THE NICE GUYS (2016)

May 29, 2016

nice guys Greetings again from the darkness. Shane Black sold his first screenplay at a very early age which led him to become something of a phenom with the success of that film, Lethal Weapon (1987). Later, he disappeared from Hollywood for about 10 years before resurfacing in 2005 by directing his own terrific script with the immensely entertaining Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (my favorite movie of that year), and then hitting big-budget time with his script for Iron Man 3. This time, Mr. Black (directing and co-writing with Anthony Bagarozzi) returns to the detective-farcical-comedy-mystery-action genre and even adds an element of being a 1970’s period piece.

Black’s rapid-fire wise-cracks were perfect fits for Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr, and for this project he’s working with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe … both fine actors, though neither known for their comedic work. What’s clear from the beginning of the film is that both Gosling and Crowe are fully committed to the material and their respective characters. Gosling plays a boozy Private Detective and single dad who just can’t quite get things right, while Crowe plays a hired-hand bruise type – think of his Bud White in L.A. Confidential (1997), only with an extra 50 pounds (or did he borrow Eddie Murphy’s Norbit fat suit?) and a lot of miles. These two damaged boys play off each other very well, and with Black’s dialogue and visual gags, the film provides a good number of laugh out loud moments … more silly than the sophomoric humor that’s so pervasive at multiplexes these days.

Of course for comedy to really click, there needs to be some type of story to follow. In the opening scene a young boy (Ty Simpkins) watches as a car slams through his house, culminating with a “model/actress” named Misty Mountains meeting a not-so-pleasant ending. We then learn that Gosling’s Holland has been hired to find Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ms. Mountains – with two significant exceptions. Simultaneously, Amelia has hired Crowe’s Jackson to convince Holland to stop searching for her. Soon enough, Holland and Jackson are working together on the “case” that mixes in the Auto industry (Big 3), Porn industry, Justice Department (government conspiracies), environmental protestors, Killer Bees, LA parties, LA smog, The Waltons (John Boy), The Rockford Files, Detroit, and Richard Nixon … all hot topics in this 1977 era.

As much as the story is needed, it really doesn’t much matter. This is a movie of moments … some of them featuring funny words, while others focus on pretty astute physical comedy. Gosling (and his stunt double) provides some pretty impressive gags as he is bounced and slammed around for most of the run time. The surprising heart of the film … and moral core … is Holland’s daughter Holly played by Angourie Rice. Despite the title, she is really the only “nice guy” in the whole film, and her good-hearted nature keeps us rooting for Gosling and Crowe, despite their flaws.

Other support work comes from Matt Bomer as a “John Boy” hit man, Keith David, Lois Smith, Yaya DaCosta (quick, name another Yaya), Beau Knapp (as the toothy Blueface), Jack Kilmer (Val’s son as a “projectionalist”), and Kim Basinger (re-teaming with her LA Confidential co-star, Crowe). Also playing a significant role are the mid-to-late 1970’s vehicles, the period music and houses and décor that puts us right in the moment, and the clothes and hairstyles that are sure to inspire a chuckle or two.

Fans of Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will surely find plenty of laughter here … despite one of the worst trailers in recent memory and even if the film is lacking the one thing it advertises – nice guys.

watch the trailer:

 

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JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

June 21, 2015

jurassic world Greetings again from the darkness. I’m guessing that most anyone who enjoys movies and is at least 30 years old, has vivid recollections of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park from1993 (based on the Michael Crichton novel). The iconic theme from John Williams, that initial awe-inspiring look at the dinosaurs grazing in the valley, the reminder that “objects are closer than they appear” in side mirrors, and the late Sir Richard Attenborough stating that he “spared no expense” in creating the park … all merged to became part of an incredibly moving and huge new movie theatre experience.  This latest (and fourth in the franchise) offers us “big”, but very little “new”, and unfortunately nothing very “moving” in its presentation.

Set two decades after the tragic and messy park trial run of that original movie, we find Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help) managing the financially-challenged theme park owned by Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi). Chris Pratt is training Velociraptors, while BD Wong is cooking up hybrid and genetically modified monsters such as Indominus Rex – designed to excite the audiences who have become bored with an old-fashioned T-Rex.

Even though this is technically a sequel, there are numerous similarities to the original film, and a fun parlor game consists of spotting all the homage’s and tributes sprinkled throughout. Two of my favorites are the “Winston’s” shop in the park, and the ViewMaster shot early on. These two are tips of the cap to Stan Winston and Ray Harryhausen … two giants in the world of special effects.

In what has become the Hollywood “go to” for evil-doers, the secret plan to militarize the dinosaurs is being carried out by Vincent D’Onofrio. Of course, this clashes with Pratt’s ideal life for “his” trainees. The mandatory kids-in-peril are played by Ty Simpkins (Insidious) and Nick Robinson. Much has been made of the absurdity of Ms. Howard’s numerous scenes of sprinting in high heels, and I found her overall demeanor to be every bit as exaggerated and unbelievable as her actions in heels. Jake Johnson (TV’s “New Girl) and Omar Sy (so wonderful in The Intouchables) were the most “real” characters, though neither was given much to do.

Much of what is written here is “in comparison” to the original. While this may not be fair, it is inescapable when dealing with such a respected and iconic film. Youngsters unfamiliar with the original film, are likely to find this one exciting – even terrifying at times – and that’s an important distinction to make. The Mosasaurus alone is worth the price of admission … and good for a few nightmares!  And who among us wouldn’t pay up for a Baby Triceratops ride in the Petting Zoo?

For the Jurassic Park stalwarts, the inconsistent (sometimes great, sometimes fake-looking) CGI will be as tough to overlook as Ms. Howard’s cartoon character. And yes, composer Michael Giacchino is new to the Jurassic series, and he is wise enough to work in the terrific and familiar John Williams theme in more than one scene.  However, none of the downsides will keep the true fans away, and there is an entire generation of kids who should have the chance to marvel at lifelike dinosaurs on the big screen courtesy of director Colin Trevorrow (previously known for his work on the indie gem Safety Not Guaranteed).

watch the trailer:

 

 


INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2 (2013)

September 22, 2013

insidious2 1 Greetings again from the darkness. This is a perfect example of why it’s acceptable for writing standards to be lowered (somewhat) for horror films. This isn’t science fiction or history. We are in the theatre for one simple reason … we want to be frightened (to jump in our seats). Two years after the first Insidious, director and co-writer James Wan, screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also appears as Specs) and producer Oren Peli, re-team for this sequel. It’s also just a few months after Mr. Wan’s very successful and well-made The Conjuring.

I enjoyed the first one.  There was a nice story that borrowed a bit from Poltergeist and some other horror classics. In a rare treat, Wan and Whannel actually tie in the sequel to the story from the first. Sure, some of it is a stretch with all of the parallel dimensions and multiple entities, but for the most part, it works and provides some nice thrills and chills.

insidious2 3 An especially nice surprise is the creative return of Lin Shaye as Elise, who stole all her scenes in the first entry. While the voice-over of her “younger” scenes was distracting, her screen presence helps hold the final act together. Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins and Barbara Hershey are back as the family Lambert … and this time we get more backstory on why the family seems unable to escape the demons.

Wan, Whannell and Peli have done a very nice job of rejuvenating the horror genre, while still including the traditional fun of active closets, abandoned hospitals, creaky doors and musty basements. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required, but if you are looking for some scary fun, you could do much worse than the two “Insidious” films.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the horror genre (especially haunted houses and possession) OR you enjoyed Insidious from a couple years ago.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting Oscar-caliber performances or an airtight script

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBbi4NeebAk


IRON MAN 3 (2013)

May 5, 2013

iron man1 Greetings again from the darkness. My initial reaction upon seeing this opening day was that some fanboys are not going to be happy. Of course, this happens every time Hollywood makes changes to the original comic book material in hopes of attracting massive box office numbers. While I recognize many of the “flaws”, I found this to be an interesting and entertaining turn on the Tony Stark/Iron Man series.

Shane Black was brought in to direct and help write the script. Mr. Black is best known for his crackling buddy dialogue in movies like Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also with Robert Downey Jr), but doesn’t have significant directorial experience (his most recent effort was KKBB 5 years ago). My belief has always been that what sets this franchise apart is Robert Downey Jr’s take on Tony Stark. A wiseiron man4-cracking billionaire playboy technology and mechanical genius searching for his true identity. Mr. Black re-focuses the story on Stark. In fact, he basically takes everything away and has him start over.

Regardless of the story, many line up for these movies to see the special effects and the bad guys. The special effects are everywhere … and loud … and massive. The trailer shows a clip of Stark’s Malibu mansion being destroyed, but the entire segment is quite impressive. The number of Iron Man suits seems unlimited at times and the big finale gave me the same feeling of a 4th of July fireworks display when it ends with so many clumps of fireworks being fired at once, that the impact is dulled. As for the bad guys, The Mandarin is one of the most fierce opponents faced by Iron Man in the comics. His portrayal here by Ben Kingsley is a blast to iron man2watch, but will undoubtedly upset the true fanboys. Guy Pearce plays Aldrich Killian, a demented mastermind, once snubbed by Stark – in a scene we witness in flashback.

My preference here is to focus on the fun elements since that’s clearly what Marvel and Black are shooting for. Jon Favreau directed the first two entries in the franchise and here takes on a slightly bigger acting role as head of security for the Stark corporation … and he provides some comic relief. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) finally gets to do more than roll her eyes, but she still has her damsel in distress moments. Don Cheadle returns as Col. Rhodes … or War Machine … now re-branded as Iron Patriot, but mostly he is just waiting for his own movie. Rebecca Hall has some screen time as a smart woman who is not so wise in her choosing of partners. No comment. Ty Simpkins plays Harley, a country boy who helps Stark in his time of need. James Badge Dale, Miguel Ferrer, William Sadler, and Dale Dickey all have strong moments, but therein lies what may be the film’s biggest weakness.

iron man3 It’s an incredibly impressive film to watch … giant visuals, really good actors and quick, witty dialogue. But there seems to be an overload of each of these things. Guy Pearce’s character is woefully underdeveloped. I so wanted more of his backstory and motivation. Same with Harley, the boy. Much could have been done with that. Miguel Ferrer, always a worthy opponent, must have had his best scenes left in editing. The scene with Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle and Robert Downey Jr, may have been the best in the movie simply because we got a real peak at each of these character’s personality. That’s way more fun that another explosion!

The film pummels us with action, probably has too much Tony Stark and too little Iron Man for the fanboys, throws in a hard-to-swallow sub-plot regarding Anxiety issues for Stark (thanks to his Avengers escapades), and underutilizes Guy Pearce in what could have been a world class evil doer. Still, despite all of that, it’s fun to watch and Robert Downey Jr will always be Iron Man!

*NOTE: the expected Stan Lee cameo occurs during the Beauty Contest scene (he plays a judge)

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of the Iron Man franchise … it delivers what we want and what we expect

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting something wildly different from the first two Iron Man movies – the tweaks are minor and mostly effective

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV8H7kszXqo


INSIDIOUS

April 9, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ahh, the lost art of horror films. I don’t mean slasher films or gore-fests. I mean real horror films. The Saw series falls into gore-fest and its collaborators, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannel, team up again for a more traditional horror film … one designed to scare the viewer, rather than just gross out society.  Of course, recommending a horror film is as risky as recommending a comedy.

The film opens as Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne move into a beautiful old house with their two young sons and infant daughter. By beautiful house, of course I mean terribly creepy with nooks and crannies, creaking floorboards, squeaky doors and an  attic designed by Satan. The mom (Byrne) quickly realizes things aren’t just right with this house, and as is customary in horror films, the dad finds some lame excuse (grading test papers??) to work late so the mom and kids can be haunted without him.

There are some bits and pieces from classic horror films like The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Amityville Horror and, yes, Saw (but not the gory stuff). Remarkably, this film is rated PG-13, which means the filmmakers really have to tell a story … and they do … well as much as can be hoped for in a fright film.  There are even touches of humor throughout.

The mom gets so desperate, she begs to move. They do. Guess what? Things aren’t better. So mother-in-law Barbara Hershey (from creepy Black Swan) says she knows someone. Next thing you know, two goof-balls (one is the film’s writer Whannel) who look like they should have their own cable show are in the house confirming something is definitely amiss. So they call in their boss. Unfortunately, the great Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist) passed away, so our expert is played by Lin Shayle. She does an effective job explaining astral projections and the next thing you know all hell has broken loose. Nice work lady.  Surely she requires payment upfront.

What makes the film work are the characters, the setting, the atmosphere and the really nice build-up of suspense and drama. Sure I think there were some details that could have been handled much better. For instance, the “other” brother looks like he is going to be a factor, but instead all of the attention goes to Ty Simpkins as Dalton. Simpkins was seen recently with Russell Crowe in The Next 3 Days. Also, more of the backstory with Hershey and Wilson’s childhood could have provided some twists.

Still, I will say if you are a fan of horror films, this one is worth seeing. If nothing else, you will absolutely love the opening credits with their haunted images and smoky font. It’s a bit of a fun challenge to find the “image” in each of the opening sequences. Just make sure to finish your popcorn before the movie starts. That stuff is too expensive to be tossing across the aisle when you JUMP!!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are always game for a real horror film … one that scares you with characters and atmosphere, rather than splatter.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting the next generation of Saw OR you can’t imagine an effective PG-13 horror film (in other words … you need gore).