Tag Archives: london

Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake

Layer Cake is a British gangster flick whose posters say ‘from the producer of Snatch and Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’ and indeed director Matthew Vaughn did work on those sub-genre defining films but it’s a bit of a sneaky ploy to splash that across the poster because this film is galaxies away from those two in terms of tone, style, pacing and overall fibre of content. Guy Ritchie’s Brit crime films (which I adore) are akin to Wonka’s factory all colour, swirl and flash but this one exists in something more like an upscale steakhouse and provides solid, grounded content to digest and work over later on. That’s not to say it isn’t without flair or flourish, there’s a lot of propulsive mayhem, cheerful dark humour, peppy British dialogue and menacing extreme violence but it just somehow feels… more down to earth.

Daniel Craig is a London coke trafficker credited simply as XXXX, a wry gesture that hits the mark because this guy, although far from anonymous, could be any one of us: a strait-laced, level headed dude who thinks he can tread around dangerous waters without getting his feet wet. Well there be dragons in those waters, dragons who have big plans for him in the form of various London underworld figures from brain dead, peacocky underlings to Machiavellian figureheads of immense, baroque and frightening power. His operation is funded and mother goosed by a wealthy thug called Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham in a study of pigheaded volatility), who scoffs at Craig’s plans of early retirement and tasks him with two seemingly simple tasks: 1) mediate a sizeable ecstasy transaction that is in danger of flying off the rails and 2) babysit the wayward druggie daughter of his own boss Freddie Temple (Michael Gambon basically playing the devil to the point of self referential glee), a man with whom you never want to fuck. Of course neither of these errands are cakewalks and things begin to viscously spiral spectacularly out of control in ironic, deliciously karmic fashion until it ain’t readily clear who’s betraying who, who wants what and who is simply wandering about in a narrative haze wondering what they did to deserve such a conniption fit of cacophonous roundabout shenanigans.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is an overly confusing or messily told tale because it’s not, it makes perfect and clear sense (like all these mad dash crime flicks) if you’re paying rigid attention or spin it through the DVD player more than once, it’s just refracted through a stylistic prism whose purpose is to befuddle, but that’s half the fun. Craig’s character is a terminally busy guy once things all kick off, so much so that not even getting to third base with a gorgeous lady friend (Sienna Miller) can stop him getting hauled out the door back to work (been there). He’s a smart guy in a sea of other guys who are either way smarter than him or way dumber, both species proving equally as dangerous. There’s his two mates Clarkie (a boyish Tom Hardy) and Morty (George Harris is superb) who race to keep up, Jimmy’s hotheaded righthand man Gene (Colm Meaney, who can’t sit still for two seconds, love his energy), one very angry Serb (Marcel Iures), a dirty cop (Dexter Fletcher) who comes in quite handy and all manner of other cretins and oddballs for our hero(?) to contend with. At the end of it you kind of sit there, in a daze and in the dust, wondering what kind of speeding locomotive just hit you, and kind of wishing it would turn 180 degrees on the tracks and come back for more as it was so much fucking fun. And the end? Well, let me just say that no American studio film would have the balls to pull a stunt like that and I was admittedly stung by it at first but when you think back to what kind of lifestyle Craig’s character leads, who he associates with (on purpose or by circumstance), his profession and exactly the kind of thing all these seasoned criminals warned him of, it makes sense as a sort of brutally poetic final thunderclap to his arc. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen

It’s nice to see that Guy Ritchie still has it in terms of his personally patented, now iconic British gangster arena. Experimented with in Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, cultivated further in Snatch (my personal favourite of his) and tooled around with in other directions for his extremely underrated RocknRolla, here he returns to that drawing board for The Gentlemen and although this isn’t a film that breaks the mould or comes up with anything bright n’ shiny new, I had way more fun than I thought I was going to and it’s a winner for me. Carrying on the nice culture clash element we have a ferocious Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Pearson, a self made marijuana billionaire looking to sell his lucrative empire to a cunning Jewish businessman (Jeremy Strong) while the young hothead boss (the dude from Crazy Rich Asians, who is way richer and actually crazy here) of a London based Asian syndicate seeks to muscle in on both of them. Pearson’s cool cucumber left hand lieutenant Ray (Charlie Hunnam in the first performance I’ve believed and enjoyed his work) tries to keep all the pieces on the board where they should be instead of running amok and causing havoc, which they inevitably do and would it really be a Ritchie film without wanton chaos and a string of hysterical fuck-ups? Hugh Grant looks up the Oxford definition of ‘fucking scene stealer’ and proceeds to steal the fucking scene every minute he’s onscreen as Fletcher, a super fabulous, highly sleazy wild card tabloid reporter looking to line his own pockets via blackmail most foul. Add in perennial oddball Eddie Marsan, Sting’s visually striking daughter Coco Sumner, an informant named ‘Phuc’ (snigger), Michelle Dockery as Mickey’s leggy and disarmingly badass cockney wife/partner in crime and Colin Farrell in character actor mode as a rough n’ tumble Irish boxing coach with a heart of gold and you’ve got one solid roster. Ritchie has a way with dialogue that might not be lifelike but never fails to have me hanging on every syllable, it’s like musical protein for me ears and he didn’t disappoint here. I mean it’s probably bottom of the list in terms of the other gangster stuff but his career so far is kind of tough to top and this one struck me as a ‘hangout movie’ of sorts with some action and trademark visceral violence peppered in here and there. Terrific costume work too, I saw at least five suits I would love to get my hands on. Easy, breezy, vividly characterized, laidback, refreshingly and deliberately anti-politically correct humour (always a plus), banging soundtrack, this one rocks! Oh and it’s not the first Ritchie film to promise us a sequel that feels like it’ll never show up, but that may just be a cheeky running joke from the guy.

-Nate Hill

Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

Who doesn’t love Love Actually? I know I do. It’s such a sentimental, goofy, overblown pile of mush and I love it even more for being so. It can be sappy, but a lot of the situations and character interactions it entails are blunt, awkward truths made even more hilarious by an even more awkward cast, and encapsulate the meaning of Christmas. Not all the couples work out, not all of the individual stories end well or in satisfaction for characters or audiences. But that’s life, and they make the best out of what they have at this time of year, which is what it’s really about. Some turn out splendidly for the characters, leaving them beaming. Some learn tough lessons that are necessary for growth, some find love in storybook fashion and others are simply there for comic relief. What comedy and tearful drama we get as too, delivered by an astoundingly massive cast of British legends, speckled with a few familiar Yankee faces just to garnish the giant British figgy pudding. Liam Neeson plays a grieving father whose son (Thomas Bodie Sangster) is sick with love. Neeson’s sister (Emma Watson, grounded, real, heartbreaking) deals with her irresponsible husband (Alan Rickman, incapable of a false note). The newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant in full flustered, fumbling glory) is attracted to his cute secretary (Martine Mcutcheon) and aloof writer Colin Firth feels pangs for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcià Moniz) who speaks not a word of English. Laura Linney has a steamy office romance with Rodrigo Santoro whilst dealing with an ill sibling, Bill Nighy is hysterical as a cynical Grinch of a pop star with a jaded facade, Keira Knightely, Chiwetel Efjor and Andrew Lincoln are involved in a subtle love triangle, and there’s all kinds of interwoven vignettes including Martin Freeman, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Billy Bob Thornton as the sleazy US President and a priceless Rowan Atkinson as the world’s weirdest jewelry salesman who gives new maniacal meaning to holiday gift wrapping. It’s a big old circus of Christmas spirit with all kinds of different desires, motivations and relationships that reaches a festive fever pitch before erupting into a joyous finale of giddy Yuletide melodrama and cathartic good times that is impossible not to smile at. An annual watch for me.

-Nate Hill

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell is one one of the most opulently stylish horror films out there, and despite being a bit melodramatic in areas, it boasts a grim, severely menacing atmosphere which is mandatory considering it focuses on the Jack The Ripper murders in Victorian era London. Based on a drab graphic novel by the great Alan Moore, The Hughes have amped up both suspense and passion and could be accused of Hollywood-izing Moore’s work too much, but the guy just doesn’t write very adaptable material and some liberties have to be taken to make watchable films. This one works better on its own terms, a dark, blood soaked detective story starring Johnny Depp as Frederick Abberline, a brilliant opium addicted Scotland Yard inspector out to nab the Ripper, with the help of his trusty boss Sgt. Godley, played by a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane. As we all know, the Ripper murders were never really solved, so naturally here a fictitious conspiracy is whipped up, full of intrigue and corruption, but as many cluttered subplots there are flying about, the film’s strength lies in the eerie murders carried out in nocturnal London, and Depp’s very strong performance as the drugged out cop who won’t quit. Supporting work comes from lovely Heather Graham as prostitute and love interest Mary Kelly, Ian Holm as London’s top medical consultant as well as Jason Flemyng, Ian Richardson, Katrin Cartlidge, Ian McNeice, Sophia Myles, Dominic Cooper and scene stealer David Schofield as an evil East End pimp. Some of the fat could have been trimmed here to make this a shorter, more streamlined experience, but the visual element is so damn good that at the same time one can’t get enough of the lavish production design. This one succeeds in creating a lived in London with dimension and scope, as well as staging a very effective sense of dread and danger lurking around every corner of every cobblestone alleyway, the atmosphere is just unreal, as well as the supremely graphic gore that lets us plainly know that the Ripper wasn’t just messing about, he was an actual monster. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill