War Dogs Review

I’ve been looking forward to War Dogs. As a fan of true-crime films such as The Wolf of Wall StreetPrecinct Seven Five and Pain And Gain, I’ve been really looking forward to a new film in the same vein. And as a big fan of Miles Teller (who has been on a bit of a poor run recently, Fan4stic anyone?) I was hoping this could be a return to form.

War Dogs stars Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana De Armas and Bradley Cooper and is directed by Todd Phillips. The film follows the true story of David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Hill) who in their early 20s started running guns for the American Military in Iraq.

The director Todd Phillips’ highest profile work is The Hangover trilogy. From the promotion and the trailers, War Dogs looked to be continuing in that vein of often juvenile comedy. Thankfully, the comedy is toned down and the film as a whole is a lot more darker than it was advertised as. The Hangover crowd will find some fairly humorous moments; one scene where Jonah Hill struts around firing a machine gun in the air is one of the funniest parts of the film, but I liked how the humour is pushed back for space for a more mature story. While much of it is fictionalised, including one of the main scenes involving the duo running a truck of guns from Jordan to Iraq, it’s still an incredibly enjoyable film.

The actors do a fine job. Miles Teller is our main “everyman” type of guy, he provides a running voice over and the film is all from his point of view. Ana De Armas plays his wife Izzy, but neither have much personality beyond their roles in the story, they are pretty bland. Bradley Cooper, while a fun part of the film is not in most of it. He’s probably in it for ten minutes at the most, but his terrorist/evil gangster is an interesting role for an actor most known for being a comedy performer.

Jonah Hill though is the main comedy highlight. In a role similar to The Wolf Of Wall Street, he’s the scumbag to Teller’s nice guy. He likes to think he is a gangster; he has a massive picture of Scarface on his office wall, buys golden paper-weights in the shape of grenades and laughs manically like Jared Leto’s Joker. He’s bought totally into making money from the war, using the buzzwords of patriotism and the Free Market to clear his mind of any wrongdoing. A repeated line of his is “It’s not illegal,” which shows his entire character in three words.

The film is nearly two hours, and there is a little bit of a drop in the middle. The film starts great and ends great, but in the middle, once the duo have run their guns to Baghdad and have expanded their empire, it does drop with their second big contract. The film is split into around five “chapters”, with lines from the next part of the film being chapter titles e.g. “Welcome to Dick Cheney’s America!,” or “This is the whole effing pie!”. It’s like a less pretentious version of what Quentin Tarantino does with his films.

The whole films feels like The Wolf of Wall Street for teenagers, a TWOW-lite version. The shoddy stocks and bonds are replaced by AK-47s and over 100-million rounds of ammunition, and for good measure they went and borrowed Jonah Hill to play the same wacky/scummy sidekick of the main character. The glorification of money and despicable characters will obviously draw the anger of some critics, but that’s kind of missing the point. You not meant to cheer for the characters, but laugh at the ridiculous and risky things they do to make money and the mad opportunities that have been offered to them (such as supplying the entire Afghan Army).

The bad guys (or let’s just say “morally questionable” guys) is nothing new to cinema, and I bet that due to its subject matter, War Dogs will get lumped in with films like Pain And Gain or the previously mentioned Wolf. Don’t let that put you off, it’s one of the better things this summer and gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Score: 8/10 A lot smarter, funnier and better than it has any right to be.

Knock Knock Review

When I first heard about Knock Knock, I was pretty excited. One of my favourite actors ever, Keanu Reeves, teaming up with renowned horror film director Eli Roth to create a low budget home invasion horror film, what could go wrong?

Knock Knock stars Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo and Ana De Armas and is directed by Eli Roth. When his wife and children leave on holiday for the weekend, Evan (Reeves) is terrorised by a pair of femme fatales, Genesis and Bel (Izzo and De Armas respectively) after he let’s them into his house.

With Eli Roth as the director, I was hoping for some over-the-top violence and skin-crawling moments of savagery. His best-known films are the two horror masterpieces Cabin Fever and Hostel, with the latter one of the films that was considered in coining the phrase “torture porn”. While Knock Knock has an 18 certificate, Eli Roth doesn’t bring any of his trademark violence to the film. There are only really two moments of “violence” in the film and neither one is that visceral. One is making Reeves listen to a high-pitched feedback loop, which doesn’t really work since the sound effect that we get in the cinema isn’t anywhere near high enough.

The 18 certificate according to the BBFC is for “sustained and sadistic threat, sex, sex references and nudity.” The sadistic threat is what provides the bulk of the film, and is actually done pretty well. There were moments where my stomach churned as Izzo and De Armas explain to Reeves what sadistic torture method they are going to do to him, their sultry accents somehow making it seem even more despicable. The sex, nudity and references however seem pretty childish and awkward in their execution. The dialogue about sex feels like a 12 year old trying to write how he thinks adults talk, and the sex scenes look pretty cheesy with clichéd imagery such as hands grasping at bed sheets and lingering symbolic imagery of the rain pouring down outside.

The story would have been a interesting take on the home invasion genre, if it wasn’t just copied straight from the 1977 exploitation film Death Game. I won’t go too much into the story as I have the policy of no spoilers, but just to say that the way the whole plot is put in motion will leave you with no characters to root for. Despite Reeves’ insistence that he is a “good person” you know that he is anything but, leaving us as the audience cold since we have no one to project onto. The story however does allow for some subtle exploration into the themes of rape, consent as well as some subverting of gender tropes and an end scene about trial by social media, but all of it is just fluff and isn’t really explored apart from a few lines of throwaway dialogue and imagery.

The acting by all is bad, and I mean REALLY bad. While Izzo and De Armas play their roles of Genesis and Bel with more than a healthy dose of unhinged madness, it falls into pantomime fairly early on. Keanu Reeves meanwhile is overacting to the highest degree. Maybe I’m asking for more than a schlocky B movie can provide, but there were many times that I was laughing silently in the cinema because of Reeves’ acting. It’s mostly due to his overacting, enough to challenge Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man, that the film falls flat at any of the home invasion horror that Eli Roth wanted to film.

By the end I was thoroughly appalled and amazed at how bad everything was, but was then stunned by the emergence of the song Where Is My Mind by The Pixies, the exact same song that is at the end of the excellent Fight Club. At that point I just couldn’t contain it any longer and began laughing my head off while the credits rolled.

The only real merit I can give Knock Knock is including the very talented Francisca Valenzuela in the soundtrack of the film, as Reeves plays the two girls one of her songs. Much how the excellent John Wick (which oddly enough also stars Keanu Reeves) introduced me to the female duo KALEIDA, Knock Knock introduced me to the work of Valenzuela, and for that I thank the film for bringing a brilliant musician to the forefront.

In conclusion, Knock Knock is just another throwaway horror film that fails to produce anything that is actually scary. It had the potential to become a cult classic, but weak acting and a daft and disappointing ending spoil what could have been a B Movie guilty pleasure.

Score: 3/10 Nothing of merit to recommend it.