The Gentlemen review

For F*** Magazine

THE GENTLEMEN

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast : Mathew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Tom Wu
Genre: Crime/Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 53 mins
Opens : 27 February 2020
Rating : M18

When Guy Ritchie made the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr, there still was a rough-and-tumble street quality to them. Then he made a movie version of the 60s spy-fi series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which still had recognisable Ritchie elements. Then he made the medieval fantasy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and even more out of left field than that, directed the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin. With The Gentlemen, Guy Ritchie returns to his wheelhouse of street-level gangster mayhem, complete with crass irreverent dialogue and plenty of violence.

American-born Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is the UK’s top marijuana kingpin – he reigns over a carefully cultivated empire and now, he’s looking to sell, to live a life of peace with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) who runs a custom car garage.  Fellow American Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) has his eye on Mickey’s operation and faces competition from Dry Eye (Henry Golding), the ambitious apprentice of crime boss Lord George (Tom Wu). Newspaper editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) hires private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) to investigate Mickey’s dealings, after being snubbed by Mickey at a high society shindig. Fletcher offers to sell his findings to Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), meeting Raymond to tell him all the juicy details.

This is vintage Guy Ritchie – rough-and-tumble, witty, twisty, stylish and entertaining. Taken by themselves, none of the individual components of The Gentlemen offer anything new, but Ritchie has assembled them into a whole that works. Ritchie balances the silly and the sinister – there’s a lot about The Gentlemen that’s intended to be funny, but there are also genuinely tense scenes in which characters face off and you’re not sure who’s going to make it out alive. While The Gentlemen is predictable overall, Ritchie’s strength is in creating the illusion of unpredictability in the moment. The movie’s framing device is a meeting between Fletcher and Raymond, which provides the ideal framework for expository details about each characters’ backstory without it seeming tedious. There is a playfulness to The Gentlemen – the meta-fictional component of Fletcher writing a screenplay means that the movie winks so hard a couple of eyelashes almost fly off, but there’s a bit of charm in that.

As with any filmmaker who has cultivated a recognisable style and has become a brand name, there will be those who find said style annoying. The Gentlemen is not a restrained movie, with the Ritchie-ness turned up to 11: adherents will be there for it, but those who aren’t already fans of the director might well be alienated. There are attempts to be shocking that are in line with what one might expect from a Guy Ritchie crime movie – many instances of the c word are dropped and there are many racial slurs used against Jews, East Asians and black people (the film is slightly too amused with the Vietnamese name “Phuc”). Sure, this is a gangster movie populated by unpleasant characters whom we expect to do and say unpleasant things, but there are times when it feels like Ritchie is straining for relevance, that he’s an old dog trying and not always succeeding at performing new tricks. The casual racism is more lazy than shocking. There’s so much going on to the point where it feels like all the subplots and digressions are there to distract the viewer from how rote it is.

Ritchie has assembled a strong ensemble – the casting largely makes sense. McConaughey is having a grand old time playing the wily American – for how over-the-top this movie often is, there’s a level of control to his performance which is quite impressive, even though this doesn’t seem like an acting challenge for McConaughey.

Grant plays against type as a weaselly private investigator who is flamboyant and all too pleased with himself. He plays off Hunnam, Ritchie’s King Arthur, who plays the gruff straight man. Some of the film’s best moments are the interactions between the two, during which it almost feels like a stage play.

Henry Golding plays against type as a young crime lord on the way up – it’s probably the role that’s the most different from the others he’s played in his relatively brief career, but is one that gives him acting cred – “gangster in a Guy Ritchie movie” just looks good on an actor’s CV. It’s a shame that the character is the target of most of the movie’s racism.

Colin Farrell is entertaining as a wrestling coach who wants nothing to do with the drug-dealers and gangsters but is drawn into the fray because his students have stolen from one of Mickey’s weed farms and filmed it, the video going viral. We’re grading on a curve, but he is likely the most decent, ethical character in the film.

Michelle Dockery is, as predicted, under-used – the movie wants to establish Rosalind as being as formidable as her husband, but the narrative always favours him, such that she takes a backseat because that is the nature of the story.

Summary: A vulgar, dirty crime comedy that’s often as dumb as it is clever, The Gentlemen is, for better and worse, trademark Guy Ritchie material.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Paddington 2 movie review

For inSing

PADDINGTON 2

Director : Paul King
Cast : Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin
Genre : Comedy/Family
Run Time : 1h 44m
Opens : 7 December 2017
Rating : PG

Everyone’s favourite marmalade-loving Peruvian bear is back on the big screen. Unfortunately, he finds himself in the big house, too. Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is thrown in prison, after being framed for a robbery he did not commit. His adoptive family, comprising Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) Brown, plus housekeeper Mrs Bird (Julie Walters), must clear Paddington’s name. Paddington must find a way to foil the dastardly plans of Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a fading actor who will stop at nothing to acquire a priceless treasure. While in prison, the cuddly little bear must defend himself from various nasty types, including the imposing prison chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson). With a positive attitude, good manners, and a little help from people who care about him, Paddington just might survive this ordeal.

After the runaway success of 2014’s Paddington, a sequel was inevitable. We can’t stop the cynics from viewing this film as a shameless cash-grab, but we don’t have to. Paddington 2 does a fine job of that all by itself. This is a film that brims with heart, is ever-so-English, impeccably acted, and not too sickeningly twee. Like its predecessor, there’s also a sweet pro-inclusivity message, conveyed by way of Peter Capaldi’s Mr. Curry, who hates Paddington just because he’s an immigrant.

On top of that, Paddington 2 is hilarious. Director and co-writer Paul King, who also helmed the first Paddington film, delivers a delightfully witty movie that features a mix of expertly-choreographed physical comedy set-pieces and clever wordplay. The film is a masterclass in the art of the setup and the payoff – things that register at first as silly details later become important in the plot, and it snaps together in such a satisfying way. The action-packed finale plays like a cross between the climactic scene of Back to the Future Part III and the opening set-piece of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The first Paddington movie was going to star Colin Firth as the voice of the loveable bear, and Ben Whishaw was brought on as a last-minute replacement. Whishaw is effortlessly sweet and earnest without it coming off as an affectation. The computer-generated effects seem to have improved since the last movie, and it’s easy to buy Paddington as an actual character. While it’s not as photo-real as the work in War for the Planet of the Apes (nor is it intended to be), this reviewer found himself as invested in Paddington’s journey as he was in Caesar’s.

The stable of talented English actors who fill the supporting cast returns from the first film, with the addition of a few big names. Bonneville plays the pragmatic patriarch who, after years in the insurance business, has lost his taste for whimsy. Hawkins serves as a foil as the warm-hearted Mary. Walters is endlessly amusing as the plucky Mrs Bird, while Capaldi is as crotchety as he can be without Malcolm Tucker-style swearing.

Hugh Grant is the runaway scene-stealer. He gamely sends up his own career, playing a self-obsessed actor whose glory days are far behind him. Seeing as Grant was one of the hottest stars of the 90s and saw his stock fall after personal scandals and massive flops, it’s admirable that he’s willing to poke fun at himself. Not only that, he appears to be having a grand old time doing so. As excellent as Nicole Kidman was in the first film, Grant’s villainous turn handily one-ups hers.

Brendan Gleeson is also a joy to watch as the widely-feared prison cook whom Paddington gamely tries to befriend. All the actors seem to enjoy being a part of the project, and nobody looks like they’ve been forced to put on a happy face.

Given the current political and pop culture climate, few things are cynic-proof. There are popular YouTube channels dedicated to mercilessly dismembering every last thing anyone finds remotely enjoyable, and plenty of think-pieces endeavour to do the same. Paddington 2 is a shining light in this fog of scoffing and irony. What the film possesses in sincerity, it matches in technical accomplishment and engaging storytelling. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel the warm fuzzies.

In a year that’s given us some surprising, spectacular blockbusters, Paddington 2 might not be a shock to the system, but it shouldn’t be. It should be a hug, and that it certainly is. The film is dedicated to the memory of Paddington creator Michael Bond, who passed away just before filming wrapped. If future Paddington movies are anywhere as good as this, his legacy is in the safest paws.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Florence Foster Jenkins

For F*** Magazine

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

Director : Stephen Frears
Cast : Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Christian McKay, John Kavanagh, Nina Ariadna
Genre : Biography/Drama
Run Time : 1 hr 51 mins
Opens : 22 September 2016
Rating : PG

florence-foster-jenkins-poster“Follow your dreams, pursue your passion” – we’ve all heard it before, and while it sounds nice, sometimes it might not be the most practical advice. What if you’re passionate about something you’re demonstrably terrible at?

Such was the case with Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep), a wealthy New York socialite with dreams of singing opera at Carnegie Hall. Florence’s husband St. Clair Bayfield (Grant) arranges private concerts to which only vetted audience members are admitted, so as to shield Florence from any possible ridicule she might incur. St. Clair hires pianist Cosmé McMoon (Helberg) to be Florence’s accompanist, and while Cosmé is taken aback by Florence’s complete ineptitude, he accepts the job. When Florence gives her friends a recording of her singing as a gift, it’s not long before she becomes a sensation, with listeners across the country tickled by her tone-deaf performances. While he seems every bit the loving, supportive husband, St. Clair has secrets of his own, secrets in danger of being discovered by Florence.

florence-foster-jenkins-meryl-streep-1

There is a whole subculture dedicated to the ironic appreciation of films that are “so bad they’re good” – movies like The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Troll 2. Florence’s appeal as an amateur soprano was very much in the same vein. Multiple plays about Florence have been written and performed, with the 2015 French comedy-drama Marguerite drawing inspiration from her story. This material is right up director Stephen Frears’ alley. Having directed The Queen, Philomena and Mrs. Henderson Presents, Frears is a dab hand at helming both biopics and comedy-dramas. As expected, Florence Foster Jenkins is a light-hearted, silly film. There is an undercurrent of sorrow, but the film comes off more as a celebration of Florence’s own self-delusion and the gargantuan efforts taken to enable her than anything else.

The 1940s New York high society setting is sumptuously dazzling, and Florence’s penchant for over-the-top costumes means that her outfits are never dull to look at. The film has many laughs at Florence’s expense, but also endeavours to make her endearing. There’s no malice behind what she does, and she is kind to those around her. However, it is frustrating that someone so unskilled at her chosen art form was given the platform to showcase her ‘talents’ just because she was wealthy and well-connected. Florence is a sympathetic figure in no small part because of her chronic illness, but as a critic, this reviewer can’t stand 100% behind the reinforcement of an artist’s self-delusion in lieu of self-improvement.

florence-foster-jenkins-hugh-grant-meryl-streep-and-simon-helberg

Most of Streep’s recent high-profile roles have had a degree of silliness to them, and this is obviously no exception. She is having plenty of fun rocking those ridiculous costumes and yelping as if she were a Chihuahua who has stubbed its toe, but perhaps this wanton goofiness isn’t the best use of her abilities. To draw a comparison to previous leading lady in a Frears film, Helen Mirren seems to have a healthy mix of lighter fare and serious dramatic roles in her recent résumé. Even then, Streep remains a commanding presence and her performance is supremely entertaining, while also heart-rending when required. It’s pretty hard to sing badly on purpose and not damage one’s vocal cords, so Streep deserves credit in mastering that particular skill.

florence-foster-jenkins-meryl-streep-and-hugh-grant

Here, we have Hugh Grant playing a typical Hugh Grant role – the charming, ever so slightly awkward English gentleman. A subplot revolving around St. Clair and Rebecca Ferguson’s character Kathleen brings many of St. Clair’s foibles to the fore, so there’s more to him than just “supportive spouse”. Helberg steals the show on multiple occasions as the beleaguered, long-suffering accompanist who is bewildered that no one in her circle is objecting to Florence’s singing. Half of this movie comprises priceless reaction shots: shock, incredulousness, uncontrollable laughter. Helberg’s reactions, particularly when Cosmé first hears Florence sing and is absolutely mortified, further prove that the Big Bang Theory star has considerable comedic chops. Helberg did the piano-playing for real too.

florence-foster-jenkins-simon-helberg-and-hugh-grant

While Florence Foster Jenkins plays it broad for the most part, there are scenes that pack considerable emotional impact. This is a film that’s put together by people who know what they’re doing, with a veteran director leading the charge. However, Florence Foster Jenkins shies away from challenging the idea that behaviour like this should be challenged. Towards the film’s conclusion, St. Clair scrambles to conceal a negative review of Florence’s performance from her, for fear that it would be too much to handle. If it is your nature to have that thin a skin, perhaps the performing arts just aren’t for you.

florence-foster-jenkins-meryl-streep-2

Summary: It’s entertaining and funny, but Florence Foster Jenkins passes up the chance to examine the implications of blindly enabling someone who’s bad at something instead of helping them actually improve.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

For F*** Magazine

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Luca Calvani
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens : 3 September 2015
Rating : PG-13 (Brief Nudity and Some Violence)
While superheroes do most of the world-saving on the big and small screen these days, back in the ‘60s, that was primarily the domain of the superspy. In this reboot of the classic TV show, we are transported back to 1963, at the height of the Cold War. When nuclear scientist Udo Teller (Christian Berkel) goes missing, American and Soviet intelligence agencies form an uneasy alliance to track him down. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) must go undercover to find Teller, with Kuryakin posing as the fiancé of Teller’s daughter, Gabby (Vikander). Gabby’s uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) works for an Italian shipping company run by Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Debicki) Vinciguerra, a couple in cahoots with former Nazis and with deadly designs on cutting-edge nuclear technology. Solo and Kuryakin have to work through their obvious differences while secretly pursuing their own agendas as the world stands on the brink of an all-out nuclear calamity. The seeds for a new agency, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.) are thus sown. 
A cinematic Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot has been in the works at Warner Bros. for over a decade, with a multitude of writers and a laundry list of directors including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Matthew Vaughn attached at some point or another. Practically every Hollywood male A-lister, from Christian Bale to Michael Fassbender to Tom Cruise, was considered for the lead role of Napoleon Solo. The film finally arrives with director Guy Ritchie at the helm and the Superman of the hour, Henry Cavill, playing Solo. Ritchie has obviously set out to make a throwback that stops a safe distance short of being a parody, seeing as this genre and this time period does lend itself so well to being lampooned. “Groovy, baby” anyone? Or maybe “LANAAAA!”? The end result is a bog-standard espionage thriller which Ritchie tries his best to spice up. 
This is very much a case of style over substance, as it has been with most of Ritchie’s movies. Editor James Herbert employs funky transitions and split-screen effects and the subtitles are rendered in an old-timey font with yellow lettering. Composer Daniel Pemberton’s jazz flute-heavy retro score is an aural treat and a refreshing change from the same-old same-old Hans Zimmer-style action movie music audiences have become accustomed to. “You Work for Me”, performed by Laura Mvula, is a wonderful homage to the Shirley Bassey-sung Bond themes of yore. There are also a few clever uses of cinematic sleight of hand, where the characters reveal something to each other but the audience is left in the dark until an opportune moment. 
Unfortunately, most of what’s interesting about this is purely superficial. The screenplay is heavy on both unwieldly exposition and double entendres that just aren’t quite witty enough. The pacing is patchy at best, with noticeable talky stretches in between the action. While there are several fun set pieces, including a boat chase as seen from a unique point of view, the film never achieves genuine edge-of-your seat thrills. Part of the climax includes a dune buggy chase which is somewhat incoherently shot. The comparisons to the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation are unavoidable, and that film certainly outclasses The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when it comes to exhilarating stunts. 
Henry Cavill, stepping into the role originated by Robert Vaughn, is appropriately debonair and old school chic, reminding audiences that he was only narrowly beaten to the James Bond role by Daniel Craig. Cavill is not the most arresting actor in the world and the cadence he affects sounds a little off at times, but he’s got his classically handsome features to fall back on. Armie Hammer, succeeding David McCallum, fares little better in the accent department, but he looks like he’s in on the joke as the brawny, stoic Kuryakin and he manages to be funny while playing the unfunny character. The scenes of comic one-upmanship and hints of bromance tend to hit their marks, even if this is far from the most memorable action hero buddy pairing we’ve seen. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Cavill’s or Hammer’s performances per se, but they can’t help but feel like the third or fourth choices for the roles. 
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who broke through with a mesmerizing turn in the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, possesses the requisite slinky mystique as the leading lady here. The character is a mechanic and a skilled driver, with Vikander valiantly attempting to keep Gabby from coming off as a third wheel. Vikander also gets to display her comedic chops, goofily dancing to Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” in an attempt to get Kuryakin to loosen up. Once again however, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation trumps this film in the female lead department, with fellow Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson getting a meatier role in the proceedings. Elizabeth Debicki has fun as the femme fatale, but doesn’t go as deliciously dastardly as she needs to be an outstanding villainess. Hugh Grant balances out the charming and authoritative sides of Solo and Kuryakin’s boss Waverly, but he’s in this for a very short time. 
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a watchable if unremarkable serving of spy-fi nostalgia. It’s sporadically entertaining and its leads are definitely very easy on the eye, but it’s lukewarm rather than sizzling, with all snazziness strictly on the surface. While Warner Bros. actively pursued a Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot for quite a while, it doesn’t seem like something audiences in general were clamouring for. It has its moments, but not quite enough of them for it to be worth getting excited about. 
Summary: Moderately stylish, moderately sexy and moderately entertaining – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t reach any particular heights, but it’s a decent spy-fi throwback.  
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong

The Man from Krypton meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E.