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“You Understand Me Now, Don’t You?” Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch” and the Chaos of Miscommunication…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing Snatch on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

“Have I made myself clear, boys?”

“Yeah, that’s perfectly clear, Mickey. Yeah… just give me one minute to confer with my colleague.

“… did you understand a single word of what he just said?”

Guy Ritchie is an interesting director, in large part because there seems to be very little that actively defines “a Guy Ritchie film” outside of a few stylistic quirks.

Films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver, RocknRolla and The Gentlemen suggest a director fascinated with “hard men”, and some of this sensibility undoubtedly carries over into his blockbuster filmography, most obviously in the rambunctious stylings of Sherlock Holmes and most painfully in the attempts at grit in King Arthur. However, Ritchie has also spent a lot of time working as a director-for-hire on mainstream blockbusters worlds apart from that hypermasculinity, such as Swept Away, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Aladdin.

More than that, Ritchie’s work is more often recognised for its visual flourish rather than its thematic coherance, the director adopting a high-energy approach to camera movements and editing. Ritchie’s emerged from British independent cinema in the late nineties, and his work shares more than a few passing similarities to the work of young and hungry filmmakers working on the contemporary American scene. It is perhaps too much to describe Ritchie as “the British answer to Quentin Tarantino”, but it’s not entirely unfair either.

This is what makes Snatch such an interesting film. It is Ritchie’s second film, one that notably added some transatlantic flavour to the sensibilities of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Indeed, it’s tempting to write Snatch as an inferior copy of that earlier film, as a reiteration of that striking cinematic debut with extra Brad Pitt thrown in for marketability. After all, this was a particularly common line of criticism when the film was released. While there’s certainly some substance to this accusation, it overlooks the way in which Snatch makes its arguments much more clearly.

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Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Runaway Bride originally aired in 2006.

What, there’s like a secret base hidden underneath a major London landmark?

Oh, I know. Unheard of.

– Donna and the Doctor present Doctor Who 101

The Runaway Bride is really more indicative of a Davies-era Christmas Special than The Christmas Invasion was. The Christmas Invasion came with so much narrative baggage to unpack that it even spilt over into the Born Again scene that aired as part of Children in Need. While The Runaway Bride does have to deal with some of the fallout from Billie Piper’s departure in Doomsday, it’s a much more stand-alone piece of Doctor Who.

It’s a very light piece of television, but that’s really the ideal kind of Doctor Who to air as part of the BBC’s Christmas line-up.

He's fire and ice and rage...

He’s fire and ice and rage…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Storyteller (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

The Storyteller should not work half as well as it does. While some episodes this season (notably The Passenger and Battle Lines) feel like they were simply lifted directly from the “reject” pile within the writers’ room on Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Storyteller is actually a rejected pitch from that show’s first season. Written by Kurt Michael Bensmiller, the writer responsible for Time Squared, one of the stronger installments of the show’s first two years, it was also written late in 1992, about a month before Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would actually air.

And yet, despite that, The Storyteller really feels like a show that wouldn’t work on any of the other Star Trek spin-offs. A lot of that seems to be down to the work by Ira Steven Behr to polish up Bensmillers’ draft and to add a lot of character work and development to what is a decidedly high concept. As producer Michael Piller confessed in Captains’ Logs Supplemental – The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, “Ira did a lot of work on that script.”

O'Brien's mind is a bit clouded right now...

O’Brien’s mind is a bit clouded right now…

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Non-Review Review: Superman vs. The Elite

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman has struggled with his pop culture credibility for quite some time now. The character is seen as too old-fashioned or outdated to really resonate in the modern world, standing for an overly simplistic and unquestioning moral philosophy which doesn’t take into account the nuances of current realities. Superman vs. The Elite, adapted from Joe Kelly’s What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, represents an attempt to counter this opinion of Superman as a character. Unfortunately, it never really does so be convincing us that the character is still relevant. Instead, it creates a bunch of convenient straw men to oppose our hero, and never allows him to win on his own terms.

Beware the Superman...

Beware the Superman…

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Non-Review Review: Summer in February

Summer in February is a lazy and contrived piece of pretentious twaddle. Exploring the true story of a colony of artists living off the coast of England in the early years of the twentieth century, it never offers anything more than a fleeting sketch of its characters and the world they inhabit. Benjamin Wallfisch’s powerhouse period score does a lot of heavy lifting, but it can’t do anything to keep the movie afloat. At one point, early in the film, artist AJ Munnings settles a hefty bar tab with an improvised drawing on the back of a bill. This film feels like it would be hard-pressed to pay for a glass of tap water.

summerinfebruary3

Ride away from the cinema! Away!

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Doctor Who: The End of the World (Review)

You’ve seen how dangerous it is. Do you want to go home?

I don’t know. I want… Oh, can you smell chips?

Yeah… Yeah.

I want chips.

Me too.

Right then, before you get me back in that box, chips it is, and you can pay.

No money.

What sort of date are you? Come on then, tightwad, chips are on me. We’ve only got five billion years till the shops close.

-the Doctor and Rose contemplate the mysteries of the universe

If Rose proved that Doctor Who was back for a new generation, The End of the World demonstrates that it’s still the same show that it was all those years ago. The show has always struggled to do “future” on the budget afforded by the BBC, but this second episode of the show offers a glimpse of what the series was capable of. It’s not quite perfect, but has all the ambition that a revived Doctor Who needs in its first season, laying a great deal of thematic groundwork and character development on top of a visual feast. If Rose promised an update to everyone’s favourite Time Lord for the twenty-first century, The End of the World existed to assure viewers that some things never quite change.

... and I feel fine...

… and I feel fine…

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Non-Review Review: Jaws

Jaws is a pretty impressive film. Not only did the film serve to launch Steven Spielberg’s career and subgenre of monster creature features, it also effectively kick-started the summer blockbuster. However, watching it again all these years later, it’s amazing how well Jaws holds up – far better than the vast majority of films that it ultimately inspired. There’s a lot of reasons that Jaws works, and a lot of them come down to Spielberg working as director, but also in the scripting and the acting. It’s rare for a movie to produce one character that we truly care about. Jaws manages to produce four compelling leading characters – the three men who ultimately end up on the boat, and the shark itself.

Finally copping on…

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Tomb of Dracula Omnibus, Vol. II (Review/Retrospective)

It’s fantastic that Marvel have gone to such pains to collect all of the classic seventies Tomb of Dracula. The main title is collected in the first of three volumes, with this second oversized hardcover rounding out Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s run on the on-going series. Indeed, with Colan’s consistent pencils and Wolfman’s long-form plotting, Tomb of Dracula feels remarkably close to a single long-form story, one massive epic in seventy-odd chapters, with ideas hinted and developed years before they would eventually pay off. As such, the collection holds up remarkably well, and is a joy to read. While the second half of the series might not be as solid as Wolfman and Colan’s work on the first thirty-odd issues, it still makes for a satisfying conclusion to this chapter of Dracula’s story.

Out for the Count?

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The House at the Abbey Theatre (Review)

Tom Murphy’s The House is big play with some clever ideas, but not quite enough to fill its somewhat extended run time. In fact, the first half of the play, as Murphy tries to settle into his groove, seems to run nearly forever – to the point where, sitting in my seat, I was starting to wonder if the actors had simply forgotten there was supposed to be an intermission. The second half, however, is much stronger and much more tightly focused. While the production itself is nothing less than impressive, one wonders if an editor might have been well-suited to take a hacksaw to Murphy’s script, or perhaps director Annabelle Comyn might have cut down on the staring into middle-distance.

House that now?

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The Sky is Falling: Skyfall & The Return of a Distinctly British Bond…

Country?

England.

– first lines of the trailer

I actually really liked the first trailer for Skyfall, released on-line last week. There were a lot of reasons for that: the fact it looks more stately than Quantum of Solace; the abundance of shots of Bond in a tux; the promise of incredible action paired with genuine character development. However, the most appealing facet of the trailer was the suggestion that this was a Bond who wasn’t ashamed to be British. Bond is a British icon, arguably a relic left over from the last days of the British Empire, but it seems like the past few films have been increasingly uncomfortable with that.

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