Tag Archives: business

FILM REVIEW: War Dogs

Forget the oft-opined notion that war is the heroic act of defending one’s country and fellow countrymen in some glorious display of do-or-die patriotism. War, we are informed, is business. Pure and simple.

And ‘War Dogs’ is the term used to describe folk that choose to make the industry of war their business, as well as the name of director, Todd Phillips’ excellent new film.

Based upon true events, it tells the remarkable story of David Packouz (Miles Teller), and his transition from unenthused masseur to big-time gun-runner, and the kind of massive life upheaval that you’d imagine would accompany such an unusual and dramatic career-switch.

 Reacquainted at a funeral with wayward childhood friend and former partner-in-crime, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), and on discovering the rather dubious line of business that he’s involved in, David is quickly tempted to throw in the massage towel – as it were – and team up with his old friend; lured by the promise of potential big bucks and the glamour and excitement of the murky world of gun-running.
Efraim has done well for himself and his business is profitable from his relentless scanning for opportunities, but he dreams of bigger things. With his new partner on board, through a combination of hard work and considerable dedication, he and David quickly begin to make a proper name for themselves.
Within such an unpredictable and volatile industry, however, trouble is never far away  and when logistics and multiple red tape seems set to scupper the deal of a lifetime that they’ve secured with The Pentagon, the boys have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands and fly out to the Middle East, where they soon find themselves right up to their necks in the ‘triangle of death’, in a last-ditch effort to see this particular deal through to some sort of satisfactory conclusion. Failure here is not an option.
Madness? Most certainly so. Naive? Undeniably. But lacking ‘cojones’ is not something you could level at this pair. Call it youthful exuberance or simply a devil-may-care attitude; it’s the kind of behaviour that may well get you killed, but ultimately gets the job done and succeeds in lifting this fearless pair right up into the big time.
Wealthier than in their wildest dreams, and very much the go-to team for shady war-mongers the world over, David and Efraim are set for life, and whilst not being entirely honest with girlfriend and soon to be mother of his child, Iz (Ana de Armas), about his business dealings, David’s life and outlook has never looked so good.
There is however always a nagging feeling that the pair of them are beginning to get in way above their heads, and that such runaway albeit potentially transitory success as this has a nasty habit of bringing about its own set of problems, particularly when in this case, the trio of ills – carelessness, greed and betrayal – begin to rear their ugly heads.
Ever Since Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas, charted the rise and fall of mobster, Henry Hill, with such slick panache and effortless cool, many a film has either consciously tried to emulate this directorial style, or been accused of having tried to. Few however have succeeded.
War Dogs does indeed owe a great debt stylistically to Scorcese, and crucially, it succeeds where so many others have failed. It’s a truly rip-roaring and hugely entertaining affair that bounces along with considerable energy and momentum, and in Jonah Hill, it boasts an actor that’s right on top of his game just now. To some extent, his role here as Efraim, revives and expands upon his money-hungry character, Donnie Azoff, from another excellent Scorcese piece of more recent times, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Efraim and David’s story is one as remarkable as it is improbable; living the dream (of sorts) – although I suspect that most of us would consider driving assorted weaponry deep within enemy territory in Iraq, in order to fulfil American army requirements, to be more of a nightmare scenario – but each to their own.
David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli; they built a seemingly unassailable empire with all guns blazing, only to shoot themselves in the foot! War Dogs does a sterling job of recounting this most outlandish of tales.

 

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FILM REVIEW: Little Men

With the sudden death of his grandfather, fate conspires to have young Jake meet Tony – a kid of a similar age who quickly becomes an inseparable best friend.

Jake is moving from Manhattan into a new apartment in Brooklyn that has been bequeathed to his father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), by his late father. Below this new apartment of theirs is a small retail unit – also a part of the inheritance.

Its occupant is Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina García). She is a rather bohemian seamstress, making her own clothing to sell from the shop, but with the increasing gentrification of the neighbourhood, business she finds is increasingly poor.

For a short while the whole set up is ideal. Jake – who we are informed is (much like his father once was), a bit of a loner – has a new friend, and his parents have a loyal, dependable and kindly tenant for their shop. Leonor, whilst polite and courteous, is however noticeably reluctant to become too involved in the lives of Brian and his wife, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle). It’s almost as if she knows to keep a distance owing to the often precarious nature of tenant / landlord relationships, though she is pleased that her son has found a new friend.

Unfortunately, the shop was bequeathed to both Brian and Audrey (Brian’s Sister – played by Talia Balsam), and without any emotional ties to the tenant, she is keen to maximise the value of their newly inherited asset. Rumours of being able to increase the existing rental income threefold, in line with the rest of the neighbourhood, are enthusiastically – yet rather thoughtlessly, considering the company in attendance – banded about the dining table one evening by Audrey, at a family barbecue.

Brian is a kind-hearted soul, but realising that having inherited the entire apartment for him and his family, it’s only fair that Audrey should take the lead in any decision making relating to the shop.

A new lease, demanding a ‘fair’ increase in rent is proposed, but totally out of the question for Leonor who can barely make ends meet as it is, and an inevitable frosty landlord / tenant relationship follows, becoming increasingly bitter and personal as the days roll on. Not only this, but the entire episode begins to put an unavoidable strain on the boys’ new found friendship.

Whether it be their subsequent vow then not to speak to their respective parent(s), or Leonor’s revelation that Brian’s father was embarrassed by his son’s inability to provide adequately for his family, whilst also being adamant that Leonor should stay put, citing her business’ very presence as far too important and special to the neighbourhood for it to be lost, they all arrive at something of an awkward impasse, leaving each of them to wrestle with their conscience.

Such a predicament makes for particularly gruelling viewing owing to Ira Sachs’ wonderful ability to not only make us truly relate with these characters, but to thoroughly emotionally invest ourselves in their collective predicament and respective fortunes.

The two boys, despite everything, remain bonded by their desire to end up attending the same artistic school in the future.

Theo Taplitz’ depiction of Jake is a rather aloof one, portraying a young kid that seems somewhat at odds with what he wants in life, although his pursuance of a burgeoning artistic talent hints at the direction that he should ultimately take. Michael Barbieri brings Tony’s dreams of being an actor to the big screen with a notable swagger and attitude. Tony, perhaps owing to a lack of a father figure in his upbringing, is a smart-mouthed, defensive kind of kid who’s not afraid to speak his mind and quick to defend those less able to do so for themselves.

There’s a strong and believable chemistry between the pair of them as they seek to navigate their young lives through these unfortunate, unsettling times, but it’s arguably Kinnear’s tender portrayal of Brian that steals the show here. Kinnear shows brilliantly that glazed look and demeanour of a man attempting to keep it all together . A man racked by both grief and guilt and the subject of cruel barbs from those who know no other way but to strike out at others when unable to deal with their own problems.

If we boil it all down, Little Men is essentially a story of youthful aspirations – and to a large extent, naivety – in the face of the sometimes oh so destructive issues of adulthood, and it’s really rather good.

It’s a film that presents hard lessons for everybody to take and learn from, and in this instance, it’s all expertly handled by a director who clearly understands people and the human condition.