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

The ‘Downton Abbey’ Movie Does Right By Its Dozens of Characters

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CREDIT: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Max Brown, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Michael C. Fox, Joanne Froggatt, Matthew Goode, Harry Haden-Paton, David Haig, Geraldine James, Robert James-Collier, Simon Jones, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lesley Nicol, Kate Phillips, Douglas Reith, Maggie Smith, Phillippe Spall, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton

Director: Michael Engler

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Stolen Kisses and Slightly Scandalous Secrets

Release Date: September 20, 2019

I like to be upfront about the fact that I don’t always consume media straightforwardly. Sometimes I start TV shows five seasons in. Sometimes I watch the fifth sequel in a franchise despite never having any seen any previous entries. And sometimes, as in the case of Downton Abbey, I watch a TV-to-film adaptation without ever having seen a single episode of the series. Thus, I cannot report with any expertise about how the big-screen adventures of the Crawleys and company compare to their small-screen foibles. But I can tell you how it works as a cinematic experience while coming in with (basically) no expectations.

In an era of nerd culture dominance, it seems like there is a new superhero movie every other month that expects its audience to be up-to-date on years of backstory for a multitude of characters. Downton Abbey is often the type of movie that tends to get shoved aside in this current marketplace, but it does share one important quality with your Avengers or your Justice League. And that is its magnificently sprawling cast. I’m sure that keeping track of everyone is easier for fans of the show than it is for me, but even so, properly attending to approximately three dozen characters in only two hours sounds exhausting for both a screenwriter and a viewer.

Luckily, show creator Julian Fellowes, who penned the script, knows how to keep the focus, and Michael Engler offers no-fuss direction that lets the actors do what they do. It all starts with King George V and Queen Mary (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) announcing that they will be making an overnight visit to Downton Abbey as part of a tour of the country. Chaos (or chaos-ish) ensues. Along the way, there are small pleasures all over the place that add up to a full feast of pleasures. An arrogant royal chef makes a fool of himself, conversations about how the future might bring more rights to the underclasses are discussed, and the Dowager Countess drops her devastating quips. It’s admiringly economical comfort food.

Downton Abbey is Recommended If You Like: Downton Abbey the TV show, presumably

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Royal Visits

This Is a Movie Review: The Sense of an Ending

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

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery

Director: Ritesh Batra

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Serious Matters Confronted with British Reservation

Release Date: March 10, 2017 (Limited)

In The Sense of an Ending, Jim Broadbent plays Anthony Webster, the owner of a boutique camera shop who must confront the sins of his past after an old acquaintance passes away and includes him in the will. I would vote for the focus to be waxing nostalgic about vintage Nikons and Kodaks, but alas, the narrative switches back and forth between the present day and Tony’s young adulthood, when he was courting a girl who eventually pursued one of his friends instead. There ends up being a tangle of long-ago secrets that it takes way too long to make sense of.

The film does not engender mystery so much as simmer in its ambiguity. Dinner scenes involve questions being asked and only being answered after staring into space for what feels like an eternity. Is this that famous British reservation, or just tentative filmmaking? If it is the former, the angst of what is left unsaid should be painfully felt, but that is just not the case, at least not until Charlotte Rampling shows up about halfway through. As the present-day version of Tony’s ex-flame, she says more with a piercing glance than the entirety of the flashbacks.

In the midst of sorting out his past, Tony is also on the verge of becoming a grandfather. He accompanies his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) to birthing classes, as the father is completely out of the picture. Susie warns Dad not to make any offensive remark about a lesbian couple in the class, as overly cautious children are wont to worry that their parents will go rogue. But Tony not only keep his tongue in check, he becomes fast friends with the couple. And it is not because of any fetishistic desire to diversify his circle. He just happens to be a sociable fellow who likes talking to people. Funny that his daughter doesn’t know that.

Anyway, I would much prefer if The Sense of an Ending were the adventures of Dad and the Lesbians. At least Tony ends up more reliably friendly than he was in his salad days. Perhaps he can take solace in that ending.

The Sense of an Ending is Recommended If You LikeAtonement But Wish It Had Been Difficult to Follow

Grade: 2 out of 5 Angry Letters

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”

This Is A Movie Review: Non-Stop

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Non-Stop-Liam-Neeson
When Liam Neeson entered the action star portion of his acting career, my reaction was, “Yes, of course.”  Actually, I may not really have had any reaction at all because the one-man army role suited him so well that I hardly noticed any difference.  This is partly a way of getting at the fact that Neeson’s action stardom has been more successful than the actual movies have been.  He made Taken work as well as it did by sheer force of will, but I found that movie to be too distressing and overly tidy to be able to embrace it completely.  His subsequent lone hero actioners have for the most part been variations on Taken.  No doubt about it, Non-Stop is Taken on a Plane, but I preferred it to the kidnapping thriller because it was just so insane that I might have had to lose my mind, and I was happy to.

(GENERALLY SPOILER-ISH INFORMATION FROM HERE ON OUT, BECAUSE I FEEL THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE IN SPECIFIC TERMS.)  Non-Stop is filled with improbabilities right from the get-go.  Neeson plays Bill Marks, a federal air marshal who has turned to the bottle to deal with his daughter’s death.  The fact that Marks still gets assigned jobs despite obviously being affected by his drinking and the cause of his alcoholism being overly pat strain credulity, but it is actually purposeful to the narrative that his competence is suspect and that information about his troubles could be public knowledge.  Anyway, though, Non-Stop gets away with most or all its implausibility by being upfront about it.  A movie that crosses a classic mad-villain extortion scheme with a cat-and-mouse game at 30,000 feet is not aiming for everyday verisimilitude.

In addition to reveling in its absurdity, Non-Stop excels in its suspense by establishing just about every character as a legitimate suspect.  Julianne Moore, as Marks’ seat neighbor, is overly talkative.  Scoot McNairy, who excels at playing slimy (check him out getting into deep shit in Killing Them Softly) plays a punk who is rather inquisitive about what plane Marks will be getting on.  Certain traps and killing maneuvers suggest action in areas of the plane that only the pilots and flight attendants would have access to.  A second marshal is the only other one who should be on the cellular network that Marks is receiving the threatening texts from.  Corey Stoll is an overly aggressive New York City cop who questions why Marks doesn’t give the Muslim passenger as thorough a shakedown as he gives everyone else.  This seems like a typical moment playing on post-9/11 paranoia, but it may actually be a matter of class or profession bias, as Marks may have overlooked him because he is a doctor.

(THINGS GET EVEN MORE SPOILERY IN THIS PARAGRAPH.)  The nature of the manhunt suddenly changes in the final act when it is revealed that the killings are not just going to be those happening one by one every 20 minutes due to the revelation of a bomb, which had earlier been disguised by cocaine.  This new crisis prompts Marks, who has been backed into a corner by passengers suspicious of him, to reveal everything about his previously secretive investigation.  This sequence sets quite a benchmark for excitement that the rest of the 2014 film slate will have a tough time matching.

If you are worried that too many twists and turns have been spoiled by the promotion of this movie, don’t be.  While the trailer does include a fair amount of footage from the final act – and, admittedly, does feature as its centerpiece the most memorable shot of a pivotal struggle – there is actually a fair amount of misdirection.  The first death in particular does not go down exactly as the previews would lead you to believe.

Non-Stop falters a little bit with its ending, as the motivation for the extortion is revealed – it tries to be straightforward, which is difficult amidst all the insanity.  I did not have a problem with the spirit of the motivation itself, or how it went about being explained, so much as the fact that it was a bit too simplistic.  Still, that does not take away from all the highly pressurized excitement that precedes it. A-