The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

What do you think of when you hear the name Shane Black? If you’re in the know, as I pretend to be, you likely think of two or more clever-by-half characters exchanging shuriken-like witticisms against a backdrop of intrigue and mayhem.

When I heard Black’s name in conjunction with the those of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, my heart nearly skipped a beat. There’s no reason why The Nice Guys—with it’s talented writer/director, cast, and setup—shouldn’t have knocked it out of the park. Instead, the final product is a disappointing and painfully meandering reminder of what could have been.

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Afterschool: Never Forget

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In all of our lives, we must constantly deal with the omnipresent question of what is real and what is fake. Never has this clash of realities been more relevant than with the dawning of the internet. It’s a tool that presents us with unlimited power and knowledge, but also in that comes the herculean task of deciphering it all. In the hands of a young person, this can be both crushing and mind altering at times.

Antonio Campos in his 2008 film, Afterschool, presents us with this struggle in the form of his protagonist Robert, a young boy sent off by his family to a wealthy New England boarding school. During his time there he preoccupies himself with what he calls “little clips of things that seem real”. In his mundane life, he sees these videos of violence and sex as a portal through which he can glimpse something authentic. In many ways, they alter his young mind’s understanding of what is real in the first place.

While filming some stock footage in one of his school’s hallways for his video class he discovers something far realer than he could have ever expected when he discovers the two most popular girls in school as they suffer a horrible reaction to rat poison laced cocaine and die right in front of his eyes, one bleeding out in his very arms.

This tragedy obviously causes quite a few ripples throughout the school. As much as everyone is torn up about their deaths, what truly seems to bother everyone is how lost they are in actually understanding and dealing with these girl’s untimely demise. Most of all the reaction of the school and, in particular, its principle, Mr. Burke, deftly played by Michael Stuhlbarg, seems most perplexing and cold.

Mr. Burke recognizing Robert’s position in the school’s video class gives him the responsibility of making the memorial video for the girls, in the hopes that it would help him deal with their graphic deaths. Along with this the school pushes everyone to go see the school counselor and talk about how they feel, then in most cases get handed a prescription for whatever pill will handle the symptoms of their internal traumas without actually addressing it. Robert as the one to first find the girls is sent to speak to Mr. Virgil. He is obviously quite out of sorts with the whole ordeal. He talks about the videos and the violent porn he watches and how he finds a reality in them that’s fascinating. An authenticity that’s missing from his own life where, as Mr. Virgil tells him, the school had been told about the dead girl’s drug problem and did nothing to help them, in the interest of keeping their rich parent’s money and support going.

Once Robert finished putting the video together for the memorial, he shows it to Mr. Burke who asks, “Was that serious Robert? That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen”. The video wasn’t quite what the school had hoped for. With no music, shaky camera work, and the raw sense of reality that Robert has been searching for through countless Youtube searches. It didn’t try to provide the false sugar coated narrative the school hoped everyone would guzzle down. Instead of idolizing these girls with cheap condolences and ignoring the elephant in the room that they are responsible for allowing things to escalate so far into tragedy, Robert’s video portrayed the reality of that elephant and all its unsightly blemishes. The school and those around him wouldn’t stand for this, though. They aren’t interested in the truth they’re just interested in the most convenient reality where they print “Never Forget” all over the memorial stage and paint it as just another forgettable tragedy. Nothing to learn here, just move on, take another pill. Robert does and so does everyone else, just like Mr. Burke and Virgil reminds Robert, “It’s everyone’s fault” “It’s no one’s fault”, forget.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Famous Filmmaker : Forgotten Film | Christopher Nolan : Insomnia

This will be the first in a weekly series of articles aimed at unearthing the often great films of well known directors that are rarely discussed when considering their filmographies. While the goal of this series is to raise awareness and draw attention to these films, it will also serve as an opportunity to recommend some really terrific movies that have sadly been overlooked in recent years.

Insomnia

Fifteen minutes into Nolan’s third feature length film, it seems apparent why this is the least discussed movie in his filmography. Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) and the other guy are two LA detectives called up to the small town of Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the brutal murder of a 17 year old girl. The film has all the markings of a typical slow paced detective thriller, substituting the dim streets of Los Angeles for the well lit backdrop of the rural Northwest in summer, where there is daylight twenty four hours a day. However, while tamer than his later works, Insomnia still reflects Nolan’s penchant for twists within his films, as the film shifts focus as Dormer descends into madness and paranoia. Dormer is under review back in LA for potentially unsavory actions he took while conducting investigations back home, and matters are made worse when he is forced to cover up a murder he commits while pursuing his Alaskan suspect, all while losing night after night of sleep to the harsh, blinding Alaskan sunlight.

Nolan is often lauded for his keen visual style, and though traces of this can be seen in his previous films Memento and The Following, Insomnia is his first aesthetically stunning work. Due in no small part to Nolan’s career long cinematographer Wally Pfister, Insomnia is a spectacular in its visual coherence, as the camera work perfectly captures the mounting psychosis of Dormer as his sleeplessness drives him to the point of delusion. Pfister’s mark on the film is not limited to solidifying thematic ideas, the action scenes within Insomnia are tense, and kinetic, though one chase scene across a port used by Alaskan logging companies seems stand out as a definitive high point.

In addition to Insomnia being Nolan’s most cohesive film, as it avoids the unresolved, lofty ideas that have proved themselves to be an underlying issue in his more recent films, there are myriad reasons to give this film the viewing it deserves. The script is strong and tight, drawing heavily from the Norwegian Insomnia that inspired this fantastic remake. Though Pacino shines in the majority of the film, Insomnia has a stellar auxiliary cast, including Hilary Swank as a naive Alaskan cop, and Robin Williams delivers a terrific performance as a local crime writer who becomes intertwined with Dormer as his sanity and morality slip through his fingers. I am the first to say that I am not a huge Nolan fan, but Insomnia is by far my favorite entry in this generally beloved filmmakers admittedly impressive filmography, and definitely well worth your time.

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Lone Ranger: Rampant Cinemania

 

This Week: Gabriel Vogel, Joe Holley, Albert Cantu, and Andrew King

Show Notes:

Bad Santa: 0:26 – 2:20

Doubt: 2:20 – 3:55

Man on the Moon: 4:00 – 5:11

Despicable Me: 2 5:14 – 8:45

The Departed: 9:29 – 11:22

Regarding Last Week’s Absence/ The Heat: 11:23 – 15:57

The Lone Ranger Review: 15:57 – 41:09

The Trend of Clapping in Movies: 41:09 – 45:12

Pacific Rim/Closing Thoughts: 45:12 – 46:46

Netflix Movie of the Week #11: Coriolanus

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The Bard may not have spent much time playing Call of Duty, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the 2011 film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known-but-still-better-than-I-could-do works, Coriolanus. Coriolanus follows the rise and ultimate fall of Roman general Coriolanus (Fiennes) as he is betrayed and banished from his homeland. In anger, he turns to his sworn enemy, the Volscian general Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to help him avenge his punishment. The film, which has been adapted to modern times and is set in modern-day Rome, is director and star Ralph Fiennes’ first time in the director’s chair. Fiennes obviously set out to bring the story’s ever-present violence and betrayal to an audience that perhaps doesn’t connect with the more subtle elements of the Bard’s works.

And this film is certainly anything but subtle. The performances, production, and cinematography all work to heighten the tension, and I can safely say that it’s one of the more intensely-acted films I’ve seen in recent years. Though, from a pair of leading men best known as Lord Voldemort and Leonidas, what else could I expect? It’s been said that no actor could ever play Shakespeare’s words as well as they are written, but Fiennes and Butler certainly come pretty close. The cinematography looks great, and really lends itself to the intensity of the plot.

The film’s being set in the present-day definitely makes the incredibly complex Shakespearian verse clear and relatable. The only real fault I could find with this movie had to do with some plot points that seemed pretty out of place in the modern adaptation. It’s a little far-fetched to see soldiers dressed in full modern military gear running from room to room gunning down tactical targets like something out of a video game while calling each other “knaves.” In one scene, Coriolanus and Aufidius drop their weapons, have their men step back, and have themselves a good-old-fashioned knife fight, mono-a-mono.  Nitpicky hangups aside, Fiennes makes the plot flow smoothly and keeps things easy to follow.

Adapting a Shakespeare play to the modern era may seem, at this point, a tired cliché. Over the years, Hollywood has thrown at us dozens of less than phenomenal adaptations, perhaps most notably director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo & Juliet, starring a (shockingly) baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. But, although many of the problems that have plagued other modern-day adaptations can be found in Coriolanus, this particular adaptation manages to stand out for its intense cast and generally top-notch direction. It’s certainly worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Competing Reviews: The Great Gatsby

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The Good: By Joe Holley

There’s a reason Gatsby has become arguably the most iconic American tale of the last hundred years, and Baz Luhrmann has shown just how remarkably well the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most acclaimed novel still resonate in modern times. Luhrmann’s adaptation captures what is the story’s most essential element: the riotous, hysterical extravagance of an era. An especially strong turn from Leonardo DiCaprio as the idealistic Jay Gatsby underpins a refreshing take on a timeless classic.

Luhrmann’s directing was by no means perfect, but he takes some ambitious risks that added a fresh flavor to what might have otherwise been a stuffy meat-and-potatoes adaptation. I’ll admit to mixed feelings on some of the CGI included in the film (there’s no real reason to put text from the book on the screen as it’s being read), but visually Luhrmann highlighted the fast paced lifestyle of West Egg. Although many critics thought Luhrmann was “too present” in the movie, I found the new style refreshing and poignant. The soundtrack, which included original music by Jay-Z, brought a new edge to what some might consider a rather tired tale.

Performances overall were top notch. DiCaprio’s Gatsby managed to create the mixed sense of empathy and disconnection that makes his character so unique. Though it probably won’t win him the Oscar he so craves, DiCaprio is to be commended for his work here. Toby Maguire also played one of the best performances of his career, as narrator Nick Carraway. Maguire’s Carraway is just the right amount of whiny and idealistic to make him mesh with Gatsby, though at times his narration leaves something to be desired. Carey Mulligan plays a delightfully foolish Daisy, and Joel Edgerton’s turn as Tom Buchanan was spot on. Casting for Gatsby can’t be faulted.

The film stays remarkably true to the novel, including all the major symbols and even using much of the novel’s exact wording. Doing so demonstrates Luhrmann’s respect for the novel, and Fitzgerald’s classic story. The unique visual style, coupled with some very strong performances, make Gatsby a must-watch for this year.

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

The Bad….

Eh, let’s just skip right to the Ugly, because there isn’t much else here: By Gabriel Vogel

To put it simply, I detest this movie. While I can agree with you that The Great Gatsby is a remarkable and essentially american tale, there is simply no world in which I can agree that Baz Luhrmann’s direction does anything but obstruct that greatness. I guess I can agree that he marks the film his own particular sense of “style”, but I have trouble calling that “style” anything but a blight on an otherwise compelling work. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that everything in the film that Luhrmann adds greatly reduces it’s effectiveness. Luhrmann tries to establish a sense of absurd excess in the film by giving us sweeping CGI shots of everything and playing Kanye West, but instead his attempt comes off as fake and obnoxious. He throws his patently annoying style in our faces every other minute and ends up just obstructing everything that made the original novel great. In fact, the only bearable moments of the film were when Luhrmann just let the actors deliver the story unperturbed.

Now some of the problems here are less Luhrmann’s fault and more just problems that come with adapting something like Gatsby. For example, his handling of Nick Carraway. the Nick Carraway of the novel is a simple character just content to watch for the most part, but as we go through the book we gain a sort of connection to him and begin to see him as a real character through his constant narration. He’s the singular lens through which we see the content of the novel. We hear what he sees and what he thinks and therefore we see who he is. Luhrmann attempts to capture this characterization by giving Nick’s narration throughout the film, but this only serves as a pale imitation of what we receive throughout the novel. Film is just not the kind of medium were we can effectively build a character through techniques like that. Unfortunately, he never realized that and tried to emulating Nick instead of adapting Nick, and in turn we ended up with a piece of cardboard instead of a character.

While Luhrmann certainly botches his adaptation quite thoroughly, even he’s unable to completely destroy every compelling aspect of this great American novel. Blessedly, every now and then the source material shines through the muck of shit that some people call style and we’re able to see a glimpse of something interesting, but it simply isn’t enough to make this film worth even a second of your time. Please, if you feel like revisiting the story or visiting it for the first time just read the book. It’s fantastic, and if you’re really jonesing for a film adaptation than just watch this trailer instead (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2N1f0z5zwA&feature=youtu.be). You’re welcome.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Short Film Sunday #2: Six Shooter

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Hello, one and all. Today I bring you lovely people a short film called Six Shooter from the Irish master of dark comedy, Martin McDonagh. It tells the story of Donnelly, played by the incredible Brendan Gleeson, and his train ride to Dublin the day after learning of his wife’s tragic death. On the train he meets an amusing asshole of a kid, Rúaidhrí Conroy, who’s mother just died the previous day and two grieving parents who’ve just lost their infant to a cot death.

From here the film devolves into the usual incredibly dark yet hilarious tragedy that we’ve come to expect from a Martin McDonagh film. However, this movie in many way is about much more than a macabre train ride to Dublin. It’s about death and how we deal with it in a godless world. Donnelly, a man who’s just lost his wife, is completely at a loss as to how he should react to the death around him. Should he morn loudly and passionately like the young married couple do, or should he detach himself from it with cool humor like the boy does? It’s a difficult question to attack, but McDonagh does it with aplomb. He’s able to address the question with biting dark humor without losing the emotional connection to his characters and their central tragedy. This is in no small part due to the brilliant performances by both Brendan Gleeson, who will later co-star in In Bruges, and Rúaidhrí Conroy who bring a tremendous emotional current through out every minutes of the film. It’s really a beautiful film that achieves so much and acts as a great precursor to the incredible films McDonagh will later deliver. Please check it out above.

Rating: 5 out of 5