What We Learned This Week: September 24-30

LESSON #1: HARASSMENT SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED AT ANY LEVEL IN THIS INDUSTRY— This lesson could also read “PERPETRATORS GET THEY DESERVE.”  The recent allegations surrounding the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse and Ain’t It Cool News website are disturbing and troublesome.  I couldn’t be more pleased to see workplaces all around several industries clean up their acts and seek greater integrity.  These inequalities shouldn’t be silenced anymore.

LESSON #2: AMBIGUITY IS A POWERFUL DISCUSSION STARTER— I’ve seen Blade Runner 2049 and I can say that it hits with the same mystery and rich uncertainty that surrounds the 1982 original. When it’s silent, Blade Runner 2049 can infer volumes of connotations. When it speaks in its guarded circles of exposition, it conversely shields and misdirects its real secrets.  Diving into all of the possible interpretations is brilliance and fun.  In many ways, mother! did the same a few weeks ago.  While I’m here, Denis Villeneuve has become the modern artistic authority on cinematic intensity.  There’s nothing flat or flimsy about his work.

LESSON #3: TOM CRUISE IS STILL TOM CRUISE— I know plenty of people that won’t watch the man anymore because they disagree with who he is and what he values off-screen, but, at his workplace, Tom Cruise still has gung-ho charisma.  He’s 100% committed to his roles from pre-production to selling the hell out of them with exhausting international press coverage and public appearances.  American Made has a candor and sizzle that fits him perfectly without turning him into an indestructible superstar.  Bonus points go to Cruise being credited as a stunt pilot in the film.  Often, that’s him on the stick and that POV authenticity adds to the film.

LESSON #4: IS THE HONEYMOON PERIOD OVER FOR THE LEGO MOVIE FRANCHISE?— Plenty of films would kill for a $20 million dollar opening weekend frame, but when you’re sailing for the Warner Bros. flagship and bearing The LEGO Movie name, you have to do better than $20 million and a distant third place finish.  Is The LEGO Ninjago Movie an outlier or the first sign of ho-hum market over-saturation.  Is all forgotten if Chris Pratt’s Emmet or Will Arnett’s Batman come back with monster sequels to their blockbusters?  Probably, but the lesson is worth asking.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

MOVIE REVIEW: American Made

“All this is legal?”

“If you’re doing it for the good guys.”

This brief exchange tells us all we need to know about the measuring stick for the morality of the world of American Made. Unfortunately, what we’re quick to learn is that in this world, there aren’t any good guys, just guys who occupy various levels of bad. The worst part for the viewer is, of course, that the world of American Made is the world we live in.

American Made is based on the true story of Barry Seal, who is recruited to take reconnaissance photos of communist separatist groups in South America for the CIA in the late 70’s. After proving to be up to the task, he’s further asked to act as a courier between the CIA and Panama’s General Manuel Noriega. Before Seal reaches the end of the rabbit hole, he’ll be involved in smuggling drugs and guns and laundering a whole lot of cash. To say more would be to ruin the fun. It is a true story, but it’s not one that a lot of people have heard.

Tom Cruise is great as Seal, a man who in his own words expressed his tendency to leap before he looks. He’s a damn fine pilot and knows as much, but the fun of the movie is watching him react and adapt to the situations he’s thrust into where he gets more and more in over his head. I think Barry would want you to believe that he’s a family man and like all good men who find themselves in bad company, he was just trying to provide for his wife and kids. That might be true, but what we really see in Barry is a thrill seeker out looking for his next adventure and a little extra cash on the side. Domhnall Gleeson is direct and manipulative as Monte Schaefer, Barry’s CIA handler, who is willing to look the other way on Seal’s extracurriculars provided he still does what he’s told. The film could have been stronger had it spent more time highlighting Barry’s relationship with his wife and kids. Sarah Wright does good work with what she’s given as Barry’s wife Lucy, but there isn’t that much there for her to do. Doug Liman’s direction is solid with some pretty-fun camera work that makes much of the movie feel like a documentary. By utilizing a type of talking head narration and home video like images, you’d almost believe this came from the early 1980’s. You get a sense that Liman has trouble believing this story is actually true and so he assumes that the viewer will have a hard time with that fact as well.

This isn’t the kind of movie that’s going to leave you feeling upbeat as your Gary Cooper-esque hero rides off into the sunset with Grace Kelly. Unfortunately, that’s not how this portion of our history as a nation worked out. But if you want to see 2 hours of peak Tom Cruise, I’d recommend American Made.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.