At the movies: arms dealers and boxing
The film “War Dogs,” about two young Jewish arms dealers who get a major government contract to supply weapons for American troops in Afghanistan, is based on a true story about Efraim Diveroli, now 30, and David Packouz, 34. The two were raised Orthodox but were always black sheep. Packouz’s father is a rabbi and Diveroli’s uncle is celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, 49.
Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill, 34), was a teen in Miami when he got into the arms trading business through his uncle. After finding out the Pentagon needed small arms to supply U.S.-friendly militias in Iraq and Afghanistan, Diveroli won his first small defense contracts and found suppliers in Eastern Europe. In 2005, Diveroli brought his friend Packouz into his growing operation — the two met in synagogue, according to Rolling Stone magazine — and in 2007 they landed a huge $300 million arms contract with the Pentagon. This required them to scour the globe for weapons and deal with some very unsavory people. Eventually, their activities got them in trouble with the law.
Director Todd Phillips, 45, made the hit “Hangover” films, and reviewers say he brings some of that guys-on-the-road-having-weird-adventures sensibility and humor to “War Dogs.” Those lighter moments are said to work, but the film is more shaky as a drama. It opened Aug. 19 in the Bay Area.
“Hands of Stone” tells the life story of boxer Roberto Duran, 65, who held several major titles in the 1970s and ’80s and is ranked as one of the best fighters of all time. It got good reviews when it played the Cannes Film Festival in May. It depicts Duran’s early life in Panama’s slums, and covers his major bouts leading up to his two epic title fights with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. Duran was trained by Ray Arcel (1899-1994). Arcel, who is played by Robert De Niro, coached dozens of champions in a career that began in the 1920s (including great Jewish champions like Benny Leonard and Jackie “Kid” Berg.) Born Ramel Arcel, he was named after a grandfather who was killed in a pogrom. Unlike most boxing trainers of his era, Arcel was a mensch in his business dealings and had school smarts as well as street smarts. The Hollywood Reporter says De Niro depicts Arcel as “a largely honorable, fatherly altacocker in a sometimes grubby sport.” Ellen Barkin, 62, and Santa Rosa native Jurnee Smollett-Bell, 29, have supporting roles as, respectively, Arcel’s wife and Leonard’s wife. The film opens Friday, Aug. 26.
Reviews have heaped praise on Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who plays Duran. The director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, 37, is a Venezuelan of Polish Jewish descent. He also wrote the “Hands” screenplay. His first film, “Ships of Hope” (2000), is a documentary about Jewish refugees reaching Venezuela just before World War II. It won many awards and was broadcast by HBO throughout Latin America. His other directorial hit is “Secuestro Express” (2005), an action/crime thriller that he also wrote. It became Venezuela’s biggest-grossing film of all time, including imports like “Titanic.”
Congrats to New Zealander Jo Aleh, 30, who won the bronze medal in the 470 dinghy class sailing competition (she won gold in 2012), and to Australian Jessica Fox, 22, who won the bronze in the canoe slalom K-1 class (she won silver in 2012).
“Better Late than Never” began on NBC on Aug. 23 and new episodes (six in all) air at 10 p.m. Tuesdays. It follows four veteran celebs (Henry Winkler, 70, William Shatner, 85, boxer George Foreman and quarterback Terry Bradshaw) as they travel to five Asian cities with comedian Jeff Dye. Most reviews are kind — calling it light, frequently amusing summer fare.
Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at email@example.com.