Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: American Assassin (dir by Michael Cuesta)


Probably the best thing about American Assassin is how simple it is.

The film opens on the beach, with Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) asking his girlfriend to marry him.  No sooner has she accepted than suddenly, terrorists are washing up on the beach and, in a genuinely frightening scene, shooting everyone that they see.  Mitch is wounded.  His girlfriend is killed.

Mitch seeks revenge against the man who killed his “future wife” (to borrow a phrase from The Room) but U.S. Special Forces kill the terrorist seconds before Mitch gets the chance.  However, the CIA is so impressed, by Mitch’s single-minded and obsessive desire for revenge, that they recruit him to join Orion, a black ops unit.  Under the guidance of grizzled veteran, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), Mitch becomes an American assassin.  His first mission?  To stop a renegade mercenary known as the Ghost (Taylor Kitsch).

In many ways, American Assassin feels like a throwback to the action films of the early aughts.  There’s none of the moral ambiguity of the Bourne films and Mitch Rapp never indulges in any of the self-loathing that’s marred the Daniel Craig James Bond films.  Remember how Bond got drunk and tried to interrogate that rat in SPECTRE?  Judging from American Assassin, that’s something Mitch Rapp would never do.  And, if he ever did, Stan Hurley would probably tell him to stop whining and get back to work.

In American Assassin, the bad guys are undoubtedly the bad guys and the good guys are undoubtedly the good guys and, while that may not be the approach that leads to Academy Awards and overwhelming critical acclaim, it still makes for an undeniably entertaining movie.  Director Michael Cuesta does a good job with the action scenes and he gets good performances from the entire cast.  Taylor Kitsch is far more compelling as a villain than he ever was in any of his heroic roles and, not surprisingly, Michael Keaton steals the whole show as the tough but caring Stan Hurley.  Michael Keaton is definitely one of the best actors working today.  He can slide seamlessly from a prestige drama like Spotlight to an action film like American Assassin to a comic book film like Spider-Man: Homecoming and he can do it without missing a beat.  Those are three very different films and Keaton was the best thing in all of them.

And, finally, we have Dylan O’Brien.  Last year, as we all know, O’Brien was seriously injured while filming the third Maze Runner film.  At the time, it was announced that O’Brien’s injuries were “substantial but not life threatening” but I know there was a feeling that his career might be over.  Even though American Assassin was not his first film since getting injured, it was his first starring role and I have to admit that it was good to see O’Brien back and looking good.  O’Brien brought a lot of gravity to the role of Mitch Rapp.  He had the haunted look of a man obsessed with revenge.  When I saw O’Brien in The Maze Runner and, before that, in Teen Wolf, I thought he was a pleasant young actor but, in American Assassin, he gives his most mature performance to date.  With American Assassin, Dylan O’Brien grows up.

As I said, American Assassin is a simple film.  There’s not much going on beneath the surface and it you’re looking for anything deeper than pure entertainment, you might want to look elsewhere.  American Assassin is what it is and makes no apologies.  What it does, it does well.

Trailer – American Assassin


On the set of the third Maze Runner film, actor Dylan O’Brien had a major motorcycle accident that put him away for some time. It was serious enough that the film was halted indefinitely until he could return. I’m happy to say that after a six month recuperation and some TV time on Teen Wolf, he’s back in film action in American Assassin. The film has O’Brien playing Mitch Rapp, who eventually becomes an assassin and takes on the leader of a sleeper cell, played by Michael Keaton. Sanaa Lathan and Taylor Kitsch also star in the film. I may also give the books a try, which are recommended.

Here Are The NAACP Imagine Award Nominations!


Beasts_of_No_Nation_poster

Awards season continues!  The 2015 NAACP Image Award nominations were announced earlier today and here they are!

Outstanding Motion Picture

“Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
“Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
• “Dope” (Open Road Films)
“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture

* Abraham Attah – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
* Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)
* Michael B. Jordan – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Michael Ealy – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
* Will Smith – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture

• Lauren ‘Keke’ Palmer – “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• Sanaa Lathan – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
• Teyonah Parris – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• Viola Davis – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• Zoe Saldana – “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

• Chiwetel Ejiofor – “The Martian” (20th Century Fox)
• Corey Hawkins – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Forest Whitaker – “Southpaw” (The Weinstein Company)
• Idris Elba – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• O’Shea Jackson, Jr. – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

* Angela Bassett – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Gugu Mbatha-Raw – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
* Jennifer Hudson – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Phylicia Rashad – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Tessa Thompson – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture

• “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)
• “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)

Outstanding Documentary – (Film)

* “Amy” (A24)
* “Dreamcatcher” (Rise Films, Green Acres Films & Vixen Films in association with Impact Partners and Artemis Rising Foundation)
* “In My Fathers House” (Break Thru Films)
* “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (PBS Distribution/Firelight Films)
* “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (A Radical Media Production in Association with Moxie Firecracker for Netflix)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film)

* Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
* Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois, Grant Thompson – “McFarland USA” (Walt Disney Pictures)
* Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – “Inside Out” (Disney/Pixar)
* Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
* Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture – (Film)

• Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (Fox Searchlight Pictures / Rhode Island Ave)
• Charles Stone, III – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• F. Gary Gray – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
• Ryan Coogler – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Quick Review: Contagion (dir. by Steven Soderbergh)


Note that this isn’t the only review for Contagion.

Arleigh has an in-depth review of the film, which is also available to see, whereas this is more of a summary. As it’s for the same film, I’ve used the same tags that were in Arleigh’s post.

Before I start, I have to say that I haven’t had a theatre be so quiet during a film since I went to see Mirrors, and that was because there was no one there. My showing for Contagion was packed, but no one made a sound throughout the film. I coughed twice (because I had to), and you wouldn’t believe how many heads turned in my general direction. If nothing else, it shows that the movie had some impact to the audience, and that’s always (okay, usually) interesting to see. By the time the movie is over, you will probably pay attention to how many times you touch your face or the objects around you.

If there’s one thing I can give director Steven Soderbergh, it’s that he has a great ability to work with ensemble casts. He did a great job in getting everyone to work together on the Oceans Eleven remake and sequels. He also walked away with a Best Director Oscar for Traffic. His films have the ability to avoid having his stars chew up enough screen time that they appear to be an actual center character. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ had a character who’s story was just as strong as Benecio Del Toro’s.

On this, Contagion is no different. In essence, it’s almost like watching cameos in a miniseries.

Although the film is peppered with various actors, no one person can be considered the main character of the film. Soderbergh is able to get them all to play their roles well. He and Scott Z. Burns – one of the writers on The Bourne Ultimatum and a collaborator with Soderbergh – give us a number of perspectives for this story and damn, the whole thing is very tight overall. The movie has very little wasted space.

Like the story itself, the movie moves at a great pace, opening with Elizabeth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow) on her second day after exposure to the virus after returning from a trip to Hong Kong. This eventually escalates to other infections reported in other areas around the world. In an effort to contain and understand what they’re dealing with, the Center for Disease Control starts an investigation. Lead by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), he sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minnesota to determine the scale of the problem.

In addition to the CDC’s efforts, the World Health Organization also gets involved, sending their own field agent to Hong Kong, played by Marion Cotillard. Both doctors come up with information that appear to be helpful for the overall investigation in various ways.

The other two angles in the film are through a conspiracy theory blogger / investigative reporter played by Jude Law and Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who has to deal with the impact of his wife’s sickness. Enrico Colantoni, Brian Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, Elliot Gould and Jennifer Ehle round out the cast. It should be noted that Ehle is the daughter of Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet actress Rosemary Harris, who looks remarkably like her mother. That’s just something that caught my eye.

In terms of the Kid Factor, I would be hesitant to take kids to see this unless they had a pretty clear handle on death or getting sick. Teens and adults could probably handle the film, but anyone under than that may freak out a little. Mind you, there’s very little gore in this film. When I think about it, there’s not even a whole lot of blood. There is some violence though as the story escalates and humanity goes wild, but it’s not that far a cry from many zombie movies. It’s up to the parents discretion on whether their kids should see this.

I should also point out that the music in this film is also very good. Cliff Martinez, who also worked on the score for Drive (also out this month) did an impressive job with an electronic score that sits in the background of the film, but also fits the pacing of the film well. It’s worth giving it a listen if at all possible. This quick review was actually written to the Contagion score.

Contagion is definitely worth seeing, easily recommended, but if you happen to be particular about germs, note that this may not be the most comfortable film to watch. Don’t be shocked if you end up hugging yourself while watching this in the theatre. With Soderbergh moving away from film directing to pursue other interests, Contagion is a nice final bow to his career.

Review: Contagion (dir. by Steven Soderbergh)


In a world where almost every season news media both traditional and on-line warn the population of what could be an outbreak of a new super-virus that could cause a new pandemic similar to the Spanish Flu of 1918. This was a pandemic which occurred before transcontinental travel was the norm and the virus still managed to kill 1% of the world’s population. Now, it’s 2011 and with warnings of swine flu, bird flu, Ebola, SARS and any number of infectious diseases still in the public’s consciousness we get a new film from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh which seriously explores a world discovering a new deadly disease and how the world responds and deals with the crisis.

Contagion begins with a simple “Day 2” caption as we see one Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) awaiting her flight to board in O’Hare at Chicago. There’s a bit of character building about this character who we see as already in the early stages of what looks to be the flu. From there Soderbergh does an interesting bit where he lets the camera linger for just a split second longer whenever Beth touches something. Soderbergh does this many times that the audience will soon get used to it and forget the significance of the act. We see Beth get a ride home from a colleague back to her home where she’s welcomed home by her husband Mitch and her young son Clark who runs to her and gives her a big hug.

The story really hits the ground running as Beth and soon those she has come into contact with begin to show similar symptoms and quickly die. The CDC and it’s head administrator, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), soon begin to see a pattern to the deaths and the similarity to their symptoms. We soon see another aspect of the story begin with the arrival of Dr. Erin Mears whose job is to investigate the circumstance which seems to be leading into a cluster case starting with Beth and the area she lives in.

The third aspect of this film throws in internet news blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) who begins to suspect that several deaths around the world looks to be interconnected in someway and that the government, the CDC and the WHO (World Health Organization) are trying to hide these disturbing facts from the general public. Krumwiede becomes the purveyor of unfiltered news which seems to do more harm than good as more and more people begin to believe his conspiracy theories about what looks to be a growing global pandemic cause by an unknown virus every expert brought in to help cannot seem to figure out.

Let me just first say that to call Contagion a thriller in the traditional sense would be flimsy at best. Soderbergh and the film’s writer, Scott Z. Burns, have made a thriller but in a sense that it skews heavily on using realism and an almost docudrama style to push the film’s narrative. The thriller aspect comes from the notion that this film’s plot is not far off from actually becoming a real event. There’s no usage of dramatic tropes from past disaster and apocalyptic films to manipulate the audience. The film as a thriller would be quite mundane when stacked up against films like Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain. It’s the realness of the story, the events taking place on the screen which gives the film it’s dramatic heft.

We begin to see what Soderbergh is trying to accomplish with this film. How transcontinental travel which took weeks during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic now can spread a highly infectious disease in a manner of less than a day’s plane flight over one ocean. The film shows in disturbing detail just how easily we as a people can spread a disease just by doing the most innocuous thing like absently touching one’s face many times a minute then transferring whatever we had to any surface we touch. Contagion definitely will add to the paranoia of those who already have an unhealthy habit of disinfecting everything before they even touch it.

The film doesn’t just touch upon the medical side of solving the growing crisis, but also explores how the governmental response and sociological reaction to the epidemic. For the former we see how protocols and the need to slowly disseminate information to the public only adds to the public’s mistrust of the very agencies created to help them in case of such an event. Soderbergh doesn’t condemn or praise these agencies for their bureaucracy. We see the reason why places like the CDC take their time to finally inform the public as we get the unfiltered and manipulative news blog side of the news media in the form of Krumwiede’s blog. While he does dare to ask the questions other more traditional news organizations fail to ask he also becomes too enamored with how many people read his blog that he’s willing to manipulate the news itself in order to gain more followers.

Contagion hits the second half of the film with the world in full crisis mode and the film taking on a more apocalyptic tone. We see streets in San Francisco full of garbage bags as agencies who used to pick them up have either gone on strike or have stopped their daily runs in fear of infection. Then there are the riots at pharmacies and stores as interstate commerce grounds to a halt and no new supplies of goods and sundries make it to stores. Society itself begin to devolve as everyone and every group start to look after their own and begin to turn on others for the dwindling supplies.

It’s here in the second half that we see the film take on some of the more traditional aspects of a thriller, but even here Soderbergh doesn’t seem to want to linger on the more sensational side of the story. He continues, for good or ill, on the narrative style he began with and that’s to see the epidemic from beginning to conclusion in as clinical a manner as possible. It’s for this reason that at times the more intimate and personal side of the film’s story involving the Emhoff family seemed like it was from a different film. The Emhoff’s end up becoming the heart of the film, but it’s this emotional center that never seemed to fit with the sterile and cold narrative style Soderbergh chose to tell the film’s story.

The performances by the star-studded cast was quite good, but no one person really stood out. If I had to choose one it would have to be Kate Winslet’s Dr. Mears who goes out into the field early in the crisis investigating the early stages of the epidemic. We see her frustration at having to deal with local governmental agencies who fear the hit a quarantine would put on local economies (as if people dying in droves wouldn’t be a bigger hit) and the very danger of contracting the disease itself since having no knowledge of how it works she must use means of protection that may or may not protect her. While her story-arc in the film was just one of several it was her’s which really showed a major impact at how impersonal can be and how no one is truly safe.

Contagion is a film that tells a story about the possibility of such an event occurring and does it well, if not in a very clinical way, but it also shows just how unprepared we truly are when it comes to the smallest of creatures who sees us as nothing more than living forms of intercontinental travel. It’s exploration of such a global crisis in all it’s aspects (medical, research, governmental, media and sociological) makes it seem more like a docudrama more at home in the Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and the like instead of a cinema multiplex. It’s all due to Soderbergh’s storytelling skills that he’s able to pull off such a non-traditional thriller and make people more afraid about their surroundings coming out of the film than they were going into it. It’s not one of Soderbergh’s best films, but it’s a strong offering from him and one of the better films to come out in 2011.

Trailer: Contagion (Official)


If there’s one type of genre film I always will end up watching (sometimes to my regret if they turn out to be awful) it will be the apocalyptic-themed film. It doesn’t matter if the apocalypse about to hammer down on the planet in the film is nuclear war, some cosmic event, zombies, the Rapture, etc. As long as the world is in the brink of snuffing out I will watch it.

To find out last year that Steven Soderbergh was going to make his next big project just such an apocalyptic film was exciting. He was to take the worldwide, multi-subplot storyline and a huge cast like he did with Traffic and substitute an lethal pandemic virus for the drug war. It’s cast was to include Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes and Jude Law to name a few. The film was going to be filmed around the world to truly give it that international feel to it.

Contagion will have a release date of September 16, 2011 and if any film really could benefit from a really great viral marketing it would be this.