I Saw ‘Spiral’ and ‘Wrath of Man’ on the Same Weekend, and I’m Happy with That Decision

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(CREDIT: Brooke Palmer; Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Spiral:

Starring: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: May 14, 2021 (Theaters)

Wrath of Man:

Starring: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood, Niamh Algar, Babs Olusanmokun, Josh Cowdery, Andy García, Rob Delaney, Lyne Renée

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: May 7, 2021 (Theaters)

I’m tempted to say that Spiral is my favorite Saw movie, but that wouldn’t mean all that much, as it’s only the second one I’ve ever seen. And it might not even be true anyway, since I enjoyed the philosophical conundrums that Saw 2 made me ponder. But Spiral has a whole “surprisingly favorite” vibe to it in opposition to the rest of the series. It may not be entirely different from its predecessors, but it diverges enough for me to go, “I’m pleased with the new direction.” I may not have seen Saw, Saw‘s IIIIV, Saw 3D, or Jigsaw, but I’m familiar enough with them to feel like I’m emerging upon a new horizon. The torture is still too mentally and visually taxing, but the game’s rules and players have been updated.

As for Wrath of Man, I can confidently say that it is indeed my favorite Guy Ritchie movie. Although I should note that I haven’t seen his early stuff, so this might sound like faint praise. (My previous favorite by default was probably Aladdin. Or the parts of The Gentleman with Hugh Grant.) But Wrath of Man nevertheless stands tall on its own, and in opposition to the rest of its director’s filmography. Instead of being about a bunch of gangsters having a bloody good time, this is about a bunch of criminals and working stiffs being deathly, DEATHLY serious about everything. This movie is so bleak. It’s as bleak as a butt. It’s an elemental examination of Violence, Retribution, and Pure Evil. I don’t want to spend all my moviegoing hours in Wrath of Man Land, but visiting there every once in a while provides a healthy catharsis.

GRADES:
Spiral: 3 out of 5 Minghella Rocks
Wrath of Man: 4 out of 5 Statham Hartnetts

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: ‘Aladdin’ Grants Our Wish for an Illuminating Disney Remake

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CREDIT: Daniel Smith/Disney

Starring: Mena Massoud, Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Marwin Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Numan Acar, Billy Magnussen

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: PG for Vividly Fantastical Wish Fulfillment

Release Date: May 24, 2019

One of the best possible values of Disney’s recent spate of remakes is something typically associated with theatrical revivals, i.e., the space to illuminate and expand upon the messages of the original. With that in mind, Guy Ritchie’s rendition of Aladdin is one of the best entries in this trend because of how much it emphasizes what worked about the original and how successful it is with its new elements. Both versions are clear, thorough, and simple about explaining their character motivations, which sounds like it should be a basic tenet of storytelling, and it is (except when you want to be ambiguous), but sometimes filmmakers get distracted by the bells and whistles.

While the details are fun and fancy, the main ideas are what keep Aladdin flying along. We know that Aladdin and Jasmine are smitten each other, we know that Genie wants his freedom, we know that Jafar is power-hungry, and we know that the Sultan wants what is best for his kingdom and his daughter. The circumstances that frustrate or reward these desires are understandable and internally consistent, which adds up to a formula for a satisfying story.

So Ritchie and his co-screenwriter John August know what clicks about the meat of what they’ve got here – how about the fresh flavors they add? Casting is key here, and that is a success across the board. Mena Massoud (Aladdin), Naomi Scott (Jasmine), and Marwin Kenzari (Jafar) are mainly playing variations of what came before, while Navid Negahban’s Sultan is much sterner than, though just as lovable as, Douglas Seale’s goofball version. Nasim Pedrad and Billy Magnussen provide a good chunk of the comic relief as a couple of new characters, a saucy handmaiden to Jasmine who can totally get it and a very sweet, but way-of-his-depth, Scandinavian-ish suitor, respectively.

Of course, the question everyone is parroting is: does Genie Will Smith grant audiences their wishes? There were plenty of concerns after trailer footage suggested that a blue Fresh Prince was maybe a little too creepy for comfort. Frankly, though, I have spent this whole time believing that any weirdness is this movie’s biggest asset. And ultimately anyway, I believe that the CGI threads the needle between off-putting and palatable. (Although I’m not sure how necessary his jacked torso is.) Smith is reverent to Robin Williams’ iconic performance, but his Genie is just as unique. He’s operating at the height of Big Willie style, the sort of confidante who knows just how to swag out confidence and perception to everyone’s advantage. We have had a friend like him before, but we could always use another.

Aladdin is Recommended If You Like: Aladdin (1992), Big Willie Style, Willennium, Sitcom episodes with Nasim Pedrad guest appearances

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Magic Carpets

This Is a Movie Review: Guy Ritchie Adds Some Cockney Flair to Camelot with ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Erica Bana

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds That Seem to Only Happen During Thunderstorms

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The King Arthur legend has been told and re-told countless times over the centuries. On film, it has been fantastical, animated, “realistic,” romantic, and explicit. Could Guy Ritchie, that purveyor of stylish British gangsters, possibly have anything new to add to the mythos? Based on Legend of the Sword, the answer is: apparently there were options that we were never even considering.

The bare bones of the plot of this edition play up the similarities between Arthurian legend and the biblical tale of Moses. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) places his infant son Arthur in a basket in a river to escape the grasp of his power-mad brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders Uther to ascend to the throne. Arthur then grows up in a brothel to become Charlie Hunnam, and he promptly draws the sword Excalibur from the stone. So far, so sticking to the script. The rest of it, however, is Ritchie’s unique vision – surprisingly fascinating, intermittently satisfying.

With phrases like “honey tits” and nicknames like “Kung Fu George,” this is basically the cockney version of Camelot. The archaic aesthetic is not committed to fully, though, but that oddly leads me to somewhat admire Ritchie’s restraint. There is, however, complete commitment to editing the film like a heist caper, rendering the future Knights of the Round Table a sort of Pendragon’s Eleven. The plan to topple Vortigern is not exactly a matter of trickery (at least no more so than any rebellious maneuver is), but I guess you have to get your kicks in somewhere. Legend of the Sword leaves its most lasting stamp in its fetish for oversized, foreboding animals. They are not quite as visionary as the eels in A Cure for Wellness, say, and I have no idea what purpose they serve (beyond the maxim “critters accompany magic”), but I have to give some props to a summer blockbuster with such strange, gooey visuals.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is Recommended If You Like: Slimy, Scaly Creatures

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Mages