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

All the Extra-Sweet Holiday Decorations Can’t Disguise the Fact That ‘Last Christmas’ is Really About Doing the Work to Take Care of Ourselves

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson, Lydia Leonard, Boris Isakovic, Peter Mygind

Director: Paul Feig

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Young Adults Getting Themselves Into Hot Mess Situations

Release Date: November 8, 2019

If you’re the type who likes to speculate before going to see a movie, then you may have surmised that a twist is afoot in Last Christmas. And it’s probably pretty close to (if not exactly) the twist you think it is, especially if you’ve noticed that in the trailer, nobody interacts with Henry Golding’s Tom besides Emilia Clarke’s Kate and if you’ve remembered the lyrics to the Wham! song that serves as this film’s namesake and inspired the plot. It’s not as if Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings’ script or Paul Feig’s direction is trying too hard to hide the reveal, as early scenes feature Tom using goofy evasive maneuvers (that nobody but Kate seems to notice) to avoid bumping into passing pedestrians. The success of Last Christmas does not hinge on the twist, thankfully, though I do wonder what it would have been like if it had showed its more hand earlier. The choice to keep things under wraps does make sense considering the story’s perspective, at least, and either way, the message about finding the inner strength to re-discover our best selves shines through.

The other big hook of Last Christmas is that Kate is in long-term recovery mode following a health scare a year earlier that necessitated a heart transplant. Physically, she seems to be doing just fine now, but mentally it’s another story. She appears to be suffering from undiagnosed depression, which is leading to a pattern of poor decisions: hooking up with a series of one-night stands, causing general destruction while couch surfing at her friends’ apartments, neglecting to lock up for the night while leaving work. Her current inability to fulfill the personality requirements of her job as a department store elf (under the employ of a shop owner who calls herself “Santa,” no less) could not be starker. Meanwhile, she’s also got plenty of stress emanating from her family, thanks to an overbearing mother (Thompson) who won’t stop calling her, a sister (Lydia Leonard) keeping her sexuality a secret from their parents, a father (Boris Isakovic) who systematically avoids conflict, and the long-term trauma of having grown up in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.

Thus, with everything so heavy in Kate’s life, I didn’t bat an eye at Tom’s saintly perfection, as this was exactly what she needed, and while skepticism can be healthy, it’s foolish to complain about something definitively good. He may suddenly show up without warning, but he knows exactly what to say to get Kate feeling like herself again. On top of that, he somehow manages to get by in this modern digitized world without carrying his phone around all the time and he (what else?) volunteers at a homeless shelter. His only shortcoming is that he has a habit of disappearing for days on end, only returning by some unpredictable whim. When he’s present, he provides the sort of emotional support that is essential for Kate right now and that we all require to get by as human beings. When he’s gone, it’s a test for her to learn that maybe she has that support within herself to get by on her own.

Last Christmas ends with Kate,, the full picture of health and 100% in the Christmas mood, putting on a little show in support of the homeless shelter. All her loved ones new and old are there to support her, and if that sounds a little too perfect, well, it probably is. We have at least seen Kate get to this point of fulfillment, so her triumph isn’t frustrating. But we haven’t quite spent the same time with her family to know that they’ve also been able to work through all their burdens. Maybe, though, we can assume that they too have had their own mysterious visitors who have helped them along, and then we can go on and sing some happy carols.

Last Christmas is Recommended If You Like: George Michael music, Some sort of combination of Love Actually, Fleabag, and BoJack Horseman

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Comical Eastern European Accents

This Is a Movie Review: ‘A Simple Favor’ Might Just Be the Most Delightful Missing Girl Movie Ever

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CREDIT: Peter Iovino/Lionsgate

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Aparna Nancherla, Kelly McCormack

Director: Paul Feig

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Aggressive Nude Paintings, Plenty of Oopsie Words, a Few Gunshots, and a Little Bit of Skinny Dipping

Release Date: September 14, 2018

What if the most super-prepared overachieving mom started hanging out with the scariest, most workaholic mom who never shows up to any classroom activities? As Andrew Rannells, the ringleader of A Simple Favor‘s Greek chorus of catty parents puts it, she’s going to eat her alive. But in fact prudish mommy blogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) and altogether aggressive fashion P.R. exec Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) become fast friends. They may be the oddest of odd couples, but their chemistry is sparkling and intense. Emily carelessly swears (quite hilariously) in front of her young son and swills afternoon martinis, which is miles beyond any life Stephanie has ever lived. But her unapologetic nature is intoxicating, and Stephanie is happy to latch onto the rare opportunity of discovering true friendship in adulthood.

Stephanie and Emily drinking away the afternoons could be an excellent formula for a twisted sitcom. But Emily, naturally enough, has her secrets, and this story is about her disappearance, and Stephanie grappling with how there is so much she doesn’t know about her friend and how she was always profoundly mysterious for as long as she’s known her. The black comedy of the first half gradually fades away, with Stephanie’s amateur sleuthing signaling a turn into high camp as she starts uncovering some key information.

It all culminates in Stephanie, Emily, and Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) overdramatically play-acting the roles in the ridiculously over-the-top tale of intrigue that they are actually living. The switch between tones is such a hard swerve and a little disorienting. But I am willing to forgive that and call A Simple Favor a rousing success because Kendrick, Lively, and director Paul Feig are so adept at handling both tones, and because there are some genuine lessons about how to be a good, attentive parent in there. That level of grounding is what makes a domestic fantasy like this endure.

A Simple Favor is Recommended If You Like: Gone Girl, Mommy blogs and vlogs, Making fun of mommy blogs and vlogs, Yé-yé music

Grade: 4 out of 5 Real Martinis

This Is a Movie Review: Be Wary of the Spectacle of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ Stay for the Characters

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CREDIT: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Tan Kheng Hua, Chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno, Pierre Png, Nico Santos, Jimmy O. Yang, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Excessive Partying and a Nasty Message Written in Blood

Release Date: August 15, 2018

Ever since I have noticed the buzz building for Crazy Rich Asians, the title has had me worried that I wouldn’t able to relate. I’m not talking about the “Asian” part (and I’m certainly not talking about the “crazy” part). No, what I’m talking about is that four-letter word right in the middle. Sure, it would be nice to have enough money to pay off all my debts, but amassing a fortune into the billions feels plainly excessive. And Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel does nothing to dissuade me from that notion. When we enter the film’s first Singaporean mansion, I am immediately overwhelmed by the real estate per person. And then we learn that this dwelling is actually modest by this country’s standards, and I guess I’ll have to say the Serenity Prayer a few more times. But the good news is that Crazy Rich Asians wants us to be skeptical of insane wealth to an extent.

The biggest takeaway to be had from this big-hearted rom-com is the danger of making assumptions, a problem that can befall anyone, no matter their net worth. Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) assumes that her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) is a man of modest means. That is hardly the most damaging assumption, but it does mean that she is in for plenty of surprises when he flies her into Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and she learns that he is in fact a member of one of the country’s wealthiest families. Far more consequential are the assumptions made about Rachel, especially from Nick’s domineering but also impressive (and frankly, occasionally likeable) mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). She objects to Rachel as a potential daughter-in-law, not because she is an outsider, but because of what type of outsider she is, assuming that as an American, personal fulfillment is more important to her than building a family. Accordingly, the requisite final act misunderstanding is not some phony moment between Rachel and Nick, who are far too honest with each other to not be able to work things out. Instead, it is a background check that drives a wedge of emotional manipulation that can only be cured by selflessness on all sides.

Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians does not win me over to the lavish lifestyle, but it does successfully convey the traditions that lead to creating a familial empire. Judging by the reactions of the largely Asian crowd at the screening I attended, this is an accurate and resonant portrayal. There was plenty of whooping and laughing that indicated intimate recognition of a pan-Asian exchange of culture, the immigrant experience, and (presumably) key moments from the book. We may not need a billion dollars to be happy, but I now see the potential value in learning how to play mahjong or attending a wedding in which the aisle is flooded with water.

Crazy Rich Asians is Recommended If You Like: Rom-Coms with an unapologetic cultural flavor

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Jade Rings