RocknRolla (2008) Guy Ritchie’s Ode to New and Old London

Poster for RocknRolla
I will admit, I adore Guy Ritchie’s films, even the ones that have been bashed by the media (that’s spelt critics by the way) and have done ever since hearing a “behind the scenes” tale from my old agent. It goes something like this:

“One of my other clients got cast to be in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and we were both very pleased. Later, after he’d finished his bit he explained what was really shot versus what had been in the script.” Lennie paused and shaking his head continued.

“The pages he had originally had a bit in the pub which was around three pages long, about three minutes on screen roughly, and it was all quite convoluted, a lot like rest of the film. Clever interaction between my client and the chaps in the pub. It was to end with him getting a facefull of brandy and being set on fire. According to him, the budget was so tight that the scene kept getting smaller and smaller until it was just him being set on fire and running out of the pub!”

All this long apocryphal anecdote says is that Guy did not let the lack of money stop his using an actor he’d hired for the scene. His vision, and the implied loyalty to his cast dictated that he keep at least part of the brandy scene in and he did. You have to admire that, just as one has to admire his lifelong love affair with London.

Anyone who has been in London over the last 30 or so years can see just how much it has changed. Canary Wharf, the docklands, and South London to name a few locations which stand out the most as being very different from what they were in the early 80s. The fact that the film is, according to Ritchie, partly about the property prices skyrocketing out of control, (To the point where honest Brits have found themselves forced out of the market.) again, rings true to those who lived in Britain over the last 30 years.

Maggie Thatcher’s “right to own” opened the floodgates in the housing market and her selling off of council houses left the door wide open for big money to own property and for the little folks to slowly get pushed out of the equation. Ritchie’s film is not about Britain, however, it is about London.

Relying upon the same formula used in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well as Snatch, RocknRolla has that same feel minus Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones. Although the film is enjoyable, I admit that I loved it despite his use of Tom Wilkinson as Lennie who should clearly have been played by Mike Reid (Snatch, Eastenders).

Having said that, the cast, including Wilkinson, were superb. Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Thandie Newton all delivered. I was surprised to find that the comedic points in the film made me laugh as much as those in ‘Two Barrels’ did. The bit with Hardy, Butler, and later, Elba and the whole “he was going inside for 5 years” schtick had me in hysterics.

The one actor who really went above and beyond was, of course, the brilliant Toby Kebbell. Only he could have pulled off the role of Johnny Quid with his various ups and downs. The actor had me in stitches in the lift scene with Archie (Strong) and his, “Don’t hurt me Archie! I’m only little!”

Kebbell is a dynamo and his timing and delivery in all his films is beyond impeccable. I would say that my only complaint, apart from the lack of Mike Reid, is that there should have been a lot more of Toby. While this should have been a #tbt review, I could not wait to write my thoughts down after watching the bargain basement blu-ray copy last night.

A 5 out of 5 stars and a good reminder that Guy Ritchie still has the chops despite a few misfires.

11 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Revolver (2005): Guy Richie’s Ode to Kabbalah

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With nothing better to do, I finally decided to bite the bullet and watch Revolver last night. The film was universally panned by almost every critic worldwide, except for Mark R Leeper who stated that the film would have a “narrow” audience. (Wikipedia)

You can say that again.

As the film finished on a black screen being serenaded by a piano, I gazed at the screen and said, “What the fudge was that?”

You know a film is esoteric to the extreme when you have to look the damn thing up after you’ve watched it, to try and figure out what the hell went on for 110 minutes.

And since I only know what Wikipedia told me about Kaballah (I mean apart from the fact that Ritchie’s then wife Madonna was heavily into the religion) I still don’t know what the hell was going on in the film.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie with the marvellously talented Luc Beeson, Revolver is an exercise in frustration, hidden meanings (at least hidden from me) and strange character interludes with the camera a la schizophrenia.

Jason Startham stars as Jake Green; wide boy and games player extraordinary. He gets out of prison and goes to confront his old boss Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta) about getting the money that Macha owes him. On his way out of Dorothy’s casino, a very large man stops Green and says, you’re in a lot of trouble, call me. He also hands Green a card with the words, take the elevator on it. (Green has a phobia about lifts)

Ray Liotta is feeling blue...
Ray Liotta is feeling blue…

Green doesn’t look at the card and takes the stairs, collapsing the second he starts down. He wakes up and is told he has three days to live. The big man and his partner then decide to help Jake by taking all his money and making him deliver it to various people around town. They also start seriously messing with Macha taking his money and his drugs that he is supposed to deliver to the menacing and never-seen Mr Gold.

I watched this film confused from the first scene and kept watching hoping that it would all be made clear to me by the end. The only thing that became clear to me was that the “hit man” hired by Macha, resplendent in his glasses and natty suit, was Mark Strong who played Big Frank D’Amico in Kick Ass. I spent at least half of the movie trying to figure out why he looked so familiar.

 

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Even after reading about how the characters and the numbers and the colours were representative of the “teachings” of Kabbalah, my comprehension of this film is still zero.

I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that most of the world’s critics didn’t like the film either, but not too much. I don’t as a rule trust many critics, although there are a few that I do listen to. So I can only shrug in bewilderment and wonder what in the hell was Guy Ritchie thinking?

Obviously as a gesture to his (then) wife Madonna aka Madge in the UK, he decided to make an “Ode to Kabbalah” since she was a little obsessed with the religion.

I will say this for Ritchie and his film, I could not stop watching it. Not because it was that good, but because I kept hoping to figure out what was going on.

It is on Netflix in the UK at the moment, but don’t go out of your way to watch it. Unless you understand Kabbalah intimately you’ll get lost. If you don’t? I guess it’s just me, then.

I think I had the exact same expression on my face (sans lollipop) while watching this film.
I think I had the exact same expression on my face (sans lollipop) while watching this film.

 

No Blood No Tears: Teaching Guy Ritchie a Thing or Two.

No Blood No Tears (Pido nunmuldo eobshi) is co-written and directed by Seung-wan Ryoo. The same director who brought us the brilliant films Arahan and Crying Fist. Ryoo has directed ten films so far and judging from his work on the three films I’ve mentioned, I am desperate to see more of his films.

The plot of No Blood No Tears revolves around two female characters.  Su-ji played by Do-yeon Jeon who is a “wanna be” popstar whose boyfriend is a homicidal monster and Kyeong-seon played by Hye-yeong Lee  is the reluctant, “hard as nails” female gangster whose dead husband’s gambling debts have forced her to take on ‘real’ work as a cab driver. Kyeong-seon is also trying to go straight, when she was younger she was a safe-cracker and has no wish to go back to prison. The two females literally bump into each other at the beginning of the film with Su-ji driving straight into the side of Kyeong-seon’s cab.  The two women have nothing in common and due to the strained circumstances of their meeting, don’t look like they will bond at all. But fate is a funny thing and it turns out that they both need money. Lots of money.

Su-ji needs the cash to get away from her cruel boyfriend and to get the plastic surgery she needs to pursue her career. Kyeong-seon needs the money to pay off the loan shark her dead husband owes money to. Since neither woman can achieve what they need alone, Su-ji suggests they team up to steal what they need from her boyfriends club.

Su-ji’s ‘terminator’ style boyfriend’s club  specializes in illegal dog-fights. The club is making money hand over fist. The two girls work on a plan that will allow them to enter the club unnoticed, switch the duffle bag that is used to transport the nights takings to the mob with a bag filled with newspaper. The plan looks like a ‘shoe-in’ except for one  problem the two girls are not the only folks who have decided to help themselves to some of the clubs money. Two other groups  have also picked the same night as Su-ji and Kyeong-seon.

This film is a very above average heist film. The pacing is taut and the action is ferocious. The film also has it’s fair share of funny moments as well.  The director has used  his “regular”- Seung-beom Ryu – Arahan and Crying Fist, again for his first class comic acting that we’ve seen in Arahan. Goo Shin plays KGB, the scary, cruel, and seemingly indestructible boyfriend of Ju-ji.

The divergent groups clash, intertwine and double cross each other. It can get a little confusing if you haven’t been paying attention. During the middle of the film it becomes a case of ‘Bag, Bag, who’s got the Bag?’ With the amount of times that the cash filled duffle bag changes hands, you can get lost in the shuffle. There is a lot of brilliant wire work, and the fights scenes have been choreographed brilliantly. The cinematography is spot-on, with a sharp ‘drabness’ that shows what kind of world these people inhabit.

I enjoyed this film very much, so much so, that after I’d finished watching it I immediately started looking to see if there had been a sequel. Everyone in the film gave an outstanding performance. If you want to see what films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel  could have been, watch this film. Don’t get me wrong, I adore LSSB…a lot. But After watching this film I realized it could have been even better.