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Good but grim: Death, drug runners and Vietnam

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Today is a good day to die."

Gangster rappers will remember this line as the intro sample to seminal Eazy-E diss track "It's On," but the source material is actually Flatliners, a 1990 flick starring Kiefer Sutherland as a medical student who leads a crew of his peers into a series of experiments where they "kill" then resuscitate each other in hopes of seeing the afterlife. Of course, a plan like that is destined to have some hitches and Flatliners ended up being a dark, scary, runaway success (that also co-starred Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts).

Twenty-seven years later, the Flatliners remake opens this week at the Village 8 and Sutherland is back, this time playing the mentor to a new group of young med students that include Ellen Page (Juno, Inception), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Rogue One) and Nina Dobrev (Away from Her).

No pre-screeners were available for this one, but the director is Niels Arden Oplev, who made the original version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so expect tension and a creepy mood. The trailer looks good and you really can't go wrong with (Canadian) Ellen Page.

Of course, there is no truly valid reason for this Flatliners to exist, but the flick does kick off the unofficial "scary movie season" that leads up to Halloween. Death is still intriguing (perhaps more than ever considering the current state of the world), so why not check this one out as an opportunity to start talking about what exists behind the final curtain, and how much of it is already here. Do we live our sins in real time? Is reality nothing more than a twisted hallucination? These days it can be hard to tell.

Also opening this week, American Made stars Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, a highly talented but morally dubious pilot from the late 1970s, who is enlisted by the CIA to get "stuff" in and out of Central America. Sure enough, Seal starts moving "stuff" for the good guys, the bad guys (including Pablo Escobar) and the who-knows-what guys (Noriega, Ollie North, and the Contras).

This one is based on a true story, but it all comes crashing together in a very Hollywood kinda way and the resulting flick watches like a mashup of Blow, War Dogs and a slicker, faster Forrest Gump.

American Made is fun, director Doug Liman (Swingers, Bourne Identity) and scriptwriter Gary Spinelli got a hold of a true story that's almost too good to be true, and ran with it. And Cruise is the perfect choice: after decades of derivative wanker-espionage franchises (Mission Impossible, Jack Reacher) it's nice to see Cruise given a character who panics, lies, and does the wrong thing on purpose.

American Made gives us a glimpse of the grittier, less perfect Cruise we saw in Magnolia or Minority Report, and it totally rules. A less charismatic actor may not have been able to pull this off but put a pair of aviators on Tom Cruise and it seems there's nothing he can't hustle.

Speaking of, the Download of the Week is The Vietnam War by legendary documentarian Ken Burns (Baseball, The War) and frequent collaborator Lynn Novick. On the surface, it's an 18-hour, 10-part mini-series doc about (you guessed it) the Vietnam War, that balances the perspectives of the American military, the North and South Vietnamese militaries, anti-war protesters, journalists, governments, and more. PBS is broadcasting episodes of The Vietnam War nightly, apparently you can get them on the Apple TV app, and iTunes sells the series for $50.

I'm just dropping in on this one (18 hours!), but close sources call it a heartbreaking, shocking, sad, savage and uncomfortably timely example of the way history can unravel in spite of common sense. The U.S. didn't have to go into Vietnam, they also knew the outcome would be unfavourable, but they went anyhow. That could never happen in this day and age though right?

Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 drops next week and it should paint an even bleaker future.

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