Aaron Paul

American Woman

First Hit: This film grew on me just as Debra (Sienna Miller) grew into a strong, thoughtful person in this story.

I was somewhat reluctant to see this film and for a stupid reason. I always equated “American Woman.” the film’s title, with the 1970s, Guess Who song, “American Women.”  I first heard this song while in Vietnam, and it is about the downsides of American government and society.

However, this film is about the growth of Debra from her early thirties until about her mid-forties. In this time, we learn she was a sixteen-year-old mother to her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), she’s close with her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) and has a love-hate relationship with her mother Peggy (Amy Madigan).

Opening this film, Debra is getting ready for a date. She’s yelling for her daughter to come in and help her dress. We hear a baby crying in the background, it’s Brigit’s young son Jesse (Aidan McGraw as young Jesse and Aidan Fisk as older Jesse). Brigit burst into Debra’s room, and we can immediately tell what kind of life this family is living. Debra is trying to look sexy and hot in a too tight turquoise color dress, and Brigit looks slovenly in a baggy too large sweatshirt, hair disheveled, and her attitude is rebellious.

Katherine lives across the street from Debra with her husband Terry (Will Sasso) and their children. Katherine and Terry spend a lot of time taking care of Debra’s needs. Peggy lives nearby, and when she’s in the room with Debra, the tension is the focal point. The way they talk with each other is filled with sarcasm, resentment, and pain.

Brigit goes out with her baby’s dad Tyler (Alex Neustaedter) who everyone thinks is a punkish, loser, and drug user. She never comes back home from the date and Debra’s left to care for her daughter’s baby boy.

The film takes us through approximately sixteen years of Debra, Katherine, Terry, Peggy and Jesse’s lives together. While mourning the loss of Brigit together, they are also raising Jesse the best they can.

Through this time, we watch Debra start to make wiser choices in her life. One such opportunity is her realization that Ray (Pat Healy), the man she had invited to live with because of financial reasons, is unhealthy, and finally kicks him out in a theatrical kitchen scene.

We see her develop a positive relationship with Chris (Aaron Paul), which quickly develops into marriage. As an audience member, we root for them because Chris has a very positive relationship with Jesse. But when she discovers he is having an affair, watching her end this marriage, we see how far she’s come and grown. She does this with mindfulness, although she is deeply hurt. Much different than the breakup with Ray.

During this time, she has gone to school, graduated, and works as a human resources supervisor at an assisted living facility. A place her mother ends up in.

This film is about how events of deep pain can help someone to begin to choose another way to live. How taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child can assist in guiding us to a better life. It is about Debra thoughtfully taking charge of her life. It is about making amends, as shown in the scene when Debra and Tyler talk late in the story; it’s powerful.

Miller is terrific at embodying this role. This is a role she can hang her heart on and say, I did this. It is a career role. Hendricks is equally great as the sister. Her ability to cajole, support, and give space to Debra is powerful. Paul was excellent as Chris, the man who did really care but made a big mistake. Sasso was outstanding as Debra’s brother-in-law. His kindness and support are felt throughout the film. When he follows Debra, who is searching for her daughter, we see his support. Neustaedter was very strong as Jesse’s father. When he eventually finds himself having the ability to talk with Debra positively was beautiful. Madigan as Katherine and Debra’s mom was perfect. She did the dance of caring in her limited way with perfection. Healy was scary excellent as the abusive, controlling boyfriend. Fiske was great as the older Jesse. I loved his scene at the prom and subsequently telling Chris about his first girlfriend. E. Roger Mitchell as the police detective Sergeant Morris was excellent. His level of compassion when bringing Debra to where her daughter was killed was utterly somber. Brad Ingelsby wrote a powerfully strong screenplay. Jake Scott brought out excellent performances by all, and this story is about an American Woman who is willing to grow and become a powerful example of strength.

Overall: This film surprised me with its depth of character and compelling storyline.

Eye in the Sky

First Hit:  A complex film giving a really multifacited view of how fighting wars remotely, through cameras and armed drones, is changing the face and mental complexities of war.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of a mission to capture a British woman who is, with her Arabic husband, helping Islamic revolutionaries with suicide attacks. Powell has been tracking this person for 6 years from England through the use spies, informants and remote tracking devices.

At the time, her remote surveillance is provided for by the US using drone pilots located in a USAF unit stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada. For the first time she has a chance to capture this person in Nairobi, Kenya along with two other people who have become radicalized, one a US citizen and the other a British citizen.

Also working with her is the Kenyan army who are ready to apprehend this group when the opportunity arises. Watching her and the surveillance feeds remotely from another part of England is General Benson (Alan Rickman), who is with others from the British Government including the Attorney General.

This group is viewing the remote feeds to ensure the actions the Colonel takes are legal. However, the radicals move to an area where the government army cannot go, therefore the capture is off and now it is about finding a way to take out this group by using rockets from the drone.

There is a lot of discussion about doing this, including the amount of possible collateral damage. When they “Eye in the Sky” a drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) sees a 9-year-old girl named Alia (Aisha Takow) near the target area he asks for a re-assessment of the collateral damage area. While this is being assessed, Col. Powell is pressing for the attack, British Government sitting with the General are mixed in their assessment of weather to attack or not.

The US Government, which comes up in two different calls, states clearly they want the attack regardless of the collateral damage, and the Pilot and his co-pilot Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) will do what they are ordered while showing the extreme signs of the stress and difficulty of the situation.

Mirren is really strong as the obsessed Colonel that will do almost anything to meet her objective. Rickman (in probably his final film) was really good using his typical droll and intelligent way of communicating. Paul was excellent as the drone pilot that was participating in his first use of deadly force. Takow was wonderful as the Kenyan girl causing all the questions. Fox was very good as the new inexperienced co-pilot. Barkhad Adbi was superb as the Kenyan undercover agent using miniature drone camera devices and finding ways to help minimize the collateral damage. Guy Hibbert wrote an exceptional screenplay. It was complex, filled with great dialogue and fully explored the dilemma afforded by fighting war with technology and remote abilities. Gavin Hood did an excellent job of creating the intimacy of each remote area and the wholeness of how remote wars are being fought.

Overall:  This film was excellent in so many ways and did a great job of bringing in both the political and military aspects of this type warfare to light.

Triple 9

First Hit:  This is a somewhat complicated slow-build up film with a satisfying ending.

“Triple 9” is police code for Officer Shot/Down.

In Atlanta when this call comes over the police radios, all units head to the scene above everything else. This is a critical piece of the plot of this film as we have crooked police officers Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) working with former federal agents Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul) to obtain hard to get items for a Russian Jewish syndicate led by the crime bosses’ wife Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet).

First they obtain a safe deposit box by robbing a bank and then the get a file box from a NSA secure location. There are additional complications because Atwood has a child with Irina’s sister Elena (Gal Gadot) and both he and Irina use the child to get something they want.

Looking into the robberies and internal issues with the Atlanta Police force are Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) and Chris Allen (Casey Affleck). The way this film unfolds the story is strong in that it gives you bits of the story and then bits of the characters as it fills out each in the end. The direction was strong and many of the scenes, and ways they were shot, were compelling.

Collins ended up being an intense critical component of this film. When he said he had no issue with a 999 you felt he meant it. Mackie was strong, portrayed a coldness in his police work while occasionally breaking into showing his heart in his role. The development of the partnership with Chris Allen was excellent. Affleck, as Allen, was very good as the no-nonsense brash new guy on the Atlanta force with the balls to move things forward. Ejiofor was very good as the father who was going to, in the end, exact the price for the betrayal of the Russian mob. Winslet was truly a surprise and not a surprise. She played the role of female matriarch and mob leader to perfection. Harrelson was odd and compelling as the strung out police detective who, in his own way, wanted the right thing to happen. Paul was strong as the disintegrating member of the team. His drug use and internal pressure had him spiraling downward. Luis Da Silva Jr. as Luis Pinto was great as the leader of a Latino gang. He showed great presence and a set of cojones when it came towards the police. Matt Cook wrote a very strong script. John Hillcoat did a good job of directing this complex story and creating a solid story and characters.

Overall:  This was a strong film with a few very strong performances.

Need for Speed

First Hit:  The cars were cool and fun to watch.

The story line was lackluster – except for the excitement Monarch (Michael Keaton) brought with his fervor for promoting his annual race. How we get there to this race is supposed to be a dramatic story that we’re interested in.

But, most of the acting and scenes are simply a bunch of clichés strung together. Small town guy Toby Marshall (Aaron Paul) who comes from a racing family is going to lose the garage his father left him because... . And that question is left open and unanswered.

He probably put himself in this predicament because it appears to the audience he likes hanging with his friends working only on stuff he likes to work on - race cars. And because of this the business is going under with no real effort to change his business model. So they do a Hail-Mary pass by fixing a rare Carol Shelby car that was never finished and owned by Dino (Dominic Cooper).

The plot twist is that this arch enemy (who also stole his girlfriend) is the person offering him this opportunity. Interesting thing is that they created the illusion that this was an unfinished Carroll Shelby car which we know couldn’t have a body because Shelby died many, many years ago. But because Ford is promoting their new 50 year old Mustang model in the film this is the draw.

Yup, we got a new Mustang body on a Carol Shelby chassis and engine designs. He fixes up the Mustang, gets pulled into a street race and loses his best friend in the process. For revenge he gets into the cross country street race that involves "winner takes all" (cars that is). The race is orchestrated by Monarch.

The cars: A Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, Koenigsegg Agera R, Bugatti Veyron Super Sports, Saleen S7, GTA Spano, and a McLaren P1. Of course the hero wins and gets basically nothing because the cars get destroyed in the film, but all’s right with the world because he settles a debt, and gets a new girlfriend Julia (Imogen Poots).

The cars were the stars – loved seeing them and wanted to drive them all. Paul was OK as the quiet type hero who does his talking through driving. Cooper was good as the guy who didn’t care much about how his actions hurt people. Keaton was great – the guy still brings so much energy to every role his does. My favorite today is still is role as Beetlejuice. Poots was really enjoyable and I enjoyed her role as it progressed in the film. George Gatins wrote a predictable script. Scott Waugh directed this and I thought it might have been better with less police interference and more open-street driving to see each car’s ability to perform because it was all about the cars.

Overall:  Just wanted more cars and less people.

Smashed

First Hit:  For my money, this was one of the better films depicting the struggle to lose an alcoholic addiction.

Kate and Charlie Hannah (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul respectively) are a good time couple. They go to the bar, play pool and drink every night. They love each other but it is all through the haze of alcohol.

Kate is an animated school teacher teaching young kids. One day because of her excess the night before she throws up while teaching class. To cover the incident she tells the school and class that she is pregnant.

This lie, of course, will be uncovered in the end. Kate decides to get sober and her teaching peer Dave Davies (played by Nick Offerman) and her AA sponsor Jenny (played by Octavia Spencer) give her the support and drive to get there. When she and Charlie go visit her Kate’s mother Rochelle (played by Mary Kay Place), we see the history of her illness.

How alcoholism is represented in this film is excellent and the audience is given insight to what can happen.

Winstead is outstanding and give a truly strong performance. Paul is very good as the husband who loves his wife, but loves drinking as well. Offerman gives a great performance of the friend who also breaks the AA rules and has to look at himself as well. Place is very good as the enabling mother. Spencer is wonderful as Kate’s sponsor. James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke wrote a very strong script. Ponsoldt did a wonderful job of directing this film with realism and sensitivity.

Overall: A well-acted film.