SD/Films – RockNRolla, Shoot ‘Em Up & Inglourious Basterds

Righto. So, three films in the last week, all of them guns and glory, and not one of them with a properly written title. Excellent.

Rock N Rolla

Rock N Rolla

I’ve got a soft spot for “Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”, and I recall enjoying “Snatch”, though I’ve never felt the need to watch it again, but Guy Ritchie has become a bit of a figure of fun for the world at large in recent years, and that’s made it hard to see his particular ouvre of mockney gangster movies as having any authenticity any more, if they really had any to

begin with in the first place.

I guess that’s why I hadn’t rushed to see “Rock N Rolla” when it came out. I’d heard only bad things about “Revolver”, and can be suggestible about such things.

It’s a shame, really, because “Rock N Rolla” is quite fun. Granted, it’s got a similar convoluted caper plot to “Lock Stock…” and “Snatch”, and does about as much to realistically represent organised crime in London as “Oceans Eleven” does for career thieves. Or “Finding Nemo” did for sea life.

But the movie looks nice, and there are some lovely performances from a pretty high-caliber cast, with Gerard Butler and Idris Elba apparently having loads of fun, Tom Hardy and Thandie Newton giving able support, and Mark Strong providing a solid backbone to the whole affair. There’s a believable affability between many of the characters that really pulls together in the final scenes, and makes it all a bit more likeable than it perhaps deserves to be.

Mark Strong

Guy Ritchie doesn’t really make good films, so much as an assortment of great scenes, and I don’t think he’s yet found the perfect formula for sorting those scenes into a working order for the perfect, tight movie. However, there are some scenes here – and I’m thinking particularly of the brilliant second heist – that are just ace.

As fun as this all is, it is still anot

her entry in the growing ranks of movies about British crime that feels more like a romp for RADA trained actors than an actual big-screen movie about British crime – albeit a slightly grimier one than we’ve seen in recent years – and I think there’s a gap in the market there, somewhere. It feels like the last British crooks I saw that I could actually buy  as crooks were in “Eastern Promises”, and that wasn’t strictly home grown. There always seems to be that element of detachment and panto to films like this, that isn’t visible in films like “Goodfellas”, or even “The Untouchables”.

Gerard Butler

Mind, maybe Ritchie wants to be more like Tarantino than Scorcese. Or maybe it’s just impossible to find a middle ground between kitchen-sink drama and music-video slickness if your characters have one of an assortment of broad and nerve-wracking regional British accents, instead of the more cinematic American ones.

“RockNRolla” is available at Amazon.

Shoot ‘Em Up

Shoot 'Em UpAfter a positive and exciteable adolescent reaction to the action-fizz of early trailers for “Shoot ‘Em Up”, I somehow managed to talk my way out of watching it when it actually came out. This was probably more due to a quite unenthusiastic response by other people to the movie than my own instincts… like I said, I can be pretty suggestible.

So anyway, we finally got around to watching it this week.

“Shoot ‘Em Up” is a pretty stupid movie. It’s got the purest of plots – an utterly linear sequence of events that thrusts its hero – unsurprisingly called Smith, and played with archness by Clive Owen – from one extreme action set-piece to the next.

But the thing is, that’s all it needs, and that’s all it intends, and this is a point that seems to have been missed by both the film’s defenders and its critics. Of which there are plenty.

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that when it comes to plot in action movies, I’m very much in the “less is more” school of thought – it feels like I spend an awful lot of time complaining about overcooked plots in movies that others have attacked for having none, or none that makes any sense.

Clive OwenWhat Michael Davis has done, here – and I suspect he’s done it more accidentally than the protectors of this film on IMDB and elsewhere would have you believe – is he’s pretty much made my perfect popcorn action movie. The story – uber-competent gunman-with-no-name stumbles into an assa

ssination plot in-progress, finds himself reluctantly protecting a newborn baby until he can extricate them both from the situation – never gets much more complicated than that, and is pretty much designed to have an endless supply of faceless hoodlums come in front of his twin guns.

It’s basically unbranded Max Payne, directed by Tony Scott – or minimalist-period Frank Miller filmed by a Hong Kong-based John Woo, and it is going to leave anyone who can’t appreciate a slick and totally unlikely piece of gun-ballet completely unmoved.

Paul GiamattiPaul Giamatti is winningly neurotic as the mildly autistic opposite number to Clive Owen’s unaffected hero, with Owen for the most part giving himself over to the high-concept of his character. Talent wise, Monica Bellucci probably brings a little bit too much gun to what is essentially a difficult to defend piece of bare-bones female character inclusion, but of course the same could be said for her role in the “Matrix” movies, and at least there’s something gloriously subversive about her role in this movie, even though she is basically just a whore with a heart of gold.

“Shoot ‘Em Up” has a little more drama and heart than the similarly positioned “Crank”, while cinematically being better framed, shot and edited than a lot of the other tongue-in-cheek bubble-gum action movies around, like “The Transporter” series.

The script could have gone through a couple more read-throughs – some of the cheesy one-liners might have been rewritten slightly if they’d heard Owen’s delivery of them – and maybe should have been more up-front about its purpose – because calling it “Shoot ‘Em Up” obviously didn’t give a clear enough indication of what tone it was going to have – but honestly? I can see it being one of those movies we stick on again and again. It’s just too much fun not to.

“Shoot ‘Em Up” is a fiver at Amazon, and worth every penny. But probably not worth much more than that.

Inglourious Basterds

Inglorious BastardsAt two and a half hours long, there’s an awful lot going on in Tarantino’s latest, and I think I’m still processing it.

That isn’t to say it’s a particularly wise or intellige

nt movie – though it’s one of Quentin’s most restrained and thoughtful – or a very polished or complex one – I’d say that as far as production, “Kill Bill” is still his most slick movie, and “Jackie Brown” has the most involved story. But it’s the first film we’ve seen from the man that hasn’t been contemporary, and when his other movies, most specifically their dialogue, have been so closely aligned with pop-culture, it’s difficult for me to parse this one with as much clarity as I’d like.

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed it. I can see it being a must-have on DVD, though length and pacing mean it’ll probably not get as much replay as “Kill Bill” or “Reservoir Dogs”.

So, anyway, my thoughts are still a bit fractured on it. A few points:

The period setting of it was, I think surprisingly, remarkably well realised. Tarantino works well with his settings here, and as well as keeping his characters’ dialogue relevant to the time, he even seems to have adopted a visual style evocative of older movies set during the wars, with actors often framed in a very different way from his usual, quite staged, direction.

Aldo Raine

Tarantino’s trademark scripting style, though massively adapted for the time, is still present, but rather than sounding like the loquacious or articulate killers that populate his other work, the style has been applied to matters of etiquette and the preoccupations of individuals operating in occupied France, and here his characters are eloquent, charming and cautious.

The illusion that this isn’t “Tarantino as usual” only really falters for me during a scene in which Diane Kruger sounds like a sarcastic roughneck at a point when one would expect her to show vulnerability instead. She scans more like Thurman in “Pulp Fiction” or “Kill Bill” than a privilidged movie star in peril.

inglourious_basterds Christoph Waltz

There’s a lot of humour in the movie, much of it coming out of Brad Pitt’s turn as Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds and all round hard-ass. The director uses Pitt for his normal, broad approach to humour, but there’s a lot of wit in pretty much any scene with Christoph Waltz – whose Col. Hans Landa wins the movie for me, pretty much – and also a much gentler humour than we’re used to seeing from Tarantino in the scenes between Zoller and Dreyfuss.

Zoller is played by an actor that I hadn’t seen before, called Daniel Brühl, whose similarity to a young Christopher Reeves I actually found quite distracting.

inglourious_basterds Daniel Brühl

The film’s pacing is all out of whack, and considering the long running time, there are quite a few odd omissions, not least the fact that although there are many incidental scenes in everybody else’s stories, the Basterds of the title aren’t given much “me” time at all. It’s difficult to know how to feel about this – ultimately, if Tarantino’s aim is to give a sense of it being “funny how things turn out”, it’s fitting that most of the best laid plans of his characters don’t quite work out, and the fact that there are a few stories interlocking here, as a side-effect of that intention, demands that the titular characters aren’t the only inglorious bastards on display.
On the other hand, it does make for some patchy pacing, and when it’s tough to see what could have been cut, or how else the story could have been presented, it does make for quite a pickle.

This film makes no attempts at realism or historical accuracy, and it’s almost hilarious (as opposed to the normal fury and frustration) to look at the IMDB commenters complaining about this. By the end of the film, it’s obvious that Tarantino wasn’t trying to make an accurate movie, so much as a kick-ass one, despite his concessions to gravity, and if it owes anything to any real version of World War 2, it’s the one presented in old war movies, and old pulp comics.

Actually, it’s interesting that Guy Ritchie is listed as director of an upcoming “Sgt Rock” movie. “Rock N Rolla” made me consider Ritchie’s role as an English version of Tarantino – either deliberately or by accident – and the fact that he’s involved with a movie version of such a seminal American war comic, while Tarantino is making as near-as-dammit a celluloid iteration of all of those classic old British war comics, is a fun coincidence. At least, I think it is.

inglourious_basterds Shosanna Dreyfuss

The Mike Myers cameo is just totally distracting, and though he acquits himself relatively well, with no mugging to the camera, it’s impossible to ignore the English accent he tortures in his single scene.

As with my complaints about Guy Ritchie, when he’s allowed off the leash, Tarantino does much better with individual scenes than he does with pulling together a narrative across the length of a film. Though the story here does hold together, and there’s something quite delicious about the ways the disparate plots entangle but never quite cosily merge, the issues here aren’t with clear plotting so much as they are with pacing. Which is to say that sometimes the different stories, varied in tone as they are – the plans and experiences of the Basterds themselves are very different from the coldly tense and arguably more interesting Shosanna Dreyfuss story, and the charming and unnerving machinations of Hans Landa weaves in and out of each, but is much more fluid than either – rub up against each other in a way that isn’t entirely satisfying to the viewer. Once a scene is in full-flow, it’s easy to enjoy, but sometimes the shift from one to the other can be disarming.

All in all, though, Tarantino has shown more restraint in this movie than in any other since “Jackie Brown”, both in how violent or outrageous it gets, and how much of his own mannerisms and preoccupations seep into it. It’s a fun romp, is what it is, and at the same time it’s completely different from anything else around, from this director or any other, and as such is worth a go.