The Nice Guys

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.6 out of 5 stars

Do you know who Shane Black is? Let me rephrase that: you know who Shane Black is. At the age of 22, he sold the script to a little movie called Lethal Weapon and the action genre has forever since been changed. Black was paid a quarter of a million dollars for the script and the studio reportedly gave him another $125,000 just to come up with an idea for a sequel. The early 90’s were great for Shane Black. A script by him could easily sell for six-figures. He was hot.

Then puff.

He disappeared.

Because critics were starting to call him a hack, mostly because he created a formula which was flooding the market with buddy action flicks. Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. After almost a decade, he came back with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 (He’s really good at writing Robert Downey Jr.). He also wrote and directed The Nice Guys (2016), you know, the movie I’m supposed to review.

What sets any Shane Black movie apart from most is the dialogue. He uses what is commonly referred to as witty banter. Every character in his movies are smart, clever, funny, or a combination of the three and this great verbal ping-pong takes places. The Nice Guys was no exception, witty banter galore.

The film follows Jackson Healy, Russell Crowe, and Holland March, Ryan Gosling, who are a pair of mismatch private eyes solving a case involving an apparent suicide during the 70’s. If only it was set during the holiday season, then it would be super Shane Black. Seriously, home boy has a thing for Christmas in L.A. it’s the backdrop for a surprising amount of his movies (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3. That’s just off the top of my head.)

The movie offers what a good mix of action and comedy, most of the laughs coming from Gosling’s character. The plot unfolds like a good detective story should, so no points docked there.

What holds this movie back is…well nothing. It’s not rated higher because, well, I kinda get the vibe they weren’t out to make a master piece. It’s basic Shane Black. It’s Lethal Weapon in the 70’s, privatized. This a bread and butter, entertaining movie. It’s not gold, but it’s damn good.

 

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The Invitation

Hypothetical Neflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Will, Logan Marshall- Green, gets invited to a dinner party at his ex-wife’s house, which is Will’s old house. Also, his ex-wife has remarried. Also, his ex is in a cult. Needless to say, it’s a bad night for Will all around.

This slow burn thriller plays off Will’s growing anxiety. Over the course of the party, the audience learns why Will and his wife divorced and gradually, the wheels fall off for Will. Is his ex-wife and her new husband looking to kill the party literally? Is Will the crazy one?  Does it matter? Though the movie gives you a firm answer by the end, it’s amazing now long the film keeps the ball in the air.

The question that this movie really begs is “why?” and over and over the movie gives answers. How about that? A movie that answers all the questions it raises: a unicorn in a sea of narwhals.

Logan Marshall-Green gives a strong performance, but nobody in this movie does a bad job, if that makes sense. Tammy Blanchard, the ex-wife Eden, does an extraordinary job. John Carroll Lynch, who plays Pruitt– Eden’s new husband’s friend, is hauntingly creepy and human all at once. I actually thought he had the strongest performance in the whole film, mostly in part to the monologue he gets about half-way through, but again, no one does a bad job.

All around, this is a really solid pick. The only downside for some  might be the fact that this is a talking heads movie. There is almost nothing in the way of action here. The plot is developed entirely through conversation, so if you plan on watching with someone chatty, think twice about this one (but still keep it in your back pocket for when the time is right).

 

Ghostbusters (2016)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Every once and a while this test, the Bechdel test, pops into my head. The test is named after Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist who pointed out that a majority of movies don’t have A) at least two women B) the two women talking to each other C) those same two women talking about something other than men. It’s true, most movies don’t pass the test. Think about it. Star Wars, fail. Back to the Future, fail. Any comic book movie, fail. Basically every horror movie, fail. Romantic comedies, fail. So on and so forth since the dawn of cinema. But not the new Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters follows Erin and Abby, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, who, before the events of the movie, were friends  researching ghosts. They’re joined by Abby’s new partner, Jillian Holtzmann, Kate McKinnon, and a New York subway worker named Patty, Leslie Jones. They join forces, and as the title would lead you to believe, they bust ghosts.

The biggest thing this movie has going against it is that it isn’t the 1984 classic. Try this on for size: the original Ghostbusters cost around $30 million at make in 1984 dollars which, with inflation, works out to be about $69.5 million in 2016 dollars. The new Ghostbusters cost $114 million to make. The original had a run time of little over 100 minutes, the new one is almost two hours long. The new Ghostbusters was too big. It wasn’t the small, personal film the 1984 one was, and I do believe it hurt it. They made this one a blockbuster, which Ghostbusters was never meant to be.

The best part of this movie was Kate McKinnon’s character. She had some of the best jokes in the movie as well as the best bits in the obligatory blockbuster fight scene. I also appreciated the cameos of the original Ghostbusters cast. Everyone but Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis make an appearance.

The other thing that I liked about this movie is that it threw out the original. It’s like it never happened, which is a good thing in this case. It opens it up to be a remake, as well as its own thing. The downside to the reset is, of course, they set it up for a sequel. God I hope they don’t do a sequel. I hope if they do, they have the good sense to stop at two. Something tells me they won’t. Oh well. At least those sequels will pass the Bechdel test.

Suspiria

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This 1977 film was not what I excepted. What I knew going in was this: a young American girl, Suzy, played by Jessica Harper, travels to Germany to attend a ballet academy. Over the course of the run time, bodies pile up. My knowledge ended there. Oh, I also knew that this film pops up on several list of must watch horror films, hence why this review exists. What really drew me in was the lighting and the score of the film.

Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, who wrote and directed Suspiria, did a great job of showing the young girl’s decent into madness. As the plot develops, you find out that there is something supernatural going on at the academy and the lighting and music are what really make the viewer feel the same sense of dread Suzy feels. Throughout the movie, you’ll notice neon lights centered on the characters that gives them an uneasy, seedy look. The soundtrack is performed by Italian group Goblin, who have scored several of Argento’s films (as well as Dawn of the Dead). The music was unnerving from the get go and had me waiting for the bottom to drop out, which, of course it.

What I really appreciated about this film was that it went more for aesthetics than scares, which in turn kinda made it more scary than if they had just made a regular old slasher. I’d liken this to modern movies like House of the Devil, where there’s nothing bad happening on screen every second, but you know that just off screen something wicked this way comes.

If you like horror, this ones for you.

 

Now You See Me 2

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.6 out of 5 stars

If you haven’t seen 2013’s Now You See Me, obviously this review will do you no good till you’ve done that. Wrong. Now You See Me 2, is the better movie, so I’ll just sum the first one for you. Spoilers galore.

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco play magicians who, with their combined talents, become the Four Horsemen, and Robin Hood their way around the world using magic. All the while they’re being chased by Morgan Freeman, who’s made a career out of figuring out magic tricks, and Mark Ruffalo, who much to my chagrin is not riding a buffalo but instead is an FBI agent. This movie would have been better if he was on a buffalo. Anyway. It plays very much like an Ocean’s Eleven type movie, but with magic. The big reveal at the end of the first movie was that Mark “why can’t I be on a buffalo just once?” Ruffalo was in fact the magician who put the Four Horsemen together in the first place.

This movie is similar, only this time around, Isla Fisher is out, Lizzy Caplan is in. She was in Cloverfield, but I don’t hold that against her. Also, Daniel Radcliffe (Swiss Army Man) plays the movie’s villain, extorting the horsemen into doing his bidding. They also take the story to China and work in Woody Harrelson’s brother as a character. Okay, so it’s Woody in a wig, but still. He’s Daniel Radcliffe’s henchman and has the same set of “magic powers” bald Woody has, he’s a mentalist (hypnosis, mind reading, that sort of thing).

The major problem with the first movie was only half of the main characters  got some kind of an arch. This time around, they fixed that problem, which was nice. So what was holding it back grabbing that hypothetical 4 out of 5? This movie is something we’ve already seen, but with magic in it, and if you’ve seen the first one, well, hopefully you haven’t so you can just watch this one instead.

And who knows? Maybe 3 years from now, Now You See Me 3, will come out. And there, mounted on the back of nature’s most majestic plains animal, Mark Ruffalo, triumphant on a buffalo.

 

 

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon(2006) is a documentary-style horror/comedy  that follows Leslie Vernon,Nathan Baesel, who asks a documentary film crew to follow him as he readies himself to join the ranks of Freddy, Jason, and Michael as a “supernatural” killer. He’s not at all supernatural.

What I like about this movie, and what keeps me coming back to it is its dual functionality. While it’s a narrative set within the context of a documentary, it also acts as a documentary on how slasher movies work. Since the movie is told from the perspective of the serial killer, we get these tongue in cheek jokes like about how Leslie has to do a ton of cardio just to be able to make it look like he’s walking with everyone else is running. For the uninitiated, these little asides act as fundamental building blocks to understanding the genre, as well as being chuckle moments for those well versed.

There are cameo appearances by a couple horror legends; Kane Hodder (he played Jason in a good chunk of the Friday the 13th movies), Zelda Rubinstein (the “this house is clean” lady from the good Poltergeist. This movie was her last movie. She passed away in 2010.) Robert Englund (Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) This movie is also full of horror movie Easter eggs that eagle eyed viewers can spot. Pinhead’s puzzle box is in there, as well as Leslie’s mask, a hybrid of Jason and Michael Myers.

The third act of this movie, although a fresh and create idea, drops the documentary angle which is jarring at first, but it falls quickly in line with the ramp up in action. That’s really my only major bug with this movie. If you like horror movies and you haven’t seen this movie yet, you really should. It’s smart, clever, and informative. Perfect.

I was happy to find out that the director, Scott Glosserman, and writer, David J. Stieve, are pair up to do a sequel. If I had to guess, it’d be something like a Scream 2. But who knows?

 

Central Intelligence

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.7 out of 5 stars

2016’s Central Intelligence tells the story of Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Kevin Hart) and Bob Stone (The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson). Twenty years ago, when the two were is high school, they were less then friends. Calvin was, as the nickname would seem to imply, the golden boy of the school, voted most likely to succeed. Bob was the fat kid every one else made fun of. Save for Calvin. Calvin felt sorry for him. Flash forward twenty years and Calvin is an accountant who is deeply disappointed he didn’t do more with his life, while Bob works for the CIA and is, well, the Rock.

I enjoy a good buddy comedy. This very much falls in line with that genre, hitting most of the notes you’d expect. What really sells the movie is the Rock. His character is a strange mix of naive, dopey, funny, and deadly. He was like the human embodiment of a big dumb puppy. I was surprised to see him hold his own comedically against someone like Kevin Hart.

Hart plays the reluctant partner to the Rock who asks him to help track down a terrorist who killed is partner all while the CIA tracks  the pair under suspicion that the Rock is in fact a terrorist. This all happened around the time of their twentieth class reunion.

There were a couple bits in this movie that I thought were pretty clever, but barring those, this is your basic buddy comedy. I wasn’t wowed, but I was entertained, which was really all I ever ask for.

Snow on Tha Bluff

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.2 out of 5 stars

So, here’s the thing with this movie, and please try and bare with me. Curtis Snow, the person whom the film follows is in fact a real person. He resides in a neighbor know as The Bluff which is a real neighborhood. It shows up regularly in ranks of most dangerous neighborhoods in America. Curtis is a drug dealer/robber. Or is it the other way around? Either way.  He is living his life, and Damon Russell is just filming it. They really don’t draw a line between fact and fiction.

Snow on Tha Bluff (2011) opens with Curtis robbing a couple of college kids, taking their camera which they had pretty much so the  narrative could be set up. From there, Curtis assigns one of his buddies to film him and, yeah, like I said above…

Obviously, all the major crimes in this movie weren’t real, but barring those moments, this movie plays like a biography of Curtis Snow, a man who robs drug dealers, then sells those drugs for himself. Michael Kenneth Williams, Omar from the Wire, is an executive producer on this film because of this. This movie was kinda eye opening.

But really, the thing that held it back was also its strength. There were a lot of times, where I was more wrapped up in figuring out what was real or not than what was happening on screen. I think that was part of the intention of the film, but I’m not sure.

Though it was a dramatization, it’s still a reality to some. It’s a life style, it’s a way to get by. This movie is an invitation to look at some of the problems of not just The Bluff, but neighborhoods like The Bluff. Is there an easy solution to the problem? Fuck no. But it should still be known.

 

Godzilla (1954)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.7 out of 5 stars

Oh no, there goes Tokyo, go go Godzilla! Okay, now that that’s out of the way, on to business. When I was a kid, my dad would put movies like Godzilla on and hit the mute button on the TV so that we could make up our own dialogue for the film. That made this the first time I’ve seen Godzilla and known what the fuck was actually going on; other than a grown man stomping on model building while dressed as a 150 ft. dinosaur of course.

Godzilla was produced by a little Japanese film studio you may have heard of called Toho Film Co. 1954 was a big year for them. Not only did they do Godzilla, the first major effects driven movie Japan made, but they also were the money behind Seven Samurai, a critically acclaimed movie white people just can’t stop remaking in the form of The Magnificent Seven which was first made in 1960, then later spun off into a TV series, and is now back in theaters again. The duel production of Godzilla and Seven Samurai almost bankrupted Toho Film Co., but their proverbial bacon was save upon both films releases. This film was also up for a Japanese Academy Award, but lost to Seven Samurai. Pretty good year for Toho after all.

For those who don’t know, Godzilla was created as an allegory for the destructive power of nuclear war. If you think I’m reaching to justify watching a grown man have possibly the time of his life crushing cardboard houses, I’m not. The films end very much states that this is a cautionary tale about nuclear testing.

The only thing really holding this movie back: it’s super dated, but in a good way. What really did you except from a 62 year old movie though? To spite that fact that you can tell what you are watching is fake, it’s still engaging because of the passion it shows. It’s not like The Last Heist where you can tell the intent of the film was to make its money back. Godzilla is one of those “for the love of the game” movies that you can tell the filmmakers were trying new and creative things to get what they wanted on film.

The plot was solid, though the third act solution to the Godzilla problem was to just throw a bunch of science words at it and hope the audience doesn’t think to much about it, which, come on, you kinda have to at that point.

The score for this movie, more so than any other movie I’ve reviewed thus far, is extremely memorable. It kinda looped in the back of my mind all day long along with Blue Oyster Cult. “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man. Godzilla!”

The Jungle Book (2016)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After seeing this on the couch, I kinda wish I’d seen it while it was in theaters for that extra layer of immersion. The scenery is so rich and vivid, I had to remind myself over and over that none of it was real. Seriously, almost everything in this movie is CGI, which is mind blowing when you think about it. Makes you wonder how long till it’s like that Al Pacino movie, S1mOne, where he creates a CGI actress that everyone thinks is real. That would explain Margot Robbie actually. Anyway.

Jon Favreau, the movie’s director who I can’t say enough good things about, managed to keep things interesting with enough new elements while still keeping it very similar to the animated film. This film follows basically the same plot as the Disney animated classic with a few extra beats of action. The film also takes the time to develop fire as a character, which was kinda cool.

Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, does an excellent job in his portrayal considering all of his animal co-stars are CGI. Seriously, I’m pretty sure Sethi and like five tree trunks were actually on set. The voice acting in this movie was, however, very much on point. With a talented cast ranging from Bill Murray to Ben Kingsly. From Scarlett Johansson to Idris Elba. There wasn’t really a weak performance.

Best part of the movie, though this could just be childhood bias, was Baloo. More importantly, it was watching a bear gently fight off an army of monkeys and give zero fucks all the while he’s doing it. Priceless.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. This movie was suggested to me by my buddy Ben DeGarmo on a list of movies with Oscar potential. This will sweep all of the technical awards. Except for sound probably. Not enough stuff blowing up for it to win that one.