Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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“Shelf Unbound” Names THE COLOR OF EVIL One of Best of 2018

“Shelf Unbound” magazine in its April/May issue (just out) has named THE COLOR OF EVIL e-book series of 3 books (“The Color of Evil,” “Red Is for Rage” and “Khaki = Killer”) one of the Best Indie Books of the Year 2017.  (See #44, page 98, click link above).

In the course of the article, there is mention of Connie’s other series of short stories, HELLFIRE & DAMNATION, Vols, I, II and III.

For more on both of these series, go to www.TheColorOfEvil.com or www.HellfireAndDamnationTheBook.com.

 

THE COLOR OF EVIL: The Beat Goes On

The April issue of “Shelf Unbound” magazine named the 3-e-book series THE COLOR OF EVIL one of the Best Indie Books of the Year. (#44, p. 98)

I’ve been crafting a screenplay based on Book One. We’ll see how that fares. It had the assistance (feedback) of a Hollywood producer responsible for the purchase (by his studio) of “Memento,” “Donnie Darko” and “The Passion of the Christ” and, also, of Dan Decker, AFI Film School graduate and founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School.

“Roxanne Roxanne” Was Long Overdue and Deserves More Attention.

Guest Review by Zayin Allen

Writer-director Michael Larnell tells the true story of Lolita ‘Roxanne Shanté’ Gooden (Chante Adams) in “Roxanne, Roxanne.” She was a young teen who journeyed from the battle rap queen of Queensbridge, NY, to shattering the glass ceiling with her iconic freestyle “Roxanne’s Revenge” over the beat of Untouchable Force Organization “Roxanne, Roxanne”.

Afficionados of hip hop will have fan moments over the subtle hints of hip hop gems along the way. The film is refreshing because it offers a new perspective, a woman’s perspective.  Executive-Producer Roxanne Shanté herself made sure that the film was centered around music, bur it also had moments where viewers understood the other side of music.

Roxanne Roxanne revolved around a young girl being immersed in an adult world too quickly. It’s a similar  situation with most talented artists who become famous too fast.

The film was well acted by Hollywood’s finest Nia Long (Boyz N The Hood) and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) . The real breakout star has to be Chanté Adams who, in her first role after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, s a newcomer captures the essence of Roxanne Shante.

                                      Roxanne Roxanne/Netflix

You’ll be drawn to the intensity and chemistry of Nia Long and Chanté Adams on screen. The mother daughter dynamic between the two is powerful. Nia Long’s performance will hold your attention. It is as though she’s trying to teach a life lesson to the viewer.

Shanté’s story was a story that needed to be told, but it was more suited to be on Netflix rather than be released as an actual theatrical release like Straight Outta Compton or Notorious. As a fan of the Hip Hop genre I’m quite disappointed with myself for previously missing out on a performer as talented as Roxanne Shante. This is why more Hip Hop biopics such as (NOTORIOUS, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) should be done PROPERLY. It helps to highlight the story of under-appreciated rap pioneers all while complementing the message that not everything comes easy and a mother is usually right.

ROXANNE ROXANNE is rushed but well put together story about a young African American teen girl who, although struggling against great odds, opened a door for many to follow in the hip hop industry.

That, alone, is noteworthy.

**************
(I know almost nothing about rap music, but I did see the recent Tupac Shakur docu-pic, which came out at the same time as ‘Wonder Woman.” I confess that after Slim Shady and Eminem and a brief shining moment when L. L. Cool Jay was my son’s hero (in his high school years) and, as a result, he and a friend went into a studio and made a rap record with their own money, I haven’t given rap music much thought since. I’ve heard the names, of course, but I’ve tried not to hear the rap ballads/albums. This is a good area—along with Marvel movies—for a young man like Zayin to follow. My one comment is that it seems sort of hypocritical that this film wasn’t helmed by a woman. The thing that is all the rage this year at film festivals: flicks directed by women. It’s the coming thing, and it’s about time. Here is a movie about a female rapper, but it’s directed by a man. Does anyone else find that odd in the year of “Lady Bird” (nominated as Best Picture and directed by Greta Gerwig) or Miranda Bailley’s film at SXSW or the fact that 40% of the films at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival were helmed by women? I’m just asking, not telling. C.W.)

Avengers Infinity War Anticipation: Will It Live Up to the Hype ?

Guest Review by Zayin Allen

Coming off the hype of “Black Panther,” the top-grossing super hero movie of all time, Marvel Studios has a hard act to follow. “Black Panther” offered both a step forward for the culture and a much needed change within the superhero genre. “Black Panther”  changed the momentum of the Marvel Universe. A different villain who was right, is, in a sense, a different hero, going in a different direction.

“Avengers Infinity Wars” will have to change its dynamic altogether. As much as I hate to say it, Marvel has the superhero movie genre locked down right now. DC needs to be better coming off its recent flop.

The problem with Marvel was the villain, but “Black Panther” succeeded where the last 12 MCU films failed. This means the highly anticipated arrival of a villain who can tie together all MCU films has to be great.

*cue Thanos*

Josh Brolin will be reprising the role, having previously voiced the Mad Titan. Although his stature and demeanor are menacing, his true power has yet to be unveiled. His goal is to collect the Infinity Stone and take over the universe. We last saw him in the post credit scene of Guardians 2 proclaiming after many failed attempts he would get them himself.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered  fans at least three of the five Infinity Stones. The Space Stone ( Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers), The Reality Stone (Thor: The Dark World) The Power Orb (from Guardians of the Galaxy) and The Time Stone( Doctor Strange).

The last remaining stone The Soul Stone has yet to be revealed in the MCU. More than likely in ” The Avengers: Infinity Wars”, at which point Thanos will either collect or know the whereabouts of the stones and use them for the Infinity Gauntlet, which will grant him unforeseeable power. Each individual stone has great power on their own, but with all of them together, that represents  the call of action for all seen and hopefully unseen heroes in the MCU.

The proper formula for a superhero movie calls for a good villain, a sacrifice, and a triumphant return. (Hence, “Dark Knight,” “Black Panther,” “Alien”, and what should have been “Justice League”).

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige himself said that Thanos, within the first five minutes of “Infinity Wars” will prove why he’s a sinister and destructive force. Both Chris Evans (Captain America) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) hinted that the fourth “Avengers film” would be their last. [*To which this old person says, ‘We can only hope and pray.'”]

Someone is going to go out in a devastating way in “Avengers: Infinity Wars” but who and how is why seats will be filled April 26th.

(The review opinions above are from Zayin Allen, a college student in Delaware, who is enthusiastic about these movies. May I simply say: JUST SHOOT ME NOW if I have to watch any of these movies,— with the possible exception of “Black Panther.”)

What does Black Panther bring to the table?

It’s Black History Month and time for Black Panther, the film.

February is  the month with the fewest days, but  African-Americans rise to the occasion by celebrating the achievements of their ancestors.

This film is more fit for the occasion because it is the only film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to feature a predominately African American cast, an African American director, and great role models for African American children. T’Challa of Wakanda, aka The Black Panther ,made his debut back in 2016 in the heavily  hero populated film Captain America: Civil War.

Now his awesomeness has his own film. It’s not just a blockbuster film.  It’s a movie that’ll feed the culture, the culture being everything that African Americans stand for. Most films either feature African Americans as slaves, maids, or as silly creatures. This is a film where they  got the culture right tying the roots of the film s back to African origins. This film goes beyond the comic book movie cliches of fantasy, explosions, science experiments gone wrong, love triangles, or training montages.

Creed’s director Ryan Coogler who was snubbed at many awards ceremonies. He set the film in the fictional country of Wakanda, a hidden kingdom in Africa, one of the most secretive and technologically advanced countries in the MCU mainly because of its reserves of the world’s most useful but rare metal, vibranium.

Aside from setting the film in Africa, Coogler and Chadwick Boseman considered what they could do to make Wakanda and its people more authentic.

Via Youtube /©Marvel Studios 2018

Black Panther Is Not Just A Hero

One thing about Marvel is that their stable of characters is diverse. The revolutionary Stan Lee, creator of Black Panther, said, “He’s an interesting character that is going to be such a different a things for the audience to see on screen.”

T’Challa was last seen in Captain America: Civil War  giving the business to everyone that stood in his way but also coming to grips with his father’s death and the knowledge that he has to assume leadership of his country. That is what makes him such a complex character . That is why Black Panther is on a whole other level. He’s not just a hero. He’s a leader of many.

Boseman who has portrayed many African American heroes on screen in the past, will not be alone in this step forward for African Americans in cinema. Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are among many others who are helping carry the weight of this film.

Important Messages

It is not just the names that make the movie stand out. It is the message the film is sending. One message is that women of color are fully capable. The women of Wakanda explained what makes the country so special. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Angela Bassett explained that “It’s a nation that respects and reveres women. They think of us not just as Queens but as the Queen Mother. Mother is the nurturer and the first teacher. That position is embraced. She’s not someone who is off to the side.”

Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly/ Kwaku Alston/©Marvel Studios 2018

Via Youtube/ ©Marvel Studios 2018

See Black Panther For Yourself

The film is already sold out in pre-order tickets. Advance reviews are positive.  The cultural appreciation is on point. This is the movie that Marvel fans have been waiting for like dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

Black Panther definitely has a lot to bring to the table. I hope everyone is ready for the release February 16th.

“Black Lightning” on the CW Premieres for DC Comics Fans

by Zayin Allen

(Episode 1, “Resurrection” trailer.)

The CW has sparked the attention of many DC comic book fans and their new show (debuted January 16th) “Black Lightning” has electrified the entire network.

The first African-American superhero in DC Comics, Black Lightning debuted originally in 1977 and defined an era of social injustice in the United States. Creators Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden showed the world that an African American man can have power.

The decision to have the television show premiere the day after the Martin Luther King holiday was a strong move on the CW’s part, because it filled viewers’ screens with an extra jolt of soul power.

Black Lightning tells the story of Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), father of two, teacher of few, and activist of many in the city of Freeland. Pierce struggles with finding balance in his life after retiring his superhero alter-ego. Following the divorce from his wife Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams), Jefferson is called back to fight for justice after his daughters, Anissa and Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams) are threatened by the rise of the 100 gang, led by their leader, former politician Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III).

The casting of the show is amazing. China Anne McClain said, in an interview before the show’s debut, that, upon arrival she “knew very quickly that they would be able to play a family easily.” The passion of Jefferson makes viewers understand that he wants better for his family and nothing will get in his way. Black Lightning is not just about a man who can glow like a light bulb and walk around shocking people. The show tells a deeper story about conflict and living in trying times. Cress does not tell this story alone.

Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain set the standard for strong independent African American women, and that is what the show needs. Anissa is an open member of the LGBT community, and is als an educated teachers who takes after her father in more ways than one. Jennifer is an intelligent high school student who is stressed by the pressures of school, but has a strong family dynamic to support her. Between the love of her overprotective father and her sister she stands her ground, but she’s still a teen growing into adulthood.

Everyone in the cast meshes well together, including Tobias Whale. It is declared early on within the show that Whale is not a force to be taken lightly. Even with 1000 plus volts and the ability to step walk on air, Jefferson still has things he has to battle with, things that he cannot combat with his incredible strength alone.

The discussion of race is what sets this show apart from others. It deals with issues like the struggle of trust between a community and law enforcement, the destruction of a community from within, and gang violence. This show is different because it talks about real world issues. These issues need to be seen by viewers in the comfort of their own homes to fully understand what is happening in the world around them. I, personally, applaud the CW for recognizing diversity, and I want to applaud the director, Salim Akil, for having enough understanding to make a show about the struggles and triumphs in the African American community, depicted by a predominantly African American cast of actors.

All in all, the show is amazing. It offers action, drama and humor all rolled into one. The casting is spot on and the issues are relevant. Like all superhero shows on the CW, the fight scenes are long and drawn out, no matter how fast or spectacular they look. However, this was only the first episode and the actors take you to a place beyond the comic book.

There is more to be seen, and judging from this week’s premiere, the voltage is definitely high.

Game Village

http://www.bingoaffinity.com/

“Trespass Against Us” Did Not Work, Despite Fassbender/Gleeson Star Power

When you tell me that Michael Fassbender is starring opposite veteran UK actor Brendan Gleeson in a film, I’m there. I’m expecting good things. These are two great actors and the plot, set across 3 generations of the Cutler family of criminals, sounds exciting.

The Cutler family live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. (At one point the patriarch of the clan suggests they move on to Kent, where I spent a homestay as a foreign exchange student, and Kent, just a short train trip out of London, is a wealthy suburb.)

Chad (Michael Fassbender) is the heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and is supposed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police.
However, Brendan’s masterful criminal plans are about as workable as a bank heist planned by Donald Duck. The heists make little or no sense and bring in little revenue that can be easily translated into cash.

However, Chad has a wife, Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and 2 small children and his young son Tyson is causing him to take a closer look at the future. Chad was never sent to school by his dear old dad, so he is illiterate. He really would have a hard time finding any kind of honest work with that gigantic hurdle to overcome. He and his wife want their son and daughter to get an education.

The entire family live in a series of trailers in a gypsy caravan existence, complete with a village idiot named Gordon (Sean Harris) who serves little plot purpose other than to show Fassbender’s character being unnecessarily cruel to him at one point when he is particularly stressed out. It did lead to one line of dialogue that was memorable, however:
Chad says (to Norman): “Gordon, don’t be an idiot,” and Gordon responds, “I AM an idiot.”

I found the scene where Chad (Fassbender) tries to buy a puppy for his son’s birthday among the most moving. At least the scene was not 90% profanity in a thick British brogue, and I could actually understand what was being said and realize the injustice of the rest of the world towards the Cutlers, when they were merely trying to be normal members of society.

There was also a creative scene where Chad escapes from the police, who are searching for him with infra-red equipment using helicopters. Chad crouches beneath a cow in a pasture full of grazing cows. (It’s not every day you get to see Michael Fassbender crouched beneath a cow, so there’s that.)

THE BAD

Although the opening bumpy scene of Chad driving through a field (he has apparently been the designated get-away driver in previous burglaries and robberies) is exciting, the camera work in all of these driving scenes is as choppy as any Jason Bourne movie.

Furthermore, what was the point of the “Free Bryan” stunt, i.e., painting a car yellow and driving it through town, when Bryan (Chad’s incarcerated brother) is never mentioned in the plot again and all the stunt did was draw attention to the crew from the authorities on the eve of a big job? The police are already upset enough with the lot of them. Yes, it was a cool chase, but it made little sense in any context, criminal or otherwise.

Most importantly, I haven’t seen a movie this badly miscast since “The Human Stain” (2003) cast Anthony Hopkins as a black professor and Nicole Kidman as a washerwoman. Nobody would believe that Brendan Gleeson is Chad’s biological father and, if we accept the premise that perhaps the MIA Mrs. Colby was impregnated by someone else (which lets Brendan off the hook as to paternity), we still have the problem of Michael Fassbender being way too cultured and good-looking for the ignorant oaf he is portraying.

I was also thoroughly annoyed that the film didn’t have Chad finally stand up to his destructive father and save his family from the inevitable fall. Not only is the patriarch of this clan a lout, he is an ignorant lout who argues that the world is flat. Furthermore, Chad’s young son is becoming his grandpa’s ardent follower.

I do want to commend the young George Smith who played Tyson Cutler. He did a good job of playing the nine or ten-year-old thug-to-be and I’m sure we’ll see him in future roles.

Adam Smith directed this film, which one critic in Toronto described as “the worst film I saw at the festival.” The writer, Alistair Siddons, cannot be blamed for casting the excellent Fassbender in a role that just doesn’t’ suit him. [Scoring Michael Fassbender for a part in your movie has got to be a coup.]

The plot, far from having a happy ending where Chad’s announced goal (“I’m not in that shit no more. I just want a quiet life. No troubles.”) is achieved takes us in an entirely different direction and asks us to root for the bonds of family over everything and anything else. (From Gleeson: “You have to stand up against them so they don’t trespass against us.”)

Only a satisfying POV if you are self-destructive masochist.

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in "Trespass Against Us."

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in “Trespass Against Us.”

“You’re Killing Me, Susana!” with Q&A from Director at Chicago Film Festival

The new Gael Garcia Bernal film, based on the Spanish novel “Deserted Cities” by Jose Agustin explores the changing nature of male-female relationships in Mexico and the world. This entire concept of the changing nature of female roles in the world has been a big topic in this year’s films, including “The Eagle Huntress” (from Mongolia) and documentaries “Girls Don’t Fly” and “The Swedish Theory of Love,” (in which we learn that the growing independence of women in Swedish society means that full 25% of Swedes now die alone.) Perhaps that is to be expected in a presidential election year in the United States in which a woman heads the top of a major party ticket for the first time.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” played to a packed house, which I attribute to the star power presence of Gael Garcia Bernal, who broke out with “Y tu Mama Tambien” (2001) but is also known to U.S. audiences for “Babel” and television’s “Mozart in the Jungle.”

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is charmingly hilarious, depicting a womanizing Mexican actor (Gael Garcia Bernal was a Mexican soap opera star in real life) named Eligio whose wife abandons him in the dead of night and strikes off for a writers’ conference in Iowa. Upon reading this plot point, I assumed the Writers’ Workshop would be the world-renowned Writers’ Workshop at my alma mater, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, so I was interested in seeing how it was portrayed.

That assumption proved incorrect, as the scenes that represent Iowa were actually shot in Winnipeg, Canada and the college is the fictitious Middlebrook College, which looks nothing like the “real” Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa (nor the city of Iowa City).

The plot has Eligio walk off the soap opera set in the middle of filming (when a fellow actress protests, he says, “Tell them to kill me. It’s a soap.”) to chase his now missing wife to the United States, landing at Central Iowa International Airport, (which is non-existent, as well). Funny scenes ensue at the airport when he is rather vague about where he will be staying while in the U.S. and Customs steps in to perform a strip search.

When Eligio reaches Iowa, there are many amusing scenes of culture shock.
I remember this theme from as far back as 1979’s “Time After Time” when Jack the Ripper is transported into the present and must cope with modern life. The culture shock between coming from Mexico City and landing in whatever fictional city in Iowa this is supposed to be is no less vivid to Eligio. In fact, one of the funniest scenes involves him stiffing the cab driver for an $84 fare from the airport and hiding in piles of leaves on campus to avoid paying. Eligio seems to always be big on breaking petty rules, which makes him lovable but also exasperating.

Neither Eligio nor Susana can believe that nobody is out walking around on the streets of the (supposedly) Midwestern town, when he is from Mexico City, one of the most crowded cities in the world. Eligio is also upset to learn that Susana has been having a fling with a Polish poet, who stands at least a foot taller than Eligio. I admit that I also laughed out loud at the prospect of Eligio trying to drive a car to Chicago through a blizzard when Susana and the poet flee again. Eligio obviously knows nothing about driving in Midwestern winter weather and proves this.

Director Sneider, who now lives in the United States, when asked, after the film, about his reaction to seeing it in Chicago said, “When I saw it, I wanted to change it. I tend to think different things, even in editing.” He added, “I love the character of Eligio. He is deplorable in many ways, but very human. I also saw an exploration of how relationships between men and women are being re-imagined. (See first paragraph above) We think we are beyond machismo, but we’re not. I think it’s a lot about self discovery. Eligio feels fidelity is overrated—until he experiences infidelity. It’s definitely not funny then. We see the characters fighting themselves.”

Sneider added that much of the dialogue was improvised and that Gael Garcia Bernal (who is also a director) enjoys improvising, unlike some other actors. “It feels very raw, spontaneous and fresh (if you improvise). I felt this was important to get that feeling of freshness.”

Sneider commented on the jump cuts in the film, cutting through the scenes to pick the moments and improvising in front of the camera. “I think he does some very deep serious roles but I, personally, like to see his great sense of humor and how he gets to display that here.”

Sneider also remarked that “music was super important because the music softens the tone.”
He gave credit for much of the music to a San Antonio based group (StumpFhauser and Victor Hernandez) and said that the entire movie was shot with a hand-held camera. He mentioned the song “Uncertainties of the Heart.” We hear the lyric “He who loves a woman doesn’t know what he gains when he loses her. Another one comes along.”

When asked how much time is supposed to have passed between the time that Susana leaves and Eligio follows her, he said, “7 months and 3 days” with a laugh, leading me to believe he plucked the number from thin air. He added, “I wanted the ending to be a little like the end of ‘The Graduate.’ They each look at one another and say, ‘What now?’ I think the characters are both full of defects, but they’re still the same. I actually think with many couples you think, ‘Should we be in this position?’ There are some things in relationships that we can’t explain.”

When asked about the casting of Veronica Echegui opposite the male lead he admitted that he was “looking for chemistry between the leads” and that he found it in the lovely Veronica, who plays Susana, a strong-willed, beautiful woman who is also a great writer and wants to find her own fulfillment of her own talent.

Sneider said that Gael Garcia Bernal has done 3 adaptations of Mexican novels and that this novel (“Deserted Cities”) is “very much an exploration of what it means to be a Mexican man.” He commented, “In Mexico, he’s just a guy. Now, in the U.S., he’s a Mexican guy.”

American audiences (especially female audiences) will probably wonder why it took Susana so long to pack up and leave. She had plenty of provocation prior to her actual departure.

The ending, which is faithful to the book and involves Eligio spanking Susana, was also questionable, but adhered to the novelist’s vision. (Good luck with that approach with feminist audiences in the U.S.)

“The Infiltrator” Delivers Summer Suspense at the Movies

“The Infiltrator” is Bryan Cranston’s (“Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Godzilla”) new film. It is based on the 2009 Bob Mazur book about his experiences as an undercover agent for the FBI. Mazur was the federal agent who infiltrated one of the largest drug syndicates in the United States. He also suggested “Operation C-Chase,” which would follow the money instead of the drugs. [ I just spent July 5th within FBI headquarters in New York City hearing, firsthand, about undercover work from the experts, as a part of the ITW (International Thriller Writers) Conference, so the film was particularly timely and relevant for me].

Directed by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Runner, Runner”), the quest for the rights to make the film took two and one-half years to obtain, as many other high profile stars were in a bidding war in Hollywood to secure the rights, including Leonardo DeCaprio and Tom Cruise.

As Bad Furman told Frank Gonzales in an interview entitled “Inside the Infiltrator,” “Fortunately for us, one of my best friends from college, Don Sikorski, who is a producer on the film, brought the book to my attention. We both loved it and tried to go through official channels to obtain the rights with no luck. So, with nothing to lose and in true investigative journalistic fashion, we tracked down Bob Mazur’s phone number and I cold called him.”

CAST

The upshot is one of summer’s best films, with stand-out performances from star Bryan Cranston and extremely good support from John Leguizamo, whom Director Furman described as “one of my dearest and closest friends.” Furman went on to tell Gonzales, “I’ve known Benjamin Bratt (Alcaino) and Yul Vasquez (Ospina) for 20 years and Diane Kruger (Kathy Ertz) and I had met on a movie a few years prior, so I’ve had deep personal relationships with the core base of actors in this movie, and I think it paid wonderful dividends for me, for them, and for The Infiltrator.”

SCRIPT

Another close tie that really enhanced enjoyment of the film was the great script by Furman’s own mother, Ellen Brown Furman, a well-known Hollywood scriptwriter, as Furman added, “My mother really wanted to show the balance Mazur struggled with in trying to have a family and in trying to do his job. Bob was going back and forth from Tampa to Miami and he was away from his wife and children. Mom really brought out how hard that was for Mazur. She was also able to show how even drug lord’s lives were influenced by their families. She should get a lot of credit for her brilliant work in crafting a screenplay that got it right.”

Leguizamo has some of the film’s best lines and his performance is as stellar as Cranston’s. It is made clear from the beginning of the film that Mazur (Cranston) is leery of working with this Hispanic fellow officer, who seems to live life on the edge. He asks that he not be assigned to work with him, but is told, “He’s your way in.” Leguizamo’s character wants to pay a snitch he knows $250,000 to assist them; Cranston is skeptical that the man is trustworthy, saying, “These people who sell information…they walk on the dirty side of the street, and then they cross over to the clean side, but their shoes always stay muddy.”

Pretending to be Bob Musella (Cranston) and Emilio Dominguez (Leguizamo), the duo scores a better office. (Leguizamo says, “ This is so much better than our old place. It was so filthy even the rats ran from it.”). Cranston’s sidekick is incredulous that Mazur has just turned down a nice, safe retirement offer, saying, “You and the kids and the wife could be playin’ cricket on a yacht or whatever-the-hell it is white people do when they retire.”

But that’s just the point: Bob Mazur doesn’t want to retire. In fact, he did not after the bust—despite facing intense danger in going deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug-trafficking plaguing the nation in 1986, by posing as a money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella. The impulsive and streetwise Hispanic agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and a rookie female agent who poses as his fiancée, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) the two pull off befriending Escobar’s top lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) to the point that Alcaino says of the bogus engaged couple, “We love them like family.”

QUOTES

In one memorable exchange, Alcaino comments on a hit on a different infiltrator, Barry Seal (played by a virtually unrecognizable Michael Pare, once Eddie in “Eddie and the Cruisers”), saying that he had 2 rings made of coca leaves and gave one to Barry Seal and had him to dinner at his home. Alcaino says, with disgust, “I wasted my knives on the meat.” Adds Alcaino (to Mazur): “The politicians think it’s a drug war, but it’s a business like any other. Trust is necessary. Without it, there is no loyalty, and without loyalty it never ends well.”

Completely trusted by Alcaino, Mazur learns about “the anonymous window” of the Federal Reserve Bank, which has been allowing the CIA to fund a secret account that helped fund Noriega’s Contra organization. ($10 million of Escobar’s money was frozen by the bank). All this led to the Reagan years Contra scandal, which inspired another Leguizamo scripted line: “Ronnie should have stayed the Gipper. He is nothing but a God damned two-bit drug pusher.”

PACING, CONFUSION

The movie is exceptionally well paced, although some of the exciting near misses are inscrutable and difficult to decipher as a first-time viewer. Why is that man apparently following Mazur in a car as Mazur completes his morning jog? Who was that guy silently observing Mazur talking to Emir (Leguizamo) from across the street? The time/city locations are also a bit difficult to follow (Is this Miami or Tampa?) and I am still wondering how a group with as much money as Pablo Escobar’s drug outfit couldn’t have run a more in-depth background check on imposter Bob Musella, and/or why the criminals wouldn’t have, at the very least, bugged the room that the supposed engaged couple shared, to see what they were discussing. But that’s probably just me; a second viewing cleared up my confusion.

The good news for the U.S. is that 85 drug lords and the corrupt bankers of BCC (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) which laundered their dirty money were taken down by two brave agents who risked their lives and played their parts as well as any Hollywood actors.

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