The Nice Guys (2016)

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Director: Shane Black

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

116 mins. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

 

It’s a great feeling when an artist takes on a project so perfectly in his wheelhouse that it’s all you can think of. I’m a big fan of director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). My fandom is really from his writing, as I grew up watching Riggs & Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, a film written by Black. The franchise is very near and dear to my heart, partly due to the brilliant writing and realistic dialogue crafted by the writer. I also really enjoyed Black’s foray into the MCU with Iron Man 3, but when I heard he was heading back to the buddy-cop-ish genre he helped perfect, I was floored. Sure, our leads aren’t extremely likable guys, but it is their flaws that make them so fun to watch, and the decision to set The Nice Guys in the 1970s…well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Big Short) has been hired to find Misty Mountains, a porn star who actually died days earlier. His search for answers brings him into contact with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, The Water Diviner), who has been hired by one of the women Holland has been tailing. When the two discover something much more sinister is afoot, they join forces, and the unlikely pair, aided by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows), attempt to discover the connection between this dead porn star and a secretly made adult film featuring a now missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV’s The Leftovers, Palo Alto) in 1977 Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys feels like a movie that so perfectly encapsulates Shane Black’s storytelling style, but it might be his riskiest movie yet. He takes several chances on pushing the envelope of the viewer and most (but not all) really work. Black has a gift of dealing with somewhat taboo subjects like porn without glamorizing or debasing them. There is a level of respect given to his seedier characters as well that doesn’t treat them any differently than how he’d treat any others.

In Crowe and Gosling I found the most unlikely chemistry from two leads that I’m likely to find this year. Both come from different cinematic backgrounds and mesh so damn well. Crowe is seemingly directed at being the lead here but it is Gosling’s performance that shines, and the way the two characters interact with Angourie Rice, who plays the young yet mature Holly March that shows the depths of Black’s character development range. The trifecta of characters are tested by a cadre of interesting secondary characters played by Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar, Magic Mike XXL) and my personally proclaimed screen legend Keith David (Platoon, Cloud Atlas) in great supporting roles.

As a director, Shane Black is still fairly new, but he has tested the waters already and jumps right in, exploring some really interesting cinematography and musical choices that showcase the 1970s without throwing at you.

The flaws with the film? The editing is a little looser than it could be. Certain sequences should’ve been tightened a bit more to create a more cohesive pacing to the film. Black chooses to linger on some moments that I didn’t need him to linger on. There’s also a reveal at the end that I found both unsurprising and a little clichéd, something I didn’t expect to find here.

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The Nice Guys is a mostly fantastic romp through an often overdone time frame, but Shane Black chooses to populate his film with likably unlikable people and a few moments of genuine heart. It is the characters and their relationships with each other that drive this film to a pretty exciting conclusion. One can only hope that this has the making of a new franchise, and this reviewer would be more than happy to see the further adventures of The Nice Guys.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen The Nice Guys? What did you think? And what’s your favorite buddy pairing in film? Let me know!

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

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On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

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Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

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