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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The Big Short

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Of the myriad types of movies that can be made about Wall Street, it seems like you can either go the Wolf of Wall Street route—bright, energetic, lots of swearing—or you can go the Margin Call route—darkly serious, brooding, lots of swearing—although, interestingly, it seems like Adam McKay’s latest feature, The Big Short, melds the two approaches—with surprisingly positive results.

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As of Yet Unnamed Simply Film Podcast: The Place Beyond the Pines


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

Show Notes:

What We’ve Been Watching: 0:00 – 23:15

The Place Beyond the Pines Review: 23:16- 45:44

The Place Beyond the Pines Review

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Returning to the director’s chair after his hit indie film Blue Valentine, with The Place Beyond the Pines Derek Cianfrance proves that he can be considered a truly great, new director. A sprawling two and half hour long epic, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story in three parts that delves into themes of morality, determinism, and closely examines the effects fathers have on their children, and visa-versa. This film is an emotional powerhouse, with a fantastic performance from Ryan Gosling, as well as strong performances all around. Expecting to dislike this movie, I was absolutely blown away by the film.

The film takes place in the small New York town of Schenectady, which interestingly enough is a name loosely taking from a Mohawk word that translates to “Place Beyond the Pines.” The movie first centers on Ryan Gosling as “Handsome” Luke Glanton, a professional and heavily tattooed motorcycle rider who goes city to city with a traveling carnival. However he gives this life up when he is informed that a woman he has slept with in Schenectady is raising his now one year old son. Luke turns to a life of crime and starts robbing banks in order to provide for his newly born son. Bradley Cooper’s character Avery, a police man and moral paragon, is then introduced and the film shifts its focus to a tale of police corruption and Avery’s struggle with it. Finally, the third and most interesting act of the film is about the friendship and conflict between the sons of the earlier protagonists, as they struggle with their respective relationships with their fathers, as well as dealing with the history between Luke and Avery.

While much of the talk about this film has been glowing praise for Ryan Gosling (let’s be honest here, this is nothing new, he’s great), the acting all around is pretty excellent. Specifically, Eva Mendes’s portrayal of Luke Glanton’s poverty stricken baby mama is a step away from her usual roles, as well as a highlight of the film. However, some of the best acting in the film comes from Dane DeHaan, who is likely best known as the lead in last year’s found footage superhero flick, Chronicle. As Luke’s 17 year old son, DeHaan is tragic and compelling, bringing a much needed emotional center to the latter half of the film.

What makes this film achieve a level of excellence, however, is not the acting but rather the thematic through lines of the film. The film is ambitious in its approach to tackling issues of paternal relationships, as well as morality, which raises an interesting conversation about how morality relates to cultural standards and laws. At the same time, the film does a perfect job of not overextending thematically, by which I mean the film doesn’t try to tackle anything that was too lofty to wrap up by the end. This movie leaves the viewer with a desire to ponder the films themes, without leaving any serious unanswered questions. It’s a hugely emotional film, as well as a film with just the perfect amount of depth. I could not recommend this film more highly.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #6: Lars and the Real Girl

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Originally a film I wrote off under the impression it would be a crude, and likely bad, comedy due to its premise, Lars and the Real Girl is far from it, but instead is a touching and generally sweet film about a reclusive and strange, or perhaps eccentric, man and his fake girlfriend.  Extremely well-acted and written, Lars and the Real Girl manages to capitalize on a premise that could have created a terrible film in less capable hands.  Emotional, quirky and above all heartwarming, Lars and the Real Girl is an example of an excellent feel-good movie if there ever was one, and this week’s choice for Netflix Movie of the Week.

Staring Ryan Gosling in a vastly different role than fans have seen before, Lars and the Real Girl depicts the life of Lars, an extremely shy shut-in living in the garage of his brother’s house.  Unexpectedly, Lars purchases a Real Doll, a sex doll made to look like an actual woman, but instead of buying her for that purpose, Lars views the doll, Bianca, as his girlfriend.  He is seemingly unaware of the fact that she is a doll, as he pushes her around town in a wheelchair, has conversations with her, and is unwilling to accept the fact she is not real, leading people in town to speculate on his mental well-being   While I cannot emphasize enough how this movie succeeds with this premise, it is easy to see my hesitation about watching this film as it could have easily turned to a vulgar and cheap comedy based around a sex doll.

Oddly enough, this was the movie that made me recognize Ryan Gosling’s talents as an actor.  While I had seen other films he had been in, I felt he was often typecasted as the typical good-looking male lead. However, he does such a wonderful job in this film convincing the audience that he is a weird, awkward, and shy individual, while creating a very believable relationship with an inanimate object that I would be remiss not to admire his acting chops.  It would be hard for me to imagine another actor in this role after seeing the film.

Even if the premise is not enough to compel you to watch this film, I would recommend you give it a chance.  It is somewhat of a cult favorite with the indie movie going crowd and is that way for a reason, because it is good.  If nothing else, the movie is worth a watch to see Ryan Gosling trying something new in his acting career, and doing it with an excellent moustache.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Gangster Squad Review

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Welcome to the post-New Years cinematic dearth, when many people are looking for a convenient way to relieve stress, no doubt after having been subjected to WAY too much ‘family time.’ It is in this social climate that the therapeutic powers of Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad may be welcomed with open arms.

Featuring the considerable talents of Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn, Gangster Squad, in many ways, was already sure of its success before filming ever began. By that, I mean I’m almost certain that more attention was deliberately given to action sequences than to character development, and Fleischer knew that we would still go see the movie anyway. And indeed, there is something undeniably cathartic about watching Josh Brolin (who is apparently an absolute bear of a man) as Sgt. John O’Mara beat the ever-loving stupid out of various flavors of thug with his bare (bear) hands. Likewise, the sight of Ryan Gosling in a three piece suit holding a shotgun might make many people, including myself, weak at the knees, but I simultaneously can’t help but feel that there’s a kind of underlying hollowness to it all.

Set in a beautifully stylized depiction of 1940’s Los Angeles, Gangster Squad incorporates outstanding density and attention to detail to create a surprisingly immersive experience. Expertly paced, action sequences are nicely varied with character building, and the soundtrack was filled with all the 1940‘s splendor that you could ask for. You could’t help but smile as lovable, semi-crooked cop Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling) put the moves on Cohen’s main squeeze, Grace Faraday (Stone). Then, unfortunately, you frown again as their relationship drifts towards the arbitrary and what was supposed to be a powerful moment passes by, almost without emotionally registering.

Inconsistencies in plot can generally be overlooked, although some niggling doubts remain. For example, why is it established early on that Jack O’Mara (Brolin) is supposed to be an expert in guerrilla warfare while he consistently attempts foolhardy, not to mention suicidal, frontal assaults on formidably armed enemy hideouts? In reality, Wooters seems to be the real brains of the operation while everyone else is along for the ride.

Thematically unchallenging, the essential conflict revolves around the fight between good versus evil, with only vague stabs in the direction of more complex subjects, such as the ethics behind it all. An interesting rift between O’Mara and his wife is ripe for development, involving his professional duty versus his familial duty, but in the end nothing really comes of it.

Gangster Squad uses the plot device that I will henceforth refer to as “fellowship-of-the-ring syndrome,” the employment of which involves the assemblage of a team of various ‘specialists’ to help combat some otherwise unstoppable evil. This time around, that evil comes in the form of MIckey Cohen (Penn) and his rapidly expanding criminal empire. The problem often times with the use of fellowship-of-the-ring syndrome is that the introduction of so many central characters naturally means less thorough characterization for each. I got out a kick out of the inclusion of the blatantly token Latino character who quite literally is included into the ‘gangster squad’ because no one knows what else to do with him, as well as the only slightly less token black character, both of whom were presumably included merely to represent a nice spectrum of diversity. My real problem, strangely enough, was with the characterization of Cohen. I heard another critic refer to his character as more of a Batman villain rather than an actual person, and I wholeheartedly agree. Penn no doubt did the best he could with the material he was given, but I was nevertheless disappointed because he was forced to play a caricature rather than a character, and his talent was squandered, as fans of Milk, Carlito’s Way, or Dead Man Walking can attest.

In the end, Gangster Squad is a fast paced, visceral celebration of boyish, fantasy gangster-violence. Overall it works, considering what it’s actually trying to accomplish and I certainly enjoyed watching beautiful people fight to save what they loved amid a beautiful backdrop. Characterization leaves something to be desired, but the action compensates, as it should.

Director Ruben Fleischer won some good will with Zombieland (2009) and almost immediately lost it again with 30 Minutes or Less (2011). Fleischer probably has a long career in front of him and, come what may, I look forward to seeing more of his work. I say remain cautiously optimistic for the future.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Note: As you may or may not be aware, after the Aurora massacre, a scene in the film was cut depicting the ‘gangster squad’ shooting up a movie theater. The ethics behind this choice are interesting, and there’s really no right answer as to whether or not it should have remained. We’d love to hear your comments on the subject.