STAR TREK: BEYOND COVERS FAMILIAR GROUND

Simon Pegg the fan boy who made good has finally become part of the establishment co-writing the latest Star Trek movie. It took the original cast 16 years to get old  but only 7 years after the 2009 reboot introduced a hip new happening cast to take over these iconic roles and now at the age a lot of the original actors were when they began the TV series a lot is made in this film of middle age ennui.

Captain James T. Kirk, the lustful wanderer always looking for the undiscovered country, here feels lost having surpassed his father’s age and therefore apparently his shadow. Talking over with Starfleet command he’s become disenchanted with going in search of new horizons and considers taking a desk job as a Commodore which fits with William Shatner’s version ending up an Admiral at one point and also maybe reflects that this is a different Kirk. There’s a nice drinking scene between friends  Kirk and medical officer Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) that deals with this but lacks Commander Spock to complete the triumvirate. Reference is made about the closeness of Spock and Kirk but all evidence suggests they’re barely able to carry out a conversation between the two of them.star trek star shot trek beyond

Into this state of mind the U.S.S. Enterprise is called to help out on the fringes of known space where they are attacked by a new type of a species and end up crashlanding on a nearby planet with the crew separated into groups. Sadly the late Anton Yelchin is given little to do as navigator Pavel Chekov but raises a few smiles. While the bulk of the crew including helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are held prisoner by mysterious villain Krall and plot escape, Bones and Spock are put together as an odd couple forced to survive and admit some of their feelings. Spock is dealing with breaking up with Uhura and whether he is best needed elsewhere with the endangered Vulcan race having received news that Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has passed. Engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) meets a “friendly” alien called Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who is repairing a ship to leave the planet and could be their best hope of escape. Chris Pine as Kirk meanwhile ends up riding a motorbike like a Crusty Demon which sent the internet into meltdown last year fearing a Fast and Furiousifcation of Trek by director Justin Lin.

Mic movie film trailer artsSome of the action is poorly shot due to darkly lit sequences but most are very exciting. Space battles against bug like small explosive vessels are a neat twist on the classic dreadnought engagements of old, Sofia Boutella gets a great hand to hand combat sequence and an early scene aboard Starbase Yorktown in the first act sets up later the finale where people fight in various gravity vacuums and ride ships down tunnels that barely fit them. There’s a child’s joy in some of these action sequences of building a set and then staging something exciting in it. It may be worth checking the film out in 3D and one positive that can’t be stressed enough is how good the special effects look in this film and how beautifully realised the world is.star trek star shot trek beyondstar trek star shot trek beyond

There’s many references to the sometimes maligned Enterprise series and an interesting development about the villain even if we never really understand his motivation, a very touching inclusion of the original cast and a renewed focus on bringing it back to the characters and where they are emotionally. The problem here is they are not nearly as interesting as they were in previous films. Quinto and Urban in particular nailed the characteristics of Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly previously but seem too comfortable and low energy in this. So much so I wonder if there is a phone ringing nearby. star trek star review trek beyondThe most involving character is new addition Jaylah with PTSD from her family’s death and simple heartfelt references to a ship being a home. Alas the old crew as a family doesn’t seem as together emotionally or physically. Star Trek: Into Darkness was full of references to another Khan centric film but arguably still more engaging than this. Critical and peer responses to this film have been more positive than my assessment of it so feel free to explore this latest undergoing for yourself but as an enormous fan of the reboot I find myself missing the old gang more and more as this young crew ages. Alas Yelchin now leaves the role sadly and it’s not a bad film to dedicate to him and Nimoy’s memory. These voyages are ongoing but it’s nice to remember those who have gone before.

-Lloyd Markenstar trek star shot trek beyond

A BRAVE NEW WORLD WITH NEW GHOSTBUSTERS

When is a movie not a movie? The new Ghostbusters could be an example of such a thing. There are seldom few reviews out there that don’t feel like diatribes about gender, remakes and fan service. Negative reviewers feel compelled to point out their history with the franchise and whether they enjoy female led films. Positive reviews take the time to scold small brained insecure men who couldn’t deal with women being at the forefront of a beloved franchise. Which is fair enough because there were puzzling and unsettling paradoxes here. For example, late last year several underwhelming trailers were released for this season’s blockbusters but even bad trailers for anxious releases get more likes than dislikes on YouTube. Not so for the Ghostbusters trailer whose unprecedented negative rating seemed the result of a concerted effort by those with a sexist agenda. Paul Feig has made 3 films previously with female centric casts in traditionally male dominated genres. Bridesmaids (gross out comedies), The Heat (buddy cop action) and Spy (ummm the spy genre). None of these caused controversy or debate albeit Bridesmaids was celebrated a little for breaking new ground. Is it that fan boys particularly felt under attack for the casting in their beloved franchise? Was it a perverse extension of the mindset that had caused a stir when Daniel Craig was cast as blond Bond? Yet these are different characters in a new iteration, Bill Murray remains the only actor to have portrayed Peter Venkman, you can leave those old films on a shelf unharmed. After years of false starts and Harold Ramis’s passing, doing a new take with a female led cast felt like a great way to organically do something new, different and fresh. Plus the old cast were showing up in cameos to give their blessing. While that often is a case of writing enough numbers on a cheque surely the old fans would not want this to fail if the old cast didn’t? It can’t be worse than say Blue Brothers 2000? Ghostbusters  peter macnicol ghostbusters ghostbusters 2Ghostbusters for some holds a special place in their heart the way Superman and Star Wars does for others. Yet the response for this film seems a little over the top given how much Ghostbusters II failed to fire. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy are well established movie stars now in their own right and at one point Elizabeth Banks was rumoured to be under consideration (what the hell happened there Hollywood?!) although Kate McKinnon does look very similar. wink ghostbusters kate mckinnon winkingThe trailers and marketing were subpar but the negative reaction has also felt targeted and revealed some ugliness. On the other hand the implication that people who don’t like this film are all sexist is insulting to both genders and something Sony seems happy to have exploited.

So here we are…maybe we can talk about the film now for a bit. Wiig stars as physics professor Dr. Erin Gilbert trying to get tenure at her university when an old book she co-wrote about paranormal research is re-published hurting her chances. She tracks down her old friend and co-author Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who is now continuing paranormal research at a technical college with Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). She tags along with them in their latest investigation and wouldn’t you know it they come across an actual ghost which thus begins their adventures of busting ghosts. Soon enough they’re joined by Transit Officer Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who calls them to one scene and reveals herself an expert on old historical landmark buildings and their hauntings. All four are entirely new characters with echoes of the original quartet, Yates is Ray Stantz-the believer super excited by what they’re doing, Holtzmann is Egon Spengler – socially awkward and tech minded, Tolan is Winston Zeddemore-the practical outsider (references to Patty or Winston as being streetwise I don’t get, they were just very grounded and smart in that sense) and Gilbert is Peter Venkman-interested in other things including in an adorkable way the opposite sex. Not to sound too politically correct but Patty Tolan in the trailers seemed a throwback to old stereotypes of African American women. In the film she is more well rounded and arguably the most likeable character compared to killjoys chasing tenure and others complaining about Chinese take-away.

The film following all the media coverage seems oddly prescient in retrospect, the film’s villain is a little man who studied the ghost research of Wiig and McCarthy only to use it to cause more havoc and bring about him becoming a more powerful giant being. A thinly veiled reference to the stereotype of a basement dwelling fan boy geek who can’t relate to women and who has delusions of grandeur. Some have suggested this is an attack on the franchise’s fan base but who wants to identify as this guy? More disappointing is the fact that this idea for an interesting villain isn’t further developed.

Ghostbusters  ghostbusters original ghostbusters

Ah. Old New York city with your rampart crime and filthy streets.

The film follows trends of blockbusters these days, less scary and sexy than previous incarnations or more pointedly less adult and more family friendly for four quadrant appeal. Boston fills is for New York City for the most part, there’s a great deal of CGI which has less impact than practical effects. Everything has less impact! A neat touch though is McKinnon slowly developing the tech throughout the film after each encounter to make it more practical and combat effective which comes in handy during the finale.

kristen wiig ghostbusters kate mckinnon melissa mccarthy leslie jonesThese are some of the most likeable female comedic actresses working today and they remain likeable in this film. I read a really good piece by Matt Zoller Seitz citing how here is a blockbuster with four women in the lead who are all about the work, not defined by their relationship to a man, are all supportive of each other, surrounded by people (mostly men) saying they can’t do their job before they prove ultimately they can. These are all great things to have in a blockbuster but as a scary film it’s not scary enough, as a comedy there are great spaces of time between laughs throughout and chemistry wise something is off with this film. The new Ghostbusters film isn’t bad but it ain’t great either and don’t both genders deserve a great Ghostbusters film?

I’ll close with this picture. These little girl wants to bust ghosts, were there little girls who wanted to busts ghosts in 1984 but were told they couldn’t just because all the Ghostbusters in the movie were men? I don’t know, my sister had Princess Leia, Supergirl, She-Ra and Rainbow Bright so it didn’t come up. If this movie makes it a little easier for these girls or any girls to play being a Ghostbuster, if it spurns an interest for these girls or any girls to do science, if it makes these girls or any girls have a more positive image of themselves as women then that’s a good thing. I hope they enjoy the film too.

-Lloyd Marken

FINDING DORY FAILS TO FIND ALL OF PIXAR’S FORMER INSPIRATION

Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory finding dory disney pixar ellen

Finding Dory arrives in a summer of underperforming sequels, 13 years after the beloved original Finding Nemo. Animated films go through years of production but Dory comes out as Pixar’s CCO John Lasseter announces the studio will add no further no sequels to their slate and produce more original content. If it is like The Good Dinosaur that might not help but if it is like Inside Out… Since being re-purchased by Disney, Pixar has produced more films of less quality it seems and so Finding Dory arrives with a lot to prove perhaps unfairly.

Disney scared pixar finding dory dory

Such concerns don’t account for the character of Dory (voiced by the talented Ellen DeGeneres)  who is so damn lovable she buys the sequel of a lot of goodwill. For those who may not remember before Ellen became the next Oprah, DeGeneres in 2003 was a failed sitcom star most famous for being a good comedian and the girlfriend of Anne Heche once upon a time. Although it has to be said her hosting of the 53rd Emmy Awards (the first major American show business awards show following September 11, 2001) remains one of the best hosting performances of all time.

Playing Dory was a big gig for her and the beginning of something new in terms of her career. A decade on and DeGeneres returns to the role as if she never left. A fascinating scene-stealing co-lead in the last film, giving Dory her origins and backstory only enhances the character. A throwaway line from ‘Nemo “I’m looking for my family-I think.” is elaborated upon here and creates more heartache and nuance regarding her memory loss. She starts to remember a father Charlie (Eugene Levy) and mother Jenny (Diane Keaton) who loved her and sets off on an adventure to find them (the inverse of the first film’s quest for a parent to find their child).

Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory finding dory dory baby dory disneySome of these flashbacks become more and more heartrending as we see a super cute young Dory remember two parents who wanted her to live a full life and be positive but secretly had their own fears and doubts. People with a disability and their parents will find these scenes particularly resonate. A sequence that reveals the significance of pebbles and sees a reunion of sorts shouldn’t leave a dry eye in the house. It’s the film’s heart and proves Pixar still has what it takes to hold the audience in the palm of their hand.

Yet like all sequels Finding Dory can’t quite measure up to the original. Some characters return from the original only to have less impact than they did the first time around. Two wise decisions are made by the filmmakers but don’t always bear fruit. First while initially setting off together Marlin and Nemo are separated from Dory. This allows us to have a story with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) but their story is not as interesting as Marlin & Dory’s or Nemo & Gill’s was and Marlin hurting Dory’s feelings disappoints after the last film’s events. Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory octopus finding doryFaring better is Dory’s story where she goes through a Marine Park facility assisted by local octopus Hank (Ed O’Neil) who is even grouchier than Marlin. Secondly going through the park allows for a new environment and the fish navigate land in some inventive ways as opposed to sticking to the open ocean again. Yet the open ocean was so beautiful in the previous film and as a result this sequel is less spectacular as a result. Although the finale seems rather grand in scale.

Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory disney pixar ellen finding doryDisney/Pixar's Finding Dory finding dory

It seems disingenuous to compare any film to Finding Nemo let alone its sequel which is rather good. Remember that scene though in ‘Nemo where Marlin and Dory went into the deep ocean and the screen went completely blank. I went and saw Finding Nemo with an old high school friend called Rachel who was always good at school and is now an academic. The cinema went completely dark as the screen went blank and silent. Then Marlin was muttering away and Dory called out “Who’s there?! Are you my conscience?” When Rachel really loses it she completely convulses. We both laughed so hard that night, I’ve never forgotten it. Yeah… I don’t remember laughing that hard this time around.

-Lloyd Marken

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE-THERE’S WORSE FILMS OUT THERE

I don’t want to go to my 20th high school reunion, I couldn’t have imagined feeling that way when I graduated in 1998. I wasn’t a popular kid at school but I’d finally found my niche and had a gang of friends, wouldn’t we be curious how everybody had turned out and 2018 seemed so far away. I figured I’d be a history teacher and failed actor, married with some kids and just trucking along like anybody else. Then life happened and as those 20 years draw closer to an end I find I’m not where I want to be and I’m not who I hoped I would be. This is not unusual and the advent of social media has chipped away the question of how people are going since for the most part that can be answered in few mouse clicks. I can’t imagine what it is like for someone who was popular in high school and shares similar sentiments to me. I’m told there’s always dark horses who make an impression at reunions since once they were free of school life they went on to accomplish great things.

I think of one man in my  old drama class who did an assignment when we  were studying Brecht. He stood in the middle of the room pretending he was on a ledge planning to commit suicide while a video played of him as someone else(maybe his consciousness) telling him not to jump. There were other props too. I wasn’t a good friend of the man, a nice enough guy, we ran in similar circles but I think we might have even quarrelled once. He was a big tall overweight kid with a soft voice, I guess some people figured he was gay but at our school back in the mid 90s, long before Glee, kids didn’t come out at school. By the time we went to pick up our last report cards a month after graduation rumours were ablaze with kids long assumed to be gay now openly out. Kids can be very incredibly cruel, if I’d been gay I doubt I would’ve come out during those years. I suspect that’s how it was for those kids. Sometimes a party might have happened and somebody would say somebody said something to them but half of that could’ve been just the usual rumour mill. Yet nobody came out until after graduation and then several did immediately. Some it took a bit longer.

Sometimes I think about that big kid and his assignment. How close to the truth was that assignment for him, rarely can you do something so honest and compelling if there was not some truth within yourself being expressed. I wish I’d told him how brave and good his performance was, that he was right – life was always worth living.

I saw on a website about ten years ago geared towards looking up old colleagues that he was doing well. After graduation he hit the gym and came out. Within a year all that fat had turned to muscle and he was signed with a casting agency and getting work as a model and an extra. He got bored with that and could see the instability of such a career so he went at Jeans West at 19. Lots of people do that but he went and did business courses part time and ended up being the store manager. By his mid 20s he was running his own business and had also opened up his own art gallery full of work he’d produced. Simply put to the rest of his graduating class and anybody who had unfairly treated him – he’d fucking showed us and good on him.

Dwayne Johnson plays such a man Robbie Wierdicht in Central Intelligence where he is bullied in high school relentlessly except for the kindness of Kevin Hart’s star student Calvin Joyner. Flash forward 20 years and Calvin Joyner is a middle level office drone who never delivered on the promise of his youth. Calvin’s mood is despondent and it’s starting to affect his marriage to his high school sweetheart Maggie Johnson (Danielle Nicolet). Man that’s a thankless role for an actress, even if Maggie is being reasonable she is always without the knowledge of the audience and lead characters and spends most of her time being negative instead of supportive towards Calvin. Nobody should spend their lives with someone who is endlessly miserable but most people stand by their partners through bad times and depression. We get the sense Maggie has been doing that for a while but we don’t see it, plus she never gets to join in on the fun with Calvin and Robbie. Danielle Nicolet does her best but you can see why Rose Bryne has previously commented that guys seem to have the fun roles a lot. One actress who does get to do cool stuff in the film is Amy Ryan but more on her later.

Excitable loud mouth comedian Kevin Hart dials it back a bit here to play regular joe Calvin and The Rock unleashes some of his softer side flipping the script. Hart’s ability to dial up though is well used for his character’s exasperation at his predicament. Robbie Wierdicht comes back into his life randomly one day and suckers him into catching up over some drinks and reveals he is now a buff CIA agent. Dwayne Johnson has always displayed a sense of humour and sweet disposition within his imposing frame. He plays well Robbie remaining in awe of Calvin despite his own new killer skills he expresses himself like a high school senior excited to be hanging with a bro. This is a guy who finally has a friend to hang with. There’s also hints that this maybe partly an act for his character.

Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) shows up to inform Mr Joyner that Robbie Weirdicht is a liar, a rogue agent who killed his partner and is now an enemy of the state. Robbie declares he’s been framed and needs Calvin’s accounting skills to clear his name and catch the real bad guys.

I’ll be honest, I thought the film was rather average (obvious telegraphed poles rarely amuse me) but I’m thinking back to some bits and smiling. On a $50million budget, director Rawson Marshall Thurber has made some good action sequences even if some of the stunts are CGI augmented and unrealistic. The two leads have good chemistry and seem to enjoy adding new shades to their established personas. At the time I rolled my eyes at too many contrivances and predictability but there are laughs to be had here and one very satisfying cameo at the end. Maybe I’m getting too old for broad comedies but does that mean this film is supposed to appeal to teenagers or to me? Because I’m closer to the age of the central characters.

Central Intelligence is enjoyable enough, my favourite scene is when Hart is asked if you’re in or out? Yet if given the choice between watching it again or going to my own high school reunion, well then not everybody is on Facebook and there’s still some things I’m curious to find out. Maybe I can finally tell that guy, “Hey that Brechtian performance was great and I’m happy you’ve made a good life for yourself.”

-Lloyd Marken

http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/kevin-hart-you-look-amazing-in-the-wind

THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE TURNS UP A NEW ZEALAND GEM

His name is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), he’s a big kid who’s had it a bit rough, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about anything, ready to argue with anybody who puts him down and he’s constantly using words from pop culture to describe himself as a bad-ass street kid. Aunt Bella sees right through him in 10 seconds flat. A home maybe the most important thing you can give a child and by that I don’t mean a nice house to live in. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) lives with Hec (Sam Neil) who was a wanderer who used to live in the woods before he met her. Kids are not the only ones who need a good place to call home. Uncle Hec is even more standoffish than Ricky and the film remarkably even features him saying bitter emotional words to the young boy at times when a more mature adult wouldn’t. Some films wouldn’t stay true to his character nor some actors. I’m used to seeing Sam Neil be urbane and smart but quite enjoyed him playing against type while returning to his homeland to star in a big local production. There’s a nice moment they share up on a mountain where Hec reflects on who they are and what life holds for them. This is a film that remembers you have to have a first act for the rest of the story to matter and time is taken here to beautifully set up an important dynamic between these three characters that is very touching.

For reasons I won’t disclose here Ricky and Hec end up on the run in the New Zealand woods on a boy’s own adventure and there’s something nicely retro where a kid’s tale is mostly spent camping in the wilderness. They’re pursued by child services led by Paula  who is rigidly villainous but is given a spirited performance by actress Rachel House and delivers my favourite line of the whole film.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent but it is Julian Dennison who steals the show. It is a fantastic lead performance full of great humour and attitude before repeatedly hitting you with unexpected touching pathos.

The film is like a Hardy Boys tale for our time with playful film techniques including a Hunger Vision, a troubled youth for a lead, pop culture references and one spectacular car chase. Inherently a Kiwi tale with an appealing story that is universal to all cultures. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a charming film from beginning to end. Utilising the budget well, the New Zealand countryside hasn’t been captured this well on film since it was called Middle-Earth. The car chase alone is probably the biggest ever filmed in the country where even the NZ Army have loaned out their only two armoured vehicles! :-) I kid cous.

When the film’s director Taika Waititi was announced to be directing Thor: Ragnorak I hadn’t heard of the man. Well I’ve heard of him now and I look forward to his next films. As you for Ricky, you may not have chosen the Skuxx Life but you sure make it sound appealing. Big kids need homes and good movies – this is one.

-Lloyd Marken

ALICE GOING THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS AND THE SEQUEL MOTIONS

I loved reading Lewis Carroll as a kid, like Tolkien, Barrie, Dahl and C.S. Lewis he wrote with a limitless imaginiation and sly intelligence. All these old men implied the same fact – adults don’t believe in magic anymore the poor fools. They didn’t talk down to kids, kids are smart and were in on the secret and I loved the escapism of their tales.

That spirit is alive in this film I guess, the visuals are sumptuous and created with imagination, (Father Time in particular looks neat with his lit up blue eyes) and Wonderland remains a CGI feast. That CGI is a little too unreal for my tastes but that is a matter of taste. As the film draws on it seems there are only a handful of locations we are going to rather than free flight through a magical world like in the books but the artists involved have worked hard and made something beautiful.

The story starts with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) now a Sea Captain, living happily as an independent young woman going on adventures in our world. Suitors for marriage don’t encourage her back to Wonderland this time but rather underfoot financial attacks on her independence. Returning to Wonderland she finds the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) ill with remorse over his lost family and sets off on a time travelling journey through his origins and that of both The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Depp plays the vulnerability of his character’s ailing health and regrets well. It has been a few years and audiences may find it hard to recall the events of the original film and the importance of Alice’s relationship to the Mad Hatter in the previous film (not the books) so Depp eliciting some sympathy is helpful to the narrative.

Wasikowska as the lead is likeable enough but gave a far more intriguing performance in the adult fare Stoker. Here she is the straight hero to every other performer, Helena Bonham Carter is still on form as the Red Queen, Hathaway plays some new notes with her character and Sacha Baron Cohen has some fun playing Father Time. One scene with him at a tea party has some good energy but the film overall feels a little flat and unnecessary. There’s some nice lessons about the need for family members to forgive and love and support each other. For parents to not only encourage their children to set sail for their own journey but to step forth onto the deck themselves.

Yet the film did not entrance me with its beauty, make me laugh with its playfulness nor hold me in suspense with its stakes. I thought it was all predictable, smug in my adult assuredness. Maybe that’s the problem, maybe I’ve become one of those poor fools but I like to think kids are smart and a smart kid knows this is a poor cash-in sequel and to go see Hunt for the Wilderpeople instead.

-Lloyd Marken

A COUPLE OF NICE GUYS TO SPEND TIME WITH

If there was a film that I was most excited to see this blockbuster season it wasn’t Captain America: Civil War or Batman Vs. Superman – it was this little gem. that tapped into nostalgia for an era that had passed before my birth.

For some of us the name Shane Black means something, even if arguably his best film remains his first and has just turned 29 years old.

This hairstyle will never date!

That film was Lethal Weapon which he wrote leading to him becoming Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter in the mid 90s. He went away for a while before he made his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005. His filmography often features two opposites buddying up to take down bad guys with witty banter and inventive action. The marketing for this film promised a classic Black vehicle, Kiss Kiss with the bonus of a period setting. The marketing of the time was second to none delighting in the tropes of the time, a rockin soundtrack, a cheesy cartoon version and the two stars touring with the same dynamic their characters have.

 

I’m not sure any film could have lived up to that marketing and maybe The Nice Guys doesn’t quite get there but it comes close, all the ingredients from the marketing are present in the film. Atlanta and CGI fill in for 70s smog filled L.A.. Shots are taken at the pop culture and counter culture of the day, it’s kinda again to see characters questioning the intentions of the government again by the way.

Tropes of the crime genre are intact, a small crime that leads to a bigger cover, an elusive dame always one step ahead of the heroes and two broken down men who can’t help at the end of the day but not try and do the right thing. despite their cynicism. In place of maybe a helpful secretary or former police comrade there is Angourie Rice playing Holly March, the daughter of Ryan Gosling’s P.I. Holland March. Russell Crowe seems to be having the time of his life as bruiser Jackson Healy enjoying the chemistry with his main co-star, acting his age and giving his character some depth. The former beefcake is beefier than he once was  with grizzled grey hair and an aged nonchalance that is instantly likeable. You still buy him in his fight scenes too of which there are plenty. He’s a thug that prides himself on having a brain, a little morality (beating up girls pests who harass girls) and keeping pet fish while he remembers despondently an ex-wife “Marriage is buying a house for someone you hate.” Jackson Healy is in the lineage of great American heroes going back to Ethan Edwards right through down to Rusty Cohle and how Shane Black originally positioned Martin Riggs. Men who saw and did stuff long ago and can no longer be part of the rest of the community in peace time but can protect society from other bad men in times of trouble. Some stories deal with bringing such a man back into the fold, others with returning him to this state. Crowe with his impish smile and easy charm points to possibilities, the film’s best scene maybe in park late at night with Healy talking to the younger Ms. March. She tells him you’re not a bad person and the look on Crowe’s face says he wants her to believe it. Gosling played such an anti-hero himself in the excellent Drive, so in a change of pace here he is a domesticated everyman and comic foil. Holland March is a former cop, bad in a fight, cynical, not above ripping people off for an easy buck to buy some more booze – a screw up. It’s interesting these two slobs are poor but still have cool cars and live in cool places. Was everything cheaper then, are my tastes bad or is this just typical Hollywood fantasy? Come to think of it, there is a plot point that might explain this.Holly March his daughter also knows the world is a bad place and bad things happen, divorce will age kids up and Holly is smart and capable. Rice though does play her with just the right amount of innocence though and a touching faith that her Dad can be a good man again. She’s the heart of the film, maybe why these two men try so hard and the promise of the next generation shaking off the gloom of a decade of Americans hit by Vietnam, Watergate and recession.

There’s a lot to love in this film, the characters most importantly. I would gladly see these characters again in a sequel. Men being men, witty dialogue, trippy dream sequences with giant bees but the film maybe runs a little too long. Matt Bomer’s John Boy is a fantastic idea for a henchman but becomes less threatening the more his prey survive, main villains remain off screen too long and the third act finale has the right setting (a car show in a high rise hotel) but doesn’t quite fire with the excitement of say…well any other Shane Black movie. Still these are minor quibbles and that soundtrack is rockin! The mantra of good filmmakers is the story is key. You can’t make a good film without a good script. That’s good advice but the older I get, the more I give a movie a free pass sometimes on how well realised the characters are and how much they draw you in. Gosling. Crowe. These are two cool guys that are nice to hang with for a couple of hours or more.

-Lloyd Marken