The Nice Guys – A Review


Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a slapstick film noir that takes place in the 70s? That doesn’t sound like a movie; that sounds like a Mad Lib that is so ludicrous that it isn’t even funny. And yet those are the keywords that best describe the new film The Nice Guys that is co-written and directed by Shane Black. And as improbable as it is, The Nice Guys mostly works thanks to the chemistry of the two stars and their willingness to go all in on this project. The Nice Guys has a few problems, but it’s still a movie that is worth the occasional bump in the road.

Director Shane Black is no stranger to the odd couple, action/comedy genre, having cut his teeth in the industry on films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. For The Nice Guys, he places the story in 1970s Los Angeles; Holland March (Gosling) is a two-bit alcoholic private investigator who tries, but mostly fails to be a good father to his 13 year old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) and Jackson Healy (Crowe) is a guy who beats people up for a living and longs to have some sort of purpose in this world. An investigation of the death of a porn star and the disappearance of a young girl brings these two men into collision and they wind up teaming up together to try to unravel the many layers of the case. Kim Basinger and Matt Bomer also appear.

Now, The Nice Guys had two things going for it from my perspective right out of the gate. I am a sucker for movies set in the 1970s; I have no idea why, but this particular time period I find aesthetically pleasing when depicted on film. This is kind of odd since while I did live through some portion of the seventies, I was too young to really remember any of it. So if it is some semblance of nostalgia, it is misplaced or faux. All I know is that if you have a soundtrack that is heavy on the hits of the 70s and some ridiculous clothing and hairstyles, I’m ready to meet you half way. I’m also a big fan of when filmmakers see the comedic potential of Ryan Gosling. That dude is a funny guy, but he is too rarely given the chance to flex his comedic muscles. Perhaps it is because he is also aesthetically pleasing that people assume that he doesn’t also possess good comedy timing, like that would somehow be an embarrassment of riches (see also Jon Hamm). In The Nice Guys, Gosling gets his chance to prove what he can do and he doesn’t disappoint. He’s better at absurd humor than most people give him credit for; he pulls off scenes in this movie that reminds me of what Lou Costello would do.

Gosling’s comedy game is only elevated by his pairing with Crowe, as the two play beautifully off each other. Crowe/Gosling is not a duo that I would have organically come up with, but their chemistry is just off the charts. Crowe really takes to the role of Healy and it’s perhaps his most likable performance in recent memory. While I had some inkling that Gosling could pull off some of the more slapstick-y aspects of The Nice Guys, I was completely unaware of what Crowe was capable of. He’s mostly known for his dramatic roles and the last time he strayed from that (the musical Les Miserables) it wasn’t exactly a home run. Apparently Crowe has been hiding his sense of humor, since his performance works just as well as Gosling’s and performs a nice counterbalance. Newcomer Angourie Rice makes her role as Gosling’s precocious daughter much more than it could have been and serves as the moral center of the film as well as a method for softening up the tough guy antics of Crowe and, to a lesser degree, Gosling. The trio make for an unconventional but amusing team.

The Nice Guys doesn’t skimp on the violence and mayhem; there are plenty of car chases, gun fights and explosions to more than hold up the action component of the action/comedy mashup. The action sequences are entertaining, but they also help to mask one of the issues with The Nice Guys – the plot. The deeper that they get into the investigation, the more muddled and confusing it all becomes. There are definitely some leaps of faith that have to be made on the part of the audience and The Nice Guys works best if you can think of their case as one giant McGuffin. The less that you think about it, the more enjoyable the film is. The pacing is also a little off, as things are chugging along just fine until the final act, where they try to cram too much story into a short amount of time.  There are also some occasional moments that drag, where jokes don’t quite land or last a beat too long.

Some other random thoughts….

  • Gosling’s mustache in this film is an endless source of amusement for me.


  • This exchange also was particularly funny to me:

Holland: Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.

Healy: People got hurt.

Holland: I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.


  • Considering that the porn industry is a plot point in the film, there is less sex and nudity than you would expect in The Nice Guys. But it is there (especially in the opening scene), if that is a concern.
  • I’ll be interested to see what else young Angourie Rice does in the future. She steals a lot of scenes.
  • Warner Brothers released this cute animated short for the film:


  • Gosling and Crowe have been on quite the publicity tour for this movie, which is usually a red flag for me. However, it appears that the blitz for The Nice Guys is the exception to that rule. Perhaps they just like spending time together.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Nice Guys, but it wound up being a pleasant surprise. My mileage with absurd and slapstick humor is probably lower than the average viewer, but I still found a lot to like about the film. Gosling and Crowe are an unpredictably strong comedic pairing and they each serve to bring out the best in their co-star. There’s a lot of silliness and plenty of action; don’t think too much about the complexities of the case and The Nice Guys is a fun night at the cinema.

The Nice Guys opens nationwide today.

Man of Steel – A Review

With the exception of my fascination with Batman, I am more of a Marvel girl rather than a DC girl when it comes to comics. Even being called a Marvel girl is a bit of a stretch, as I don’t read any of the comics or have any huge investment in the world of superheroes; I enjoy the Marvel movies a lot, but my knowledge of the Marvel universe is primarily limited to what they put on the big screen and the anecdotal information that I’ll pick up from conversations with real fans or from what I read online. But even within my limited working knowledge of superheroes, I have characters and franchises that I am drawn to far more than others. I’m far more interested in the X-Men, Thor and Batman, for example, than I am with what Hulk, Iron Man or Captain America are up to. I prefer the Avengers as a collective to any of their individual story lines. And this may make me a communist, but I really have never had an iota of interest in what Superman is doing. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just kind of around.

My totally disinterest in the man of steel is somewhat ironic, as it was on Christopher Reeve’s Superman that I first cut my teeth in the realm of superheroes. The Superman franchise was my first foray into caped crusaders and while I remember liking the movie – and perhaps having a girlhood crush on Reeve – I don’t think my Superman interest lasted much beyond that first movie. I may or may not have watched Reeve don the blue tights in subsequent installments, but if I did they made no real lasting impression. I never watched the TV shows Lois and Clark or Smallville and I just kind of shrugged at the recent attempt to reboot the franchise with Superman Returns (with Brandon Routh in the titular role). Faster than a speeding bullet, my fascination with Superman disappeared.

So I went into Man of Steel with a pretty apathetic view of Superman; on the one hand, that played to the movie’s advantage as I had no preconceived notions or fangirl anticipation. In fact, as the movie started I realized that I really didn’t know much about Superman and his back story beyond the basics – and admittedly most of that knowledge I picked up from Seinfeld episodes. On the other hand, my general lack of interest in this character meant that I was pre-programmed to engage with the movie; I was going to see it because it was a big summer movie and I typically see all the big summer movies, but beyond that the film was going to have to win me over to the superhero that I generally consider the most boring of the bunch.

Overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with the latest incarnation of Superman; the film was far too impressed with long fight sequences with dazzling special effects at the expense of a clear and understandable story or any semblance of character development. You root for Superman in this movie because you have been conditioned by society to do so, but while Henry Cavill cuts a dashing figure and seems like an amiable fellow, there just isn’t a lot going on with Superman as a character. The imprint of director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) is evident with the prolonged focus on scenes of destruction; I like a good fight scene as much as the next person, but these lasted too long and were too frequent. Man of Steel is a joyless affair; there is no laughter or comedic release in this film and it is all very dark and depressing. While the dark and broody vibe fits Batman just fine, it feels like an odd choice for the man who fights for truth, justice and the American way. Watching the Man of Steel was vaguely entertaining (though a bit confusing), but it just wasn’t a lot of fun.

There were parts of Man of Steel that I did really enjoy; I thought the best and most interesting scenes in the film dealt with Clark Kent’s childhood in Kansas with his adoptive parents (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). These scenes provided the film its few moments of heart and character study and Costner and Lane did a fantastic job, as did the various actors that played Clark through different stages of his childhood. I was far more interested in these moments, interspersed throughout the film, than I was in anything else that was going on. To me, seeing Clark deal with being different and forging his identity was a more interesting story than watching the destruction of Metropolis (yet another stand in for my beloved New York City). Dare I say it, these glimpses at Clark’s growth into adulthood make the character actually interesting.

Snyder and company, however, are not particularly interested in these quieter moments that provide some actual insight and depth to the characters; they just want to make a mess and blow things up. Fight scenes are an essential part of any superhero movie, of course; there is always some epic showdown of good vs. evil with something as trifling as the fate of humanity on the line. But what the people behind this film don’t seem to realize is that carnage for the sake of carnage loses its luster after a while. After you have watched villains and heroes thrown through buildings and skidding to a halt after leaving a wide cavern in the ground in their wake, you start to get desensitized to the whole thing. The fight scenes all lasted at least 10 minutes too long and ultimately you didn’t feel like much was accomplished except billions of dollars in property damage. The final resolution of these battles is so anticlimactic that it just feels like a lot of time was wasted; at two hours and 20 minutes, Man of Steel felt long and somewhat bloated. A few editing choices would have made a huge difference.

Man of Steel boasts a talented cast, but the story ultimately fails them. I adore Amy Adams, but I didn’t buy her as Lois Lane for one second. Her supposed chemistry with Superman felt unearned and forced. Russell Crowe is giving more to do as Superman’s birth father Jor-El, but is saddled with a lot of exposition that never really made a lot of sense to me. I never really got what exactly was going on with Krypton and therefore was not very invested in the planet’s fate. Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff and Laurence Fishburne all show up at various points but are given criminally little to do. None of them disappear into their character and while I am always glad to see Meloni pop up, every time he appeared I immediately thought “hey everybody – it’s Detective Stabler!” Henry Cavill was far too dreamy for me to give you a fair critique of his performance; he didn’t seem to be much more than an empty vessel, but I was far too interested in just drinking him in to say that I was fully paying attention to determine whether the shortcomings came from his performance or from how the story was written (I’m guessing it was a mixture of the two). The only real emotion the film conjured up for me was extreme disappointment when Cavill opted for the more clean cut look befitting the Man of Steel; I definitely dug him more with the facial hair. *sighs dreamily* Wait….what were we just talking about?

beard cavill

The one particular bright spot in Man of Steel was Michael Shannon, who I really like as an actor and I thought made the villain General Zod intense and believable. Shannon is cursed (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) with an inherent creepiness factor; I’m sure he is a very nice man, but his appearance brings a bit of a sinister vibe to his performances. It works in this case – General Zod could have become very campy in the hands of another actor with all the yelling and speechifying, but Shannon grounds the performance and makes for a very satisfying bad guy.

Some other thoughts:

  • I like to consider myself a pretty smart person, but I found a lot of the plot of Man of Steel confusing. I never quite understood the whole business with the codex; this film really doubles down on the more intergalactic elements of the Superman story, which has never been one of my strong suits.
  • This movie is not at all subtle about their product placement and sponsorship deals – funny how an entire section of town can be destroyed, yet the signs for 7-11 and Sears not only remain completely intact, but in the background of just about every shot. As I became bored with the too long fighting sequences, I couldn’t stop noticing this in the background.
  • This isn’t a movie for small kids – a fact that many of the people at our screening apparently didn’t know or didn’t care about. One poor little guy started crying almost immediately when the movie started because he was scared. The previews sent mixed messages as to the target audience – we went from clips for Despicable Me 2 right into a trailer for the new 300 movie, which was absolutely not kid friendly. Parents beware.
  • When we left the theater, we witnessed an adorable sight: a father and little daughter walking around the mall in matching Superman/girl costumes. It was really cute, though I hoped that he wasn’t taking her to see the film for the reason above. She couldn’t have been more than 4.
  • During the last fight scene, there are references to another Superman character sprinkled in the background. I assume that character will come into play in the sequels.
  • We didn’t opt of the 3-D or IMAX experience; I think some of those action scenes would have given me a headache in 3-D.
  • If this film makes it cool to wear Kansas City Royals t-shirts, it will have really accomplished something.
  • Possible spoiler – I don’t understand why Earth had to become the new Krypton – if they were going to have to change Earth’s atmosphere anyway to make it hospitable to their life form, why couldn’t they just pick any old planet – preferably one that didn’t already have inhabitants? I know – there would be no movie then – but that just seemed like poor storytelling.
  • They couldn’t have sprung for some diapers when they shipped little Kal-El off to Earth? That poor little baby actor was on full display.
  • No need to stay after the credits – there are no bonus scenes (and if you don’t believe your favorite pop culture blogger, you can ask the kids that clean up the theater for their confirmation)

Man of Steel isn’t a bad movie, but it just isn’t all that enjoyable either. Not all superhero movies have to be as fun as The Avengers, but if you are going to make a serious movie you need to improve upon the character development and plot. The Batman movies had little humor in them, but they took the time to create interesting people and stories to watch. Man of Steel has doubled down on the special effects, but didn’t take the time to build a solid foundation for the movie before they decided to destroy it. Man of Steel feels like more work than it should be and we ultimately left the theater underwhelmed.

Broken City – A Review

Sometimes the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.

The ingredients were there for Broken City to be an interesting movie; Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both solid actors and while I don’t think anyone would call Mark Wahlberg a thespian, he can certainly hold his own. The story on the surface had potential: the Mayor of NYC (Crowe) hires a former cop turned private investigator (Wahlberg) to follow his wife (Zeta-Jones) to ostensibly find proof of her infidelity. But as the case progresses, it becomes clear that there is more to this surveillance than simply a cheating wife; Wahlberg may have stumbled upon a healthy dose of subterfuge and political corruption. Done right, this could have been a thrilling noir film.

It was not done right because Broken City was a confusing film that wastes the talented cast. There is no depth to the characters and the writers seem to believe that constant twists in the story can take the place of an actual solid plot. It is inexplicably slow in parts and takes you down alleys that wind up going nowhere. You’d be better off watching any of the solid cable television dramas than this exceedingly mediocre film.

I’m not sure how they did it, but Broken City is both exceedingly simple, yet inordinately confusing. Corruption in government is nothing new – I live in Albany after all, home to what was found to be the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation – so the idea that there might be some shady dealings going on in NYC government is not all that shocking. Once your governor has to step down because of having sex with a prostitute, the bar is kind of raised for what you consider scandalous. To quote Shania Twain, backroom business deals don’t impress me much. Broken City relies on a lot of coincidences and conveniences; for a city that boasts 8 million people, you’d think that there wouldn’t be this number of interconnected relationships. The world in Broken City is just too small to be realistic.

On the other hand, the writer of the film incorporates so many twists and unnecessary complications to the plot that this inherent simplicity in the base story is then muddled and confusing. I’m a smart girl, but on multiple occasions I found myself unable to fully understand what was going on. When my reaction during the film is “Wait – What?” that’s not a good sign. The first unexpected reveal was interesting; the sixth was tiresome.

The characters are also not much more than caricatures in Broken City; Crowe and Wahlberg try to give their characters some depth, and Wahlberg is a little more successful since the viewer spends more time with him, but the supporting characters are just too broad. Further exasperating the issue is that the characters are written so that they can switch allegiances or make some big reveal at any time. They are just pawns in service of plot developments rather than fully actualized characters. When absolutely nothing is as it seems, you don’t care about anything.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Coach Taylor alert! Kyle Chandler seems determined to get into as many movies as possible this year. Good for him, though the quality of this film doesn’t live up to his other choices (Argo and Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo is not going to be happy that another politician is taking credit for same-sex marriage in New York, fictional or not.
  • Wahlberg had some excellent chemistry with the actress that played his assistant (Alona Tal). Watching them banter was fun, even if she got stuck with some pretty dreadful dialogue.
  • I think I have PTSD from Les Misérables. I kept waiting for Russell Crowe to burst into song (which might have actually helped this movie).
  • As written, I’m not sure how Russell Crowe won the mayoral campaign once, let alone him running for his third term. He just wasn’t that charming.
  • It’s really astounding that Wahlberg could go from being a drunk to clear headed investigator in a matter of moments.
  • Crowe’s opponent in the mayoral race was played by Barry Pepper, who has been in a lot of things but will always be Roger Maris to me from his role in 61*
  • It really wasn’t this type of movie, but it would have been funny if Mark Wahlberg had crossed paths with his brother Donnie, who plays a NYC cop on the CBS program Blue Bloods.
  • Good rule of thumb – when a politician wants to buy up the land where poorer residents live, there is probably something nefarious going on behind the scenes.

I didn’t have extremely high hopes for Broken City – January is typically when studios dump their crappy movies – but I still left disappointed that all its potential was basically wasted to make a very average film. With a different script, I think there could have been a really interesting and stylish movie. Surprise twists alone can’t make a movie; just ask M. Knight Shyamalan. Broken City is a broken movie and even the star power of the cast can’t fix it.