Friday, May 20, 2016

The Nice Guys - Review

The Nice Guys
I have always loved buddy movies. I love them especially when the “buddies” in the buddy movie exhibited an immediate (not contrived) natural on screen chemistry connection with one another………a “reportiere” if you will. And whether the two principle lead characters have a mutual agenda or not, are in conflict one another, have similar personalities or not, or are written in either the comedic or dramatic formats or a bit of both, I love the infusion of two seemingly unlikely pairing of actors who not only work well with each other, they do so fabulously well.

The list?  Well, Miami Vice, 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, Thelma and Louise, Rush Hour (the first one only), Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Bad Boys, Men in Black, Die Hard With A Vengeance and Training Day are just to name a few of legendary buddy films – TV shows that have achieved notoriety, success and lasting fame cutting across the full spectrums of entertainment. So now we see its actors Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling turn at the buddy pairing wheel in their latest effort called “The Nice Guys”.
PLOT: Directed by Shane Black. WHO? Oh you remember him from Arnold   Schwarzenegger’s iconic science fiction film “Predator”. The then actor Shane Black played “Rick” the U.S. Army Special Forces  team member who caught the swinging log to his chest and ribs saying………..”I can make it”. Yeah that Shane who as Director now tells his “Nice Guys” story of two slightly down on their luck guys working at opposite  ends of the private investigation spectrum.

Specifically, we find our first “Nice Guy” named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) who is a down-on-his-luck private eye in 1977 Los Angeles. He is a smart, charming and a loving father who is also somewhat dysfunctional and seemingly always in an alcoholic boozed up state who will circumvent his morals for making a buck. The second “Nice Guy” is named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) who is simply a hired goon enforcer who hurts people for a living using brass-knuckle punches to scare off predators and intimidate his targets. Fate of course initially turns for them to meet (not ideally of course) in an unlikely partnering effort to find a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) who mysteriously disappears. Healy and March soon learn in excruciating ways that other dangerous people are also looking for Amelia. Their investigation leads to some dark places as anyone else who gets involved in the case seems to wind up dead.
MY REVIEW:  “The Nice Guys” is at times smart, slick, sexy and funny. There are also other times it’s just ……………. “Eh”. Meaning? Well, for a movie about the late ’70s that capture exceptionally well all of the atmospherics of  the music, psychedelic clothes, drugs usage, culture and of course debauchery sex along with a cinematography that illuminates L.A. with that nostalgic fluorescent brilliant laid back glow, “The Nice Guys” still was at times a bit dull………… and there.
Looking back I think it just comes down to the basic plot question; is this enough of a reason for these two guys to be together fighting their way through all of this perpetual aggression both at times at each other and at times at them? My answer, didn’t always seem like it - didn’t always feel like it.
“The Nice Guys” is never short of endless energy, male macho bravado or sexual magnetism. This film has an R&B group “Commodores “Brick House” truck load of it for its 1:58 minutes running time. It also has some moments that were just out right un-expectantly hilarious. There were also times it wasn’t funny even when I was subliminally being told……………”Hey Lester, yeah you with the black sweats on and the soda you snuck into the theater from home, you suppose to laugh now dude, I wrote that especially for you to be funny and make you laugh”…………….Occasionally and pointlessly that and other scenes weren’t funny – I just smiled instead.  
“The Nice Guys” is a bit messy and convolutedly at times, but only here and there. A bit dumb and stupid, but only here and there. And at times clever and sexy, but again only here and there.
There’s an old adage that states ‘”nice guys always finish last”. Well Gosling and Crowe prove that is not true, they do have an on screen appeal that is glaringly obvious, so with that I am glad I watched them in “The Nice Guys”. But should you choose to see it as well, just know before going into the theater the plot and the execution of that plot will not be requiring you to use any of your brain synapsis at any point along the way to get to the film’s finish line.
3 Stars

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Money Monster - Review

Money Monster

“Money Monster”, in what has to be the oddest title for a film in recent memory, we get mega stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts reunited for the first time since their 2001 stylishly slick “Ocean Eleven” collaboration, along with Jack O'Connell (Unbroken), Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito and Caitriona Balfe  under the directorial guidance of 2 time Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster in a news worthy, modern and high stakes story of a common working man going after a corporate Wall Street big shot.

Told in a 24 hour real time frame work, we find from the onset George Clooney in the role of a popular cable TV star named ‘Lee Gates” who is the host of a daily popular financial cable show. His personality is a personality mix of the hyper enthusiastic all things are rosy CNBC’s Jim Cramer and a soap opera-rish brash, bombastic and smug persona similar to WWE promotor - owner Vince McMahon. He’s a Barnum - Bailey TV salesman for the modern working man investor.

One morning while going through the paces of selling his daily stock recommendations under the control of his trusted and long time studio producer “Patty Fenn” played by Julia Roberts, a mysterious irate investor named “Kyle” (O’Connell”) sneaks into the studio with a gun and explosives to take Gates, his crew, and his ace producer Fenn all hostage on live TV. What happens next is the unfolding of a story of Kyle wanting an explanation of how he lost his $60,000 savings on what Lee had previously guaranteed was a stock tip that was better than “any savings account”. But it wasn’t safe and Kyle wants all those involved with both the financial show and the company he invested in named “IBIS” to tell him the truth of what appears to be tangle web of big money lies.

MY REVIEW: “Money Monster” has a lot of quick and witty banter as we are invited to go down a well-intended path of something meaningful. The only real question is do we enjoy – do we learn from the journey with its equal execution mix of drama and humor to a basic truth we already know. And if the plot premise wasn’t enough of a clue to what we will discover, we can also tell from just looking at the obviously deliberate casting of a smarmy and less than handsome IBIS CEO “Walt Camby”. We know he has done something crooked to rig and steal the millions of his investor’s money, the only real question is what? Thus the viewer is left with how much melodramatic jousting, banter, emotional seesawing, contentious wordplay, bickering and guns pointing do we you have to listen to get to a hopefully substantive climatic dramatic conclusion during the films 1:38 minutes running time.

“Money Monster” does have some admirable moments, mostly when it focuses on Kyle’s moral and emotional pleas of being understood about his desperation to finding the truth of how he lost his money. Essentially he is the macro embodiment of real life people like you and me who believe wealthy people always seem to get all the breaks in life while real working people seemingly just always get broken in two. But the problem I had with “Money Monster” is it’s narrative as Director Foster treats the subject matter of corporate greed purely as something for us to be comfortably entertained by rather than to be dealt with in a strong probative analysis of how white collar crimes are real and very destructive to decent people. We get scenes that try make us feel something raw and unnerving that ultimately only pander by the use of procedurally smart cliché speeches that reveal nothing that we don’t already know or feel. “Money Monster” offers no extraordinary reflective crescendo on a modern society, financial markets or Wall Street. Instead we just get a by the book conclusion to a movie about Wall Street money and Wall Street lies.

While MM is a very streamline commercial movie in its storytelling, it is crisp in its pacing, never boring and is worth seeing. And while you will not have any lasting memorable moments from the film, you will be entertained.

As performances goes, Julia Roberts shines as “Patty Fenn”. She is really engaging and dynamic in her role as the inside the ring referee aka “Producer” to the on air hostage situation delivering solid work from beginning to the very end. Also Clooney gets the most out of his character though his evolution from on air slim ball, to victim, to eventually the honest conciliator - arbitrator for a greater good.

“Money Monster” breaks no new ground, but it is a solid reminder of how some people have lost faith, lost trust and lost confidence in institutions and society as a whole, where one had only to be a person who is decent, honest and hard working to be assured a virtuous path to achieving the American Dream. Now the narrative suggests that the more profitable virtue to embody for personal prosperity and a better life is the currency of telling the better lie while using someone else’s money.

3 -1/4 Stars

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl and Tom Holland we venture again to theaters to see the third installment of the Marvel Comic book franchise titled “Captain America: Civil War”

PLOT: We find the principle hero “Captain America” aka Steve Rogers leading a newly formed team of Avengers in their pursuit to safeguard all of humanity. But after an international incident involving the Avengers that resulted in large human collateral damage, world political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by an international governing body to oversee and direct the Avengers team. The restrictions fractures the Avengers into different camps with one led by Steve Rogers who desires his Avengers team to remain free to defend humanity without government interference and the other group who are following Tony Stark’s aka “Iron Man” decision to support government oversight and accountability.

MY REVIEW: Directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo “CA: CW” delivers very, very satisfying entertainment as we watch our Marvel heroes battle both villains and their personal mistrust with each other. But more importantly, its rare when you see an action comic film where the Director(s) takes the time to exhibit real emotional DNA inside their characters comparably to their particularity super strengths. In this "CA:CW", all of the Avengers seem more like real life human beings than just plain comic book heroes.  We get to see their emotional landscapes as they reflect on inner personal thoughts, motivations, fears, and friendships with genuine well written intelligent conversations.

Its other strength is more visual and is rooted in the well-orchestrated action scenes. Clearly influenced by previous recent films you will see the Russo brothers shoot all of their close quarters action fight sequences very similar to the look that is indicative of the Matt Damon Jason Bourne films with its close camera range hand to hand combat and frequent editing style,  while the multiple chase scenes are eerily similar to last year’s “Mad Max; Fury Road” with its very stylized breakneck speed on wheels.

There is nothing super memorable in this movie nor does it offer up any real surprises per se, but this version of Captain America still works exceptionally well because the casting of this large ensemble of fine actors work so well together. You mix in a solid plot and subplots along with the right amount of well-timed humor and witty banter (there is a short but funny scene involving a VW Beetle) “CA: CW” never falters once during its 2:30 minutes running time.

So, I say T-minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five (main engines start), four, three, two, one and you will have lift off to the opening summer movie season with high energy, smart and thrilling execution in the heartfelt “Captain America’s Civil War on the Bourne Supremacy Fury Road”.

3 - 3/4 Stars