Posts Tagged ‘Jesse Plemons’

The Medellin Shuffle

American Made

Director: Doug Liman

Cast: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons, Jayma Marks, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, Benito Martinez

Fair Game, Edge of Tomorrow and Mr & Mrs Smith director Doug Liman reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow blockbuster star Tom Cruise (Top Gun, A Few Good Men, The Last Samurai) in American Made giving Oscar nominee Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire, Magnolia) an opportunity to act out of his franchise restricted roles in Mission Impossible and Jack Reacher movies.

Cruise’s boyish charm and cheeky bravado is put on full display in American Made when he plays TWA pilot Barry Seal who after initially smuggling banned Cuban cigars into the US, gets recruited by a brash CIA agent Monty Schafer played by Domhnall Gleeson who asks him to run reconnaissance missions in Central America mainly in Nicaragua, Honduras and then further down to drug riddled Colombia.

Soon Barry gets caught up with the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia working for a gang of swarthy and ruthless Latino’s including Pablo Escobar and is flying drug running missions from Medellin back to America.

In the meantime, because of the associated risks involved, Barry hastily moves his wife Lucy played by Sarah Wright and children from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Mena, Arkansas.

In the quiet town of Mena, Arkansas with funding from both the CIA who want Barry to spy on the drug cartels and with exorbitant amounts of cash the Medellin cartel are paying him, the town starts booming financially until things go horribly wrong specifically when Lucy’s redneck brother JB wonderfully played by Caleb Landry Jones gets arrested by Sheriff Downing played by Jesse Plemons (Black Mass).

Mozart in the Jungle star Lola Kirke (Mistress America, Gone Girl) has a brief appearance as the suspicious Sheriff’s wife Judy Downing.

The unmanageability of Barry’s life rapidly begins to spiral out of control when he is accosted by drug enforcement agencies as well as trying to appease the brutal Medellin control in between being caught up in all sorts of international Reagan era political intrigue involving American backed rebels fighting the Communist Sandinista’s in Nicaragua. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua

Tom Cruise gives one of his best onscreen performance in a convoluted film sufficiently directed by Doug Liman while the script does not give sufficient screen time to the supporting actors of whom Caleb Landry Jones (Contraband) stands out as the reckless brother-in-law who inadvertently draws attention to the Mena Medellin drug run shuffle. The best line in the film is “I am the Gringo that delivers stuff”.

If audiences enjoyed films like Kill the Messenger, then American Made is similar viewing held together by Cruise’s flying bravado which first captivated audiences in the hit film Top Gun.

American Made gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 while the flashback structure of the narrative is cleverly crafted in a palatable cinematic style, so that the film’s ending is shocking but not unexpected. Recommended viewing.

Additional Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medell%C3%ADn_Cartel

 

Tour de Lance

The Program

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Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Dustin Hoffman, Guillaume Canet, Lee Pace, Bryan Greenberg, Denis Menochet

Acclaimed British directed Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Philomena) tackles another real life media drama similarly to his Oscar winning film The Queen, in the sports expose of infamous cyclist Lance Armstrong in his new film The Program.

Based upon the novel The Seven Deadly Sins by the sports journalist David Walsh who tracked the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong from the early 1990’s to his public humiliation and eventual stripping of all seven Tour de France medals for admitting to running the most elaborate and sophisticated blood doping system in international cycling. The Program opens with a combative shot of David Walsh and Lance Armstrong playing table hockey in a French resort near the Tour de France route.

American actor Ben Foster (Kill Your Darlings) is terrific as Lance Armstrong, an ambitious cyclist who after battling and overcoming a devastating cancer diagnosis begins a record breaking winning streak by becoming the Tour de France champions seven times.

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Chris O’Dowd plays the sports journalist David Walsh who initially suspects that Armstrong’s winning streak is tainted by performance enhancing drugs and soon it is Armstrong’s own arrogance which confirms Walsh’s suspicions.

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Jesse Plemons (Bridge of Spies, Black Mass) plays the Amish cyclist Floyd Landis who initially joins Armstrong’s US Postal service team and then soon as the years progress gets caught for testing positive for using performance enhancing drugs such as testosterone as well as other barely detectable drugs such as  erythropoietin (EPO) which boost the body’s capacity for oxygen soon after being declared the winner of the 2006 Tour de France.

With the usual efficiency of editing and swift directing by Frears, The Program is an absorbing sports drama in a similar vein to Ron Howard’s Rush. What makes The Program so compelling is the immediacy of the story as the whole Lance Armstrong scandal is still fresh in the current news media, right up to the sensational interview that he gave on the Oprah Winfrey show in January 2013.

Lance Armstrong Interview with Oprah Winfrey

What is even more compelling to watch is Foster’s brilliant portrayal of Armstrong, a man whose initial devastating battle with testicular cancer turned his will to survive into an elaborate and arrogant drive to win at all costs and become an international sports icon and the brand of Lance Armstrong.

Doping scandals in sports are not new media fare but seem to be increasing reoccurring narratives in the media frenzied world of sports, where competitiveness and winning becomes the only method of establishing a celebrity status in the 21st century, which Frears skilfully emphasizes in The Program.

Whilst Frears’ earlier film The Queen about the British monarch’s response to the tragic death of Princess Diana back in 1997 is a far superior film, The Program is worth watching for Foster really inhabits the role of Armstrong, changing his physique and almost chillingly adopting his champion arrogance, which is often reflected in scenes where Armstrong is threatening other cyclists on the highly grueling and competitive Tour de France circuit.

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Audiences should look out for Lee Pace as Armstrong’s sleazy brand manager, Bill Stapleton and a brief cameo by Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman (Marathon Man, Rain Man) as the team US Postal Service’s underwriter, Bob Hamman, who was initially responsible for paying out large sums of cash to Armstrong for his successive Tour de France wins. French actor Guillaume Canet plays the shady Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.

The Program is a superb portrait of international sports competitiveness, deception and how the media are implicit in making these cyclists into celebrities then breaking them down when scandal erupts.

Source:Lance Armstrong

The Standing Man

Bridge of Spies

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Jesse Plemons, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers, Billy Magnussen

The opening shot of Bridge of Spies features a suspected spy painting a self portrait of himself in a dingy Brooklyn flat, symbolic of a reflective look at the characters involved in the Cold War and the complicity of the two superpowers whose distrust of each other ripened over four subsequent decades.

Oscar Winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forest Gump) plays insurance lawyer turned defence attorney in the Steven Spielberg directed Cold War thriller, Bridge of Spies, which despite its length is an absorbing and fascinating film set amidst 1950’s paranoia, propaganda and old fashioned espionage.

With a script by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman, Bridge of Spies raises the profile of British actor Mark Rylance, Emmy nominated for his superb portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in the BBC series Wolf Hall, as suspected spy Rudolf Abel who is arrested in his Brooklyn apartment by American government agents for espionage.

Tom Hanks in one of his most likable performances to date since his brilliant turn in Captain Philips, plays James B. Donovan who at the request of his law firm is asked to give Abel a fair trial despite public opinion being considerably stacked against him. This is 1957 America, a country in the grip of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia. The Russians are building a wall to divide Berlin in half and each super power is suspected of stockpiling a nuclear arsenal sufficient enough to repeat the horrors of Hiroshima, which ended World War II in 1945.

As the intricate narrative arc of Bridge of Spies unfolds, complete with period production design and gritty cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, it is apparent that Donovan realizes the potential of keeping Abel alive in case for whatever reason the Americans need to use him as a trade for one of their citizens that could potentially be captured behind enemy lines.

This prediction happens sooner than expected when an American pilot, sanctioned by the CIA, Francis Powers, played by Austin Stowell (Whiplash) is shot down and captured in Soviet territory and duly interrogated by the Russians about the spy plane he was flying. To add to the mix, as Berlin is being divided in half by the infamous wall, an American economics student Frederic Pryor played by Will Rogers is captured by the East Germans and who want to use him as a means for these two super powers to recognize the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) German Democratic Republic.

Oscar winning veteran director Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Munich and Saving Private Ryan) skilfully weaves a very complex espionage tale in which his two main leads Hanks and Rylance have sufficient screen time to paint a portrait of an unusual relationship between attorney and client surpassing the perceived notion of a lawyer defending a suspected spy.

This public conception of Abel’s guilt and Donovan’s sympathy towards his clients is brilliantly portrayed in an affecting scene on the New York subway where commuters all stare at Donovan with disdain after reading press coverage of the trial in the morning newspapers.

Bridge of Spies is an absorbing historical drama about the Cold War, yet at 141 minutes, the film could have been edited although Rylance and Hanks are terrific in their roles as Abel and Donovan. The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Jesse Plemons and Sebastian Koch. Highly recommended viewing for those that relish a vintage spy drama, something which is rarely seen in this digital age.

 

The Winter Hill Reign

Black Mass

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Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, David Harbour, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Juno Temple.

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Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper brings to life a gripping and violent cinematic adaptation of the 2001 non-fiction book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill based upon the exploits of Irish-American crime lord and fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger played with a menace not seen on screen since Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Oscar nominee Johnny Depp.

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Cooper assembles an all-star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate) as Whitey Bulger’s brother and senator William Bulger, Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Warrior) in a career defining performance as conflicted FBI agent John Connolly, Dakota Johnson as James Bulger’s wife Lindsey and David Harbour (Quantum of Solace) as Connolly’s co-worker John Morris.

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Audiences should look out for Kevin Bacon as FBI boss Charles McGuire and a stunning cameo by Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine) as coked up Florida businessman Brian Halloran and Corey Stoll as the non-nonsense prosecutor Fred Whysak.

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James “Whitey” Bulger superbly played by Depp in his most menacing performance yet, is a pure psychopath whose relentless ambition is to rid his own South Boston gang, known as the Winter Hill gang not only of informants, who he casually kills at the drop of a hat but of their main opposition the Italian mafia in the form of the Angiulo Brothers which control North Boston.

Bulger and his band of thugs control South Boston and he soon becomes a so-called informant at the request of oily FBI agent Connolly whose childhood loyalty to Bulger is blinded by the real monster that Bulger has become. This is a man who strangles a prostitute with his bare hands, who casually shoots his friend in the head after a bar room altercation, yet will simultaneously sit down and play cards with his elderly mother. Insight in to the source of Bulger’s psychopathic behaviour comes from a line in Black Mass, when he admits to doing trials for LSD during an eight year prison stint in Alcatraz and Levenworth.

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The tipping point in Bulger’s blood thirst occurs when his young son unexpectedly dies from Reyes syndrome after an allergic reaction to aspirin. Bulger’s manipulation of his alliance with Connolly is brilliantly portrayed in Black Mass with Australian actor Joel Edgerton giving a remarkable performance akin to that of Matt Damon in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

Connolly is heavily beholden to Bulger and his professional and personal judgement suffers after his close association with such a violent mobster, highlighting the extent of corruption endemic in American cities in the 1980’s. Even Connolly’s wife Marianne played by Julianne Nicholson last seen in August: Osage County remarks on her husband’s new clothes and his flashy almost cocky swagger.

Joel Edgerton deserves an Oscar nomination for his role in Black Mass as does Johnny Depp, although at times the menace portrayed by Depp obliterates any audience empathy for his character. For James “Whitey” Bulger is a true psychopath, blood thirsty, unpredictable, paranoid and completely ruthless. Audiences should be warned of some exceptionally violent scenes in Black Mass, akin to Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

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Scott Cooper skilfully directs Black Mass and uses the multi-talented cast to bring to cinema the true story of American gangsters in South Boston in the 1970’s and 1980’s while remaining faithful to the source material, based on a meticulously researched screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk.

Whether Black Mass will garner nominations in the upcoming awards season remains to be seen, but as a film it is worth watching and brilliantly acted. Highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Kill the Messenger and The Departed.

 

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