War Dogs: Movie Man Jackson

wardogs

Every dog has its day. David Packouz (Miles Teller) hasn’t had his yet. He’s a college dropout who massages Miami’s biggest clientele (which sounds better than it seems), and a failing entrepreneur who hitched his wagon attempting to sell blankets to unneedy retirement homes. Cash flow is sparse, and he’s going to need more of it with a baby on the way from his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas).

Just at the right time, his old best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) returns to the cocaine capital, doing very well for himself. Efraim has gotten into the arms dealing business, bidding on U.S. military contracts to supply wartime squadrons. He’s a one man operation, but needs another guy to get this operation humming. David makes the decision to work with Efraim, eating off of the crumbs that other guys brush off to the side. Before you know it, the duo are rolling in dough, and taking on progressively bigger, and progressively more dangerous and unethical, contracts.

henry

An evolution, in any arena of life, rarely happens overnight. Rather, it is gradual and incremental. While striking out with some, possibly most, comedies here and there, director Todd Phillips has helmed some of the more memorable ones of the 21st century in The Hangover and Old School. His latest in War Dogs still retains some of the style that those movies had, but also is a tad more serious. Though not flawless, the final product indicates that there is some real potential for Phillips to tackle something really substantial down the line.

Even in Hollywood where many biographies take liberties, War Dogs takes the cake and might as well be an original screenplay. Okay, not exactly, but it is clearly less about the facts and more about the “unfathomable-ness” of the whole ordeal. Hell, it doesn’t carry the requisite character facts at the end of a feature that accompany so many biographies! Perhaps any real emotional impact or stabs at political commentary is lost, but looked at as another story of how the largest American dreams are often seized by the people who lack morality the least, War Dogs works just fine script-wise.

crooks

For the most part, Phillips paces War Dogs well, moving at an efficient clip. The narration done by Teller’s character is a nice addition, the cultivated soundtrack fits nicely at the right times, and the visual direction approaches fourth-wall breaks without going all of the way there. It is only at the end where the movie begins to drag on the inevitable fallout and consequences, and the last 15-25 minutes become very elongated. Again, Phillips sort of struggles with the resonating aspect of the film. Unlike, say, The Big Short which really stuck with me personally a few days/weeks after viewing, despite Phillips’ best efforts, War Dogs never comes close to leaving an emotional imprint.

But who cares about emotions when what is being viewed is constantly entertaining? Credit really goes to the cast. It would be fair to call Miles Teller a little dry and dull in this one, but it works perfectly for who he plays off of, and near the end he does have some great dramatic moments. Ana de Armas is just begging to be unleashed in the right role; her housewife isn’t though she does what she can with it. Bradley Cooper adds more name value than anything, but he actually appears interested to be in a Phillips production again, and his character is a big part of the movie. With more screentime, he really would have left a mark.

But undoubtedly, “fat” Jonah Hill (because there is a difference between the rotund version and the svelte version) makes War Dogs worth remembering. He goes all in as his Efraim character, and imbues the events on screen with an infectiousness that is hard not to appreciate and fall for, just like the many he comes across in the movie do. Teller is certainly important here, but Jonah Hill is first billed for a reason. As much as this may seem to be a buddy movie, this is purely Jonah’s vehicle for the first time in his career.

walkinghome

War Dogs never truly hits introspectively or emotionally, and yet it is pretty intriguing from beginning to end. Tasty crumbs. Anyone else feel like this is going to be a staple on HBO for years and years?

B-

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, rollingstone.com, and metacritic.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Advertisements

Sausage Party: Movie Man Jackson

sausageparty

Don’t play with your food, it plays with each other. In a common grocery store, every single food item fantasizes about being purchased by “Gods,” humans who will whisk them away from shelves, freezers, and the like and into “The Great Beyond.” No food truly knows what happens after leaving the store, but the consensus is that a life of freedom and care by the Gods is given.

For Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog (he’s a hot dog, not a sausage) friends, getting purchased means getting to slide their meat into some plump buns. He has always had eyes on Brenda (Kristen Wiig). His mission is almost achieved by getting a coveted spot in the shopping cart, but an incident from Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), begins to put doubt into Frank as to whether the Great Beyond is heaven, or more akin to hell. The better question may be, does it even exist?

pbj

Let’s call it what it is. Sausage Party, mainly from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End) is Toy Story (or any other inanimate object, for that matter) in edible form. In R-rated edible form. With that said, though, Sausage Party is rather thought-provoking, and may even be adept at leaving its mark on some viewers long after viewing. Is it funny? That depends.

Sausage Party feels most similar to Rogen and Goldberg’s 2013 comedy This is the End, albeit with a different message. Unlike that movie, which didn’t concern itself with the question of the existence of a higher power or whether a stylized Backstreet Boys-led heaven afterlife was real, Sausage Party actually does. The overall mature elements of the screenplay might just be the strongest element of the entire production written by the longtime duo, plus Jonah Hill this time around. What is also surprising is how we as the audience actually begin care for a few of these characters and their well-being, such as a deformed hot dog in Barry (Michael Cera). As far as technical quality goes, this is no high-budget Pixar offering, but it looks well enough, and ends up making some really memorable set pieces. Yes, set pieces, ones that feature action, horror, and something that would be right at home in the infamous 1979 movie Caligula.

gum

But even with surprising and pretty well handled themes, Sausage Party is a comedy that is 100% Rogen & Goldberg through and through, full of weed love and penis appreciation. Great news for Rogen fans, bad news for non-fans. Yours truly personally falls in the middle. The premise does allow for some good comedic wittiness that didn’t always appear in their other films, but the hardcore raunch does begin to take its toll after a while. The third act may be better enjoyed under the influence of a substance. It is the 50/50 hit/miss rate towards humor that leaves this comedy a little disappointing.

And while one should assume full responsibility for stepping into a R rated comedy, it can be argued that Sausage Party does veer into the very uncomfortable territory here and there, with one character in particular as a literal douche. Voiced by Nick Kroll, Douche is rarely funny, actually disturbing in some of his actions, and doesn’t really add to any of the plot’s proceedings. Gum is pretty hilarious, however as a clear nod to Hawking.

hotdogbun

Love Seth Rogen’s cut of comedic meat? Sausage Party is one that will absolutely be filling, along with some interesting ideas that are actually satisfying to digest. For all others, its comedy doesn’t fill all of the laugh holes on a consistent basis.

C

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, comicbook.com, and moviepilot.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

22 Jump Street: Movie Man Jackson

22stub

“Ladies, nobody gave a s*** about the Jump Street reboot but you got lucky.”

What is the next step after successfully assimilating into high school, and stopping a drug outbreak? Doing the same thing in college. 22 Jump Street starts off exactly as pointed to at the end of its predecessor, in which Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) mentions that our heroes Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) are going to college for their next mission. Sounds cool, expect it is of the online variety.

It does not take long for this to change though. A new drug known as WHYPHY is threatening to run rampant on a nearby campus, forcing the tandem to go undercover again amidst younger people. Their partnership, once unbreakable, begins to show signs of fracture when college clearly seems to be more up Jenko’s alley. To infiltrate the dealers and find the supplier once more, they will have to be on the same page.

duo

Going to try and keep this relatively short and simple. 22 Jump Street is definitely more of the same. Following a similar setup to 21 Jump Street with only the mildest of plot tweaks and flip flops, it will not win any awards for originality. But is that important here? No, not at all!

Once again, and it is ad nauseam at this point, the film knows what it is. It’s a sequel that probably shouldn’t even exist must like the first, but it does. As Deputy Hardy (Nick Offerman) outlines within the confines of the film, the first assignment (movie) was successful, which means more money has to be poured into the next assignment (sequel) to make it bigger and more substantial. It may be a rehash, but this is how these things go.

It is this meta-ness and self-referential humor that this installment brings to its arsenal once again, poking fun at the absurdity of the premise, the existence of sequels, and even Hollywood itself. Eventually, this reminder that everyone is in on the joke does wear a bit thin after a while in my opinion, but it is a fabric of the franchise.

dickson

Even with the referential humor which is pretty funny itself, 22 Jump Street works because it is just funny consistently from beginning to end, which is the first goal for any comedy. Sure, some laughs are bigger than others (and there are some big ones), but the mild laughs keep investment in the movie and keeps hold of attention. And it is not just the meta humor either. Tons of physical gags, verbal banter, and reactionary comedy work just as well, if not better.

The constant hilariousness can be attributed to three people: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Ice Cube. As a duo, Hill and Tatum as Schmidt and Jenko have something special in the way of chemistry, like two basketball players utilizing the pick and roll so effectively because they know where the other is almost always going to be. The movie does allow for the two to be separated at times, and it is during these times where both get to shine respectively in their given situations. Also, the movie delves more into their relationship and why it doesn’t always work, giving Jenko and Schmidt character aspects that the audience can relate to.

As a benefit to everyone, Ice Cube’s role is definitely larger in this sequel. He is back as the stereotypical angry black captain, spitting his profane insults and mean mugging faces to our favorite tandem, which is just as gut-busting as before. This time however, he must become more a part of the mission, for support reasons and personal reasons, the latter resulting in arguably the funniest moment in the entire film. The rest of the cast comes off as more miss than hit. Not to say that they are completely devoid of amusing moments, but they are more one-note, compared to the supporting characters of Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, and Brie Larson from the first.

guns

Though the premise is the same, it has been improved upon. Directors Christopher Miller & Phil Lord make sure that this sequel is tighter, mainly in its pacing and presentation. This movie never drags and moves along at a brisk pace. Additionally, the action sequences look like more attention was spent on them, and they too are spaced throughout as opposed to the last third of runtime, giving the movie a true comedy-action feel. Depending on how many times the trailer has been seen, it may make the events of the movie slightly predictable, so keep that in mind.

All in all though, 22 Jump Street is easily the best comedy of the year to this point simply because at the core it succeeds in making you laugh, and laugh a lot. Can’t ask for much more.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to forbes.com, acesshowbiz.com, and movieplusnews.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

21 Jump Street: Movie Man Jackson

Image

“Are you ready for a lifetime of being absolutely badass mother****ers?”

High school. You may have peaked in it, or you may have suffered through it. At any rate, once you are done, you never are forced to go back…unless it is part of your job. This is the situation Jenko and Schmidt find themselves in during 21 Jump Street. Way back in 2005, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) were but a few of the average high school stereotypical students. Jenko is the average dumb jock, while Schmidt is a socially inept but smart dude.  Being on complete opposite ends of the high school food chain, it isn’t exactly shocking to see these two never interact. The off times they do, it goes as one would expect.

Enter 2012, and the two find each other in the police academy. Instead of remaining in high school mode, both end up helping the other with weaknesses they struggle with and ultimately forming a bond that leads to their graduation. After an odd mishap one day on patrol as bike cops, the duo is reassigned to the 21 Jump Street division, a program revitalized from the 80’s. Led under the direction of the always-angry Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), this tag-team is assigned to go undercover as high school students in an effort to snuff out a new drug known as HFS. Sounds easy enough, but 2012 in high school is nothing like 2005.

buddycops

If you have never seen the TV series sharing the same name of this film, do not fret. In all honesty, the only link the show and its remake share is the title. The 2012 version of 21 Jump Street eschews the seriousness and drama from its predecessor and opts for a lighter and humorous take. From start to finish, laughs are to be had at a pretty consistent clip.

Within the first few minutes, it is evident that this movie never takes itself too seriously. Whether it be through a simple moment of the main characters locking eyes over expertly timed music cues reminiscent of iconic 80’s movies, or expecting the obvious explosion to occur after shooting numerous flammable objects, it pokes fun at itself, the implausibility of the scenario, and staples of the buddy cop genre. The film also gets commended for going in an unexpected direction. At its core, I got the message of change in the fact that nothing stays the same and what was once cool can easily become outdated. It would have been real easy, and lazy, to keep Jenko as the ultra-suave and straight man while sticking Schmidt as the loser with no chance at progression. Thankfully, it goes a different route.

This “meta-ness” alluded to previously extends to the duo themselves. The stereotypes that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum embody here are in a way what others think about them in real life. Hill to a lot of people is or at least comes off as an insecure and occasionally douchey guy, and Tatum for the longest time (perhaps still) was only thought of as eye candy with not much to offer anywhere else. Maybe I am looking too much into this, and if I am so be it. It’s just something that worked into my mind when watching.

icecube

Being able and willing to take shots at yourself is well and good, but the characters and the actors playing those said characters still have to be interesting enough to make it matter. Luckily, they are in 21 Jump Street. Jonah Hill has proven his comedic ability previously before this, but he is in top-notch form here. Not so much a shock to see him score so many laughs, but it was refreshing to see his character with a fair amount of heft. His character allows for more connection with the audience, as many have been there at some point in time.

Channing Tatum is the real revelation in the film from a comedic standpoint. He gets many great lines and serves them up with exceptional delivery. He is really shaping as a versatile guy in Hollywood, something I never would have thought possible during his roles in Coach Carter and Step Up. As a duo, their chemistry was infectious and appeared natural, which is a must for buddy cop films.

The supporting cast is nothing to scoff at though. Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Brie Larson, DeRay Davis, and a few others bring humorous moments to varying degrees. But Ice Cube as the police captain steals the show as Captain Dickson every time he appears on screen. Based on a stereotype like Tatum and Hill’s characters, he is consistently angry throughout the movie in the most over-the-top way. His delivery and timing is flawless, and whenever he spars with Jenko and Schmidt is a riot.

As a whole, the dialogue and writing is pretty strong, if occasionally overdependent on the F bomb. For the most part it works more often than not, and it it pretty realistic of what is heard in most high schools. There were just a few times where it came across as a crutch, but it is to be expected with a R-rated comedy. What wasn’t expected in the way it was carried out happened to be the last third of the movie. Unlike the previous thirds, the last 30 or so minutes serves more as an action movie. Not that there is not still comedy to be had, but the tone obviously shifts and it is a bit jarring to see blood spraying and bodies dropping.

837048 - 21 Jump Street

More of a re-imagining than an remake/reboot, the film incarnation of 21 Jump Street is good entertainment through and through, bolstered by self-referential humor and a strong (covalent) bond between main characters. Maybe going back to high school isn’t such a bad thing.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to sonypictures.com, movieforums.com, & totalfilm.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

How to Train Your Dragon: Movie Man Jackson

Image

“I looked at him, and I saw myself.”

In How to Train Your Dragon, if you can kill a dragon, you are a made man (or woman). HTTYD gives a look at the world of Berk, inhabited by vikings. Vikings usually are thought of as tough minded combatants, and they have to be here. Their little village is constantly raided and decimated by fire-breathing dragons.

A young teen by the name of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the son of village leader and the quintessential Viking Stoick, who leads his people into battle. Hiccup desperately wants to take down and kill a dragon, but his father doesn’t believe him to be physically up to the task. But the youngster is very skilled in weapon crafting, and during a dragon raid one day he sneaks out and is successful in taking down a Night Fury, a breed of dragon that is supposedly the most rare and dangerous.

Having an opportunity to eliminate this beast, Hiccup cannot bring himself to do so. Improbably, he and the dragon, eventually known as Toothless, cultivate a strong friendship. Despite their odd alliance, there still is a war being fought, and Hiccup’s people will not take kindly to his newfound friend.

aww

It may not be truly groundbreaking, but that does not change the fact that How to Train Your Dragon from being near the pinnacle of animated cinema. It starts with the story. As alluded to,  it may not serve as the most original tale, but the journey is never boring and pretty entertaining. HTTYD does aim to hit emotional wavelengths more so than other similar films, and it succeeds without being too preachy or forceful. Themes such as masculinity, prejudice, and individualism, to name a few, are treated with delicate care. Lastly, the ending is stellar. No spoilers here, but it is simultaneously saddening and uplifting, and a great note to conclude upon.

The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is obviously the core of the movie though, and it is why this simple story is so endearing. To see the unbreakable link transform over the course of 98 minutes is almost impossible not to like and care about. Hiccup is an OK character if a bit cookie-cutter, but Toothless steals the show without saying a word. His facial and body animations all on their own tell everything that needs to be known about any given situation.

teeth

With all of that said, the real triumph happens to be the breathtaking visuals. Simply put, HTTYD is a technical marvel. Dreamworks has crafted a very lush and crisp world of Berk. I was not able to view this in 3D unfortunately. I find that it often is unnecessary, but after viewing for the first time, I did wish that I had seen it in eye-popping glory, or at least had the option to do so. Amazing cinematography that rivals the best of animated movies and non-animated ones. The effects were so convincing, it is easily forgotten that this is straight animation.

There are a few gripes, but they are mostly innocuous and perhaps more based on personal preference. The voices used for various characters are passable, but unnoteworthy. For some reason, Jay Baruchel’s as the voice of Hiccup came off as odd. It is not a huge issue, more like a minor annoyance. Eventually it just becomes accepted. Other featured voice work features America Ferrera, Gerald Butler, Craig Ferguson, and Jonah Hill. They bring enough life to their characters, just not to the point of being memorable. This may be more of a criticism that should be leveled to the characters themselves as opposed to how they sound. Aside from Toothless, Hiccup, and Hiccup’s love interest in Astrid, everyone else is somewhat underdeveloped, cliched, or both.

Toothless

None of it mars the film in a large way though. How to Train Your Dragon is one of the better animated films in recent memory, possessing a good deal of emotional depth from a simplistic tale and dazzling technical proficiency to boot. Kids will eat it up, and so will most older children and adults.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to collider.com, fanpop.com, culturemob.com, and howtotrainyourdragon.wikia.com.

Feel free to follow @MovieManJackson.