May 2015 Media Round-up (Movies)


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Already discussed at length here.

Cold Souls (2009)

Ugh, whateverI think this initially got into my “movies to watch” list because I saw it on Viktor Tsoi’s IMDb page under soundtrack credits and was curious what this 2009 American movie would be doing with Kino. Plus, I am a sucker for meta shit and low fantasy, so the premise of Paul Giamatti playing himself in a sort of magical realist comedy seemed promising. But NOPE, Cold Souls alternates between unbearably pretentious and really fucking bland, and the meta aspect doesn’t seem to add anything. It feels like a “smart film,” but it really isn’t all that smart—none of the Profound Thoughts about Art/Acting/Souls/Humanity are especially profound or even non-obvious.

But how does Kino come into play, you may ask? Well, there’s a whole plotline with Russian mobsters trafficking human souls, so the Kino songs play diegetically during some of those scenes.

In any case, do yourself a favor: DON’T watch this movie, DO watch some old Kino videos and admire Viktor Tsoi’s excellent face and be sad about Viktor Tsoi’s tragic early death but somewhat comforted by the fact that this Korean rock band has a cover of Kino’s (probably) biggest hit.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

There is pretty much nothing I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been said, because the Mad Max press coverage is INSANE1. But yeah, it totally lived up to the hype, and that is something I, as a lifelong contrarian asshole, just do not in general admit. And I will say that the scene where Tom Hardy offers his body as a rifle stand for Charlize Theron because they have one bullet left and she’s a better shot encapsulates the general creativity/unexpectedness of the movie’s action sequences and is emblematic of the egalitarian spirit that is the source of so much of the press coverage.

Bronson (2008)

I’ve probably been meaning to watch this since first seeing Tom Hardy in the excellent 2009 ITV Wuthering Heights2 but apparently needed Mad Max to finally push me to it. And okay, wow. I expected Bronson to be a pretty straightforward biopic, so all of the stylistic weirdness was a pleasant surprise. Tom Hardy: brilliant! (Well, of course.) Soundtrack: solid mix of dance-pop/disco and well-deployed classical pieces! Humor: surprisingly present! Will almost definitely rewatch at some point.

Also, fun fact that I just learned from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Wikipedia page: apparently Refn was at one point attached to direct a modern adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Keanu Reeves and “credible science” and like…HOLY SHIT, IF ONLY.

RocknRolla (2008)

Watched this to continue on the Tom Hardy kick, already assuming (based on its Critical Response section on Wikipedia) that it would be aggressively mediocre. And it basically was, although something about it made me curious enough about the Guy Ritchie format to then watch:

Snatch (2000)

I mostly felt the same way about Snatch and RocknRolla—I’m not totally sure if I actually liked them, but I don’t think I actively disliked them, either? By the end of Snatch, I felt like I was on the verge of being able to articulate some Fundamental Truth about Guy Ritchie movies. Part of the Fundamental Truth may have to do with Jason Statham’s and Gerard Butler’s utter lack of charisma in both movies, which we will discuss further in the section on Layer Cake (not a Guy Ritchie movie, but like, basically a Guy Ritchie movie). Part of it may be that the crime plots are never as compelling as the casual interactions between the characters while they wait for action and maybe what I actually want is for Guy Ritchie to write/direct/produce a hangout sitcom? And there may be something about the almost3 complete disinterest in female characters contrasted with the numerous lingering shots of ripped male torsos. In any case, it feels Very Important that I watch Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Revolver soon, to (hopefully) be able to fully realize this Fundamental Truth.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Ugh, whatever on this as well, although more “whatever” than “ugh,” possibly because I accidentally watched a version that cut out the anal sex joke that was the source of all of the feminist outrage when the movie came out and thus didn’t get the chance to have my sensibilities offended. There were some cool action sequences and I’m a sucker for training montages, but largely, well, whatever. And there’s certainly some fucked up ideology with regards to class4 and government, but that’s not really an area I’m super qualified to comment on and I think that too was covered at length when the movie came out.

Layer Cake (2004) 

I’ll be honest: my main takeaway from this movie was, holy shit Daniel Craig’s eyes are blue as fuck. And I think that may have been intentional on the part of the director or cinematographer or whomever. Other than that, it’s a decent but ultimately not super memorable entry in the British crime thriller genre, notable for starring a lot of currently famous people pre-fame.

Okay so now: RocknRolla, Snatch, and Layer Cake

Right, so as we’ve noted Layer Cake is not actually a Guy Ritchie movie, but it is Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut and Vaughn had previously produced three Guy Ritchie movies (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsSnatch, and Swept Away). And so there are a lot of surface-level similarities between RocknRolla, Snatch, and Layer Cake; they all deal with the British crime world, they all have these interweaving storylines following around characters in different social strata that are eventually brought together for the film’s climax, they all feature voice-over narrations, etc. But, if my theory about Guy Ritchie movies is correct, the most significant indicator that Layer Cake is not a Guy Ritchie movie is its protagonist.

If you want to get a sense of how charismatic Daniel Craig is in Layer Cake, well: apparently this was the performance that led to his casting as James Bond. Craig’s Layer Cake character is super cool and super competent; he monologues about his professionalism, he dresses immaculately, and he seduces 23-year-old Sienna Miller using only his eyes. All of the trouble he gets into in the movie is due to factors out of his control—a huge fuck-up by junkies lower in the ranks that he couldn’t have possibly predicted. And (SPOILERS ahead) as he finally works his way out of that predicament, through a combination of well-deployed violence and clever strategizing, and achieves his initial goal of retiring from his life of crime, he gets shot by Sienna Miller’s jealous boyfriend. We’re dealing with the some of the same themes of chance and causality that Snatch and RocknRolla deal with, but from a different perspective; the protagonists of the Ritchie movies are unexceptional men who end up benefitting from the movie’s sequence of events almost entirely by luck rather than any sort of skill or strategizing of their own.

So when I was watching RocknRolla and was first struck by Gerard Butler’s total blandness, I thought it was a matter of poor casting and considered what a better movie it would be with, say, James McAvoy or Ewan McGregor in the role. But now that I’m closer to the Fundamental Truth of Guy Ritchie movies, I realize that the blandness is almost definitely intentional. Because if the protagonists were more charming or handsome5, it might trick the audience into believing that they somehow earned their success by the end of the movie rather than just stumbling onto it by being in the right place at the right time. Or, who knows, it might be threatening to the kind of man who enjoys Guy Ritchie movies. Or maybe something about the difference between characters that men want to be (James Bond in all incarnations, Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and probably Daniel Craig in Layer Cake) and characters that men relate to and with whom they’d maybe like to grab a pint and discuss the experience of fucking Thandie Newton. Again, we will need to watch more Guy Ritchie movies to figure this out, because we are So Close.

[1] This Buzzfeed listicle and this NPR segment cover the essentials of what makes Mad Max: Fury Road so excellent, as well as representing different ends of the lowbrow/highbrow media spectrum.
[2] The obnoxious subtext of that statement, if it’s not already clear, is “yes, dear reader, I liked Tom Hardy before Inception and CERTAINLY before Mad Max.”
[3] I mean, I don’t want to completely disregard Thandie Newton’s part in RocknRolla. It was in many ways the sort of clichéd female role on expects in this genre—the ball-busting, highly professional, super hot woman who’s cheating on her (in this case, gay) husband with our rather incompetent protagonist. But the one sex scene between Newton and Butler was shot/edited in a pretty hilarious (like, it reminded me of the editing in Edgar Wright’s movies) and non-objectifying way. 
[4] The surface level message seems that your socioeconomic status doesn’t have any bearing on your essential decency as a person, which okay, sure, good. But then there’s the whole thing where decency is equated with being a “gentleman” in terms of social etiquette and, like, wearing a bespoke suit instead of a hoodie. I don’t know, just so much of the movie is like a fetishization of this particular upper-class aesthetic that makes sense with the whole Bond-parody aspect of it but not so much with the message they’re trying to convey about class. There are almost definitely think-pieces that address this better than I could, though. 
[5] Okay, I know that a lot of people do consider Statham and Butler attractive. They’re not my type, but sure, I can acknowledge that they are conventionally handsome men. The thing is, they’re not abnormally handsome; like, I think if you passed them on the street (not knowing their movie star status), you might think, “yeah, that’s a good-looking dude.” But not “holy shit, that is an exceptionally stunning dude,” which is, I suspect, the reaction someone like 90s Brad Pitt or Jude Law would have provoked. 


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