AMERICAN MADE review

I couldn’t remember the last time Tom Cruise has starred in a film that isn’t some kind of big budget action/adventure, I don’t know if he’s not getting offers to do more dramatic roles or he just likes doing action pictures. Whatever those reasons maybe, he’s now back in a role that’s well-suited for him.

Based on a true-life story of Barry Seal (Cruise), who is a pilot for TWA Airlines. Seal is a very good pilot, he also smuggled Cuban cigars into the States to make some extra cash. This caught the attention of a CIA agent named Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who asked Seal to come and work for the agency. Bored at his work and also intrigued about working for the CIA, Seal accepted the offer. His job was to fly an advanced airplane with camera attached to it over South America countries and take photos of the communist armies.

After several successful missions, Seal caught the attention of drug runners including the infamous Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía). Escobar and his buddies wanted Seal to smuggle their cocaine into the States and offered him quite a bit of cash for his troubles. Since the CIA wasn’t paying him that much money for his work and his trophy wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) wasn’t too happy with their current living situation; Seal decided to take Escobar’s offer and work for the drug runners too. As the story progresses, Seal must try to balance his work for the Agency and drug runners and things will never turn out well when you work with powerful people.

This role is perfect for Cruise. The character is charismatic, cocky and greedy and Cruise looked like he had a great time playing the part. Seal’s a man who loves to take risks and of course being a greedy person, he’d never turn down a chance to make lots of money, even from dangerous people like Escobar. He’s also cares for his family and understands that he won’t be able to make the big bucks by just being a pilot. I don’t know anything about the real Barry Seal and I’m going to assume many of the things that happened in the film was made up for dramatic purposes. But Cruise shines here as the man who would do anything to be successful. Unfortunately, none of the other actors made much of an impression on me. Sarah Wright played the typical trophy/worried wife and Gleeson was kind of bland as the man of mystery. Other characters were just there to fill the scenes so Cruise can be the star.

The script by Gary Spinelli didn’t really offer anything new for this kind of genre. It’s pretty much been there done that kind of story. In fact, I thought the first half hour was kind of boring and nothing happened that got my attention. But as the story progresses, it got more interesting, but again I’ve seen these kinds of stories many times in other films and TV shows that I was not surprised at what’s going to happen next. Director Doug Liman decided to shoot the film in style of the 70s and 80s to fit the period and I thought he did a good job capturing the look and feel from those decades. His use of constant handheld and shaky cam style on some scenes were quite annoying though.

This is a good film that belongs to Tom Cruise, so if you’re fan of his then I think you’ll enjoy it. Crime dramas are hard to do these days since it’s been done so well in films from years past. So even though I enjoyed this film, I just can’t give it a higher rating.

 

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So have you seen American Made? Well, what did you think?

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Spotlight on ‘American Assassin’ – Interview with lead actor Dylan O’Brien and author Kyle Mills at its Minnesota premiere

Welcome to another edition of FlixChatter Interview! Thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing for the opportunity to be a part of the red carpet interview on Friday night on September 8.

Because the late author of the original Mitch Rapp series, Vince Flynn, was born in St. Paul, it was nice to see the studio held the premiere in his hometown. Well it was Roseville, MN, but close enough.  Mr Flynn had died back in June of 2013 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer, but his widow Lysa Flynn was there, along with Dylan O’Brien, the star of the film, as well as Kyle Mills, the author continuing Mitch Rapp book series and the film’s producer Lorenzo Di Bonventura.

It was lovely that I got a chance to chat with Lysa Flynn. I asked her if there was any special memory of her late husband as he was writing the Mitch Rapp books. She said that Vince Flynn was always very organized about his writing. He’d make little recipe cards that were color coordinated. He’d put things together carefully for weeks before he actually started writing. She’s beyond proud and happy how the film turned out and loved Dylan O’Brien in the lead role.

Above are photos I took with my own iPhone. 

Author Kyle Mills and Dylan O’Brien posed with Lysa Flynn on September 8, 2017
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for CBS Films)


AMERICAN ASSASSIN follows the rise of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), a CIA black ops recruit under the instruction of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The pair is then enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets. Together the three discover a pattern in the violence leading them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop a mysterious operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a World War.

 

DIRECTED BY: Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger)
PRODUCED BY: Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers), Nick Wechsler (Under the Skin, The Road)
CAST: Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar


Quest review of the movie
by Vitali Gueron

Thanks Vitali for keeping me company as I waiting for everyone to show up. I wasn’t able to stay for the screening itself so I asked him to review the film for me.

The pairing of Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien as Stan Hurley and Mitch Rapp in American Assassin makes for a near-perfect duo in this action-packed thriller. After Rapp is recruited to join an elite, but secret anti-terrorism unit headed by Hurley, he must prove his worth as an spy/assassin. When things don’t go according to plans, Rapp disobeys Hurley’s direct orders so he can track down the mission’s target on his own. Thankfully, Rapp is on his way to becoming a master spy/assassin and he goes on to gain the resect of his trainer. And to our relief, by the end of the movie, Rapp makes a choice to listen to Hurley and follow his direction, just in the nick of time when an armed nuclear bomb risks the lives of thousands of Americans.

While most of the main plot points in American Assassin have been done before in other spy thrillers, the combination of O’Brien and Keaton works because they are codependent on each other. That is, each one is primarily dependent on the other person’s dependence on them. Hurley has to depend on Rapp to carry out the mission and stay alive while Rapp has to rely on Hurley to find their targets and communicate with the CIA to coordinate their efforts in order to stop the madman Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). Neither Hurley nor Rapp could accomplish the tasks on their own.

This American Assassin action thriller is here to stay, as evident from the final few shots in the movie as well as the fact that Vince Flynn had written an entire series of novels with the character of Mitch Rapp, the American Assassin. I, for one am looking forward to the next partnership of Hurley and Rapp, as well as the next onscreen performance of both Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien.

 

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After over an hour waiting for the talents to show up, my patience was rewarded as I did get to talk to ALL of them who came to the premiere. I am only posting my interviews with Dylan and Kyle below.

Q&A with Dylan O’Brien

My friend Vitali snapped this right in the middle of our interview 😛

I have to admit I didn’t expect I would actually get a chance to meet Dylan O’Brien given how many press people were waiting, most of whom were from big local news companies like KARE11, Star Tribune, WCCO, etc. Plus they seemed to be running behind and the talents had to get inside the theatre to introduce the screening. But suddenly he started making his way closer to me and his publicist said to me I’d be his last interview of the night. So yeah, it was cool to be able to chat with him for a total of two-and-a-half minutes 🙂

I have never seen Dylan in anything before, but I knew he was in The Maze Runner franchise and Teen Wolf series. I also read a couple of years ago about his massive on-set injury last year that shut down production of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Glad to see him looking well and in good spirits. He seemed genuinely cordial, sweet and professional. No movie star pretense at all despite his success as a young actor. Even though the place was loud and so many people wanted to get his attention, he was attentive to whomever he was speaking to. I enjoyed meeting him and wish him all the success in his career!

Listen below on my Q&A with the talented young actor:

Are you a big fan of the Vince Flynn books?

How did your training for this movie have to be changed due to your recovery from your injury

What was it like working alongside Michael Keaton?

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Q&A with Kyle Mills

The first person from the American Assassin‘s team I got to talk to is Kyle Mills. He’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who has written plenty of thriller novels in a similar vein as Vince Flynn’s books. He told me his father was an FBI agent for 25 years so he felt like he grew up surrounded by characters like Mitch Rapp. That made him the perfect choice to continue Mr. Flynn’s books, plus he’s also written books that were originally created by Robert Ludlum.

I made a playlist of my convo with Mr. Mills. Here are my three questions…

Q1: How hard is it taking over a book series you didn’t create?

Q2: What did you think of Dylan O’Brien’s casting?

Q2: Are you thrilled by how the film turned out?


Have you seen American Assassin? Feel free to share your thoughts about the film and/or the interviews.

A sneak peek into the 8th annual Twin Cities Film Fest schedule

Can’t believe it’s just a little over a month away until the fun film festivities begins here in the Twin Cities! If you follow me on Facebook, then you’d already know that this year’s film fest is an extra special for yours truly… yep, I’m still in a daze that Hearts Want is actually premiering at TCFF in October!! If you told me around the same time last year that I would have my own film playing at TCFF in 2017 I’d say that you are nuts. Our film will be playing in one of several short blocks at the fest, I will update this post as soon as I know the exact schedule.

Well, if you haven’t seen the teaser yet, well here you go…


This year’s fundraising gala’s theme is A Year of Spectacular Women… which is as timely as ever and it’s also a play on this year’s Opening Night film, A Year of Spectacular Men, a directorial debut of Minnesota native Lea Thompson and stars her daughters Zoey Deutch and Madelyn Deutch. The upcoming drama-comedy will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 18 with both Lea Thompson and Zoey Deutch in attendance.

We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:

The official 2017 Centerpiece film will be the inspirational documentary Purple Dreams, which follows lives of inner-city, at-risk students who succeed at their passion while embracing the transformative power of their arts education. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 23.

TCFF will continue its tradition of honoring a Social Cause this year by putting a spotlight on ‘Addiction.’ To highlight addiction TCFF will screen three documentaries (Chasing the Dragon, Addicted to Porn and Screenagers) and a drama called Tatertot and Patton which showcases alcohol addiction.

Some of Fall’s most-anticipated films are also amongst the lineup…

Acclaimed director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project starring Willem Dafoe:

Dramedy Last Flag Flying starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne:

WWII drama The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

It’s a year of debuts it seems. Motion capture virtuoso Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield as a young man struck down with polio looks like a heart-warming tearjerker.

Those are just the studio films. There are plenty of indie features to be excited about…

The Bachelors stars J.K. Simmons dealing with an early death of his wife with his teenage son.

A grizzled, rugged looking Matt Bomer stars in Walking Out, where he plays an estranged father who faces a brutal encounter in the heart of Montana wilderness with his teenage son.

Little Pink House stars Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn about a working-class neighborhood struggling to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to Pfizer Corporation.

I gotta give a shout out to Minnesota-made indie feature Twin Cities, produced by the filmmaker who directed my short film, Jason P. Schumacher. Hearts Want‘s lead actor Peter Christian Hansen also has a supporting role in the film. Directed by David Ash, its prequel 2021 actually premiered at TCFF in 2015.

The festival will close with writer and director Colette Burson’s Permanent, a film centering on a story of a hairstyle gone incredibly wrong and a young girl’s fight to fit in while encountering bullies at a new school. Burson will be in attendance for the red carpet and hosting a Q&A following the film.


Tickets will open up to members and pass holders on September 29th, with general public access the following week. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit TCFF official site »



Hope to see you at TCFF next month!
Which of these films are you most looking forward to?

FlixChatter Review – IT (2017)

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Directed By: Andy Muschietti
Written By: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (screenplay)
Runtime: 2 hr 15 minutes

Fair warning: this review won’t compare the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It to the 1990 minieries or to the novel itself. Regarding the former, it’s not really fair to compare a miniseries, which is pretty limited on what it can show on TV, to a big-budget, theatrically released feature film. As for the latter, I’ve only read about a quarter of the novel because that thing is a behemoth and I didn’t have enough time to finish it in time for the screening, so I don’t feel qualified to discuss the movie as an adaptation. While I might mention them once or twice, my main focus will be discussing the film, on its own, as a horror movie-and it’s a great one.

It follows a group of misfit kids in 1989- Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff)- as they try to uncover why children always go missing every 27 years in their small town of Derry, Maine. All seven friends are terrorized by “It,” the force of evil behind the disappearances and deaths, that most often takes the sinister form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), and the group fights for their lives not to become It’s next victims.

The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from such young actors, all of whom have excellent chemistry. Stranger Things’ star Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Glazer as Eddie stand out with their comedic delivery, and Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Sophia Lillis as Beverly give some truly heartbreaking performances. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise makes the character his own, and his performance is truly unsettling, from the way he moves to his creepy voice.

As far as scares go, It does not leave horror fans wanting. Pennywise alone is, of course, frightening, mainly because many of his scenes involve either him in the shadows or brief, startling glimpses of him. It’s other manifestations as each kid’s individual fears are terrifying as well, and their reveals are incredibly well-done; some of them are slow, dark, and suspenseful, while some of them pop right out of nowhere in broad daylight, and I love the variety and unpredictability.

All that said, there were a couple problems I had with this movie. While Pennywise is scary in most of his scenes, there are a few that I think they meant to be creepy or unsettling but come across more as comical- not nearly as much as Tim Curry in the library scene of the 1990 version, but enough to distract from the overall tone of the movie. Bill Skarsgard has said how much he loved Curry’s performance, and maybe he was trying to draw inspiration from it, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure it was a good idea.

I’m also disappointed in how little they focused on the character of Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). For a movie that is mostly well-paced and makes an obvious effort to develop the other characters, Mike’s backstory feels tacked on; he just talks about it for maybe a minute a little after he meets the other kids. A lot of the climax of the movie takes place in the house where he was trapped during a fire that killed both of his parents, but besides his brief account of it a couple scenes earlier, he never addresses it when they’re actually at the house, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. Considering Mike is the only kid who remains in Derry into adulthood (sorry about the spoiler, but come on, the book has been out for over thirty years now), you’d think they’d spend a little more time fleshing out his backstory.

Overall, though, It is easily the best horror movie I’ve seen in the past few years. I want to watch it multiple times, just because so many of the scenes are so detailed that I feel like I’d notice new things during each viewing. I’m so happy they’re splitting it into two movies, and the second one can’t get here soon enough.

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Have you seen IT movie? Well, what did you think?