Tag Archives: Miles Teller

“Thank You for Your Service”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I’m drawn to war movies that simultaneously pay tribute to our veterans yet have a staunch anti-war message, and “Thank You for Your Service” is one to add to the list of other films in that same vein (“The Deer Hunter,” “Platoon,” “Fury”). This sobering look at soldiers returning from war and the horrific emotional impact of combat suffers only briefly from flashes of predictability and overall presents a realistic portrait of PTSD.

Based on a true story from the 2013 novel of the same title by David Finkel, the film follows a trio of soldiers (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole) returning from Iraq. It starts off like every other war movie as the men struggle to integrate back into civilian life. Their children barely know them, and their wives (Haley Bennett, Erin Darke) hardly recognize them anymore with their stark changes in personality. What’s shocking is that the film manages to avoid most of the usual ‘soldiers coming home’ clichés, instead painting a haunting and authentic portrait of the mental struggles of veterans who wish aloud they were disfigured or even dead rather than having to live a life trapped in a constant cycle of self-doubt and severe depression.

This is a gripping story that’s intimate and beautifully filmed. It’s a story that’s bleak, dramatic, and compelling, and it’s incredibly well acted (this is easily one of Teller’s best performances). Teller and his co-star Koale excel at portraying the sensibilities of the modern soldier, paying tribute to the men (and women) who put forth a stalwart exterior yet bury an emotional fury of pain, blame, and regret.

The story is emphatically human and intimate, not the type of film with a rah-rah patriotic message or preachy ‘Christian values’ propaganda viewpoints. In fact, this is one of the few movies about the military that doesn’t resort to any overt religious imagery. Now that’s something we should all appreciate no matter our beliefs.

This is a thought provoking and eye-opening film that presents an unflinching look at the traumatic aftermath of the tortuous mental anguish and residual torment suffered by many of our veterans. After every war there are soldiers who return carrying debilitating guilt to the point where they can no longer function as regular human beings. It’s a sadly relevant topic that explores how America fails her forgotten heroes. Shame on our country for abandoning these brave men and women who return home beaten and battered yet are turned away and unable to get basic psychological help. We have to do better and we have to be better than to let them suffer this way.

Warning for animal lovers: there is a very graphic and very disturbing dog fighting scene, so prepare yourself. It works well as a metaphor for a soldier’s wartime mentality so I understand why it was included, but it’s tough to sit through. And of course, there are plenty of disturbing, bloody war scenes involving humans too.

“Bleed for This”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

With an infamous reputation for being an obnoxious jerk who is difficult to work with, actor Miles Teller has something to prove — and it shows throughout his impressive, heartfelt, and organic performance as real-life boxer Vinny Pazienza in the biopic “Bleed for This.”

Pazienza, an athlete from Rhode Island with two world title fights under his belt, was in a near fatal car crash which broke his neck and nearly severed his spine, and was told by doctors that he would never walk again. Teaming up with longtime trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), the two secretly began preparing the young man to return to the boxing ring. His story is an inspirational tale of fierce determination and unwavering perseverance, but the movie keeps a realistic tone that is only peppered with a few moments of sappy clichés.

Director Ben Younger (“Boiler Room”) handles the material with just the right balance of sports action scenes and family drama. While this “comeback kid” genre has been done to death, there are several clever scenes and dialogue that surprised me. The script, also written by Younger, is sturdy, a thoughtful adult drama done right. If you don’t know much about boxing, read up before seeing this film because nothing is spelled out for the audience — there’s an assumption that you know the general terms and rules surrounding the sport.

This isn’t really an exciting, rah-rah type of feel-good film (in other words, you won’t be applauding at the end). The film’s quiet power comes from the knockout performances by Teller and Eckhart, a pair of unlikely companions with a convincing chemistry of coach and trainee. These guys probably aren’t destined to be best buddies, but it’s clear they have a mutual respect for each other and their acting personalities create a natural fit.

Forget that Teller doesn’t have the physique of a boxer: he has the scrappy, confident personality to sell it completely. Supporting turns from Ciarán Hinds as Vinny’s father Angelo and Katey Sagal as his mother Louise are straightforward yet effective. The film is filled with odd casting decisions that somehow come together in perfect harmony, and the actors are what make this movie better than you’d expect it to be.

Still, this is a film that’s made for people who love sports movies, those who relish true stories of a surprise comeback against all odds, and especially for diehard fans of boxing. Maybe if I had a love for the subject I’d have been more engaged in Vinny’s struggles. While the writing and acting is top-notch, the film is nothing more than just okay. It’s not that the movie is bad or boring, it simply exists.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“War Dogs”

LOUISA: 4 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“War Dogs” tells the incredible true story of two ambitious twentysomething junior high buddies who make mega bucks by selling arms to the U.S. government. It’s a dark, troubling story, a tale of immeasurable greed and corruption that will make you angry while at the same time make you cheer.

I give huge credit to director Todd Phillips for making this material tremendously entertaining. There’s no new stylistic ground explored in terms of filmmaking (it’s a little lazy to rely so much on voiceover narration and the jarring, unnecessary use of snippets from popular rock songs), but Phillips’ snarky, sarcastic directing style perfectly fits the subject matter as well as the arrogant real-life personalities of his lead actors.

In the early 2000s, Efraim (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) go into business together with plans to make money off the Iraq war by bidding on lucrative government military contracts. After they land a multi-million dollar deal to supply thousands of rounds of bullets to Afghan forces, the pair find themselves in business with some very, very shady people. That this film is based on real events is absolutely incredible.

Newly rich and flush with cash, the guys spend their payday by acquiring fancy penthouse apartments, entertaining high dollar hookers, and consuming massive amounts of drugs. Some scenes tend to glamorize the arms business but as soon as you start to think “hey, I could do that,” a gun wielding encounter with a scumbag on the terrorist watch list and a tense, near-death ride through Iraq’s “triangle of death” quickly quashes those delusions.

There’s an incomparable chemistry between the two leads, a pair of actors who are just plain unlikable on their own but when paired together are pitch perfect. It’s actually fun to watch them do exceedingly stupid stuff, casually observing from a distance as their greed and relaxed moral compass inevitably brings their eventual downfall. These two young actors are at the top of their game in this film (it’s not easy to create their own versions of semi-deplorable characters that audiences still want to root for). It’s simple to see that they had a blast chewing on these roles, and I had a blast watching them.

“War Dogs” doesn’t attempt to make some bold, profound statement on society’s obsession with guns, wars and money; instead it delivers a highly entertaining, genuinely compelling, completely engaging look at the lengths some people will go in order to live their own distorted version of the American dream.

MATT SAYS:

Efraim (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) are two twenty-something guys who become international arms dealers equipped only with a couple of computers and a encyclopedic knowledge of the weapons of war.

They say truth can be stranger than fiction. We’re told that “War Dogs” is based on a true story, and what a story it is. Reminiscent of “Boiler Room” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it’s a tale of and for our times: the never-ending quest to get very rich, very quickly doesn’t exist only in the world of finance and Bernie Madoff. These guys figured out how to exploit loopholes in the bid process for government contracts, which incredibly anyone with a small business could compete for. That’s right, anyone. If you could find a source for a million rounds of ammunition and 1000 handguns, you too could have bid to fill one of the thousands of contracts that were open for bidding in the mid-2000s.

Although neither Efraim nor David are particularly likeable, it’s hard not to admire them and their ingenuity. Hill and Teller were made for these roles: both equally cocky and off-putting, they are perfectly suited to play two arrogant, reckless, and uneducated guys that figured out how to game the system created by Dick Cheney’s America. Bradley Cooper is entertaining as shady arms dealer Henry Girard and Ana de Armas turns in a solid performance as David’s wife, Iz, who is perhaps the only sympathetic character in the film.

While noticeably different from director Todd Phillips’s (“Old School”, “The Hangover”, “Due Date”) usual fare, in his hands this material works. The real story is so outrageous that he doesn’t need to make it any more so: the comedy that we do get is organic, not forced. At just under two hours, it’s paced well and the writing is good, occasionally great.

A decidedly adult dramatic comedy for our times, “War Dogs” is worth a watch.

“Get A Job”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS MATT: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Whiny millennials take note: movies like “Get A Job” are a big part of why you are often viewed as an annoyance by the rest of society! This vapid, lazy movie feels like an extended bitch session about how hard it is to find a job after college. Too bad the film doesn’t actually show the legitimate struggles and instead loses focus with its unrealistic plot, short attention span, and poor editing. It’s obvious this movie was made for those with extremely short attention spans.

Not only does it feel like huge chunks of the story are missing, but the dreadful excuses for ‘jokes’ are mostly a string of horribly unfunny embarrassments (you won’t believe the awkward, desperate attempt at humor from Alison Brie as the office’s sexual harasser; it’s not amusing, it’s just gross).

Even more of a shame is the great talent that is squandered in this awful junk. To be fair, this movie was filmed way back in 2012, long before the careers of stars Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick and Bryan Cranston really took off. The accomplished Marcia Gay Harden, John Cho, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (the only funny element of the entire movie), Brandon T. Jackson (the butt of several gross-out jokes), and John C. McGinley also lend their talents to this unclever mess.

I think I may be angry at the movie simply for its complete and utter waste of such a talented cast.

MATT SAYS:

Anna Kendrick, Miles Teller, Bryan Cranston, Brandon T. Jackson, Marcia Gay Harden, Alison Brie… with a cast like this, it’s hard NOT to wonder why “Get a Job” didn’t get a wide theatrical release. And then you start watching the movie. Mystery solved: it’s not good.

“Get a Job” starts out with a good premise, as narrated by Teller’s character Will. He opens by repeating what has been often observed: having grown up in a world where achievement and failure are celebrated equally by their parents and schools, where there are no winners or losers, and everyone is a unique snowflake to be nurtured and supported at all costs, Millennials are ill-equipped for the workforce and the realities of having to earn a living. The film then follows Will, his friends and girlfriend as they each look for jobs and attempt to integrate into the working world.

Sounds promising, right?

The problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t follow this announced premise at all. Sure, the recent college grads struggle to get jobs and then find themselves at the bottom of their respective totem poles, but their trials and tribulations aren’t any different from how it was for any other generation. How they deal with it isn’t really any different, either. If anything, the film actually reaffirms their own inflated Millennial views of self-worth as most of them get much more attention and find much more early success than what really happens in the real world.

In other words, it not only fails to pay off on its premise, but it’s also fraudulent.

The only story line with resonance belongs to Cranston: as Roger Davis, a middle-aged man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and achieved some success with a C-level job, he (who in the movie is Will’s dad) is suddenly downsized. Roger has to deal with his new reality and trying to find a job in a market where he must compete with people who are younger and more tech-savvy. Although Roger and his storyline are sympathetic, it is nothing new and not good enough to make this movie worth recommending.

“Divergent: Allegiant”

LOUISA:    1.5 STARS      MATT:    1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I mildly enjoyed the other two movies in the “Divergent” series (“Divergent” and “Insurgent“), but this addition to the filmed literary trilogy has all the joy completely sucked out of it. It feels like all involved would have rather been anywhere but working on this movie. It is obvious they are just showing up for the paycheck, and it’s sad.

Shailene Woodley, one of the most talented young actors working today, gives a performance so bad that I could tell she was simply phoning it in. She actually looks like she’s uncomfortable playing an action heroine, to the point where for the first time I didn’t find her believable as tough girl Tris. Theo James is capable as brawny hero Four, but let’s face it: the actor doesn’t have that much else going for him. The hugely talented Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Naomi Watts all give lazy performances that reek of desperation (the brief appearance from Octavia Spencer adds the only touch of class to the movie). But it’s Jeff Daniels who gets the worst actor award for this one; his delivery is borderline campy but he plays it with a very pitiful sincerity. I laughed out loud at some of his scenes — and they weren’t intended to be funny.

“Allegiant” is burdened with a convoluted plot that makes no sense and rambles on and on and on for two hours. The primary focus on animated gadgets and bloodless action sequences means there’s limited storytelling going on here. The cleverless action scenes are tediously dull, the dialogue is shallow, the acting is amateurish and the special effects are some of the worst I’ve seen in years. (No, really: a preteen kid with a laptop could’ve animated better CGI; the movie looks terrible)! Another big problem that these films have never been able to overcome is the fact that their characters are across the board unlikable. I’ve never rooted for nor cared for any of them, and their flaws are amplified even further since this latest installment is so tiresome.

If Hollywood doesn’t soon step in with better film adaptations (like “The Fifth Wave“), I fear for the future of the young adult genre.

MATT SAYS:

Easily the most forgettable entry in the “Divergent” series, “Allegiant” picks up where “Insurgent” left off. Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is dead, the power structure in Chicago has crumbled and the new rebel group led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts) has taken power. The new regime appears to be just as brutal and ruthless as the old one, and Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and their small group leave the city walls to explore what’s beyond.

Although I had seen both of the previous movies in this series, I found myself more than a little confused by “Allegiant.” The silly faction idea, with its on-the-nose message about the importance of individuality, was at least something to grab hold of and was an effective device for telling a story set in a dystopian future. Here, though, with the factions gone and Jeanine dead, the denizens of the “Divergent” world have divided themselves into multiple groups with divergent (see what I did there?) interests and it has become much more difficult to care about any of them. While both “Divergent” and “Insurgent” left me at least partially interested in seeing what happens next, I find myself not caring at all about where things go from here.

Worse yet, the movie pretty much wastes its cast. The strength of these movies has been its use of talented actors which were able to elevate the source material. In “Allegiant,” the star of the show has become the cheesy and unrealistic computer-generated effects. Maybe I was spoiled by the 2015 practical effects-laden feasts “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Mad Max Fury Road,” but this movie in particular should be exhibit A in any discussion about why too much CG is a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good effects-driven sci-fi movie as much as anyone. But this isn’t good sci-fi, and these aren’t good effects. The capable young stars are almost forced to sit on the sideline while we watch a giant floating silver thing fly, attach, or crash into other giant floating silver things or barren landscapes, over and over again. The actors are reduced to lots of green screen running, shouting, and shooting, and it’s all kind of dull. I like these actors, and I wanted to see more of them actually getting to act and interact with one another. If not for the cast and the little opportunity they are given to actually act, I would have rated this movie even lower.

If you’re looking for good science fiction, go see “Star Wars” again. It’s still in theaters. Skip this one.