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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 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.

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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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“Our Lives Are Not Our Own” — Josh Falls in Love with Cloud Atlas

Well, my friends, I have a new front-runner for my favorite film of 2012: the magnificent, heart-breaking, life-affirming Cloud Atlas.

I was never a rabid fan of The Matrix, but I certainly loved that film and felt it represented a bold promise of continuing great work by Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski.  At last, thirteen years later, I feel that promise has been fulfilled as the two, working with Tom Tykwer (who directed the phenomenal Run Lola Runclick here for my review), have written and directed a film that feels to me like a masterpiece.

Adapted by the Wachowskis and Mr. Tykwer from the novel by David Mitchell (which I have never read), Cloud Atlas tells a series of connected, over-lapping stories.  In 1849, a young man faces great peril as he crosses the sea in an effort to deliver an important contract to his father.  In 1936, another young man talks his way into an apprentice-ship with a great but aging composer, hoping the old man will be his sponsor and partner as he works to create what he believes to be a great symphony.  In 1973, a young woman puts her life at risk to investigate the claims made by a now-dead whistle-blower at a nuclear power plant.  In 2012, an elderly book publisher runs afoul of gangsters and his own brother, eventually finding himself committed to an old-age home where he feels he does not belong.  In 2144, a genetically-engineered fabricant created to do nothing more than serve fast-food to the “consumers,” her customers, discovers a chance for freedom from the life for which she has been designed and built.  And 106 winters “after The Fall,” a primitive but good-hearted tribesman is visited by one of the “Prescients,” the few-remaining technologically advanced humans on the planet, and he joins with her on a momentous quest.

Each one of these stories is fabulous and compelling, but the way they weave in and out of one another is nothing short of astounding.  I cannot imagine the challenge of editing this movie together.  There isn’t a simplistic pattern of regularly cutting from one story to another.  Instead, the stories dance in and out of each other.  Sometimes we might cut away to one story for nothing more than a quick shot, or a line of dialogue, before moving on, and other times we linger in one of the time-periods for an extended amount of time.  Sometimes I felt like the film would circle through all six of the main time-periods, while at other times it felt more like we were just traveling back and forth between two or three of the tales, letting those stories play … [continued]