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RocknRolla: Ritchie Gives Tarantino the Ole’ One-Two

Posted by goldwriting on October 9, 2008

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2 out of 3 people in the poster are looking off to the left. The girl would be looking there too, but she’s playing coy.

Are you looking to step into a bit of the ole’ underground? Yearning for a taste of the underbelly of London? Maybe you’re just missing the sounds of those thick British accents as the words stumble into your ears and confuse more than inform you. Whatever the case may be, there is only one man who truly provides the cure for those ills…Guy Ritchie.

The man behind Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is back once again with another chapter is his series of old school mob movies. RocknRolla follows along a certain tradition for Ritchie, fast talking and fast reacting characters keep the audience tense, because they have absolutely no clue what will happen next. Keep the characters unpredictable and keep the audience involved, that’s the key. Now, if you noticed the title of this review, you might be wondering where the connection to Quentin Tarantino comes in (and that is a most perceptive and valid question. Well done, reader). After the movie ended I turned to my friend and said, “One sentence review: The British Pulp Fiction.” He sat back, processed the comparison and smiled. “Yep, you’re totally right.” I’ll show you what I mean while giving a brief overview of the story.

RocknRolla follows a small gang of low level criminals known as The Wild Bunch, who get hired by a sexy accountant to rip off some big money from an even bigger mobster. What she didn’t know is our little hooligans were already in debt to the local crime lord, who was doing business with the “bigger mobster”. So money is stolen, circulated, recycled and everyone ends up chasing each others tails. Also, there is a painting that gets stolen and becomes the MacGuffin of the film, which is a cinematic term for an object that is central to the plot, but no one ever really sees it. People philosophize, people die and people are nearly sodomized.

If the specifics of the comparison aren’t gelling for you yet, here’s a breakdown:

MacGuffins: Pulp Fiction has the briefcase which we never see inside. RocknRolla has the painting which we never see the front of.

Crooks in way over their head: Gerard Butler and Idris Elba play the heads of The Wild Bunch and are constantly trying to keep one step ahead of being killed by the very person they are working for, just like John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (more Travolta though, in this case).

The Girl is the Problem: Thandie Newton is the instigator of the troubles which put Gerard into play, just like Uma Thurman goes after Travolta, thereby putting him in a situation of life or death.

Multiple storylines: RocknRolla is not set up in the vignette fashion of Pulp Fiction, but both deal with a number of plot lines that all converge in the end to tie things up.

Sodomy Interruption: Both films have a scene where a guy is about to be raped by a pair of leather clothed dudes, when someone comes in and makes the snap judgment on who to kill.

It can be argued that some of these things are common to all movies of the crime/mob genre, but so many together in one film makes the case a little stronger. I’m not saying RocknRolla is bad, not in the least, but I left feeling like I’d seen it before.

RocknRolla is not going to be remembered in history for iconic performances, like Travolta and Jackson, but there was some good work being done. Butler hams it up nicely as a crook-cum-swashbuckler with no dancing feet. His inherent suaveness comes to bear in his scenes with Thandie, but he also gets to show his willingness to play that in the direction of a different gender. Which brings up one big difference between this and Pulp Fiction, and this could be easily attributed to the time periods, but RocknRolla was doused in homoerotic overtones. From the sodomy to the gay side characters to the subplot of Butler and his best friend in the gang, it never gets too far away from it. This provided for some really amusing humor and grinningly awkward scenes. Idris gets to play the straight man, no pun intended, to Butler’s machismo and he achieves it well. There is a certain calm to Idris on screen which makes me certain he’s going to be around for a long time to come. Tom Wilkinson also gets to walk a little on the more wacky side as the crime boss of London, trying to prove he’s still the big fish in town and time isn’t passing him by. Thandie, who I’ve enjoyed on screen in the past, doesn’t travel much farther beyond eye candy on this occasion. Jeremy Piven and Ludacris drop by as music producers, but get paltry little screen time. The one person who will leave the biggest visual impression is Toby Kebbell, as Johnny Quid. He spends most of the film shirtless and brings back frighteningly skinny images of Chistian Bale from The Machinist. Bale still wins the freakish battle, but Kebbell kept enough muscle tone to still look dangerous as well, which gives him an edge. Lastly, blink and you’ll miss Gemma Arterton, who will be seeing much more of in the upcoming Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Ritchie on the other hand delivers once again in more traditional style. As I mentioned before, fans of those two early films of his will certainly enjoy this. The attitude is there, the raw edge is there and the camerawork is rife with quick cuts and whip pans, just like we’re used to from him. He also wrote the film again, which helps even more keep the style intact. I think many people will be glad to see the old Guy Ritchie back on the silver screen. Yet, all his past successes could be wiped out by the possibility of greatness with his upcoming film, Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the questioning crusader, Jude Law as the encyclopedic Dr. Watson and Rachel McAdams as lady love interest. I’m containing my excitement for this, but just barely.

Recommendation: A good flick, bordering on great, far from amazing. If you’re a fan of Ritchie from the past, you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never seen a film of his before, feel free to check this out, but don’t stop here, see Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well. As for the theater experience, after the initial whip panning frenzy in the first ten minutes, it settles down and becomes quite enjoyable. I also recommend Rasinettes over Goobers (take that, peanut lovers!).

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Daily Musings 3/11

Posted by goldwriting on March 11, 2008

1 – Thankfully for the fans of the tragically late Heath Ledger, it was just announced that they are back in production for the last film he was working on The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and they will be leaving all his footage involved and intact. Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell will also be stepping in to take over the rest of the role, but no CGI, no re-cutting to make unshot scenes work. His last performance will be shown to us as Heath and Terry Gilliam intended it. [via Starpulse]

2 – More celebs have added their voices to the protesting of hate crimes like the one that happened mere weeks ago. [via Perez Hilton]

3 – Improv Everywhere, the group behind the people frozen in time inside Grand Central Station, are back with an impromptu musical inside a Los Angeles mall food court. I would have bought this hook, line and sinker if I didn’t actually attend acting class with one of the guys (the janitor, good singer too).

4 – Growing up, I don’t know how many times I said to my pals, “Gee, Predator is just such an awesome film. I only wish I could express the excitement and story of it through British Rap.” Today, one of my childhood dreams has come true. [via GorillaMask]

5 – Hellion on heels, Ann Coulter, has spoken out saying Obama should do the respectful thing and step down from the race. Her reasoning is that Hillary has won three primaries in a row (she doesn’t count Vermont because it was earlier in the day). My main confusion is why she wasn’t asking Hillary to step down after losing eleven primaries in a row. 11!? Evidently Ann likes to push the stereotype that women are running around shopping while muttering, “Math is hard.” [via Perez Hilton]

6 – Ummmm…Stunt Rock is actually a Public Service Announcement for all the things you should never, ever do. This includes: hitting people with your car, jumping off buildings and dressing like a wizard during a rock concert. [via Dave]

7 –  In the first piece of good news to come out of the new Terminator project, they are officially dumping the “Salvation” portion of the title. Now we should keep our fingers crossed hoping this will lead to more things being dropped, like McG. [via FilmDrunk]

8 –  What happens when you make a worldwide phenom viral video campaign like Ask a Ninja? You win the rights to write and direct the remake everyone has been clamoring for: The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Oh yes, once more our silver screen streets will be overrun by the seeds of discontent from the mutant garden. Let’s see if the remake can launch another Hollywood legend like George Clooney (technically he was in the sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, but let’s not split hairs). [via Hollywood Reporter]

9 –  The time has come to finally buy the one item we have wanted since birth. Can someone just loan me $5,500 for it? [via Uncrate]

10 – This was too adorable not to post: [via Swissmiss]

Bonus: Just because this was their top post this morning: [via Swissmiss]

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