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REVIEW: The Nice Guys

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For his third at-bat directing, Lethal Weapon scribe, Shane Black, returns to the buddy comedy formula that has served him so well for the ‘70s set actioner, The Nice Guys. Of course, Black employs a certain kind of comedy, and the best adjective for it is also his surname. In Shane’s world, everyone is venal, corrupt, broken, or just plain evil – although they do tend to keep up a constant stream of witty repartee in between the violence, the brooding, and the drinking. Even Black’s heroes are just a rung or two up the ladder from his villains – take alcoholic PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who keeps himself in booze and wide ties by taking missing person jobs from naively hopeful old ladies, or Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a big-gutted, rough-knuckled enforcer who keeps trying to improve his vocabulary when he’s not dismantling people for profit.

These two cross paths when March is hired to find a missing girl and Healy is hired to make him stop. Except the girl is not the girl that March was hired to find – she’s dead, and the reason has something to do with catalytic converters. And pornography. The point being, there is a girl, Amelia (Margaret Qualley), and some very bad men (Keith David and Beau Knapp) will kill her unless Healy and March find her first. Carnage and quips ensue.

The plot, as you can probably tell from the preceding paragraph, is a rambling mess, (barely) held together with coincidences and intuitive leaps. Still, so what? Plot didn’t matter much to Raymond Chandler, either. What is important is attitude and style, and The Nice Guys drips with it. For all that, there’s depth here, too. The film’s engine is in the constant verbal jab-and-parry between its two leads, but its heart lies in the way that it shows just how broken these two screw-ups are. March is a self-destructive drunk who fell apart after his wife either walked out or died on him, a man so non-functional that he gets his 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), to chauffeur him around when he’s too messed up to drive. Healy, on the other hand, seems to be the loneliest man on earth, living in an apartment above the famous Comedy Store just so he doesn’t have to endure the crushing silence between doling out beatings. For both of them, saving Amelia means some kind of redemption.

That’s all deeper stuff, though – on a pure visceral level, The Nice Guys is a blast: violent, sleazy and sexy in that very specific late ‘70s way, and hysterically funny. It’s not just the crackling dialogue, either; Gosling shows considerable skill at physical comedy, and Crowe speaks volumes with his deadpan exasperation. Although the pace flags in places, you’re never bored, and it’s down to the chemistry between these two – plus Rice, who holds her own as the moral centre of the film. When the smoke has cleared and the last body has dropped, you’re left with a solution to a criminal conspiracy that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but you also know that you’ve had a real good time. The Nice Guys is not the instant classic that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was, but it’s a whole heap of fun.

 

 
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BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Hateful 8

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With an obvious affection for life’s reprobates, Quentin Tarantino – as both writer and director – had made a habit of populating his films with all manner of psychos, deviants, criminals, sadists, bullies, brutes, and blowhards. But usually in amongst the muck, there’s a (slightly tarnished) white knight or a tough gal with a heart of gold, or at least a very bad man grasping at some form of redemption. Even the tough-guys-aplenty masterpiece, Reservoir Dogs, boasted a few moments of honest-to-god sentiment. Well, with his latest film – the literate, outrageous, and wholly uncompromising western, The Hateful 8 – Quentin Tarantino has taken it right to the edge by crafting a work in which the heroic, traditional white hat is literally non-existent. This is a film of bad guys (and one bad girl), so enter at your own risk. Yes, it would have been nice to have a slightly decent character to hang onto, but if you’re willing to mix it up with the worst that the west has to offer, then you’re in for a double barreled treat of true Tarantino trademarks: vivid characters, wonderfully full-bodied performances, razor-sharp dialogue, and epic violence.

Set in the harsh, lean years after The Civil War, The Hateful 8 opens on grizzled, determined bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is pounding through a wintry, unforgiving landscape towards the remote hamlet of Red Rock, where he intends to bring his captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to justice. On the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former union soldier turned bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be Red Rock’s new sheriff. Stuck in a blizzard, the group seeks refuge at a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive, they are greeted not by the proprietor, but by four suspicious men: Bob (Demian Bichir), the fill-in boss of the stopover; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock; cow-puncher, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen); and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). With a storm swelling and booming outside, a greater rage oscillates inside the stagecoach stopover, as John Ruth realises that not everybody is as they seem…

Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Shooting in the antiquated, wonderfully expansive 70mm format, Tarantino (and virtuoso cinematographer, Robert Richardson) gives The Hateful 8 an epic intimacy. The film looks and feels big, but it’s essentially a chamber piece, reliant on a small cast, and all taking place (for the most part) in one interior location. It makes the exteriors all the more spectacular, and the need for escape even greater as the blood starts to spew, and the characters reveal themselves to be a truly venal bunch. There’s a sense of consistent, blanketing cruelty here that has been largely absent from Tarantino’s previous work (though he has, of course, dabbled), along with a gleeful wallowing in the resultant unpleasantness, but these are minor quibbles. No other filmmaker is more obviously excited by the possibilities of the art form of cinema than Quentin Tarantino, and The Hateful 8 is a big, slamming salute not just to the lurid possibilities of the western genre, but to movies in general.

For such a noted movie buff, however, Tarantino is pretty much a non-entity when it comes to his film’s DVD and Blu-ray releases. The features on The Hateful 8 are limited to a four-minute EPK piece with the usual compliments from cast and crew, along with a considerably more interesting potted history on the old days of cinema presentation, when films would show in 70mm complete with intervals and overtures, as The Hateful 8 did on its wonderfully retro “roadshow” release. Again, it’s almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it in length, but it’s a worthy addition to the minimal features package here.

Hateful8_Filmink_1040x90

 
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Shane Black: Hanging Out With The Nice Guys

Still hot off the mega-smash, Iron Man 3, director, Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), heads back into more familiar territory with the 1970s-set buddy action comedy, The Nice Guys, starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.
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REVIEW: Preacher: The Pilot Episode

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After the incredible job that the network did with The Walking Dead, fans of the graphic novel, Preacher, were resting easy knowing that the property had landed in the capable hands of AMC. Then with the added news that dynamic duo, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, were writing, directing, and producing, the rest of the world started to get a little excited too. It’s hard to believe that so many people have backed a concept that sounds so bat-shit crazy, but that’s probably why there’s been so much speculation about whether or not they can pull it off. The source graphic novel, created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, is hard to describe. It doesn’t fit into your classic genres: it’s part Western, part fantasy, romance, comedy, action, and horror. Essentially, it’s a road trip movie about Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a down-and-out preacher who inherits the power of God; Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), a drunken vampire; and Tulip O’ Hare (Ruth Negga), a pissed-off, broken-hearted assassin-for-hire.

The pilot aired in America last night, competing with the likes of Game Of Thrones and Fear The Walking Dead, and had a hell of a lot to cram in – making a fairly unbelievable premise feel somewhat believable – and succeeded in doing so. At its heart, Preacher was always going to be about friendship, faith, and the internal (also existential) struggle between good and evil. It’s about love and family, but also one man’s mission to finally do something good in a world that’s shown him nothing but bad – which is why the casting here was crucial to its success.

Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip O'Hare in Preacher

Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip O’Hare in Preacher

On paper, it seemed perfect – Dominic Cooper has always been strong, Ruth Negga showed a lot of spark in her role on Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Joseph Gilgun already had a semi-cult following through his role in the UK series, Misfits. In execution, it’s not flawless, but as with most new shows, it will probably take them a while to find their feet. For starters, the British Dominic Cooper’s Texan accent isn’t convincing, nor is his general demeanour. Jesse Custer, the show’s titular preacher, is supposed to be one of the last true cowboys – a hero who uses brute action to convey his emotions – yet Cooper’s delivery mostly involves darting eye movements and shaking his head. Ruth Negga doesn’t get much of a chance to make her mark, but what little time she has works well. Her character, Tulip, is a pillar in the source material; she’s the only character that knows what she wants, and she doesn’t rely on anyone to help her get it – and that is reflected well here. Negga is strong and sassy, and really fun to watch, especially when she’s kicking butt. Finally, there’s Gilgun, who will likely become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood after this. Sure, the forced Irish accent is a bit annoying (there’s no reason why Cassidy couldn’t have been English), but he’s animated, funny and extremely charismatic.

The story itself is quite different to what fans of the comic will be expecting, which is a testament to Rogen and Goldberg’s screenplay, who have maintained the core themes and overarching tone while injecting ideas of their own. Some of the secondary characters, like Arseface, Hugo Root, Jesse’s dad, and what appears to be The Grail (not to mention Cassidy and Tulip) are all introduced fairly differently, but without changing them too much – and there are even a few new faces involved, particularly Lucy Griffiths’ Emily, who is a friend (and possibly a new love interest) for Jesse. All in all, the Preacher pilot isn’t perfect, but it is a bloody (pun intended) good start. Compared with the first few episodes of both AMC’s Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, this is on par – and knowing what followed for those two series, expectations remain extremely high.

There is no local start date for Preacher at this stage, but stay tuned to FilmInk for any information.

 
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REVIEW: Alice Through The Looking Glass

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The second instalment of the Alice In Wonderland franchise, Alice Through The Looking Glass has been a lightning rod for criticism from day one. Admittedly, the Tim Burton original left a lot to be desired, and so the announcement of a follow-up had many sceptics putting their judge hat on long before production even began. This time around, Burton has opted for the producer’s chair, handing the torch to director, James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted). While Bobin does a stellar job with the source material, it’s unfortunately not quite enough to pull it from the wreckage of the first.

This time around, we see Alice kicking arse and taking names as a headstrong, self-assured sea captain, travelling to strange lands on her deceased father’s vessel, The Wonder. Alice has become confident and daring since her last trip to the Underland, which vexes her mother and the establishment of weak-chinned men that she must answer to in 1800s London. During a difficult financial situation between her mother and a powerful rival family, Alice returns to the whimsical world of Underland – this time through a looking glass – to find The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) in a horrible state. She must save her friends from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), a half-clockwork, half-human, omnipotent demigod who has the ability to travel back and forth through different time periods with a special device secreted in a gold-coloured chromosphere. The chromosphere has the power to both save and destroy Underland, and Alice is faced with making emotionally difficult choices.

The plot is highly complex, and ultimately too complex. While screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, should be applauded for taking a risk here, the film ends up feeling shallow and unresolved. The characters, for example, arrive at their emotional breakthroughs far too easily and seemingly at random, which feels hackneyed and forced. This is, of course, all happening within the larger convoluted “time” plot line, where the characters are contending with very intricate ideas with little time to actually explore them.

Mia Wasikowska brings a fabulous level of maturity to Alice the second time around, giving her character a lot of depth, charisma, and humour despite the dourness of the plot. She also makes interesting choices in her role which – without giving anything away – really pay off. Depp’s Hatter is as alluringly zesty and mercury-poisoned as ever. His ability to add intense emotional mystery and unique physical inflections to his characters is never tiring to watch, but even he gets lost in the jumbled plot and overly-done green screen swampland. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter steal the show though; their confident and commanding on-screen presence definitely gets them noticed, and Baron Cohen in particular is simply hilarious even when serious. Their characters, however, are sadly given little opportunity to really shine. And that’s the real problem with this film. There are just too many things going on, and as a result everything is skimmed over.

The look and feel of Alice Through The Looking Glass, however, is terrific. Bobin takes calculated risks and commands more meaningful, engaging performances from his ridiculously skilled cast. But the complexity and superficiality of the plot, along with the over-produced and cheesy fantasy world inherited from Burton (sorry, Tim), result in the whole thing feeling a bit like skim milk, or worse, soy.