Movie Blind Spots: The Untouchables

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Up until last Saturday afternoon I had never seen ‘The Untouchables’. It was a significant absence from the gangster movies of the eighties and nineties that I’d seen, the Godfather trilogy, ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘Scarface’,  ‘Carlito’s Way’, ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas’. For a working class lad watching these films were rites of passage. Everybody had the black and white ‘Scarface’ poster on their bedroom walls, we all did Joe Pesci impressions and when out on the town we strutted around looking for Michelle Pfeiffer and that white gold.

One of the first things that grabbed my attention was how the violence in ‘The Untouchables’ seemed cartoonish and unreal compared to say what we’ve seen in recent years in HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’. There was just something unreal about the way the bodies fell, particularly in the unintentionally cringey finale as Eliot Ness tries to stop a pram falling down a flight of stairs in the middle of a shootout.

I don’t know something else seemed amiss as the minutes ticked by, the performances seem out of sync, from what I’d heard about the movie De Niro is superb, but looking at his career as a whole just off his peak. What I saw was De Niro as fat and satisfied and not in the method sense of packing on pounds for dramatic effect. He presents Al Capone like Danny De Vito as The Penguin. He’s a villain in a superhero movie, grandiose, incompetent and over the top. Costner is a bit empty, De Palma seems in love with his face and Costner just doesn’t seem all that moved emotionally, even when his family are at risk from mob reprisals. Contrast this to the charismatic performances from Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone, the comedy of Charles Martin Smith and the electricity of Andy Garcia. The headliners bluff and blunder whilst the supporting cast are mind-blowing.

‘The Untouchables’ is comic book take on the myth of Eliot Ness. This is a film with hardly any grey areas during a time that was one giant grey area. Despite the law and justice system being corrupt and everything being morally ambiguous ‘The Untouchables’ basically boils down to goodies vs. baddies, Ness vs. Capone.

I don’t want to beat a classic movie down, because it’s a fun, engrossing watch, and the film looks great. The costumes, the locations (particularly the border scene) but the film’s biggest flaw is that it seems to add authentic grit. Costner’s Ness is a damp squib of a man, a square. He almost resembles Josh Brolin’s character in ‘Gangster Squad’, a pale descendent of ‘The Untouchables’. Is that the legacy of the movie, that it spawned such poor imitations? ‘The Untouchables’ perhaps hasn’t aged well, or maybe I’ve fallen out of love with the Gangster movie genre.

– RJW

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Big Fat Gypsy Gangster (2011)

Written by Maria Grover and Ricky Grover

I return to the fold with another bargain purchased from Poundland – ‘Big Fat Gypsy Gangster’. The film follows Bulla, a gypsy bank robber who has just been released from Belmarsh prison. Shot in a vague mockumentary style, an American filmmaker aims to delve into the British Criminal Underworld by trailing the newly free Bulla. Opportunistically the title cashes in on the fascination that has developed over the last couple of years with Gypsy culture.

The plot is very very loose, as Joshua Lou Friedmann (as himself) and his nameless, characterless camera crew follow Bulla (Ricky Grover) and his henchmen as they attempt to gain revenge against the man who put him behind the bars by screwing him over, the bent cop Mason, and this is literal because he is a homosexual.

Grover’s Bulla is a loutish psychopath who uses violence as his main method of solving problems. Grover displays Bulla’s aggressive side through shouting a lot and generally throwing his considerable weight around. Then there are these snappy black and white vignettes which show Bulla dropping some wisdom with a stocking over his head, because he’s madder than a bag of spanners.

Ricky Grover in his role as director has evidently hoped to create his own ‘Spinal Tap’, unfortunately despite featuring talented actors such as Peter Capaldi and Steven Berkoff the film aims for cheap laughs by relying toilet humour, and playing on stereotypes. This might cater to a certain crowd, but it will ultimately kill any chance of the film gaining cult status. The writing relies on catchphrases only morons will repeat.

There are a number of below bar performances and weak cameos, Omid Djalili contributes his tired Iranian schtick, Tulisa demonstrates that she can act even worse than she can perform fellatio, and psychic Derek Acorah continues along his merry path of self-mockery. Laila Morse’s sweary matriarch Aunt Queenie is especially tiresome, given she played a censored version of the same type of character when she was on ‘Eastenders’.

The gypsy element isn’t acknowledged until around halfway through the film when Bulla goes to a caravan site to meet his cousin, and then it rips heavily from Guy Ritchie’s ‘Snatch’. Bulla earns a bit of money on the side by indulging in some bare knuckle fisticuffs with an assortment of poorly matched opponents, only viewers are faced with Bulla’s wobbling jelly belly instead of Brad Pitt’s chiselled torso.

This film fits in the ‘Shit for Cunts’ category, the lowest common denominator. There are hints of potential, when Bulla and his crew hijack a tourist bus, the chaotic scene raises a few genuine laughs, but by Christ this is an isolated moment within the films ninety minutes. I have no idea what went wrong, whether it be the writing, or the strange edit which at times seems to have pasted together scenes willy nilly in between the introduction of Bulla and the redemptive all’s well that ends well finale.

– RJW

2/10

Big Fat Gypsy Gangster on IMDB
Buy Big Fat Gypsy Gangster [DVD]