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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.

 

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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.

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.

joyJoy, a 2015 biographical comedy-drama, stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a suburban mother at the end of her rope. Joy grew up as a very creative child in a loud and boisterous home. Her parents split up when she was young, leaving her in a creative lurch as she had to forgo college to take care of her parents as they worked through their divorce.

As an adult, Joy lives with her two children, her mother, and her grandmother, while her father and ex-husband are both camped out in the basement. Her father owns a body shop where both Joy and her half-sister, Peggy, help out sometimes. Her ex-husband sings in a nightclub, barely contributing any money to the household, leaving Joy to manage all the finances to herself. This movie follows all four generations of Joy’s family with her grandmother narrating Joy’s journey to her place as the matriarch of her family and eventually the founder of a massive business dynasty.

Joy struggles financially as she works to bring one of her inventions to life, while also juggling her family and work. This movie highlights the dark side of commerce and how people just starting out really have to find their own ways in the world. Joy fights through betrayal, loss of love and innocence, and treacherous backstabbing as she works to patent, manufacture, and sell her invention to the world. Joy follows the title character’s rise to becoming the matriarch of her complicated family and her journey to success in commerce.

 

the danish girlThe Danish Girl follows the lives and work of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. This movie is based on the real lives of these two Lili Elbe was a transgender Danish painter, born Einar Wegener. Einar and Lili were married and lived together painting and illustrating different portraits and landscapes.

Einar Wegener was a Danish landscape painter born in 1882 who married Gerda Gottlieb when they were just 21 and 19. This movie begins with them being happily married with a loving relationship. One of the couple’s friends walks in on Gerda painting Einar as he is holding up a dress and wearing heels and tights. The friend says that they should start calling Einar, Lili instead. This name-giving serves as a sort of shift for Einar.

Einar begins dressing up more as a woman with Gerda even helping him get into character one night when they go to a party. Einar ends up in full Lili garb and this new persona is born. Einar begins treating Lili as if she is a totally separate individual from himself. Einar has begun his transformation into completely becoming Lili, something he always knew he wanted to be. Einar and Gerda’s relationship becomes strained, but they don’t stray from each other’s sides, eventually settling in Paris with Einar fully transitioning to live openly as Lili.

This movie follows Einar’s journey to Lili and how Lili struggles to accept the truth that this ‘Lili’ persona is her true an authentic self. He reveals that he is a woman, that he was simply born into the wrong body, but that it sometimes feels like he has two people in his one body and that they are both fighting to see who will take over. Einar struggles with revealing this admission because the doctors he visits sometimes either do not believe him or wish to send him to a mental institution. Lili eventually meets a doctor who tells her that he can help her become her true self through sex reassignment surgery, something she desperately wants. Gerda and Lili’s relationship evolves and changes throughout this movie as both of them struggle to deal with their new identities. This movie was sincerely eye-opening for me and the actors did a wonderful job of portraying each character.


This movie is also a book, available in a physical copy and also as an OverDrive ebook.

 

the age of adalineHave you ever seen a preview and told yourself you would never watch the movie? That’s how I felt with The Age of Adaline. The premise seemed unbelievable and the whole idea far-fetched. One day, however, someone told me I should really check it out because the movie was better than what the preview presented. Thus begins my falling in adoration of The Age of Adaline.

The Age of Adaline follows the life of young Adaline Bowman and her decades long endeavor to keep her real identity hidden from everyone. This necessitates having to move every decade and to change her identity. Adaline Bowman was in a near-death car crash when she was 29 that left her unable to age. Having remained 29 for almost eighty decades, Adaline has managed to keep her identity a secret by following a set of rules she has written for herself. She steers away from love, chooses friends wisely, and never tells anyone her real name – well except for one person, but that was years in the past.

In present day, Adaline manages to keep all of her promises until she meets Ellis Jones, a philanthropist who works his way fully into her life. Adaline soon finds herself having to deal with the clashing of her past and her present when a weekend trip to his parents’ house brings up memories that she would like to leave behind. This trip changes her life forever and forces her to come face-to-face with her destiny, whatever she chooses it to be.

 

 

I can’t believe I’m about to recommend a horror movie. This feels weird. But The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of movie that creates a lot of confusing emotions, and I bet that’s the kind of praise that producer and co-writer Joss Whedon would hope for. Five college kids enjoy a road trip to an isolated mountaintop cabin, complete with a peaceful lake, sinister locals, and a cellar full to bursting with creepy memorabilia. If it sounds too much like a stereotypical slasher, that’s because it is: this cabin is being controlled remotely by a full staff of suited, vaguely government-looking people who are manipulating the kids’ behavior the way the Gamemakers manipulated The Hunger Games (Push the red button for more fire, pull the green handle to unleash monsters, that kind of thing).

This film was shot in 2009 – well before the success of Thor and The Avengers made Chris Hemsworth bigger than his small but hilarious role as the not-so-stereotypical jock – but it wasn’t released until 2012. If you’ve remained unspoiled since then, somehow, I won’t ruin your fun in watching this movie unspoiled. But I will say: it’s darned surprising. Every time you think you have this film figured out, you find out it goes just a little bit further, and gets a little bit better, than you’d imagined. But this recommendation comes with a warning: The Cabin in the Woods is funny, and smart, and satirical, and downright fun, but the fun of lampooning horror movies can’t be had without actually showing a horror movie, so there are lots of seriously graphic scenes here – definitely stay away if you can’t handle on-screen violence. But if you can, and if you’ve ever wondered: “why?! Why on earth do people like these dumb slasher flicks? What are we, as a society, and as an artistic culture, getting out of it?!” here’s a well-made movie that will offer some interesting answers.

Sugar follows the story of Miguel Santos, a.k.a. Sugar, a Dominican pitcher from San Pedro De Macorís, struggling to make it to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Playing professionally at a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, Miguel finally gets his break at age 19 when he advances to the United States’ minor league system.

Miguel quickly finds that he’s not the only superstar at spring training; there are hundreds of highly talented prospects all trying to land spots on one of the team’s minor league affiliates. Despite this new level of competition, Miguel proves himself exceptional on the mound even here, and lands a spot with the Single-A affiliate in Bridgetown, Iowa – the Swing (actually Davenport, Iowa).

In Bridgetown, Miguel is assigned to a host family, the Higgins, an aging Christian couple who live in an isolated farmhouse. The Higgins are devout Swing fans, and every year they house a new young player from the team. They try to treat Miguel like part of the family, inviting him to dinners, bringing him to church, and even encouraging a tenuous friendship between Miguel and their teenage granddaughter Annie.

Miguel’s domination on the mound masks his underlying sense of isolation, until he injures himself during a routine play at first. While on the disabled list, Jorge – his one familiar connection to home in this strange new place – is cut from the team, having never fully regained his ability following off-season knee surgery.

The new vulnerability of Miguel’s injury, coupled with the loneliness of losing his closest friend, force Miguel to begin examining the world around him and his place within it. As his dream begins to fall apart, Miguel decides to leave baseball to follow another kind of American dream. His odyssey finally brings him to New York City, where he struggles to find community and make a new home for himself, like so many before him. –© Rotten Tomatoes

Parts of the movie were filmed in Davenport at John O’Donnell Stadium ( now Modern Woodman Park) in the summer of 2007 with the team at that time Swing of the Quad Cities. Many Quad Citians were in the movie as extras. All the extras were given T-shirts that said ‘Sugar Davenport Iowa Summer 2007’, plus they were paid. The movie first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2008 were it was called one of the most critically acclaimed films at the festival. The premiere for the movie was held April 24, 2009 in Davenport at the Cinema 53.

An excellent little baseball movie that never got its due was Pastime.  Good luck finding it on any “best” lists.  Released in 1991, it is the story of an aging minor league pitcher named Roy Dean Bream seemingly holding on just for the love of the game or nowhere else to go.  Set in 1957, Bream is the only player halfway civil to a humble black rookie pitcher while the rest of the team addresses him as a pariah.

Either this little gem never got released or didn’t have any marketing budget.  Apparently some people other than myself enjoyed it…it won the audience award at Sundance and features cameos by Bob Feller, Duke Snider, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe, Bill Mazeroski and Harmon Killebrew.

Hey Blog Readers! Don’t forget to comment on last Friday’s blog for a chance to win two free tickets to the Putnam Museum and IMAX Theater movie, Kilamanjaro: to the Roof of Africa. This breathtakingly beautiful movie will transport you to the exotic world of Africa as it follows a group of seven people who are climbing the largest free-standing mountain in the world. All that beauty and adventure can be yours – and you won’t even have to pack a bag or buy an airplane ticket!

To enter, simply tell us about your favorite local vacation spot – anyplace within a day’s drive (round trip) of the Quad Cities that is a favorite with you and your family. Maybe a mountain climbing excursion on a far continent isn’t in your budget, but a day’s getaway at a less exotic – but still fun – location could be just the ticket. (Also, less chance of getting eaten by a lion)

Be sure to leave your comment by midnight tonight. We’ll announce the winner on Tuesday, August 25.

Good luck!