Tag Archives: criminals

Once Upon a Time in America – Review

8 Feb

Sergio Leone is best known for helming the epic spaghetti western trilogy that features A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and perhaps his most famous film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. His final feature film, however, was something very different from his previous works. In 1984, Leone released Once Upon a Time in America, a film that has become a sprawling gangster epic. When it was first released, its run time was cut down to two hours and twenty minutes and the chronology of the movie was changed to make it happen in chronological order, while the original length was more like 4 hours with a story told through flashbacks. The shorter version is the one people would much rather forget, so today I’m going to be looking at the longest cut, which runs over four hours, set in the proper order, and features scenes not shown in previous American releases.

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After living a life of crime and excitement, small time New York gangster Noodles (Robert De Niro) is forced to leave the city and go into hiding for over thirty years. After all this time away, he is mysteriously called back to New York City by an unknown part for an unknown reason that involves a bag full of money that was stashed in a locker at a train station when Noodles and his friends were kids and just getting started in their life of crime. Upon his return, he is overwhelmed with memories of meeting his best friend and partner, Max (James Woods), a friendship that over the years got more and more strained as motivations and relationships stood in the way of their goals. As Noodles starts piecing together the mystery of who summoned him, he also takes the time to reflect on the decisions and the action that got him to the lonely place he finds himself in the later years of his life.

One of the most important thing about any movie is the characters that are created for the audience to relate to or understand or anything like that. To me, some of the most memorable characters come from gangster movies because I really enjoy the depth of the best gangster characters, but I also see the more revolting sides of the personality as something that truly gives their characters weight. That how most of the characters in Once Upon a Time in America are created. Noodles and Max are two sides of the same coin and create a relationship dynamic that is typical for this genre but feels different and, because of the film’s run time, explored in a much finer way. Even the side characters in the film have unique character traits that make them memorable, and never does the large cast ever seem to blend together in any way. De Niro and James Woods are both excellent in their roles, and I also have to give props to Elizabeth McGovern for her role as Deborah, a character with one of the most unsettling stories of all the characters in the film.

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While crime and typical gangster themes are explored in this movie, the themes explored in Once Upon a Time in America feel grander in scale than most movies in this genre. Part of the reason these themes resonate so well is the fact that the story is told through flashbacks and not in chronological order. When Noodles returns to New York City, there’s this noticeable level of sadness and disconnect that he feels towards everything. When the story goes back in time to the 1930s, we see why these feelings exist. This creates themes of loneliness, friendship, loss, and the strongest of all those explored, regret. To me, that’s what stuck with me the most is the regret that Noodles feels towards his life and his choices. This makes every death or separation feel all the more powerful.

I can’t talk about a Sergio Leone movie without talking about his artistry behind the camera. Like all of his other films that I’ve seen, Once Upon a Time in America is a gorgeous cinematic experience. The sets that are built combined with his wide angle style of shooting makes this epic film seem grander than most. The color pallet is also something to notice with the past having a much warmer pallet as compared to the present time where the world is covered with neon lights and blues and grays. His collaboration with cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, who worked with him on his previous two films, also adds a lot with his camera work and lighting. Finally, I have to mention Ennio Morricone’s beautifully realized score that turns the emotions, loves, and losses of the characters into incredible music. It’s a solid reminder of why he’s my favorite film composer.

Once Upon a Time in America is both a technical achievement while also acting as a haunting tale of impulsion and consequences. This is the kind of movie that can serve as a reminder to any cinephile as to why they love movies and the process behind their creations. Sergio Leone is truly a master of his craft, and everyone involved successfully created one of the most memorable gangster films ever made. Just make sure you stray away from the heavily cut American release and find the longer versions to truly get the full impact of the story. It’s not one to be missed.

Final Grade: A+

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The Protector (2005) & The Protector 2 (2013)

28 Nov

Tony Jaa is one of the best martial artists working today. His work in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior put him on the international radar, but it wasn’t until The Protector that he really got to show the world how advanced he was in his martial arts. Today, I’ll be looking at the original Protector from 2005 and The Protector 2 that came years later in 2013. Both of these films have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not worth arguing over Jaa’s level of skill. In my opinion, he’s at the head of the game, but can his movies always live up to that level of skill?

Let’s dive right in to the 2005 original.

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As a child, Kham learned about the honor and importance of looking after and protecting the King of Thailand’s war elephant. Now, as an adult, Kham (Tony Jaa) has a young elephant of his own to look after along with the one he and his father have been protecting for years. When a group of gangsters and poachers steal Kham’s two elephants and attack his father, Kham goes on a mission to Sydney, Australia to avenge his father and return to Thailand with his elephants. What he finds in Sydney is a lot more resistance than he thought. With the aid of a bumbling police officer, Sgt. Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Kham fights his way through the criminal underworld and finds a line of betrayal that all leads back to the sinister Madame Rose (Xing Jin).

There’s a lot that can be said about The Protector or Tom-Yum-Goong, as it was originally called in Thailand. Let’s look at the story first. At it’s core it tells an honorable tale of the culture of Thailand and the atrocious things that humans can do to others and to other creatures that inhabit this planet with us. The themes run deep and the aspects of betrayal that Madame Rose executes are all really cool too. What isn’t great is how the story is told. There are quite a few characters and scenes that only serve to deviate the plot from its main course and add some complexity to it that isn’t really needed. The idea of Kham facing off against a criminal organization is cool enough. One character in particular hides Kham for a scene and comes back to sort of act as a deus ex machina. Some of the scenes also feel like they are out of order at times and some of the editing is just downright confusing. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to follow the plot, don’t worry. I was doing the same thing myself.

If you watch the scene right above this, you’ll see why the convoluted plot of this movie isn’t enough to completely bring it down. The action and stunt work in this movie is absolutely out of this world. Like Jaa’s previous film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a lot of the draw this movie had was to see Jaa perform gravity defying stunts and action without any use of CGI or wires. Add Prachya Pinkaew’s style that is sure to include every bit of action in a scene, and you have a match made in martial arts heave. This movie can get down right brutal and Tony Jaa is at the center of it all, having choreographed the stunts and action set pieces himself. The main reason people want to watch a martial arts film is for the martial arts and this one delivers in spades. It’s just often not for the faint of heart.

In the end, The Protector is disappointing in the area of story and narrative structure, but more than makes up for it with the bone crunching action and fight sequences. These scenes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is some of the best martial arts you can find. It’s worth it to plow through the editing however you can to enjoy the movie’s themes and action.

Final Grade: B

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after spending some years in a Buddhist monastery, Tony Jaa returned to acting to film the 2013 film The Protector 2. Unfortunately, it may not have been the come back that was anticipated.

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After the events of the first film, Kham has returned to Thailand and continues to raise and protect his elephant. He thinks nothing of it when a mysterious buyer comes to purchase the elephant, and he respectfully declines his offer. Soon after that, Kham returns home from the market to find his elephant once again missing and begins a one man war against the criminal underworld in Thailand. Along the way, he is reunited with Sgt. Mark, now working for Interpol. As Kham searches for his elephant and takes down one henchman after another and Mark begins investigating a possible political assassination, it becomes clear that the kidnapping of Kham’s elephant and the assassination are somehow linked by a criminal mastermind known as L.C. (RZA).

What made the original Protector really stand out was how organic and real the action was while also being filmed surprisingly beautifully at certain moments. All of that, for the most part, is replaced by a much more synthetic kind of film making. There’s lots of green screen and CGI whereas the first film didn’t rely on that at all. This made The Protector 2 feel like a real disappointment. Prachya Pinkaew returns to the director’s chair so there’s a lot of well filmed action sequences, but in his attempt to make it even bigger than the first movie, he also makes it look less exciting. One scene in particular which is a fight scene on a rooftop featuring motorcycles should have been awesome. Instead it looked like one CGI stunt after another. There’s a lot of moments in this movie that feel like that and I know both Pinkaew and Jaa are much better than that. The action sequences could have been enhanced without making the whole thing often look absurd.

This isn’t to say that Tony Jaa slacks off at all and doesn’t deliver some really impressive fight sequences, and some of the CGI does work to the movie’s favor. It’s just not at all what I wanted from the movie. I will also say that the story is told a lot better than the first film. There’s no sloppy edits that make you wonder what the film makers were thinking, and there’s really only a few scenes that could have been cut out instead of a whole slew of them. There’s also a good supporting cast backing up Jaa. RZA is obviously having the time of his life playing the villainous L.C. and Marrese Crump and Rhatha Phongam bring a lot of energy to their roles as well. Petchtai Wongkamlao is also a welcome return as Sgt. Mark.

All in all, The Protector 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie but it shies away from what made the original film so memorable. Gone are the completely organic, wireless fights. The are instead replaced by CGI heavy set pieces that could have seriously been tweaked or toned down. While it doesn’t live up to the talents on display, it’s worthy of a simple distraction that can kill some time.

Final Grade: C

So there’s my review of the Protector movies. The first one is a fantastic example of how to  make a beautifully shot martial arts film. It would have been perfect had the story been cleaned up. While the second film is completely acceptable, you’d be best off sticking with the first to really see what Tony Jaa is capable of.

We Own the Night – Review

27 Oct

One of my favorite types of movies are crime movies or gangster movies. Anything like that, really, is worth checking out. There’s just something fascinating about the lifestyle, and it gets even more fascinating when the story is set in a time and a place that really adds character to the situations the characters find themselves in. James Gray’s film We Own the Night takes place in the late 1980s, which was a time in New York City when crime was at an all time high. This caused the rise of the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit, whose tagline was the title of this film. All this history and material should make this film an instant classic, but it unfortunately fell under the radar for some reasons that became very obvious as I was watching.

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Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is a manager of a popular club that is unfortunately a host to a nefarious criminal named Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). Despite this, Bobby is living the life he loves at the club with his girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes). What the club owners and employees don’t know, is that Bobby’s father, Burt (Robert Duvall), is the chief of police and his brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), is a highly respected officer of the Street Crimes Unit. These separate lives intersect when Burt and Joseph ask Bobby if he is willing to inform on Nezhinski’s activities to them, but after Bobby declines and there’s a raid on his club, Nezhinski starts taking matters into his own hands and attacking police. As Bobby tries to resume life by any means, the gangsters operating out of his club start getting closer and closer to learning who Bobby and his family is which forces the police to start working faster and making rasher decisions.

There’s so much that material to work with to make this an epic crime film of this time, yet it falls very short of that epic scope it should have had. The first glaring issue is the uneven tone and pacing of the story. During the first half of the movie, Bobby feels very disconnected from everyone and everything, including his family and his club. Part of the reason why is because we’re just thrown right into his life without getting any history of the characters or why they behave like they do. Some set up would have really gone a long way. Once we get around halfway through the movie, things really start focusing up and the story really feels like it gets kicked off. There’s just so much jammed into the first half without any back story given, while the second half is the payoff from all of that which is done in a much more concise and focused way. It feels like this could have been a 3 hour movie instead of a 2 hour one.

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We Own the Night has an excellent cast, which is another reason that drew me to this movie. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most powerful actors working today and he gets some really excellent scenes to show just how talented he is. Eva Mendes also gives one of her better performances, and Robert Duvall gives a very subtle yet sincere performance as Bobby and Joseph’s father. Now we come to Mark Wahlberg. I’d love to say he did great in this film since he is a fine actor, but he doesn’t get to do a damn thing. For a huge portion of the movie, he isn’t even in it, but when he is, he’s either berating his brother or sitting around in his office. When he finally does get to go out into the field, he still doesn’t do anything. I haven’t seen a character wasted like this in a really long time, and no other such egregious instances comes to mind in recent memory.

What really saves this movie from falling into the deepest pits of mediocrity are some scenes that show what James Gray is really capable of. One scene towards the beginning of the movie shows one of the most realistic depictions of street violence I’ve seen in a movie. It’s shocking and gut wrenching in its realism. Speaking of gut wrenching, there’s a car chase later on that is so un-cinematic and all the more intense for it. There’s minimal music in this scene and most of the action takes place inside one car with the the other action and sound just what can be seen and heard through the windows and the torrential rain. There’s a handful of other great scenes as well that really bolster this movie up higher.

I wanted to like We Own the Night a lot more than I did. It has all the makings of being a great movie, but the plot and tone can be so uneven and a potentially important and interesting character is completely wasted. While some of the pieces don’t fit very well, there are still some really memorable scenes and very good performances by the actors whose characters actually get to do some stuff. I was looking for a movie that was going to hopefully sit with the greats in the crime subgenre, but what I got was a movie that was a little frustrating and failed at reaching its true potential.

Final Grade: B-

The Accountant – Review

23 Oct

I’m pretty excited to finally get to writing this review because this is a movie that I have been super excited for since I first saw the trailer. I’m always ready to see new and original movies, and The Accountant falls into that category perfectly. It’s worth noting, however, that the marketing for this movie paints it out to be an action thriller that features Ben Affleck kicking all sorts of ass. While this does happen, this is more of a complex character study with a huge mystery at its core. That’s something I didn’t think I wanted, but I’m really pleased that this movie offers something a lot more complicated and thought provoking than something more straight forward.

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Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) may seem like an average small town accountant on the surface, be he is much more than that. Suffering from a severe form of autism has made Wolff very aware of patterns and numbers, which makes him the perfect candidate to un-cook books of high level criminals and businessmen. After being hired by a large corporation called Living Robotics and finding major discrepancies in their books, both Wolff and an association of the company, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), are being sought after by mysterious hitmen led by a man known only as The Assassin (Jon Bernthal). As Wolff begins to hunt down the parties responsible, the director of financial crimes at the Treasury Department, Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), and a new hire, Medina (Cynthia Abbai-Robinson), start their own hunt to find the mysterious accountant and bring him to justice.

In the beginning of this movie, we see a young Christian Wolff putting together a puzzle that’s been flipped over so he can’t see the picture. To me, that’s a perfect allegory for The Accountant. The story is deliberately told in a way that it’s impossible to see the entire picture without all of the pieces coming together. This can make the plot kind of frustrating at times because we’re left in the dark about so much as the story jumps between flashbacks and action happening in the present. It’s definitely a movie that I’m going to have to watch again to really get the full picture. I was really surprised with the level of complexity the story has and the unorthodox way that director Gavin O’Connor and writer Bill Dubuque told it. That’s the best way I think I can describe this movie: surprisingly unorthodox.

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With all the mystery surrounding the Wolff and certain side characters, there really isn’t a whole lot of time for action, despite what the marketing campaign wanted people to believe. Most of the movie focuses on laying clues as to who the accountant is and how he got to be who he is. That being said, when this movie turns up the action, it really turns it up. The action never goes over the top nor does it ever seem like none of it could only happen in the movies. It’s all very grounded and happens very quickly which means if you blink, you may miss something. It was a really smart way to handle the violence and more exciting scenes. Never does it overshadow the bigger point of the movie and never do you find yourself getting lost in what could have been mind numbing action.

I can’t talk about The Accountant and not dive into the character of Christian Wolff, who might be my favorite character of the entire year. There’s so much to this guy when it comes to his history, motivations, and skills. From the very first trailer, I had to know who this guy was and see him in action, and Ben Affleck does a great job at bringing this character to life. I never thought Affleck had much charisma in his acting, which makes him a perfect choice to play a subdued character like this. Every small tick or deadpan line of dialogue is done really well and makes Wolff into a much more believable and realized character. If you don’t get grabbed by this character, there is something seriously wrong with you and you should probably just stop watching movies.

Despite some odd pacing choices and a plot that is occasionally frustrating, The Accountant is a very satisfying and surprisingly unique story. Ben Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career and really succeeded at bringing this troubled character to life. The cast is great, the writing is unorthodox, and O’Connor’s direction just brings it all together perfectly. Just be warned that you can’t leave your brain at the door for this one.

Final Grade: A-

Con Air – Review

17 Oct

When I think of the first R-rated movies I ever saw, my mind goes to the same two. The first that comes to mind is Gladiator and the second is Con Air. Two very different movies, yet they both have a special spot in the heart of this overly sentimental film geek. I actually haven’t seen Con Air in a really long time, so I had this fear that it would be nowhere near as great as I remember it being. So, I put it on and hoped for the best. What I got isn’t nearly as spectacular as I remembered it being, but it’s certainly an acceptable and memorable action fest that could’ve used a few more brain cells amongst other things.

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Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) has just finished serving his country as an Army Ranger and is celebrating his return with his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter). That night, Poe gets into a fight with a couple of bar patrons and accidentally kills one of them in self defense. Because of his extensive military training, he is deemed a human weapon and sentenced to 8 years in prison for manslaughter. After quietly serving his time in prison, he’s finally paroled and ready to be reunited with his wife and his daughter whom he has never met. Poe, along with some other inmates getting transferred board the transport plane, which doesn’t get too far until it is high jacked by the psychotic criminal Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and his crew. With U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) fighting on the ground to get the plane back, Poe is left to his own devices on the plane to stop Cyrus from using the plane to gain his own freedom, while also staying alive long enough to get home and see his family.

Like I said, I have very fond memories of watching this movie when I was younger, and while it still has some elements of being a guilty pleasure, I’ve noticed a lot of weird things that I really dislike about it. Before we get to them, I’d like to something I really like about the movie. The cast of Con Air is fantastic. Other than the names I’ve already mentioned there’s also Danny Trejo, Dave Chapelle, Colm Meaney, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi. All of these actors do a fine job in their roles, with Buscemi bringing a really creepy performance as a Jeffrey Dahmer like serial killer that has disturbed me ever since I first saw this movie. The real scene stealer, though, is John Malkovich as Cyrus. Cyrus the Virus has remained one of my favorite screen villains, and this viewing of the movie still holds that opinion to be true. He just oozes with over the top villainy, and it’s so easy and fun to hate this character. I honestly feel like Malkovich is the only person that could’ve played this role, which is odd because it feels so out of place from what he usually does.

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So while the majority of the cast is really fantastic, there are parts of this movie that are so distractingly terrible, they pull me out of the movie and makes me think twice about what I’m watching. For one thing, I can’t get into Nicolas Cage’s character even though he’s the hero of the movie. There are scenes of his ridiculous long hair blowing in the wind and some really awful lines of dialogue that are so bad, it almost isn’t even funny. But I really can’t totally fault Nicolas Cage for this. Despite what many people think, Cage is a fine actor and has proven so in the past. Con Air isn’t quite a shining point in his filmography. I’d much rather blame the writers for most of the cringe inducing moments. Let’s just say that Con Air is one of those movies that you can only show to the closest of friends in order to save yourself massive amounts of embarrassment, solely because of all the awkwardness and corny dialogue.

Honestly, that one paragraph doesn’t really do justice to the amount of negativity that I would have towards this movie if it wasn’t for some really badass action sequences. The fact that a lot of this movie takes place on a plane is enough for plenty of set pieces, but there’s great sequences on the ground as well. Add in an element of time sensitivity, and you got yourself some suspense filled and memorable action scenes. There’s plenty of explosions and gunplay, but what really makes these parts so great are the maniacal villains and their psychopathic nature. There’s plenty of stand out scenes, and it’s funny to say that Con Air was nominated for an Academy Award for its sound design. It’s an example of really well constructed moments of mayhem, and these parts save the movie from being a complete flop.

The bottom line is that Con Air didn’t hold up quite as well as it did when I was a kid. I remember all of the characters and the action to their full potential, but I simply didn’t realize how awful some of the writing was. Now that I have more experience with film and how real people talk in real life, I know awful writing when I hear it, and this film is filled with it. As an action movie, it’s memorable for many different reasons, and it’s arguably a good escape from the real world. Objectively, however, it’s got so much going against it that the whole experience can feel kind of awkward.

Final Grade: C+

Hell or High Water – Review

30 Aug

One of my favorite movies of 2015 was a film called Sicario. It took an interesting look at the moral ambiguities that are a part of controlling the actions of the Mexican cartels on the American side of the border. It was a perfectly paced and beautifully shot film. As excellent as director Denis Villeneuve did on that film, the writer was the star of the show, and that writer was Taylor Sheridan, an actor who decided to try his hand at screenwriting. It payed off wonderfully, and now we have his sophomore effort titled Hell or High Water. I’ve seen a lot of really good movies this year, but none of them have reached the heights in terms of film making and storytelling that is seen in Hell or High Water. As of right now, I have to say that this may be one of, if not the best movie of the year.

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Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two brothers who are desperate to stop their family farm from being foreclosed. Their last resort is to begin a chain of bank robberies to raise money to pay off the loan that was unfairly designated by the banks. Of course, this is a very illegal solution, and therefore catches the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a tough as nails officer who wants one last successful case before he packs everything in and retires. What Hamilton doesn’t understand about these two brothers is just how desperate they are to save the one thing their family has to care for and make money with. This begins a chase through many different towns to find justice, but the question remains if the brothers are the ones to suffer the long arm of the law.

This film is directed by a guy named David Mackenzie, and I have to admit that I’ve never seen another one of his movies so I have no basis to really judge him or the rest of his work. I will say, if it’s anything like Hell or High Water, I’d love to check it out. This is a beautiful looking film, and it’s clear that Mackenzie went in with a very clear vision of how this movie should look. From the very first scene I was hooked by the expressive camera movement and the way it helped tell the story. Credit also has to be given to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens for the work he did with Mackenzie to make this film look so beautiful. There are scenes on southern highways with fields that are on fire or being completely destroyed in the search of oil, and with Mackenzie’s and Nuttgens’ talents it is made to look like a portrait of a dystopian America. Add Nick Cave’s and Warren Ellis’ creeping score to all this and you’ve got yourself something really special.

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One of the first things that intrigued me about this movie was the cast. It’s hard to choose just one protagonist, but the one that really sticks out as the main character is Toby, played by Chris Pine. I really only know Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek movies, so I didn’t have too high expectations for him. That being said I was surprised by his performance and confidence in his character. It’s a more subtle performance than everyone else’s, but it’s just what the movie and the character needed to really work. I have a firm belief that Ben Foster is one of the most underrated actors working today. Every movie I’ve seen him in, even if I didn’t like the movie, I could never say anything bad about Foster. He brings his A-game once again in Hell or High Water, and it didn’t take long for him to become my favorite character in the movie. Finally, Jeff Bridges brings a lot of depth to the character of Marcus Hamilton. He’s a confident but melancholy character who hides behind insults and racism when that confidence falters. All of these character complexities and idiosyncrasies are brought out by the fine actors, but if it wasn’t for the writer, this movie wouldn’t be what it is.

That’s what brings us to the real star of the show, and that person is Taylor Sheridan. Like I said before, I loved his screenplay for Sicario and Hell or High Water is a perfect way to follow up the success of his first film. On the surface, this film works as a great neo-western filled with excellent characters and a screenplay that is paced very well. It’s not so slow that it gets boring but it’s not so fast that you don’t have any time to think. There’s so much more going on beneath the surface than a tale of bank robberies in small Texas towns. Like SicarioHell or High Water uses this story as a cautionary tale about racism, poverty, corrupt banks, big business, and even more abstract ideas like self worth and family. There’s so much to be discussed after seeing this movie that it would be impossible just to talk about the story and not about the different themes and motifs that shine throughout the film. I can’t wait to see more from Sheridan.

I’ve seen a lot of great movies this year, and at first I thought The Jungle Book was going to stay in the number one spot for my favorite movie of 2016. Now we have a new champion. Hell or High Water is without a doubt the best movie I’ve seen all year so far. The characters are rich, the actors are completely in touch with their roles, the film is just beautiful to look at, and Sheridan’s screenplay is going to have to be a contender for Best Screenplay come Oscar season. This is a movie about an era, a place, and people desperate to survive. If you only see one movie this year, make it Hell or High Water.

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.

ARMS AND THE DUDES

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.