiled in the infamous Iran–Contra affair.

This is not a film of historical accuracy, the real Barry Seal was an obese man, who got his start smuggling marijuana and eventually upgrading to cocaine with the Medellin Cartel. He was not kidnapped by the Cartel, and he didn’t meet them in person until many years later, and he definitely didn’t crash land in suburbia. But that doesn’t stop if from being incredibly entertaining and well crafted to emulate the life that Seal led.

Tom Cruise always oozes charm, but this film just might be one of his better performances in the past couple of years. Yes he does great things in the Mission Impossible franchise, but something about working Liman gets that right mix of crazy and fun (read: Edge of Tomorrow). It’s a movie about drugs, guns, and a soldier of fortune, and it all works with the handycam voiceovers Seal supplies.

Pros: It looks like it was filmed in the 1980s, and the cheeriness of the film helps offset the grim nature of it’s subject matter, and the eventual death of Seal. Bonus points for Domhnall Gleeson and Sarah Wright as supporting cast, they do everything to elevate Cruise and play off him perfectly.

Cons: The peril that Barry Seal faced running drugs and guns never truly seems real on the screen, you don’t believe he’s in danger, until he actually is. Pablo Escobar doesn’t seem that scary either, and we all know better.

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Points of Interest: The man Barry speaks to in the hallway is George W. Bush, son of Vice President George W. H. Bush.. The title originally began filming under the title Mena. No one actually takes any cocaine in the movie, unless you count Tom Cruise wearing it after the crash.

It’s playful but shallow, and that’s where the movie struggles to maintain a perfect level of escapism, but if you can ignore the historical inaccuracies, and many won’t even bother to look into it, then you’ll very likely enjoy yourself watching this flick. It’s a period piece that sets a good standard for what a late summer blockbuster should look like.

theories Summarized

In short, yes I think you should watch American Made. Tom Cruise still has lots of star power to offer when he gets handed the right roles, and Doug Liman does an excellent job recreating the world leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal.

And for even more fun… you should watch my solo Watch Culture video review of The LEGO Batman Movie! I’ve got lots of love for this movie from 2017… so much so that I did both a blog post and then came back for the video version. Check it out! And don’t forget to leave a comment, subscribe and share!

I’ll see you tomorrow with my first School Of Thoughts post (formerly known as Wisdom Wednesdays).


Why Did Batman Cross The Road? Because We Were Sick of His Clucking (The LEGO Batman Movie review)

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na nah. Just kidding. It’s like a 1000x yeah instead.


The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifanakis, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
re-released on blu-ray June 13, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score 81%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Chris McKay also know as Chris Taylor, is an American director and animator of film and television. Best known for his work directing and editing the shows Robot Chicken and Moral Orel, The LEGO Batman Movie is his first film. He is also set to direct a live-action Nightwing movie which has yet to be scheduled.

Having spent most of his early career involved in video production, McKay learned about editing and eventually landed an editing job with ShadowMachine, which allowed him the opportunity to work on what would become the hugely successful Robot Chicken stop motion animated sketch comedy show. Which led him to help co-direct animation for The Lego Movie and giving him the opportunity to direct the film of today’s focus.

A little flavour on the film

Taken from Wikipedia and edited down –

The Joker (Zach Galifanakis) has plans to destroy the city, then Batman (Will Arnett) hurts his arch-rival’s feelings by telling him he is not as important in his life as he thinks he is, leading Joker to seek the ultimate revenge on him.

During the city’s winter gala, which also celebrates the city’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Bruce Wayne falls head over heels, only to be infuriated by Barbara’s plans to restructure the police to function without the need of Batman. Joker then crashes the party with all of Batman’s rogues gallery, and oddly enough surrenders, with the exception of Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), who disappears during the confusion.

Suspicions now raised, Batman plans to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a portal to a prison housing some of the most dangerous villains in the Lego multiverse.  Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) intervenes and involves Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whom Bruce unwittingly adopted as his ward during the gala. After the heist, the pair break into Arkham Asylum and send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara locks up Batman and Robin for their reckless actions.

Harley steals back the project and frees Joker, with all the Phantom Zone villains in tow. Barbara has a change of heart realizing what has happened. She frees Batman and Robin, and along with a suited up Alfred, the four of them team up to stop Joker. When they meet one-on-one again, Joker confronts Batman, stating they are arch-rivals, but Batman baulks at it and Joker zaps him with the projector. In the Phantom Zone, Batman accepts that even he needs help, and makes a deal with the Zone’s gatekeeper, Phyllis (Ellie Kemper), to retrieve the villains so that he can stop the destruction of Gotham.

Joker intends to blow up the city’s Energy Facility, forcing the thin floor of the city apart and be destroyed, and so Batman assigns Barbara a Batgirl costume, and recruits the other villains Joker has left behind. It’s too little too late, and the bomb rips the city apart. Knowing this was his fault, Batman reluctantly convinces Joker that he is the true reason for being the hero he is, before they, their friends and allies, and the city’s inhabitants, chain-link themselves together and pull the plates back together, saving the city.

Phyllis decides that Batman can remain after seeing how much he had changed in order to save everyone. Batman then allows Joker and the rest of his rogues gallery to temporarily escape, with the confidence that whenever they return, they will be no match for his new alliance with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred.

Now, what the synopsis I have provided doesn’t tell you is how self-referential and hilarious this movie is to experience.

It is at-once a biting satire of previous Batman franchise outings, teasing the ever-popular use of Bruce Wayne’s backstory as plot motivation, as well as directly addressing the eternal dance between The Joker and The Batman. And yeah, it’s great that The Batman wants to fight around, but The Joker wants him to commit to him as an arch-villain. And rightfully so, they’ve only been at it for over seventy years!

The zaniness of Lego also fits well with Batman’s wonderfully odd and sometimes embarrassing tacky history of stories, costumes and villains. Think Disco Batman, Eraser and Clock King. And yes, you get to see King Tut, Polka Dot Man and Egghead make appearances too.

Pros: It is surprisingly sophisticated in it’s exposure of Batman, how pop culture has appropriated him, and core issues we’ve all been thinking about for what seems like decades. Top it off with a smart bow, riddled with fun for kids, and this is a movie not to be taken for granted. Michael Cera is heartwarming as Robin.

Cons: It does become a bit difficult to swallow all of the bricks towards the end, surprisingly enough because the story works so well to disengage us from the kitsch of the format it’s presented in. And the happy Bat family moment feels a bit shoehorned.

Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes

Points of Interest: In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, Batman references the 1989 movie when he says  “You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” to the Joker. Billy Dee Williams voices Two-Face for the movie. He also portrayed Harvey Dent in the 1989 movie, but never got to play Two-Face in the third movie because Joel Schumacher recast Dent with Tommy Lee Jones.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is so reinvigorating to see DC poke fun at The Batman for once. Acknowledging all of the missteps over the past few years, *cough* Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman, and Man of Steel *cough* it’s great for them to realize that Batman is their best character, but that people are sick of seeing the same old Bruce Wayne.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives the people something to look forward to. It’s fun, interesting, and even humanizes the Bat. Go Will Arnett go.

theories Summarized

Maybe it’s my fine art background or maybe it’s simply my love deconstructing and reconnecting the LEGO assemblages I made as a young boy, but this is exactly what postmodernism should have been doing with Batman in the 1990s, not making him a goof with big nipples, but a caricature worthy of dissection and primed for exploration.

That said, you should also check out this cool vid we did for episode three of Watch Culture!

Out of theories for now creative cuties, tune in tomorrow for some wisdom. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.