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145. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – Summer of ’99 (#137)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Babu Patel and David Singleton, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of ’99 season, Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: Being John Malkovich, The Blair Witch Project, Go, Cruel Intentions, American Beauty. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

Four young men in London find themselves in the middle of an elaborate scheme involving half a million bounds, mountains of marijuana, a shady sex shop proprietor, and two antique shotguns. As the situation rapidly escalates outside of their control, can these four young men keep their heads above water?

At time of recording, it was ranked 137th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Fast and Furious Presents – Hobbs and Shaw

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw works best when it delivers exactly what audiences expect from that title.

The breakout star of The Fate of the Furious was the chemistry between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson. Behind the scenes conflicts between Johnson and franchise headliner Vin Diesel had forced the production team to structure the eighth film in the franchise so Johnson and Diesel didn’t have to share the screen. This led to a number of endearingly absurd set pieces, such as a heart-to-heart appeal between the two men conducted across a street over the speaker systems of monster cars. It also meant that Johnson had to find a new screen partner, and Statham was the member of the ensemble who fit the bill.

I have to admit, there were many more explosions and fistfights than I expected for a historical biopic exploring the relationship between Thomas Hobbes and George Bernard Shaw.

It’s easy to over-intellectualise the chemistry between Johnson and Statham. There’s the obvious physical contrast; Johnson has the bulk of a former professional wrestler, while Statham has the lean physique of a diver. There’s Johnson’s wholesome all-American persona set against Statham’s slightly devilish charm. There’s Johnson’s deep authoritative voice playing off Statham’s distinctly hard-edged accent. The duo play very well as a study in contrasts, while both also being able to support otherwise forgettable action films in their own right. They are a perfect fit.

Hobbs and Shaw works best when it understands this. The film’s best scenes are not the ridiculously over-the-top action scenes, which often seem borrowed or lifted from much better movies and which only fleetingly manage to tip themselves over into the delightful surrealist absurdity that makes the modern (Johnson era) Fast and Furious movies such a delight. Instead, the movie comes to life when Johnson and Statham are trading schoolyard insults, posturing and snarking, indulging in the sort of old-fashioned buddy action movie banter that is so rare these days.

Suns out, guns out.

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Non-Review Review: The Meg

The Meg is proof that bigger is not always better.

There are moments when The Meg works beautifully, the film embracing its ridiculous concept by going all-in on a couple of absurdly heightened images. There are a number of shots in The Meg, particularly towards the climax, that are gleefully and unapologetically “too much.” It would undercut these moments to discuss them in any great detail in a review of the film, particularly since they are the moments when everything in the film seems to click into place. In these beats, there is a reckless abandon, as if the film understands the appeal of “Jason Statham in Jurassic Shark.”

Lifeboats find a way.

Unfortunately, these moments serve to highlight what is missing from so much of the rest of the film. The Meg is a movie committed to the idea of “more”, but is more invested in promise than in delivery. Everything in The Meg happens at breakneck pace, to the point where the first act of the film might make a compelling blockbuster on its own terms, given room to breath. However, like the sea-faring predator that inspired it, The Meg is eager to get to the next thing and the next thing after that. The result is a movie that feels rushed, but never urgent.

The Meg is so busy trying to heighten its stakes and its scale that it never quite manages to establish them.

Don’t bait him!

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Non-Review Review: The Fast & The Furious 8 (aka The Fate of the Furious)

Seven cars crowd out an otherwise empty New York street.

In the midst of the carnage, all law-abiding citizens have taken cover. Only the outlaws remain, the powerhouses that rule the street. One black muscle car sits at the centre of this chaos. It stars menacingly at the five cars blocking its path. Behind that black car lurks the vanguard. Inside, a scruffy stubbled Englishman cracks his neck impatiently, waiting for action. The target car revs its engine. The drivers all kick into gear, and it becomes a game of reflexes.

Present and corrected.

There is an endearing charm to The Fast and the Furious as a blockbuster movie franchise. In many ways, it has become Universal’s own home-grown superhero franchise, albeit one that swaps out the capes for cars. A wry observer might suggest that the series is Diesel-powered, but that is not entirely true. The franchise runs on sheer main-lined ridiculousness, on the blurry line that falls somewhere between awesome and absurd. “High noon, but with cars…” is far from the most audacious scene in The Fast and the Furious 8, but it might be the most indicative.

Like a driver wrestling with a powerhouse engine, the series works best when it actively turns into the spin. Fast Five revived the franchise by removing the throttle and setting in motion a sense of escalation that threatens to send the characters into space before the conclusion of the series. In the meantime, The Fast and the Furious 8 settles for a neon orange Lamborghini being chased over ice by a nuclear submarine. There are points at which the whole thing threatens to fall apart like that surface ice, but the film moves just quick enough to stay above water.

Dominating Dom.

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Non-Review Review: Spy

Spy is broad, but it is funny. It might just be the best collaboration between director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy.

Feig reteams with McCarthy following on from the critical and commercial successes of Bridesmaids and The Heat. Both films were frequently cited as leading a new wave in female-led comedy, proving that audiences and critics would respond to classic comedy movie tropes executed with a largely female cast. Although Spy features an ensemble that is more gender-balanced, it remains a feminist comedy. Feig’s screenplay is never heavy-handed in its gender politics, but it wryly aware of how its female characters are wading into a traditionally masculine space.

I spy a winner...

I spy a winner…

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Non-Review Review: The Expendables 2

There’s a very thin line between being a tribute to something and becoming an example of it. The Expendables sold itself as an affectionate homage to the cheesy eighties action movies that you’d find populating the godforsaken post-midnight hours on a local television station. They’re the kind of movies we remember with a sense of casual fondness – we don’t lie to ourselves that they were great, but focus on the cheesy one-liners and the ridiculous stunts and the scenery-chewing bad guys. Unfortunately, those movies generally weren’t as good as we remember them. We omit certain details – the terrible pseudo-political subtext shoehorned in, the cringe-worthy character work, the pacing issues, the performances that aren’t so bad they become good, but are instead so bad that they remain bad. The Expendables felt like a revived eighties late-night action movie, rather than a tribute to our cultural memory of one.

So I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed The Expendables 2, the sequel to the all-star actioner. It seems to have learned a lot from its predecessor and feels like exactly the sort of light and brainless entertainment we remember, rather than the mind-numbingly bad films we actually watched.

Eighties action movie reunion!

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Non-Review Review: Safe

Safe is remarkably up-front about what it is. It’s a collection of action clichés strung out on a series of contrivances and coincidences that exist purely so Jason Statham can appear menacing and get involved in brutal fight sequences. There’s no surprise to be had in Safe, save perhaps the charm of Statham as a leading man and his wonderful chemistry with the debuting Catherine Chan. The movie’s never outside its comfort zone, but it manages to do what it sets out to do with a respectable efficiency and charm. While he does occasionally succumb to the rapid-fire editing that plague modern action movies, I think that it’s safe to say that Boaz Yakin is a much stronger director than he is a writer.

Looking for a Safe house…

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