Friday, September 9, 2016

"War Dogs" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "War Dogs" as well as the DVDs "Maggie's Plan" and the documentary about the politician with the unfortunate name and unfortunate life "Weiner."  The Book of the Week is "The Woman in Cabin 10 (another novel)!"  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Ring (Ringu)."

War Dogs

Based on a true story, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star as Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, two guys who become "War Dogs," a not very flattering name for arms dealers, and find themselves in over their heads. 

The film begins in Albania with David being terrorized by Albanian gangsters.  How did he end of there?

Well, let's do a flashback and see...

David Packouz (Teller) is a certified massage therapist in Miami who is barely scraping by and who is getting tired of being hit upon by some of his rich male clients.  So he decides that selling high end Egyptian cotton bed sheets to nursing homes is the way to go. He uses every penny he has to invest in that new business.  Like I said, he's just scraping by.

Then David meets Efraim Diveroli (Hill) at a funeral.  The two had been friends in grade school and renew their friendship.  Efraim is a bigger-than-life loudmouth who seems to be doing well and he impresses David, who is looking for a way out of his current life and a way to make more money, particularly since his girlfriend is pregnant.

Efraim runs a company called AEY, selling arms to the U.S government for the war in Iraq.  He has discovered a website where all contracts for military weapons are posted, where anyone can place bids on filling the orders  ( and it's real! - you could become an arms dealer too)!  He found a loophole where few companies were bidding on the smaller jobs so he decided that would be their niche. Those smaller jobs were still worth millions of dollars.

Eventually, David and Efraim land a contract to provide Beretta pistols to U.S. Troops in Iraq, a deal that would put them on the map. Unfortunately, there is an embargo in Italy on shipments to Iraq so Efraim attempts to bypass the embargo by routing the shipment through Jordan, but the shipment gets held up there as well. David and Efraim fly to Jordan and they manage to smuggle their cargo into Iraq in a scary wild ride.

This emboldens the two and they continue to secure larger deals and make more money, moving into a larger office and hiring more employees.  Life looks good.  David has a new little daughter and is living the high life.  Efraim, however, is acting more and more erratically.

Is what they are doing illegal?  Not really.  Is it ethical?  Not really.

Then along comes THE BIG DEAL.  They are given a chance to land their biggest deal yet, "The Afghan Deal." The U.S. Government needs 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition.  It's a deal worth $300 million.  David and Efraim lowball their bid (by about $50 million, much to their chagrin) and get the order with absolutely no idea how they will fill it until they meet up with legendary U.S. arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper in a small role). Girard has access to the massive weapon storages that were created in Albania but never used.  Why does he want to work with a small company like AEY?  He is on a terrorist watch list and is not allowed to work with the U.S.  Henry is a badass. Not a good sign.

David goes to Albania to make sure the ammo really works and Efraim gets the bright idea to cut Henry out of the deal.  And that's how David ended up looking down the barrel of an Albanian gangster's gun. Because Henry is not a particularly nice guy and doesn't like young punks like these thinking they can double-cross him.

And it's not over yet. There's more.  It gets worse.

Directed by Todd Phillips (the guy who directed all of those "Hangover" movies) and based on a true story chronicled by Guy Lawson in his book "Arms and the Dudes," don't expect it to be as silly and crazy as the "Hangover" films. If you do, you will be disappointed.  Though this has some very funny moments, it's more drama than comedy, more cynicism than slapstick.  But the film is still entertaining, though these guys are not nice guys and our government doesn't come off looking very good either.  Who are the worse war-mongers?  Guys like these who sell weapons to countries fighting wars or countries getting into those wars?

Teller made his big splash as a sensitive teen heart throb in "The Spectacular Now," followed by "Whiplash."  His star continues to rise.  He has several big projects in the works over the next year.

Jonah on the other hand, not so sure.  He is making a habit of playing unsympathetic characters and this is the first film he has starred in since 2014's "22 Jump Street."  He was hot, hot, hot after "Moneyball" in 2011 (he garnered a Best Supporting Actor nod), but, when you think about it, he has never really carried a film on his own, and since then, he has mostly done "buddy films" or played a pivotal part in an ensemble, such as "The Wolf of Wall Street," though again, for this one, he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  But I also don't see much in the offing for him over the next couple of years.  Such are the vagaries of an acting life.  One minute you are hot, the next you are not.  But here he is the star, though an unpleasant one, and Miles and he work well together.  It's a fun experience.  The film is a kind of "Big Short" for U.S. arms deals, and for me, that is the star of the show.  You will be surprised, and possibly troubled by, how it all works.

I often go to movies based on my schedule rather than whether or not I really want to see the film.  This isn't my usual fare, but this was a good one. I enjoyed it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...A good story, some laughs and a not particularly flattering insight into how the U.S. gets its war weapons.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now on DVD

Maggie's Plan (2015)

Maggie's first plan is to have a baby on her own but through a series of events, she comes up with Plan #2.

Tony (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Greta Gerwig) were once lovers but now he is married to her friend (Maya Rudolph) and they are all besties. Maggie is single and has never had a relationship that has lasted more than six months.  Maggie was raised by a single mother and has fond memories of life with her Mom, so she wants to have a baby.  She decides to impregnate herself using the sperm from her friend, Guy (Travis Fimmel), a mathematician turned pickle-maker, who works at the coffee shop. 

Maggie works at the New School as a graduate school advisor and meets John (Ethan Hawke), a professor of Ficto-critical Anthropology. Huh? He is a frustrated writer and he asks her to read his book. John is married to Georgette (Julianne Moore), also a professor, but one whose career seems to be shining brighter than his. She is Danish (and I guess Moore's idea of a Danish accent is not being able to pronounce her "r's?" - actually pretty funny) and has just been offered the Chair of her Department at Columbia.  And it doesn't help that she is an uptight, snooty, smug academic  So we have an uptight but successful wife who has eclipsed her husband, a husband who needs validation about his writing and a young women who is impressed and enthused about his writing. Guess what?  Fastest way to a man's heart and to an affair with a married man is to flatter that ego that has been flattened by his more talented wife.

While John's wife and kids are away, he goes over to Maggie's and he professes his love for her and tells her he no longer loves his wife.  All I could think was what a douchebag.  "I don't want you to have a baby with the pickle man.  I want you to have the baby with me."  Please.  A man will do anything to get a woman into bed.  However, Maggie is in love with John too.

Fast forward a couple of years and now John and Maggie are married with a baby girl.  He has made it as a writer using their affair as the cornerstone of his book (reminded me of the Showtime series "The Affair.").  But there is a slight problem.  Maggie no longer loves John.  She meets Georgette, likes her and realizes she has fallen into the trap of believing her husband was unloved by his ex-wife and needed someone like Maggie to help him write.  When Maggie discovers that Georgette isn't such a beast after all and actually still loves John, she dreams up another plan. 

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, this is yet another indie with Gerwig playing a quirky single girl in Manhattan, though Maggie is not quite as daffy as some of the other characters Gerwig has played. Gerwig has cornered the market on over-optimistic quirky millennials who get their hearts broken. But her characters are always plucky, and in this film Maggie describes herself as "capable."  But Gerwig is much more than capable as an actress, and I can't help but wonder when she is going to break out big.  Despite her resume of movie roles, I would dare say that most mainstream movie goers would not recognize her or her name. And that's a shame.  Why hasn't she yet become a big star? Is it her unconventional looks?  Her height? Long the muse of Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha," "Mistress America"), I think of her as the Woody Allen of the indies, the Queen of the female quirky characters trying to navigate Manhattan. I want to see her make it big.

And speaking of making it, how did Bill Hader break out as a romantic lead?  I am seeing him more and more playing it straight. Doesn't anyone remember his silly characters on SNL?  Remember Stefon? Hader has come a long way.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a smart film with a fun twist.  If you like Woody Allen films, you will like this one.

Weiner (2016)

The political downfall of a what could have been an illustrious career.

Anthony Weiner. What an unfortunate last name for a man in public service who disgraced himself with his...well, his weiner. 

This Showtime documentary opens with the quote:

"The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." - Marshall McLuhan

Must have been a tough childhood with a name like that.

Watching this documentary about the disgraced politician, one can't help but wonder why Weiner would put himself through this examination of the scandal that rocked his political life other than as a mea culpa of sorts, and he probably didn't want all of the good he had done in political office to be overshadowed by the scandal.  But here's the thing: all I could think about watching this film was, how could he be so stupid? 

For those of you unfamiliar with this story, Anthony Weiner was a Congressman serving New York State's 9th district from January 1999 to June 2011. He won seven terms and was a popular Democrat, never winning less than 59% of the vote.  Weiner helped get The Affordable Care Act passed, and, if you are a liberal Democrat, he was doing a lot of the things you would want him to do.  However, he was also doing some things you probably wouldn't want him to do.

In Congress, Weiner was a firebrand. He was unafraid to be scrappy and rant about his issues in the House of Representatives, yet that same ego drove him to think that he could get away with texting risqué photos of himself and not get caught in this age of social media. 

He was caught in his first sex scandal in 2011 when his wife was pregnant.
He posted a picture of his erect penis in underwear to one of his followers on Twitter.  He denied it at first but later resigned from Congress. 

This documentary film picks up in 2013, two years after his resignation for scandal #1, when he was running for Mayor of New York City.  It follows him as he campaigns and, of course, the number one question everyone asks is "Why?" Why is right.  And I'm not talking about the scandal.  I'm asking "Why would he put himself through this film?"  The film clearly shows him getting tired of saying "Sorry." 

There is a scene where Weiner is being interviewed by Lawrence O'Donnell on his MSNBC show "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," and O'Donnell is a good liberal who would most likely be on Weiner's side, but Weiner is clearly defensive and his attitude toward O'Donnell is embarrassing.  He is clearly feeling harassed and that the media is using the scandal to overshadow his stand on the issues.

Was the media harassing him? Could it be that unfortunate name was just too good for the media to pass up and they just wouldn't let up on him?  Or was it the fact that HE DID IT AGAIN! 

The filmmakers probably planned to follow Weiner as he campaigned for Mayor of NYC and make a film about a guy who makes a comeback.  But that ego got in the way again and Weiner in 2013 dropped a really good story in their lap by texting explicit sexual pictures to a 22-year-old fan who was in contact with him because she disapproved of his earlier sexting!  This time he thought he would outsmart social media and use a fake name - Carlos Danger.  Really?  And her name was Sydney Leathers.  This was just too good to be true for the media and for the filmmakers.

And unfortunately, even before Weiner screws up again, he comes off as arrogant, sleazy and a smartass.  And he wasn't that nice to his wife, either.

Yes, his wife, Huma Abedin, close adviser to Hillary Clinton. The other big question is why his smart and powerful wife would stand by him, but then why do women do a lot of things where their men are concerned?  Clearly, she loved him, they had a little girl together.  You know the drill.

But you have to hand it to the guy.  He has, er, balls.  First of all, you have to have the proverbial balls to even enter the political arena, but to try to make a comeback after humiliating yourself with your balls really takes balls.  And then to think he could get away with doing it again?  Clearly, now he has a career death wish.  But the guy is also clearly a narcissist and feels he is above criticism.  He lacks self-reflection and clearly isn't really sorry.  There is a scene in the film where he is practicing a mea culpa speech in front of a mirror and the insincerity just oozes out of the screen.  He watches film of himself being interviewed and ragged about the scandal and all he comments on is how his hair looks. 

This is a Shakespearean tragedy of sorts - a man with a bright future, tumbling down from his high place because of his own ego, because only a huge ego could think he would get away with posting explicit pictures of himself on Twitter in this day and age.  But the irony is, there have been politicians who have done far worse than sexting a picture of an enlarged penis in underpants.  Oh, how about Bill Clinton?  And yet Clinton came out of it and is now one of our most respected Presidents (by some, anyway).

This film doesn't explore Weiner's growing up years, but I couldn't help but imagine that as a kid, he was probably a huge dork, probably captain of the debate team, teased about his name, couldn't get a girl but then he grew up and started to get noticed in politics and it went to his head.  Unpopular dorks can have huge egos, but we just don't notice them until those dorks get some power.

So now we have scandal #2 and believe it or not, Huma hangs in there again.  So this is also a story about a smart accomplished woman caught up in a situation where she is continuously being humiliated by her husband, a husband she once admired for his political acumen and his fight for the right causes.  How much more can she take?

Well, not that much more.  This year (2016), HE DID IT AGAIN! Scandal #3! This guy just can't help himself and Huma finally decided that was it.  She has filed for divorce. 

This film started out to be a film about redemption, but instead it turned out to be a film about a man who couldn't get out of the way of his own ego.

Written and directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the film was produced in true cinema verite, following Weiner around with no narration, the camera letting the story unfold and write itself because truth is more compelling than anything that could be made up. And it is fascinating to watch - like a train wreck.

When the filmmaker finally asked Weiner, "Why have you let me film this?" he replied, "I don't regret letting you follow me around.  I want to be viewed as the full person.  I can't believe this scandal eclipsed me."

See what I mean?  Still clueless.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look at the tragedy of promise dashed by narcissism.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

237 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Ring (Ringu) (1998)

People start dying seven days after watching a strange video.

At least you get a warning.  The phone will ring.  Then you know you are going to die.

The film begins with two young girls repeating an urban legend about some kids watching a TV show and then dying seven days later.  Then one of the girls says she did see a "weird video" and that as soon as the show ended, the phone rang and no one was there.  Of course she dies. 

More and more indicents like this occur and when news reporter, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) discovers that her niece is one of the girls who died, she gets involved.  She goes to the school where the first girl died and interviews her friends.  It seems that all of the people who have died came from one Japanese province and all were found with their faces frozen in abject fear.  They were young people whose hearts had stopped and autopsies showed no causes of death.  Reiko travels to a cabin where several kids had stayed.  She finds a video in the cabin and watches it. She is mesmerized by the strange images and when the video is over the phone rings!  While she was watching the video, I could see it too. SO NOW I'VE SEEN IT!  If the phone had rung, I would have lost it! When Reiko's four-year-old son gets a hold of the video and watches it, she is really freaked. Now Reiko has just seven days to solve the mystery of the videotape and break the curse.  

So the film starts out interestingly enough, but then there is all kinds of rigamaroll about a woman who predicted a volcanic eruption and then threw herself into the volcano.  The woman had a daughter, Sadako, and the woman's daughter supposedly has the power to kill just by wishing.  So what happened to Sadako?  Well, you will find out.  Ring, ring.

Why it's a Must See:  "Director Hideo Nakata achieves a steady sense of mounting disquiet throughout the film...There are no cheap shock effects here.  Instead, Nakata relies on sound and atmosphere to suggest the presence of the unquiet dead hovering over the living poised to strike...[This film] singlehandedly revived the horror genre for the end of the twentieth century, spawning two sequels, a prequel, a Korean remake, and an overcooked but hugely successful Hollywood remake...not to mention influencing dozens of horror films from all over the world."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

I would say that's a bit of an overstatement. I remember being afraid to see this film because, from the previews, it looked so scary.  Turns out the only scary part is at the very end and even that's not so scary.  And I hate to say it, the "escape clause" from the curse is really improbable.  But this film is more about mood and suspense, and it's creepy and creates an atmosphere.  I just wish the ending had been a better one.

Rosy the Reviewer will never watch TV the same way again!
(In Japanese with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2016)

A young journalist who has a bit of a drinking and pill problem and a complicated love life, thinks she has witnessed a murder aboard ship.

Lo (short for Laura) Blacklock is burgled in her apartment in the middle of the night and encounters the intruder.  After that experience, she is really on edge so is happy when she gets an assignment from her magazine to spend some time on a luxury cruise ship.  It's a small (only 10 cabins), but very luxurious ship, where everyone is waited on hand and foot.

Once on board, as she dresses for dinner, she realizes she doesn't have any mascara so knocks on the door of her next door neighbor, cabin 10, and asks the young woman who answers the door if she can borrow some mascara.  Though the young woman is not particularly friendly, she gives Lo some mascara and they say bye. Lo is surprised not to see the young woman at dinner, but all goes swimmingly until later that night when Lo is awakened from a sound sleep by a scream and a big splash emanating from the cabin next door, the very same cabin where she had borrowed mascara from the young woman. When she reports the incident, not only does it turn out that everyone on board is accounted for, but there NEVER WAS ANYONE STAYING IN THE CABIN NEXT DOOR!  Lo finds herself embroiled in a mystery with many twists and turns.

The stage is now set for an Agatha Christie-type who-done-it, except it can't really be a who-done-it if we can't be sure anything was done.  But the cast of characters are all on the ship and we meet them one by one.  Who was that young woman in cabin 10?  Did she even exist or was she a figment of Lo's addled, drunk and pill-popping brain?

As I continue to expand my fiction horizons, I am finding that I am enjoying myself but also developing some bad habits. This book made me want to jump to the end to see what happened to that woman in cabin 10.  I resisted the urge, but I can see that might be a problem with future mysteries.

Ware has a real way with dialogue which makes the book zip along, though you have to forgive her the British-isms - be sure you know what "gobsmacked," "bloke" and "bollocks" mean.  But it's not her fault.  She's British.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are an Agatha Christie fan or you liked the recent bestseller"The Girl on the Train" or the movie "The Lady Vanishes," you will love this "can't-put-it-down" best-selling read.  And it will make a great movie!


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!


See you Tuesday for

"Turn Your Home into a Sanctuary"


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