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Non-Review Review: War Dogs

At one point in the movie War Dogs, manipulative sociopath Efraim Diveroli presents his naive business partner David Packouz with a gift.

It is a sequence that is as illustrative of War Dogs as it is key for Efraim. The gift in question is a golden hand grenade, a gesture of tremendous subtlety on the part of the film and its secondary lead. See, Efraim and David are self-described gun runners. More than that, they are ostentatious over-the-top gun runners with no sense of tact and the bare minimum of business sense. What better way for Efraim to convey this to David (and for the film to convey it to the audience) than through the gift of a gold-plated hand grenade.

"Quick question: do we HAVE to be framed with these picture of Bush and Cheney? I mean, I think people get it."

“Quick question: do we HAVE to be framed with these picture of Bush and Cheney? I mean, I think people get it.”

However, the kicker comes in the inscription that Efraim has engraved on the bottom of the ridiculous gift. “The world is yours,” the grenade seems to promise its owner. It is, of course, a line from Scarface. It is, in fact, a line from both versions of Scarface. It is the bitterly ironic sentiment that closes out the film, an encapsulation of the greed and hubris that led the two gangster protagonists their downfall. Conveyed through advertising, it was also a stinging commentary on the American Dream. It was the height of irony, a cynical sting at the end of a moral fable.

There is a sense that Efraim does not necessarily understand irony. Having watched War Dogs, it is not entirely clear that the film does either.

Cool gun runnings.

Cool gun runnings.

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Non-Review Review: The Hangover, Part III

There was a time when The Hangover seemed like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t so much an original story or set-up. Rather, it was a devil-may-care attitude and unrepentant immaturity. It was bold and it was willing to do absolutely anything it needed to in order to get a laugh. It worked because of that sheer commitment and energy, energy that is mostly absent from this final instalment. “Leslie Chow is madness,” a character boasts at the climax of the film, talking about one of the franchise’s popular recurring characters – but he may as well be talking about the film itself. “You don’t talk to madness,” he insists. “You lock it in your trunk…”

It’s a nice call back to the very first film and the first time we met Ken Jeong’s “Mr. Chow”, but it also speaks to the weaknesses of The Hangover, Part III. Somewhere along the way, the madness was lost. The high-octane “anything can happen” spirit of the original film leaked out of the two sequels. I’m fonder of The Hangover, Part II than most, but it is a cheap imitation, a repeat of a joke that was hilarious the first time and passable a second.

It’s to the credit of Todd Phillips that he doesn’t try to emulate the same formula a third time. I appreciate that a few efforts are made to push the trilogy into a shape resembling a circle, but it feels so much more contained and so much more rote than it did all those years ago.

I wouldn't get too excited, Alan...

I wouldn’t get too excited, Alan…

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Non-Review Review: Project X

Project X is a mess, but it’s a high-octane and energetic mess, with an incredible youthful exuberance and a desire to throw anything it can at the wall to see if it sticks. Though it starts out a bit slow, it accelerates pretty quickly, with the film managing to hold itself together as the party on-screen starts to fall apart. The best way to describe Project X might be to define it as Superbad‘s hyper-active, less focused, more crass, more direct and less sweet younger brother. It lacks the heart that defined that other recent coming-of-age teenage comedy, but it more than makes up for its relative shallowness with an enthusiasm that’s infectious and hard to resist.

Razing the roof...

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Non-Review Review: Old School

It’s tempting to look back at Old School in the wake of the massive success of The Hangover and claim “I saw Todd Phillips’ potential first!” After all, massive critical, commercial and audience hits don’t come out of nowhere, and the early work of a given director should probably give some indication of their hidden talent. However, I don’t really see too much of The Hangover in Old School, a film that I like, even if I don’t love it. There are a few similarities in content and structure, but I still can’t see anything in the film that would have led to me to “keep an eye” on Phillips. It’s a solid fratboy comedy, but it’s not anywhere near a classic.

Ferrell was on a hot streak when this came out...

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Todd Philips & “Unrated” Editions: Directors Above All?

Todd Phillips, the director of Due Date and The Hangover, has come out blasting Warner Brothers for releasing extended “unrated” cuts of his movie without his input or consent. He makes a strong case, and threatens to take it to the DGA:

Warner Bros., they’ll make your movie; your movie does well, and they want to create an unrated version, which is entirely against DGA rules because it’s not your cut. And they can’t call it the ‘Director’s Cut’ — they’ll call it ‘Unrated’ or some ridiculous term. Really all it is, is about seven minutes of footage that you cut out of the movie for a reason.

I’ve stuck for directors’ visions in the past – I mourned the passing of Del Toro’s Mountains of Madness or hoped that someday Frank Darabont’s Fahrenheit 451 might (against all odds) make to screen. Studio interference on films like Brazil, for instance, is almost unforgivable – and I was delighted to see justice was eventually done to Blade Runner. However, I can’t find myself entirely agreeing with what Phillips says here.

Let me tell you a spiel...

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Non-Review Review: Due Date

I have to admit that I quite enjoyed Due Date. It’s a straight-forward comedy road movie – nothing more, nothing less. It’s the standard template: two unlikely comrades find themselves embarking on a cross-country journey where they learn a lot about each other and themselves. As such, Due Date is the younger sibling of films like Trains, Planes and Automobiles or Midnight Run – it’s also a genre which hasn’t, to be honest, been played entirely straight in quite some time. Sure, there have been variations on theme – Little Miss Sunshine, for example, played the road movie with far more subversive comedy; Get Him to the Greek was this concept with rock stars. As such, perhaps the simplicity of Due Date is part of the appeal – it’s a tried and tested formula, so why tinker with it?

What does Robert Downey Jr. bring to the table?

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