Movie Review: “War Dogs”

Starring
Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollack
Director
Todd Phillips

It’s been three years since director Todd Phillips released the critically derided final installment in his “Hangover” trilogy, and in that time, his aspirations as a filmmaker have clearly grown. Phillips’ latest movie, based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article “The Stoner Arms Dealers” by Guy Lawson (which was later turned into a book titled “Arms and the Dudes”), is a measured attempt to showcase his serious side à la “The Big Short.” But while “War Dogs” occupies a similar space as Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning dramedy, providing an entertaining look at how a pair of ambitious twentysomething pals became millionaires due to the U.S. government’s own negligence, it doesn’t really have anything important to say – or rather, the important stuff feels like an afterthought compared to the highly dramatized events at the center of the film.

The year is 2005, and college dropout David Packouz (Miles Teller) is working as a licensed massage therapist in Miami Beach while trying to launch his own business selling bedsheets to retirement homes. When his latest scheme fails and his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announces that she’s pregnant, David decides that he needs to find a real job in order to support his family. Enter childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a bottom-feeding arms dealer who’s moved back to town after working for his uncle selling police-seized weapons in California. Efraim has started his own arms dealing business in Miami, and it’s pretty successful, living off the crumbs of small military contracts that the major companies generally ignore. Efraim offers to bring on David to help with the day-to-day operations, and within six months, the pair lands its biggest deal yet. But when that contract leads to a more lucrative opportunity with the Pentagon to supply weapons and ammo to the Afghan army, the two friends quickly find themselves in over their heads.

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Movie Review: “Sausage Party”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, David Krumholtz, Nick Kroll
Director
Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon

“Sausage Party” easily could’ve been a one-joke affair, but directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon’s R-rated animated film isn’t just 90 minutes of food products saying and doing dirty things – although a lot of its running time is dedicated to exactly that, in a good way. What makes “Sausage Party” more than a comedy about foul-mouthed food, though, is the questions it poses about our relationship with religion, and the filmmakers milk the funny concept (no pun intended) for all it’s worth.

The movie imagines a world where the food products and other items in your local grocery store are alive, and they’re all more than ready to leave their home with a god/human in order to enter the Great Beyond. Frank (Seth Rogen), in particular, can’t wait to be chosen so he can get inside a curvy bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). But when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), who was initially purchased and then returned to the store, loses it and tells all of the food that nothing but death is waiting for them outside, he causes an accident that separates Frank and Brenda from their fellow sausages and buns. The food has been comfortable with their beliefs for so long, however, that they refuse to believe Honey Mustard – except for Frank, who goes on a journey through the grocery store to prove that their gods are angry, vengeful, and above all else, really hungry.

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Movie Review: “True Story”

Starring
Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke
Director
Rupert Goold

Jonah Hill and James Franco have shown off their dramatic chops in a variety of projects over the past five years, earning Oscar nominations along the way (Hill for “Moneyball” and Franco for “127 Hours”), but for some reason, it’s still difficult to imagine the pair starring together in a movie that isn’t a comedy. Perhaps it’s their association to Seth Rogen’s all-star group of friends, yet no matter how weird it might be to see them sharing the screen in a starkly serious drama like “True Story,” they do a commendable job with the material. The film is pretty standard fare that, considering the crazy-but-true nature of the story, deserved something a little more memorable than this, but it’s to no fault of the actors involved.

In late 2001, journalist Mike Finkel (Hill) was fired from his job at the New York Times when it was revealed that he fudged some of the facts in his latest feature about child slavery in West Africa. Around that same time, Oregon resident Chris Longo (Franco) was arrested for the murder of his wife and three kids after briefly hiding out in Mexico where he had been posing as Finkel. The reason? He was a fan of his work. When Mike learns about these strange events, he contacts Chris requesting to speak with him, who agrees to tell Mike his side of the story in exchange for writing lessons and the promise that nothing will be published until after the trial. For Mike, it’s a chance to redeem his career, but as he spends more time with Chris and becomes convinced that he may actually be innocent, he’s unwittingly pulled into Chris’ game.

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Movie Review: “22 Jump Street”

Starring
Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare
Directors
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

For a while, it seemed like everything that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller touched turned to gold, adapting difficult source material – from a children’s book (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), to a cheesy ‘80s cop drama (“21 Jump Street”), to a popular toy brand (“The LEGO Movie”) – into successful comedies with a flair for visual gags. But they haven’t had quite the same luck with sequels, as evidenced with their work on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (albeit only as writers and producers) and their latest film, “22 Jump Street.” Lord and Miller were reportedly so busy making “The LEGO Movie” that they didn’t have time to do script revisions on the buddy cop comedy, and that was a major oversight on their part, because “22 Jump Street” is a fitfully funny sequel that lacks the surprise factor of its predecessor.

After going undercover at their old high school to bust up a drug ring, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) have been assigned more grown-up police work, only to end up humiliating themselves and the department in the process. So instead, they’re shipped back to the Jump Street program (having moved to the Vietnamese church across the street, hence the address and title change) to “do exactly what [they] did the last time.” The only difference is that now they’re going undercover at the local city college to find the source of a new synthetic drug called WhyPhy (pronounced “Wi-Fi”) that resulted in the death of a student. But when Jenko becomes friends with the main suspect, football star and frat boy Zook (Wyatt Russell), his relationship with Schmidt becomes strained as they split up to investigate different leads, which threatens to derail the entire mission.

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Movie Review: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Starring
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Cristin Milioti
Director
Martin Scorsese

It’s been a while since Martin Scorsese’s last truly great film, but it’s good to see that the director hasn’t lost his touch, because “The Wolf of Wall Street” is another cinematic triumph that works almost like a companion piece, at least thematically, to earlier movies like “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” But while those crime films were about actual gangsters, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is about a different kind of criminal altogether: a Gordon Gekko-like stockbroker whose own greed and hard-partying lifestyle ultimately led to his downfall. The fact that it’s based on a true story only makes it that much more captivating to watch unfold, and between Leonardo DiCaprio’s brilliant lead performance and Terrence Winter’s excellent script, it’s without a doubt the funniest movie that Scorsese has ever directed.

The film opens in 1987 as go-getter Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) moves to New York City with his wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti) to pursue his dream of working on Wall Street. When the market crashes shortly after starting his new job at a big firm, however, Jordan accepts what appears to be a lowly position selling penny stocks at a strip-mall storefront. But he soon discovers that he can make big bucks selling desperate, blue-collar workers on the promise of instant riches, eventually leaving the company to open his own firm with friend and business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Before long, the newly dubbed Stratton Oakmont is selling those very same penny stocks to the wealthy, turning Jordan and his closest pals into millionaires virtually overnight. Living the high life with a gorgeous new wife (Margot Robbie), more money than he knows what to do with, and enough drugs to tranquilize an entire zoo, Jordan feels invincible – that is, until he catches wind that the FBI has launched an investigation into the firm (and him in particular) for stock market manipulation and other related crimes.

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