From 1998

A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. 1998. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Nicholas Rowe, Vinnie Jones, Lenny McLean, Peter McNicholl, P.H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, Ronnie Fox, Stephen Marcus, Vas Blackwood, Alan Ford, & Sting. Summit Entertainment/The Steve Tisch Company/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
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There’s always an obvious Tarantino comparison that comes along each time Guy Ritchie’s earliest movies are brought up, even some of the others, too. Well I’ve talked about that before in my retrospective on Snatch. Perhaps most out of anywhere, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rings close to the spirit of Tarantino. However, there’s a vast difference in American and British humour. That’s first off. Full stop, though, Ritchie is a different writer. They each have their own quirkiness, no doubt. British jokes are decidedly British, and to me Ritchie is funnier. Tarantino is a little deeper in some of the dialogue underneath his funny writing. Ritchie is downright a crack up, alongside all the crime that’s also as enjoyable. He’s more hilarious than his supposed American counterpart. They have the same capacity for violence. Once more I posit this – Ritchie is far more Martin Scorsese influenced than anyone else. He’s a combination of those two big influences while continuing true to his own roots. He tells stories that are undeniably British in an American film influenced fashion. Because of that storytelling, because of the British humour with which I identify most (on account of being Canadian, I imagine), much as I love Tarantino I almost prefer Ritchie’s first two feature films over the former and his first couple. Not knocking him, I’m a massive fan of Quentin in all areas. Overall I’m a bigger fan of his than I am of Ritchie, if I had to pick. However, it’s hard for me to not love both Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels most. That’s all personal.
For me, this movie is another case for how far quirky writing can go without stepping over the line and becoming silly. Ritchie’s characters here are rich in a short span of time. Then we get quite a bit of crime to add the flair, comedy in a whopping dose. Along with everything else, Ritchie’s got wonderful directorial sensibilities. His choices are fun, fresh, they move things along with nice pacing. Overall, this is a solid modern masterpiece of British cinema. Don’t accept any opinion less.
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One of the biggest ways to tell the difference between Ritchie and Tarantino is evident when Bacon (Jason Statham) and the boys go to the Samoan Pub. Almost as if spitting right at the Kahuna Burger and its quirkiness, Ritchie’s characters are normal, simple types of blokes. They just want a pint. Not some Samoan or Hawaiian hipster-type bullshit. There’s an awesome quality to Tarantino and his writing, which I do enjoy myself. There’s an equally awesome quality to the fact Ritchie sort of says “Sure there’s influence but I can also point out some needless quirk.” The characters in Tarantino movies are sometimes a bit too much written with the end of being singular by way of idiosyncrasy in mind. Now, that’s not to say characters should be alike, not at all. They need to be different, obviously. Yet at a certain point you’re just filling up too much space without really doing anything.
Using a setting in the middle to lower class underbelly of Britain, these simple guys with big ideas, it’s not even a direct way of trying to be different. That’s just how I see it. But what Ritchie does in actuality is present a life of crime that we don’t see in certain other comedy-crime combinations. Yes, we often see things go wrong in the underground world of professional crime: hitmen, gangsters, high class criminals, so on. Such is the case in a few Tarantino flicks. What Ritchie does in his first two features is present a world of men on the fringe, near the criminal world while not completely a part of it. It’s clueless guys that are incredibly small-time criminals, doing the measliest, most petty-type jobs in order to get themselves through the week. Then through a multi-linear plot these dopey, though kind-hearted fellas come face to face with big time crime, big time criminals, and tougher choices than they’ve ever had to make. Somehow the stakes are higher than films where the people are all professionals and murder’s nearly routine, able to be cleaned up on a whim. In opposition, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gets messy.
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Vinnie Jones is a talented man. Not only does he have the enormous, intimidating physicality required of a tough guy actor (and a footballer as once he was), he’s spectacular as Big Chris. Supposedly, this character is based on Dave Courtney – a guy who claims to have been involved with all sorts of mad gangster shit. Either way, Jones uses his own natural bad ass-ness. Then there’s also the fact he was released from jail the first day he was in for filming, after getting locked up for beating on his neighbour. Amazing! Regardless of any true life experience he’s capable, which he proves more than once throughout the length of his filmography as an actor. Big Chris is funny, frightening. He’s a dad; a good one, a bad one. It’s a complex and overall laugh-inducing character from start to finish. Well written. Most of all, well performed. Each time I see this Jones gets me in stitches, being hard and at the same time disciplining his son, making sure others don’t swear around him. What a god damn laugh.
On top of his talent there are a bunch of others. Even Sting turns out a nice little performance. The Hardest Man in Britain, Mr. Lenny McLean, plays Barry the Baptist right before he passed away, and put in one hell of a performance; both makes you laugh and tremble in equal measure, similar to Jones. Jason Statham proves here he’s great when working with Ritchie’s writing, revving up his talent for the follow-up, Snatch., where he again proves the same thing. In truth, the entire ensemble cast carries the weight, even the more minor players. Each role is handled well enough to keep things funny, fast, and at just about every last turn unexpected.
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Ritchie started out his feature film career with a bang. The comparisons to other artists are inevitable. Though, as I said a bunch of times already and before this review, Scorsese is the director I see as Ritchie’s largest influence. Either way, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a solid slice of crime comedy in its own skin. There’s plenty to enjoy, from Vinnie Jones to Statham in fine form, down to Ritchie as a director and his high energy, frenetic, music-filled banquet of style. As you watch these hapless criminals navigate a world completely foreign to the small time one in which they usually roll, the plots all come together to make for a thrilling, at times hilarious finale. I’m always inclined to love this most out of all the similarly-styled crime movies in the 1990s. No matter what. The style and its flair, the dialogue, the characters each given their own time to shine. Every last inch is a damn fine good time.

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Halloween H20 or How To Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Michael Myers

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. 1998. Directed by Steve Miner. Screenplay by Matt Greenberg & Robert Zappia.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Branden Williams, and Nancy Stephens.
Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Trancas International Films.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
halloween-h20-poster I’m not saying this is a spectacular entry in the Halloween franchise. Nor am I saying this is a wonderful slasher horror movie. That being said, I find Halloween H20 a decent enough sequel. Especially taking into consideration the last couple of the series entries are fairly haggard, specifically the one previous to this – The Curse of Michael Myers.
To see Jamie Lee Curtis come back after 18 years is pretty special. While the movie isn’t anything overly dramatic, there’s enough for Curtis to do. Even further, a young Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams, plus a sassy LL Cool J make things fun. Even while I do like a couple of the sequels, I enjoy how this one retroactively takes on Michael’s story from after the first two movies. Add to that a return to more simplistic serial killer Michael Myers and this is easily a better sequel than the last. With the series’ iconic mass murderer back to terrorize his long lost sister, H20 doesn’t quite make it above mediocre. However, it has heart in the right place – a cold, bloody slasher heart.
halloween_h20_120 years after the events of Halloween/Halloween II, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now the dean of a private school in Northern California. Her name is now Keri Tate. Better yet, she has a son named John (Josh Hartnett), a boyfriend named Will (Adam Arkin), and she does a great job running Hillcrest Academy.
Unbeknownst to Keri/Laurie, her brother Michael Myers (Chris Durand) has survived. He tracked down a colleague of Loomis, Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), killed her, and found a file on Laurie.
With Michael headed towards her, no clue, eventually Laurie must confront her buried past. Not only that, her son and anyone else in Michael’s path must also come to deal with the past Keri a.k.a Laurie Strode has tried so desperately to leave behind.
h20-1There are some great moments in this screenplay. For instance, I love how during one of the classes they’re talking about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which almost directly parallels Laurie’s own feelings about her and Michael, as if he’s almost an entity she created now, giving him power over her. Or, it can sort of foreshadow the deadly events to follow in the wake of Myers and his serial killer tendencies. Either way, it’s a perfect scene, great dialogue including both Curtis & Williams. As well, it brings us back to the original film where a similar employment of literature is used. Such a stellar use of this technique, which brings us full circle with John Carpenter’s original. Also nowadays many other horror movies have done the same thing, emulating the first Halloween. So it’s fun to see that here in this 1998 revival. Too bad the studio couldn’t cough up the money for Carpenter; between his would-be duties here and all the money they rightfully should’ve paid him for the first movie of the series, $10-million was probably a decent price tag.
The writing in this one isn’t nearly as dreadful as the last couple. Particularly when you look at the young people, Hartnett and Williams specifically, there’s good dialogue. Nothing groundbreaking, just not weak like so many slasher films saturating the market. Surprisingly enough, there’s no onscreen sex to be seen, nothing like that. So you don’t really fall into many of the sub-genre tropes often used in these movies. Even LL Cool J’s minor character as the security guard I found enjoyable; he’s idiosyncratic, he writes and reads his writing to his wife over the phone while on-shift, and he is fairly bad ass. Too many of the Halloween series characters are one-dimensional, that’s including some of the major/lead characters. However, despite its shortcomings Halloween H20 has a few characters whose identities are fleshed out enough through the screenplay that I find the movie totally competent on that end. I’m not a huge fan of everywhere the plot weaves, certainly not nearing and including the end, but the one solid aspect of the writing is definitely the script’s characters.
tumblr_ncq5cabvfA1rml3nvo1_1280Skate to the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt! This is only one of the good kill scenes in the film. That one comes fairly quick, too. While there is a nice shot of the skate itself, it isn’t exactly overly gruesome. Does the trick, though. There are a few brutal slasher moments, from the skate in the face, to a hanging dead body, to lots of good stabbing on Michael’s part. It isn’t the bloodiest of all the sequels. Still, we get to see some real proper killing for Michael and his insatiable bloodlust. Again his strength is on display – has anyone noticed if Myers lifts a person up in every one of the movies? He does Laurie’s new boyfriend in pretty rough, a hard stab in the guts then lifts him up in the air a foot or more to make a point. Always with the tough guy routine, Michael. I love it, all the same; his nasty style is part of why I love him as a slasher villain, he’s a tough, messed up dude who’s power is all human yet totally evil.
65455_originalWith a decent little welcome back to the slasher sub-genre of horror, Jamie Lee Curtis leads one of the better sequels since the first couple Halloween films. Even though I’m not a fan of the ending, I can still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror. There’s some good performance, from Curtis to LL to Hartnett. Plus, we find Michael Myers away from the supernatural murkiness that started to make things terrible in the past couple sequels. Back again is the psychopath, the serial killer Michael, which is the one we know and fear/love. So don’t expect this to be one of the best, however, I wouldn’t be afraid of it either. Don’t expect this to fall in line with the last couple entries of the series, there are better things here; even if it isn’t amazing, H20 tries to please. If things were tweaked a bit more, maybe even add a couple more nasty scenes for emphasis on Michael’s return to a more real killer, it’s possible this one could’ve added itself into a sort of trilogy with the first two movies. Either way, I think it’s good enough to warrant being watched and enjoyed – who doesn’t like slasher kills and Jamie Lee?

The Last Broadcast Builds You Up to Let You Down

The Last Broadcast. 1998. Directed & Written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler.
Starring David Beard, Jim Seward, Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler, Rein Clabbers, Michele Pulaski, and Tom Brunt.
FFM Productions.
Unrated. 86 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★1/2
the-last-broadcast.27402 Ever since I’d first seen The Last Broadcast a little over ten years ago, I’ve been conflicted by the film. Unlike so many failed fake documentary styled found footage horror movies these days, I find that The Last Broadcast genuinely culls the air of being real for a lot of the time. Long before stuff like Grave Encounters, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler came up with an interesting little faux doc about a paranormal style show. What I find so good in this sense about this movie is that their show really feels real, it has that old school internet show feel to it; the acting is slightly stale, but in a way that they make the Fact or Fiction show feel like it’s these two dudes just filming things out on their own, beyond low budget. So that’s one of the things I do truly enjoy about this movie.
However, in the finale, the last act, Avalos and Weiler completely let this movie go off the rails. Personally, I was so into what was happening and I’d hoped that ultimately the explanation of what was being attributed to the Jersey Devil might end up being either unexplainable or just straight up supernatural. Instead, the creepiness and suspense, all the tension Avalas and Weiler built up for the first half to three-quarters of the film is squandered by a flimsy and awful climax, which does nothing but frustrate me.
While there are some excellent bits to The Last Broadcast, it’s hard to ignore how terribly fumbled the ending came out and it leaves a stain on everything else the filmmakers had tried to do up until that tipping point. At least this movie has something to boast about – it’s the first film to be filmed, edited, and screened entirely digital; no film was involved. While I’m a huge fan of film, I do enjoy digital in certain ways, so if anything this movie can say it pioneered new ways to make extremely low budget horror. Even if the movie shits the bed just as it could’ve turned into something spectacular.
IMG_1392The Last Broadcast tells the story of two local access cable filmmakers – Steven (Stefan Avalos) and Locus (Lance Weiler) – whose Fact or Fiction television show leads them around to various places in search of supernatural and ghostly entities. In a hunt for the legend of the Jersey Devil, Steve and Locus hire an assistant to help them – Jim Suerd (Jim Seward) is a self-styled psychic of sorts. They also plan to stream things on the internet through IRC, over radio, all sorts of things, and they’re armed with tons upon tons of equipment.
After heading into the woods, things begin to get more and more intense until finally only Suerd emerges from the woods, the other two disappeared. Suerd becomes the number one suspect. At the same time, a filmmaker named David Leigh (David Beard) starts to pour over the piles of tapes from Fact or Fiction’s filming in the Pine Barrens, and he seems to believe it was possibly not Suerd who was responsible for the disappearance of Steven and Locus after all. It may have been someone, or something, entirely different.
IMG_1393First of all, I find this film holds a pretty decent tone throughout its runtime. Starting early on there’s this great feel of tension, and I think at least until the terrible ending it holds up entirely. My favourite part about any horror film, or even any film in general, is when there’s a genuine atmosphere cultivated through music, direction, and the script.
There’s some interesting music in the movie, courtesy of director/writer Stefan Avalos (who apparently was a child prodigy with classical violin) and A.D. Roso. At certain times, the music is so damn creepy. It has this haunting quality which helps to make the tension hold in a lot of scenes. Great stuff. There’s just a ton of ominous sounds in the score, so often sitting right beneath the surface of the scenes and slowly seeping under the skin. If only the finale’s payoff were worth it, the music would’ve helped to make this incredible. Unfortunately, the script fails every other aspect of the film by simply petering out into nonsensicality.

Before I get to the writing, and then the terrible ending, I’d like to mention that I do think some of the acting was pretty well done. For instance, I found Jim Seward – who plays Jim Suerd – to be fairly unsettling most of the time. Especially when he early on, after meeting the Fact or Fiction hosts, has a psychic fit then ashy words appear on in his arm; putting these guys on or not, this scene was extremely creepy. His whole demeanour in general is spooky and I thought this helped the film immensely. Not all the acting was particularly stellar, but I do think Seward did a fine job with the material for his character. There’s a craziness and sadness all around about this character, which I found intriguing.
LastBroadcastConcerning the found footage sub-genre, I think The Last Broadcast, while highly low-fi, doesn’t employ too much shakiness in the camerawork. There’s a lot of it, but there isn’t a string of scenes where they’re running through the woods and you can’t see anything whatsoever. While I love The Blair Witch Project wholeheartedly, the few real shaky scenes in that nauseated me; they didn’t take away from that movie, but it’s my only single complaint. At least, for all its faults, The Last Broadcast doesn’t go for much of that. The video quality – being an ultra almost non-existent budget film in 1998 – is pretty rough almost all of the time, yet there’s not scene after scene of rattling camera shots, bouncing up and down as someone holds onto it and runs for their life. So, in that manner, I do find the low-fi video plays well into everything because the whole Fact or Fiction show, their journey into the woods, it all feels quite natural and real. Essentially, I really feel like I’m watching some documentary slapped together by a bunch of amateur filmmakers, but it doesn’t make me not like this movie – that’s something I found genuine and enjoyable about the whole thing.
IMG_1394Now, I’ve got to get into the writing and the script. There’s an awesome story in here, and up until the finale’s ruination there is solid plot. For the first three quarters, maybe a little less, I think the story of The Last Broadcast holds up. While they’re going through all the motions – getting ready to go into the woods, Jim Suerd gets a little stranger than normal, then they finally get into the woods – I think the writing is well done. Something again regarding the found footage sub-genre is that we don’t have to go through a bunch of moments where someone is yelling “Turn off the camera”. While it works in some films, such as the aforementioned Blair Witch Project, I think it gets forced into too many other movies. This is because a lot of found footage movies go too formulaic, trying to add all the elements they feel need to be in there in order to make it correctly. Luckily for this film, it came before The Blair Witch Project and its success caused an absolute avalanche, still raging to this day, of found footage sub-genre efforts. So it avoids some of the pitfalls which are now associated with so many bad found footage movies today. In the process, I find The Last Broadcast more interesting than others because it’s not as typical. As I’ve mentioned several times already, the real feeling of the tapes and the characters/situations makes it work well.
thelastbroadcast2Finally, we come to the ending to ruin all endings. I’ve got nothing against a seemingly supernatural horror turning out to be something more down to earth and real in the end. Not at all. For instance, though I love Stephen King’s book The Shining I find Stanley Kubrick brought a touch of family dynamics and real horror to an otherwise supernatural story. But here, there’s none of that. The ending works against everything else interesting happening throughout the film.
WARNING: To discuss fully, I have to spoil the ending. If you’ve not seen this yet, don’t go forward. If you do and you haven’t seen it, do not complain about spoilers. I shouldn’t have to warn people about this: I review films, this is a film review blog. I’m not giving previews, I’m reviewing after the fact. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
By having the finale basically take aim at the media and how we relate to/are affected by media, by making the David Leigh (Beard) character responsible for everything – murder and all – Avalos and Wiler take everything else tense and suspenseful and eerie about the script and obliterate it. The Last Broadcast could’ve ended in a much better fashion – even an open ended finish would’ve been incredible, to me! I would’ve walked away from this, had it closed with a more ambiguous finish, and thought this was one of the better early found footage films to have come out. Instead, I constantly bemoan anybody who says this is an excellent movie. It is not. The possible greatness is torn apart with the last 20 minutes or so, I just can’t even describe how ill handled the script becomes in the last quarter. Sad this hadn’t turned out better. So much potential.
IMG_1395 IMG_1391Much like a recent film I enjoyed until the final 15 minutes The Canal, I was devastated to have invested so much in the story/plot of The Last Broadcast only to be fooled with the ending. Certainly I enjoyed a lot of what came before the finale – plenty of creepy scenes full of mysterious writing, ominous music, and low-fi terror tiptoeing around so many scenes. I’ve just had it, fed up, with movies that ruin their potential by copping out on an ending. It’s as if they either couldn’t think of anything else, or they were too afraid to leave the film on an open end, so rather than contemplate the best possible ending they could’ve drummed up the filmmakers find the path of least resistance. Instead of being shocking or unnerving, the end makes me roll my eyes into the back of my skull until it hurts.
I can only give this movie 2&1/2 stars. If the ending was better, this could’ve easily been a 4 out of 5 star horror. With the mashed in finale, The Last Broadcast is only a mediocre, if that, found footage horror effort. If ever a movie needed a good remake, it’s this one. Someone should pick up the rights and fix the ending; this could be one killer film if the writing were handled better.