Movie Review: “The Nice Guys”

Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta
Shane Black

Shane Black may not have invented the buddy cop film, but he’s widely viewed as the modern-day godfather of the subgenre thanks to seminal movies like “Lethal Weapon,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Black is to buddy cop films what Raymond Chandler is to hard-boiled crime novels (a fitting comparison considering the writer/director lists the author as a major influence), and his latest movie, the retro detective noir “The Nice Guys,” is arguably his best entry in the genre since redefining the buddy cop formula three decades ago. Although it hits all of the usual beats of a Shane Black feature, “The Nice Guys” does so with such remarkable efficiency, brimming with witty banter, solid action and even a little heart, that it feels totally fresh.

Set in 1977 in the seedy, neon-tinged underbelly of Los Angeles, the movie stars Ryan Gosling as Holland March, a drunken private eye who’s less concerned about solving mysteries than getting paid. His latest gig finds him investigating the death of famous adult film star Misty Mountains, and though it sounds like an open-and-shut case, Misty’s grandmother claims that she saw the actress alive several days after the car accident that supposedly killed her. Holland’s only lead is a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who was seen leaving Misty’s house on the date in question, but the trail goes cold after enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is enlisted by Amelia to stop Holland from following her around. However, when Amelia’s life is threatened by a pair of menacing thugs and she goes on the run, Jackson and Holland team up to track her down with some help from the latter’s precocious tween daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). But as they get closer to uncovering the truth behind Amelia’s involvement in the conspiracy, an assassin (Matt Bomer) is sent to silence them.

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Movie Review: “The Big Short”

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei
Adam McKay

The housing market crash of 2008 was no joke, which is why it might come as somewhat of a surprise that “The Big Short” is directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights.” Though Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a (mostly) serious movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s clearly passionate about the material – both the real-life events and the book on which the film is based – because it shows in the final product. “The Big Short” isn’t quite as hard-hitting as J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call,” the underseen 2011 drama that offers a different perspective of the same events, but it’s a nonetheless effective examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh.

Adapted from “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis’ bestselling book of the same name, “The Big Short” follows a group of investment bankers through the years 2005-2008 as they predicted what many thought was impossible – the always-sturdy housing market collapsing – and then did the unthinkable by betting against (or shorting) the big banks to profit off their greed. The first to make his move is financial guru Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward hedge fund manager who discovers a worrying pattern in defaulted subprime mortgages (which make up the mortgage bonds that the banks trade on) and invests more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps, i.e. insurance against the failure of those bonds, which didn’t even exist at the time.

Everyone on Wall Street thinks he’s crazy, except for hotshot Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who sees a potential gold mine in Burry’s theory and convinces short-tempered, nihilistic hedge funder Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his tight-knit team (Jeremy Strong, Rafe Spall and Hamish Linklater) to go into business with him, despite the fact that Mark hates everything that guys like Jared stand for. Word of Vennett’s proposal also reaches small-time investors Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who request help from their mentor, former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), in getting them a seat at the big boys table.

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Movie Review: “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
Derek Cianfrance

After watching Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine,” it was clear that the writer/director would be one to watch for the future, even if the anti-romance film wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. His follow-up feature, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” reunites Cianfrance with his “Blue Valentine” star Ryan Gosling, and though the movie is hindered by its own set of problems, the multi-generational crime drama makes good on the potential he showcased in his directorial debut. While it’s difficult to talk about the movie without wading knee-high into spoiler territory, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is an impressive piece of American filmmaking that’s every bit as compelling as it is annoyingly flawed.

The movie’s triptych structure is like watching three separate but interconnecting films, and Cianfrance kicks things off with what is easily the best of the bunch as we’re introduced to Luke Glanton (Gosling), a motorcycle stunt driver who reconnects with a former one-night stand named Romina (Eva Mendes) at the local fair where he plies his trade. When he learns that Romina has given birth to his son, Luke agrees to quit his nomadic job and stay in town, even though Romina has already moved on with another man. Determined to do his fatherly duties and provide for his son, Luke decides to put his unique skills to use and start robbing banks, placing him on a collision course with rookie policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an honest family man who gave up his promising career as a lawyer to serve on the force. After becoming privy to some dirty cops in the department, however, Avery must decide what’s more important: his integrity or loyalty to his brothers in blue.

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Hidden Netflix Gems: ‘Bronson’

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a new weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bronson” (2008)

“My name’s Charles Bronson, and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous.” That’s the opening line of Nicholas Winding Refn’s fictionalized biopic “Bronson,” starring Tom Hardy as the titular character, a man who the press often refers to as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” You may be familiar with Winding Refn’s best known work, 2011’s “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, and recognize Hardy as the guy who played identity thief Eames in “Inception” and most recently appeared as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” While those two pictures might be better films, I don’t think Hardy as ever put in a better performance than he did in “Bronson.”

Charles Bronson is not as well known stateside as he is across the pond. In the UK, the man is something of a national celebrity, both famous and infamous for spending the majority of his adult life in solitary confinement (28 of his 34 years in prison). Bronson was first incarcerated in 1974, at age 22, after being handed a seven-year sentence for armed robbery (of just  £26.18) from a suburban English post office. That seven years quickly became 14 as a result of his starting various fights and hostage situations involving guards and fellow prisoners. Bronson was released in 1988, but spent just 69 days on the outside (during which he began a “career” as a bare-knuckle boxer) before being arrested again. He’s been in prison ever since and his antics haven’t ceased.

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A Chat with Ray Liotta (“Snowmen”)

Bullz-Eye: I was able to check out “Snowmen” – they sent me a screener – and it was a great little movie. My highest praise is that I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, and I’d be comfortable with her watching it with me.

Ray Liotta: Yeah, it’s really a good movie, and it definitely…it’s more than just entertaining. It definitely touches on a lot of issues for grown-ups or kids.

BE: How did you find your way into the film?

RL: It just so happens that the producer has a kid in school where my kid goes, and they were gearing up and had cast all the kids, and they were thinking about the adult roles, and my name came up. We talked, he gave me the script, and I loved it and decided to do it.

BE: So how much of the character was on the page, and how much were you able to bring to the character?

RL: It was all on the page. All of it. It was really well written. I mean, my job is to make it as real as possible and try to add as much depth and dimension to it as I can. To pretend that I was a dad whose son was sick and thinks he’s going to die, the bills that I have to pay, the guilt that I have from just working too much to pay those bills, maybe missing some of the things that are going on in his life.

BE: How well did you and Bobby Coleman get on? You seemed to have a pretty strong father-son dynamic going on.

RL: Yeah, he’s a really special kid. He’s a really nice kid, and he’s been acting for awhile now. He’s just serious about the work, so he was very committed to every scene. He had done his homework and knew his lines, and he was raring to go. He was in the pocket. So it was easy. One of the great things when you work with a kid is that you really realize something that, as an  adult, you sometimes forget: you’re just playing pretend. He pretends that I’m his dad, and I pretend that he’s my son. You just play pretend, and that’s it. It’s nothing more or less than that.

BE: A film like “Snowmen” is one which may surprise some, since you’re not generally perceived as Ray Liotta, Family-Friendly Actor, but you’ve been doing family-friendly films as far back as “Corinna, Corinna” and “Operation Dumbo Drop.” Does that get frustrating, that people try to put you in a particular niche?

RL: Yeah, within the business, it gets frustrating. But then something like this comes along and you get a chance to do it. I did a movie with Tobey Maguire called “The Details,” and that’s a little more…I’m not a nutjob in that one. [Laughs.] See, what happens is that even if people see the movies – and I think it’s true with any actor who plays good guys and bad guys –  the bad guys just tend to stand out in people’s minds. You can’t expect everybody to see every movie you’ve done. I had one woman come up to me at the gym the other day, and she said, “Oh, my gosh, all you do is play bad guys. Why are you always such a bad guy? You scare me!” And I’m…I mean, I’m not going to sit there and list the movies that she hasn’t seen. It just kind of goes with the territory.

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