War Dogs

'War Dogs' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 19, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Todd Phillips; Stephen Chin; Jason Smilovic

Directed by: Todd Phillips

The unbelievability factor really works in War Dogs‘ favor. It has given a director of outrageous comedies and indeterminate skill considerable leverage. It has given actors who like playing jackasses free range to be themselves and we would never know the difference because this true story is ridiculous to begin with. For blind devotees of Todd Phillips getting to know the actual truth is not as important as having an approximated version of it delivered in an amusing and crass way.

See, there’s one thing you kind of have to be in order to enjoy movies made by The Guy Who Brought You The Hangover: you have to be easy to please. You need to be unapologetically so. Take the guy who sat behind me and to my right, for example: this man(-child) laughed at damn well every line that came out of Jonah Hill’s mouth. To this satisfied customer, Phillips could not put a foot wrong. You need to be in that mindset if you are to get the intended amount of entertainment out of War Dogs, a dramatic comedy about how two dopes wind up landing a $300 million arms-dealing contract with the American government.

Despite much of the film being heavily fictionalized — the drive through The Triangle of Death and that pit-stop in Fallujah, yeah that never happened . . . although I bet that towel falling off that rich client’s ass did — this bumpy ride across foreign borders and into legal gray areas becomes a pretty good watch. I mean, a lot of this stuff really happened and you just can’t help but become curious as to how and when their ultimate downfall begins. Maybe it’s when they violated the American arms embargo against the Chinese by repackaging 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition — 42-year-old, substandard Chinese bullets to be more accurate. Maybe it’s the fact they forgot to get their boys paid for those efforts. Maybe it’s that both of them — high school buddies Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) — really were just money-hungry douchebags utterly deserving of the stigma attached to their line of work.

Yes, I think it’s that last one, a sense of fatalism, that makes War Dogs entertaining on any level. The peace of mind knowing that no matter what sequences of success-building and montages of money-stockpiling are put in front of us these unlikable, completely out-of-their-depth numbskulls are going to get their comeuppance. Phillips works pretty hard at steering us in another direction though, and yet there is a surprising amount of fun to be had while it lasts. Of course, the whole thing’s rigged with many of his unimaginative storytelling methods, like the lazy voiceover provided by Teller and highly interruptive chaptered segments with cutesy titles like ‘God Bless Dick Cheney’s America’ and ‘That Sounds Illegal.’

His film is based upon a Rolling Stone article later expanded for a novel based on the rise to prominence of Efraim’s start-up company AEY, which would eventually become a major weapons supplier for the Department of Defense. Ultimately AEY totalled $200 million in contracts dealing in ammunition and assault rifles, amongst other weapons, and its demise inspired the government to reevaluate how they would secure contracts for the future. (In other words, gone were the days of hiring stoners to do the dirty work. Fucking pot heads, man.)

Hill and Teller provide an easy repartee that won’t be difficult to find in other, albeit more traditional, stoner comedies. Even if Hill is now typically a decade older in real life than the characters he chooses, he’s still believable as a 21-year-old arms-dealer (or is that gun-runner?) because . . . well, that freedom to believe whatever you want rule as I mentioned above. Believe all of it or believe none of it (both of which would be too extreme of a reaction in my opinion). Teller has gone back to playing less interesting individuals. All he gets to do is set a bad example for husbands and new fathers everywhere. He becomes the guy who has to explain his lies to his wife when the story needs some tension.

Very little about War Dogs‘ presentation or execution strikes you as incendiary but the source material is so outlandish you’d be forgiven for thinking Phillips wanted to make this just for the opportunity to blow certain aspects out of proportion. Casting regular collaborator Bradley Cooper as a shady intermediary named Henry Girard counts as proof. We didn’t need another famous face in the mix but seeing Cooper appear in a war film that’s very, very un-American Sniper is more than a little amusing. I cackled like a hyena* when he states that he’s “not a bad man, but sometimes [he] asks [him]self what a bad man would do.” I’m not sure if I was supposed to, but I did. I felt like my friend in the row behind me there. It took me until the very end of the film, but finally I felt my money had been decently spent.

I guess what I’m saying is that despite my problems with Phillips’ generic brand — though it must be said generic isn’t the same as incompetent, lest we forget things like Old School and yes, The Hangover, two genuinely great comedies — if you give him the right material to run with anything is possible. You might have a really good time if you can let go of preconceived notions for long enough.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in 'War Dogs'

Recommendation: Further confirmation of Todd Phillips’ unspectacular vision as a filmmaker, War Dogs pursues an outrageous true story with the kind of attitude and conviction fans of his should expect. It’s a passable comedy made more intriguing by the facts, and another good, if loud and obnoxious, performance from Jonah Hill. Not a film you probably want to spend money on if righteous anti-war sentiment is what you seek. And I suppose that’s one more credit to the film: a lack of political lean grounds it somewhat close to neutral. Like Hill’s Efraim says, think of it not as pro- (or anti-) war, but pro-money-making.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “We drive through all triangles . . . including your mom’s.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon – Grandma’s Boy (2006)

2006

It’s hard to believe but we are officially in the penultimate day of the 2016 Decades Blogathon, a 10-day event in which myself and the envy-inducing Mark from the terrific Three Rows Back have been asking bloggers to share their thoughts on films from decades past, releases from years ending in ‘6.’ We will have two posts today, this being one of them of course, and then Mark and I will wrap things up tomorrow, Friday. It’s been an incredible experience once again and we continue to thank our participants for making it happen. Speaking of, I’d like to welcome back Drew of Drew’s Movie Reviews for his take on the 2006 stoner comedy delight Grandma’s Boy. Have at it, Drew! 


'Grandmas Boy' movie posterWatched: 5/14/2016

Released: 2006

Synopsis  

When video game tester Alex (Allen Covert) gets kicked out of his apartment, he moves in with his grandma (Doris Roberts) and her roommates. Meanwhile, at Alex’s work, Samantha (Linda Cardellini) has been sent by the company’s corporate office to oversee the final stages of production of their latest video game.

Review  

Grandma’s Boy isn’t going to get any recognition for being overly creative or groundbreaking, but dammit does it make me laugh.  There is something about toilet humor that always tickles my funny bone.  The characters are constantly berating each other, cursing up a storm, making sex jokes and getting high.  Despite all that, it has charm behind it. Allen Covert and Nick Swardson are so much fun to watch together on screen.  Some of the best lines of the film come from when these two are bouncing off each other.  The plot is super simple, not providing any twists or turns that allow the film to focus on the comedy. Grandma’s Boy revels very much in making as many obscene jokes as it can.  Some of the jokes hit because they are funny but others hit because you can’t help but think “they did not just do that.” The late Doris Roberts may seem out of place in a stoner film with her sweet grandma persona and all but she holds her own and meshes surprisingly well with the rest of the cast, like Covert, Swardson and Peter Dante, who fit perfectly well into the molds of their characters.

I thought Grandma’s Boy was GOOD :-).  It’s brand of comedy may not be for everyone but if you sit back and relax, you might find yourself having a good time.

Favorite Quote 

Jeff: What does “high score” mean? New high score, is that bad? What does that mean? Did I break it?

Trailer  

Cast & Crew  

Nicholaus Goossen – Director

Barry Wernick – Writer

Allen Covert – Writer

Nick Swardson – Writer

Waddy Wachtel – Composer

Allen Covert – Alex

Linda Cardellini – Samantha

Nick Swardson – Jeff

Doris Roberts – Grandma Lilly

Shirley Jones – Grace

Shirley Knight – Bea

Joel David Moore – JP

Peter Dante – Dante

Kevin Nealon – Mr. Cheezle

Jonah Hill – Barry

Kelvin Yu – Kane


Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com

The Night Before

The Night Before movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Levine; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir; Evan Goldberg

Directed by: Jonathan Levine

I was enjoying, for the most part, the latest incarnation of the Seth Rogen and Friends Show, finding myself more than a little amused by their storming of New York City in an effort to live it up one last time this Christmas Eve; finding comfort once more in the familiarity of their crassness and the simplicity of the mission: let’s get wasted and have a blast, maybe even learn a thing or two about each other in the process. (Yes, people actually get paid millions to do this.)

Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jason Mantzoukas shows up, dressed as one of two drunken Santa Clauses and wipes the smile from my face. This I don’t call a Christmas miracle. This I call a threat to a movie’s enjoyability. Seriously, this guy is the worst. Is this his talent, being a buzz kill? If the name’s not familiar, you’re either lucky or you haven’t caught many episodes of The League. In which case you are also lucky. Mantzoukas doesn’t appear for long in The Night Before but apparently it’s enough to cause me to go off on a rant about how much I dislike the characters he plays.

Where’s my egg nog? Ahh, there it is. Right. Now we can actually talk about the film.

It’s no secret Seth Rogen isn’t a man of great range. A few weeks ago he managed to impress me with his dramatic turn as Steve Wozniak in Danny Boyle’s intriguing examination of the late Apple CEO and he also played it somewhat straight as Ira Wright, an up-and-coming comedian in Judd Apatow’s underrated Funny People. However, nine times out of ten you know what you are going to get in a film bearing his name prominently on the poster.

The Night Before, in which he plays Isaac, a mild-mannered (when sober) thirty-something, is the long-lost lovechild of This is the End and Knocked Up. It’s a film that knows when the party should stop and embrace important life events like childrearing, relationship-building and aggressive product placing. While it will never be as good as vintage Rogen-inspired raucousness — I refer to the likes of Pineapple Express and Superbad — this collection of Yuletide yucks offers a suitably raunchy alternative to the saccharine stories about family and togetherness we’re about to be hit with in the coming weeks.

We’re introduced to Isaac and his buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) via a cringe-inducing voiceover that plays upon the titular poem, explaining how Ethan had lost both parents several Christmases ago and has since spent the holiday with his pals. Despite the support, he has found himself stuck in a rut while constantly running into obstacles in his personal and professional life. He’s no longer with his girl Diana (Lizzy Kaplan) and he works odd jobs, most recently as a miserable little elf.

The others take it upon themselves to make this Christmas the best one ever, as Chris’ NFL career is starting to take off and he finds himself with less time to spend hanging out, consumed ever more by social media and the associated vainglory. Betsy (Jillian Bell) hands her hubby (Rogen) a bag of drugs before they hit the town, reassuring him he’s earned himself a night of recklessness before properly settling down. Say no more, we know where this is all going. Mostly.

Along the way we bump lines, ingest psilocybin by the ounce, hallucinate in a manger, buy pot from Michael Shannon (can this guy do any wrong?), take relationship advice from Miley Cyrus, play some Goldeneye (yes, on N64!), promote Red Bull and even find time to reconcile past and present tensions in a subway car. All of this farce ultimately leads us to the Nutcracker party, the party anyone who’s anyone finds themselves at after midnight on Christmas Eve. That includes Ethan’s ex, which means you know the guy is bound for redemption sooner or later.

The Night Before settles on tried-and-true Rogen/Goldberg formula, simultaneously  mocking and embracing the spirit of Christmas by developing a none-too-surprisingly wholesome bromance between a never-more-stoned Rogen and his cronies. ‘Tis the season to be giggling uncontrollably, although I couldn’t call you a grinch if you wanted to take a pass on this hit.

JGL is a Wrecking Ball with Miley Cyrus in 'The Night Before'

Recommendation: The Night Before doesn’t rank amongst Rogen’s best but it’s a perfectly satisfying blend of juvenile humor and sight gags as well as heartfelt relationship building. (Interestingly it manifests as only the second time Evan Goldberg wrote a script without Rogen.) Save for a few questionable cameo appearances, this still manages to offer the quota of amusing supporting roles and it is nice to see Rogen reunited with Gordon-Levitt.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “You have been such a Rock throughout this whole pregnancy. You are like my Dwayne Johnson.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.movie-torrents.net

The Franco Files — #2

ffWelcome to March, and the second edition of The Franco Files! Last month I decided to expand this site with another feature, something that would closely examine the impacts one actor can or does have on the films that they are in. TFF is, simply put, a great excuse for me to wax poetic about the work of some of my favorite actors and what their work contributes to the films they are in. (I still can’t decide if I am going to limit this running feature to just one guy or not. . .we’ll have to see if I can come up with another creative name if I want to go with someone else. . . . .)

Last month we kicked things off with a bang with perhaps his best performance ever, in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, an incredible true story of survival. But just because it was a particularly effective performance doesn’t mean he hasn’t had other equally enjoyable, even if less empathetic/significant, roles over the years. This month we have one that is likely Franco’s second or third-most frequently Googled character name. It’s no doubt a classic and I can’t wait to get into some lively discussions about this one!

James-Franco-in-Pineapple-Express-james-franco-17453737-854-480

Francophile #2:  Saul Silver, Pineapple Express

Role Type: Lead/Supporting

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: Mr. Franco shags out his hair for his role as Saul Silver, everyone’s favorite laid-back pot-dealer. He claims to be selling drugs to raise money for the care of his ailing grandmother, though we as an audience are left to make up our own mind about him as a series of ridiculous events unfold, mostly stemming, apparently, from his and his friend Dale (Seth Rogen)’s dealings with weed. Saul is neither a menacing nor a bad guy; he is perhaps just misled. Franco plays this wayward character with a charm that can’t be dismissed. He can’t be pitied greatly, either, however. It’s a role that can be easily pigeonholed into the cliché and/or stereotypical, and there is quite a bit of cliché writing, but thanks to Franco’s balanced and charismatic performance results in a character with more depth than some are perhaps going to expect.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: A lot of its wit, and the core friendship. I mean, Seth Rogen can only do so much on his own (yes I do support the guy — if you’re going to throw fruit, please throw it at your own computer screen 😉 ), but it is with Franco he manages to come off as a natural friend/acquaintance. I’m really not sure who, if anyone at all, could replace Franco in this stoner role. It seems like an easy task but it’s another example why recycled casts often do work. They generate (mostly) good chemistry. Franco and Rogen exemplify that in this smash-hit 2008 stoner comedy.

Out of Character: “I wore Guatemalan pants in the movie, and I was told that that’s what Woody [Harrelson] wears.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 

3-5


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com