Movie Review: “The Infiltrator”

Starring
Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Jason Isaacs
Director
Brad Furman

Like director Brad Furman’s 2011 film, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” his latest movie, “The Infiltrator,” is an assured piece of filmmaking that spins a familiar tale extremely well. This true-life story is a consistently engaging look at a man and woman living duel lives. Will they get in so deep that they forget who they are? Furman and screenwriter Ellen Sue Brown (who also happens to be the director’s mother) answer that clichéd question with genuine nuance and thrills.

Set in 1985, Robert “Bob” Mazur (Bryan Cranston) – whose real-life counterpart worked as a consultant on Furman’s “Runner Runner” – is a U.S. Customs agent who’s given the chance to retire early and spend more time at home with his wife and kids following an injury at work. Instead, he pursues another job involving Pablo Escobar, who mostly remains in the shadows of this story. Posing as a successful money launderer named Bob Musella, he attempts to cripple Escobar’s organization by bringing down his top people, including Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), a criminal that Bob befriends. Joining Bob on his undercover mission are agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Ebreu (John Leguizamo), who must put aside their personal differences and work together in order to take down some of the world’s most powerful drug lords and corrupt bankers from the inside.

Bryan Cranston, who co-starred in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” is fantastic as Mazur. Rarely do undercover agents in movies feel this vulnerable. Mazur isn’t played as an agent that can take out five guards without a problem, but he’s extremely competent and smart at his job, even if his smarts aren’t always enough for the job. Even in seemingly mundane conversations in “The Infiltrator,” death is only a few flubbed words or a wrongly remembered lie away for the character. The stakes are always high, and Cranston makes the audience feel those stakes in the briefest of moments sometimes. When Robert witnesses two murders, the actor doesn’t play it cool; his response is either of shock or horror. In these extraordinary situations, Cranston reacts normally. The actor helps make the reality and the sense of danger palpable, and the same goes for Kruger and Leguizamo.

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Movie Review: “Ghostbusters”

Starring
Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey
Director
Paul Feig

Want a surefire way to piss someone off? Tell them that Hollywood is remaking their favorite film. That seemed to do the trick for the millions of “Ghostbusters” fans when it was announced that Sony was not only rebooting Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy classic but that director Paul Feig would be gender swapping all the roles. Though the news had the unfortunate effect of spawning a small but vocal group of misogynistic internet trolls, even the most level-headed moviegoers had reason to be concerned due to the uninspired cast and disappointing early trailers. Thankfully, the 2016 reboot isn’t as bad as many predicted, but it’s not very good either. The film is merely okay, and while that may be enough to silence its detractors, for a franchise with as much potential as “Ghostbusters,” it should have been better.

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) used to be a firm believer in the paranormal, even writing a book on the subject with childhood friend/fellow scientist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) before leaving it all behind to focus on a legitimate career teaching at Columbia University. But when Erin and Abby experience an actual paranormal sighting after a chance encounter reunites them, they team up with oddball nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and street-smart MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to capture a ghost as proof that they exist. Meanwhile, a bullied hotel janitor named Rowan (Neil Casey) has begun planting devices around the city that attract and amplify paranormal activity with the intention of opening a portal to a ghostly dimension and wreaking havoc on the world as payback. The only ones capable of stopping Rowan and his army of undead are the newly formed Ghostbusters, but first, they need to convince people that it isn’t a hoax.

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Blu Tuesday: Green Room and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Green Room”

WHAT: Down-on-their-luck punk band The Ain’t Rights accept a gig playing at a skinhead hangout on the outskirts of Portland. But when guitar player Pat (Anton Yelchin) accidentally witnesses a murder backstage, the band is thrust into a fight for survival against the club’s ruthless owner (Patrick Stewart) and his gang of backwoods neo-Nazis.

WHY: If Jeremy Saulnier’s slow-burning sophomore effort “Blue Ruin” announced him as a filmmaker to watch, then “Green Room” confirms that he’s the real deal. A brilliantly taut and grisly horror-thriller that defies genre conventions at every turn, “Green Room” is one of the most intense moviegoing experiences in recent years. There’s hardly a single wasted frame in this tightly-paced siege film, turning the screw on its characters (and the audience itself) with some nail-biting tension that doesn’t let up. The violence is gory but never gratuitous, while the lived-in performances – particularly Anton Yelchin’s frightened musician and Patrick Stewart’s surprisingly calm and rational white supremacist – lend an unsettling authenticity to the proceedings. The movie is at its best when the band is trapped inside the titular room, and although the suspense is slightly deflated once the action spills out into the rest of the building, becoming a more visceral affair where duct tape and a box cutter are the primary tools for survival, “Green Room” maintains its vice-like grip on the audience.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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The Sound of Laughter: Why the music business lends itself so well to comedy

sound_of_laughter

Music and comedy have gone together for ages, ever since the first little ditty with nonsense words, or a dirty limerick put to music, all the way up to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, vaudeville and even “Weird Al” Yankovic. Comedies have used music to great effect in the past, whether it’s the crooning of Nick Rivers in “Top Secret,” the lip-synching to Queen in “Wayne’s World,” or the John Farnham sing-a-long turned riot in “Hot Rod,” and many others. But there is a subsection of comedy films that is particularly obsessed with music, parodying a specific brand of music and musician to great effect.

The obsession with pop culture fads is nothing new, with Hollywood chasing the music scene for laughs arguably beginning with The Monkees. The accompanying sitcom that poked fun at Beatlemania while aping the look and feel of “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night” was an early shot in the battle between comedy and music.

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Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”

Starring
Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks
Director
Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney

Illumination Entertainment showed such great promise with their debut film “Despicable Me.” It wasn’t quite Pixar-esque in terms of greatness, but the movie had its heart in the right place, delivered some quality laughs, and included great jokes for the adults that were also appropriate for kids (“Bank of Evil, Formerly Lehman Brothers.”) They’ve responded to the success of the first film by exploiting Gru’s minions like they were a limitless supply of programmable Olsen twins. The minions dominated “Despicable Me 2,” much to that movie’s detriment, and they finally got their own film, which to date is the worst film in Illumination’s history (yes, it made over $1 billion worldwide, but so did “Alice in Wonderland,” and that movie is a hot mess). Worse, they even appeared in costume form in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” They’re like alien spores, hell-bent on consuming all life on Earth.

This brings us to Illumination’s latest film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” which does not take place in the minions’ universe, yet contains three references to them: the word ‘Illumination’ in the studio’s title card flickers so that only the letters spelling ‘minion’ are visible; a character dresses up as a minion for a party; and there is a short film starring the minions before the main feature (to be fair, that bit is somewhat amusing, and proves that the minions are funnier when administered in smaller doses). That might sum up Illumination’s problem better than anything: they care more about branding than they do about the quality of their films.

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