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An All-Time Great in the Heist/Crime Comedy Genre
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is a stylish, witty, and fast-paced comedy that spans every level of the London criminal underworld. The film is centered on four friends who pool their money so that one of them can enter a high-stakes back-room poker game. Eddie (Nick Moran), a natural at reading the most minute involuntary reactions, is convinced he can't lose. The game has been rigged against him, however, and what looked like a sure thing ends with Eddie and his friends in debt to a local crime boss and purveyor of pornography named Hatchet Harry. Now these three petty criminals (and one aspiring chef named Soap who's always managed to keep his hands clean) have one week to come up with £500,000 or Harry's enforcer will start taking their fingers.
This is writer and director Guy Ritchie's first time at the helm of a feature film, but he expertly guides us through a labyrinth of schemes and characters without the viewer becoming lost in the details. And there is a lot going on in this movie. Multiple interconnected plots dance around each other as thugs, street-corner jewelry hucksters, drug dealers, and crime lords all scheme against one-another. Ritchie makes excellent use of the camera and of music. When Eddie staggers away from the poker game finding himself impossibly deep in debt to a very dangerous man, the scene takes on a surreal yet panicked mood that puts the viewer right in the character's shoes. Looking directly into his face as he makes his way out, you're drawn in and feel his world crashing down around your own shoulders. The slick soundtrack of blues and rock adds to the effect of immersion, setting a rhythm for the action on screen.
The cast members turn in strong performances all around. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels marks the feature film debuts of Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones, both of whom would go on to become well-known actors in the genre. Sting also turns in a memorable cameo appearance as Eddie's father.
There is a fair bit of violence and quite a lot of foul language. While it doesn't descend into being vulgar simply for shock value, there is more than sensitive viewers are likely to be able to overlook. For fans of this genre, however, this film is one of the very best. It's funny, full of surprises, and engaging right up to the very end.
Once in the Life (2000)
Pretty good, but a little choppy
I caught this movie on IFC and I enjoyed it, although I felt like the editing job was a little rough, though it may have been deliberate. I had a little bit of a hard time figuring out what was going on at first because they seemed to be going for a little bit of a Pulp Fiction-style non-linear plot presentation. It seemed a little forced, though. I certainly think that the movie is worth watching, but I think it could have used a little cleaning up. Some scenes just don't seem to make sense after others.
I'm surprised to see the rating here as low as it is. It's not outstanding, but it doesn't have any really serious problems. I gave it a 7/10. The movie did show at least that Laurence Fishburne can act when he wants to. They must have just told him not to in the Matrix movies.
A little dull, action-wise.
As far as the fighting is concerned, I thought that this one was a little unimpressive. It's pretty slow, overall. I'd really only recommend it to big fans of the first two. There are some good bits of humor and we see some actual romance between Wong Fei-Hung and Aunt 13, but I don't think that that sort of thing is the main reason we watch this sort of movie. And even if it were, there's just too little of it.
I really think that Jet Li's talents are wasted when you try to use goofy camera angles to make it look like he's doing superhuman feats. The man is practically superhuman already. I think you're better off showing off the amazing things that he can do rather than focusing on trying to make him look like a cartoon. I'm sure that his work in the movie was very demanding, but it just didn't come off as too impressive on the screen in my opinion.
And way too much lion dancing.
Sureiyâzu return (1996)
Lina and Naga: Together again!
I have yet to be disappointed by anything Slayers. The series is one of my very favorites, up there with Cowboy Bebop, Dirty Pair, and the original Bubblegum Crisis. When I first saw Slayers: The Motion Picture I was a little wary due to the fact that everyone from the series was gone except for Lina, but it turned out to be a pretty fresh approach to the show.
If you liked Slayers: The Motion Picture or any of the other Lina/Naga pair-ups (Book of Spells, Great) I can see no reason why you wouldn't like this one. If you're a fan of the series but haven't yet seen any of the OVA's, I'd recommend watching The Motion Picture first just to be properly introduced to Naga, but you certainly wouldn't be too confused. There's no continuity between this and the other OVA's other than the presence of Naga, and she's not too hard to figure out.
If you're totally new to Slayers, I'd recommend checking out the original series first if possible. Still, even if you knew nothing about master sorceress Lina Inverse, I think that this disk would stand on its own fairly well.
The Scorpion King (2002)
Good movie for any action fan
This movie was loaned to me by a friend who didn't think too highly of it herself, but I really liked it. Any fan of action movies in general should give this one a chance. I found a lot of the fighting to be pretty good, especially for a Hollywood movie. The movie opens with a fight scene that I thought was pretty high grade.
The writing really isn't that great, but the movie keeps moving along at a pretty good pace. I don't think that it detracts too much from the overall experience. I did find the included sidekick/comic relief character to be really annoying, though, not to mention unnecessary. From what I've seen of him, the Rock can do comedy. Letting him take care of comic relief himself would also have served to give a little more depth to his character, who is pretty one-dimensional, but he does have a few funny moments in which to shine.
This movie doesn't try to take itself too seriously, and it's all the better for it. I think that it pretty successfully maintains a fairly light-hearted atmosphere without descending into self parody.
The Tuxedo (2002)
Oh, it was fine
I really enjoyed this movie. I don't think that there's anything wrong with letting Jackie slow down the pace of the action a little bit and focus more on acting. Jackie is a good actor, especially when it comes to comedy, but that is frequently overshadowed by the action in his movies. Without his acting ability his early movies would have been indistinguishable from any of a hundred other kung fu movies from the same era and he probably would have retired long ago.
No, this movie isn't exactly the same as his others. Jackie's stunts are now assisted by technology a little bit, but it really is just a little bit. It's not like Matrix Reloaded or Blade II where once the action gets a little hectic the actors are just replaced by CG models.
Let Jackie act a little bit. There has always been more to him than his ability to jump off buildings.
I thought that Jennifer Love Hewitt was a lot of fun to watch, too. I haven't seen much of her work, but I think that her comedic instincts look pretty strong.
Boh lei chun (1999)
What's wrong with trying something different?
I say kudos to Jackie for trying to expand his range a little bit, especially after having so much success over the years using the same formula. For once Jackie gets to act a little bit and play a role other than a cop/new kid in town/martial artist whose father/brother/girlfriend was kidnapped/murdered/disgraced. Sure, it's not high drama, but it is a very touching romantic comedy.
Jackie plays a wealthy businessman who is so wrapped up in his work that he has forgotten how to take time to enjoy what he has earned. Bu (Qi Shu) is a starry-eyed romantic who tries to help him remember. Mixing things up a bit is Chan's less scrupulous rival Lo, played by Emil Chau.
This rivalry serves to shoehorn a couple of fight scenes into the movie, and while I did really enjoy them (I like seeing Jackie in a good one-on-one matchup once in a while) they're really secondary to the plot of the movie. They're definitely worth seeing, though. Set up as elaborate boxing matches, they're a bit more realistic than most of his scenes.
I enjoyed this movie quite a lot and would love to see Jackie do some more like it. After all, we have to admit that Jackie is getting up there in age. While he's still just as amazing as ever, why not give him a break from being pushed through windows and dragged behind trucks once in a while?
Gaai tau saat sau (1996)
Don't judge too harshly
It is possible to enjoy this movie. The first and most important thing to do is to forget that it has anything to do with the movie Iron Monkey. In fact, looking at it I'm not entirely convinced that it was intended to. There is no reason to believe that Donnie Yen's character is supposed to be Wong Kei-Ying. Donnie Yen's character (supposedly the Iron Monkey) isn't even the central character in the movie. I suspect that this may be a case much like American releases entitled Rumble in Hong Kong or Return of the Dragon, trying to cash in on the fame of better, unrelated movies. That's speculation on my part, though.
Still, there is some very good classic-style action in this movie, and if you can't see past the attempt to cash in on another, admittedly better movie, you're missing out. There are some very good action sequences in this movie, comparable to those in the masterpiece Once Upon a Time in China. Yes, the production value is kind of low, but if that upsets you that much you can't be much of a fan of Hong Kong cinema.
There is a lot of talent in this movie and it is definitely worth watching. Sadly, the American DVD release is only available in pan and scan with an English dub. It's always terrible to have the sides of the frame hacked off an action movie, but at least the dub isn't that bad (as they go). If you're a fan of more "old-school" Hong Kong action I'd recommend this movie, especially if you can get a widescreen and subtitled version.