Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Snatch (2000)

British Gangster Movie #9

Synopsis: It’s basically Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, with a bigger budget and some American movie stars (see VHS jacket)

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When jewel thief Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) takes a slight detour to London on route to delivering a huge stolen diamond to his boss in New York, he unwittingly sets off an avalanche of sinister and comic events that wind their way through the rough and tumble worlds of bare-knuckle boxing, Irish gypsies, pawn shops pig farming and.... a stray dog.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) It takes at least 16 pigs to consume a human corpse in one sitting, so be careful around anyone who owns a pig farm. 2) You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity. 3) London is known for: “fish, chips, cup 'o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins...”

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy a nice, clean snatch. (get your minds out of the gutter – I’m NOT linking to porn!!)

Really?: “Turkish”.... “Bricktop”.... “Bullet-Tooth Tony”.... “Franky Four Fingers”... wow, does everyone in this movie have some sort of cute, Dick Tracy-ish nickname?

Rating: Snatch is of course Michael Ritchie’s follow-up film to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and it even features a few actors from Lock recast in new roles. Snatch is a fun caper-comedy, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking it’s basically a rehash, this time on a grander scale (see: “Synopsis”). 8/10 stars.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

British Gangster Movie #8

Synopsis: It’s 107 minutes of brutal violence and strange insults uttered in impenetrable Cockney accents.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “a disgrace to criminals everywhere.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re going to grow – and sell – large quantities of dope in your apartment, you probably shouldn’t buy a big bag of fertilizer when you go out shopping for a money-counter, and you probably need something more substantial for protection than an air rifle.

Really?: So, one of the boys has an amazing ability to “read” people’s faces, and he gets conned in a crooked card game. Funny how this talent is never once used, and the boys never find out it was all fixed.

Rating: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a rollicking, and surprisingly funny low-budget gangster film with a clever script and some nice performances. Watch for Sting in a small role. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rancid Aluminum (2000)

British Gangster Movie #7 (Ok, there aren’t any British gangsters in this movie – it’s more about Brits who run afoul of the Russian mob)

Synopsis: I don’t know where the aluminum fits in, but the rancid part is pretty accurate.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Pete's (RHYS IFANS) business is going bust, his sperm count is dodgy, and his relationship with Sarah (SADIE FROST) is on the rocks. He has a fling with his secretary, despite her being married to the company bike-messenger Trevor, and he's spending too much time at Harry's drug den. In short, Pete's in trouble, but his problems are only just beginning.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, women in the Russian mafia have mating habits akin to those of the black widow spider.

Really?: So, um.... Masha wants Pete to bang her, knowing full well he’s engaged, and that her father will kill him if they’re discovered? Come to think of it, none of this movie makes any sense....

Rating: Rancid Aluminum has a few amusing scenes (I liked the part when Pete and his buddy Trevor must quickly switch identities in the gas station), but it’s marred by a bad script that quickly falls apart. Rancid Aluminum isn’t scary or exciting enough to work as a thriller, or funny enough to work as a comedy, so I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Not really.... but take a drink every time Mr. Kant (Steven Berkoff) says “beeznis”, or mumbles something about Sir Francis Drake.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gangster No.1 (2000)

British Gangster Movie #6

Synopsis: Scary sociopathic sicko successfully simulates/subverts smooth, swinging Sixties syndicate supervisor.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “It’s 1968. Gangster has come to work for Freddie Mays, the Butcher of Mayfair, and he’s enjoying his job. He likes the money, the girls, the suits, the power, the violence. And Gangster is good at what he does, very good. He frightens people and he’s going to frighten Freddie Mays.”

What Did I Learn?: You want to be very careful around a man who claims to have a “favourite axe.”

Really?: 1) Generally speaking, I tend to believe a movie loses a lot of its credibility when a character hands a loaded pistol to an antagonists and shouts: “go on, shoot me!” 2) I realize Paul Bettany looks a lot like a young Malcolm McDowell, but he’s about 7 inches taller, and their eyes are different colours. Considering every other actor is made-up to look older in the present-day scenes, I’m not sure it was a great idea to use both men.

Rating: I have somewhat mixed feelings about Gangster No. 1. I liked McDowell’s and Bettany’s performances, and the story is rather compelling – for awhile, anyway. As the gangster becomes increasingly evil (I'm thinking especially of the brutal murder of Lennie Taylor), it becomes quite difficult to identify with his character, and the last scenes when he confronts a mature Freddie Mays just fall flat. 6/10 stars.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Hit (1984)

British Gangster Movie #5

Synopsis: Life of former gangster living in Spain is turned upside-down when he gets a rude reminder from his past. Oh wait – that’s the Synopsis for Sexy Beast!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “JOHN HURT stars as Braddock, a quiet, calculating hit man in this clever and entertaining suspense drama. Braddock must transport Willie Parker (TERENCE STAMP), a gangster-turned-informer, from Spain to Paris where Willie faces execution. Braddock is aided by Myron (TIM ROTH), his young smart-aleck assistant.”

What Did I Learn?: There’s a pretty good chance the guy who claims that “dying is as natural as breathing – why be afraid of it?” will turn into a snivelling coward when it’s his time to bite the dust.

Really?: 1) Hmm... so, how many times do Braddock and Maggie wind up wrestling with each other in the dirt? 2) Hold on – Willie has the perfect opportunity to escape and he doesn’t? Come to think of it, why would he suggest to Braddock that the Australian shouldn’t be trusted to keep his mouth shut? 3) Why do Hurt and Roth get top-billing, when Stamp is clearly the protagonist in this film? 4) So, um...what’s the point of the scene when Myron beats up the Spanish bar-patrons, and then trashes the cantina?

Rating: Beautifully filmed, and featuring a vibrant Spanish musical score, The Hit is a stylish (and sadly forgotten) little gem from the mid-1980s, and is notable for being one of Tim Roth’s earliest performances. Brimming with tension, the film has a number of great moments, but it’s marred by a mediocre Third Act, when characters stop behaving logically (see: “Really?”) and an anti-climactic ending. 8.5/10 stars.

Mona Lisa (1986)

British Gangster Movie #4 (and it’s also the second film in a Bob Hoskins double feature)

Synopsis: Fresh out-of-the-slammer Cockney bloke goes to work for chic hooker, who sort-of likes him, buys him expensive clothes, and... oh my God, it’s Pretty Woman with the roles reversed!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “George (Bob Hoskins) is a small-time loser and eternal victim. Just out of prison after taking the rap on a job for Mortwell (Michael Caine) George is employed as an underling in Mortwell’s vice racket, delivering porn videos and acting as driver/minder to a high-class call girl named Simone.”

What Did I Learn?: A pink-and-blue Hawaiian shirt doesn’t really go with a grey, double-breasted suit... or with anything, for that matter.

You Might Like This Movie If: You figure it must be a two-hour version of, um... this video.

Really?:  1) Funny how the sub-plot involving George’s estranged daughter is introduced, and then never really developed... 2) Wow - how many times do we have to hear Nat King Cole sing "Mona Lisa"?

Rating: Mona Lisa is a slow-moving, but interesting film that starts out as a character-driven drama, and slowly evolves into a thriller. Mona Lisa is definitely the sleaziest of the British Gangster films I’ve reviewed (I’m guessing it was an influence on the makers of 8mm), and the ending is a bit difficult to swallow, but Hoskins and Cathy Tyson work well together (they share a scene on the boardwalk near the end that’s electrifying), while Caine steals every scene as the very menacing Mortwell. 8/10 stars.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Long Good Friday (1980)

British Gangster Movie #3

Synopsis: Likeable Cockney crime boss has a really bad day.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The shadowy world of the racketeer is violent and unforgiving. The man at the top is alone with his power. Harold Shand is such a man.”

What Did I Learn?: Ripping off a terrorist organization for 5 grand is a really bad idea; vowing to annihilate the terrorists after they (understandably) get upset about it is monumentally stupid.

You Might Like This Movie If: You really want to see the film that made Bob Hoskins a star, and allowed him to take bigger, and better roles.

Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?”.... I realize Harold has good reasons to be really, really angry, but first and foremost, he’s a businessman, and he must realize that attempting to wipe out the IRA is a fool’s errand. 2) You know, I really didn’t need to see 5-10 seconds of Bob Hoskins taking a shower.

Rating: The Long Good Friday is a well-written, and superbly acted crime drama featuring a tour-de-force performance from Bob Hoskins (this was his breakout role) and a memorable musical score by Francis Monkman. Oh – watch for Pierce Brosnan in a small, way-before-he-was-famous part. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Layer Cake (2004)

British Gangster Movie #2
Oh - please click the links to read my reviews of The Limey, and Shiner.

Synopsis: Ever wanted to see James Bond as a violence-averse cocaine trader who gets beat up a lot? This is your movie...

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Planning to retire, successful drug dealer Mr. X (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale, Munich) is asked one last favour: sell one million hits of ecstasy. Unfortunately, the pills were stolen from a drug lord who’ll cut off his head if he sells them.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to sell drugs: a) always work in a small team, b) keep a very low profile, and c) only deal with people who come recommended. 2) In England, even drug dealers don’t work on weekends.

You Might Like This Movie If: you really want to know what life it all about.

Really?: 1) Wow – somebody totally stole the ending from Carlito’s Way. 2) I realize Morty has a genuinely good reason to hold a grudge, but wow – savagely beating a man inside a crowded restaurant with lots of witnesses doesn’t seem like such a hot idea, and you would think that a middle-aged criminal would be a bit more professional about seeking revenge.

Rating: Layer Cake is highly reminiscent of a Michael Richie film (Richie was only briefly attached to Layer Cake, and had to quickly drop out): lots of criminals with goofy nicknames, a fun-but-convoluted plot, and some funny lines thrown in for good measure. Layer Cake isn’t terribly memorable, but it’s good for an evening’s entertainment. Check it out if you want to see the project that brought Daniel Craig to the attention of Barbara Broccoli and the 007 franchise. 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sexy Beast (2000)

British Gangster Movie #1

Back in 2011, I reviewed several gangster-themed movies, but I made a point of not watching my copy of The Hit. For years, I wanted to do a tribute to British gangster films, but I never actually got around to it until now.

Oh – considering the theme, take a wild guess which movie I'm going to review this Friday...

Synopsis: Life in an idyllic Spanish villa is upset by the sudden appearance of a violent, venom-spewing thug who strangely looks a bit like Gandhi.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When sociopathic gangster Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) tries to recruit ex-partner in crime (Ray Winstone) for a high-stakes heist back in London, the retired criminal refuses, favouring the legit life after serving a prison term But Logan won’t take no for an answer.”

What Did I Learn?: England is a “grey, grimy, sooty...shithole” where everyone is worried and miserable.

You Might Like This Movie If: Just like Don Logan you can't take “no” for an answer.

Really?: 1) So wait – it’s never made entirely clear if Teddy Bast (Ian McShane) is straight, gay, or bisexual, but it’s hard to believe he would allow himself to be um - *used* - just to get a look at the bank security system. 2) Couldn’t Gal have simply told Don that he has some health issues? 3) Hmm... considering Gal’s life depends on successfully hookwinking Teddy when he gets to London, couldn’t he have come up with a more convincing story than the one he gives (Don phoned him from Heathrow)?

Rating: Sexy Beast drags a little in its last 20 minutes (amazingly, the actual heist is more of an afterthought), but it’s otherwise a crackling character-driven suspense film, and Kingsley delivers a magnificent performance as the world’s worst houseguest. 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Play it to the Bone (1999)

Synopsis: Dim-yet-loveable palookas drive to Vegas for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to um.... beat the crap out of each other?!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Hollywood heavyweights Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas bring real comedic punch to this hilarious, action-packed hit!”

What Did I Learn?: If you experimented in your sexuality when you were younger, and your current best friend is a juiced-up, alpha-male prizefighter, you might want to keep that information to yourself.  

You Might Like This Movie If: you can play it... or work it to the bone.

Really?: 1) Wait – that’s the ending? The boys lose most of their hard-earned (or rather, hard-fought) money, while Grace (Lolita Davidovich) gets slapped around by Robert Wagner and thrown out of the casino? 2) You know – until now, I’ve never seen a boxing movie where I couldn’t really root for either pugilist.

Rating: Play it to the Bone is a forgettable, and not terribly funny buddy road comedy from the late 1990s. The film has a laugh or two, Lucy Liu has a sexy cameo appearance, and Harrelson, Banderas and Davidovich work well together, but I kept asking myself: “why do I give a shit?” The story doesn’t really go anywhere, both Vince and Cesar are a little too macho and stupid for my taste in protagonists (I kept wondering why Grace would date either of these turkeys), and by the time they fight each other, it’s hard not to think: “I hope they don’t hurt each other too badly.” Play it to the Bone isn’t quite a bad movie, but it’s close. 5.5/10 stars.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Banger Sisters (2002)

The characters in this film were LA-based groupies, so please click the link the read my review of Sunset Strip.

Synopsis: Buxom cougar rescues ex-best pal from the drudgery of wealth, high social status and a loving family.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon are The Banger Sisters – two former groupies who got it on with every late ‘60s music legend with a guitar and a Y-chromosome! Now, over two decades later, Suzette (HAWN) is still her brassy self and Lavinia (SARANDON) is a prim, proper suburban wife and mother.”

What Did I Learn?: Writers are lonely, fussy, overly-critical, self-loathing misanthropes, and... oh wait, I already knew that!

You Might Like This Movie If: you're fascinated by groupies.

Really?: To be honest, I had a bit of trouble the entire premise of this movie. Twenty years apart is a long time, and I suspect that the friendship between Suzette and Lavinia would be long dead... Suzette wouldn’t have the *ahem* balls to approach Lavinia in the first place, and even if she did, Lavinia would probably just brush her off and keep her distance. Oh, and there’s just no way Suzette and Harry (Geoffrey Rush) would ever wind up together.

Rating: The Banger Sisters is a light-hearted/feel-good comedy with a few genuinely funny moments and a great performance by Hawn (who enjoys some nice chemistry with Sarandon and Rush). The film’s biggest problem (aside from the fact that it’s yet another take on the age-old theme of uptight, wealthy WASPs needing a free spirit to show them how to really have fun and be true to themselves) is that major characters often don’t act the way we would expect them to behave, and the plot becomes increasingly difficult to believe. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Outland (1981)

Synopsis: Hmm.... Sean Connery arrives at a remote location to discover a series of grisly murders. Oh my God – it’s The Name of the Rose – in space!!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In Jupiter’s innermost moon, is the god-forsaken site of Con-Am 27, a mining colony and high-tech hellhole populated by the same breed of misfits and losers that once roamed the dusty streets of Dodge City.”

What Did I Learn?: You don’t just “lose” nuclear detonators and then “find” them. You lose your comb and then find it, but not detonators!

Really?: 1) So wait – I realize the hired assassin might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but how many people would fire a shotgun inside a plate-glass greenhouse when they know there’s a zero-pressure environment outside? Come to think of it – why would anyone build an extraterrestrial greenhouse with glass that could shatter so easily? 2) Hold on – Sheppard (Peter Boyle) actually articulates his plan to kill O’Neil (Connery) on an open transmission when it’s obvious the Marshall is gunning for him, and has the authority to tap his phone? And why wouldn’t Marshall O’Neil arrest him immediately afterwards?

Rating: I wanted to like Outland, but it just isn’t a very good movie – it’s essentially a futuristic remake of High Noon with two-dimensional characters. While it’s set in space, Outland never becomes science fiction, and it’s not exciting or interesting enough to work as either a Western or as a police procedural, either. More importantly, O’Neil’s character remains a mystery, so we don’t know what motivates him, or why we ought to give a shit when he takes on the evil mining director. Outland isn’t a completely terrible movie (I liked Connery’s performance, and the set design is impressive) – it’s just rather dull and pointless. 5.5/10 stars.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Synopsis: Ever wanted to watch a Horatio Hornblower adventure that doesn’t feature C.S. Forester’s alliteratively-named hero? This is your lucky day!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The fate of an empire rests on the shoulders of one man. Academy Award winner Russell Crowe commands the screen in this spectacular, high-seas adventure directed by Peter Weir.”

What Did I Learn?: If you ever face off against an enemy ship that can both out-run and out-gun your own vessel, your best course of action is to... don civilian clothes, throw out the rules of war and cheat like a motherfucker? Wha...?

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy visiting the Far Side.

Really?: See: “Blurb From the VHS Jacket”... so um.. the fate of the British empire and the war against Napoleon rests on stopping a bunch of French privateers who get their kicks by knocking off English whaling vessels, one at a time?

Rating: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a well-written, superbly acted, and quite believable period film that features both an exciting storyline and well-rounded characters. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Synopsis: It’s a lot like The Bounty... except everyone wildly overacts, and the Polynesian chicks keep their breasts covered.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Mutiny on the Bounty is ‘spectacular movie of grandeur and intimacy, sex and humour, cruelty and nobility.’ (The Hollywood Reporter).”

What Did I Learn?: If your new boss informs you that “cruelty with purpose is not cruelty – it’s efficiency,” start running.

You Might Like This Movie If: you associate "Bounty" with swabbing.

Really?: 1) I realize Brando’s Fletcher Christian is a pompous aristocrat, but I had a hard time believing a new first officer would refer to his ship as a “91-foot chamber pot” during his first meeting with the vessel’s captain. 2) So wait... the entire crew faces the very real possibility of getting hanged the moment they set foot on British soil, and Christian wants to go back to England to tell his side of the story? WTF? 3) Hmm.... this film is based on a real-life incident, so it’s hard to say what’s fact and what’s fiction, but in The Bounty, a) the crew eventually mutinies because they’re afraid of travelling around the Cape, not because the captain has severely limited their water intake, and b) Bligh refuses sex with the Polynesian girls because he’s a married man, not because of “duty,” or whatever – both of these seem rather unlikely.

Rating: Mutiny on the Bounty is an interesting companion film to the 1984 Mel Gibson/Anthony Hopkins remake, although it isn’t nearly as good. Mutiny is far too long (3 hours, 6 minutes), Bligh is portrayed as a two-dimensional sadistic monster (you have to wonder why the crew didn’t mutiny from the get-go), while Christian is unlikeable fop who only reluctantly stands up to his captain. Still, Brando’s big scene, when he takes control of the ship, is electrifying and well worth watching. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

K*19: The Widowmaker (2002)

Dang – this would have been perfect for my tribute to Submarine Movies last November!

Synopsis: Courageous Russian submariners learn the hard way that Soviet military technology wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Harrison Ford delivers one of his most power performances in this riveting action-drama inspired by a true story.”

What Did I Learn?: Sobbing uncontrollably during a dangerous situation may earn you the contempt of your colleagues, but damn – it’s a great way to get out of a suicide mission.

Really?: 1) K*19 is based on a true story, so it’s hard to tell how much of this movie is fiction, but I had a hard time believing a second-in-command would question his captain’s orders right in front of the crew. 2) Um... holy shit, Harrison Ford has a shitty Russian accent.

Rating: If you can somehow block out Indiana Jones attempting to sound like Boris and Natasha, K*19: The Widowmaker is a compelling, and even haunting true-life story of a nuclear reactor meltdown aboard a Soviet sub at the height of the Cold War. 8/10 stars.