Tag Archives: Russel Crowe

“THE NICE GUYS” Review (✫✫)

Not so nice. 

The fundamental mistake that Shane Black made with The Nice Guys was thinking that the frosting could count for the cake. The Nice Guys wants so badly to be the next buddy-cop film: the next Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour. In order to be that, however, it needs a story that is coherent and believable, neither of which are adjectives that can describe the plot for Nice Guys. If Shane Black wanted a more thorough crime-comedy thriller, he should have focused just as much on the story’s larger consequences as he did on character’s conversations.

Taking place in 1977 Los Angeles, The Nice Guys opens up on porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) getting killed in a car crash, where we get to see the features bare all (I’m talking about the actress, not the car). A few days later, enforcer Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) and private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) cross paths. March is looking for Misty’s porn-acting colleague, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), while Healy was hired to get March off of her trail. When their cases supposably line up in interest, these two wannabe detectives need to team up to find Amelia and save her from whatever threat is pursuing her.

Positives first. The dialogue is the best of the year so far. Seriously. Like Shane Black’s other credits, including Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys is a fast-paced film driven by witty, electric dialogue between its characters. Like any great comedy, the dialogue is key to this film’s comedic moments, and thanks to some great one-liner delivery from its leads, the jokes punch you in the laughing gut very hard. Take the following scene as an example, where March takes his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) to the last place that she should be going to: a Los Angeles night party.

Holly: Dad, there are whores here and stuff.

March: Don’t say “and stuff.” Just say, “Dad, there are whores here.”

Another moment I appreciated was one where March shows an ad to a friend featuring the two of their likenesses on it. “I made your head small because I know you’re sensitive about how big it is,” March quipped.

The dialogue and the interactions surrounding the characters are timely and humorous, believable in every second not just because of Crowe and Gosling, but also because of Rice, who displays a surprising amount of maturity for an actress at 14 years old. The problem, however, doesn’t lie in the dialogue or delivery. It lies in the screenplay, which throws our heroes through situations and conspiracies so unbelievable that convincing us about the existence of aliens is an easier task. There’s so many unraveled strings, so many stretched out threads that never really weave together fluidly for one larger story. In fact, Black tries to tie in a ridiculous underlying theme about climate change that is so forced into the narrative that it makes PETA look like a passive organization.

Then there’s the whole issue regarding the film’s promiscuous premise. I’ve been vocal about explicit content being featured uselessly in motion pictures before. The Nice Guys is no exception. Tell me, why exactly is this film focused so much on the porn industry? Why is it so intent on showing us clips of two people in the middle of intercourse, scantily clad woman flaunting their bare breasts to attending patrons, or when most horrifyingly, a bloody, beaten, and nude woman flies out of a car before she dies? What do any of these things accomplish? What do any of these things add to the plot that isn’t already there? Couldn’t you have replaced all of these porn stars with supermodels and essentially have the same structure? What reason was there to be so sex obsessed?   

The Nice Guys is not a bad picture: just a misguided one. Black has written his dialogue skillfully, and it’s one of those rare films where the characters are more fun than the action is. The areas it’s lacking in are in its flow, clarity, and basic decency, adding too many elements that distract us from the larger picture rather than entertain us by what’s already going on. If Black made his story simpler, he would have had a better movie, and stuff.   

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“MAN OF STEEL” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Look!  Up in the sky!  Its a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s the man of steel!

Now this is what I’m talking about.  Man Of Steel is in a special place as a reboot, a carefully calculated yet ambitious and affectionate movie giving a new energy and enthusiasm to a cherished American icon.  The last thing I wanted Man Of Steel to become was a remake of the original Superman movies, or even worse, a PG-13 version of Watchmen.  We have none of that here.  It isn’t coy, formulaic, or insincere: it’s a rare rebooted superhero remake that affectionately, genuinely works.

In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, Man Of Steel is a retelling of the story of Superman.  Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a young inhabitant of Smallville, Kansas who deals with a specific problem that other teengers his age doesn’t deal with: he has metahuman powers the likes of which cannot be from planet earth.  And young Clark isn’t from planet Earth either: but he doesn’t know that.  Not yet.

You see, Clark’s real name is Kal-El, and he comes from the planet Krypton, a planet that died due to its own selfishness and greed.  Scientist Jor-el (Russel Crowe), who is the father of Kal-El, knew of Krypton’s future demise, and planned ahead for it.  He embedded the code of Krypton’s DNA within his newborn son, Kal-El, and sent him to a faraway planet where he not be harmed from Krypton’s destruction: Planet Earth.

Unfortunately, his former ally and friend General Zod (Michael Shannon) is hellbent on preserving his species and building a new Krypton on planet Earth.  For this he needs Clark and his DNA to fuel his machine so that they can form a rebirthed Krypton upon the ashes of Earth’s surface.  Clark, fully knowing where he came from and the extent of his abilities, decides to defend the earth from Zod’s evil scheme and to become the symbol of hope for all of mankind to follow.

Fully aware of the dangers that came with a reboot for Superman, one of my initial worries for the film was that there would be too much action and not enough character investment to go with it.  That is the typical danger with superhero movies, after all: filmmakers are typically more interested in the action and visual effects than they are in emotion or in investment for their characters.

That is not what we have here.  Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight Trilogy) make here a wonderful marriage of something rare: great scripting with great action, and great directing.  What makes this movie so appealing is not the fact that it is an action movie: we’ve seen hundreds of movies before where action is just stacked on top of action, with no real cause or motivation to be concerned with any of it.

Man Of Steel is not that.  It is a rare thing: a movie in which the action is just as fleshed out as the character’s emotions are.  Whenever Clark isn’t flying, breaking the sound barrier, or punching some guy’s light’s out, the movie interjects a flashback of Clark’s childhood: we get a glimpse to a more personal portrait of Clark as a child and what it was like growing up struggling with these superhuman powers.  Perhaps in another movie it would be all fun and jokey, but here it is taken as seriously as the death of Bruce’s parents from the Batman series.  I was reminded of the last line Peter spoke during his ending monologue of the original Spider-man: “This power is my gift: my curse”.

The action, however, is utterly spectacular.  In the original Superman movies, Clark was resorted to lifting up school buses and stopping nuclear missiles as his highest challenges.  Not here.  Here the stakes are much higher, and we can tell that because of the level of destruction in this movie.  When Superman trades blows with another Kryptonian, destruction is sure to follow.  Crushed cars and overturned trains are a constant during these fight scenes.  Crumbling buildings and falling debris is to be expected.  There was even one terrifying moment where the Kryptonians used a gravity machine to tear apart the Earth’s infrastructure.  Did I mention the crumbling buildings?  Watching this level of destruction made me feel sorry for the mayor of Metropolis.  I’d hate to see the repair bill.

And lastly, I must pay respect to Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon.  Here, they are the perfect embodiment of themselves: good, or evil, human or Kryptonian. They don’t fight in an area of black-and-white: they fight in many shades of gray, because while we don’t want Clark to lose his home on planet Earth, we also understand and sympathize with Zod’s reasonings because he too lost his home.  There’s a very human reason why these men are fighting, and there’s no simplicity in their conflict: only complexion and brutal reality.

Before you ask me, no this does not replace the original “Superman” movies, and no, Cavill is not an adequate replacement for Christopher Reeve himself.  That is besides the point.  Man Of Steel did to the Superman franchise what The Amazing Spider-man did for Spider-man: it breathed a new life and conception to it, ensuring that when its all said and done, the Superman legacy will live on, and it will not die away because the actor of the former icon has passed through time.  Snyder has accomplished quite a feat here: he has paid tribute and honor to Reeve and the filmmakers of the original Superman by offering this exciting, emotional, and action-packed thrill ride that gives a new birth to the flying caped crusader.

PS: Admittedly, I saw this film in IMAX 3-D.  See it in IMAX, but don’t waste your money on the 3-D.  A fantastic movie doesn’t deserve a dim picture anyway.

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“LES MISERABLES” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

An opera of unexpectedly epic proportions.  

The first thing that crossed my mind while watching Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables is that this entire story is based around truth.  Not a true story, mind you, but rather the truth about 1800’s great Britain.  In that time period, the country was engulfed in sadness, desperation, and revolution.  The rich outmatched the poor.  The sick and the hungry dominated the streets.  Employment was scarce.  In times like these, misery seemed to inhabit every dark corner, and God was hard to find in the shrinking light.

Perhaps this is also a metaphor for today’s world, but that’s besides the point.  Les Miserables shocked me with its energy, its spirit, and its mature handling of its subject matter.  If the film industry was a railroad, and the train is Les Miserables, Tom Hooper is the conductor, and he’s taking me through a roller-coaster of emotions that range from shock, to sadness, to grief, to anger, to loss, to laughter, and ultimately, to happiness.  How was I supposed to know that I would begin the film with a sulk as low as Russell Crowe’s beard and end the film with a smile beaming as brightly as the sun?

This is the kind of film that Les Miserables is: the kind that finds the light shining through the cracks in the concrete.  Based on both the original novel by Victor Hugo and the subsequent musical by Claude Schonberg, Les Miserables follows the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convicted criminal in 1815, Great Britain who was put away nine years ago for stealing a loaf of bread.  After being released from prison and breaking parole, Javert (Russell Crowe) is tasked with finding him and imprisoning him once again.

But somewhere along the way, Jean’s hardened heart changes. He encounters Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a sick prostitute mother who greatly fears for what will become of her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). After hearing her dying wish pleading for Cosette’s safety, Jean vows to find Cosette and raise her in the world as if she were his own child.

This is an emotion-stirring epic that is vast and grand beyond all comprehension. Directed by Tom Hooper, Oscar-winner for 2010’s The King’s Speech, Les Miserables is a movie that juggles emotional tensity with visual splendor and grandeur, with Hooper’s dignified set pieces shining brightly all over the place in a broadly dignified fashion.  The opening sequence in itself is bold and spectacular, beginning deep in British seawaters and lifting itself out of the water to show a view of British prisoners pulling a ship into the bay.  With the visua effects, there is a great historical context within this picture, focusing attentively to many issues in 1800’s France, including criminal treatment, poverty, child neglect and the French revolution.

At the same time though, this movie thrives as an aesthetic piece, with these characters conveying their thoughts and emotions through their powerful performances and voices through the film.  Russell Crowe is upright and stoic as Javert, a man committed to law and order to the point where it is almost inhumane and cruel.  Anne Hathaway is affectionate and masterful as Fantine, and her character is one of the more tragic characterizations I’ve come across in recent cinema.

Hugh Jackman, however, steals the show as Jean Valjean. He is a man who has experienced cruelty and unfairness firsthand and has hardened his heart so much just so he can survive in this world. But he is also a man who has gone through a change, a man who experienced a kindness and love that no one has shown him for so long. Jackman is brilliant in the lead role, and a powerful spiritual connotation is told through his fantastic, emotional journey through the perilous land of France.

Admittedly, the film is at times overly expressive, and the music is also overwhelming to the story. The plain and simple fact is that there’s too much of it in the picture: 98% of all of the performances in the film involve singing and music, and only one or two lines are spoken through lines of actual dialogue in this movie. Won’t people get tired of hearing just relentless music numbers one after the other?

But the important thing is that Les Miserables has the emotion to match the dramatic tension that is heard through the music. As far as story and character goes, Les Miserables is unparalleled, and draws in its viewer through the drama and tragedies the characters are experiencing.  I’ll admit, balance is an issue, and people might have trouble staying interested in a two-and-a-half hour musical.

This isn’t just a musical though. This is an opera of unexpectedly epic proportions.

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