Tuesday’s Reviews – The Nice Guys (2016)

buddy comedy, film, film noir, films, fucking funny, review, Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Shane Black, thriller

So this review is only a week later than I planned. It’s also been a fair while since I watched the film and, after my family had some sad news today, I really don’t feel like writing this. To be honest, I don’t feel like doing much. But I’ll endeavour to do something. After all, this is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. I love Shane Black, film noir, and Ryan Gosling so it sounded fucking ideal. The only thing that stopped me? I think it’s my inability to remember whether it’s Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson that I find super annoying. I’m pretty sure it’s Mel Gibson on account of his recent years of craziness and anti-Semitic rants. But then there’s Les Mis to consider. He was hardly a suitable Javert and some of his “singing” was just awful. Still, Russell Crowe seems like a nice man so I think my negative opinions of him just stem from my inability to tell American actors over a certain age apart. There’s was a whole thing when I was younger about Richard Gere and Harrison Ford. I mean they were both grey haired men: how was I supposed to tell the difference? Anyway, I finally watched this film a week or so ago but my intense feelings after finishing Losing It meant that I moved back my scheduled post to this week. Let’s see if I can remember this.

The last time we were treated to a Shane Black movie it was Iron Man 3. For a director most associated with the classic action comedy type films it never seemed like the most obvious career move but, as it turned out, Iron Man 3 pretty much rocked. Well, if you’re willing to forgive the fact they all but ruined the Mandarin but the MCU have never really excelled with their villains. The main thing Black achieved in that film was to adequately make amends for the dismal Iron Man 2, which is, in my humble opinion, the worst film in Marvel’s cinematic history. Yes, I’d even put it after Thor: the Dark World. Turns out there isn’t anything Shane Black can’t do and there isn’t a film around that he can’t find an opportunity to buddy someone up for a few witty interactions.

Still, that was about 3 years ago now so it was high time for a return to form. A return that came thanks to Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Seriously, the story behind how The Nice Guys came to be made is almost a better story than the final film. Black and Anthony Bagarozzi started writing the script way back in 2001 but it never quite fell into place. After a few rewrites, including an attempt to revamp it for TV, the time setting was changed to the 1970s and everything started falling into place. The success of Iron Man 3 and having successfully bagged the film’s two leading stars, Black was finally able to make the film he had been working on for 13 years.

The Nice Guys follows two Los Angeles private eyes in the 1977 as they investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl. Their investigation uncovers connections to a recently deceased porn star and starts to reveal a host of political scandals. The two mismatched detectives first meet up when the teenager in question, Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), pays Jackon Healy (RussellCrowe) to intimidate the men following her into leaving her alone. One of those men, Holland March (Ryan Golsing) is actually being paid by the dead porn star, Misty Mountainss (Murielle Telio), aunt who believes her neice is actually alive. After Healy is attacked by two thugs looking for Amelia, tht two mismatched detectives end up pairing up in order to find her first.

With some help from March’s young daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), we are taken through the seedy underbelly of LA in the 1970s, which was already in a fairly dismal state thanks to the dangerous smog and the prevalence of the pornography industry. As Healy and March get closer to finding Amelia they are quickly put in the sights of hit man, John Boy (Matt Bomer). Can the two overcome their differences and find the girl before John Boy finds them?

The Nice Guys is an enjoyable and funny film that is firmly within the genre and style that Black is comfortable with. Gosling plays the alcohlic, ex-police officer who is still recovering from his wife’s death and trying to do right by his daughter but mostly failing. Crowe plays the tough enforcer who, still bitter from the divorce to his adulterous wife, uses violence to help people and make a quick buck. Neither know what they are getting in for and are unprepared for where it takes them. However, the pair somehow manage to pull together and get the job done. It’s the same kind of thing we’ve seen before but it is still just as enjoyable. Gosling and Crowe work supremely well together and the chemistry between the two detectives is what drives the story forward.

There are plenty of traditional Shane Blackisms and is full of the type of sharp and witty banter than fills all of his films. In terms of story, it’s hardly the most original but it’s undeniable that the 70s setting makes the film. It adds a new dimension to the narrative that a modern setting would have lacked. The Nice Guys is one of the most Shane Black films that Shane Black has ever made and, provided you’re a fan of his style, it’s hugely entertaining ride. I can sort of see why not everyone cared for it and can understand why it failed to make a huge noise upon it’s release. It’s very self-indulgent in a way that some of Black’s films are. However, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It has all you could want from this genre and has a cast that bounce of each other incredibly well. I can’t wait to see Black’s Predator sequel.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, New Year, rewriting, Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Shakespeare

It’s finally 2017 and, like everyone else in the world, I’m hoping this year will see me get my fucking act together. Although, I am well aware that I suck at keeping to resolutions and then feel shitty when I break them. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve vowed to stop eating chocolate for the year and then, a mere 8 hours into the new year, have been found stuffing my face on left over Christmas chocolate. So this year I’m trying to take some pressure off by not stopping myself doing things but encouraging myself to do stuff. Like read more, drink more water, and get more sleep. It’s my hope that turning resolutions into positives instead of negatives that I’ll be more likely to do them. Plus, they’re super vague so I don’t need to keep to any rigid promises.

Just Finished

  • The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utpoia by Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot (Kindle edition)

This was my final read of 2016 and another book to cross off my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. As my Kindle is only a Kindle Paperwhite I don’t have a colour display so the graphic novel wasn’t quite as good as it could have been but, having since seen it on my PC, I can say the artwork is incredible. It’s a great story based on the life of the French Revolutionary Louise Michel. It’s an incredibly story and, though obviously simplified, presented in a digestible and engaging manner. Part of me wishes there could have been more detail and context but I would certainly recommend it. 


Currently Reading

  • Losing It by Emma Rathbone
I fucking hate this book. There is nothing positive I have to say about it so far except that it’s an easy read. The only reason I haven’t given up is because it’s one from my 2016 list. The characters are awful and have no depth to them. The story is the most superficial bullshit I’ve ever read. It’s like an episode of Sex and the City but with less substance. I mean that show was at least trying, and failing, to promote feminism. This is just confirming the notion that not having sex as soon as possible is a crazy and debilitating move. There’s no balanced argument here. It feels like it was written by someone from Cosmopolitan. It’d be fucking toxic for young women to read.

Recently Purchased
  • What haven’t I bought this month
This has been quite a heavy book buying month so I’ve decided to just shove it all in one section to avoid a huge list of stuff. They’re mainly books from my 2016 list but there are a few oddities that I’ve either wanted to read for a while or that just took my fancy.

  1. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
    • A book I’ve wanted to read since January. It sounds like a glorious reworking of a problematic Shakespeare play.
  2. The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia by Mary and Bryan Talbot (Kindle edition)
    • See above.
  3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Kindle edition)
    • Already own a copy of this but it’s a massive hardback. I wanted to reread it before the series but feel a Kindle edition is easier to read.
  4. Nod by Adrian Barnes (Kindle edition and audible audiobook)
    • Bought on a whim but sounds pretty cool. Only a handful of people are able to sleep and those that do start having weird dreams. The others only have a few weeks before their bodies start to die.
  5. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (Kindle edition)
    • Something I’ve had in my peripheral vision for a while but only just bought it. It’s the love story between a woman and her ex-teacher, 30 years her senior. It sounds cute.
  6. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Kindle edition and audible audiobook)
    • This is one of those books people have been talking about forever so I decided, when it was on offer in the Kindle store, that it was time to get on board. 
  7. Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt 
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  8. Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  9. The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  10. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  11. Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff (Kindle edition)
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  12. I Am No One by Patrick Flanery (Kindle edition)
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
See I told you it was a lot. I’ve managed to find quite a few cheap copies of books I’ve wanted to read all year so I’ll hopefully cross them off my list soon. 

Recently Watched
  • The Nice Guys
I needed something to write about on Tuesday. I’ve only heard good things about this so it sounded ideal. See you soon.  

Man of Steel (2013)

Amy Adams, Christopher Nolan, comic book, DC, meh, origin story, reboot, review, Russell Crowe, Superman, Zack Snyder

I work with a guy who is a fairly huge fan of Superman so I have had to contend with his excitement concerning Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel since its production was announced. With the release of every new trailer I was met with a gushing report of how it was set to be the best film ever made and, in the past few weeks, have been continually asked when the inevitable Blu-Ray release is. This is all very well and good but I found it difficult to match his excitement. As a child I loved the Christopher Reeve films and was a fan of the ‘I’m sure it was cool in the 90s’ Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. However, as a superhero, I never really responded to Kal-El in the same way I did with other forces of good. The reason for this is simple: his parents. Clark, as an alien who receives strength from the Sun, has an immense advantage over other heroes. He isn’t making the same kind of sacrifice as people like Batman, Iron Man or Spider-Man. He also never seemed as easy to engage with as a character. He’s a bit too cheesy (yes I realise talking about cheesiness in terms of any superhero is somewhat ridiculous) in an All-American hero kind of way. It’s grating and, when he’s riding around on his insanely high horse, it’s difficult to see him let alone connect with him as a character. If I had to pick an almost indestructible, God-like alien for a friend it’d be Thor no question. He seems fun in a Nordic way, has a nifty hammer and is all beardy. Plus, his human form is a doctor whilst Clark Kent runs around playing a famous journalist. It’s all a bit too narcissistic for me. So by the time I finally got round to watching this supposed masterpiece I had my expectations set to ‘not stunned’.


There was a definite sense that Superman needed a revival that would breathe new life into the man in red and blue. There was room to bring Kal-El in line with the current trend for comic-book movies and have him grow up that little bit. If that meant roughening up the edges then director Zack Snyder and producer (and script contributor) Christopher Nolan weren’t going to take the softly softly approach. Nolan and Snyder aren’t exactly your typical film partnership and there is a sense that this film is battling with its two different attitudes. On the one hand it is the dark and moody tale of a man who must fight against his Kryptonian nature and his human sensibilities: who must pick between the destiny set-out for him by his dead biological father and the careful path his adoptive human father would have him follow. On the other, it is a fast, loud and brash tale of destruction and violence that would have even Michael Bay wondering “is this a bit much?”: in other words hard-core explosion porn. It is Nolan’s style that ends up suffering and the last hour or so ends up being mainly about Kal and his Kryptonian buddies destroying everything they come across.

To be quite honest, excessive lens flare aside, I have no real problem with the visuals. I love Snyder’s muted tones and can even get behind the weirdly mechanical and very Star Trekian landscape of Krypton. Then we have the spectacular action sequences which, had there not been so many needless examples, would have got my inner twelve year old boy jumping for joy. Cinematographer Amir Mokri does of good job of ensuring that, no matter how crazy things get, it is still fairly easy to keep track of what’s going on. It’s just a shame that throughout the 2.5 hour running time there is an underlying sense that the destruction on screen is just senseless and self-indulgent. Man of Steel was intended to make an impact and, whether or not it aids the plot, it definitely introduces itself in a way you can’t ignore. It also provides a good foundation for the future as the final twenty minutes or so gives us a glimpse at a fully-fledged Superman film and suggests that, provided more depth is given to the main characters, any sequels will only boost this franchise. 
Despite the reboot, the narrative isn’t too ‘out there’ and all of the key points to Superman’s origin are present and correct. The all too familiar tale begins on Krypton where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is helping his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) give birth to their first child Kal-El. Their planet is unstable and beyond redemption so Jor-El convinces his wife to send their newborn to a distant planet in the hope that he can help build a new and better Krypton. We quickly skip 33 years to find Clark taking on a series of false identities and moving on whenever he feels the need to expose his powers (whether that’s to save innocent people or just teach a bully a lesson). Through a series of flashbacks we see some of his childhood with his loving and protective Earth parents Jonathan (a sensitive and considered performance from Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane bringing as much emotion as possible to a limited role). Jonathan nervously awaits the day that the world finds out about his son and the terrible consequences that would have on his life. This has shaped the way Clark has grown up and has, as a result, shied away from making any kind of connections and resenting being unable to help people or dole out justice.
Thankfully he soon gets the chance to work out this deep-seated resentment when a worthwhile opponent enters his new life. General Zod, who we first meet attempting to stop baby Kal making his escape, has followed him to Earth in the attempt to create a new Krypton on top of the ashes of humanity. Whilst finally making his presence known to the wary Americans, Clark must decide whether his loyalties lie with his old life or his new. Although, even this conflict is fairly short-lived as, thanks to the ghostly appearances by the Hamlet Snr-esque, British Jor-El (seriously why is he British yet General Zod and co. are American?), it is very obvious that Kal isn’t going to let his new home world be destroyed before his very eyes. Even the potential fear he has about humanity’s reaction to him comes to nothing when he intimidates members of the government and the army simply by breaking apart his handcuffs. Unfortunately for Henry Cavill, all that is needed to play our hero is dashing good looks and a dimple in the middle of his square jaw. I can’t even tell is Cavill is a good actor or not because the role required him to do nothing but wear a tight-fitting, leather onsie.
With the removal of the Clark Kent/Superman divide in this reboot, there is even less of a human side to everyone’s favourite Kryptonian. With the Christopher Reeves films the Clark Kent side of his personality gave Kal-El a humble, infallible nature. It was Clark Kent who was the likeable one whilst Superman was just too good to be true. Getting rid of the split means that Kal-El is simply your better and that creates an inevitable gulf between you. Cavill is all business here and remains stiff and pretty unemotional throughout. In fact the only thing in this film that takes itself more seriously than Clark is the film itself. As is happens I counted one joke in the entire thing (where Zod throw Clark into a ‘no accidents in 106 days’ sign only for the 1 and 6 to fall off). Yes this brief visual gag made me chuckle but as statistics go it’s pretty bleak.
This wouldn’t matter so much if there was a distraction from the bleakness and suffering within the romance between Clark and confident journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The pair first meet in the arctic and somehow fall in love. I say somehow as I genuinely don’t know how the relationship developed: one minute Lane is tracking down Kent to expose him as the mysterious alien to them being in love. I get it on her part (he is beautiful) but I can only assume that Clark responds because Lois is the only human besides his parents that he spends more than a few minutes talking to. God knows there is no real chemistry between Cavill and Adams. Let’s face it, they’re no Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Although, ignoring this massive oversight, I was a fan of the new independent Lois Lane. She’s become more than the easily deceived and swooning Lois to an investigative reporter who easily works out Kal’s identity. Also, this gets rid of the annoying ‘do I love Clark or do I love Superman’ conflict that Lois is always finding herself in. Gone is the sassiness we are used to but instead of smart and cynical modern interpretation. It’s exactly what the original super-wife needed and deserved to be in this modern age.
I have seen a great deal of praise for Michael Shannon’s General Zod and it is simply perplexing.  I found Zod to be a rather flaccid and bland for a super villain. He doesn’t even manage to be more interesting than his second-in-command Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who, as it turns out, is both terrifying, physically intimidating, and offered much better dialogue than her superior officer. I don’t blame Shannon for this because his part as the character of Zod is pretty much relegated to two-dimensional bad guy status. Aside from a few hints that his heart is in the right place, the General is only ever called upon to yell clichéd extracts from the super-villain handbook or reel off ridiculously archaic speeches about revenge. Although he does get more chance to create a name for himself than the rest of the supporting cast. Take Lois’ boss at the Daily Planet Perry White (played by the reliable and earring-ed Laurence Fishburne). White exists only to occasionally warn Lois about her honesty before he and two of his colleagues become trapped as Zod’s magical destruction machine starts tearing shit up. This is obviously supposed to create an emotionally tense situation but we know so little of these characters (in the context of this film at least) to give a damn whether they live or die. There is a real sense that a lot of Man of Steel relies on the pre-existing knowledge of this universe to avoid any pesky explanations littering up the narrative.  That would mean less time to blow shit up after all.
Had Man of Steelcome out pre-Nolan then I have no doubt that I could perhaps understand those hailing is as the best comic book movie of all time. It’s not the worst film of its kind. Hell as a sci-fi film it has a fair few things for it: it’s huge, melodramatic and visually impressive. However, we have all come to expect a bit more from out superheroes. There isn’t the great characterisation witnessed in Iron Man, the wit and humour of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers or the gritty realism and intelligence of Nolan’s Batman-trilogy. Certainly Snyder’s film has super to spare. However, after the promises laid down by the title, I would have preferred to see a bit more of the man.

Les Misérables (2013)

Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, musical, review, Russell Crowe, stage, Tom Hooper, unintentionally funny

les-miserables-movie-poster1I like Les Misérables. I guess it’s the closest you’ll get to a manly musical. It’s all about violence and loyalty and extolls the Revolutionary values of liberté, égalité and fraternité. Anyone who doesn’t leave the theatre after watching without feeling the rousing desire to storm something is someone not worth thinking about. It is safe to say that I was excited about the film version. On paper, it sounded fantastic. A great cast of actors (and Amanda Seyfried) all of whom are known to be competent singers (and Russell Crowe). However, it ended up being slightly disappointing. Thanks to director Tom Hooper who is a director quite keen to stand out from the crowd and point out how clever he’s being. Who can forget the story about The King’s Speech when he delighted in shoving a camera in Colin Firth’s face on the first day of filming to capture his real-life nervousness? At least that had a purpose. The only reason for the awful use of close-up here is to continually point out how clever he was in recording the vocals live on set. It just ends up looking dodgy though.

Take the ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ scene. If you can take your eyes off Anne Hathaway’s outrageous faces you may notice the shoddy camera work on display. So something that was supposed to show the skill of the director and his cast just looks very lazy and badly put together. Heightened thanks to the CGI which, if you ask me, just looks too computerised and fake (this may sound odd but this kind of technology is getting so good that this just feels like this has taken us a few steps backwards). Then we have the all-important singing which is patchy. Even great singers like Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway end up seeming like they belong on the opening rounds of Britain’s Got Talent or something. Russell Crowe was surprisingly good in places but, for the most part, he wasn’t great. Unfortunately, there’s something of a lack of melody and tune about his performance. Oh and the less said about Amanda Seyfried’s screechy warbling the better.