July 13, 2016

infiltrator Greetings again from the darkness. The war on drugs has become a bit of a punchline in the real world, but has proven to be fertile ground for filmmaking: Sicario (2015), American Hustle (2013), Traffic (2000). Additionally, the popular Netflix show “Narcos” takes on the same Medellin drug cartel as this latest from director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer, 2011). The movie is based on the true events of Robert Mazur’s book “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel” (a title that’s very descriptive, if a bit long).

Bryan Cranston continues his impressive Hollywood run this time as Robert Mazur, the man who goes undercover to expose the money-laundering system of the cartel. His flamboyant alter-ego is known as Bob Musella, a character that allows Mazur (and Cranston) to show a side not typically seen. His antics get him inside Columbian Drug Lord Escobar’s organization in the mid-1980’s.

When Mazur realizes the traditional method of chasing the drugs isn’t working, he decides the age-old idiom “follow the money” might be a better approach. This takes him inside the world of international money laundering, and he learns that banks and governments are quite dependent on this huge business of drug money movement.

There are specific groups of people here: the government agencies, the small task force, the corrupt (and appreciative) bankers, the various levels within the cartel, and even Mazur’s family … all these forces intertwine to make life difficult for Mazur and his team, and provide a glimpse into the complexities of undercover work.

In addition to stellar work from Cranston, the cast is terrific. John Leguizamo plays Mazur’s motivated partner Abreu; Diane Kruger plays his undercover fiancé; Juliet Aubrey is Mazur’s real life wife who doesn’t much appreciate his declining the early retirement offer; Olympia Dukakis provides a dash of comedy relief as Mazur’s Aunt; Yul Vasquez is the creepy money manager for Escobar; Benjamin Bratt plays Roberto, Escobar’s right-hand man and the key to Mazur’s case; and Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In, 2011) is Roberto’s wife. Also present are Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs and the always great Michael Pare.

There are a couple of standout scenes – one involving chicken and voodoo, and another with a briefcase mishap, but my favorite is the Happy Anniversary cake scene in the restaurant where Mazur flashes his alter-ego Musella for his real wife to see … and she is understandably stunned.

The movie does a nice job of capturing the look and feel of the era (30 years ago), but it’s somehow missing the elevated suspense it portends to drag us and the characters through. Some elements seemed impossible to believe – why would Mazur risk his family’s safety? The timeline was a bit muddled. We aren’t sure how much time has passed, but there certainly don’t seem to be enough interactions before Roberto is telling Mazur he is “like family”. It plays a bit like those romance movies where the two leads are head over heels in love after a conversation or two. An element is missing and it affects the level of tension throughout the film. And that’s something even a Leonard Cohen song (“Everybody Knows”) can’t fix.

watch the trailer:


THE SKIN I LIVE IN (La piel que habito, sp)

November 5, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I will readily admit to being a huge Pedro Almodovar fan. His films regularly place on my “Best Of” list every two years. I so admire his creativity, tough women characters, visual acumen and multi-dimensional stories. With Almodovar, we can bank on some type of dalliance with death, a brush with sexual deviance, non-linear time lines, plots that twist and turn incessantly, a color palette to make Frida Kahlo envious and psychological darkness that forces us to look inward. All of these elements are present here … yet somehow it doesn’t quite click.

 Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon revered for his work in face transplants. What the medical profession doesn’t know is that Dr. Ledgard takes the mad scientist label to whole new dimension. And he does it with the coolness reserved for the other side of the pillow. I will not go into details of the story other than to say Banderas’ character would make Dr. Frankenstein turn away in disgust.

Dr. Ledgard lives in a beautiful mansion with his protective housekeeper played by Almodovar veteran Marissa Paredes. He also has a live-in patient named Vera, played wonderfully by Elena Anaya. You will recognize Ms. Anaya if you took my advice and tracked down Mesrine parts 1 and 2. Support work is also provided by Jim Cornet as Vicente. I wish I could tell you more of the characters, but can’t without giving away too much.

 Dr. Legard and Vera are two of the most fascinating characters ever written by Almodovar, and the film is a twisted road to discomfort all wrapped up in a silky smooth picture frame. From a filmmaking perspective, I couldn’t rate it much higher. From an entertainment perspective, it would be near the bottom of the most interesting or desirable Almodovar films. Am I disappointed? Sure, a little. But not enough to override my excitement for the next film by Almodovar!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: like me, you must see every Almodovar film OR you want to see Antonio Banderas in his most intense role in quite some time.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have yet to enter the film realm of Almodovar … this is not the best for an introduction

watch the trailer: