It’s Worth Spending a Couple of Stylish, Silly Hours with ‘The Gentlemen’ of Guy Richie

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CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Drug Dealing, Gunfire Blood Splatter, and a Bit of Poison

Release Date: January 24, 2020

The Gentlemen is basically the Guy Ritchie-fied version of a John le Carré story. Instead of a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed spies and other government associates double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other, we have here a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed drug dealers and dirt diggers double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other. Also as with the typical Le Carré, The Gentlemen requires a diagram to make sense of everything that happens and how everyone relates to each other. But on a scene-by-scene basis, it is clear (or at least clear enough to be entertaining) where everyone’s motivations lie and who’s trying to pull the upper hand on whom.

CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

While watching The Gentlemen, I had similar feelings that I do when watching my favorite sports teams pull off successful big play after big play, with nary an error or defensive blunder the whole time. It is not always clear who to root for in these ensemble-driven crime-business action flicks, nor it is always preferable. But in this case, knowing that Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) are the (relative) moral paragons is a big help. The fact that Mickey peddles cannabis instead of, say, heroin and does so proudly because his product doesn’t kill his customers, allows us to orient ourselves toward some clarity in a movie that is otherwise often quite cacophonous.

And Hugh Grant’s presence as a private investigator who is just dying to get the big scoop on everybody (and also not die in the process) lets us know that it’s a good idea to laugh. There’s plenty of silliness otherwise to prompt the chuckles, but Grant is the crux that assures us of the light-footed, devilishly good time we ought to be having. It’s always a delight to see him so immersed in this sort of gleefulness. Even the meta twist that he pulls off at the end somehow feels so right when in lesser hands it could have undermined the whole tone. Instead, The Gentlemen is a stylish romp that will have you going, “The good-ish guys won.”

The Gentlemen is Recommended If: You’ve always wondered what it would be like if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy merged with Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercials and added a dash of Hugh Grant in Paddington 2 Mode

Grade: 3 out of 5 Turtleneck Sweaters

Movie Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ is Surprisingly Goofy, Unsurprisingly Family-Oriented, and Annoyingly Convoluted

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Universal Pictures

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Eddie Marsan, Eiza González, Helen Mirren

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Big Vehicles and Big Egos Slamming Into Each Other

Release Date: August 2, 2019

Spin-offs should offer something that the original couldn’t. Hobbs & Shaw immediately feels off in that regard, considering that Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have already been a couple of the biggest characters in the last few Fast & Furious movies. Although, they aren’t quite members of the core family, so that leaves them enough wiggle room to break out on their own. But it can’t be too different! This franchise has a sterling stunt reputation it needs to maintain, and while director David Leitch and company do not try to be as relentlessly mind-blowing as Fast Five or Furious 7, there is at least one memorable moment when a motorcycle slinks between some truck tires.

The separation, then, mostly comes in Hobbs & Shaw being at its core an odd couple buddy comedy, and in this case, that means a few celebrity cameos who inject their own particular brands of impishness. These moments feel out of place in this world, but they might also be the best parts? Their charms cannot be denied. Honestly, though, I think we would have been better off spending more time with Hobbs’ daughter (Eliana Sua), as her scenes are both delightful AND internally consistent.

As wonderfully corny as Hobbs & Shaw is willing to be, it can’t change the fact that most of the plot is convoluted high-tech, globetrotting nonsense. Idris Elba is the cybernetically enhanced big bad, and we get a few genuinely disturbing shots of how he is becoming a superhuman or something beyond human. There is a hint of a larger conspiracy at play here, but only a hint. Meanwhile Vanessa Kirby plays Deckard’s sister Hattie, an MI6 agent who has been infected with a virus that’s going to kill her and apparently everyone around her also. The explanation for how the virus is supposed to spread is either glossed over or not emphasized enough, which is a problem because the race to cure Hattie is what drives most of the action.

Thankfully, the reward for dithering through all that is a surefire demonstration that we must, in true F&F fashion, celebrate the importance of family. It’s not as flat-out heartwarming as the series proper, but Hobbs takes us all along to Samoa to meet his mom and brothers, and Helen Mirren totally rocks her prison jumpsuit in her return as Mama Shaw. I could do without all the derivative action flick gobbledygook, but I’m grateful for the good vibes.

Hobbs & Shaw is Recommended If You Like: James Bond, but with a goofy postmodern (though not quite parody) sensibility

Grade: 3 out of 5 Friendy Insults

This Is a Movie Review: Dick Cheney is Ten Chess Moves Ahead of Everyone in Adam McKay’s Typically Ambitious ‘Vice’

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CREDIT: Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Justin Kirk, Tyler Perry, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan

Director: Adam McKay

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Profanity in the Halls of Power and Images of War and Torture

Release Date: December 25, 2018

If I’m understanding Vice correctly, then Adam McKay believes that Dick Cheney (here embodied by Christian Bale) is directly or indirectly responsible for everything that is wrong with the current state of American politics. That actually is not as much of a stretch as it sounds. During his eight years as vice president, Cheney wielded a degree of influence that was profoundly unprecedented for the position. The conventional wisdom is that his views on executive power and surveillance now represent the status quo for whoever is occupying the White House. Thus, McKay is not so far off the reservation to imply all that he is implying. But he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew with the expansiveness of his argument. He was similarly ambitious with The Big Short, but that earlier effort is more durable to scrutiny because there he laid the responsibility on forces that were perpetrated both actively and passively by many people. It may very well turn out to be true that Cheney’s influence is as wide-ranging as McKay claims – it’s just tricky to say so about a person who is still living.

Interestingly enough, that tenuousness is baked right into the script. If not for a few key decisions, the life of Dick Cheney, and ergo America, could have played out very differently. Without the presence of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams conjuring Lady Macbeth), he could have ended up a drunk nobody. And if not for his propensity to see life like a chess match in which he is ten moves ahead of everyone else, there might be no Patriot Act, ISIS, or extreme income inequality.

The thesis of Vice is that it was all so close to going differently. Through fourth-wall breaking and formal experimentation (like playing the end credits halfway through), the message is that all that we have been living through was not foreordained. Some may find that frightening, as it indicates that we are always on the precipice of disaster. And McKay’s propensity to cut to random footage of pop culture ephemera may come off as a lamentation that we are too distracted to do anything about it. But I actually see encouragement. You don’t have to like Cheney for him to be an inspiration. If you have a problem with the way things are in the country right now, maybe you can see an opportunity where everyone else sees the masses placated by “Wassup!” commercials. I’m not sure how well Vice works as a movie, but I choose to see it as an exhortation to make things right.

Vice is Recommended If You Like: The Big Short, Oliver Stone’s political thrillers, The Daily Show, Fourth-wall breaking

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Unitary Executive Theories

This Is a Movie Review: Deadpool 2

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I give Deadpool 2 2.5 out of 5 Baby Legs: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/deadpool-2-movie-review-second-time-not-the-charm-for-exhausting-sequel/

This Is a Movie Review: ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Takes the Tension Out of Hijacking, But It Has Really Great Dance Scenes

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CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan, Mark Ivanir, Denis Ménochet

Director: José Padilha

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Threats of Violence Moreso Than Actual Violence and Outbursts Under Pressure

Release Date: March 16, 2018 (Moderate)

What does it mean when the best parts of a docudrama about a hijacking and a hostage rescue are its dance scenes? I don’t think this happens often enough to make any generalized conclusion, but in the case of 7 Days in Entebbe, it means that the dance parts are enthralling, while the actual meat of the story is not particularly attention-grabbing. And that is a problem, because while the dancing does take up a relatively significant portion of the running time, it still only amounts to about 10%. If Entebbe had suddenly turned into a full-fledged presentation of hoofing it up, it would certainly be strange and it would go against the promise its premise makes, but it would be a whole hell of a lot more interesting than what we have.

The nominal focus of the film is the 1976 hijacking of a plane en route from Tel Aviv to Paris by a group of two Germans and two Palestinians. They take the passengers hostage, rerouting them to Uganda, where they stow them away with the unlikely help of Ugandan president Idi Amin. They demand a ransom and the release of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants, making some provocative statements along the way, such as a claim that Israel is “the heir of Nazism.” The hostage operation offers little in the way of knuckle-biting thrills, and the film’s political bent is too ill-defined to say anything much beyond, “Israel and Palestine are stuck in an eternal impasse.”

But back to the dancing, because that’s the only aspect of this film that I really want to talk about. Choreographed by Ohad Naharin and performed by the Batsheva Dance Company, the dance scenes are justified by a subplot in which one of the dancers is the girlfriend of an Israeli commando. That justification is remarkably thin, but not unwelcome, considering the electric charge of the performances. About a dozen dancers are arranged sitting in chairs in a semicircle, popping up in stiff poses when the music hits an explosive note. The commando’s girlfriend has been struggling, and she keeps falling when everyone else stands up. But this routine is so powerful that that mistake could legitimately be part of the routine, and it would make perfect sense. Bottom line: if you’re an action aficionado, Entebbe will be sorely disappointing, but if you’re an appreciator of dance, summon the patience to deal with some boring action for the opportunity to witness some brilliant movement.

7 Days in Entebbe is Recommended If You Like: The existential prison of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Pina

Grade: 2 out of 5 Humanitarian Hijackers

This Is a Movie Review: Charlize Theron is Masterfully Icy Enough to Overcome ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ Shortcomings

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Bullets, Knives, Punches, and Kicks

Release Date: July 28, 2017

At its best, Atomic Blonde is like a cool music video. That description may sound useless in its simplicity, but when a film’s pleasures are its simplest ones, such pith is justified. I believe most people understand inherently what makes a music video cool, but to deconstruct it into its concrete components and how it relates to Atomic Blonde: it is about the combination of recognizable beats and imaginative imagery. Most action films have style, but not all of them have distinct visual wit that you won’t find anywhere else. Spray paint-strewn opening credits give way to an aesthetic dominated by icy blues. 1989 Berlin is filled with cloudy, low-lit neon clubs, and a new wave-heavy soundtrack that tends towards the robotically impersonal. Charlize Theron, the atomic blonde herself, is even introduced waking up in an ice bath.

For some godforsaken reason, Atomic Blonde also cares just as much about its plot. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to kill German spies. There is no need to remember her name – I am not sure anyone ever calls her by it – but it is useful to keep track of all the other byzantine details. Broughton teams up with a loose cannon station chief (James McAvoy) with some trepidation, eventually they have to extract a German operative (Eddie Marsan), and it all goes pear-shaped, leading to the frame device of the (consistently amusing) exit interview with her superiors (Toby Jones, John Goodman). The twists keep turning all the way to a somewhat exhausting near-two hour running time.

But do your best to trim through the fat, because we’re all here to see Charlize – as they say – “kick ass.” Director David Leitch offers hectic set pieces that are much easier to keep track of than his work on the first John Wick. Broughton is impressively skilled in all forms of combat, but she is not invincible. Just about every character suffers puncture wounds, so be prepared to wince. (2017 Trend Watch: improvised slicing weapons to the face, as one baddie gets a set of keys stuck in his cheek, just as John Wick utilized a pencil in his second chapter.)There is also a little bit of time to kick back and relax. A detour with Sofia Boutella as an undercover French agent is kind of cool partly because you do not often see queer relationships in this type of movie, but more so because a Theron-Boutella tȇte-à-tȇte is a solid attraction. The whole affair is a little more distressing and less intellectual than it probably means to be, but Atomic Blonde gets the job done.

Atomic Blonde is Recommended If You Like: John Wick: Chapter 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid: Redemption, Dark New Wave Soundtracks

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Keys to the Face