The Gentlemen 2020 *****

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As a critic, it’s always a surprise when the class clown turns good; Guy Ritchie has so far only troubled this blog in terms of the so-bad-it’s-good file of awful films, where King Arthur: Legend of the Sword sits proudly. Otherwise, there’s little to say about his dated brand of mockney gangster rubbish; Lock Stock and Snatch both had energy and style but haven’t stood the test of time since the Britpop era, while pastiches Rocknrolla and Revolver are beneath contempt. Otherwise, it’s anonymous journeyman stuff like Sherlock Holmes and Aladdin, so a new Guy Ritchie film is simply not an event for me.

Except The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie’s best film by a long chalk. Perhaps the world has caught up with him; gentrification is very much a central theme here, and the flat-cap wearing new aristocrats featured are a far more convincing milieu that the jolly Dickensian street-urchins previously favoured. Crime, and knife-crime in particular, became part of British life as society has stratified along the fissures of class division, and The Gentleman manages to evoke both ghetto-ised council estates and posho country-house crims with some success.

Casting-wise, The Gentleman also sees Ritchie step up a few leagues. Mickey Pearson is the protagonist, attempting to sell off his cannabis-farming operation before it becomes legal under changing British law, and he’s played with genuine verve by Matthew McConaughey. As friends and enemies are drawn to Pearson’s attempted metamorphosis, his right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) finds himself blackmailed by tabloid hack Fletcher (Hugh Grant, no fan of the tabloid himself). Fletcher presents his proposition in the form of a film-screenplay, and this elegant device provides Ritchie with prime real estate in terms of switching the narrative goal-posts in an amusingly meta way. Henry Golding also makes an impression as Dry-Eye, and Colin Farrell brings in 50 shades of Martin McDonagh as a boy’s club mentor with a violent side. These are big name turns, introduced with some neat soundtrack flourishes, and pretty much all of them hit the mark, especially Grant’s funny, funny riff on Pinter-esque threat.

The Gentleman has been derided as Guy-Ritchie-by-numbers, but it’s anything but. For the first time, Ritchie has convincingly evoked several different echelons in the class system, and his ear for vernacular doesn’t let him down. This is a mature, amusing, deftly plotted and politically subversive film that has the narrative nous to have its cake and eat it. There are a few moments where Ritchie pushes the outrageous tone too far, but such gambles can be forgiven when the film just works, and The Gentleman purrs long like a vintage Jag on a crisp, asphalt driveway.

 

 

The Beach Bum 2019 ***

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Oscars tend to be followed by complete career suicide films; Matthew McConaughey managed to completely sabotage his own reputation with efforts like Free State of Jones, The Dark Tower and Serenity. Teaming him with Harmony Korine, whose let-it-all-hang-out approach to drama has made him a must for mojo-seeking actors, was a smart idea; whatever else the actor is doing in The Beach Bum, and he seems to be breaking narcotics laws in practically every scene, he certainly seems to be, if not being himself, then living up to public perceptions of himself.

The Beach Bum is a writer called Moondog, Charles Bukowski- style, whose main subject seems to be capturing and immortalising in poetry the ruins of himself and his relationships. He’s married to Lingerie (Isla Fisher), and doesn’t seem bothered that she’s in a sexual relationship with another man (Snoop Dogg). In fact, he doesn’t seem to care less about her, or anything, other than getting high, until a plot twist forces him to face his demons, stop living such a hedonistic lifestyle, and get his act together to satisfy a legal stipulation.

Korine is a divisive film-maker, and The Beach Bum is something of a provocation, asking us to take an interest in a selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited and general detestable character, although there will be a small group who will see Moondog as some kind of holy fool. Either way, it’s simultaneously entertaining and repellent watching Moondog screw, blunt, dance and mug his way in and out of rehab, with Zac Efron, Jonah Hill and Martin Lawrence all adding to their outré credibility by phoning in lively if short cameos.

The Beach Bum is Korine’s best and most accessible film to date, hinging on an out-there star performance that’s worth celebrating for its sheer extremity; it would be worth voting for awards recognition just to see how a clip of The Beach Bum would look in the sizzle reel. McConaughey seems to be having fun, and there’s a reasonable punch-line to this shaggy dog story; one that suggests that the popular actor has got his own mojo back in some erratic style.

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum in select cinemas 25 October and on demand 30 October 2019

 

 

The Dark Tower 2017 ***

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You don’t have to be a racist to think that Idris Elba would be an awful James Bond; it’s pretty much only people who haven’t seen him in much since The Wire 15 years ago that genuinely believe this. If anything it would be helpful to have large-scale public screenings of his unexceptional performances in films like Bastille Day, Molly’s Game or The Dark Tower to remind audiences that he’s not only too old for a reboot, but just doesn’t have the chops for the big screen. Daniel Kaluuya would be a better fit for the role of Bond, and it’s embarrassing to hear Elba trotting out this same sad story every time he’s got something to promote. In The Dark Tower, a misbegotten Stephen King adaptation, Elba’s lumpen performance as gunslinger Roland Deschain is buried amongst a slew of chaotic elements; a massive novel reduced to 95 paltry minutes, a PG -13 certificate, the focus switched from Deschain to an 11 year old boy Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who discovers a parallel universe behind NYC exteriors, constant references to other texts in the King multiverse that go for nothing. Producer Ron Howard has noted that The Dark Tower should have been a tv show rather than a film, and he’s right; what tips Nicolaj Arcel’s adaption into unfortunate legend is the truly awful performance of Matthew McConaughey as Walter Padick, supposedly the embodiment of evil but plays with such misguided elan that his every appearance provokes mirth. The Dark Tower is a good/bad classic, an unwieldy adventure that never lands a coherent idea, making fools of the high-priced talents involved.

Serenity 2019 ***

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Matthew McConaughey’s attempts to destroy his own considerable reputation as an Oscar-winning actor reach Nicolas Cage levels with writer/director Steven Knight’s Serenity, a twisty-turny sea-bound thriller that jumps the shark in brain-bending style. The trailers promise a straightforward Dead Calm murder-mystery, with the star as Baker Dill, a sea-captain eeking out a living on his boat Serenity in and around the posh resort of Plymouth Island. Femme fatale Karen (Anne Hathaway) seems to be luring him into something, but what? When Karen’s boorish husband Frank (Jason Clarke) turns up, Baker Dill sees a chance to set Karen free, but is she all that she seems? Once the final twist of Serenity has unspooled, audiences are likely to feel that none of the characters are what they seem, and not in a good way. Without giving the game away, Baker Dill’s discovery that not only he nor the world he lives in are real creates far more questions that it answers. Films like The Magus or Jacob’s Ladder have toyed with the nature of reality, but the over-heated melodrama in Serenity gives way to abstract cosmic ruminations in a glib, silly way that should provoke mirth in all those unlucky enough to set sail in with her crew.

Magic Mike 2012 ***

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Steven Soderberg mixes experimental work with well-honed populist fare; this unusual 2012 film mixes the two to good effect. Channing Tatum is ideally cast as Magic Mike, a stripper who wants to find a way out of the business. His admiration for his entrepreneurial boss Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) puts some juice in his tank, but up-and-coming rival Adam (Alex Pettyfer) threatens to derail Mike’s schemes. The trailers for Magic Mike suggested a raucous hen-party, but Soderberg delivers something far more reflective, a study of a man awakening to his own responsibility for life, but compromised by working in a business where money comes before art. McConaughey’s turn as a virile performer, strutting in an Uncle Sam hat, demonstrates his uncanny ability to inhabit a role to impressive effect.

Reign of Fire 2002 ***

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Long before they were Oscar bait, Christian Bale and Matthey McCounaughey slaved away on the factory floor on wonderful tosh like Rob Bowman’s fire-breathing dragon epic Reign of Fire. The character names tell you all you need to know about the credibility of the enterprise; they play Quinn Abercomby and Denton Van Zan respectively, two men in a futuristic England who battle with the plague of dragons that has reduced humanity to a whimper. Pre-Sparta Gerald Butler provides gruff support, and there’s some neat in-jokes, including a call-back to The Empire Strike Back. The action scenes are as big and meaty as the cast; Reign of Fire probably won’t be at the top of their CV’s, but all three actors bring gravity to a ludicrously daft slice of incendiary hokum.

Killer Joe 2012 ***

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More evidence of the formidable talents of Matthew McConaughey, before his Dallas Buyers Club Oscar triumph, William Friedkin takes the reins of this adaptation of Tracey Letts’ play, refashioned by the same author. McConaughey plays Joe, a killer hired by Chris (Emile Hirsch) to bump off his mother Sharla (Gina Gershon). He teams up with her ex (Thomas Hayden Chruch) to do so, but when hired gun Joe arrives, he makes a hard bargain with them, and seems more interested in Sharla’s daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). Killer Joe is partly a Coen-brothers screw-twister, as bad plans provoke bad things to happen to bad people, but it deepens to become a story of sexual sadism and an unpleasant power-struggle between characters with nothing to lose on their precipitous moral decent. The cast are uniformly excellent, but McConaughey hits the heights as Joe; the notorious KFC-eating scene is intensely disturbing, but hard to take your eyes off. Killer Joe is strong meat for those who can take its amoral viciousness in their stride, and a welcome return to form for Friedkin.