Shane Black's The Nice Guys Film Review

Directed by: Shane Black
Category: Action/Comedy

When I learned Shane Black was going to go back to his roots with an old-school style action/buddy comedy, I was more excited than most. Black virtually invented the action/buddy genre with films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. While he was merely a writer for those films, he would get his first directing gig with 2005 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which he both wrote and directed himself, proving his talents carried over into directing, which he continues to do sporadically. So when it was announced he'd be doing an action/buddy comedy set in the 70's and he would be directing and writing himself, well if you grew up on these movies in the 80's, then you knew this was a genre that really hasn't had success in a very long time. Nobody makes them the way they used to anymore.

The weekend this film opened, my partner in crime and I got our tickets and saw it on a Saturday night. Now you should know I never pay full price for a late feature, because it's just too fucking expensive. I refuse to pay outrageous prices. But I knew that this film probably wouldn't be a big hit, so I wanted to support it as much as possible. Of course, the theater was only maybe a quarter full, which was sad. But let me tell you. The next 2 hours proceeded to be 2 of the most entertaining hours I've spent in a theater in quite some time. The Nice Guys was awesome. Just the type of film we always hope they can make again; one that we've been missing for a good 20 years.

What makes this film a cut above the rest is that it's genuinely funny, and doesn't rely on "stupid" to make you laugh. It's hilarious for all the right reasons at just the right moments. It's also a detective story, sprinkled with some solid action throughout. So you kind of have a bit of everything for your enjoyment. What makes it even more "authentic" is that it's set in the 70's, giving it that extra air of authenticity and legitimacy. Sure they could have set it present day, but it's just more fun to see the disco era recreated so well.

While I never would have pictured Russell Crowe (looking the heaviest I've ever seen him) and Ryan Gosling as an action/comedy duo, I have to admit their chemistry is undeniable. Plus, who would have thought that Gosling could actually be funny? I didn't! I don't think I've ever seen the guy "act" as much as he did in this film and come off as likable before. And it just seems to come off so natural too, which was another shock. While Crowe plays the more hard-edged and serious of the two, Gosling plays off that seriousness by being way more animated and the result is pretty hilarious. I liked these two so much together that I hope that Black continue's to make more of these down the road, maybe with each film set in a different era like the 80's and 90's since they seemed to tackle the 70's so effectively well.

Which brings me to another positive note. Shane Black is an insanely talented director. With only 3 directing credits to his name to date, with this being his third, he displays an even-handed old-school charm. He keeps things simple, but neat. Never once falling into the lame handheld bottomless pit of "quick and easy" filmmaking, which was a breath of fresh air. This film is slick, in an old 70's kind of way. He doesn't superstylize anything, instead letting the art department, production design, and wardrobe department do it for him, resulting in one helluva great looking film. Everything looks and feels authentic, and not fake or that it's trying too hard.

On the flipside, The Nice Guys is also a sad reminder of why they don't make these types of films anymore. As of this post, it has been out for over a month already, and it's only amassed a box office total of $35 million on a $50 million dollar budget. I can't explain it. On the one hand I can't imagine how or why this film could possibly cost $50 million dollars when it's a fairly simple film to make. I'm guessing Gosling and Crowe's paychecks weren't cheap. And on the other hand, here we finally have a film that brings back that throwback feeling 100%, the kind of film we've been aching for to be made again, and still, nobody went to go see it. It's frustrating. I don't know how people expect filmmakers and studio's to attempt anymore of these if they don't go out and support the few that we do get.

I really can't praise this film enough. It's the perfect escape if you're tired of all these big overblown flops. It's the kind of film you've been waiting for if you grew up with films like Lethal Weapon and The Rookie. It's got action, which kicks ass. It's funny as hell, in a legitimate way, without pandering to slapstick. It's smart when it delves into the detective angle, and most of all, it's easily one of the most fun film experiences you will have if you just like to watch a good movie. Since it's too late now that this has come and gone from theaters, support the shit out of this when it hit's the home video market. Rent it, buy it, stream it, but "PAY" to do it so that they will make more!


Quick Shot Reviews: Death Wish 1 & 2

I've noticed something about myself recently. Being that I'm now 40 years old, I've found myself really being drawn more to the films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson in the 80's, rather than the films I used to obsess about from Van Damme, Seagal, and Chuck Norris. Well, Norris could really fall into both groups depending on the film. But what I'm realizing is that I'm identifying more with the normal guys, the Bronson's and Eastwood's. Whereas the Van Damme's and Seagal's seem to come off more like superhero's. I liked that Bronson is older, and is but a mere mortal man. One who gets hurt, who tires, and doesn't know any type of martial arts. He's tough, in an old school way. Same goes for Eastwood, and I am having a great time digging through both their output from the 80's.

Don't ask me why, because I don't know. But I've never seen any of the Death Wish films. Gasp! Except for Part 3, which was only maybe a year or so ago because I heard how nuts it was. And it was. So recently, in my classic Bronson and Eastwood kick, I decided to just watch the damn film series already. Why haven't I done it yet?! It's from Cannon for God's sake! I wasn't sure if they were good, so I didn't want to blind-buy, but lucky for me, the first 2 films are on Hulu Plus, so now I'm finally getting some use out of my monthly subscription that I often seem to forget I have.

Death Wish (1974)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Category: Action

First up; Death Wish. I must say. Death Wish was a revelation. It's hard to know whether to call it a revenge flick or a vigilante flick, because it's both. I think what surprised me the most was how violent it was, and how well it was made. I'm not familiar with Michael Winner as a director, other than knowing he's done the first 3 films in the franchise, but he seems tailor made for the gritty realism of 70's New York City. Strange considering he's from London. But somehow, some way, his specific style works, and it works insanely well. Mid 70's New York looked both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Bronson is a badass, plain and simple. His ability to be both cold and driven is what gives his take on Paul Kersey the depth he needs, and to be believable. So good is he in the role that I couldn't possibly imagine anyone else playing the part. Of course that will change now that the remake has just been announced with Bruce Willis set to star and Eli Roth directing. But hell, I can't imagine the ruckus this film raised way back in 1974 with it's unflinching depiction of violence and rape. But it's almost like it needed to be that shocking, so that you can see why he is driven with the need for vengeance.

What I found most enjoyable, besides the violence, is how everything just works almost perfectly in unison to create this world. All the right talent is here at just the right moments of their career's, and the result is one of the most violent, most entertaining revenge thriller's ever made. It's gritty, unflinching, stylish depiction of revenge in New York City circa the mid 70's makes this a near masterpiece. Don't be like me. If you haven't seen this yet, you better get on it immediately.

Death Wish II (1982)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Category: Action

With how successful Death Wish was, I'm surprised it took them 8 years to make a sequel. Death Wish II takes place this time in Los Angeles. After Kersey's (Bronson) wife is murdered and daughter raped in the first film, he moves with his daughter to L.A. to escape the violence of New York. Only violence seems to follow him everywhere as this time, both his daughter and maid are raped and murdered. Again, Kersey seeks revenge on the gang, and again gains the attention of Det. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) who travels to L.A. to try and stop Kersey.

I've heard a lot of people say that Death Wish II is more or less the same film as the first. While that's true to a certain extent, I have to disagree. What I noticed almost immediately is that this sequel just barely teeters on the edge of being crazy, right before Part 3 goes head-on into insane. There are so many moments that elevate this above the first film in terms of sheer audacity, violence, brutality, and just pure raw energy that I found myself enjoying this one more than the original. Mainly though, because it is way more nuts than I was expecting it to be. Not as nuts as the insanity of Part 3, but boy it gets close.

Director Michael Winner again returns, bringing his distinct visual flavor to the film, but one of the surprises that I was not prepared for was the fact that Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page provided the score, and it's pretty fucking phenomenal. Kind of bizarre and not really the sound you'd expect from a film like this, but it works effectively well. So well in fact that it pushed the entertainment value so much further in this for me. It punches you in the gut in the best possible way.

I've recently heard that Shout! Factory will be releasing this in late July that will feature both the Theatrical Cut as well as the highly sought after Unrated Cut. If this movie could possibly get any more violent, then I'm in. I can't wait.

Death Wish II is a slightly better version of the first one, because it pushes the envelope in nearly every direction even further to the point of nuts, as if it's trying to prepare you for the insanity of the next sequel to come after.

There are countless DVD and Blu ray releases of these films. But you can also currently stream them both on Hulu Plus if you don't want to actually purchase them just yet. 


Stuart Gordon's Fortress Film Review

VHS cover scan courtesy of retro-daze.org
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Category: Sci-fi/Action

I can't tell you why, because I don't know, but for one reason or another, this 90's classic popped into my head and I instinctly had a strong urge to revisit it. I think it may be because I've been seeing Christopher Lambert's name repeatedly since I've been revisiting the entire Highlander filmography in order. I guess that could be why. So when I recently came upon it at my local blockbuster (yes, we still have one), I snagged it for a whole $1.50 for 5 nights. All I really remember about this was that it was directed by Stuart Gordon and was mostly set in a high tech prison in the future.

In the future, John (Christopher Lambert) is sent to a super max high tech prison after getting arrested while trying to smuggle his pregnant wife across a checkpoint. Women are only allowed 1 child and being pregnant with their second child violates their quality control. While in the prison John soon plans his escape and is hell-bent on rescuing his wife who is being held prisoner by the prison's vicious warden Poe (Kurtwood Smith). 

I have to admit, Fortress was much better than I was expecting it to be, and way more entertaining than it's reputation leads you to believe. In fact, I'm shocked this doesn't get more love in the cult film circuit. I'd probably put this right up there with say Class of 1999. Just a fun action/sci-fi futuristic hybrid on the low-budget side that utilizes it's budget extremely well. But outside of that, I have to give most of the props to Stuart Gordon. This guy has been an increasingly frustrating director for me. For me, his peak was early in his career, ending right up to when he directed this badass flick. Ever since this his style has become lazy and uninspired. It's like he's totally given up on offering anything interesting on a "visual" level. Most of what I've seen from him since 1992 has been a mess.; lazy handheld camerawork with almost no production value. It's hard to imagine it's even the same guy responsible for such highly revered classics like Re-Animator, From Beyond and Robot Jox. But it is. It's the same guy who would go on to half-ass his way through films like Castle Freak, Dagon and King of the Ants. I honestly don't know how, but trust me, it's the same guy.

But hey, at least we have films like this, films that remind us that there was a time when Gordon gave a shit. So much of this film and it's production is on point, even down to the model work. It's so well done that you can hardly tell, which makes it even more awesome that they didn't try to just go with CGI instead. Even the cast was surprisingly kickass. For starters, you just can't get anymore "menacing" than Kurtwood Smith (Robocop) as the bad guy, unless you had Bruce Payne maybe? And then we have Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Tom Towles (NofLD, Henry), and Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior) just to name a few. It's a pretty great ensemble supporting cast if you ask me, each bringing some flavor to the table.

Even under the confines of being mostly set within a prison, the script does allow for more action and violence than you'd expect. In fact, I was always kind of thrown off guard by how fun and exciting it ended up being. And that also takes me back to how well Stuart Gordon shot this. I can't stress that enough. I mean, this thing looks better than most sci-fi crap that was being released theatrically. And I know that this was in fact released theatrically because I saw it in theaters, but maybe because it didn't have a large marketing campaign it just didn't do well. After revisiting it, I'm shocked frankly. It's a fun, spirited, and well-executed sci-fi action tale that doesn't drag or miss a beat. So much of this works.

There seems to be a small time-frame when writer/director Stuart Gordon began to sway more and more into the sci-fi/action genre, clearly evident with films like this, Robot Jox and Space Truckers. I would have loved to see him continue on this path rather than seeing the droll he's churned out since. Personally, I feel Fortress was his last great film.

Fortress is no masterpiece, but it's one helluva lot of fun, and made exceptionally well. Above all, it's a lot better than you expect it to be, and really, what more could you ask for? I guess for me, not really knowing what to expect and having zero expectations helped, which made the realization that this was indeed a very killer flick all the more entertaining. I would definitely put this in Gordon's Top 5 films, and with that in mind, I'd love to see this get a new release, in widescreen. I know it's gotten a blu ray release, which is shockingly pricey. But I've read that the transfer is nothing to get excited about, though it does come in widescreen, so it has that going for it.