Tag Archives: greed

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.

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The Night of the Hunter – Review

22 Apr

I’m not the biggest fan of movies from the 1950s just because the majority of the ones that I’ve seen are kind of straightforward, especially compared to the dark and gritty noir films of the 1930s and 1940s. However, one movie from the 1950s really sticks out when it comes to style and storytelling. This is Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Taking inspiration from both German Expressionism and D.W. Griffith’s silent films, Laughton created a movie that may have been a bit too much at the time, but is now regarded as a horror/thriller classic.

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When family man Ben Harper (Peter Graves) is thrown in prison for robbery and murder, he meets a preacher by the name of Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). He tells Powell of the thousands of dollars he stole and how it is hidden somewhere on his property. After Ben’s execution, Powell quickly proceeds to woo and wed Ben’s widow Willa (Shelley Winters). Everyone quickly falls for the charm and eloquence of Powell, but Ben’s son John (Billy Chapin) knows better. When John makes his move to get his little sister, the money, and himself away from their new stepfather, Powell goes on a rampage of violence that won’t stop until he has the money.

Recently when I reviewed The Tenant, I mentioned that it was an example of how horror should be, and I have the same exact thing to say about The Night of the Hunter, but for completely different reasons. This entire movie feels like a dream from childhood that haunts you for the rest of your life. Harry Powell is as much a boogie man as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Freddie Kreuger, but even more so since he is seen through the eyes of a child. Anyone who tells me that the hymn Powell is constantly singing while being shot from afar entirely in silhouette isn’t at least a little scary is lying. Simply put, he’s one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time.

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Upon its initial release, this film did horribly both with critics and audiences alike, and that shows how ahead of its time the movie was, especially since we are able to fully appreciate it now. Laughton drew a lot of inspiration from D.W. Griffith’s silent films and early German Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Just looking at the picture above, you can see all the shadows and how the room seems distorted. There’s also a great scene where two children stand in front of houses that are obviously painted. This is an extremely odd looking, but beautiful movie, which reinforces what I say when it feels like a nightmare you would have as a small child. The over the top style combined with the fact that its about a preacher threatening to kill children while murdering women for money is pretty polarizing, especially for being made in the 1950s.

I can’t go through this review without drooling all over Robert Mitchum’s out of this world performance as Harry Powell, or even just drooling over how well written the character actually is. I said before that he is one of the best villains in movie history, and I say that with complete confidence. Mitchum was known before this as playing a cool sort of hero/antihero, but Powell is over the top and memorable for that reason. He’s manipulative but at the same time a cowardly weasel who has no problem running from a fight with someone as big as he is. He targets to children for heaven’s sake. Mitchum nails this crazy character with every aspect from his performance from his steadily escalating voice to the eerily perfect posture he has throughout the movie.

The Night of the Hunter is one of the most memorable, haunting, and beautifully shot movies you will probably ever see and it’s amazing how it was so negatively received when it was first released. Unfortunately, Laughton would never direct another film and died only a few years later in the early 1960s. This is a horror movie that comes straight from a child’s worst nightmares that will still haunt an adult of any age. It’s an amazing horror film from the 1950s that inspired film makers from David Lynch to Spike Lee to the Coen Brothers.

Outrage – Review

25 Apr

Over the years, Japanese film maker/actor Takeshi Kitano has proved that he has what it takes to hang with the most elite crime film makers. I’d like to think of him as the Martin Scorsese of Japan. He’s done a lot of work with Yakuza stories, but has more recently branched out into other genres like romance and comedy. With Outrage, Kitano showed a return to form with a tale of violence and betrayal that takes place with break neck speed. Outrage is a fine piece of film making, although I felt like I was experiencing cinematic whip lash by the time the credits began to roll.

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Partnerships aren’t very simple if you’re a member of the Yakuza. Ikemoto (Jun Kunimura) made peace with and decided to become associates with rival Yakuza gang leader Murase (Renji Ishibashi) while they were in prison. Now that they are out, things don’t seem like they are going to pan out quite like they had in mind. Sekiuchi (Soichiro Kitamura), boss of the Sanno-kai family orders Ikemoto to sever all ties and completely wipe out Murase’s family. This task is quickly handed down to Ikemoto’s violent, yet surprisingly calm subordinate, Otomo (Beat Takeshi aka Takeshi Kitano). All out war erupts and no one can trust their closest allies, as betrayals and double crossings take over the criminal underworld.

Prepare to be very confused. I know I was. This movie hits the ground sprinting and doesn’t stop until the last frame of the movie. Calling this movie slow is like calling Charles Manson sane. This speed works both to the advantage and disadvantage of the movie. The advantage was that I was never bored. I had to really try my best to keep up with all the characters and their motivations, which seemed to change very often. The disadvantage is that the movie felt sloppy at certain points. Some of the characters remained sorely undeveloped, so when a scene involving their demise came about, it felt empty. Sometimes it’s best to slow down and let the audience latch onto a character, and really get to understand what makes them tick.

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Then again, who ever said the criminal underworld was simple? I respect the movie for not holding the viewer’s hand and guiding them from point A to point B. Outrage demands your full attention, and if you let it slide for just a minute, you might have a lot to catch up on. Perhaps it would have been nicer for the film to be longer. Think of if Casino was only an hour and forty minutes, but still had every plot point in it. That would feel really crammed. When I did find myself getting lost or agitated, there was something that would rope me right back in and realize that this is a good movie, you just have to get used to it. These scenes I’m talking about were normally quick pieces of brutality, but sometimes it was just a funny character or situation. That’s another good point about Outrage. Kitano injects it with a very dry and cynical sense of humor.

It’s interesting to see a lot of American gangster films and then switch over to another culture and see their take on it. There’s something unique about Yakuza films that really tickle my fancy. Their organized crime culture seems so different, yet at the same time, so similar. There’s stories of greed and violence, but set in a different place with different rules. Sometimes it was a little hard to keep track of the different families and who belonged on which side because the hierarchal structure of their syndicates and families is different than the ones shown in American gangster films. Still, it’s an fun experience to compare and contrast these cultures.

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To me, Outrage wasn’t disappointing, but it wasn’t quite exactly what I wanted either. The speed of the movie is relentless which causes some major problems in its storytelling, but the entire picture that it paints is really cool. There is no real main character to speak of. One may argue that Kitano’s character is the main character, but not all of the action really focuses around him. It’s more of a conglomeration of many different characters and how their motives clash and cause violence to erupt in a wonderfully bloody fashion. Definitely give this movie a watch. I know I’ll watch it again. I still can’t put this on a list of best gangster movies, and I can’t even call it great. It’s a respectable film, nonetheless.