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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Noah Review

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If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good bit of controversy. I don’t necessarily to get involved personally, but watching the vitriol spew forth from both sides is about as sporting as I tend to get these days. And, if there’s a sure fire way to get Bible thumpers up in arms, it’s to make an adaptation of a Bible story. A lot of the controversy stems from the fact that Noah isn’t a beat-for-beat adaptation of the Genesis story. Contrary to popular belief, Noah is not based in biblical canon but is rooted much more firmly in apocryphal texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch. So, if anyone tells you that Noah is inherently a bad film because it isn’t right-wing retread of a watered-down Sunday school story, I want you do me a favor and smack them so hard that the front of their head becomes the back of their head.

I admit that I had been looking forward to seeing Noah for a long time, and the fact that Darren Aronofsky declined to direct both The Wolverine and Robocop in favor of focusing on Noah at the very least reassured me that he was passionate about what can only be described as his pet project. Aronofsky’s signature bleakness of tone is here in abundance and the omnipresent sense of tension and dread works exceedingly well within the context of the story. The film is expertly paced as the overarching plot is smartly broken into more manageable and intimate pieces, allowing the audience to become attached to the characters- an absolute necessity for the sublimely engaging third act.

Noah stars Russell Crowe as the titular protagonist along with Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and also features a cameo by Sir Anthony Hopkins as wise man Methuselah and Ray Winstone as the evil Tubal-cain. Crowe and Winstone in particular work beautifully against one another as the hero/nemesis dichotomy is explored to its potential, culminating in a hand to hand showdown between the two. The thing I love about the characters is that they’re both relatively reasonable (in the beginning, anyway) and Tubal-cain actually has a coherent motive rather than being cartoonishly evil for no other reason than the story necessitating the presence of a villain. Crowe’s Noah, likewise, is a complex and tragic character burdened with the survival of humanity. Noah might be Crowe’s best performance to date, in fact, and his portrayal of a man crushed by the burden and guilt and responsibility is incredibly moving, to say the least.

Noah is an action movie, but it’s the good kind of action movie where the action exists to serve the plot as opposed to the other way around. Too often we have big budget productions that are essentially fireworks displays threaded through a vaguely coherent narrative, but in Noah, there always a clear sense of purpose for the fight scenes and the audience knows exactly what the charters are trying to accomplish in each of the battle sequences. Not a single shot is wasted either. Aronofsky knows exactly when to show off his expensive set-pieces and when to show restraint, culminating in a tight and wonderfully focused story.

The plot is fairly straight forward but cleverly waits until the third act to show it’s trump card, so to speak. Once Noah’s family is on the ark and out at sea, things begin to spiral out of control quickly. We begin to wonder who the real antagonist actually is, and that feeling of powerlessness and being trapped with something that passively, malevolently hates you is a major factor in creating the dramatic atmosphere. Indeed, Aronofsky somehow manages to stretch out the tension to the breaking point during the final act, but in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat as opposed to inducing frustration. Even during the denouement, Aronofsky still portrays Noah as a deeply troubled, tortured character, making him easily one of the most interesting and memorable protagonists this year.

I urge audiences not to dismiss Noah as some toothless Bible move like the recent Son of God, and instead take it for the intriguing sci-fi reimagining that it is. Aronofsky has proven himself, one again, to be one of Hollywood’s most visionary directors, which certainly gives me hope for the future, if nothing else. Speaking of the future, Noah has likewise given cause to look forward to other out-of-the-box Bible films, namely Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by none other than the legendary Ridley Scott. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Rampant Cinemania: Man of Steel

 

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

https://simplyfilm.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/man-of-steel.mp3

Show Notes:

Before Trilogy: 0:50 – 2:48

Various Cartoons (Albert Gets Married): 2:52 – 4:08

Upstream Color: 4:21 – 6:05

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: 6:06 – 8:14

This is the End: 8:15 – 10:00

Andrew’s a great host #sarcasm: 10:00 – 10:20

Man of Steel: 10:20 – 37:39

Broken City Review

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The social atmosphere in which Broken City finds itself upon release is one marked by a general antipathy towards the political sphere with the presidential elections in the US having recently concluded. The raw animosity and bitterness among politicians is, in some respects, infectious, especially after having been subjected to nearly an entire year of campaigning. It seems only natural that a film which centers around political conflict may wish to capitalize on American sensibilities during such a time. The denunciation of the whole “it’s legal if you don’t get caught” attitude of politicians is, although painfully safe, a sentiment that the vast majority of moviegoers can get behind.

Rejoining the cinematic fray after 3 years of inactivity is Book of Eli director Alan Hughes. Direction is, for the most part, solid, though nothing to write home about, with tight action sequences worthy of Taken or one of the Bourne movies. Worthy of note, however, is that Hughes and company seem to focusing much more on the “drama” aspect of this crime-drama, to the point where it becomes more reminiscent a courtroom thriller on television than the cinematic crime-dramas, usually bursting at the seams with action, that we’ve been accustomed to.

Starring, Mark Wahlberg, in the same role he’s been type cast for since day one, as the rough around the edges but ultimately lovable everyman Billy Taggart, as well as Russell Crowe portraying deliciously punchable baddie, Mayor Hostetler. Thankfully, Crowe proves that he can still act after his role in Le Mis, (which many took issue with, but I found to be perfectly serviceable) and steal every scene he’s in, even compared to Wahlberg’s own adequate but frankly bland performance. It is blandness, in many ways, that kills this otherwise quality production and which holds the power to make a potentially decent film bad and a potentially great film pretentious. But yes, I still think Joaquin Phoenix should win best actor.

Historically, Hughes has struggled enormously with the concept of incorporating subtlety into his films. In Book of Eli, for instance, the Macguffin purported to have the power to save civilization from the brink of collapse amid the post-apocalyptic ruin turns out to be a literal copy of the Bible. Any particular message you were trying to drive home there, sir? Likewise, the two-party election which serves as the backdrop for most of the conflict in the film is so heavy handed that we’re beaten mercilessly about the head and shoulders over what side we’re supposed to be on. Now, this isn’t such a bad thing in itself, but when the only other positive thing the film has going for it is Crowe’s Koch-esque, villainous swagger, I start to worry. Additionally, the plot point that eventually contributed to the film’s downfall is Taggart’s motivation for not getting the hell out of Dodge when he had the chance. As the situation gradually worsens, Taggart is left with literally no reason to stay in the city as he no longer has relationship obligations nor financial interests aside from professional curiosity, which can only take you so far when people are shooting at you. Are we supposed to simply chalk it up to sheer obstinate stupidity? When the protagonist can just as easily make himself scarce without any real loss, something has gone wrong.

I understand what Hughes was trying to do by shaking up the contemporary view of a crime drama, it’s just that it was a general failure. For all the things that the film does right, mainly with casting, I can’t invest myself in the the struggle onscreen when character motivation, which would have realistically added the necessarily crucial drama, are so muddled and incomprehensible. In the end, my faith in Crowe and Wahlberg remains justified, though my faith in Hughes’ team does not.