Saturday, 26 August 2017
When TWA pilot Barry Seal, who's already dealing in contraband Cuban cigars, is recruited by the CIA in 1978 to fly photographic reconnaissance missions over Communist-threatened South America, he discovers a knack for field work.
But it's a gateway drug to, well, drugs when he's enlisted by the soon-to-be infamous cartel, operated by Pablo Escobar, to fly plane loads of cocaine into the US.
Rather than be thrown in jail when arrested, Seal's CIA contact (Domhnall Gleeson) decides Barry is the perfect wingman to fly arms to the Contra, and bring them back to the US for training. Bags and bags of cash, as well as a big old adrenaline rush, are Barry's reward.
Pretty soon he and his pretty blonde wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright not required to do too much more than fulfil that description) are living the high life, albeit in small-town Arkansas, where it becomes abundantly clear that you can buy everything but class.
American Made is about the American dream, corrupted, as always, by greed and hubris. If he's not flying too close to the sun in this Icarus-like tale, Cruise's Seal is sailing too close to the wind; legally and morally.
Doug Liman was wise to deploy the star power of Cruise (they worked together on 2014's terrific sci-fi, Edge of Tomorrow) to make his anti-hero so gosh darn likeable. (Not so wise to deploy those annoying camera angles and movements.) Barry doesn't want to hurt, or disappoint anyone: he wants to provide for his family, perform to the best of his abilities, and have some fun while he's doing it.
How much of Seal's exploits as depicted here are factual is probably contentious but American Made, penned by Gary Spinelli, provides some intermittent fun (and occasional political commentary) while playing entertainingly with the facts. Much like Barry Seal himself (who recounts his fantastical tale via a series of to-VHS-camera tapes).
And if nothing else, it's a reminder not only of Tom Cruise's ability to carry almost any film -- he truly is one of the last old school movie stars -- but also of his comic abilities. As he approaches 60, and his action man heroics become too much for his body to handle (or the audience to swallow), he would be wise to seek out projects and directors that can tap into this seemingly rich deposit. That's an adventure you just know Barry Seal would've jumped at.
Much like the artist herself, Aisling Walsh's Maudie, penned by Sherry White, is a modest biopic of the Nova Scotian painter.
Born with rheumatoid arthritis, and deemed incapable of looking after herself by her aunt and brother, Maud Dowley leaves the conditional comfort of her aunt's home when she replies to an advert on the general store noticeboard calling for 'a woman to keep house'.
That house, such as it is, sits on the outskirts of town and belongs to curmudgeonly jack-of-all-trades, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). An orphan who's made his own way in the world, Everett's not about to give free rein of his home to a stranger, not immediately anyway. "It's the dogs, them chickens, and then you", he tells Maud, matter-of-factly, when it comes to the Lewis household pecking order. (The occasional domestic violence also underlines Everett's position.)
Still, Maud decides to stay; cooking, cleaning, and brightening up Everett's weather-beaten shack with her unique landscape paintings boasting brightly coloured flowers and trees, birds and bees (which the pair eventually get around to exploring, biblically, but not before Maud makes Everett put a ring on it).
Maud's paintings soon capture the attention of locals and then, a TV documentary crew. As her fame grows, and her arthritis worsens, her relationship with Everett, like most marriages, experiences up and downs. Aisling's film is no ground-breaker in cinematic terms, but she's fortunate to have two such strong leads.
Sally Hawkins's portrayal of Maud is never showy. Lopsided and gnarled from her arthritis, it's the smile on her face and the glint in her eye, and the occasional emotional outburst that make Maud, and Hawkins' portrayal memorable. It's an award-worthy performance without being "an award-worthy performance".
And Ethan Hawke once again proves to be an excellent support for his female lead; making the gruff, occasionally brutal Everett sympathetic. He may be all rough edges, and growls and grunts, but Hawke doesn't allow for Everett to be reduced to caricature or 'the villain'.
Their relationship may have been problematic, especially when viewed through a 2017-lens, but together Maud and Everett were a perfect fit. Maudie is by no means a masterpiece, but Hawkins and Hawke brighten and deepen its canvas immensely.
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
In 2006, former US Vice President Al Gore won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth; his alarming documentary wake up call to the world about the devastating effects of climate change. A decade later, and Gore is still campaigning. But is anyone listening?
Yes they are but with this doco, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power, Al Gore is very much preaching to the converted. In 2017, you either believe in the real threat of climate change or you're an idiot.
And sadly, one of the biggest idiots is in the White House: US President Trump announcing earlier this year that the US would be backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement; signed at the 2015 Paris climate summit where the world's leaders agreed to tackle climate change through greenhouse emissions reductions.
Much of Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk's documentary concerns itself with the behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealings in Paris, as Gore, and others, try to convince nations like India to sign-up to the emissions cutting agreement.
And An Inconvenient Sequel would have been much more fascinating had it focused solely on these proceedings. For while An Inconvenient Sequel does not deliver its message as powerfully as its predecessor, it is arguably more cinematic (An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, was essentially a filmed presentation). The politic-ing, the to-ing and fro-ing, and the way Gore engages with all sides is persuasive rather than didactic.
While he no longer holds a public office, Al Gore very much remains a statesman, and we get to see just what America, and the world, missed out on when he lost the US presidential race to George W. Bush in 2000. Intelligent, articulate and impassioned, Gore is everything that Bush wasn't (and what Trump will never be).
Then again, perhaps it is because he is not in Washington that Gore gets to advocate so openly and freely for his pet cause; doing much more good unshackled by the limitations of bureaucracy. But is Gore -- and the planet -- fighting a losing battle?
When Australia's own government is trying to sell us on the idea of "clean coal" (yeah, I don't know either), change is going to have to come from a grassroots level and not from the top down. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power is a necessary rallying cry that may well convert climate change believers into climate change activists.
Wednesday, 2 August 2017
Based on the ground-breaking comic book series, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the visually spectacular new adventure film from Luc Besson, legendary director of The Professional, The Fifth Element and Lucy.
In the 28th century, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Under assignment, the two embark on a mission to the breathtaking city of Alpha – an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and culture. But a dark force threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets. Valerian and Laureline must race against time to identify this threat and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.
Thanks to eOne Films, we have 5 double passes to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be won. For your chance to win, simply tell us the name of your favourite space adventure film. Include your Twitter handle (and follow @TheLennoXFiles if you don't already) so you can be contacted via DM. Note: Passes are valid in Australia only and thus entries are open to Australian residents only.