War Dogs Review: Bros in arms

Director: Todd Phillips

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

Country: USA

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.

Verdict: A middling docudrama.

The Hangover Part 3 Review – Never Drinking Again!

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong

Release date: May 23rd, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


Best part: John Goodman as a sadistic mob boss.

Worst part: Jeong and Galifianakis.

Some film series’ rely entirely on an absence of logic. Much like John McClane in the Die Hard series, the main characters in the Hangover series continually get into disastrous and confusing situations. Hollywood has now sucked both these series’ dry for a quick profit. Much like this year’s Die Hard instalment, The Hangover Part 3 is one of the most unnecessary, repetitive, and preposterous sequels ever made.

Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms.

Part 3 is a stupid and unfunny action-comedy. It’s not terrible, but it needed something special to separate it from the other Hollywood comedies of its type. In this latest adventure, confused and pathetic layabout Alan (Zach Galifianakis) causes a stir when his new pet Giraffe is decapitated on a freeway, causing an epic car crash. As a result, his family and the other ‘Wolf Pack’ members, Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms), stage an intervention, believing that rehab is Alan’s best hope. Their plans are soon cut short by an angry mobster, Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall is looking for Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), the same man the Wolf Pack has run into on previous adventures. Taking Doug hostage, Marshall orders the Wolf Pack to find Chow and the money he stole from him.

Ken Jeong.

This set up promises that the following events will be climactic and enjoyable. However, from this point on, the film rapidly descends into being awkward and unfunny. This is the biggest disappointment of 2013 so far (and that’s really saying something!). Please don’t think of me as a cynic when it comes to Hollywood comedies. I fell in love with The Hangover upon its release back in 2009. Its bursts of energy and hysterical gross-out jokes helped it become one of the biggest box-office success stories of the last decade. However, in 2011, a carbon-copy sequel took away the series’ enjoyability and thrills. The stench of laziness festering in that sequel is also apparent in this one. I suspect that the public may wish to avoid this new instalment after its predecessor (or at least go into it with extremely low expectations). This cynical sequel is proof that worthwhile ‘R-rated’ comedies are difficult to pull off. This sequel may have deviated, story-wise, from the first two instalments, but it’s still as uninteresting as the second film. It feels like this sequel was made by someone with little to no knowledge of gross-out comedy logistics. Director Todd Phillips (Old School, Starsky & Hutch) has gone from being the king of gross-out comedies and road trip films (Road Trip), to pumping out one disappointing farce after another (Due Date).

John Goodman.

His latest Hangover is more agonising and annoying than an actual hangover. The intrigue and zaniness promised in the fun trailers is missing. The screenplay is one of this sequel’s biggest problems. The original’s witty yet shocking jokes have been replaced with cheap references to the first two films and mean-spirited insults. The comedy consists almost entirely of animal murder and physical violence. Chickens, dogs, and the aforementioned Giraffe are needlessly slaughtered for a quick laugh. Phillips is obviously a big fan of crass/black/frat-boy humour of this type (hence the tranquillised tiger and drug-dealing monkey in the previous instalments). However, the audience I saw it with wasn’t impressed. Jokes fell flat on regular basis, while the strange lack of gross-out gags was alarmingly noticeable. I wouldn’t have minded all this if the movie had a quick pace and some mindlessly fun moments, but these elements are also sorely absent. The negative aspects of this instalment don’t stop there. It inorganically transitions from a gross-out comedy, to an Ocean’s 11-style heist flick, to a trip back to where it all began for the Wolf Pack. Whereas the original seamlessly mixed elements of gross-out comedy and film noir, this instalment has no original or innovative surprises at all. It came to a point where I was inexplicably clamouring for another Mike Tyson cameo!

“My name’s Allan and I bought a giraffe! Oh, my life’s perfect!” (Alan (Zach Galifianakis), The Hangover Part 3).

The Wolf Pack.

The characters here spend their whole time repeating lines and yelling at one another. These characters, that we once found hysterical and endearing, have been reduced to one dimensional caricatures. I will say that I chuckled during the film’s first third. the characters’ charming re-introductions almost convinced me that this instalment would be a breath of fresh air compared to Part 2. However, my hopes were quickly dashed when Chow eats dog food and sniffs Stu’s butt (I wish I was joking!). Worst of all is the sub-plot involving a bromance between Alan and Chow. Galifianakis and Jeong hit the big time after their hilarious performances in the original. However, their crazy antics, seen in this and many other movies, have become increasingly tiresome. Their shtick also becomes repetitive rather quickly. Galifianakis’ character has gone from a well-meaning weirdo to a narcissistic and mean-spirited moron who refuses to change. Alan, Chow’s infuriating Asian stereotype, and Melissa McCarthy’s tough-chick persona are as tolerable as three car alarms going off at once! Cooper and Helms look extremely bored throughout the entire film. Meanwhile, Heather Graham makes a pointless cameo as Stu’s ex-Vegas wife. The only tolerable performance here is from Goodman, acting like he’s in a Coen Brothers’ crime-comedy.

The original set the bar extremely high for Hollywood comedy. However, the sequels have taken that bar, lowered it, then snapped it in half, and used it to mix the crazy alcoholic drinks the Wolf Pack would’ve guzzled down during their wild drunken adventures. I can safely say that I would rather suffer an actual hangover than suffer through Parts 2 and 3 again. Sorry, frat-boys.

Verdict: An irritating, offensive, and disappointing end to the Hangover trilogy.

Project X Review – Frat Boy Farce

Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Writers: Matt Drake, Michael Bacall

Stars: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kirby Bliss Blanton

Release date: March 2nd, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes



Best part: The party.

Worst part: The unlikeable characters.

With the increasing popularity of found footage films hitting theatres, the movement is constantly having to spread into different genres to stay fresh. Recent hits Chronicle and now Project X have both successfully interpreted common genres through the exploration of the american teenager. Project X re-invents the frat boy comedy through fun yet shocking almost apocalyptic events.

Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper & Jonathan Daniel Brown.

With a similar set up to the 2007 cult hit Superbad, we are introduced to three horny, unpopular teenage boys all desperately wanting the life of boozing, drugs and girls so many of their classmates already have. Thomas (Thomas Mann) is forced by his obnoxious friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) to throw a huge party for his 17th birthday. With his parents conveniently out of town for the weekend, what should’ve been a small get together soon spirals out of control as their insane desire for popularity and girls leads them into several preposterous situations.

Alexis Knapp.

Catering specifically towards the teenage audience definitely works for this film. It cuts all the crap as rules and curfews are replaced with one insatiable temptation after another. A bevy of topless chicks, drunken debauchery, drugs and even a large bouncy castle are on display, creating the perfect image of an insanely fun shindig. First time director Nima Nourizadeh does a surprisingly impressive job with keeping a tight leash on this documentation of american house parties. One montage after another, accompanied by one hell of a Rap and Hip Hop soundtrack, creates the slow motion turn on for any teenage boy. Bouncing bodies, destruction and instant popularity for geeky teenagers take up every hand held frame. This comes as no surprise from producer Todd Phillips as his directorial efforts (The Hangover films, Old School) illustrate exactly how to party. Every scene of this film is a reminder of the photo montages at the end of The Hangover films as we see what could have happened on both those nights. With the consequences of this off the wall gathering ready to kick in at any moment, the anticipation of what will set it of and where it will go, constantly builds; leading of course to one over the top and destructive plot twist after another. The cinema verite style strives to realistically document the ultimate night for an american public school teen.

“I’m gonna go have a long cry, and then start calling some lawyers.” (Costa (Oliver Cooper), Project X).

The host’s dog.

Though uncontrolled and unfocused at points, the characters behind the cameras manage to stay away from temptation and effectively capture everything going right and wrong for our three dweeby main characters. The hand held style does however feel unbelievable at points. Despite crediting Warner Bros. for the different sources of footage (an over used gimmick in itself), the constant slow motion montages and underwater effects distract from this so called ‘realistic’ version of event documentation. This celebration of bad behaviour owes many of its predictable plot lines and unrealistic characters to comedies such as Superbad and American Pie, with many of its themes of rebellion and positive new experiences paying homage to the Richard Linklater cult classic Dazed and Confused. The three main characters are completely unrealistic. Their views on girls and even each other rings true with Superbad, yet the chemistry between them never reaches the peaks met by the Judd Apatow produced comedy. Costa, remarkably looking like a cross between Jonah Hill and Shia LeBeouf, never shuts up. His sexist attitude towards women pushes it over the edge, while never delivering a feeling of growth for his character throughout the course of events. Thomas and JB however are nondescript to a point of coming off as stupid for following through with every one of Costa’s outrageous plans.

While already outraging many and probably influencing others, The main star of Project X is the party. Even the most cynical part of you will be shocked by how far events go. Vulgar, cruel and hilarious all at the same time, the stuck up critic in everyone will be thrown away at the sight of a midget being shoved in an oven or a neighbour being tasered by a small security guard.

Verdict: An outrageous and stylistic party flick.