The Gentlemen

If ever there was someone who clearly benefited from the rise of independent cinema through the wedge of Quentin Tarantino, it was Guy Ritchie.  His take on English gangsters propelled him into prominence and he has had some great opportunities ever since. Maybe all of his films have not been successes, but after shepherding the live action remake of Aladdin to a worldwide box office of over a billion dollars, his failures will be overlooked for a while. He returns to his natural milieu with “The Gentleman”, a violent comical take on the economics of the marijuana business. It is filled with the sort of off kilter characters that “Snatch”, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Rocknrolla” also overflowed with. Even though Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham are missing, “The Gentlemen” will take it’s rightful place alongside those rough cut gems.

The cast is chock full of Richie regulars but features some newcomers as well. Co-producer Matthew McConaughey is given star billing and while he earns it, there are several standout performances along the way. Charlie Hunnam, who starred in the Ritchie misfire “King Arthur” is a sturdy second banana to McConaughey’s crime lord.  He is all quiet coiled professionalism, waiting to be provoked into action. Henry Golding who has made a name for himself as a romantic lead in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Last Christmas” gets to play a heavy in this film and he is cynically effective as a self absorbed hoodlum on the make and maybe stretching past his reach too soon.  Eddie Marsan, a veteran of the two Guy Ritche Sherlock Holmes movies, plays a belligerent newspaper publisher. The resolution to his part of the story is one of the images we are fortunately spared from viewing.

It is two big names playing supporting parts that steal this movie and make it so enjoyable to watch. I could have sworn that Colin Farrell was a veteran of the crime films Ritchie made in his early days, but this seems to be their first film together. You know how Tarantino has filled the mouth of Samel L. Jackson with amazing dialogue in their collaborations? while this feels the same way. Farrel delivers the lines that Ritchie has written as if they have worked together for decades. He gets the intonations, relational status and emotional equivalency exactly right. Some things just go together perfectly. So to the list of milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly, and James Bond and Martinis, add Colin Farrell to Guy Ritchie.

As great as Farrell is in his almost tangential role, there is another well established actor who basically steals the film in a wholly unexpected manner. Hugh Grant has been a light romantic comedian for most of his career. As he is aging out of the romantic lead casting, he has found his true niche as a character actor. In “Florence Foster Jenkins” he gave a sympathetic performance backing up Meryl Streep. In “Paddington 2” he delightfully plays the villain and deserved even more awards attention. Unfortunately, this fil gets a January release here in the States and by next December, people will have forgotten how great he is here. Grant plays a investigator/journalist/detective who tries to take what he finds out about the drug kingpin as a way of both blackmailing the gangster and breaking into the movie business. He is also the narrator of the film, who provides exposition, transitions and color to the events being described. Usually Grant has a proper sounding pronunciation and delicate manner of expression, but not his character Dexter. He is a foul mouthed, dirty minded, over confident and smug creature. Visually he is barely recognizable as the world famous actor he is, but vocally and with many mannerisms, you will not know that this is the same guy who wooed Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock and many more.

The dialogues, violence and complicated machinations of the plot are the things that you expect in a Guy Ritchie crime film. The elegant turns of phrase that McConaughey uses as he engages his potential business partners and his enemies is a great example of the screenwriter’s strengths. Hunnam and Farrell with their mild deferential styles contrasted to what we see both are capable of are a plus with the dialogue and the action. Although it seems that the events in the story are spinning out as a series of unplanned obstacles, there is always a way that those moments tie back into the plot, usually in a surprising way.  At least it will be a surprise if you have never seen one of Ritchie’s earlier gangster films. If you have, you know to expect the unexpected, but you will be able afterwards to say, Of course.

Sing

I would be a little alarmed at the number of adults at a 10:15 am screening of what is basically a kids movie, except for the fact that the three of us who went to see it were also all adults. “Sing” delivers pretty much what it promises in all the promotional material. This is a film cobbled together around the premise of animals singing in an “Idol/Voice/X-Factor” style competition. If you like those sorts of reality competition shows, than this is likely to please you. If you just like anthropomorphized animals in cartoon form, while this should satisfy you as well.

 

Buster Moon is a koala bear who falls in love with the theater as a kid. Every choir singer, high school actor, or member of the glee club can identify with that. If you did dramatic interp on the speech team, worked as a stage hand on a high school play production, or you were an aspiring rock singer with a group of your friends forming a band, you have the bug. It is an infection that makes live performance so much fun and invigorating that you can get over your self consciousness and be willing to stand in front of an audience and potentially look foolish, just on the off chance that someone else might enjoy it.  “Sing” is all about that idea. While there is a little bit of that “can do” theme in the film and story, most of what makes up the movie is a cartoon version of performance.

I’ve got nothing against cartoons at all. I love animated movies and Bugs and Daffy filled my childhood with beloved memories. I never really looked to cartoons to give me life lessons. So the thinness of the theme in this film does not really bother me because it is really just there to help make the running time worthwhile. The story is very episodic with Buster as a Brooks-like producer trying to put together the successful show that has eluded him. His plot-line involve financial shenanigans and theatrical mishaps. Rosita is a pig mama to bacon factory of piglets, she also longs to sing. Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon reunite from the film “Mud” to voice Buster and Rosita. Rosita and her family have all the Rube Goldberg devices from a Road Runner cartoon in their segments of the story. There is also a plot about gamblers after a cheating card player and a shy talent who is literally the elephant in the room. Kids will laugh at the fart jokes and adults will enjoy sampling the wide range of music performances in the film.

 

This movie comes from the same studio that brought us “Despicable Me” and it’s sequel, as well as the “Minions” movie. I thought last year’s “Minions” was mostly an excuse to string together pop hits and fill the movie with something more interesting than the story. “Sing” solves that problem by making all the pop hits be the story and therefore freeing us the obligation to shoehorn all the songs into the movie.   I don’t know that the personalities of the characters matter that much. So many voice actors get used just for atmosphere and not for any other reason. The singers are all fine but no performance stood out in a way that would make it a signature moment in the film.

The movie is lite and entertaining enough for the holiday season. Kids home for the Christmas Vacation will be able to see this with parents who will not hate watching the “let’s put on a show” attitude of the characters. No one is going to have this on their list of greatest animated movies ever, but it combines the animal world of a film like “Zootopia” with singing performances that are entertaining enough for the short time that each one of them runs.