Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Reviews-Hangin' With The Homeboys, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Hanging With the Homeboys
directed by Joseph B. Vasquez.
Joseph B. Vasquez was a Latino/Black filmmaker from The Bronx.
This 1991 film travels similar ground as Diner, Swingers, American Graffiti and maybe even Cooley High.  It didn't make as big of a cultural (or financial??) splash as any of those movies did but it did feature some actors who would later become relatively well known and in Leguizamo's case arguably a star. It details the adventures of four black and brown New York men in their late teens/early twenties, who on a Friday night like any other go hangout together as they normally do. They're just looking to have some fun, enjoy each other's company and perhaps meet some interesting people of the opposite gender. However this night is for some reason different. Change is upon the young men though not all of them realize it. Just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong on this night.
All four men are either versions of Vasquez at some point in his life, interpretations of Vasquez as other people saw him or based in part on Vasquez's close friends. It's amazing rewatching this movie to realize how young these actors were at the time and how old I am now. Time flies. It's also a shame that Vasquez died of AIDS from drug addiction a few years after this film was released. Black and Hispanic American film would have been much richer had he survived. His death was also bitterly ironic as both of his parents were drug addicts who met in recovery programs.

In some aspects this film has a very theater like or stage feel as the four men get close to 90% of the film lines and the camera stays very tight on them throughout the movie. They are quite well developed characters. All four of them are different people but with enough complementary similarities to hang out together at least once a week. But their friendships undergo some strains and by the end of the movie at least two of the men are entering new stages of life.
The men are:
So what are we doing tonight?
Johnny (John Leguizamo): He is a quiet virginal kid who tends to put women on a pedestal. Johnny is underemployed at a supermarket. He works hard but it's obvious he's wasting time and ought to be doing better things. A kind co-worker notices this and tries to get Johnny interested in applying for a college scholarship. Time is running out on this scholarship. Johnny lacks confidence in himself-something that is obvious to just about anyone who talks to him for longer than five minutes. He has a lot to say if he gets the chance but his shyness and social ineptness can prevent him from acting on opportunity, with women and with life. Johnny is quite proud of his ethnic background and does not take kindly to any jokes or snide comments about Latinos, even those delivered by his buddies in seeming jest. Johnny is pretty intelligent despite his lack of romantic success or street smarts. Johnny will need to get over his sensitivity about things one way or another. He has a very strong sense of right and wrong even though he's confused about his place in the world.

Willie tries to run game
Willie (Doug E. Doug): Willie is unemployed and collecting welfare. He is convinced that the world is out to get him because he's black. He's also extremely holier than thou and probably blacker than thou as well. He's politically aware, or so he says. Much like Johnny, he tends to sabotage himself at every opportunity. He can work himself into a righteous rage about racism, capitalism and every other -ism but these speeches normally end up with him asking his friends for money. Put me down (hook me up) is his constant refrain to his friends. Unlike Johnny, Willie finds work beneath him. He's in a bit of a crisis because his friends, and more importantly from Willie's POV, the welfare agency, are all losing patience with Willie's excuses. Willie has a fear of failing which translates into a fear of trying.  However Willie feels justified in his paranoid attitude towards life as the four buddies do indeed run into some real bigotry during the night, including but not limited to racially hostile transit cops and Italian-American Manhattan nightclub bouncers who take one look at their skin tones and imperiously demand three (!) pieces of id before allowing them entry. Needless to say even though Johnny actually has three pieces of id neither he nor his buddies are permitted into the club. For all of his other faults, Willie is a good friend to Johnny and actually has some useful advice about women. 

Heyyyy, it's Vinny!!!
Fernando aka Vinny (Nestor Serrano): On the surface Fernando Vinny has ten times the confidence that Johnny and Willie have combined. He would probably be a pimp if he had the ambition. A good looking Lothario, unlike Johnny Vinny doesn't have the problem of putting women on pedestals. If he ever did do that it would only be so he could look up their skirts. Vinny treats women as they want to be treated or so he thinks. In any event despite his callous nature and ability to lie convincingly about everything he never ever ever lacks for female companionship. Women bring him food and money, all day every day. However "Vinny" is not his real name. His real name is Fernando. He chose Vinny because it sounds more Italian and helps him pick up more women, including those of Italian or other Caucasian descent. There may also be some self-hatred involved as he is Puerto Rican and may not like that very much. Johnny is not afraid to call out Vinny about this. Johnny is not ashamed of being Puerto Rican. Vinny also lacks a job but looks down on Willie. Vinny's not overly fond of Johnny either, finding him a downer. Vinny also has contempt for Johnny's inexperience with women. He openly questions if Johnny even knows what to do with a woman. Vinny has the ability to run game on a woman and in the very middle of doing so switch seamlessly to doing the same on a better looking woman that he notices. He has no shame about this. He thinks he has good reason for his behavior. Vinny has no fear of rejection or humiliation. He will endure a thousand no's to get to one yes. As far as Vinny is concerned it's his world. Everyone else is just living in it. He's what you might call an honest hypocrite.

My car, my rules fellas!
Tom (Mario Joyner): Tom is a struggling but debonair actor who makes ends meet as a telemarketer while he's working towards his big break. Like Vinny Tom has plenty of confidence though he is not anywhere near as extroverted, domineering and flashy as Vinny. Although Tom's paid acting work is rare and likely to remain so as black actors are not exactly in high demand, he generally stays positive and has had just enough success to have purchased a car, something his three buddies lack and which makes him in demand for their weekly get togethers. He also organizes and directs street theater on subways and elsewhere in order to keep his acting chops sharp. Tom is proud of doing the right thing regardless of whether it brings him success. He's faithful to his girlfriend. He's college educated and loves to tell everyone about the time he almost got a part in Rain Man. Though he's a college grad, he doesn't think college was worth it, perhaps in part because in his chosen field, and life in general, his race limits him more than a college degree helps him. Tom is starting to wonder if some of the people he hangs out with are more of a hindrance than a help.

This film has some comedic moments (Willie's idea of a pickup line is to tell a woman she's perpetrating a racial fraud, Vinny runs away from anything even hinting at critical thinking, Johnny and surprisingly Tom each discover they know less about women than they think) but comedy is not necessarily the main focus of this movie. It's really just a slice of life coming of age drama about four men from the South Bronx looking for some fun and either trying to ignore or forget about their current circumstances. There aren't really what I would consider hamfisted messages here. A few sneak through near the end but as mentioned it's unclear as to whether all of the men will make changes. There's no great reveals. Nobody gets shot though there are a few tense confrontations and fights. I think the title really didn't do this movie justice. I didn't quite love this movie but I certainly liked it a lot. You might as well. If you are familiar with NY or remember it before the Disneyfication of much of Manhattan, you might enjoy the scenery.


Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
directed by Guy Ritchie
I don't want to talk too much in detail about what actually happens in this movie except for some very broad outlines. There are a lot of twists, some of which a viewer might see coming, some of which he wouldn't. If you haven't seen this film I think you ought to do so. Although this was hardly the first British crime movie of which I was aware it was something that opened my eyes to the fact that crime and caper movies didn't necessarily have to come in an American flavor, with Italian-American, African-American or Hispanic-American styles. The world was full of crime stories. Some of these stories came complete with British accents. This is a classic film. Although comparisons to Tarantino and Scorsese are obvious, what with the voiceovers, freeze-frames, and heroes of dubious moralities, this 1998 film managed to stand on its own two feet and ought to be enjoyed in its own right. It is a film which combines organized crime, street hoodlums and a bit of comedy into a pretty satisfying story. It also introduced the actors Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham (actually childhood buddies) to the world.

Four small time criminals, wait criminal might be too harsh of a word although it's technically correct, let's say hustlers, decide to pool their mostly ill gotten revenues together in order to get one of them, Eddy (Nick Moran) into a card game run by the fearsome crime lord Harry The Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty). Harry runs just about all of the local gambling, extortion, porn, prostitution etc. The game buy in is 100,000 pounds. But Bacon (Jason Statham), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), and Tom (Jason Flemyng) are all relatively confident because Eddy is the best card shark that ever lived. I say "relatively confident" because Soap tends to be a worrywart.

Desperation is not pretty
Unfortunately for the group Harry knows all about Eddy's skills and has taken steps to neutralize them by cheating. His top bodyguard and scary second-in-command/enforcer Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean) helps Harry to cheat by revealing Eddy's cards to him. In short time Eddy has lost not only the initial 100,000 but another 400,000 that he chased trying to make up the loss. So at night's end he owes Harry 500,000. Harry also knows that Eddy didn't have all of the buy-in money on his own so in an effort to be both generous and sadistic he lets Eddy know that his friends are on the hook for the money as well. If they don't pay him back in full in one week, he will send Barry and one of his other vicious debt collectors Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) to start removing fingers and other body parts. McLean plays his part with suitable relish. He was actually a real life bare knuckles fighter and all around thug. He ran with some dangerous people in his day. McLean was described as a very hard man. He was once accused of murder and spent some time in prison. So the menace and testosterone increase dramatically when he's on screen. McLean died shortly before the film was released. The film was dedicated to his memory.
Do I look like I give a f***?
As an aside Vinnie Jones was also PERFECT for his role. He's a quiet, intimidating enforcer who gives off the feeling that he's just seething with barely constrained bloody urges. Evidently this role wasn't all that different from Jones' real life career as a soccer player who was quite in touch with his aggressive side. Big Chris is violent and nasty but he also has a very protective and nurturing nature. This flip side of his personality is ONLY expressed towards his son Little Chris (Peter McNicholl). Little Chris dresses just like his Daddy and idolizes him. They go on loan collections together. Don't swear around Little Chris. Big Chris doesn't like it. And God help you if you insult or lay hands on Little Chris in Big Chris' presence. Berserk doesn't even begin to describe the literal hell you will have unleashed on yourself.
Anyway there's history between Harry and Eddy's family. Eddy's father JD (Sting) is either a former gangster with bad blood towards Harry or a straight and narrow citizen who's not afraid of Harry. Either way he has a bar that Harry wants. JD bought it with money he won off Harry years ago. If JD will turn over the bar then his son will not be harmed or killed. Unfortunately for Eddy, his father takes the view that Eddy's problems aren't his problems. Eddy's grown.

Don't let the smooth taste fool you.
Fortuitously Eddy overhears his next door neighbors planning a heist of a drug dealer. Intrigued he arranges to have them taped and before long he knows all the details of the plan. With no other solution in sight and Barry getting eager to start chopping, Eddy and his friends decide to rob the robbers. However, these robbers, led by the brutal Dog (Frank Harper) won't exactly be easy to rob. The group of friends decide they will need guns. And they purchase some from some other shady characters. However these particular group of villains are also connected to Barry and Harry and sell something they weren't supposed to sell. Big Chris is sent to get it back. And the low level drug dealers, whose lack of security has attracted Dog's professional interest, work for Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) a drug supplier whose "cute cuddly facade", 70s style afro and slight frame fool some people into overlooking his TERRIFYINGLY dangerous and violent nature. He's not happy about having his drugs stolen. And then a comedy of errors, missing information and mistaken identity really kicks into high gear. It's like a classic Three's Company episode except that people get shot.
Do I need to start taking fingers? Eh???
Everyone is after the money, drugs and guns. The four friends are in way over their head and they know it. But they have no choice but to try to make the best out of increasingly bad situations.
I really enjoyed the dialogue in this movie. Literally EVERYONE gets a snappy one liner or in some cases, several. Often times the characters don't know something that the viewer knows all along while occasionally the characters know something the viewer didn't realize until later. The film occasionally jumps back in forth in time to mess with your expectations. Again, the writing and dialogue in this movie is just so much fun. Whether it's Rory informing someone that no he will not turn the television down or Soap musing that guns are for show but knives are for pros or Barry telling someone that if he doesn't want to be counting the fingers he doesn't have he had better do what Barry says or Bacon explaining to his friends that Harry once beat a man to death with the first object he could find, which happened to be a woman's sex toy, the wordplay in this movie is a lot of fun.
TRAILER   Do you Understand?
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