War Dogs

wardogs

Due to some issues with conflicts of interest, most military purchase contracts have become available publicly to be bid on by anyone. Now, many of these are multi-hundred-million or even multi-billion dollar contracts, so regardless of being available publicly, they still end up going to the big dogs. However, a number of these contracts are much smaller, the ‘crumbs’ so to speak. And when dealing with something as big as war, these crumbs are worth a lot. Hence come in the ‘War Dogs’, fighting over taking the smaller contracts that the big players don’t think are worth the effort, and managing the logistics in order to deliver. Such is the story of  Efraim Diveroli’s company AEY, run by him and his old best friend David Packouz. This mainly involves simply making calls and filling out paperwork from their office in Miami, however, as should be expected of something so close to war, that things can get much hairier, driving through the middle of Iraq with Al-Qaeda on their trail hairier.

***

There are a number of films coming out of Hollywood recently, many that portray the good in America, and many that portray its dark underbelly. This definitely leans more towards the dark underbelly. This was something that I genuinely knew nothing about prior to this film so it was quite interesting to watch it and then look into it a lot more. Still, I think I got a very different feeling out of this movie, in that despite it being a crazy mess, it all still seemed pretty awesome from the way the main duo portrayed their characters. Now, I certainly see that the goal was to show various issues in the system, and how these were presented was decent, and I certainly see the major character flaws in the main characters, but I feel like I still have respect for these guys in a ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’ sort of way, so I suppose it didn’t completely achieve its objectives. The most memorable moment to me in the film is when they were on the run in the triangle of death and seemed doom when a US Military copter saves them, which despite everything still felt really badass for lack of a better word. So on that note, I feel the messaging was very muddled, with the second half considerably more than the first, but all in all, it was an intense ride that was quite interesting to behold.

A movie that doesn’t have a point, but still manages to be pretty exciting and cool.

8/10

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Goosebumps

goosebumps

Zach Cooper and his mother move to a new town and into a new house with very strange neighbors: Mr. Shivers, who essentially tells them to stay away from his house, and his daughter Hannah, who seems to not be allowed to leave her house. Zach is still interested in her however, so after talking to her she breaks this rule and takes Zach to see an abandoned amusement park, a place special to her. But when they returns they are confronted by Mr. Shivers, who warns Zach to stay away from them or something terrible will happen. Later on, he hears what sounds like Hannah screaming, and after a series of events ends up breaking into her house with his socially awkward new friend from school, Champ. In this house they find a library of manuscripts, the manuscripts of the infamous R.L. Stine. However, these are not just ordinary manuscripts, rather they’re infused with magic, manuscripts which upon opening unleash their horrors upon the world. And unfortunately for them, it seems they accidentally open all of them.

***

This was a movie that upon seeing the trailers I had very little hope for, but turned out far better than I expected. It felt very true to the books in a way, in that all the books are somewhat scary and creepy, but not ridiculously so. In a way this terror aspect is somewhat childish, but in another it’s more along the lines of the enjoyably creepy. The ‘scares’ are incredibly similar to the Goosebumps scares in that they’re more exciting and creepy than terrifying. There’s a somewhat unique style to the Goosebumps books that this captures perfectly. It’s not a true horror movie, with the primarily goal not being to completely terrify and unsettle the viewer, but rather has the style that’s slowly grown around Halloween and similar culture, with a lot of suspense, solid comedy, and a pretty decent plot surrounding that. It also had the Goosembumps style structure of a beginning that’s somewhat normal acting as a build up, everything going crazy, and then things seeming to be resolved, until one final twist where it just ends, the last of which I feel is very crucial to the formula and hence was was very glad they had. The cast of characters were well done, especially R.L. Stine, but Zach, Hannah, and Champ as well. There was a good amount of character development, though a good bit of it was heavy handed. The cameo of the actual R.L. Stine as Mr. Black, the band teacher, was also a nice touch that was quite memorable. The CG was solid. The music was great and memorable in its own right, however I missed the classic Goosebumps theme. I feel they should have had it, even if it was just in the credits for nostalgia purposes.

I was a bit sketchy on it at first, but it was exactly what I wanted from a Goosebumps movie.

8/10

There are a lot of things I like they didn’t have though. I’m hoping for some sort of sequel. Maybe Horrorland. I want monster blood. And the mask.

The Big Short

thebigshort

This is a film that focuses on separate plot lines that show how the great recession came about from three different angles. One of them is related to Michael Burry, who runs the hedge fund Scion Capital. He is terrible at dealing with people, but really good at market analysis. This results in him noticing how the markets were warped from where they should be and foreseeing a crash he couldn’t get any of his investors to believe was coming. Another is related to Jared Vennett, an incredibly cynical partner at Front Point Partners, which works with Goldman Sachs. He goes hands on in looking into the market and discovers that the bonds known as collateralized debt obligations being offered were no where near as strong as they were rated due to various conflicts of interest, resulting in a market basically being help up on lies. The last perspective involves Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, two young and inexperienced investors that are known as the Brownfield Fund, who see the crash coming, and profit off of it, but in doing so completely lose faith in the system.

***

This film was very well made, in that it’s a film focused on finance and one that actually goes into a decent amount of depth on why things occurred and how they work, but it still manages to remain exciting and interesting throughout even for those that aren’t particular interested in the subject matter due to good writing that conveys things at a decent pace without any info dumping. It adds a good amount of drama to each story line, with them being intertwined in a way that none of the stories get boring, and also adds a lot of human presence to a story that could otherwise be simply about regulations, money, and numbers. The flip side of that is that it conveys a lot less than a proper documentary could in the same amount of time, but it manages to be a lot more interesting in doing so. It also helped that it looked really good and had great music.

A film about the housing market crash of 2007 that manages to be quite engrossing.

 

8/10

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

starwarsvii

After the fall of the Empire, Luke seeked to rebuild the Jedi order, but after a series of events went missing. Meanwhile, the remnants of the empire rose once again as the First Order, seeking to crush the New Republic. On a mission on Jakku to obtain a map to Luke Skywalkers supposed location, Poe Dameron is captured by Kylo Ren, a sith apprentice at the front lines of the First Order. Poe’s droid BB-8 escapes however with said map. Aboard the Stormtroopers ship, a stormstrooper finds himself unable to continue acting as a stormtrooper and helps Poe escape, escaping along side him, and on the way being given the name Finn. However, after they crash, with Finn being unsure of whether Poe survived or not, he begins his quest to complete Poe’s mission of bringing the information in BB-8 to the Resistance. Meanwhile, a woman named Rey, a scavenger who was left there by her family but is adamant they’ll return, finds BB-8, and eventually encounters Finn. In a strange turn of events, they end up working together and hijacking the Millennium Falcon in search of a way to get information to the Resistance. However, time is running out, as the new Sith Lord, Snokes, has created a weapon even greater than the Death Star, and is ready to use it.

***

This film unlike the prequel trilogy, felt incredibly similar in tone and style to the original trilogy. Rather, it was very clear the film was heavily leveraging its connections to the main series, with a heavy emphasis on similar scenes, plot events, plot structure, and various references, making sure to emphasize every time an old character is reintroduced. The plot itself felt somewhat like another A New Hope, a pretty good implementation of such, but still not very original. This is fine for this film, as it was important to make clear which direction the films would be going in and to return confidence in the franchise after the prequel trilogy, which I didn’t particularly hate but acknowledge the flaws within. So from that point of view that’s all fine I suppose. However, I would like them to branch out in much more original directions in future films.

In terms of the new set of main characters, they were okay. Not as good as the sets in the previous movies, including the prequels, but still good in their own way in terms of being original and interesting. However, a major issue is balance in terms of protagonists, in that Ren takes on too many roles. She’s both a Jedi and the pilot of the Falcon, so taking after Luke and Han. That’s a bit much, and doesn’t really leave anything for Finn to be. Hence, for the entire purpose film Finn didn’t really have anything that made him stand out, he was simply cannon fodder that ended up in a couple weird situations. And Poe is apparently the other main character, though he doesn’t seem to have much of a role in this movie beyond the beginning and end, thus feeling very lacking. Now, moving on to the antagonists, they were they awful, the siths especially. Kylo Ren I wanted so much to be good, because I’ve always liked the villains in the Star Wars series, especially the sith apprentice Vader, from Episode III-VI. But Kylo is just so pathetically lame. He’s wearing the mask simply because the entirety of his motivations seem to be to follow in the footsteps of Vader, which is somewhat sad. Hell, I’ll even give him a pass on being a Vader wannabe. But his character is such a trainwreck. It’s like an angry know it all teen who hates their parents got force powers. He’s the worst type of arrogant, the type that is genuinely competent, but ends up failing anyway. He is the first genuinely lame force user as far as I know. There was a pretty obvious point, where I thought that he would finally overcome all this and develop further as a character, but despite everything, he’s still exactly the same. Near the end, there was something mentioned about him completing his training, which I really hope results in a pretty major character change, because he desperately needs it. Not sure I can stand a complete set of films with a sith apprentice like him. Snook we got very little of, as we did Palpatine in VI, but I’m desperately hoping he’ll be a stronger character than Kylo.

The beginning of a new Star Wars trilogy, that feels incredibly close to the original trilogy, too close in fact, with the exception of a couple major failings.

7/10

The Martian

themartian

Mark, an astronaut on the first mission to Mars, is separated from his comrades as they escape before a storm, and due to technical failures on his sensors is left for dead. He somehow manages to survive, and make it back to their command center, but is stuck in the unfortunate situation of being the only person on Mars, with limited resources and absolutely no way to communicate with Earth. However, with a tremendous amount of ingenuity by him and scientists at NASA, he works towards making it home.

***

The Martian takes a very different approach to Sci-Fi, being very rooted in reality, not dealing with events and aspects that don’t really seem to have any chance of happening without world changing break through, but rather something much more grounded, that may well happen in the next twenty years. It hits very close to home while still being tremendously amazing. A key aspect to that is that the problem isn’t light years away, its bringing a single man home, and the problems aren’t tremendous or overtly complex either, primarily revolving around maintaining shelter, establishing communications, and keeping up a food supply. It’s all about problem solving and using everything you know even under pressure. It makes astronauts look truly amazing, in that it doesn’t make them seem larger than life, but rather incredibly courageous scientists. The plot is essentially a series of problems that get solved one after the other, eventually bringing him home, all of which is paced excellently, with a great amount of suspense, though obviously everyone knows he’s going to make it in the end. Mark himself is also a great character, tremendously optimistic even in the most stressful situations, with great wit and humor adding a great lighthearted aspect to the film.

A film that conveys how amazing human ingenuity can be.

9/10

Give NASA more funding plox.

Finding Dory

findingdory

After helping Marlin finding Nemo and bringing him home, Dory decides to continue living near them, with them occasionally helping her when she has issues due to her short term memory loss. However, she is suddenly triggered into remembering what she was doing before she helped Marlin find Nemo, searching for her family. She had been separated from them a long time ago and had continued searching for them without much success, but was hopeful that with Marlin’s and Nemo’s help she’d be able to finally do it. And hence, their journey to the California Marine Life Institute began.

***

Finding Dory has a very similar message to Finding Nemo, that you should trust in people and their abilities. It’s a little different though, in that Finding Nemo was directed towards a parent trusting in their child and finally letting them be free, and here it’s directed towards trusting in people that may seem strange or lacking at first sight, like those with disabilities, and that everyone including them is capable to doing great things when they give their all and are given the opportunity to do so. It’s a pretty solid message that’s told pretty well, though overall it lacked the impact that Finding Nemo does from an execution point of view. The film certainly had it’s moments, but in the end it still felt like it was somewhat lacking compared to the first, maybe because it was somewhat less relatable for me, and also because it never felt quite as desperate. In terms of the new characters added, most of them were interesting, and they all certainly had at least some character growth, though I feel that it was somewhat lacking for some characters, such as Hank, whose change of heart doesn’t really seem all that justified. The comedy was good. The animation and art were Pixar quality as expected, which is very high quality. The soundtrack was decent though not exceptional.

A film that stays very true to the spirit of Finding Nemo though with less impact.

8/10

Black Mass

blackmass

Whitey is the leader of the Winterhill gang, that controls most of the crime in south Boston. A friend he’s had from childhood, Connolly, is an FBI investigator in charge of the area. When a mafia family begins spreading their influence in Whitey’s turf, they find a common enemy, and form an alliance. However, their relationship continues past this first conflict, with Connolly becoming quite close to Whitey, and Whitey exploiting that to benefit him and his gang, greatly increasing his power and influence.

***

This is a movie based on a true story that seems pretty interesting, however the story doesn’t translate that well into a full featured movie. The movie is interesting in that it shows things escalating tremendously, which is quite thrilling, and it is quite well made. It is also quite good in terms of cinematography. However, it doesn’t really feel like the film has enough subject matter for it’s pretty long length, and hence it can get quite dull at times. There’s pretty interesting plot when looked at in general, but it doesn’t have much depth, at least how it was told here. Hence, it seems to veer off and do a variety of subplots, but they all also feel somewhat lacking in that they don’t seem to have much of a point. All of this ultimately comes to a conclusion that seems quite abrupt, and while it is based on a true story so they can’t vary it all that much, it still feels like an issue. The soundtrack wasn’t bad but it was largely forgettable.

A film based on an a reasonably interesting story that drags on way too long to the point it’s no longer interesting.

6/10