[#366Flicks] What’s that about finishing last?


The Nice Guys features hard-boiled detectives in 1977 Los Angeles exposing a conspiracy that has resulted in the murders of several young people in the porn industry. And it’s a comedy!

The recently reviewed Tango & Cash felt like a parody of the buddy cop movie that was popular at the time. What director Shane Black and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have created with The Nice Guys is something that feels like a loving homage to those same movies. It’s funny and slapsticky without ever devolving into wackiness. It will occasionally surprise you with brutal violence, but never enough to kill the mood. It’s a fine line to walk, but these guys strut along it with style.

Gosling is in full comedy mode as a private investigator with a less-than-admirable work ethic. With high-pitched screams and hilarious physical comedy, he brings the laughter with aplomb. Having been successful as a heartthrob, a leading man, and now a funny man, Gosling shows himself to be a versatile movie star. Crowe meets Gosling’s comedy with a solid performance as an affable sad sack tough guy looking to make a change in his life. When both men stumble into the same case, their chemistry is undeniable. The actors are clearly having fun as they bounce off each other – figuratively and literally. And kudos to the young actress playing Gosling’s daughter; I always like to acknowledge child actors who feel natural and real.

Despite the plot sounding gritty and violent on paper, the movie’s tone is always pretty breezy. Bullets and bad guys are just parts of the playground in which our protagonists play. Moments of real danger and brutality keep things grounded, but another gag is never too far away. By the end of the movie, the action escalates to a point that is fairly crazy yet feels completely in line with the film’s style of heightened reality.

Beginning to end, The Nice Guys is a fun time. Spoiler alert: by the end of the movie the two men have decided to continue to work together as private investigators. I don’t blame them; I want to spend more time with them too.

Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):

Turbo Kid – This is what an ’80s post-apocalyptic movie would be like if it were made today. Released in 2015, this movie is set in the desolate nuclear wasteland of 1997. Our young hero is excited to find a new audio cassette while scavenging on his BMX bike, and we are treated to some hair metal and synth. You get the idea. This story about a young man and his laser glove overthrowing a tyrant to save his robot girlfriend leans heavily on ’80s kitsch and hyper-violence. Its style struggles to prop up its bland story, though, and I found myself mostly waiting around for the action. Not great, but a fun watch for its novelty.

Creepshow 2 – This anthology sequel is improved by having only three stories, down from the original’s five. Allowing each tale more time to breathe lets dread set in more effectively. I miss some of the camp found in the first, but the first two of the three stories are still fun watches, with the middle tale being the standout for me. Classic setups and gratuitous gore galore. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say it’s “good,” but it’s a fun addition to anyone’s Halloween viewing lineup.

American Ultra – Jesse Eisenberg is a stoner slacker screwup who is actually a brainwashed CIA super-spy sleeper agent. Also, Kristen Stewart acts with her mouth open. Scheduled to be eliminated as a defunct program by a delightfully evil Topher Grace, Eisenberg is always a total dork but doesn’t hesitate to go all Jason Bourne on everyone. Decent performances and ridiculous action make this a fun send-up of the spy action genre.

The Fly (1958) – Don’t do science in the ’50s. It never goes well. When trying to create a teleportation device, a man becomes spliced with a house fly to grotesque results. The first thirty minutes plays more like a murder mystery than a monster movie as the wife dodges questions about her husband’s mysterious death. Things slow down once she starts telling the story in earnest. Boy, is this movie proud of its bright neon science lights. Things improve once the scientist actually goes through the transformation, and the “Help meeee!” ending is indeed classic. This era’s movies just aren’t to my taste, so I didn’t really enjoy this one, but I do acknowledge that it is well-made and holds up better than others I’ve reviewed. Vincent Price is an icon for a reason; he’s really good.

Return Of the Fly – More Vincent Price is a good thing for this sequel. With a plot about stealing secrets and sabotage, this story is more interesting than the original’s. By the end, it turns into a stereotypical monster movie with a guy running around in a considerably less-convincing mask. If you could take the first hour of this movie and combine it with the last thirty minutes of the first, you’d have a really solid flick. As it is, just stick with the original if you want a dose of ’50s movie making.

Taxi Driver – This ’70s movie that inspired a delusional man to attempt an assassination of a political figure features a delusional man who attempts to assassinate a political figure. Funny that. Robert De Niro plays insomniac cabbie Travis Bickle, who is clearly unstable from the start as he wishes for rain to wash away the scum of New York. He slowly gets worse, and scarier, as the movie quietly plods along to a climactic explosion of violence. I love movies, but I’ve never studied movies academically. This film is often held up as a masterpiece all around. Me, I just didn’t get it. All I saw was the slowest of burns leading to an unsatisfying ending. De Niro shines when he’s actually interacting with people, but the majority of his performance comes as a narration that is droning and muted. Yes, Robert, I am talking to you, and I just don’t care for what you’re saying.

Blue Ruin – This is a violent revenge flick, but instead of Jason Statham, it stars Phil from accounting. A man, broken and destroyed by his family’s murder, seeks revenge on the man who did it once he’s released from jail. What makes this film feel unique is that our protagonist is just an everyday schlub who makes mistakes, doesn’t know how to use a gun, and is in way over his head. There are no massive explosions or stylish shootouts. Everything feels “realistic” and tragic. The novelty of this choice and a strong performance from our lead makes this a recommend.

Murder By Death – Ah, the ’70s. A time when comedies were filled with puns, screwball antics, and racial insensitivity that is cringeworthy now. This murder mystery comedy features quite a cast that includes Inspector Clouseau, Mrs. Peacock, Columbo, Zefram Cochrane, Professor McGonagall, AND Obi-Wan Kenobi. Wackiness and crazy plot twists abound. This movie was Clue before Clue was Clue. While not as expertly crafted as that later film, there are chuckles to be had here and is worth watching if not for the cast alone.

The Gift (2015) – Jason Bateman and his wife are stalked by Joel Edgerton, an old acquaintance of Bateman’s. Or are they? The mystery starts by asking if Edgerton is unbalanced and threatening, or just very socially awkward and Bateman is a bully? Blame shifts back and forth as tensions rise, expertly leaving you wondering which of these two men is worse and how far this feud will actually go. Bateman plays a great asshole, Edgerton is both sympathetic and menacing, and Rebecca Hall gives a solid performance as Bateman’s wife trying to make sense of everything. This thriller is taut and effective.

Be Cool – Ten years later, this sequel to Get Shorty tries to recapture the enticingly smooth style of that original. Unfortunately, it brings nothing new to the table beyond cameos and references that take me out of the film. Many of the same beats are lazily replayed. There are some fun things here: Cedric the Entertainer has a great monologue before shooting someone, the Rock makes fun of his own eyebrow, and Travolta still has an undeniably charismatic style. It’s fine, just uninspired. Watch Get Shorty and skip this one unless you’re desperate for more Chili Palmer.

Demons – Dario Argento means ’80s horror, WOOOO! A group of people become trapped in a movie theater when they’re beset upon by a plague of zombies demons during the screening of a cursed horror movie. Light on plot and heavy on red syrup, this flick is fun for people looking for gore and ’80s rock. Blood (and other fluids) flow freely as pretty decent rubber prosthetics are gloriously torn apart. The makeup designs are all great. Strange, sometimes contradictory choices befuddle me, but I’m just here for the effectively gross transformations and deaths. It’s a shallow, guilty pleasure, but how can you go wrong with a movie that features a man riding a motorcycle who wields a katana and cuts down zombies?

Demons 2 – Tenants in an apartment building come under attack when another cursed film plays on TV and summons another legion of demons. This time, we get a demon dog! And a demon child! And a tiny little demon puppet that is really cute in a Gremlins sort of way. This sequel spends more time trying to create tension and raising stakes. It shouldn’t, because that is not its strong suit, and only creates lulls between the fun. The makeup on the demons is better this time around, but the kills and gore feel less gratuitous and gleeful. The first film is a bonkers bloodfest. This one feels less impactful, but still fun.

Click here for a full list of all the movies I’ve seen so far.

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