The Infiltrator

infiltrator2The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston, as well as several other well-known actors and actresses, is an American crime drama film that is based on the book, The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel by Robert Mazur. Its basis on Mazur’s autobiography lends this movie a compelling fact-based story with a cast that both resembles the real-life characters and their mannerisms. This movie tells the story of the 1980s bust of Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering organization.

The Infiltrator recounts the story of Robert Mazur’s discovery of a massive money laundering scheme involving Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Mazur, a U.S. Customs special agent, is up for retirement after being injured during his previous operation. He instead finds himself back undercover as “Bob Musella”, a wealth mob-connected businessman who becomes a pivotal player for a lot of drug lords who need help laundering their dirty money. He eventually infiltrates the Medellin Cartel, the world’s largest cartel, and discovers the vast money-laundering organization of Pablo Escobar, a massive and well-known drug lord. Mazur also succeeds in taking down the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, aka the BCCI, for their involvement.

This movie shines a light on the ethics of big banks and government, as well as all of the different players, organizations, and activities necessary to keep a massive undercover investigation from being discovered. Mazur’s journey to discovering Escobar’s money-laundering organization and its eventual takedown did not happen overnight. He started small and had to gain buy-in and trust from lower level drug dealers and suppliers in order to prove his worth. Mazur befriended dirty bankers, businessmen, and drug lords across the world as he spent years infiltrating the Medellin Cartel’s criminal hierarchy. This movie tells the story of how Mazur brought these criminals to justice and destroyed the bankers and businessman who were manipulating world-wide finance systems in order to benefit the drug lords, terrorists, and politicians who gave them their money.

 

Genius

genius2I’m a sucker for literary movies, movies that give me a glimpse into the lives of my favorite authors, the time period that they were writing, and their motivations for writing. Genius fell right into my lap one day and I knew I needed to watch it.

Genius tells the story of the relationship between Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins was a book editor at Scribner, one who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Thomas Wolfe’s manuscript was put into Perkins’ hands by an associate who said that is was unique and that he should take a look at it. What follows is a deep dive into the psyche of Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship.

Wolfe is portrayed as a lovable American South writer who does not believe his novel will ever get published after he worked on it for four years. Perkins drops into his life right when he is at a crossroads. The two work together to carve down Wolfe’s massive manuscript into something the public will actually read. The scenes where Wolfe and Perkins are actively working on his manuscript are some of my favorite as both of their personalities shine as they rally for their favorite parts to be saved or for certain sections to be cut. Perkins’ relationship with his family as well as Wolfe’s relationship with his lady benefactor also play key roles in this movie.

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald make frequent appearances in the movie, letting viewers see into their own personal lives and the struggles they were facing as writers. Seeing the characters’ relationships grow and change throughout the course of this movie really allows viewers to see how complex Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship was with each other and with the outside world.

This movie is based on the 1978 National Book Award-winner Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. It’s important to remember that this is a dramatized version of a biography, so the director and writers strayed from the book a little bit. If you’re curious about what was left out or need a little more background, check out this New Yorker article entitled “The Odd Factual Gaps in Michael Grandage’s ‘Genius’ “and judge the movie’s authenticity and factuality for yourself.

Quantico

quanticoIf you’re looking for a new television show that will immediately grab your attention and, most importantly, keep it until the very last episode, I recommend Quantico. This riveting mystery begins by introducing viewers to a set of new recruits going through training at the FBI Quantico Base. Alex Parrish is one of these New Agents in Training, aka “Nats”, a thoroughly vetted group of recruits from all across the US considered to be the best and brightest the FBI has ever seen.

Conspiracy, seduction, and suspense rock the recruits as they struggle to complete their training and not get kicked out of the program. Each recruit is subjected to high levels of scrutiny with their trainers digging into their lives and subjecting them to immense pressures all to prepare them for the rigors of daily FBI cases. Each NAT has their own secrets and complicated pasts, but they are all considered to be the best. This series flashes between Alex and her fellow agents training time at Quantico and the present where a bombing has rocked New York, shattering the FBI and the nation, while leaving Alex to try to figure out the truth of what really happened.

A deadly bombing has destroyed Grand Central. This event is the most lethal attack on New York since 9/11 and Alex is being framed as the mastermind. She must race against time as well as the judgments of her fellow FBI agents and the public to prove that she isn’t behind the attack. Alex is in a race against time to find the real culprit in order to prevent future destruction. Her task becomes even more difficult when it becomes apparent that the bomber is working from inside the FBI. Alex is forced to betray her friends and colleagues to find the truth and to prove that she is not a sleeper terrorist.

Don’t Breathe

dont-breatheIntense. If I only had one word to describe the movie Don’t Breathe, I would use the word intense.

This movie takes place in poverty ravaged Detroit, Michigan. The opening scene is three young people robbing a house.  Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette) break into homes owned by rich people in order to steal things to sell on the black market.  Money goes to sell their stash and is upset that they do not get a lot of money for their haul. The buyer suggests that they rob a house that has cash in it. He suggests a house to Money that he heard about in the news.  A man was offered a large settlement after his daughter was killed in a car accident.  Also, the man is blind and lives in an empty neighborhood. It should be an easy target.

It is hard to dislike Rocky, Money, and Alex, even though they rob houses. It is clear that they live in an area of Detroit that is completely impoverished. Rocky dreams of moving to California with her younger sister. We see Rocky at home with an abusive, alcoholic mother and her boyfriend. Clearly, Rocky wants to escape her life in Detroit and she wants to give her sister a better life.  Money and Alex both love Rocky and they want to help her out. Money plans to move to California. Alex is not sure if he wants to leave his Dad behind. We learn that that trio has been breaking into houses using the keys from a security company that Alex’s father owns.  It is clear that Alex feels guilty about what he is doing but his love for Rocky pushes him to continue with what he is doing.

The trio decide to check out the home of the old blind man and they find that the neighborhood is empty. While they are on recon, they see that the blind man (Stephen Lang) owns a Rottweiler so they prepare a tranquilizer for the dog. Everyone assumes that this will be an easy robbery, even if the blind man is at home. Money sets off a gas to knock out the blind man while he is in bed. The trio believe that they have everything under control and soon they will be rich.

Except, everything goes wrong. The gas is ineffective and the blind man wakes up. He was in the military and is good with firearms and hand-to-hand combat.  His blindness does not stop him from being lethal. And now, they are trapped in the house. The entry ways are blocked off by the blind man. There are several locks on the front door that require keys. The blind man is not sure how many people are in the house. So the ones that are left have to be silent in order to survive. Even when violent, horrible things are happening in front of them.

A deadly game of cat and mouse, Don’t Breathe will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Directed by Fede Alvarez. Produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Joseph Drake, Nathan Kahane, and J.R. Young

The Catch

catchThe Catch is a television drama crime show that comes from the minds of Shonda Rhimes and the producers behind the hit shows, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. The Catch follows a female private investigator, Alice Vaughan, whose firm Anderson/Vaughan Investigations specializes in catching and foiling world-class criminals. Ali and associates have a knack for exposing fraud, something that has gained the firm extensive notoriety and as a result, has made them the target of Mr. X. Mr. X has managed to steal five million dollars from two of the firm’s biggest clients and Anderson/Vaughan haven’t been able to catch him.

Ali manages work crises while beginning to plan a wedding to her fiancé, Christopher Hall. She is blindsided one day to discover Christopher has completely disappeared from her life. Ali has lost her fiancé and her entire life’s savings to this international conman whose name isn’t even Christopher.

Desperate to find out the truth about her fiancé, to recover what he has stolen, and to prove herself, Ali begins to secretly search for him. She quickly finds herself way deeper and more involved in Christopher’s crime world than she ever could have imagined. Soon the two of them are trying to escape notice from her investigative colleagues and his dangerous accomplices. Their relationship intrigue, scandalous pasts, and unpredictable present have both Ali and Christopher fighting against the sparks that brought them together and threaten to overwhelm them again. This television series is a riveting journey through crime, fraud investigations, relationships, and private eyes.

20 Feet From Stardom

20-feet-from-stardomBefore I watched 20 Feet From Stardom I never realized how heavily my favorite music relied on the talents of the unsung heroes (pun intended): background singers. As a child, I would sometimes joke that I wanted to be a background singer. I’d dress up and stand in the living room, swaying and ooohing. I thought it was funny because… who wants to be in the background when you could be in the limelight? Turns out, plenty of people.

Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Tata Vega…these are just a few of the names belonging to people so talented they could easily carry the stage on their own. But for varied reasons, each as unique as the individuals themselves, they remain mostly anonymous background singers. To be sure, some of them would love a successful solo career, and have tried to reach that goal… to no avail. Others have been content to leave the spotlight and all the complications that go with it to the names we recognize so well: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, David Bowie…the list goes on.

20 Feet From Stardom takes us behind the scenes where the singers share, in their own words, what a career as a professional background singer has been like for them. It is as emotional as it is funky and upbeat. As soon as I finished watching, I promptly looked up their names in the library catalog and put holds on as many albums featuring their vocal talents as possible.

I think any of us would be hard pressed to come up with a Top Ten list of our favorite songs of all-time that did not include a contribution from of one of these fabulous singers.  That’s what makes it so unbelievable that they are not household names. I challenge you to watch 20 Feet From Stardom and not come away with a song in your head!

Miss You Already

miss you alreadyCertain movies tug at your heart strings and leave you pulling for every character to get their happy ending. Miss You Already, starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, had me rooting for their friendship to stay strong and last through whatever they faced.

Miss You Already is a very powerful story that follows two best friends, Milly and Jess, through life’s many challenges. The two have been friends since childhood and have lived through many secrets, pregnancies, boyfriends, weddings, and sharing of clothes. Inseparable for as long as they can remember, both Milly and Jess are certain their relationship can survive anything. A trip to the doctor hits Milly with life-altering news, something that sincerely tests their friendship, as well as Milly’s relationship with her husband and Jess’s relationship with her husband. Everything is flipped upside down as Milly and Jess forge out a new path through their shared lives and find that even though life throws you curveballs, true friendship will last forever.

Burnt

Burntburnt is a comedy drama telling the story of Adam Jones, a chef in Paris who lost everything because of drugs and alcohol. Adam was a two-star Michelin chef at a restaurant in Paris, known as an incredible chef who spent his days working on creating recipes that exploded with flavor in your mouth. He strove to NOT be consistent and to be different every time he cooked.

After a disastrous blowout at his restaurant and an abrupt disappearance from Paris, Adam puts himself on a self-imposed three year exile in New Orleans. Once he feels he has paid his a-million-oyster-shucking penance, he moves to London, looking up old friends from when he worked in Paris and hustling to get a job as a head chef in a fine-dining restaurant.

Adam desperately wants to get that elusive third Michelin star. In order to do so, he must find a restaurant willing to hand over the reigns to him. Working to make his dream come true, Adam scours London looking for the best chefs and restaurant people to have at his side as he works on recipes and designs a menu to his standards. The people Adam meets force him to confront issues from his past, as well as force him out of his cooking comfort zone. This movie is full of second chances and redemption as Adam works to overcome his reputation and reach for that third Michelin star.

Concussion

concussionConcussion, starring Will Smith, is based on the true story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist, who is known for looking deeply into the autopsies he performs to learn more about why people died. Dr. Omalu wades through this dramatic thriller by making waves in the scientific community by discovering a brain injury that has the power to topple the NFL.

Running side-by-side with Omalu’s story is the story of several different NFL players experiencing trouble after their careers have ended. They display erratic behavior, aren’t themselves, and the people that they turn to for help seemingly have no idea what to do. When a pro football player shows up dead and Omalu has to do the autopsy, he discovers trauma that will change the NFL forever.

Dr. Omalu made the first discovery of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have a history of repetitive brain damage. After paying for tests out of his own pocket for various football players, Omalu discovers that this traumatic brain injury is something that more football players will suffer from and that they should all be made aware of CTE. After publishing a paper with his findings, Omalu begins fighting for the concussion truth to be heard. He finds major pushback from both the NFL and the public with threatening phone calls to his house, visits from the FBI, and other doctors dismissing his findings among just some of the threats. The National Football League works to quiet Omalu’s findings, something that he simply cannot allow. This movie follows Omalu’s journey to make the NFL acknowledge CTE and the incredible uphill battle he faces to make the public believe his findings.


concussion2This movie is based on a book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

Southern Rites: What Changes and What Remains

southern ritesSouthern Rites is a documentary that takes place in Montgomery County, Georgia. Gillian Laub, a photographer, first visited Montgomery County to photograph the town’s racially divided proms, gaining an insight into community tension. After photographing this, Laub’s story is published in the New York Times Magazine, which inadvertently gives the town unwanted notoriety and ends up forcing them to integrate their proms. Heading back one year later, Laub is not allowed to film the integrated proms and instead stumbles upon another story.

Laub ends up following two main events unfolding in Mount Vernon, GA: 1) an election campaign that the town hopes will lead to its first African-American sheriff and 2) the trial of white resident who is charged with murdering a young black man. Tension is high throughout the community and this documentary really gets to the heart of the problems. As Laub continues to investigate, multiple stories unfold surrounding the murder and each person affected by this tragedy shares their own personal feelings. Southern Rites travels along well-established racial lines in the community and shows how complex emotions and complicated truths are so well entangled. This documentary simultaneously highlights for readers how far we as a society have come, but also how far we still have to go in terms of racial understanding.