IMDB #171 Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Remember when Guy Ritchie was cool? What happened? Oh yeah, he married Madonna, cast her in a remake of Swept Away, and renamed her character after his mother. I wonder why that didn't work out?

But today, we take a look at his triumphant emergence on the scene with 1999's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

The Key Players:

Ritchie recently proved he could direct something other than comic gangster fables with the winning Sherlock Holmes, though that in its way was sort of like Snatch or Lock, Stock without the kickin' soundtrack. But his shtick had been getting a little old, as witnessed by the serviceable but indifferently-recieved RocknRolla, even after his departures had gone even worse (like the ridiculously misguided Revolver and the aforementioned Swept Away). Holmes has brought the newly Madonna-free Ritchie back into standing as a bankable talent- I guess we'll see how he cashes it in.

He directs a large ensemble, the only notables of which include future action-superstar Jason Statham (The Transporters, Cranks, The Italian Job) and a cameo by some banjo player named Gordon Sumner (though Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher have pretty solid careers as "Hey It's That Guy!"s).

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The Story:

Our ostensible main characters are four friends: a card sharp, a cook, a grifter, and a...dude played by Jason Statham (I guess he's also a grifter, as it were) pool £100,000 to back the card sharp in a high stakes game- a game that turns out to be rigged, and they end up with a £500,000 debt to a local "porn king."

The porn king, meanwhile, hires two incompetent thugs to steal the titular pair of priceless antique rifles, a group of criminals robs a trio of middle-class marijuana-growers, drawing the ire of their afro-headed supplier and his own thugs.

Our four heroes decide to rob the first group of criminals after they've cleaned out the weed-farm, keep the cash, and sell the weed to the local kingpin- who is of course the same afro-ed psycho they've indirectly stolen it from. They purchase some guns along the way, but all they can scrounge are two anicent rifles they're not sure will even fire. Hmmm.

The Artistry:

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels clearly demonstrates Ritchie's propensity for fun montages, acid-washed visuals, and a frenetic pacing right away (though one can argue that producer Matthew Vaughn might deserve just as much credit).

But the screenplay's balance of wit, sarcasm, casual profanity, and fully-formed characters (or cariacatures) are what makes it worth multiple viewings.

Nearly every character, no matter the limited amount of time, makes an impression- be it's Sting's glowering father figure, Vinnie Jones as an acerbic muscleman (not that he plays anything else, really), the bumbling comic duo that steals the rifles, or Vas Blackwood silently watching the tv after lighting a tosser on fire.

The cockney rhyming slang helps, especially since it's just presented as is instead of explained (like in the weakest single scene from Ocean's 11).

I suppose the frank portrayal of gangland violence was sort of extreme, even just 11 years ago, but it's a yawn these days. Oh, he shot off a dude's foot? Meh.

But the lived-in underworld that Lock, Stock creates is memorable enough to be worth visiting again (which Ritchie himself would do with Snatch), and the breezy chemistry of the cast (the celebratory montage of drinking between our heroes late in the film seems pretty real) makes it a minor modern classic.


The muscleman (and his moppet son) ends up with the money, the two bands of criminals take each other out, and our four compatriots have only two musty rifles to show for their troubles (but no debt, after the duo of thugs takes out the porn king in a hilarious crossed-wire act of desperation). They send loudmouth Tom to throw them off a bridge, just as they realize they're worth a quarter mil each! A hilarious ambiguous freeze-frame ensues.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I like it right here: a unique vision, a fun time had by all. My only quibble would be that Snatch is even higher, while Matthew Vaughn's superior Layer Cake is nowhere to be found. But you can't have everything.

The Legacy:

Surely the whole "Guy Ritchie movie" Type has lead to the greenlighting of lesse fare, your Smokin' Aceses of the world and all. There was also brief tv series adapted from the film.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

I'm pretty partial to the very opening scene, with Statham's rapid patter giving way to a kickass Ocean Colour Scene set flight from the 'cozzers.'

Leftover Thoughts:

-The lack of an Oxford comma in this film's title bothers me. I will defend the Oxford comma with my life.

-My favorite running joke is the way everyone makes fun of Flemyng's character as if he's fat. "Tom what have you been eating?"

-Most of the quotes are funnier in context, really. It's the banter, not the lines themselves.

Coming Up...

170. V For Vendetta

169. Star Trek

168. The Wages Of Fear

IMDB #172 Twelve Monkeys

Review spoiler: I have seen 1995's Twelve Monkeys many times and I already know that it is GREAT with a capital all five of those letters! This is because it involves one of my favorite directors (Terry Gilliam) and perhaps my favorite subject for any medium of any kind (time travel).

I would love to go back to before I saw Twelve Monkeys and stop myself from seeing it so I could write an unfettered piece for ya, but since the past is immutable I would probably slip on a banana peel, knock a glass of water onto a control board and cause the Chernobyl explosion or some such thing.

Time travel, am I right?

The Key Players:

You'd think Terry Gilliam might have called it a day on the Being Awesome front after serving as the American 1/6th of Monty Python (he did the animated shorts, bit parts, and co-wrote with the gang), but no: he decided to become some sort of Georges Méliès crossed with Steven Spielberg superdirector. He's got the creative vision and epic perfectionism that lead to inflated budgets and numerous delays, but it's all resulted in some of the most singularly wonderful films EVER (Brazil, Time Bandits, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (I will fight you on this one!)). Of course, fiascos are bound to happen as well (Tideland, The Brothers Grimm), but there's wonder to be found in the most uneven Gilliam projects (like the recent The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus).

Star Bruce Willis is of course better known as the recording artist behind the smash-success 1987 album The Return Of Bruno. Co-star Brad Pitt would only make a few films before tragically aging backwards into an infant in 2009.

But seriously folks, whatever happened to Madeleine Stowe? She broke out in the early 90s with The Last Of The Mohicans, Short Cuts, and this role, but has since faded into mostly supporting turns and tv guest spots. Last year she was in a Lifetime TV-movie, and you know what that means...

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The Story:

Willis stars as James Cole, a convicted violent offender in an underground, post-apocalyptic 21st century. He's forcibly "volunteered" to go up to the Earth's surface, unihabitable due to an airborne virus since December 1996, and collect samples of bugs and such to aid the scientists researching a cure.

They've also developed a ramshackle sort of time travel, and as such decide to send Cole back to 1996 to find a pure sample of the virus- problem is, he ends up in 1990 instead, and commited to the loony bin when he tells the truth about where he's from (is this ever a good idea? Not saying "I'm from THE FUTCHA!" is like Time Travel 101).

In said asylum, he meets scatterbrained zealot-without-a-cause Tyler Durden Jeffrey Goines (Pitt), the son of a prominent virologist, and his psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Railly (Stowe). Goines helps him organize an escape attempt, but he's caught and locked up tight- only to dissappear into thin air.

Back in the "present," the scientists tut-tut about him getting locked up (and their own six-year error), and try again- this time with some more specific instructions about the people and places involved- supposedly the mysterious "Army of the Twelve Monkeys" had something to do with the virus outbreak, with Jeffrey Goines front and center.

Cole ends up in 1996, after a brief stop in WWI France to get shot in the leg- not the most subtle operator, kidnaps Dr. Railly (who's since become an expert on "Cassandra Syndrome") to drive him to see Goines. Goines (now released) denies any world-annihilating virus plans, and Railly manages to convince Cole that his experiences in the "future" are hallucinations, just before he disappears once again. He convinces the scientists (believing them just figments of his minds) to send him back one more time- meanwhile, Railly discovers various evidence that Cole's a real time traveler.

Eventually they realize that he's not crazy, and decide to up and spend the last month of the world in the Florida Keys (product placement much?).

Did I mention that Cole's been haunted this whole time by a dream (or memory) in which his younger self watches an oddly familiar man get shot to death in an airport? No? Well, it's pretty important.

The Artistry:

12 Monkeys would mark Gilliam's first attempt at directing a story he didn't develop himself (partially excepting the mythology-based The Fisher King)- the screenplay was ordered by Universal before his involvement, to be expanded from the 1962 short La Jetée- though it mostly takes the central idea of the dream and runs in other directions.

As such, it's probably the most tightly-structured of all of his films- where opuses like Brazil and Time Bandits are held together by characters and performances, Monkeys is propelled by its interlocking timelines and plot threads, woven at the center with the incrementally revealing dream sequence.

The backdrop for all of this is of course, Gilliam's trademark insanity, which makes the film more than a gimmick. The skewed camera angles in the asylum, the steampunk art-direction of the underground future- which seems to be composed mostly of banks of monitors and oversized magnifying glasses- or the harrowing Philadelphia slums.

Many of his films seemed marked by a sense of paranoia, and Willis' frenzied but numb performance might be the primary example- usually Gilliam's heroes are the only ones who see it straight in a world of fools ("Mom! Dad! Don't touch it! It's Evil!"), but Cole is harrowed enough to take tips from the inmate who introduces himself by saying "I don't really come from outer space."

The apex of this madness is the random hobo that seems to exist in both timelines at once, sometimes knowing key information (like the teeth thing), sometimes just a clueless hobo, and sometimes just a voice that outright suggests he could just be in Cole's head. He's a little overdone (why does he call Cole "Bob"?), but still fun.

The cast is largely game, too- especially the Oscar-nominated (and Globe-winning) Pitt, all tics and crazy-eyes to balance Willis's stoicism (which, as we'll see in things like The Sixth Sense, is the right use of post-Die Hard Bruce Willis anyway). Stowe's role is pretty thankless, but the rest of the bit players shine, from David Morse as a pivotal nutball to Christopher Plummer as the clueless scientist.

They combine to tug 12 Monkeys toward black comedy, though in the end it's a dark, dark film: all of the themes that it juggles (dehuminization of prisoners, rampant consumerism vs. environmentalism, delusion vs. reality) are swallowed up in the end by the lesson that the past (and thus, the future) are unchangeable (uh, spoiler I guess), which in this context is pretty hopeless.


That memory turns out to be Cole witnessing his own death as a child! The Army of the 12 Monkeys is nothing more than a guerilla animal rights group, and it's a wacko assistant to Goines' father that releases the plague (after an early, eerie cameo at Railly's book-signing). Cole rushes through airport security to stop him on impulse (with a gun given to him by another traveler from the future? This part is unclear to me), and is shot by security.

Railly sees the younger Cole and has a quiet Wow, this is messed up moment as we draw to a close. Enjoy the virus, everybody!


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Maybe just slightly higher- I like this film a lot, but the aura of unstoppable bleakness doesn't have me watching it once a month or anything- even Brazil is punctuated with some comedic and fantasia-based highs here and there.

The Legacy:

I think we can safely say that this (in tandem with Se7en) led at least to Brad Pitt being taken more seriously as an actor- his awards were the most notable. It's also Gilliam's most successful film by any measure, turning a $30 million budget into nearly $170 m worldwide.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

This fan-made(?) trailer makes it seems like an entire asylum set black comedy, but it's pretty great all the same.

Leftover Thoughts:

-If you had to trace the founders of cinema to their modern descendants, there would be a straight line from Georges Méliès to Gilliam and an even straighter line from Thomas Edison to Brett Ratner. (Zing! Film-nerd burn!)

-I've seen every Gilliam film except Tideland- someday, maybe I'll make it just for completism, though I understand it's woefully misguided at best and reprehensible at worst.

Coming Up...

171. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

170. V for Vendetta

169. Star Trek

IMDB #173 The Grapes Of Wrath

New Rule: I have to write this little intro part before I watch the film, or do any research! So when it's a film I haven't seen (like 1940's The Grapes Of Wrath), we get to fly blind up here.

I also haven't read the much-ballyhooed Steinbeck novel that today's entry is adapted from. I always sort of assumed it was about giant, lab-grown grapes that gain sentience and then turn on their masters. Will my hopes be dashed? READ ON to find out!

The Key Players:

Remember John Ford? Today he will prove to us that he can do more than say "Hey John Wayne, look stoic for a while and then call somebody "Pilgrim." Action!"

Star Henry Fonda would use this role as a springboard to many memorable turns that we will see in the top 100 (Once Upon A Time In The West, 12 Angry Men). The cast is stuffed with many other, less notable actors (the only name that jumped out was John Carradine's- though mostly he's known for starting a Hollywood dynasty of acting children (much like Fonda would)).

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The Story:

Tom Joad (Fonda) returns from 4 years in prison (for what he terms "HOME-I-CIDE" in a bar brawl) to find his family home deserted. Turns out the Dust Bowl's been leading various landholders to kick all the sharecroppers out on their asses.

He finds his extended family (including various siblings, his parents, and his grandparents) preparing to leave for California in a comically over-laden jalopy. He and a local ex-preacher, Casy (Carradine), hop in the back for the ride.

After Route 66 leads them through several states (and they lose both grandparents along the way), they find California as desolate and jobless as Oklahoma, initially- they stop in a camp outside of town for the night.

Then some slickster in a fancy hat offers work in Tavarez county, with a crooked local cop to haul in anyone who points out that his terms are unfair- this leads to a dustup in which a bystander gets shot and Casy arrested.

The family flees the camp, and a passing motorist tells them of work picking peaches at the Keene ranch. Turns out the work is strike-breaking, as they pass through a ring of itinerant strikers, with Casey among them as a recently adopted figurehead of sorts. But a posse shows up and clubs Casy to death- without thinking Tom kills one in return, and the family hides him in the back of the jalopy and steals away again.

But hey, they stumble onto a peaceful, Dept. of Agriculture camp that has plumbing, organized sanitation- even dancing! Will they live out idyllic days in this state-sponsored commune, or will the long arm of "The Man" catch up with Tom at last?

The Artistry:

The Grapes Of Wrath has a lot going for it, as long, epic-type films go. Cinematographer Greg Toland (who would later sling lenses for The Best Years Of Our Lives) has lots of fun with highway vistas, swirling dust, and shadows cast over nefarious night deeds. The cast all seems game, even the many, many extras playing other job-seekers.

But there's really one man who's called this all to order, and that man is pure Steinbeck! The plot, already plodding along at a novular pace, slows down frequently for stagy monologues about common folk and honest work. The characters are pretty clear ciphers, to the point of annoying caricature (especially the damn grandparents- he's a hammy toothless old man if there ever was one, and later, when the grandma is on her deathbed, she wistfully moans "Grandpa...grandpa!" as if EVEN SHE did not know his actual name!).

Even Tom Joad, ably embodied by the super-young Fonda, doesn't really have that much depth until the very end.

Maybe it would help if I read the book- there's clearly a lot of subtext here that no film would have the time to cover. I enjoyed the way Casy, for example, has a serene look on his face when he's arrested for hitting the cop- clearly he was looking forward to the free room and board (though they just ran him out of town instead). And my favorite part in the whole film was probably when the campers diffused a pre-planned riot that the cops were going to use as an excuse to raid those suspected "reds."

But gosh it takes a while to get there.


The cops sure come a'lookin' for Tom, but he steals away by night before they can get a warrant. When his ma asks him what he'll do, he vows (in a vague, not-yet-planned-out way) to watch out for the little man. His speech is one of the foremost (if not the earliest) of the "Wherever there's [EXAMPLE OF INJUSTICE]...I'll be there" variety.

The family soon moves on, south for cotton-pickin' season, and Ma Joad speculates on how much tougher working-folk are than rich folk, and how the hard life keeps them from going soft and dying out.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I can't say I found it that moving- deference to the book and all, but it just sort of shambles about- cursory online reading tells me the ending of the novel is significantly different (and darker), perhaps explaining why the novel is the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the title, not the film (as opposed to, say, The Wizard Of Oz or something).

The Legacy:

Ford and Ma Joad actress Jane Darwell would win Oscars for their efforts (out of 7 nominations), it's made the NFR of course, and it's been a seminal enough version to prevent anyone else from attempting another one (unlike the 1939 Of Mice And Men).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

We're pretty much forced to go with Fonda's speech about all the improbable places he'll manage to be at once from the end. Though make sure you watch the trailer up there as well, if only for the way it portrays the frantic demand for Steinbeck's book as a way of hyping the film.

Coming Up...

172. Twelve Monkeys

171. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

170. V For Vendetta

IMDB #174 How To Train Your Dragon

Hey, I reorganized the list, and what should appear around this spot but recent smash-sucess and word-of-mouth phenomenon How To Train Your Dragon! Considering it passed The Return Of The King and The Big Lebowski to become the film I've seen the most times in the theater, I just had to include it in the countdown.

And it did a rare thing climbing up onto the list after starting just below it- normally a film will pop up much higher than it should be (coughKick-Asscough), and then fall several spots (or off entirely). When a film starts rising months after it's released, you know it's a keeper.

The Key Players:

Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were veteran animators that both ended up at Disney, both contributing to Mulan in various roles before teaming up for 2002's Lilo & Stitch. They moved to Dreamworks Animation in 2007, and took over production on Dragon about halfway through the process.

There's a voice cast that includes Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, and notably Scotsmen Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson, but who really cares?

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The Story:

In the viking village of Berk, dragons raid the livestock and burn the houses almost daily- killing one is everything for your status, which is why awkward, teenage blacksmith's apprentice Hiccup is desperate to do so.

In a breathless opening attack (in which he voiceovers all the requisite back story while dragons swoop and swarm to keep our attention), he fires a homemade bola contraption at the rarest dragon of them all: a Night Fury, a deadly fast and powerful dragon no one's ever seen- and he actually hits it!

Though he also causes some mayhem when another dragon nearly eats him, leading to a scolding from his father Stoick, the village's brawny chieftan. No one believes that he brought down a night fury, but sure enough he finds the felled, jet black creature in the woods. Only he can't bring himself to kill it, no matter the dates he might get. He sets the dragon free, and soon befriends it, finding it confined to one pond because of a damaged tail.

Just as he learns to befriend them, his father puts him in training to kill dragons, leading to a great sequence where he excels at dragon fighting by rendering them harmless using tricks gleamed from his new best friend (like scratching under their chins, or dragons' distaste for spotted eel). He names the Night Fury 'Toothless' and even makes a new tail fin for him, and they learn to fly as a team.

But surely such a forbidden friendship can't last.

The Artistry:

Go here and here for reasons this film is awesome. In this space, I present a list instead:


1. A dragon clearly flies across the starlit sky during the opening Dreamworks logo.

2. Hiccup has a small scar on the right side of his chin, probably from an earlier blacksmith-apprenticing-related mishap.

3. It's implied in the film, but he's clearly an avid inventor: there are plans and scale models visible at his workbench for the bola-launcher, his various Toothless flying aids, and a machine that casts a net.

4. There's nothing extra at the very end of the credits (I thought it would be foolish if I'd seen it X number of times and missed an easter egg).

5. I am not the only person who saw it over and over, based on its return to the top of the box-office in its fifth week.

6. If you see it enough, the fact that America Ferrera (tv's "Ugly Betty") voices a pale, blonde Scandinavian character will cease to bother you.

7. A toy Night Fury dragon (though not, specifically, Toothless, which is dumb) costs $12.50 and is only sold at Wal-Mart.

8. If there is any dust on the projection lenses at the theater, imperfections in the screen, or smudges on your 3D glasses, you will notice them when Hiccup and Toothless fly through white clouds a couple of times and you will find it distracting.

9. A scene near the end, when Hiccup and Toothless are both falling into a wave of fire, reminds me a whole lot of the core detonation at the end of Star Trek.


After discovering his son's "betrayal," Stocik takes Toothless and uses him to find the dragons' nest- unbeknownst to him it's inhabited by a mountain-sized queen-bee-type dragon that intimidates the others into bringing food back- hence the raids. The behemoth is poised to destroy all of the tribe's warriors, until Hiccup arrives (riding the training dragons with his fellow classmates, who bought his "we don't have to kill them" message a lot faster) to save the day.

He and Toothless destroy the giant enemy of dragon and man alike- though it looks like Hiccup dies in the aftermath at first- turns out he just lost a foot, a rare acknowledgement of mortaility in the cartoon world, and he gets the adoration of the town and the girl of his dreams.

Berk learns to live in harmony with dragonkind, and I get to wait until 2013 for the sequel I might even be more stoked for than The Dark Knight.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Higher and higher, to paraphrase Jackie Wilson. Maybe the most fun I've ever had at the movies.

The Legacy:

Too immediate to qualify, but it is Dreamworks' new "franchise" with the ending of the Shreks just now.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

This whole 'test drive' sequence is probably my favorite two and a half minutes of any film this year (narrowly edging the hallway fight from Inception). Not that this YouTube video is anything like seeing it in 3D, of course.

Leftover Thoughts:

-No dragon-related puns in this entire post. That's not how I roll. I'm thinking of a weekly feature called "Pun Roundup" (or should the title itself be a pun? DECISIONS!) where I find the most egregious puns on movie titles out there.

-I cannot tell you how much I wish this would get an encore in theaters instead of Avatar.

Coming Up...

173. The Grapes Of Wrath

172. Twelve Monkeys

171. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

The Rest Of July In Actual Movie Taglines

Yeah, so I took a break. It happens. Now, the final two weeks of July in movie-slogan land! Coming soon, an All-Of-August tagline extravaganza!

Ramona and Beezus

Actual tagline: A Little Sister Goes A Long Way.

I spent many fruitless minutes trying to google this, but isn't the phrase "A little _____ goes a long way" rooted in cooking? Am I just making that up?

If I'm right, it makes this not-bad play on words a little unsettling.

Actual tagline: Who is Salt?

This tagline's simple question is entirely derailed by, y'know, the common household condiment and simple compound that we all know and love. The other taglines for the film simply personify it in less existential fashion: Salt Kills (this is true, kids, watch your sodium-intake levels). Don't Trust Salt. Okay, noted. Salt Must Die. That's too bad. We still have pepper, I guess. But wait- Salt Will Not Be Stopped. We're all doomed! We'll be shriveled to death like slugs!


Dinner For Schmucks

Actual tagline: Takes One To Know One.

Meh. At least it doesn't try to get across the semi-high-concept premise in one sentence, since it really doesn't matter all that much. But to me, there seems to be an entire brand of comedy encapsulated by baring your front teeth like Carell in the poster there that I disdain entirely.

Also just in case you might be tempted to see this because Steve Carell and Paul Rudd can actually be funny, the poster reminds us that it "From the director of Meet The Parents." Nice save, poster.

Charlie St. Cloud

Actual tagline: Life is for living

A cheeseball slogan for a seemingly cheeseball movie, shocking NOT based on a Nicholas Sparks novel.

But wait- just so you know, Wikipedia clunkily can SPOIL the fact that this is actually a film about Zac Effron seeing ghosts (and ghosts of people that are just mostly dead as well), though it is still very terrible I'm sure. Still, seeing dead people is more of a catch than just a dude being repressed. I wonder why none of the advertising even alluded to it?

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Actual tagline: Just like real spies... only furrier.

Remember this? No? It's already in the imdb bottom 100, but at least Jack McBrayer got some spending money.

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