Writer: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin, Jason Smilovic
Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper
Release date: August 18th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 114 minutes
Best part: Hill and Teller’s chemistry.
Worst part: The derivative structure.
Director Todd Phillips exists in the same realm as Michael Bay and Zack Snyder. He began his career with adult-comedies Old School and Road Trip before delivering smash hit The Hangover. However, with the Hangover sequels and Due Date, his career fell over. Now, he’s back with something completely different and exactly the same.
War Dogs provides more meat to chew on than his earlier works. This docudrama, black comedy, war, crime flick chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most baffling true stories. Based on Guy Lawson’s Rolling Stone article and book – Arms and the Dudes – its follows twenty-something layabout David Packouz (Miles Teller) being put through the ringer. David is a disappointment – spending maximum time smoking pot and tending to rich clients as a massage therapist. After quitting his job, his one-man bed sheet business fails spectacularly. At an old friend’s funeral, he reunites with former partner in crime Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Diveroli is also a pot-smoking loud mouth. However, he is also a gunrunner/arms contractor for start-up AEY with ties to the US Government and troops overseas.
War Dogs resembles a blender with all-too-familiar ingredients thrown together. This sloppy and inconsistent mess is slow-moving-car-crash fascinating. Phillips, evidently, idolises Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers. Similarly to Bay’s 2013 sleeper hit Pain and Gain, it’s an assortment of excessive visual flourishes and questionable decisions. With any docudrama, ethics and moral quandaries come into play. Phillips – along with two other screenwriters – beef everything up for cinema purposes. The frat-boy humour and serious material never congeal. It follows the rise and fall narrative structure at every turn. Of course, the first half depicts the dynamic duo’s transformation from slackers to successes. Phillips becomes indulgent, even borrowing whole sequences from The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas and Boiler Room.
Compared to the genre’s aforementioned big-hitters, War Dogs struggles to keep up. Phillips floats between admiring and despising the lead characters. Seriously, what does his movie say about these events? Does it salute young entrepreneurs slipping through the cracks? Or condemn Cheney’s America and the military-industrial complex? Nevertheless, he makes no apologies for their behaviour. Packouz, despite being the audience avatar, starts off as an unlikable schmuck and gets worse. He either blindly follows his crazy business partner or lies to his pregnant girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas). Despite the first half’s many fun moments, the second trudges towards the predictable dénouement. If anything, it proves Teller and Hill are charismatic enough to escape with their reputations in tact.
War Dogs is the gym junkie of rise-and-fall movies – tough and mean with little depth. Phillips’ latest places him on thin ice. This, essentially his version of a ‘serious’ effort, is The Social Network and The Big Short evil, immature brother.
Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader
Release date: August 11th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The stellar cast.
Worst part: The racial stereotypes.
Writer/director/producers…actor…Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made some of Hollywood’s most controversial gross-out comedies. Superbad explored teenage sexual angst, This is the End skewered Rogen and his friends’ fame, and The Interview almost kicked off World War III by pissing off North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. So, What next?
How about an animated sex-comedy about food? Sure, why not. Now, Sony will let them get away with anything. Sadly, Sausage Party proves studio notes and executive decisions are sometimes worthwhile. The movie’s plot is bizarre and simplistic. Hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend – hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) – live next to one another in grocery store Shopwell’s. Frank, alongside fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), believes they will be chosen by the gods, taken to ‘The Great Beyond’ and set free. However, the plan goes awry after an argument with feminine hygiene product Douche (Nick Kroll) leads to a spill, and mass casualties, in the isles. Frank finds out their situation isn’t as it seems.
Sausage Party and Suicide Squad are part of one of 2016’s most irritating trends. Both, featuring wholly predictable plots and characters, are covered in a nasty, immature allure catering to cheap desires. They also feature unique and interesting premises butchered by abysmal execution. Make no mistake, Sausage Party would have made for a kinetic, cutting short movie. Rogen and Goldberg are talented and interesting enough to know better. The final result leaves much to be desired. It lingers between parody and cheap dig at Pixar. Despite the allure, the basic plot follows Toy Story’s friends-finding-one-another story-line step by step. The twists and turns are wholly predictable and lack depth.
Sausage Party relies on the MA15+ rating and the filmmakers’ sense of humour. The comedy is pitifully hit and miss, relying on expletives and sexual references throughout. Every frame features lazy sex, fart, and weed jokes and food puns. If the first three-quarters weren’t haphazard enough, the finale takes some distressing and demeaning left turns. The movie, nowhere near as smart or interesting as it thinks, delivers a broad commentary on organised religion. The food products, convinced of the gods’ kindness, deliver a loud, brash musical number each morning about their fate. However, after that small splash of genius, we’re given borderline-offensive stereotypes from Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) to angry Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz). Oy vey!
Sure, Sausage Party has a stellar voice cast and neat ideas. It’s clear Rogen and Goldberg had a clear vision from day one. However, their self-indulgence has gone too far. This may be 2016’s biggest disappointment.
Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare
Release date: June 6th, 2014
Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 112 minutes
Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.
Worst part: Some of the wink-and-nudge gags.
Sequels – we love to hate some of them, and hate to love others. The sequel is undoubtedly the most complained-about trope in Hollywood’s bag of tricks. Extending franchises and profit margins, additional instalments are designed to market big-name brands and draw larger audiences to the theatre. However, overcoming this manipulation of brand-name products, the new, gag-fuelled 21 Jump Street franchise has propelled itself above the competition. Continuing this year’s string of ambitious and alluring comedies, 22 Jump Street tickles audiences and studio bean-counters in the right places.
Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.
The 2012 original, based on the kitsch 1980s TV series of the same name, was one of that year’s biggest surprises. Busting out of the gate, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) were given permission to tackle anything Hollywood was willing to give them. Taking on bizarre concepts, these two geniuses have leant their skills to two features in 2014. Their second release, though not as charming or consistent as the first, is still a significant step above most big-budget farces. In the original, our lead characters, after graduating from the police academy, had to go back to high school to infiltrate drug dens and contrasting cliques. Picking up where they left off, Lord and Miller’s latest creation places everything and everyone in the firing line. This time around, our favourite crime-crippling and quirk-fuelled cops, Schmit (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), feel at home in the city they protect. Reinstated to police duty, this partnership is obsessed with making a name for itself. However, their egos nosedive when they’re assigned to follow notorious drug kingpin Ghost (Peter Stormare). After letting Ghost escape their clutches, Schmit and Jenko are thrown to the wolves once again. Conveniently, their ass-kicking unit has moved across the street to, you guess it, 22 Jump Street. Lectured by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), our two rag-tag cops are ordered to do everything they did the first time around to track down a synthetic drug called “WHYPHY”. Schmit and Jenko, known to play by their own rules, must face their toughest assignment yet: fitting in at college.
With 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller were given permission to do anything they wanted. Surprisingly, and efficiently, these joined-at-the-hip filmmakers are retreading old ground. To an outsider reading this review, this might seem tiresome and repulsive. However, this buddy-cop movie fights the biggest villain of all – sequelitis. Lord and Miller, inspired by influential action-comedies and their previous efforts, successfully grapple this sequel’s meta aspects. For the most part, 22 Jumps Street‘s wink-and-nudge gags are refreshing and inventive. From the opening chief-busts-some-balls scene, in which Nick Offerman’s character compares Schmit and Jenko’s new assignment to this instalment’s premise, the movie reflectively takes a stab at its existence, Hill and Tatum’s star power, the budget, and the buddy-cop genre. Not to be outdone, the star-laden cameos, wily plot-twists, and kinetic closing credits sequence bolster this frantic effort. In fact, I dare say this franchise is the worthy successor to the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours series. However, coming close to breaking the fourth wall, some gags fall flatter than Tatum’s ab-zone. Some jokes, pointing out this sequel’s similarities to the original, hammer home the already overbearing message. On top of the movie’s comedic motifs, this sequel’s quaint subplots occasionally belabour the point. With Schmit falling for art student Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko forming a bromance with party-hungry frat-boy Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son), some sequences violently shift the movie’s tone from boisterous, to poignant, then to dour. But hey, as happy-go-lucky cinema-goers, you have a choice between this or A Million Ways to Die in the West (make the right choice, people!). Thankfully, unlike most comedy sequels, 22 Jump Street‘s reoccurring gags work wonders for its hearty subtext. Laughing at its own stupidity, the car chases, wacky villains, and hormone-fuelled settings are welcome ingredients in this potent concoction.
“We Jump Street, and we ’bout to jump in yo ass.” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 22 Jump Street).
Embracing the college lifestyle, 22 Jump Street even skewers its more impressionistic and idiosyncratic conceits. Hurling poetry slams, co-ed bathrooms, and Spring Break into the mix, Schmit and Jenko’s actions and reactions are equally charming. Beyond Hill’s improvised quips and Tatum’s significant physical presence, credit goes to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman for developing this instalment’s pop-culture-savvy and likeable sense of humour. Conquering modern studio-driven comedy’s foibles, this team’s think-outside-the-box technique pays off. In addition, Lord and Miller’s dynamic visual style keeps the audience entertained throughout its appropriate 112-minute run-time. Utilising valuable camera, editing, and sound design tricks, the duo’s enthusiastic and light-hearted direction propels us through the tried-and-true story structure. Some moments, including Schmit and jenko’s preposterous drug-related freak-out, test their unbridled split-screen techniques. Comparing Schmit’s internal struggle to Jenko’s unbridled optimism, this colour-laden sequence delivers major laughs. Of course, Bouncing off their acting strengths and weaknesses, this series would crumble without Hill and Tatum’s immeasurable chemistry. Establishing a polar-opposites-type connection, these leading men deliver charismatic and modest turns in larger-than-life roles. Lending his writing and acting talents to this series, Hill’s quick-witted personality and distinctive physical features elevate his captivating turn. Coming off his second Oscar nomination, this A-lister works well with anyone and anything. Tatum, bolstering his career with the original and Magic Mike, steals the show as the bumbling jock. Establishing his parkour skills and good looks, some scenes play like Tatum’s superhero-saga audition reel.
Reasonably, everyone expected the original and its sequel to bomb spectacularly for different reasons. Judging by how these series’ normally play out, a sorrowful outcome was expected for Lord, Miller, Hill, and Tatum’s passion project. However, emphatically so, this series has overcome incredible odds to out-class and out-gun the competition. Thanks to its meta-narrative, kooky action sequences, and talented lead actors, 22 Jump Street, despite being a highly-anticipated sequel, is one of the year’s biggest surprises.
Verdict: A hysterical and reflexive comedy sequel.
Writer: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (autobiography)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey
Release date: January 23rd, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 180 minutes
Best part: Scorsese’s direction.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.
In reality and fiction, the 21stcentury has delivered several influential and controversial moments, personalities, and conundrums. So far, this century has crafted polarised communities, disgraced political figures, and bizarre celebrities. Despite the past 13 years’ pros and cons, what separates this century from previous ones? It’s simple – the world has significantly expanded. Before I continue divulging into this pressing debate, I’ll link my point back to this century’s cinematic efforts. I’ll do so because, in this case, it matters. Anti-hero characters deliver brutally vile personas and enviable traits.
Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street reach out and grasp optimistic and enthusiastic filmgoers. Throwing punches, they remind us that heroes and villains control reality. In both realms, people continually fend for themselves. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters learn life’s greatest secrets and keep them to themselves. Though most anti-hero stories are fantastical and disarming, we turn to them for inspiration, escapism, and suspense. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy, the movie relishes in absurdities and overarching messages. Tying into modern media’s obsession with controversy and attentiveness, this docudrama examines the 21stcentury’s unique perspectives and promising artistic trends. Reflecting cultural, economic, and social desires, the movie succinctly and engagingly analyses the American Dream’s true power and potential. Unbelievably, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story. The movie chronicles stockbroker-turned-motivational-speaker Jordan Belfort’s rise to power and fall from prominence. Based on Belfort’s best-selling memoir, the movie examines his life story’s unconscionable twists and turns. The movie begins by listing this businessman’s enviable possessions. Comparing elaborate mansions to gorgeous wives and illicit drugs, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is living proof that money does buy happiness. Living the dream, Belfort believes his explicit lifestyle will never end.
The movie jumps back several years, and Belfort is a fresh-faced go-getter. Arriving in New York City via bus, the humble and optimistic youngster strives for stock-market success. On his first day, he becomes infinitely entranced by Wall Street’s immense chaos. Becoming head stockbroker Mark Hanna(Matthew McConaughey)’s protege, Belfort re-structures his pristine image. After a stock-market crash, he applies for a Long Island boiler room dealing specifically in penny stocks. Wowing his co-workers, Belfort becomes an ambitious and zany hotshot. Befriending Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort ambitiously builds penny stock company Stratton Oakmont, Inc. Over time, Belfort, like DiCaprio himself, develops a debaucherous and enviable lifestyle. Despite the company’s blissful ascension in the corporate world, its party-hungry and grotesque stockbrokers threaten to destroy Belfort’s emphatic image. Unquestionably, DiCaprio’s infatuation with the material is gleefully ironic and playful. With DiCaprio being a relentless womaniser and acting titan, Wolf of Wall Street‘s Meta shades ring alarmingly true. DiCaprio’s involvement, defined by a bidding war over the rights, injects tangibility and gravitas into the uncompromising narrative. Eventually, Belfort, despite being married, befriends and seduces Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). Despite the extravagant lifestyle and conquering business, Belfort’s overwhelming existence hits several obstacles. Fortunately, thanks to a raucous opening scene, this perplexing docudrama immediately kicks into gear. We, as hyper-aware filmgoers, witness wealthy actors playing destructive and stupefying characters. This relentless black comedy elevates 2013’s anti-hero trend (American Hustle, Spring Breakers, Pain & Gain). Thanks to its blind-siding tendencies and attention to detail, The Wolf of Wall Street delivers intriguing surprises, laugh-out-loud lines, and baffling set-pieces.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, & John Bernthal.
Obviously, director Martin Scorsese is responsible for the movie’s significant quality. Scorsese is, unquestionably, modern Hollywood’s greatest director. As an A-list celebrity and film aficionado, Scorsese is a commendable individual. Beyond these traits, his multi-layered and memorable filmography is worth flicking through. Scorsese’s works – whether they’re stone cold classics (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), moody dramas (Bringing out the Dead), thrillers (Cape Fear), or charming adventure flicks (Hugo) – continually bolster cinema’s reputation. Here, Scorsese returns to his effervescent best. Scorsese, striving for laughs and exhilarating moments, returns to the crime-drama and black comedy genres. Reminiscent of Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street celebrates ludicrous behaviour, temptation, brotherhood, and honour. Despite his characters’ disgusting behaviour, Scorsese insistently examines the anti-hero mindset. Separating traditional and modern anti-hero tropes, the movie never displays the victim’s perspective. Despite Scorsese’s impressive aura, his 21stcentury efforts are startlingly hit (The Departed, The Aviator) and miss (Gangs of New York, Shutter Island). Ably balancing appropriateness and accuracy, this exhilarating dramedy fuses visual stimulus, relevance, and edge. Receiving criticism for The Wolf of Wall Street‘s moral and ethical dexterity, Scorsese’s attention to detail, nuanced style, and confronting perspectives outweigh the movie’s ethical conundrums. Scorsese deliberates on the economic downturn, US government, and capitalism. Here, consequences are obliterated by Belfort’s greed, mean-spiritedness, and manipulative persona. Ably handling Belfort’s memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street unflinchingly depicts a horrifying, relentless, and thought-provoking story. The movie’s non-linear structure provides intensifying titbits and intricacies. Driven by temptation, greed, and malice, Stratton Oakmont is history’s most exciting, debilitating, and deplorable workplace.
“The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” (Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Wolf of Wall Street).
Finding loopholes and creating pump-and-dump scams, Belfort and co. endlessly revel in the rewards. With money pouring in, shirtless marching bands and dirty hookers become essential to the office space on an average Tuesday. Excavating Belfort’s vicious lifestyle, Terence Winter(Boardwalk Empire co-creator)’s eclectic screenplay provides laughs, shocking moments, and heart-breaking turns. Here, Winter updates the rise-and-fall narrative for a new generation. Fortunately, the story balances exhilarating highs and crushing lows despite Belfort’s exasperating existence. Soon enough, The FBI becomes essential to this baffling story. Separating fact from fiction, the FBI slaps the movie’s blissfully ecstatic audience. Scorsese’s New York is more concentrated than Belfort’s disarming concoctions – depicting the Big Apple as a gleefully unapologetic hellhole. Breaking ethical and performative boundaries, the cast also elevates itself above the material. DiCaprio delivers a career defining performance as this dangerous and charming lead character. Stretching his comedic muscles, DiCaprio’s dexterous charisma and unique physical structure provide several memorable moments. As the all-encompassing leader hooked on Quaaludes, his thundering speeches and one-liners ring throughout the cineplex. Hill, with oily skin, phosphorescent teeth, and sickening enthusiasm, excels as Belfort’s psychopathic sidekick. With an insatiable appetite for cocaine, hookers, and goldfish, Azoff becomes a disastrous and darkly comic enabler. McConaughey exceeds expectations in his all-too-brief role. Robbie is revelatory and frightening as Beflort’s audacious second wife. In addition, Jean Dujardin, Ethan Suplee, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, P.J. Byrne, and Cristin Milioti deliver ingenious highlights in small roles. Surprisingly, directors Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze, and Jon Favreau also elevate valuable sequences.
The Wolf of Wall Street, beyond the gut-wrenching imagery and commendable nuances, proves that big-shot directors, writers, and actors can obsess over and produce overwhelming excess. With Belfort’s story wrought with ambivalent characters, temptations, and hefty consequences, Scorsese, Winter, and DiCaprio throw brutal punches and learn from one another. Despite the egregious 3-hour run-time, this visceral farce becomes Scorsese’s best effort since The Departed. He is, undoubtedly, the greatest veteran director working today.
Verdict: An absurd, kinetic, and entertaining docudrama.
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Ice Cube
Release date: March 16th, 2012
Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 109 minutes
Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.
Worst part: The bare-bones sub-plots.
The perfect mixture of old and new; 21 Jump Street smartly caters to different age demographics by gleefully commenting on our high school years. Whether 14 or 44, the issues and cliches of high school life are highlighted in a reflexive, relevant and witty fashion. This adaptation of the famous 80’s TV series also works through the electric chemistry of its two popular male leads.
Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.
A flashback to high school in 2005 provides the basis for the issues of our two bumbling top cops. Schmit (Jonah Hill) is a nerd failing to find a girl for the prom, while Jenko (Channing Tatum) is an obnoxious yet stupid jock living the shallow life he loves. Years later, their bitter reunion comes with enrolment into the police academy. With Schmit an academic whiz and Jenko a lean, mean fighting machine; they work together to complete their police training and become the cops they desire to be. Their crazy, unprofessional antics however get them ousted from the force and transferred to an undercover division revived from the 80’s, down on 21 Jump Street. With an angry police chief breathing down their necks, they must go back to high school to find the supplier of a new synthetic drug sold by students before it spreads like a stupid Facebook message in the public sphere.
With an impressive writing, directing and production team under its belt,21 Jump Street is a strong contender for this year’s funniest comedy. The direction by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) provides a consistent level of funny gags while finding room for a sincere fish out of water story. The comedy may be hit and miss at points, but what works are the consistent comparisons to high school life between the 1980’s, 2005 and present day. With a slick 80’s edge due to its TV show origins, the film subverts and conforms to 80’s action film and TV clichés; finding a way to make them both entertaining for younger viewers and hilarious to anyone aware of cheesy 80’s conventions. Cameos from two members of the original show, including one of the most beloved and dynamic actors in the world, are handled in a surprisingly effective manner. Its no surprise the script was co-written by Michael Bacall, co-writer of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as both films find a perfect relationship between believability, cultural relevance and insane fantasy. The stand out gag involving the many stages of tripping on hardcore drugs, provides several hilarious moments and the visual stimulus of ascending levels and pixelated colour patterns of an arcade video game. The screenplay also delivers when depicting the changing labyrinth and factions of present day high school.
“Hey, hey! Stop f*ckin’ with Korean Jesus. He ain’t got time for yo problems, he’s busy wit Korean sh*t!” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 21 Jump Street).
Our cool characters.
Providing suitable groundwork for this story of opposition and adaptation on evolved high school turf, the crazy vision provided depicts a world of environmentally friendly and study hardened popular kids and one type of culturally and technologically advanced hipster after another. Adding immensely to 21 Jump Street’s stock standard story are the performances and characterisations from everyone involved. It’s Hill and Tatum who wholeheartedly commit on every level, not only producing the film but playing on what their own lives may have been like in high school before their current popularity. With Hill’s acting and co-writing talents consistently proving worthy of his recent Oscar nomination, his influence on modern comedy pays off as this re- invigoration of the odd couple relationship provides strong chemistry and believable friendship between Schmit and Jenko. Tatum on the other hand, proving himself to be a very unconvincing actor in previous roles, silences his critics with powerful and charismatic comedic delivery as the jock turned imaginary lightsaber fighting science nerd. The supporting cast also provides a large amount crazy thrills and fun gags. Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper as wacky members of the faculty, Dave Franco (James’s brother) as the most popular kid in school and Brie Larson as the love interest all provide laugh out loud performances in their small roles. While Ice Cube is a comedic stand out as the Black police Chief strongly embracing his stereotype while encouraging the embrace of stereotypes in others.
Ultimately, the odds of making a truly successful 21 Jump Street adaptation are about one in a billion. However, in this universe, the odds have jumped up to two in seven billion. Our two shining stars make the most of this glorious opportunity and boost their once-ailing careers.