The Nice Guys (2016): A Solid Action Comedy That Celebrates Absurdity

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   Shane Black is a great director…he is most in his element when he is doing buddy cop type comedies like Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3” being forced not to use his suit as an out, “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang” had the everyday guy in over his head in a bigger conspiracy and forced to work with someone opposite of him and that film is a classic and one of my all time favorite films…”The Nice Guys” follows that same sort of deal and is one of the greats of this year because of it.

     The film was directed by Shane Black who co-wrote it along with Anthony Bagarozzi and the film was produced by Joel Silver.

    The story takes place in 1970’s Los Angeles and follows hired muscle Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and corrupt private P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as they are forced into working together and  following up on a missing person’s case related to the porn industry and a porn film where all the cast members are getting killed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the 70’s and how it is presented is wonderfully sleezy and corrupt, which is the perfect character for our main leads to inhabit as they are a part of that same corruption but have enough of a heart to shine a light on it. It’s really beautifully presented.

The Cinematography – Philippe Rousselot does a great job presenting very tightly paced scenes that give tension to even conversations between characters as everyone feels confined, even when they are running. This helps raise the tension which compliments the action.

The Action – The action is fantastic! There are quite a few gun fights and fist fights and each of the fight has stakes. Even Crowe’s Jackson who is an enforcer has a hard time sometimes which shows how strong the government agents are. It isn’t easy for these guys even when they are in their element.

The Writing – The writing is fast, witty and funny and presents the absurdity of our characters’ lives and situations. This is really what makes the story so fun as like “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” we are waiting to see if the characters will win despite their own flaws and everything else and this film presents that beautifully.

The Comedy – The comedy is solid and due to the absurdist nature of so much of what is going on we have jokes that are created out of the strange situations are characters find themselves in and how broken and absurd their lives are.

Holland – Gosling plays this P.I. scumbag who comes around in the end. His core question is “Am I a good guy?” Which his daughter answers with a resounding “no” at the beginning, but by the end he proves he is capable of it. A lot of the empathy for the character comes from Gosling’s strong performance as he’s an overall despicable person through most of the film.

Jackson – Crowe is the enforcer with a heart of gold as we find that his best moment was standing up and protecting people and throughout the film he is given the choice to kill or save and dealing with his core nature of being good or bad as well. Crowe is hilarious in how genuine he is in everything, even though he is a hardened killer.

Holly – Holly is the heart of the film as she is the one who inspires Jackson and Holland to be good. She also helps solve the case too as she is one of the few who knows what is going on a lot of the time or happens to be in the right place at the wrong time.

Okay: Amelia and her Activist Group – We gets bits and pieces about what they are fighting for but we never know the full corruption of what the Car Industry and Government were doing and most of the characters, including Amelia die until we can ever get to know them.

The Cons: The Villains – There aren’t really any good villains. The Doctor is interesting in that he seems to be a serial killer but they never really go into that and Amelia’s mother is just an unknown factor as are her agents. The Porn Enforcers are just sleezbags so at the end of the day the villains really bring the film down. None of them stand out on why they are fighting for what they are fighting for.

   What really brings this film down in the end is we don’t really get to know or come to care about Amelia. We know she is an activist and her bringing down the corrupt relationship between the Government and Car Industry is cool but we never get to know her as a person or get more about her relationship to her mother, who is the big bad. This film is seriously worth checking out though! This is Shane Black in his element and Crowe and Gosling have hilarious chemistry that really carries the film as each of their dysfunctions brings humanity to them. Check this film out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

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Man of Steel (2013): Great Villain, Bland Leads and a World Worth Exploring

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   “Man of Steel” is a controversial film, and after seeing it I get why. This is a film that isn’t a favorite, but I didn’t hate it either. I found the main leads boring but I found the world they inhabited fascinating, and I did enjoy the villain a lot. I found the writing clunky but the cinematography and score helped counter that in some ways…this is film that I’m torn over a little bit and at the end of the day, I did enjoy…even if I’m not likely to see it again anytime soon. What lead me to checking out this film is I plan on reviewing “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” soon and since that is a direct sequel to this film, I figured I should do my research and finally watch it.

      The film was directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan with the producers being Charles Roven and Deborah Snyer, Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas.

     The story involves the origin of Superman (Henry Cavill) in regards to his childhood and the fall of Krypton leading to General Zod (Michael Shannon) returning to Earth in order to shape the planet into a new Krypton.

  The Pros: The Cinematography – Amir Mokri does a fantastic job on the cinematography and shows us a dark world full of life and color. We see it in the adventures in the wilderness with Superman and at the beginning especially when alien Krypton and it’s destruction is shown to us.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer creates a masterful soaring score that really captures the promise of Superman and also the danger of the villains he faces. These are aliens who are as powerful as the best of humanity’s tech and the score captures the alienness of Krypton and those who come from it, even Superman.

The Universe – I like this Universe. I found Krypton very cool, from the High Council, the Military, the fact that people are raised to be in certain roles (creating a caste system) and how Jor-El’s heresy leads to Superman’s creation and also the destruction of Krypton’s people, culture and world as a whole. I also like how humanity fears Superman…it feels believable and from that Superman’s vulnerability and inability to really save people as he doesn’t understand his power fully.

Krypton – This is my third timing mention Krypton, but it is worth doing so. I loved Krpyton’s design and the technology on the planet as well as the mixture of biology and tech. This was a world that I wanted to spend more time in and would have watched and loved the movie if it just took place here and wasn’t about Superman at all until the very end.

Jor-El – Russell Crowe was great as Superman’s dad. He was easily the best actor in this and the writing for him felt the most natural. His personal relationship and rivalry with Zod was fantastic too and I like how they had a grudging respect for one another, even up until the end. They were equals and in the end both were destroyed because of it.

General Zod – Michael Shannon is awesome! I really want to see this guy in more films after this. This is a guy who could ham it up and have an aura of fear and crazy about it. He reminded me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan who played The Comedian in “Watchmen.” I wanted to know this character more and he truly felt like a threat the entire time. I got why Superman couldn’t save people and had to kill him, as long as this guy lived Earth would be under threat of total annihilation and he’d do it and could do it, even without his technology.

General Calvin Swanwick – Harry Lennix is great in everything I’ve seen him in. He gives character and depth to a role that would usually be stock in any other film (and was for all the Daily Planet folks and the Kents). I hope he’s in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Okay: Superman – Cavill is okay but he isn’t given the chance to show all that much depth. He’s sad and angry and we see him smile…once. I get being thoughtful but Cavill isn’t that great of an actor, thoughtful just ends up looking angry. He was one of the weakest but I at least got his motivation and his desire to look after those around him.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois Lane is a plot device in this. She is a living McGuffin that moves around plot points to advance the story. Poor Amy Adams…the one time she has a chance to do something (relationship with Superman) there isn’t any chemistry. She really wasn’t needed in this story and her role could be filled by anybody.

Perry White – Fishburne is a good actor but in here he is just a stock character type. The Daily Planet doesn’t really do anything and he like Lois Lane is there mostly to be saved by Superman….

Jonathan and Martha Kent – These two are the final stock types….there is paranoid Jonathan who wants Clark to keep his powers secret until he’s ready even if people die…and his Mom who is just kind of there and isn’t given anything to do. These folks felt like American^tm

Blatant Product Placement – Superman fights in the IHOP, used to work at the IHOP and over the course of the film there. This was super annoying and thankfully the action distracted from this because every time something came I couldn’t help but be annoyed…I get films need endorsements and money to be made, but this doesn’t have to “Transformers” level obvious.

      This is a deeply flawed but enjoyable movie. It makes me want to go back and check out other versions of the character from Bruce Timm’s version of the character, the original Superman of the films and even the very hated “Superman Returns.” I’ll admit he isn’t the guy I’m drawn to DC comics for. It is hard to tell a compelling Superman story as so much of what creates drama is the facing of adversity and if you are someone with only one weakness, it’s hard to create tension. In that way Superman is only as interesting as the world around him and I found the world around him in this fascinating, even if the character paled in comparison to the villain.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2014

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This is the first time that I’m doing a Top 5 list for the year, but there shall be many more to come as the blog continues to exist. This was a great year for films and there are a lot of films I’m going to mention that didn’t make the list that I still think you should watch, again this was a great year for films. The films that made the list are ones that stand out to me though and are ones that I plan to own and would watch multiple times…these are the movies that stand on their own as a film and are the best of the best for this year. So, before I get into the list, here are the honorary mentions.

“Big Hero 6” Disney Studios did it again, it’s rich and deep and worth seeing. “X-Men Days of Future Past,” Bryan Singer is back and the X-Men series is great again. “Gone Girl” and “Interstellar” almost made the list but after re-reading my reviews I realized that the problems they have don’t elevate them to best of the best. Still worth seeing, “The Book of Life,” excellent animation and story, which “How to Train Your Dragon 2” also did and had loss, in a kids film just like “Big Hero 6.” This was a good year for animated stories. None of these are in the top 5 though, but you should still check them out. Also, “Mockingjay Part 1” is the best of that Franchise so far too.

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5) Guardians of the Galaxy

Director James Gunn

This script is hilarious, the characters are rich and you know what…you will care about what happens to a talking Racoon and a Tree Alien that can only say, “I am Groot.” That is the magic of this story as it shows just how expansive the marvel universe really is.  James Gunn is clearly the right guy to be put in charge of this franchise and I can’t wait to see how he expands the universe. These characters are broken and flawed and we love them because of it. They are forced to grow from the mistakes they make and they learn to care about each other. It also has a rocking soundtrack full of that 70’s rock n’ roll that adds humor to scenes and provides an epic feel in many scenes. My issue with why it isn’t higher on the list are two reasons…Thanos is just kind of hanging around, and Gamora’s development doesn’t really happen. The guys have great character arcs, but Gamora doesn’t get enough screen time for her character and and her character’s motivations to be developed. Still made the top 5 for a reason though. Definitely worth checking out and multiple watches. It truly is a masterpiece.

Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/guardians-of-the-galaxy-2014-a-masterpiece-of-sci-fi-action-and-comedy-gold/

Captain America Winter Soldier

4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director Anthony and Joe Russo

I didn’t care about Captain America in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” after “Winter Soldier” he is my favorite member of the Avengers. This is a movie with consequences which “Guardians of the Galaxy” lacked in regards to the Marvel Continuity. One of the major parts of the world is destroyed and we learn that one of the enemies that was a nobody enemy before is like a virus in the world of Marvel. This is powerful as we finally have an enemy that feels like a threat, Captain America has to wrestle with being a moral hero in questionable situations where there isn’t a clear good or bad. Hell, the bad guy is sympathetic even though he only appears in this movie. We also realize just how complicated Black Widow is, it was this movie that made me want the Black Widow film…her story is rich and we get glimpses of this in this film. We are also introduced to Falcon who is one of my favorite characters now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He may someday be Captain America’s replacement too when Chris Evans leaves, at least the new comics leave that option open which makes me happy. Again, this is a movie with consequences in the world of Marvel as a whole and has so many rich characters who all receive development. The scenes at the end also set up “Age of Ultron” really well in regards to two characters who will be appearing in it. Only issue with the film is that the Winter Soldier doesn’t get enough of development. He is a force of nature more than anything else. Still worth checking out though. It’s my favorite of the Disney Marvel films so far and stands strong on it’s own as a part of the greater whole. Not only that the issue of freedom and security is addressed in an awesome matter. It answers the “So what?” in regards to it’s own existence better than any Marvel film prior.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/captain-america-the-winter-soldier-an-amazing-spy-thriller-that-changes-the-marvel-universe/

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3) Birdman

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro truly created a masterpiece here. This movie critiques the culture of New York City, reveals the nature of lies (acting in a way is a lie, playing pretend and people want the lie for the story) and dealing with Ego and pride as Michael Keaton plays his greatest character so far in his best performance of all time. Not only does the film deal with issue that actually matter and how to grow beyond the ego and have an all star cast but it also has beautiful cinematography and the music which as a constant drum throughout is great at adding tension. This film was also filmed to look like a continuous shot so you feel like you are in a lived in world. The characters are all flawed and all of them are forced to grow from circumstances and situations. My only issue with this film is the ambiguous ending. So much of the film is about breaking out of ambiguity which is embraced at the end which sadly takes away from what could have been a perfect film. I put it above “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” even though it has a lower score since it is an original film and not part of a franchise. In the era of franchises I greatly value the self-contained story.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/birdman-2014-a-surreal-exploration-of-meaning-and-ego/

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2) Noah

Director Darren Aronofsky

“Noah” is the best of Darren Aronofsky’s work in my opinion. It has a much better reason for it’s existence than “Black Swan” which is another favorite film and tackles if humanity is truly worth saving. It also has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in any movie. What elevates this film above “Birdman” it isn’t ambiguous. “Noah” is mad clearly and God is an abstract. It’s such a beautiful take on a mythological tale that I can’t help but appreciate it simply for existing. It gives fallen angels the look of giant rock golems and we see just how dark humanity can become and just how flawed Noah and his family are. There are no heroes in this film which gives the dilemma of humanity being worth saving truly an issue. It’s dark which is what Aronofsky’s specializes in, though as far as the ending goes it is more bittersweet than some of his other films… which is saying something,  given the premise of Noah is mass genocide of the human race. Great performances from Connelly, Watson and Crowe as well. Some of the best work I’ve seen from all of them. Definitely check it out if you like dark films with a point.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/noah-2014-the-meaning-of-humanity/

The Grand Budapest Hotel

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director Wes Anderson

The greatest film of 2014 goes to “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” This film tackles the very nature of story in that it is presented to us as the author talking about the book, which before is lead into with a child reading the book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at his monument. From here the richness only goes deeper as we see a country torn apart by war and corruption that our heroes live in. From the refugee Zero finding love with Agatha as they are both poor people with nothing except each other and Gustave H. who lives only for them and The Grand Budapest Hotel which is his legacy and what he puts his lifeblood into. The film explores the nature of humanity and we see cowards, heroes, villains and people of all types living in a harsh world where the people who have the ability to push forth their will use it to supress others…from the outcast immigrants like Zero, to Gustave H. because he doesn’t come from money and was loved by an old woman who was old money. This film shows us that family is more than blood and that sorrow can be around any corner, just like the good moments and adventures we have will always be with us. This is the best Wes Anderson film and one of my favorite film of all times. If you are looking for a timeless film and the best film of 2014, check this one out. It is worth every bit of praise it has received and is one of the greatest films of all time.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/edthe-grand-budapest-hotel-2014-of-story-the-nostalgia-from-loss-and-a-life-lived/

Noah (2014): The Meaning of Humanity

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We end the first Apocalypse Week with Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” This was a film I’ve been curious about for sometime since Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and it really does have an all star cast, and the subject matter is interesting.

I’ve always been interested in mythology, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Greek, Norse, Egyptian or other…there are so many rich stories that have conflict and premises that are left pretty open ended giving a lot of creative leeway, assuming the director has vision. Aronofsky clearly did for this film.

The story is that after Abel was killed by Cain, Cain’s descendants spread throughout the world and over industrialized it the point of making it a wasteland while hunting down the descendants of Seth who saw it as their duty to protect the world. The story begins with Noah and his father Methuselah doing the ritual of Seth for caring for the Earth. They are than attacked by a tribe of Cain who attack Methuselah. Noah believes him dead and we flash forward. We than see Noah dealing with visions from “God” of the Earth being destroyed which sets the story in motion as Tubal-cain and his men attempt to take the arc and Noah’s wife Naameh and family try to save more of the line of Cain and humanity as Noah resists at every turn. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is fantastic, but I wouldn’t expect any less of Darren Aronofsky. Some of the moments that stand out though is when Noah tells the creation story and it shows us the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on the planet. The other scene is when the flood occurs and the descendants of Cain are destroyed as they fight the Watchers (fallen Angels defending Noah and his family).

The Music – Clint Mansell is one of my favorite composers and he does a great job creating tension in this film. We see this especially when Noah believes it is his duty to keep man from spreading so when Ila is pregnant he plans on killing her children if they are girls. The music has it set so that the ship feels claustrophobic and being trapped with a mad man (Noah). It is brilliantly done.

The Writing – The screenplay is top notch, Aronofsky and Handel did a great job. Every characters’ lines feels real and it does mostly showing rather than telling. Especially as Noah is facing the consequences of what he has done. We are presented with dilemmas. The Canaanites who are men are bad people trying to enslave and kill Noah and his family…but the women and children are innocent…and Noah does nothing to save them. His wife and Ham call him on this, but he ignores it, blinded by his religious devotion to a being who doesn’t speak clearly and maybe is all in his head. It is really awesome.

The Watchers – Giant Rock beings that were once angels who came to fight for humanity. These guys are cool. They start out resistant to Noah and his clan because of how Cain’s line turned on them but in the end fight for Noah as they are rewarded with being returned to Paradise and Noah and his family treat them kindness. They have great designs and good voice acting.

The Line of Seth – They are vegetarians and planters. Tenders of the garden of the world. Kind and only willing to fight as a last restort seems to the theme. They are survivors, but mostly because they know when to run.

The Line of Cain – These are the warriors. Anything weak is prey and the story is empire. In extreme cases they are cannibals because they’ve killed off most of the animals and hunted them to extinction. They are the apocalyptic survivors in the apocalyptic world they created.

The Characters – The characters in this film are really solid. No one is really wasted except for Noah’s son Shem who is mostly a passive character and is only there to protect Ila.

Methuselah – Anthony Hopkins is great as Methuselah. He is found to be alive after Noah receives some of the visions and gives Noah the magic seed that creates an oasis of life that Noah and the Watchers use to build the arc. He doesn’t go with them and dies in the flood after a moment of bliss when he finds a berry. Why he decides not to go is unknown. He seems to be there as a guide and a counter to Noah as he gives Ila the ability to have children when she was barren before.

Naameh – Jennifer Connelly supports Noah but always reminds him of life, which he mostly ignores if it isn’t animal and plant life. She sees the bigger picture and fights him when he plans to kill Ila’s twin girls. You can see how powerless she feels given that she’s expected and told to follow Noah, when Noah, especially when they are on the arc and before hand in how he saves no one else and has gone insane. You can see the trials she faces dealing with that. She is the one truly good person in the film.

Tubal-cain – Played by Ray Winstone, he is the primary antagonist outside of Noah. He is a king and believes that humans were made in God’s image in order to dominate rather than to care and create. He is the one who tries corrupting Ham and almost succeeds as he taps into Ham’s anger at his possible partner being left behind by Noah in Tubal-cain’s attack. He fights to the end and is a crafty and interesting foe. He is survival of the species in the most extreme sense, though his inability to see how in ancestors had destroyed all life is sadly missed. I wish that had been brought up in the many talks he had with characters.

Ham – Played by Logan Lerman, he is the character walking the line between the way of Cain and the way of Seth. In the end when they find land he chooses to go his own way. He wants to learn how to care, since all his actions are tied to his own wants and desires. He does this really well too and you can see why he hates Noah for a lot of the film.

Ila – Emma Watson is the most successful of the “Harry Potter” cast post “Harry Potter” and rightfully so. She is damn talented. We see that hear too where she was a survivor of an attack on the mine where her family was raising her and Noah and his wife take her in. She is barren and it implied she was cut as a child. Because of this she has a lot of fear connecting but is able to heal from literally and figuratively after speaking with Methuselah. She is a great character and defends her children to the end. It is her showing them their innocence that staves Noah’s hand.

Noah – Is he mad? This is the big question throughout the film. So much of the film you are left wondering if it is all just in Noah’s head as he thinks God wants to annihilate man completely given the near extinction of all life by many of Cain’s line. You can see where he is coming from too as miracles do happen throughout the film. The big issue is when the daughters are born and he has to break away from what he believes God’s message is. He believed God wanted them to restore the Garden, so after they help the animals all survive…they would die out. What he misses in his nihilism is that humans are part of the world too and it is only after accepts that that we see him deal with the guilt of letting the innocent Canaanites die and the fact that he nearly killed his grandchildren and planned on doing so for quite a while once he knew they would be born, and if they would be girls. Russell Crowe does this really really well. He is good at playing complex mad characters, which Noah is. We see him wrestle with his decisions and face the reality of his character relationships. He eventually becomes a drunk when they reach land once more but is brought out of it when he is reminded once more of life carrying on…showing that he has changed from the man he once was.

The Message – The message is dilemmas. Is humanity redeemable? What makes a civilization worth saving or not saving? What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we we have as human beings? This film deals with all of this and lets us make our own decision. Noah is not a good person, but he is a human being. It is through his eyes that we are shown the question and can judge Noah for the decisions he makes. This is powerful and makes the film truly a masterpiece.

I’m glad this is how Apocalypse Week ends. This is one of the greatest films I’ve watched, though I can see why so many were torn about it. The thing to remember is to take it on it’s own merits. Like all films it is a story and a good story at that. What message you choose to take from it is up to you as Daronofsky leaves it pretty open ended. He leaves the hope for us with Seth’s line surviving after the flood, but doesn’t say that the flood was Just. That is up to the viewer. The actors and actresses, cinematography, music and writing are phenomenal and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a great film based off fantasy and mythology that lets you find the meaning in it.

Final score is 10 / 10. Shem isn’t a great character, but he isn’t bad. None of the minor characters who don’t get exploration hurt the film in anyway.