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Josh Reviews Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man is the latest film directed by Guy Ritchie.  Jason Statham stars as the man nicknamed “H,” a security guard for an armored truck company.  In the film’s opening sequence, we see a group of armed men attack and rob one of the company’s trucks, leaving two guards and one bystander dead.  As the story unfolds, we see that this crew is continuing to target the company’s trucks, but the mysterious “H” seems up for the challenge…

I was immediately taken by Guy Ritchie’s first two films: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.  I still love those films even today; I rewatch them every few years and always enjoy them.  For two decades I’ve been waiting for Mr. Ritchie to make a film that can equal either of them.  For the most part I’ve been disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed some of Mr. Ritchie’s adventures in big-budget, mass-audience entertainment — I think Sherlock Holmes is his most successful film of that type — but I’ve been longing for years for him to make another great, gritty, funny crime film.  I thought Mr. Ritchie’s 2020 film, The Gentlemen, was his best film in years and very enjoyable (even with its flaws).  I was excited to see Mr. Ritchie’s latest film, Wrath of Man, but for the most part, I thought this film was a dud.

I wish it were otherwise, but I found very little of interest to me in the film.  There’s a lot of well-staged action and violence, so if you like that sort of thing, you’ll find that to enjoy.  But I felt the film was high on juvenile cuss-words and violence but low on witty dialogue or anything resembling character development.  There’s a dark, grim, dour vibe to the whole undertaking that I didn’t find that engaging.

In specific, I found the first 20-or-so minutes of the film to be terribly off-putting.  I was not engaged by the macho tough guys on screen or their juvenile name-calling, and the nihilistic violence was not my cup of tea.  Also, I found the the brooding soundtrack to be extremely oppressive.  I actually thought the film got more interesting in its second half, but I almost stopped watching after that first twenty-to-thirty minutes.  (Honestly, if Guy Ritchie’s name hadn’t been on this film, I might have.)

I think Jason Statham has terrific movie-star presence, and he can be a very entertaining leading man.  I loved him in Lock, Stock and Snatch.  I’ve particularly enjoyed when he’s been allowed to show some humor on screen, such as in his role in the Melissa McCarthy film Spy.  I was excited to see him … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen, written and directed by Guy Ritchie, tells a complicated yarn of the interactions among many different players in the London crime scene, from low-level street toughs to the wealthy masterminds overseeing their empires.  Guy Ritchie came onto the scene with two fantastic crime films of this type: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.  I love both of those films!  While I have enjoyed some of Mr. Ritchie’s big-budget Hollywood work (I really liked the first Sherlock Holmes film he made with Robert Downey, Jr.), I’ve been longing for Mr. Ritchie to return to this type of funny and scary fast-paced crime story that he does so well.  (2008’s RocknRolla was an attempt, but I thought that film was something of a miss.)

While I wouldn’t say that The Gentlemen equals Lock, Stock or Snatch, it’s a very enjoyable romp of a film!  Mr. Ritchie’s fast-paced style is back in full force, and the film is stuffed to overflowing with colorful characters and outrageous circumstances.  The story is somewhat confusing, but it works because of the playful joy with which the entire thing unfolds.  The film is full of fast-paced dialogue and whip-fast jokes.  The narrative is a pleasingly bizarre jumble, complicated by unreliable narrators (especially Hugh Grant’s reporter Fletcher, who tells the story of much of the film’s events) and Mr. Ritchie’s usual creative approach to storytelling.

The film’s cast of weird and dangerous characters is played by a fantastically talented ensemble.  Hugh Grant puts on a thick London accent to play Fletcher, the newspaper investigator who believes he’s discovered his ticket to fortune.  Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Pearson, the suave and dangerous crime lord.  Charlie Hunnam plays Raymond Smith, Mickey’s right-hand-man and fixer.  Colin Farrell plays Coach, who mentors a group of young wannabe-criminals.  Henry Golding plays Dry Eye, a Chinese gangster looking to make a move on Mickey.  Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) plays Rosalind, Mickey’s wife and a formidable player in her own right.  Jeremy Strong (Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Molly’s Game) plays Matthew, the wealthy businessman looking to purchase Mickey’s empire.  Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, The World’s End, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) plays Big Dave, editor of a British tabloid with a grudge against Mickey.  And that’s just scratching the surface…!

There’s a lot of bad language and some juvenile humor in the film.  This isn’t a movie for everyone.  It’s been mostly savaged by the critics, but I’m not sure what they were looking for in this film.  This isn’t Citizen Kane.  Not every film need to be!  It’s a pleasingly diverting lark, one that I found to be funny and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

I’m not sure why Hollywood keeps insisting on making King Arthur movies.  Is it the allure of a known name, in the way that studios chase after franchises and keep remaking and rebooting series with a recognizable title?  Personally, I have never been all that interested in the King Arthur mythos, and I have not actually seen too many Arthur movies.  The early trailers didn’t make this new version, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, look all that interesting to me.  But I enjoy the work of director Guy Ritchie, and though his films can be hit-or-miss, I am always intrigued to see what he has done with his latest project.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword creates a new mythology, casting the Arthur story as taking place in the midst of a conflict between mages (magicians) and humans.  Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), is able to defeat the villainous mage Mordred.  But soon after, Uther and his wife are murdered by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who takes the crown.  Young Arthur escapes and is raised in a whorehouse in Londinium.  He grows up to be a savvy and tough young man, able to carve out a comfortable niche for himself within the low-level crime taking place in the city.  But when he crosses a group of Vikings under King Vortigern’s protection, he comes under the King’s scrutiny and Vortigern soon discovers Arthur’s true heritage.  Though Arthur initially wants nothing to do with any sort of struggle for the crown, he is soon drawn into the fight.

While I can’t recommend King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as a great movie, neither is it as bad as I had heard.  I found myself entertained by the film, and engaged with the story.  It’s a perfectly fine, fun film.  But neither is it a film that seems to have much reason for existing.  Did we need yet another version of the Arthur story?  What does this film add that we haven’t seen before in other films?  True, this fantasy-epic version of the Arthur story does incorporate a lot of weird new ideas, but while these ideas might be new for the Arthur story, they feel rather derivative of so many other fantasy films from recent years, most specifically Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  (The giant elephants with villain fighters on their back from The Return of the King even make an appearance in King Arthur’s opening sequence!)

What is more genuinely new to the story is taking the fantastical and historical aspects of the story and wrapping it up in Guy Ritchie’s very modern, fast-talking, street-level-crime style of storytelling.  There are a few moments when Mr. … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

August 28th, 2015
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There is nothing particularly revelatory about Guy Ritchie’s new film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a nineteen-sixties TV show now reinvented for the big screen.  Of the two films released this summer that are based on nineteen-sixties TV shows about spies, I definitely preferred Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  That’s a much larger-scale film, a more exhilaratingly fun adventure and also a story than manages to better balance tongue-in-cheek silliness with some actual narrative weight and stakes for the characters.  But while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a smaller-scale film, it is not without its charms and doesn’t deserve to be ignored in this busy season of big loud summer movies.


Though the film tries to pack in a lot of crosses and double-crosses, its basic story is fairly simple.  In 1963, with the Cold War in full swing, a handsome and debonair CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), and a tough as nails KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), are forced to work together to stop a group of former Nazis from building their own nuclear weapon.

That’s a great hook for a story, and I quite enjoyed Mr. Cavill (who played Clark Kent/Superman in Warner Brothers’ recent Man of Steel and what looks to be a plethora of upcoming Justice League films) and Mr. Hammer (so memorable in The Social Network) in their co-leading roles.  Since this film opened with weak box office numbers, I have read some sniping on-line that neither Mr. Cavill nor Mr. Hammer were capable of carrying a film.  But frankly, I think the two men were the two most successful elements of the movie.  Whenever the two men shared the screen I felt the film came to life, while I got bored whenever the story strayed from them for too long.  Mr. Cavill certainly has the looks to play an American version of James Bond, and I enjoyed his sardonic line delivery.  Mr. Hammer, meanwhile, plays the film with a sort of crazy Rocky and Bullwinkle Russian accent, but it totally worked for me.  It’s silly, but just the right kind of silliness for a story like this one.

Alicia Vikander has been getting positive press for her work as Gaby Teller, the young woman whom Solo extracts from East Berlin in order to help with the mission, and rightly so.  She’s a lot of fun in the film and able to hold her own quite well with her two male co-stars.  I just wish that Gaby had more of a fleshed-out character in the film.  I liked the revelations about her that come in the second half of the film, and how they make Gaby a more critical player in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I really loved Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film from two years ago, and so I was thrilled that they went into production on a sequel so quickly. (That the first film ended with such a delicious promise of further adventures didn’t hurt, of course!)

But, unfortunately, the follow-up installment, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, left me rather cold.

To be honest, I’m having a bit of trouble putting my finger on what exactly went awry. I still love Robert Downey Jr.’s manic interpretation of Holmes, and I thought Mad Men’s Jared Harris was terrific as Professor Moriarty. There are some big laughs in the film, and also some terrific sequences of action/adventure. The chase through the frozen woods, in which Holmes & co. are barraged by artillery fire, is pretty thrilling (much more effective in its entirety than it was in the film’s trailer, in which I thought those slo-mo shots looked pretty silly). And Holmes and Moriarty’s final confrontation — a chess game that moves into an intense battle of wills, all inside their heads — is genius, and probably the reason-for-being for the entire film.

So why did the whole thing leave me feeling somewhat empty?

Well, let’s start with Professor Moriarty. We’re told, over and over again, that the genius professor is an evil mastermind, and a mental match for Holmes. But except for one moment in the middle of the film, in which Holmes admits that “I made a mistake” and finds himself unable to stop an assassination, we don’t really see Moriarty as a genius mastermind until that final confrontation at the very end of the movie. I wanted a sense of urgency throughout this film. I wanted to feel, over and over again, that Moriarty was two steps ahead of Holmes. But I never felt that way at all. In fact, Moriarty makes a big mistake early in the film in which Holmes is able to rescue Noomi Rapace’s gypsy character, Madam Simza, from death. So right away we see that Moriarty isn’t infallible and, of course, Simza ultimately proves key in helping Holmes unravel Moriarty’s plans.

It’s not until that final battle-of-wills-to-the-death between Holmes and Moriarty that we’re really given a sense of Moriarty’s genius. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to save that mental duel for the film’s climax, but the result is that everything that comes before feels somewhat underwheming to me. This is a story-telling problem that, in my opinion, the filmmakers weren’t able to solve.

The result, as I noted before, is a film that I found to be rather lacking in intensity. Take the opening scene. (SPOILERS ahead now, my friends, so beware.) I was … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Sherlock Holmes!

Ever since Snatch back in 2000 I’ve been waiting for Guy Ritchie’s next great film.  Finally, just squeaking in before the close of the decade, it has arrived: Sherlock Holmes.

As you’re all probably very well aware, Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, and represents Mr. Ritchie’s reinvention of the Holmes mythos.  Though perhaps reinvention is entirely the wrong word, as in many respects Ritchie & his collaborators have stripped away a lot of the baggage that the character has accumulated over the years (and over many, many, many film and TV depictions) and brought Holmes & co. a lot closer to their original literary origins in the prose of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am most pleased to report that this new film is an absolute delight.

Let’s begin with the cast.  Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as Holmes.  The intelligence, roguish arrogance, and manic energy that Mr. Downey Jr. has brought to his best roles is in full evidence here.  His Holmes is a man just-on-the-edge of psychosis.  He thinks so much faster than the ordinary man that, when his intellect is not engaged by a difficult case, he hits a wall of boredom that borders on desperation.  Downey’s depiction brings this almost dangerous aspect of Holmes’ personality to the forefront — one never knows quite what this man is going to do next.

A lot of reviews have, I felt, needlessly spoiled the clever way in which Mr. Ritchie & his collaborators have brought to life Holmes’ faster-than-belief thought processes, so I won’t go into detail here.  I’ll just say that it’s an engaging device that serves as an excellent storytelling tool.  It also connects this version of Holmes to the world of the super-hero (I’m reminded of the visual method in which Sam Raimi illustrated Peter Parker’s faster-than-the-eye Spider-Sense in the first Spider-Man film) and this is not a complaint.  With his incredible intellect, Holmes is a super-hero in many ways, and the way in which Ritchie & co. don’t shy away from these pop connections is part of what makes the film so relentlessly entertaining.  But more on that in a minute.

Jude Law is also perfect as Watson.  I’ve always respected Jude Law as an actor, but frankly it’s been quite a while since I was really taken by one of his performances.  (I might have to go all the way to his standout role in the otherwise terrible A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.)  Law’s Watson is no goofball, no bumbling idiot as the character has often been played.  Rather, Law’s Watson is tough, intelligent, persistent, and incredibly loyal to his friend Holmes — a man … [continued]