Category Archives: War

War Dogs

Warface

Director Todd Phillips has called Jonah Hill’s Character a “Tony Soprano” type but I think it would be more accurate to call him a “Tony Montana” type.

I mean look at the poster – it’s practically the same as Scarface’s poster. In the film Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) has a huge poster of Al Pacino wielding an M16 that can only be titled “Say hello to my little fwiend”.

Look a little deeper and the parallels are equally as visible because War Dogs is a film all about one man’s greed and how his quest for control get’s in the way of friends family and business. I’m actually surprised they didn’t just call it Scarf-face or Warface and have done with it.

That’s probably a little harsh because War Dogs is a much lighter film. For one it doesn’t have people being chainsawed in a bathtub – oops spoiler alert for a 30-year-old film.

War Dogs is actually told through the eyes of David Packouz (Miles Teller). David is rightly fed up with his life as a masseuse to the Miami’s rich and famous who are searching for a happy ending. David bumps into Efraim and get’s whisked up into the arms dealing business.

Right at the start of the film price tags start popping against posing US soldiers and David’s voice-over tells us how lucrative even the smaller items of gear is. This scene sets a tone for a film that will educate the viewer in something important.

When you consider this film is based on the real events of two young men who kind of blagged their way to a $300 million government contract during the Iraq War you’d expect there to be a scathing critique about penny pinching to fund the army or the willingness of government officials to look the other way when it comes to arms dealing. This is not the case.

If you look at Lord of War in comparison you’ll notice how gaping this lack of commentary is within War Dogs but that’s not what the film is about; it’s all about the people.

I was a bit concerned that Miles Teller was going to be damaged goods after the abysmal Fantastic Four but he’s not. He’s actually really engaging in the starring role and perfectly fits the bill as a man who is in over his head and struggling to keep his marriage working.

On the other hand is Jonah Hill. Hill’s most notable trait is a brilliant laugh that sounds like a cross between a nervous chuckle and parrot squeezing out a fart. When he’s not laughing he’s playing someone who pretends to be what everyone else wants him to be.

This character trait gives Hill the opportunity to show his range and keeps you guessing whether you like him or not throughout the film.

One member of the cast I didn’t particularly like was Bradley Cooper. Cooper plays Henry Girard, a legendary arms dealer and an intermediary in the big deal. Cooper seems too clean cut for this role, too suave. The very fact that it was Bradley Cooper took me out of the film and I think this role would be better suited for someone less famous.

Overall War Dogs lacks any important message that will make this a memorable classic. That said, there is room for films to function solely as entertainment, especially when they are  fun and well paced like this. To quote Scarface; every dog has his day.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ That laugh
+ A good slice of entertainment
+ Good range from Jonah Hill


– Bradley Cooper
– Starts like it means to say something. Never says it.
– Unsure how true the events really are

Stars_3_5

Child 44

Send This One to the Gulag

Child 44 is based on a book which, amazingly, is called Child 44 and this is where it’s downfalls stem from.

The film actually reminds me of Cloud Atlas in this respect. The film tries to capture all the key points of the story but obviously can’t depict some of the minor details that actually pull the story together into a coherent piece of work. In short, I had little idea what was going on in the film.

Perhaps if you understand a lot about the political and social climate of 1950’s Russia as well as the geographical locations of many Russian cities but I guess I fell asleep in that class at school.

The film starts off stating something about the Ukraine and then cuts to a young Tom Hardy running away from an orphanage. So was he from the Ukraine? Never found that out. He then joins the army and the next thing we know is he is working for the ‘police’ where he just rounds up people that Stalin doesn’t like. Unfortunately for them they are always guilty. How and why he gets to this point is again left in a medium sized void which renders the first 20 mins virtually irrelevant.

That said, it’s at this point that the film starts to pick up as one of the supposed spies that Hardy has to investigate is his own wife played by Noomi Rapace. When Hardy defends is wife they are exiled and not killed, thanks to his reputation, to a remote part of Russia where the relationship starts to fray.

Oh wait, Hardy’s friend’s son is also murdered and his old colleague has taken Hardy’s place… you know what, fuck this, I’m even bored of describing such a disjointed plot so you must be bored reading.

On the note of murder; murder doesn’t exist in Stalin’s utopia. Of course, it does, but suggesting it does means a date night with a blindfold, a high powered rifle and a cleanup squad so everyone is scared to speak out and this is actually where the film excels. It does a great job of creating a really oppressive atmosphere dripping with paranoia. This helps to cast a question of who, if anyone, is trustworthy but even so it cannot save the misgivings of a plot that is simply better suited to being an episodic TV show.

Another aspect of the film that, if you are like me, will start to annoy you is the inconsistent accents. Hardy is actually very good but Rapace in particular seems to flit between British, French and Russian accents, which left me just wanting her to be like a child: seen and not heard.

The chemistry between Hardy and Repace is ok but really isn’t helped by the storyline that does little to build on the idea that Repace is unhappy with Hardy and spends too little time to develop where this goes.

So I’ve thrown a lot of words on e-paper but I still haven’t even got to the main plot line of the film. There is a child killer on the loose and Hardy wants to catch him – his friend’s son being one of the victims. The most victims were found halfway between Moscow and Volsk which is probably where I lost you, Volsk?  What is a Volsk and how many is halfway? The film spends so long on all other plot points that again the killer and murders become underdeveloped and hollow. In fact the main point of the film really only get’s going about an hour into the film leaving very little time to develop what could have been an excellent thriller.

Near the end of the film we find out that apparently the killer knows who Hardy is but good luck finding out. We can only assume that he was in the same orphange? Is this why the killer has psychotic episodes and self abasement? We can only assume.

I love films that leave questions; Inception being a stellar example of this, but this film left too many questions. Although atmospheric and well shot the sporadic nature of the plot is a such a hindrance that unless you have read the book it’s probably best to spend your money on some Russian geopgraphy lessons… or Vodka.

Go See

  • Atmospherically great
  • Tom Hardy is good as ever
  • Good visual aesthetic

Avoid

  • Factured plot lines makes it hard to get invested in the film
  • Questionable accents
  • Does a poor job of world building

Overall

1-5-stars

Unbroken

Ego Trippin’

“Be Moved” is Sony’s current corporate slogan but I’m thinking that “Be Hacked” might be a more worthy mantra.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about their recent hacking woes because of the film about assassinating North Korea’s leader: The Interview. Part of that hacked material were internal emails claiming that Angelina Jolie is “a minimally talented spoiled brat” with a “rampaging ego”. Egotistical spoilt brat she may be but minimally talented? Let’s find out.

Unbroken is her directorial debut and is one that certainly doesn’t pull any punches. If you haven’t heard anything about it; the film is based on a true story and is centered around Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) an unruly dropout kid who ends up being rather brilliant at running. He becomes a high school track star and even runs in 1936 Berlin olympics. Louis’ dream is to win a medal in the forthcoming Tokyo olympics in 1940 but the outbreak of world war 2 sees him drafted in as a aircraft bombardier. After his Plane goes down, presumably somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, he is captured and becomes a Japanese prisoner of war.

What’s great about the film is that you really aren’t sure if he is going to live or die. The film could easily be tales recanted by those who knew him or it could be his auto-biography. The film achieves this by having frequent aspects of danger thrown at Louis’ life and this also helps to keep the pace of the film always moving. Whilst this was quite a long film it never felt boring or slow but neither did it ever particularly zip along.

I realise the film is meant to be about Louis but part of this world is his relationship with fellow officer Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and this is one of the areas where the film falls down. Jack’s chemistry with almost all of his fellow compatriots doesn’t have enough time to properly gel and there isn’t even instant chemistry to make you believe that he and Phil are best friends. This is a trend that continues with the other POWs he meets along the way.

I’m really happy to see Jack O’Connell playing a lead role because I think he is an excellent actor. I missed the chance to ’71 – his last film as a lead role – but was impressed with him Starred Up. Both of those films are gritty and brutal and it’s nice to see a softer side to O’Connell; a quiet, introspective, performance that is the antithesis of Starred Up proves that he has range as an actor if nothing else.

Another standout performance was that of Takamasa Ishihara who plays Watanabe; the captain at the POW camp. Watanabe is clearly psychotic and most likely a sadist as he seems to enjoy beating up the POWs and as mentioned above the film doesn’t pull any punches in this respect. There is a cold glint in Ishihara’s eyes that screams the same traits as Watanabe’s listed above and weirdly the chemistry between Ishihara and O’Connell is probably the one that has the most spark. This really helps you get invested in both these two integral characters.

Angelina Jolie could quite easily have slipped down the “Murica! Fuck yeah!” route but thankfully manages to avoid making the sweeping connotation that all Japanese people are pitiless brutes lacking any sort of remorse. One scene does show an unknown civilian part of Japan that is now lying in ruins which again helps to keep neutral balance of good vs evil which in turn keeps the focus on the individual characters in the film.

The climax of the film is the lifting of the beam, which is the image on the poster of the film. Without going to much into detail for fear of spoilers the scene is both heart-warming and saddening at the same time.

Whilst the story is hugely compelling and the acting is on point for the majority of the cast this well shot directorial debut is not without it’s faults. The main criticism here is the editing where shots seem to linger too long or be cut too short all too often. It’s often jarring.

Furthermore the narrative structure is disjointed. The start of the film leads with modern day interspersed with flashbacks of Louis’ past. This is fine on it’s own, after all there are numerous examples of films utilising broken chronology to build a film, but this story telling method stops after 30 minutes so the feel of the start of the film is totally different to the middle and end which spends all of 20 seconds in a brief flashback for the rest of the film.

I’m not sure if it was the disjointed approach or just a rather undramatic action scene at the start of the film but I was starting to wonder if this would be 2 hours of wasted time. Thankfully things really start picking up when Louis’s plane crashes.

Considering it’s Jolie’s first film in the director’s chair it’s a very good debut. Sure it’s not without it’s faults but its something that can easily be addressed in future films. Whether Jolie really is egotistical I couldn’t tell you but this moving and touching piece on Louis Zamperini’s life clearly shows that Jolie’s talent is far greater than minimal.

Go See

  • Moving and touching true story
  • The beam lift scene
  • Jack O’Connell

Avoid

  • Poor editing
  • Lacking chemistry between some of the characters
  • Starts a bit dull

Overall

4-stars

Fury

Americans Pitt-ed against the Germans

Good news! Sam Whitwicky isn’t in this movie. Unlike most people I actually enjoyed the Transformers movies but I can totally understand why people find Shia Labeouf annoying.

That typecast role of the fast talking, geek-chic adulteen is so far removed from the role he plays in this film that you will easily forget that it really is him in the movie… After all he has a moustache!

Now that fear has been put to bed on with the rest of the film. Fury is actually the name of the tank operated by Don Collier (Brad Pitt), Boyd Swan (Shia Labeouf), Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trinidad Garcia (Michael Peña) and a new recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). Realistically that should sell you on this movie alone.

It opens up like it’s a film based on real life events although immediately it offends my British sensibilities by stating that the Americans had suffered huge losses at the hands of the Germans almost as if they were the only two countries involved in the second world war.

Still, that soon passes and we are treated to a rather gritty portrayal of the war. I mean this film really doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to violence and gore but in my opinion it leans too heavily on shock value and not enough on the emotional trauma of loosing friends and countrymen. Death is dealt with in a fleeting moment of heads or legs exploding and an ‘oh well, on to the next dude’.

That said the films main focus isn’t so much about the set pieces – although these are thrilling in themselves – as it is the camaraderie within the tank itself. You might think that a film that has 70% of its footage filmed in or on a tank might get boring very quickly but there is variation and a decent enough pacing to avoid this. Furthermore it is clear that the cast spent a long time together as the chemistry between them is really good.

The stars of the film are unquestionably Shia Labeouf as the quiet god fearing gunner, Logan Lerman as the new recruit who is forced into the cruelties of war and Jon Bernthal as the token abrasive redneck.

Whilst the character traits of these three are beautifully realised it is often hard to hear the dialogue. Partly because of canons and gunfire but partly because Jon Bernthal’s accent is thicker than organic peanut butter.

The subtext of Logan Lerman’s initiation in to the rest of the crew’s clique is an interesting one and for the most part it’s believable as Brad Pitt mentors and fathers the green recruit. This plot device is a little rushed though because at the end of the film he has lost any semblance of his past conscience and is merrily gunning down the enemy with gay abandon.

By the end of the film you are desensitised to seeing people’s heads popping but that isn’t the endings only downfall. The whole film is set out to be like that of a true story yet the final battle is like something out of Commando as the squad mows down Nazis by the hundreds whilst being as bulletproof as James Bond. It’s too much.

When you mix that with some shoddy dialogue: “I want to surrender”, “Please don’t.  They’ll hurt you real bad, and they’ll kill you real bad” the ending becomes a bit of a disappointment but not enough to make you… furious… that you paid money to sit through it in the first place.

Go See

  • Shia Moustachioed Man
  • Tank battles are well done
  • Good chemistry between actors

Avoid

  • Gore for the sake of gore
  • Hollywood ending doesn’t match the rest of the film
  • “Hurt de gurr harp durp” – Nope couldn’t understand that line.

Overall

4-stars