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
Iâ€™ve got a soft spot for â€œLock Stock & Two Smoking Barrelsâ€, and I recall enjoying â€œSnatchâ€, though Iâ€™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 thatâ€™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 thatâ€™s why I hadnâ€™t rushed to see â€œRock N Rollaâ€ when it came out. Iâ€™d heard only bad things about â€œRevolverâ€, and can be suggestible about such things.
Itâ€™s a shame, really, because â€œRock N Rollaâ€ is quite fun. Granted, itâ€™s got a similar convoluted caper plot to â€œLock Stockâ€¦â€ and â€œSnatchâ€, and does about as much to realistically represent organised crime in London as â€œOceans Elevenâ€ does for career thieves. Or â€œFinding Nemoâ€ 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. Thereâ€™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.
Guy Ritchie doesnâ€™t really make good films, so much as an assortment of great scenes, and I donâ€™t think heâ€™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 â€“ and Iâ€™m thinking particularly of the brilliant second heist â€“ 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 â€“ albeit a slightly grimier one than weâ€™ve seen in recent years â€“ and I think thereâ€™s a gap in the market there, somewhere. It feels like the last British crooks I saw that I could actually buyÂ as crooks were in â€œEastern Promisesâ€, and that wasnâ€™t strictly home grown. There always seems to be that element of detachment and panto to films like this, that isnâ€™t visible in films like â€œGoodfellasâ€, or even â€œThe Untouchablesâ€.
Mind, maybe Ritchie wants to be more like Tarantino than Scorcese. Or maybe itâ€™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.
Shoot â€˜Em Up
After a positive and exciteable adolescent reaction to the action-fizz of early trailers for â€œShoot â€˜Em Upâ€, 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 instinctsâ€¦ like I said, I can be pretty suggestible.
So anyway, we finally got around to watching it this week.
â€œShoot â€˜Em Upâ€ is a pretty stupid movie. Itâ€™s got the purest of plots â€“ an utterly linear sequence of events that thrusts its hero â€“ unsurprisingly called Smith, and played with archness by Clive Owen â€“ from one extreme action set-piece to the next.
But the thing is, thatâ€™s all it needs, and thatâ€™s all it intends, and this is a point that seems to have been missed by both the filmâ€™s defenders and its critics. Of which there are plenty.
It shouldnâ€™t be a shock to anyone that when it comes to plot in action movies, Iâ€™m very much in the â€œless is moreâ€ school of thought â€“ 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.
What Michael Davis has done, here â€“ and I suspect heâ€™s done it more accidentally than the protectors of this film on IMDB and elsewhere would have you believe â€“ is heâ€™s pretty much made my perfect popcorn action movie. The story â€“ 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 â€“ 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.
Itâ€™s basically unbranded Max Payne, directed by Tony Scott â€“ or minimalist-period Frank Miller filmed by a Hong Kong-based John Woo, and it is going to leave anyone who canâ€™t appreciate a slick and totally unlikely piece of gun-ballet completely unmoved.
Paul Giamatti is winningly neurotic as the mildly autistic opposite number to Clive Owenâ€™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 â€œMatrixâ€ movies, and at least thereâ€™s something gloriously subversive about her role in this movie, even though she is basically just a whore with a heart of gold.
â€œShoot â€˜Em Upâ€ has a little more drama and heart than the similarly positioned â€œCrankâ€, while cinematically being better framed, shot and edited than a lot of the other tongue-in-cheek bubble-gum action movies around, like â€œThe Transporterâ€ series.
The script could have gone through a couple more read-throughs â€“ some of the cheesy one-liners might have been rewritten slightly if theyâ€™d heard Owenâ€™s delivery of them â€“ and maybe should have been more up-front about its purpose â€“ because calling it â€œShoot â€˜Em Upâ€ obviously didnâ€™t give a clear enough indication of what tone it was going to have â€“ but honestly? I can see it being one of those movies we stick on again and again. Itâ€™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.
That isnâ€™t to say itâ€™s a particularly wise or intellige
nt movie â€“ though itâ€™s one of Quentinâ€™s most restrained and thoughtful â€“ or a very polished or complex one â€“ Iâ€™d say that as far as production, â€œKill Billâ€ is still his most slick movie, and â€œJackie Brownâ€ has the most involved story. But itâ€™s the first film weâ€™ve seen from the man that hasnâ€™t been contemporary, and when his other movies, most specifically their dialogue, have been so closely aligned with pop-culture, itâ€™s difficult for me to parse this one with as much clarity as Iâ€™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 itâ€™ll probably not get as much replay as â€œKill Billâ€ or â€œReservoir Dogsâ€.
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 charactersâ€™ 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.
Tarantinoâ€™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 isnâ€™t â€œTarantino as usualâ€ 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 â€œPulp Fictionâ€ or â€œKill Billâ€ than a privilidged movie star in peril.
Thereâ€™s a lot of humour in the movie, much of it coming out of Brad Pittâ€™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 thereâ€™s a lot of wit in pretty much any scene with Christoph Waltz â€“ whose Col. Hans Landa wins the movie for me, pretty much â€“ and also a much gentler humour than weâ€™re used to seeing from Tarantino in the scenes between Zoller and Dreyfuss.
Zoller is played by an actor that I hadnâ€™t seen before, called Daniel BrÃ¼hl, whose similarity to a young Christopher Reeves I actually found quite distracting.
The filmâ€™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 elseâ€™s stories, the Basterds of the title arenâ€™t given much â€œmeâ€ time at all. Itâ€™s difficult to know how to feel about this â€“ ultimately, if Tarantinoâ€™s aim is to give a sense of it being â€œfunny how things turn outâ€, itâ€™s fitting that most of the best laid plans of his characters donâ€™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 arenâ€™t the only inglorious bastards on display.
On the other hand, it does make for some patchy pacing, and when itâ€™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 itâ€™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, itâ€™s obvious that Tarantino wasnâ€™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, itâ€™s the one presented in old war movies, and old pulp comics.
Actually, itâ€™s interesting that Guy Ritchie is listed as director of an upcoming â€œSgt Rockâ€ movie. â€œRock N Rollaâ€ made me consider Ritchieâ€™s role as an English version of Tarantino â€“ either deliberately or by accident â€“ and the fact that heâ€™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.
The Mike Myers cameo is just totally distracting, and though he acquits himself relatively well, with no mugging to the camera, itâ€™s impossible to ignore the English accent he tortures in his single scene.
As with my complaints about Guy Ritchie, when heâ€™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 thereâ€™s something quite delicious about the ways the disparate plots entangle but never quite cosily merge, the issues here arenâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ rub up against each other in a way that isnâ€™t entirely satisfying to the viewer. Once a scene is in full-flow, itâ€™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 â€œJackie Brownâ€, both in how violent or outrageous it gets, and how much of his own mannerisms and preoccupations seep into it. Itâ€™s a fun romp, is what it is, and at the same time itâ€™s completely different from anything else around, from this director or any other, and as such is worth a go.