Rated R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use and some sexuality
Cranston Plays Crafty Undercover Agent In Fact-Based Drama
Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) was an infamous mobster who ran Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel with an iron fist. During his reign, Escobar controlled about 80% of the global cocaine market, and raked in about $70 million/day.
To maintain his power, the ruthless kingpin had his henchmen assassinate thousands of adversaries, including policemen, politicians, witnesses, judges and journalists. So, the idea of infiltrating the ranks of such a vicious operation at its height in the ’80s was certainly a very serious undertaking.
But the risks didn’t deter ambitious U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), despite the fact that he had a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and a couple of kids (Lara Decaro and Niall Hayes) to worry about. After assuring his spouse, that this would be his last assignment before retirement, he adopted the alias Bob Musella pretending to be a shady Tampa businessman willing to turn crooks’ ill-gotten gains into Florida real estate.
He executed this daring sting with the assistance of two agents. One was Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a novice asked to pose as his fiancée on her first undercover case. The other was Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), his grudgingly-accepted new partner with less polish than street smarts.
It’s not long before the intrepid trio is swept into a seedy underworld where they have a close brush with death seemingly at every turn. However, by proving themselves capable and trustworthy money launderers, they gradually work their way up the Medellin cartel food chain to the point where they gain the confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s Miami-based right-hand man.
Next thing you know, Bob and Kathy find themselves befriended by Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife, Gloria (Elena Anaya). They are regularly invited over for dinner to the flamboyant Alcainos’ sprawling mansion with a view, though the host also intermittently delivers subtle reminders of the gruesome fate which awaits snitches and traitors.
Thus unfolds The Infiltrator, a riveting, cat-and-mouse thriller directed by Brad Furman (TheLincoln Lawyer). Adapted by Furman’s mom Ellen from Mazur’s memoir of the same name, the film stars Bryan Cranston in a role custom-made for the gifted thespian. For, he manages to ratchet up the tension by imbuing his conflicted character with a convincing combination of arrogance and existential dread.
Expect sweaty palms as the pressure mounts, since your apprehension skyrockets when watching monsters who’d murder at the drop of a hat.
Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 127 minutes
Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You
Music Box Films / Loki Films
Reverential Retrospective Revisits Career Of Groundbreaking TV Producer
Norman Lear was born on July 27, 1922, in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was raised Jewish to parents of Eastern European extraction. He dropped out of college to enlist in the Air Force following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He flew 52 combat missions over Germany as a gunner/radio operator before being honorably discharged in 1945.
After World War II, he headed to Hollywood to embark on a career in comedy. In 1968, he first enjoyed a measure of success when he landed an Oscar nomination for writing the original screenplay for Divorce American Style. He skyrocketed to the heights of fame a few years later as the creator of All In The Family.
That groundbreaking TV series revolved around a small-minded, blue-collared character from Queens named Archie Bunker. America found the bigoted buffoon so appealing that show soon became #1 in the ratings and retained the top spot for five years in a row.
His finger on the pulse, Lear quickly began cranking out a string of similarly-realistic sitcoms, including Sanford & Son, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons and MaryHartman, MaryHartman. And at one time in the ’70s, he was the producer of a half-dozen of the Top Ten TV shows in the country.
Despite the unparalleled achievement, Norman occasionally found himself facing discontent in the ranks, such as a rebellion on the set of Good Times. It seems that some of its cast members had become upset about the series’ portrayal of African-Americans.
Esther Rolle, who played Florida, complained about the buffoonery, while John Amos, who played her husband, James, became so disillusioned that he left the program after three seasons at the peak of the program’s popularity. Matters came to a head when the Black Panthers stormed Lear’s office, demanding that he present some positive African-American characters. That prompted Norman to give Archie Bunker’s irascible neighbor George Jefferson his own spinoff as a wealthy businessman “Movin’ on up!” on Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side.
Co-directed by Oscar-nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp), NormanLear: Just Another Version Of You is an intriguing retrospective offering a revealing peek inside the mind of a pivotal figure in the evolution of American culture. For, Lear, now 93, appears prominently in the documentary, along with luminaries like George Clooney, Jay Leno and Russell Simmons, to name a few.
An alternately penetrating and poignant portrait of a true trailblazer!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening July 15, 2016
Ghostbusters (PG-13 for action and crude humor) Gender-bent reboot of the classic comedy revolving around a scientist (Melissa McCarthy), a professor (Kristen Wiig), a nuclear engineer (Kate McKinnon) and a subway token booth clerk (Leslie Jones) who join forces to save Manhattan from a demonic disembodied spirit (Neil Casey). Ensemble cast includes Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia and Michael Kenneth Williams, with cameo appearances by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver and Ernie Hudson.
C Street (R for sexuality and drug use) Freewheeling farce about a U.S. Senate intern (Evan Hall) who pimps out his crib to sex-starved politicians only to catch his boss (Dylan Walsh) in bed with the object of his affection (Shaun Licata). Cast includes Bruce Altman, Carey Lowell and Don Stark.
Cafe Society (PG-13 for violence, suggestive material, smoking and a drug reference) Woody Allen romantic dramedy, set in the 1930s, revolving around a New Yorker (Jesse Eisenberg) who relocates to Los Angeles hoping to work for his uncle (Steve Carell), only to fall in love with the powerful Hollywood agent’s secretary (Kristen Stewart). With Sheryl Lee, Jeannie Berlin and Richard Portnow.
Don’t Blink: Robert Frank (Unrated) “Say cheese!” biopic chronicling the enduring career of 91-year-old Robert Frank, legendary photojournalist and independent filmmaker.
Equals (PG-13 for sensuality, mature themes, partial nudity and disturbing images) Futuristic tale of forbidden love, set in a dystopia devoid of disease and human emotion, about a couple of co-workers (Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart) who find themselves falling head-over-heels for each other after becoming infected with a mysterious new virus. Cast includes Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Scott Lawrence and Kate Lyn Sheil.
Free To Run (Unrated) Fitness documentary revisiting the rise of running as a popular form of exercise 50 years ago. (In French and English with subtitles)
Hillary’s America: The Secret History OfThe Democratic Party (PG-13 for violence, mature themes and smoking) Political documentary, written and directed by arch-conservative Dinesh D’Souza, incriminating Hillary Clinton while uncovering shady skeletons in the Democrats’ closet. Featuring commentary by D’Souza, Jonah Goldberg and Peter Schweizer..
Madaari (Unrated) Revenge thriller revolving around a grieving widower’s (Irfan Khan) search for answers after losing his family and everything he owns in a man-made disaster. With Jimmy Shergill, Vishesh Bansal, Nitish Pandey and Tushar Dalvi. (In Hindi with subtitles)
Outlaws And Angels (R for profanity, disturbing sexuality and graphic violence) Western tale of vengeance about the game of cat-and-mouse which ensues after a criminal gang invades the home of a frontier family. Co-starring Luke Wilson, Francis Fisher, Francesca Eastwood and Teri Polo.
Tulip Fever (Unrated) Romance drama, set in 17th Century Amsterdam, about a portrait artist (DaneDeHaan) who embarks on a passionate affair with a married woman (Alicia Vikander) he’s been hired to paint. With Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifiniakis and Dame Judi Dench.