Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Movie Review: East Side, West Side (1949)

A marriage, infidelity and murder story, East Side, West Side is a star-laden drama with a decidedly weak script.

In New York City, couple Jessie and Brandon Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason) have patched up their marriage a year after he had an affair. She is a calm and patient housewife, while he is a playboy businessman unable to control his lust. Now his mistress Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner) has returned to town, and Brandon is quickly back under her trance and succumbing to his philandering instincts.

As Jessie struggles to decide whether she can ever trust Brandon again, she befriends department store model Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse), and through her meets former police officer and now international investigator Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin). He immediately senses Jessie's inherent loneliness. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when a murder is committed, with no shortage of suspects with motives.

A glossy MGM production designed to showcase the sordid secrets of the rich elites, East Side, West Side features current and future stars in every meaningful role. The talented cast cannot save a feeble by-the-numbers script by Isobel Lennart, based on the Marcia Davenport novel. The dialogue is stiff, most of the actors go about their business in a mechanical trance, and director Mervyn LeRoy adds little to the drama.

With Stanwyck in particularly subdued form and Mason struggling to convince as a playboy not in control of his libido, the will-she-or-won't-she-leave-him dilemma never gains traction. Only Gardner adds some heat as the other woman, but her smoldering mannerisms land flat opposite Mason's lethargy. Heflin and Stanwyck are supposed to create an undercurrent of potential romance in the final act, but the absence of chemistry means they come across as friends at best.

The murder sub-plot arrives really late, suddenly lurching the film into a police procedural. A couple of hitherto barely seen marginal characters in the form of hoodlum Dawning (Douglas Kennedy) and icy blonde Felice (Beverly Michaels) become involved. And just as quickly, the case is tidied up, having contributed little to the central drama.

The film's title refers to the two halves of New York, upper class and working class. A brief sojourn by Mark and Jessie to his neighbourhood roots is thrown in to justify the reference, but like the rest of the movie, it's a perfunctory gesture.

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Monday, 10 December 2018

Movie Review: Anne Of The Thousand Days (1969)

A historical epic drama, Anne Of The Thousand Days delves into the politics and passions that shaped history in the English royal court.

It's the early 1500s, and England's King Henry VIII (Richard Burton) is desperate to have a son, but stuck in a loveless marriage with Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas) who can no longer have children. The much younger Anne Boleyn (Geneviève Bujold) catches his eye, and he pursues her incessantly. Anne's sister is already pregnant with the King's child, and Anne has no intention of becoming another of his illicit lovers bearing him illegitimate children: she insists that she will only sleep with the King if he makes her his Queen.

Henry turns to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Anthony Quayle) to convince the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine, but to no avail. Henry's chief lawyer Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) then convinces Henry to break away from Rome and install himself as the head of the church in England. He does so, paving the way to marry Anne. But their long-desired union is hugely controversial, and Henry's increasingly erratic behaviour causes more trouble ahead.

Directed by Charles Jarrott as an adaptation of the Maxwell Anderson play, Anne Of The Thousand Days is two and half hours of lavish historical drama and court intrigue. Handsomely staged with elaborate sets and costumes to recreate a long gone era, the film is a remarkably engaging story of a passionate clash driving politics and reorienting the course of history.

Aided by deliberate pacing, the story carries enormous potency, and indeed the liaison between Henry and Anne sowed the seeds for a major religious realignment and conceived one of England's most influential rulers. But at the personal level the film is about a man who cannot be denied meeting a woman who will yield only after extracting an extraordinary price. The private battle of wills spills into far-reaching matters of church and state, and the film traces the ripple effects from the palace to the courts, prison cells and guillotines.

Henry is portrayed on the margins of madness, the lack of a male heir driving him to the edge, his proclaimed love for Anne representing a yearning for any attractive young woman who may yield a son. The role perfectly suits Richard Burton, who maintains quiet control most of the time and unleashes Henry's frustrated rage only at strategic intervals.

Anne emerges as a most provocative character, a determined and intelligent woman who parlays her brief period of influence over a king into a potential dynasty for her future child. It's an exceptional display of burgeoning feminine power built on self-confidence and a refusal to acquiesce, and Geneviève Bujold pulls off the role with intense relish.

The supporting characters are vivid and add plenty to the unfolding drama. Cardinal Wolsey in his infernal red robes, the conniving Cromwell, the dour and set-upon Catherine, Anne's avaricious parents and the cerebral Sir Thomas More (William Squire) all play their role in animating the court and influencing crucial events.

Anne Of The Thousand Days is a colourful recreation of political machinations, the fierce desire for a male ironically unleashing the power of a female to control the present and rule the future.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Movie Review: MacArthur (1977)

A wartime biopic about the celebrated but controversial general, MacArthur is a plodding effort and never comes close to defining the man or the events he shaped.

It's 1942, and under increasing pressure from dominant Japanese forces, US General Douglas MacArthur (Gregory Peck) reluctantly obeys an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Dan O'Herlihy) to leave the Philippines. His parting words are "I shall return". He relocates to Australia, where he starts to train a fighting force to recapture lost territory in the South Pacific.

US and Australian forces go on the offensive starting in New Guinea. MacArthur deploys a strategy of bypassing and cutting off Japanese strongholds, and starts to turn the tide of war. After debating strategy with Roosevelt and Admiral Chester Nimitz, MacArthur fulfills his promise and lands back in the Philippines in 1944, and oversees the Japanese surrender one year later. But his role in helping to reconstruct post-war Japan is interrupted by a new conflict erupting in Korea.

Directed by Joseph Sargent and co-written by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, it's difficult to imagine MacArthur as anything other than a meek and unsuccessful attempt to replicate the impact of Patton (1970). Unfortunately the film takes an interesting subject and does next to nothing with the material. Undercast, underwritten and devoid of any narrative depth, MacArthur recreates key events from the general's World War Two and Korea eras in a perfunctory manner devoid of emotional resonance.

The few positives include one relatively brief scene of self-doubt at the dawn of a major battle, and a few impactful excursions to bloody battlefields.

But otherwise the film is over-dependent on star Gregory Peck making impassioned speeches about nebulous themes like honour, loyalty and country, in the hopelessly misplaced trust that insipid nationalistic statements define a man. The film underplays any other characters or relationships in MacArthur's world. His wife Jean (Marj Dusay) gets to say perhaps 20 words in the entire film. Politicians and other military leaders are reduced to stock representations spouting banal dialogue.

The complexities of a country desperate for heroes elevating MacArthur to mythical status, assisted by his clever self-promotional efforts, are treated with abject superficiality. Equally, MacArthur's political ambitions, and his gradual descent into potentially dangerous self-aggrandizing to the point of creating his own foreign policy and defying political orders, are all treated with oh-well dismissiveness, on the way to another speech opportunity.

MacArthur was a complex leader, but the film is a tactical blunder.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

A romantic comedy and drama, The Shop Around The Corner is a delightfully sweet story of mixed-up love.

In Budapest, Alfred (James Stewart) is the floor manager of the fashion and accessories store owned by Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan). With Christmas approaching, the pressure is on to have a good sales season. Alfred's co-workers include the kindly but meek Pirovitch (Felix Bressart), the smarmy Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut), and young but ambitious delivery boy Pepi (William Tracy). Klara (Margaret Sullavan) joins the sales team through her sheer force of will, and clashes with Alfred, his calm and calculated personality not clicking with her vivacious attitude.

Unknown to both of them, Alfred and Klara are anonymously corresponding with each other through a match-by-letter service, with a big date approaching where they are supposed to meet. However, Mr. Matuschek is under increasing pressure on the home front, doubting Mrs. Matuschek's fidelity. His personal stress spills onto his employees, disrupting Alfred's career and love life.

An adaptation of a Miklós László play directed and produced by Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around The Corner is a lighthearted romance filled with quirky characters, the soulfulness of an approaching Christmas season, and a classic opposites attract dynamic.

Working in confined surroundings, Lubitsch creates clever and multi-layered interactions between his lovers-to-be. In person the sparks fly in all the wrong directions as they irritate each other with incompatible mannerisms. But they also dreamily speak of the perfect potential residing in their anonymous letters, a case of yearning for the concept of an ideal match residing in the written word while the warts-and-all reality of their potential union is already exposed.

The film is unsurprisingly stage bound, with most of the scenes taking place on the shop floor. A few aspects of the Samson Raphaelson script don't quite work, including Mr. Matuschek disrupting his critical relationship with Alfred just before he receives all the information he needs about his wife's dalliances. Alfred and Klara spend most of the movie sparring instead of developing their romance, and the second half of the film does contain plenty of asymmetrical if benign deception.

James Stewart is his typical upstanding self, while Margaret Sullavan sparkles as the driven woman seeking both and a career and a romance, and who will not settle until her ambitions are achieved. The film is greatly aided by the supporting cast, with Frank Morgan a strong presence hiding Matuschek's kind heart behind a stern exterior. Felix Bressart is also memorable as Pirovitch, a man who has seen everything come and go and will help but only quietly and otherwise skulk away from any noisy conflict.

Mr. Matuschek's shop is full of surprises good and bad, including an unexpected love hiding just around the corner.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Movie Review: Flatliners (1990)

A drama and thriller with some horror elements, Flatliners offers an intriguing premise and proceeds to bungle it with wayward execution.

At a prestigious medical school, Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) is a student obsessed with exploring the death experience. He convinces his friends and classmates Rachel (Julia Roberts), David (Kevin Bacon), Joe (William Baldwin) and Randy (Oliver Platt) to participate in flatlining experiments, killing themselves with electric shocks for a few minutes before being revived with a defibrillator and CPR.

Nelson goes first, followed within days by David, Joe and Rachel, with each student prolonging the death stretch ever longer. The troubling visions they experience during their brief deaths are derived from their past and present lives, and continue to haunt them in the days after the experiments. Nelson, David and Rachel encounter figures from their childhoods, while the womanizing Joe confronts the consequences of his selfish actions.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Flatliners is most notable for featuring a good collection of up-and-coming talent in the form of Sutherland, Roberts and Bacon. Despite the lack of adequate character depth, the often pouty star potential is potent, their hair carries flowy vestiges of the 1980s, and they collectively improve the film's otherwise ragged watchability factor.

The proposition around keen young medical students with Nobel Prize stars in their eyes eager to make a name for themselves by experiencing death and living to talk about it from a scientific perspective has the basis for a good film. Unfortunately, Schumacher and scriptwriter Peter Filardi lose their way early. Schumacher goes for a faux gothic aesthetic featuring gargoyles and a spooky old building under renovations where Nelson and his group set up shop to conduct their experiments. The decision to steer the film towards horror-lite territory is questionable, and displaces what was proclaimed as an intellectual pursuit.

And so the students one by one undergo the flatlining experience in increasingly repetitive scenes, and not once does Nelson follow through on his initial scientific quest to question, explore or discuss what it all means and where does science go with the visions experienced during death.

It is ironically left to sceptical and secular David to figure out some semblance of how to beat back the diabolical threats haunting the students after they return to life, in what proves to be a most tepid resolution about the need to seek absolution by confronting past misdeeds, real or imagined. Flatliners claims to seek inventive ideas, and ends up with lukewarm guilt leftovers.

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Movie Review: 3:10 To Yuma (2007)

A western about two men at the opposite ends of the moral spectrum, 3:10 To Yuma finds the right balance between well-staged action and character-driven discourse.

After serving as a sharpshooter in the Civil War, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is now a near-bankrupt cattle farmer with a lame leg. He is trying to live his life the right way and look after his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and two boys, including teenager William (Logan Lerman). While rounding up cattle one day, Dan stumbles upon charismatic outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang robbing a rail company payroll stagecoach.

The heist is violent but successful, with Pinkerton agent Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) the only stagecoach survivor. Ben allows Dan and his sons to walk away. At the nearby small town of Bisbee, Ben dallies with a saloon girl and is arrested, while the rest of his gang, including ruthless second-in-command Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), get away. Dan joins a small team assembled by the Marshal to escort Ben to Contention, where he can be placed on the 3:10 train to Yuma to face justice. Along the way, Ben does all he can to escape, and to psychologically wear down Dan.

A remake of the classic 1957 western, the 2007 version of 3:10 To Yuma is a worthy retelling of the delicate story. Directed by James Mangold, the film does unnecessarily bloat by about 30 minutes to a two hour running time, stretching the narrative limits of what is essentially a two-person character tug-of-war. But otherwise Mangold delivers plenty of well-staged action to punctuate the slowly evolving tension between rancher and outlaw.

While the original had a small-scale and intimate feel, Mangold opens up the film with more outdoor incidents. This works to create additional openings for shoot-outs and attempted escapes, but also strains credibility with convoluted script machinations to reconnect Evans and Wade every time they are separated.

A western primarily exploring two competing attitudes towards carving a frontier livelihood is fully reliant on the central performances, and Mangold is ably assisted by Christian Bale and particularly Russell Crowe in fine form. Bale is steady and intense and finds Evans' trauma as a man who may never gain the respect of his sons. Escorting a dangerous prisoner is a final opportunity to leave a legacy, a dance with the devil filled with danger and temptations.

3:10 To Yuma finds Crowe close to his creative peak, and the actor creates in Ben Wade an irresistible leader, combining smarts with ferocity. Crowe unleashes oodles of confidence within Wade and a quiet contempt for authority and anyone who claims the world is a fair place. And yet Crowe allows subtle hints to seep out suggesting he envies Evans' attempt at a building a domestic life the outlaw will never get to experience.

The dialogue exchanges between the two men are exceptionally well written, teasing out the power stalemate between the meek man carrying the rifle against the prisoner with all the brashness.

The film ends with an admirable if wild climax, one rancher and one crime boss carving out new destinies under a hail of bullets. As westerns go 3:10 To Yuma makes it to the station on time, carrying some excess weight but plenty of flamboyance.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Movie Review: The Edge Of Seventeen (2016)

A high school drama and comedy, The Edge Of Seventeen deftly delves into the world of teenagers where every emotion and setback is heightened.

Seventeen year old high school student Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) announces to her laid back teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) she is about to kill herself. In flashback, Nadine is revealed to have been an introverted child, while her older brother Darian was easygoing and popular. Nadine suffered a shock when she lost her father early in life, and never got along with her self-obsessed mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). But in elementary school she finally found happiness through a long-lasting friendship with classmate Krista.

Now in high school, Nadine still finds it difficult to fit in, and her one true friendship is severely tested when Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) and the hunky Darian (Blake Jenner) start a relationship. Nadine has a crush on cool kid Nick (Alexander Calvert), who probably does not know she exists. Classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) appears interested in Nadine, but is equally awkward and tentative. With Mona's insensitivity amplifying a really bad week, the world seems to close in on Nadine.

Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and co-produced by James L. Brooks, The Edge Of Seventeen breathes fresh life into teen coming-of-age high school film. More drama than comedy, Fremon Craig strides into serious terrain for young adults, where friendships are sacrosanct, crises escalate in a hurry and viable options appear limited in the heat generated by raging hormones.

The film is light on its feet despite the weighty subject matter. Fremon Craig is able to represent and emphasize with her characters while still poking gentle fun at the hypersensitive teen world. The scenes are brisk, the dialogue sharp and bright, and the film avoids melodrama even when Nadine's world is at its darkest.

A stripped down Hailee Steinfeld effortlessly carries the film on her shoulders, playing Nadine as a teen overwhelmed by living in her brother's long shadow, still missing her father, feeling invisible when it comes to the dishy boys, and confounded by an egocentric mother (with Kyra Sedgwick delivering some career-best work). Nadine perceives Krista's relationship with Darian as the worst kind of betrayal, triggering a rapid downward spiral towards self-inflicted humiliation and despair.

To soften the often somber tone, The Edge Of Seventeen does seek out moments of wit and humour, and most of these are delivered courtesy of Mr. Bruner. In a performance so intentionally lackadaisical he often threatens to disappear into his teacher's chair, Woody Harrelson as Bruner offers a counterpoint to all of Nadine's angst, at once comforting and exasperating. Without ever lecturing or hectoring, Bruner absorbs Nadine's turmoil and nonchalantly nudges her towards exploring a new thought stream.

Nadine will have to find her own way out of the doldrums. The Edge Of Seventeen exposes the seemingly crushing pressures of growing up and fitting in, and the teenager's extraordinary resiliency and capacity to cope and finally unravel the puzzle of growing up.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Movie Review: Why Him? (2016)

A culture clash comedy, Why Him? contains a few over-the-top laughs but runs out of ideas quite quickly.

In the San Jose area, Stanford University student Stephanie Fleming (Zoey Deutch) is the girlfriend of slightly eccentric tech millionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco). Stephanie is close with her dad Ned (Bryan Cranston), and invites him along with her mother Barb (Megan Mullally) and younger brother Scotty to come for a visit and meet Laird.

The conservative Ned runs an old fashioned printing business in Michigan, and is now struggling to make ends meet. Upon arrival the Flemings are taken aback by Laird's wealth, lifestyle, gadget-filled house and constant vulgarity. However Laird is also kind hearted and honest. Despite having nothing in common, Laird insists on gaining Ned's approval to marry Stephanie.

Directed by John Hamburg and co-produced by Jonah Hill and Ben Stiller (among others), Why Him? riffs on the familiar Meet The Parents theme. Here instead of the happy young couple being intimidated by overbearing parents, the tables are turned as Ned and Barb find themselves out of their depth in Laird's domain. The young (but still too old for Stephanie) tech success story is a heavily tattooed millionaire without a filter but with a dream house, and culturally on another planet from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The sheer presence of James Franco letting loose as Laird is the source of most of the film's humour, with Bryan Cranston providing the perfect foil as the often speechless Ned. They clash over food, language, money, technology, and Stephanie's future career plans, with Ned never finding a level of comfort and Laird mostly wondering what all the fuss is about.

The cast also includes Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav, Laird's friend, sparring partner and house manager. His presence never quite clicks, in a sign of the film's lack of depth.

Once the tone is set in the first third Why Him? starts to lose momentum. Few new elements are introduced, several concepts are half-baked and abandoned altogether, and many of the vulgar jokes loop for the third and fourth time. A hacking sub-plot is hurriedly introduced to no great purpose, and Hamburg blandly steers the movie towards familiar platitudes, without answering questions as to why a profanity-laden comedy would seek a cuddly family-friendly resolution.

Why Him? laughs at mutually incompatible first impressions, but does not progress much beyond that.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Movie Review: Jarhead (2005)

A war movie almost devoid of war, Jarhead is more interested in exploring the soldiers' psyche and crushing sense of alienation during the long wait for action.

It's 1998, and laidback Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) enlists with the US Marines to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Vietnam War veteran. After struggling to adapt to the military culture and the rigours of training, Swofford finds a home with the Scout Sniper program under the tutelage of Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx). He is eventually paired with spotter Alan Troy (Peter Sarsgaard).

After Iraq invades Kuwait in August 1990, Swofford's unit is among the first to be deployed to the desert to protect Saudi Arabia's oil fields in Operation Desert Shield. Long days, weeks and months of abject boredom follow, the men struggling to control their pent-up aggression as they wait for the start of combat operations, with Swofford gradually sinking into depression.

An adaptation of Swofford's memoir directed by Sam Mendes, Jarhead is an unyielding journey towards physical and psychological frustration. The absence of action is far from an obvious war movie topic, but Mendes and screenwriter William Broyles Jr. extract remarkable potency from the internal struggle to stay sane. This is a story about waiting, and the crushing fog of restlessness descending on men primed for action being ordered to essentially do nothing in the middle of nowhere.

The first act features the typical military training culture shock and drill sergeants screaming insults at raw recruits. With Swofford introduced as smarter than the average recruit and therefore less easily adaptable to strict military regulations, this material is potent but familiar from the days of An Officer And A Gentleman and Full Metal Jacket. In Jarhead, the training does lead to deployment, but this is where the film takes a left-turn. 

The American troop build up in the desert started in early August 1990, and combat operations erupted in the middle of January 1991, by which time close to 700,000 American soldiers were in the field. Jarhead recreates what five and half months of inactivity can do to soldiers. Endless repetitive training and hours to kill invariably decay morale and enthusiasm, as Swofford and others turn on each other and lose discipline and sharpness.

They also become obsessed with what their girlfriends and wives must be up to back home, the limited communications feeding an insidious sense of abandonment. Swofford reads between the lines of his girlfriend's letters and a scratchy phone call to conclude that she is undoubtedly cheating on him. Other wives are graphically unambiguous in how they message their men.

When the push to liberate Kuwait finally gets underway, the war ends within literally hours of starting, adding to the retrospective sense of unfulfilled expectations. The ground troops are reduced to chasing a war being won by airpower well ahead of them. Here Mendes excels in capturing lyrical landscapes of an asymmetrical battle, Sykes, Swofford and the other men coming across an Iraqi army literally and figuratively pulverized in place. The recreation of hell-on-earth courtesy of burning oil fields and black rain is visually stunning.

Jake Gyllenhaal captures one man's disbelieving descent into the alternate reality of military life. Gyllenhaal ensures Swofford is never comfortable in uniform, and serves more as an incredulous observer surviving rather than actively participating in the gung-ho life. The rest of the all-male cast members do their best to provide definition to the many enlisted men, with limited success.

Jarhead exposes the unglamorous and unheroic side of war, where dreams of bravado meet an unlikely foe in the shape of wretched tedium.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Movie Review: Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

A raucous multi-heist crime comedy, Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels throws everything at the screen. A lot of it sticks, but the film often threatens to disintegrate under its own weight.

In London, friends and small time criminals Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher) and Bacon (Jason Statham) pool their money and plan to win big at an illegal poker game run by "Hatchet" Harry (P.H. Moriarty). Meanwhile, Harry instructs his chief henchman Barry "the Baptist" (Lenny McLean) to steal two precious rifles from a bankrupt estate. Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) also works for Harry as an uncompromising collections man, and he incongruously completes his assignments with his young son Little Chris.

Barry hires bumbling thieves Gary and Dean to pull off the rifle heist, and thanks to their incompetence the stolen rifles end up with Eddy's acquaintance Nick "the Greek" (Stephen Marcus), infuriating Harry.

The poker game goes badly for Eddy, and he is forced to come up with a lot of money in a hurry. An opportunity arises when he eavesdrops on his neighbours, hardened criminals led by Dog (Frank Harper) and planning a heist of a marijuana grow-op run by mellow potheads. Eddy and his friends plot to steal from Dog, an ill-advised move to begin with, but things get a lot worse when crime lord Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) turns out to be the main victim of the marijuana theft, and sets out to extract bloody revenge.

The directorial debut of Guy Ritchie, who also wrote the script, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is an enjoyable over-the-top thriller, filled with colourful characters, bizarre incidents, madcap stand-offs and cacophonous shoot-outs. The film is set in a twilight zone free from any law enforcement intervention, where everyone is a crook with varying degrees of violence propensity, and almost everyone is male.

Ritchie's criminals speak with heightened self-awareness, the dialogue a stream of witty put-downs peppered with cockneyisms, north versus south disparagement and never ending vulgarity. The action scenes combine a high bullet count with punctuations of humour. The cameras look away from the bloodiest carnage, Ritchie more interested in intricate set-ups and immediate aftermaths, or capturing in slow motion some of the weirder action on the edges of the main event.

But it all does get to be too much. Between Eddy's crew, Harry's shop, Dog's gang, the weed growers, the idiot thieves and Rory's operation, Ritchie crams six separate groups of guys into his movie. With a relatively economical running time of 106 minutes, narration is pressed into service to try and sort out who's who, the screen time is fragmented into narrative blurs, and no characters emerge as anchors. The film becomes a case of more is less, as there is only so much joy to be squeezed out of random guys threatening other random guys with painful exits.

Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is stylistically enjoyable, the film's elevated energy just about overcoming a case of too many crooks.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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