American Made

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence including guns, explosions, plane crash, murders, corruption
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 29, 2017

Copyright 2017 Universal
Director Doug Liman is not just the man behind stylish, politically savvy, exceptionally well-constructed action films like four “Bourne” films, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and the under-appreciated “Edge of Tomorrow.” He is also the son of the late Arthur Liman, the legendary Washington lawyer who was chief counsel for the United States Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, better known as Iran-Contra. His new film, “American Made,” is stylish, politically savvy, exceptionally well-constructed, and a smarter, more compelling take than the media on the real-life events his father helped uncover.

And he could not have chosen better than his “Edge of Tomorrow” star Tom Cruise, back from the dreary “Mummy,” and doing what he does best as the charming bad boy with a gift for flying and a need for speed, Barry Seal.

Even as the youngest pilot in TWA history, Seal is bored taking planes full of passengers back and forth to Bakersfield and Vancouver. So when a red-headed man with a beard named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who seems to know everything about him shows up and asks if he’d like to do some flying for his country, and shows him the super-fast plane they’d let him fly, he accepts. “We’re building nations!” Schafer tells him. “All this is legal?” Seal asks for the first and last time. “If you’re doing it for the good guys,” Schafer tells him. “Just don’t get caught.” At first it is just reconnaissance, but then he starts some deliveries: cash in exchange for information. His contact is a Panamanian Colonel named Noriega. The CIA does not exactly mind. When Seal asks if a bag filled with cash in the hanger is his, Schafer smiles, “What bag?”

Word gets around about “the gringo who delivers,” and Seal is conscripted by three young, ambitious drug dealers to help them ship their product to the United States. One of them is named Pablo Escobar. Eventually, he is also delivering guns, as the CIA decides they should arm peasants to help them fight communists, though the peasants would rather sell the guns for money and, after Seal begins to bring them to the US for training in military operations, escape to live in America.

Like his antihero, Liman has great energy and panache, with a cheeky storytelling style that matches Seal, who can say (twice) “I tend to leap before I look” without an atom of ruefulness. “Do you trust me?” he asks his skeptical wife (Sarah Wright), with that Tom Cruise grin. “No!” she says, quite reasonably. So, she packs up in the middle of the night and moves with him when he tells her they have to go. He does not tell her it is because they are going to be arrested at dawn, but she gets the picture.

Seal is a cheerful rascal, but the movie shows us that he is more honest than the politicians and intelligence community. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan appear in archival footage, and Robert Farrior appears as Oliver North. Guns go back and forth from the Soviets to the PLO to the Israelis to the Contras to the drug cartel, and Seal gets paid, in cash, at almost every stop. Even after a family member is assassinated, “Godfather”-style, he “just keeps delivering that pizza.” And it is in no one’s interest to stop him. The community appreciates his business (the bank gives him his own vault), his job creation, and his generosity (there’s a Seal baseball field for the kids). Until it doesn’t work.

This is a smart, exciting, funny, and surprisingly sharp story, very much of its era, and very much of ours as well.

Parents should know that this film has extended peril and violence including guns, explosions, murders, plane crash, drugs and drug dealing, corruption, some strong language, reckless behavior, explicit sexual situations and nudity.

Family discussion: Who are the worst criminals in this story? Who, if anyone, is the hero?

If you like this, try: “Blow” and “Kill the Messenger”

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Action/Adventure Based on a true story Crime movie review Movies Movies Politics

Middleburg Film Festival Announces the 2017 Schedule

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The Middleburg Film Festival announced today the riveting wartime drama DARKEST HOUR, starring Academy Award©-nominated actor Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, will open the festival on Thursday, October 19. Actor Ben Mendelsohn, who portrays King George VI, screenwriter Anthony McCarten, and producer Lisa Bruce will participate in a conversation following the screening.

Middleburg Film Festival, now in its fifth year, runs from October 19 to October 22 in Virginia’s historic wine country located one hour from Washington, DC.

LADY BIRD, the impressive directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA), will screen as the Saturday Evening Centerpiece Film on October 21 with Gerwig in attendance. Gerwig also penned the script of this uproarious comedy starring a perfectly cast Saoirse Ronan. LADY BIRD’s terrific ensemble also includes Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein.

On Sunday, October 22, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (DIR Martin McDonagh) will be featured as the Sunday Centerpiece Film. The film, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage, is a darkly comedic drama about a bereaved mother who demands accountability from the town sheriff.

This year, the Festival has selected three Spotlight Films: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (DIR Luca Guadagnino) and MUDBOUND (DIR Dee Rees) will screen on Friday, October 20; and I, TONYA (DIR Craig Gillespie) will screen on Saturday, October 21.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in a sun-soaked romance set in Northern Italy. MUDBOUND, set in the Jim Crow South and starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund and Mary J. Blige, tells the epic story of two men divided by race yet bound by war. I, TONYA features Margot Robbie as the infamous skater Tonya Harding in the scandal that rocked the 1994 Winter Olympics and ended her skating career.

The 2017 Festival will recognize three artists and their contributions to films and filmmaking. On Friday, October 21, James Ivory, screenwriter of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME and half of the iconic Merchant/Ivory filmmaking duo, will be honored with the 2017 Legacy Award for 60 years as director and/or screenwriter of such classic films as HOWARD’S END, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, and ROOM WITH A VIEW. Dee Rees, director of MUDBOUND, BESSIE and PARIAH, will receive the 2017 Visionary Award on October 21, presented by Lee Daniels (THE BUTLER, EMPIRE).

Academy Award©-nominated composer Nicholas Britell will be honored as this year’s Distinguished Film Composer on Saturday, October 21. The Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra presents a selection of his most memorable scores accompanied by film clips. Britell will perform two solo piano pieces and also discuss his creative process. Britell’s scores include BATTLE OF THE SEXES, MOONLIGHT, THE BIG SHORT, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, and A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (BATTLE OF THE SEXES) will introduce Britell.

“The Middleburg Film Festival marks our fifth year with an extraordinary slate of films and special guests,” said Middleburg Film Festival Executive Director Susan Koch. “We’re especially delighted to welcome three incredibly talented female directors – Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, and Valerie Faris. We’re also pleased to honor James Ivory, not only for his recent achievement with CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, but for sixty years of stunning filmmaking.”

“From the very beginning, it’s been important for us to present diverse voices in filmmaking,” said Middleburg Film Festival founder Sheila C. Johnson, “Especially in these divisive times, films have a way of bringing people together, expanding our understanding of the world and encouraging dialogue. The festival also celebrates some of the film industry’s unsung heroes. One of my favorite events is our Symphony Orchestra concert honoring a renowned film composer – and this year we are thrilled to recognize Nicholas Britell.”

The Coca-Cola Company returns as Middleburg Film Festival’s Presenting Sponsor.

The Washington Post is the founding media sponsor.

For showtimes and festival information, please visit: www.middleburgfilm.org or download the mobile app for iphone or android

Follow us on Twitter @middleburgfilm and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/MiddleburgFilmFestival.

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“Loving Vincent” — Interview With Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

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On Huffington Post, I interviewed the directors of a remarkable new animated film, “Loving Vincent,” a story about Vincent van Gogh and inspired by his paintings. Each frame is an oil painting. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman described the process:

HW:We painted on canvas, seriously; I mean Vincent painted on canvas and we painted on canvas. When they were painting they were looking at the Vincent paintings and they were trying to get the same brush stroke. Piotr Dominiak, our head of painting animation, has been to all the museums taking photographs and we interviewed the experts at the Van Gogh Museum about which Vincent put the paint on, what type of equipment he was using, what exact color he was using so all of that research then went into us replicating and reimagining that on to our canvases.

DK: Our biggest problem that with animation was you have to obviously light the canvas and you need to light it evenly, while in a museum the lighting is directional, so you can see the shadows of the actual paint in them. It was a challenge to make sure the texture is visible on the screen and they were all sculptural.

HW: And once you’re committed to a big thick impasto stroke then they have to animate that. They have to scrub it out and leave it a little bit to the right, a little bit to the right, a little bit to the right. So for those big impasto shots they’re actually animating every brush stroke.

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Directors Directors Interview

Stephen Frears and Ali Fazal on “Victoria and Abdul”

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I spoke to the director and co-star of the new film, “Victoria and Abul,” based on the real-life story of Queen Victoria’s last friendship, with the Indian man she called her “munshi” (teacher).

At rogerebert.com, Stephen Frears said there was one aspect of Victorian times he’d like to have now:

Confidence. In Britain we were very, very wealthy. We were very secure and very confident. Nowadays everyone is so neurotic; the country is so neurotic. We were robbers and thieves, though, so the confidence would have been nice but unfortunately it was all based on imperialism. Very, very tricky; never have an empire.

And he explained why he had to have a native of India to play the part of Abdul.

There are a lot of Indian actors in England, Asian actors in England but you couldn’t get that sort of wide-eyed quality. We hired an Indian casting director and I went to Bombay and a bunch of Indians came in to see me. When Ali came in, by the time he left the room I said, “Well, I can see why she’ll like him.” It was really as simple as that.

For the Motion Picture Association of America website Where to Watch, Ali Fazal talked to me about the magnificent costumes.

Oh God, I loved all of them. Every time I got into something, it was almost like what do we have on the menu today? That would be the sort of marvelous majestic-looking wardrobe and costume that I had. Consolata Boyle is truly a genius when it came to the authenticity of costumes that I wore, of course my particular favorite was the one he wears in Florence the scene where we’re dancing together. I give her a lot of credit for how I was able to flesh out the scenes. It’s the costumes that really tell the passage of time and the progression. So it was a really, really intimate journey that Consolata and I had over the costumes in this film. So yeah I’m very, very deeply attached to my costumes, every single thread and the buttons and the hooks and the Angrakhas and everything.

And what he hopes people will see in the film:

I think as clichéd as it sounds, it talks of love and hope and they’re the most abused words on the planet right now. We’ve tried war and politics and diplomacy and none of it really works. I really hope people see that, that in the middle of all that chaos there was something like that, this relationship that existed. It can happen today.

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Battle of the Sexes Composer Nicholas Britell

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My interview with “Battle of the Sexes” composer Nicholas Britell is on the Huffington Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Musically it was a wonderful experience to work so closely with John and Valerie. We spent months together while they were editing the movie. I came up with a series of musical theme ideas and we mapped it out over the course of the film. There is a Bobby Riggs personal theme which is scored for a small jazz group with an upright piano and a double bass and a drum kit and then there are a few woodwinds here and there. And then there is a Billie Jean personal theme that reflects the changes she experiences. The colors of that theme change over the course of the film, so in the beginning it is more of an ambient soundscape and by the end it’s actually a full 79-piece orchestra. Her theme evolves until it finally reaches its full scope where there is a big cello in the match with her theme and then at the moment of her victory, there is a full orchestra taking it over. So it was exciting to see the way in which the geography of the musical ideas could live in parallel to the story.

And one of the things we really utilized throughout the film was the evolution of instrumentation. We thought a lot about the musical colors themselves. One of the first things we talked about was how this is a big story set in 1973, so what should the music actually sound like? We used some old-style equipment to try to have the music feel like it might have been recorded in the 1970s. One of our first ideas was: what if I were to write classical style music but written for 1970’s rock band instrumentation, electric guitars and electric bass and drums and an electric rock organ that is woven in through the whole movie. In the beginning, it’s very quiet in the background and in the tennis match you really hear it and it gets focused on. We started with the 70’s band instrumentation and as we explored the film and worked on it together, we started saying, “What if we had woodwinds here?” and “What if we have strings?” The movie responded so immediately to those experiments. The movie wanted the largest scope as the story unfolded.

My review of Battle of the Sexes.

My interview with Nicholas Britell about his score for “Moonlight

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Composers Interview
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