The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys seems at least as much defined by what it isn’t as what it is. It isn’t a Will Ferrell, gross-out, over the top comedy. It isn’t a gag-fest. It isn’t a by the books buddy comedy. It isn’t a quirky, Wes Anderson, uncomedy either. I admire it for not being all those things. But I’m less sure it knows what it is. The take of two private eyes bumbling through a convoluted plot involving a missing woman in LA has so much cinematic baggage, from The Big Sleep, to Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang via Mulholland Drive and LA Confidential (which also featured both Basinger and Crowe lest we miss the reference) that it is placing itself at an immediate disadvantage.

The jokes don’t come thick and fast, but there are some laugh out loud moments. I’ve seen some people complain about the storyline – have these people ever seen the Big Sleep, Maltese Falcon or Chinatown? A twisting, barely comprehensible, and largely meaningless plot is the whole point of a noir movie. It is less a narrative arc than a narrative slug trail. The function of that plot is to allow other elements to be showcased – the seedy side of Hollywood say, or Humphrey Bogart being endlessly cool. The interaction between Gosling and Crowe is presumably the intended primary function here, and while neither are awful, they are also not quite sufficient enough to justify the long running time.

In the end, I sorta liked it for not being other things, in the same way you sorta support one team who are playing against another you don’t like. But when that team doesn’t win, you’re not invested in it.

In the Deep

After The Shallows, this is the second, non-Sharknado type shark movie this year. It centres on two sisters, Lisa and Kate, holidaying in Mexico who decide to do the tourist thing of going down in a shark cage from Matthew Modine’s slightly shabby boat. It never ends well for Americans holidaying in Mexico in films, and when we find out that one sister is the quiet, homely type, jealous of her more adventurous sibling, we know where it will end.

If The Shallows could be seen as The Revenge of Chrissie Watkins, then this is Hooper in the Shark Cage – the Extended Cut. “You go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water” is pretty much the plot summary. But In The Deep is also a decent survival film and as well as having a realistic shark, it successfully adds the disorientation of being in dark water, and the tension of clock-watching a diminishing air supply into the mix. There are moments of real anxiety and high suspense as the two sisters attempt to escape the watery confine. It’s tightly scripted, well acted and keeps the shark action to a realistic minimum.

I have a soft spot for Jaws 2, but this probably ranks as my 3rd favourite shark movie, a worthy entry on to niche internet lists.

Miles Ahead

The consensus on Cheadle’s biopic of Miles Davies seems to be Cheadle great, film a bit of a mess. It’s hard not to argue with that assessment. Biopics tend to go for the cradle to grave sweep, or the detailed, representative slice or have a particular theory they want to expound. While Cheadle deliberately (and wisely I think) wanted to avoid the first of these approaches, Miles Ahead doesn’t really replace it with anything else. It could have taken a microcosm approach, (eg using Ashley Kahn’s book on the making of Kind of Blue), but instead interweaves three or four story lines. One of these involves Ewan MacGregor’s Rolling Stone journalist, so the film could have opted for the interview as narrative tool, like End of the Tour. It doesn’t have a particular cinematic interpretation in relation to the music either, as Love and Mercy attempted. There doesn’t seem to be a strong sense of how it wants to approach the subject or the point it wants to make.

But the film is imbued with respect, love and admiration, and with a tighter script Cheadle will be a sympathetic and engaging director. I’m not sure there is a good, coherent Miles Davies biopic waiting to be made. Any such film will always fall short of the music, and the man himself. You’re inevitably left wondering, why don’t I just stick on Sketches of Spain?

The Shallows

Ok, let’s just get it out in the open – Jaws, Jaws, Jaws, Jaws. Spielberg’s classic (and as you’ll ascertain from the title of this blog, my all time favourite movie) both invented, and simultaneously killed a genre. Everyone wanted to make a shark movie after Jaws, but there was no point in making a shark movie after Jaws.

The Shallows centres on Nancy Adams undertaking a pilgrimage to a secluded beach where her now deceased mother went when she was first pregnant. During surfing she stumbles into the feeding ground of a great white, feasting on a dead killer whale. Stranded on a piece of rock until the tide comes in, the film is a sort of 127 Hours on a Lump of Coral. All of the ingredients of the survival movie are in place – seclusion, a misunderstanding with someone who could be a contact, some crucial decisions early on that have consequences later one, etc. A family favourite in our household was the US TV series I Shouldn’t Be Alive, which featured real life tales of people surviving disastrous situations, often despite their best attempts to get themselves killed. The Shallows is like an extended version of one of these episodes.

One of the inherent problems of stranded type movies is that the central character is forced to vocalise inner thoughts, otherwise we’re just staring at someone. A foil can help in this, Wilson in Cast Away, and Steven Seagull in The Shallows. It does lead to unrealistic, awkward monologues “hmm, a camera”.

The climax makes a direct nod to Jaws, with Adams swimming to a life buoy for safety. This is where the film really stretches reality, and could be labelled “The Revenge of Chrissie Watkins”. But at least it’s an attempt to make a decent shark film that isn’t in the Sharknado, or Deep Blue Water vein of ridiculousness, and it has some genuine moments of tension. And maybe the whole thing is an existential metaphor – I mean which of us hasn’t felt like we’re clinging to a rotting whale’s carcass, just yards from safety while dangers swirl around.

Green Room

I watched a couple of Eli Roth films the other day (Green Inferno and Aftershock). They were unsatisfying and I found myself comparing them unfavourably to Jeremy Saulnier’s tight, believable thriller. Green Room follows a hardcore punk band who after scratching a tour get offered a gig at a neo-nazi club in the middle of a forest. They stumble across a crime scene in the eponymous Green Room, and from there both sides are locked into an escalating series of confrontations.

Where this works over Roth’s films is that the latter are situated firmly in the horror genre, while Green Room is really a thriller. A second reason is that although Roth has grown more courageous in his set up – we get an hour or so of getting to know the characters – these are people we don’t want to spend time with. They are usually rich, spoilt white kids who are being brave travelling outside of America (which they will really come to regret). Green Room has a decent level of introduction, but crucially the characters are grounded and interesting. You believe this is a punk group, their terms of reference are knowing and their music is not the embarrassing pastiche of punk that would be created by a 45 year old Hollywood scriptwriter.

The film has it flaws, there are only so many times they can escape from the green room and return to it. And one of the likeable aspects of the film is its refusal to escalate to high levels of gore, conspiracy or horror. This is how this situation might well develop, and it has the confidence not to layer levels of excess upon it. But this is also one of its weaknesses, once the audience knows the set up, we are waiting then for it to follow its path, and there is little deviation from this.

But there’s a lot to like in this film, and a good way to appreciate its qualities is to imagine how it would have turned out under Roth’s hand.

Batman vs Superman

I think I’ve established my disdain for comic book movies on here. My charge book is: fans take them too seriously; as soon as you take them seriously then you have to take them seriously – and then it’s silly men dressing up in outfits being white vigilantes; they represent the worst examples of flat, boring, CGI battles that are devoid of any tension, meaning or peril; they dominate cinema; I am not 12 years old.

With this baggage I came to Batman vs Superman aware that the comic book fans had hated it, so therefore I was willing to be contrarian and heap praise on it. And for the first half hour I was preparing a review along those lines – the reason the usual comic book audience didn’t like it was because it placed Superman in a real, modern, context. We see him in a middle east, murky dark ops scenario. Is Superman part of American imperialism this asks? But, as every overblown minute dragged on, my triumphant, contrarian review morphed into yet another one despairing at the pompous, self-indulgent, poorly scripted mess of a film it is.

One of the most embarrassing aspects of Batman vs Superman is the cringing, naked spectacle of someone going beyond the intellectual capacity, without anyone telling them they’re regurgitating cliches. The whole religious, turgid, digging clay rhetoric of Snyder is like an over indulged 6th former telling you earnestly “yeah, but I think religion is the cause of all wars”. You can’t help but roll your eyes, and ruffle their hair.

There are some good points to the film – the aforementioned realistic situating of Superman (this works less well with Batman), an effective Lois Lane portrayal, Ben Affleck has some weight as an ageing Batman and there is an attempt at a monochromatic style with echoes of Blade Runner. But these are outweighed very heavily by the negatives: a completely contrived central conflict (it’s in the title so it must be good). When Batman says “if there’s 1% chance he’s our enemy we have to assume he is” seems entirely unconvincing; A Godawful Lex Luther portrayal from Eisenberg, all twitchy pyschopath by numbers; it’s just fucking boring, oh for an editor, a narrative arc you care about.

I turned it off after Lex Luther screams (while twitching psychopathically) “bring me the head of the bat!” because Pointless was starting on TV. Pointless just about sums it up.