Tag Archives: business

Unstoppable – Review

20 Oct

 

I can’t really say I’m the biggest fan of the late film maker Tony Scott. His filmography is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I can’t get into movies like Top Gun or Déjà Vu no matter how hard I try, but on the other hand Domino is a highly underrated action film and True Romance might even be one of my favorites. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag. Scott released his last film in 2010 titled Unstoppable, and it kind of serves as an exclamation point for the run on sentence that is Scott’s body of work. It has that signature frenetic style that everyone will recognize, but it also has a really interesting plot based on true events and some good characters to keep that story going. I was kind of surprised by it.

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Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a new train conductor  assigned to veteran engineer Frank Barnes’ (Denzel Washington) train scheduled to make stops in a number of small Pennsylvania towns. All in all, it sounds like a pretty mundane day for the two railroad workers. What they don’t know is that further up north, a completely inept hostler has lost control of a half mile long train that has cars containing a highly toxic substance called phenol. Now this train is barreling through towns without any control and is a risk of derailing at any moment and releasing this substance that could poison an entire town. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) rounds up her usual employees to stop the train, but corporate interference is making the task almost impossible. With time running out, Colson and Barnes decide to catch up to the train and slow it down themselves. With Hooper giving directions back at the train yard, the two railroaders push their train to the limit to stop a massive potential disaster.

Going into this movie, I wasn’t really expecting too much. Every time I asked someone about Unstoppable or it was brought up in conversation, no one ever seemed to excited about it. I’m really glad that these unremarkable responses didn’t deter me from actually watching it and formulating my own opinion. This is a well paced, well directed, and well acted film that, along with Domino, is a highly underrated Tony Scott movie. The plot takes its time in many places and that’s a smart choice because a movie like this could easily be rushed and contain non stop action. The first half hour or so sets up the characters and the setting while also giving the audience enough information to be able to follow the story. I really don’t know much about trains or how they work, so without this set up, I would have been completely lost during some of the more technical discussions. So, just because the action doesn’t start right away doesn’t mean it’s boring. Scott’s visual style and direction always keeps things interesting until the real meat and bones of the story begin.

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When the action does get started, it rarely ever lets up. This is an incredibly fast paced movie that, like I said, doesn’t feel rushed. This is where Tony Scott’s direction really shines. For one thing, most of the crazy stuff that happens was all shot with very little CGI. Instead, Scott opted to go with stuntmen, real trains, and lots of disposable things for the trains to crash into. This is a great looking movie for reasons like that, and also Scott’s kinetic and highly saturated visuals. The way the action is laid out also gives the tension and thrills time to build up. When the train is first lost and out of control, it isn’t moving too fast. By the time the climax of the movie happens, however, it’s traveling nearly 80 miles per hour with all of those other train cars, some of which contain a highly toxic and combustible chemical. This is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself slowly inching to the edge of your seat and letting out those wonderful sighs of relief.

Amidst all the mayhem with the trains, there’s also a story of corporate interference and disrespect for all of the people working in the field and not operating out of a boardroom on the fiftieth floor. This isn’t a subject that’s often shied away from, because a lot of working people can relate to it, but Unstoppable handles it in a way that resonated with me well. A lot of it has to do with the surprisingly three dimensional characters. Washington’s character is the veteran who’s getting screwed over by the company, Pine’s character is just getting into the company that’s obviously flawed, and Dawson’s character is the person who has made somewhat of a name for herself, but still isn’t respected by the higher ups. It really all of the bits and pieces of a company from the completely inept employees to the veterans just trying to finish their time on the job.

Unstoppable isn’t going to go down as an action classic in the years to come, but not every movie has to have that kind of status. This is a very well put together action thriller with fully realized character and plenty of mayhem and destruction to keep your eyes glued to the screen. I wouldn’t call this movie great, but it’s certainly really good and epitomizes most of what made Tony Scott’s vision so unique. This one’s worth checking out.

Final Grade: B+

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War Dogs – Review

22 Aug

There’s so many things that happen in the world that I’m am blissfully unaware of. For example, I never really think about the lucrative and shady business of international arms dealing. I’d be surprised if that crossed a lot of people’s minds on a daily basis. When I think of films that cover this topic, my mind automatically goes to the Andrew Niccol film Lord of War, which was actually a very good movie. The last person I would have ever thought to make a movie about the arms trade is Todd Phillips, whose directed such films as The Hangover and its sequels, Due Date, and Old School. It’s been proven that comedy film makers have the know how to make exceptional, satirical films about real life events, like Adam McKay did with The Big Short. I was very excited to see War Dogs and while the movie didn’t 100% live up to my expectations, it was still a really fun time.

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David Packouz (Miles Teller) feels like his life is going absolutely nowhere, especially after ordering an absurd amount of sheets with hopes of selling them to nursing homes. Right as that business fails, he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and he has no money to give in order to raise a child. Enter Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), Packouz’s childhood friend, who has done very well for himself in the business of small time arms dealing. The reason Diveroli has returned to Miami is to go legit and start his own arms dealing business, and he wants Packouz to be there as his partner. Thus is the beginning of AEY, which soon becomes a multi million dollar business. This skyrockets Packouz and Diveroli to the top of the arms dealing chain, but it also puts them in a whole lot of trouble when they believe they can get away with more illegalities than they actually can, while also crossing paths with Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a shady businessman that can’t be trusted.

I feel like I can’t put War Dogs into a subgenre of true story/crime/comedies that often deal with white collar “gangsters” who live their lives from one bad choice to the next. This movie had a lot of similarities with Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but it would also fall in nicely with smaller films like Casino Jack and Middle Men. I really like movies like this that take a comedic look at people who involved themselves in business that is pretty far on the other side of the law. I mean, let’s face it, real life can actually be this funny sometimes, even if you are breaking the law on the federal level. That being said, this film provides all of the tropes you would expect to see in a movie like this, and even though I felt very familiar with this movie, it still had scenes that were wholly unique and strongly separates itself from other movies like this.

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While Todd Phillips definitely has his own brand of humor and style on this movie, which is why I said War Dogs stands well on its own, I couldn’t help but think that at certain moments it felt like a bit much. I’m all about the voice overs and cool music choices, but there were some scenes where it just became a bit too heavy handed. There were also these lines of dialogue that would come up to sort of break the movie into chapters, which might have seemed like a cool idea, but it would have been a lot cooler if they actually thought of chapter titles instead of just using lines that were going to be spoken. On the flip side, there were some really great scenes that featured this kind of over the top film making and editing. One hilarious scene in particular has the U.S. Army show up just in time to save the two dealers from hostiles to the classic rock musings of CCR. What I mean to say is that sometimes Phillips sort of overdid some things, but a lot of the crazy stylistic things that he throws in does add to the hectic nature of the lives these two guys led and it ultimately works to the movies advantage.

War Dogs is a very character driven story, and it rests firmly on the shoulders of both Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. They’re really the only two characters in this movie that matter, which puts a lot of pressure on these two actors. People have been raving about Hill’s performance as Efraim Diveroli, and I completely agree with all the positivity being thrown his way. He really hams up everything about this character making him into a classic cinematic slimeball that thinks he runs the world, but is actually full of a lot of weakness and stupidity where it really matters. It’s a complicated character that Hill seems to have a firm grasp on, and it certainly helps that he’s also one of the funnier guys working in the industry right now. Teller plays a much more subdued character, who may be quiet but provides an excellent everyman for the viewers to relate to. He plays a great straight man in the odd couple that is AEY, and this chemistry is what made me really believe in these characters.

All in all, War Dogs was a really fun movie that was filled with style and very good performances, and also a true story that is almost mind boggling. Unfortunately, I feel like it didn’t quite reach the mark that it was trying to hit, either because it was an exercise in style over substance or possibly because not enough was done with the material. Regardless of its shortcomings, I still laughed quite a bit at a lot of the dialogue and the situations, and was really intrigued by the story. Not only is there plenty of comedy, but there’s a lot of drama and character development which made this more than a hollow shell of a movie. It’s not the best of the year, but it’s a movie I’ll remember and recommend.

The Big Short – Review

5 Jan

If I had some choices about who would be responsible for making a movie about the financial crisis of 2007, my first thoughts would go to Martin Scorsese since he tackled Wall Street in his film The Wolf of Wall Street or Aaron Sorkin because of his countless works on politics, journalism, and business. One of the last people I’d think of is Adam McKay, who is known for some very funny movies like The Other Guys and the Anchorman films. Here we are, however, in the weird alternate universe where McKay is apparently just the right man for the job and the end result is The Big Short. This is one of those rare movies that takes very serious subject matter and makes something of a joke out of it, but this is also a very intelligent and upsetting film that has become one of the highlights of film in the past year.

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Over the course of a few years in the mid-2000s, there was a group of people who saw the inevitable collapse of the housing market, and decided to use that to their own advantages. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a hedge fund manager who first notices this and creates a credit default swap market to bet against the housing market. Because of this audacious movie, Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), a big shot trader, and Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager, also start betting against the housing market. Baum, however, has a much more personal vendetta against the banks and makes it quite clear in his ventures. Finally, two young investors, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) are hoping to get rich quick off this and enlists the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help with the major financial decisions, much to his chagrin. This is the group that got rich off of this, but also fought to show the real problems with the system.

A movie about this recent financial crisis has all the potential to be way over my head and not entertaining in the least, but McKay handles this material in such a way that everyone should be able to feel involved in the story. The characters, while all based on real people, are very vivid to the point of sometimes being a little over the top, but that sort of works in really illustrating who these people were. Another problem I thought I was going to have with The Big Short is that everything just wasn’t going to make sense to me. I know next to nothing about how all this stuff works, but the makers of this movie realized a lot people don’t. In a way that’s completely in character and funny, the characters of this movie often break the fourth wall to explain things in the most basic of ways. It’s an interesting stylistic choice and one that really helped the movie a lot.

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My only complaint with The Big Short is that sometimes it felt a little bit too over-stylized. The condescending voice overs were funny and the kinetic time lapses worked well, but there were a lot of unexpected jump cuts that I wasn’t really feeling. It was just weird to have a really good, dramatic scene happening and then it’s all of a sudden cut short for the sake of style. The emotions were working just fine in the scene, and a jump cut wasn’t needed as some strange exclamation point. Still, the editing was one of the stand out aspects of the movie. It helped to convey the confusing, nonstop, and almost ADHD kind of living that these people did before the big crash.

Finally, this movie is getting a lot of buzz for the acting. This Sunday coming up is the Golden Globes, and this movie has two nominations for acting. These are for Steve Carell and Christian Bale. Really, the acting in this movie is what makes it really great. The writing and humor is all spot on and the message really hits home, but seeing all of these actors transform themselves into different people yet again is really a treat. Steve Carell gives the most dramatic performance in the movie and really walks a fine line between being hilarious and tragic. Christian Bale does exceptional work as Michael Burry by using a lot of nervous energy to really make the character whole. Ryan Gosling also steals practically every scene he’s in with all of his character’s sickening machismo. The only person that is underutilized is Brad Pitt, which is upsetting since he could’ve done a lot more.

The Big Short succeeds in everything it set out to do. It’s both funny and upsetting, chaotic and quiet, large and personal.  The performances are all top notch and deserve major recognition while the writing really breaks the story down in ways that everyone can understand it. I’m really very impressed by Adam McKay and expect to see a lot more work like this from him in the future. While there are some minor flaws that can be nitpicked, The Big Short is a big success.

Middle Men – Review

20 Jul

When I first heard about Middle Men, I thought to myself, “Hmm, I never thought they would make a movie about this.” It never even crossed my mind that this story needed to be told, but George Gallo, the writer/director, thought otherwise. What we got is a occasionally funny, entertaining, albeit messy movie.

Internet pornography exists, even to the dread of parents and Republicans, but who would’ve guessed it was started in a dingy apartment by two loser best friends, Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht). Newfound success comes quickly along with a troubled partnership with the Russian mob. To fix this issue, Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is brought in and uses his expert negotiation skill to make everyone more money by becoming middle men instead of actual pornographers. With a rise this tall and steep, the fall is going to ultimately end in betrayal, murder, and sex…lots of sex, but that’s just business.

Middle Men didn’t sweep through the awards circuit nor is it destined to be some sort of classic. What we have is a purely entertaining movie with an interesting story. I can’t really tell you how much of it is real, however, but I still had fun watching it and seeing how the ensemble cast was going to turn out.

The casting of this movie is about as strong as any movie with this kind of budget is going to get. Luke Wilson brings the right amount of good and evil to his role, but we never really feel like he is a bad person. He is the Tony Montana of this rise and fall story, only nowhere near as crazy. Giovanni Ribisi is the scene stealer. Most of the laughs that are generated by this movie come from him, with his coked up persona and constant aggravation. James Caan and Rade Serbedzija also play their characters successfully and comically.

Don’t let the marketing campaign of this movie fool you. It is not 100% comedy. There’s a lot of comedy in it, but this movie can get dramatic, although that’s not what is memorable. The drama comes and goes, but never hits hard enough to make the viewer think about the morality of the characters. Everything keeps moving and just begins to blend with the rest of the the story.

The real problem with Middle Men is that there is much story in a movie that isn’t even two hours long. Movies that can be classified as “crime chronicles” are normally way over the two hour point, allowing their stories and characters to be appropriately fleshed out. Here, we are given information through flashbacks and cuts in time when it would have been easier and a lot less messy to just keep the movie more linear. The beginning of this movie has more flashbacks in the first fifteen minutes than I might have ever seen in an entire movie. Never use a flashback as a crutch. It makes the narrative messy.

Still though, everything was presented interestingly enough to make sure that I never got bored, and I didn’t. To put it more concretely, I never check to see how much time was left. I was totally engaged by the story and all of its players. The cause and effects of Middle Men are both hilarious and serious. The narrative has its choppy moments and the writing isn’t a masterpiece, but this movie is a lot of fun. It isn’t the best ever, but I’d say Middle Men is worth a viewing.