Sunday 26 February 2017

Cinema: The Nice Guys - an interesting mix of verbal comedy and slapstick

Cert 15A; Now Showing

Russell Crow and Margaret Qualley in The Nice Guys.
Russell Crow and Margaret Qualley in The Nice Guys.

Shane Black has been knocking around Hollywood for decades and has delivered some of the biggest successes and biggest failures in the action-comedy genre. It was Black who delivered goldmines like his first two Lethal Weapon films and Iron Man 3, and failures like The Long Kiss Goodnight. The chances are high that you have seen his work at some point and this, his latest offering, is an enjoyable, often funny pastiche of film noir that reflects his long time in Hollywood.

The movie contains lots of film-nerd jokes - the plot synopsis itself contains quite a few. It's 1977, a pornstar called Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) dies in dramatic circumstances. Two men of the private detective variety - Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who is more of a thug for hire variety, and Holland March (Ryan Gosling), of the old-lady swindling variety - end up working together looking for a young woman who looks remarkably like the dead pornstar. There is a missing film with a political message and a mother (Kim Basinger) who hires the bumbling idiots to find her daughter. March's own daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) plays their conscience.

The style and mood of this will prove divisive. Some people will be highly amused whilst others just won't find it funny. But there is an interesting enough mix of verbal comedy and slapstick to keep most amused some of the time and then, well, there's Ryan who works for so many of us on a different level. He is very good here, pitching his would-be high brow PI just right. Crowe too is great, finding more than just pudgy down-and-deadbeat in his character. There are wafts of serious message, like the car emissions issue, but really it is just a piece of fun. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Cert 12A. Now showing.

Ugly, chaotic and operating at an intellectual level marginally higher than that of a well-used punch bag, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was critically panned when it belly-flopped into cinemas in 2014. Naturally, it went on to make half-a-billion dollars, lighting the way for this sequel which remains bafflingly faithful to the ethos of its predecessor.

Has director Dave Green (Earth To Echo) brought anything fresh to the softened, cartoon version of Eastman & Laird's edgy and violent mid-eighties graphic novels? Not on your life. The swirling, bounding CGI, straight from the playbook of producer Michael Bay, is still as hard as ever to keep up with. It ends up, like Bay's own big-screen transforming robots, being a major obstacle to enjoying the many action scenes.

Yes, this is a horrid-looking film that has all the charisma of an arcade game beat-'em-up voiced by dim surfers. Human actors - Megan Fox (returning as gutsy and unashamedly eye-catching April O'Neil), Stephen Amell (as Casey Jones), Dublin-born wrestling star Stephen 'Sheamus' Farrelly - are squished into the background to make room for gloopy humanoid creatures that, while expressive on a basic animation level, are entirely uninvolving to behold.

Two hours in, and a slimy pink alien called Krang is observing the city-smashing protocol set out in Marvel Universe film finales. Billions of high-fives and "awesomes" clang about as the four snot-coloured pieces of computer coding jump around this insipid villain. By that time, however, you might have already hurried your children out of the auditorium for fear that actual brain cells were beginning to rot inside their underdeveloped craniums. 1 Star

Hilary A White

Race

Cert PG. Now showing.

The difficulty with telling historical tales lies is the fact  that we know the ending, which makes it very hard to create suspense or dramatic tension. It is to their credit then that director Stephen Hopkins and writing team Anna Waterhouse and Joel Shrapnel do manage to create some tension in this otherwise dutiful and workmanlike biopic of African American olympian Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals, and who was the subject of a racist snub by Adolf Hitler, at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

We first meet Owens (Stephan James) in 1933 about to leave his family home in Cleveland to go to university where he has a scholarship due to his track and field ability. He leaves behind a family shaped by racism and poverty and a girlfriend, Ruth (Shanice Banton) and young daughter. In the university, he is taken under the wing of coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) whose typically gruff but well-intentioned movie coach style works with Owens, defies the widespread racism and helps him to achieve the extraordinary feats in track and field.

Their big goal is the 1936 Olympics in Germany but the American Olympic Association are debating whether their participation would condone the increasingly evil-looking Nazi regime. Avery Brundage (Jeremy 'career resurgence' Irons) is dispatched to investigate and recommends participation. Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) resigns when the vote is taken to go to Germany. But the pressure on Owens is only beginning.

The film does not shy away from suggesting that there is not that much difference between the institutional racism of the US and that of Nazism. It tells the story as a story, and that works because it is a great one, however it lacks insight into the man. It's long but holds the attention. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Me Before You

Cert 12A. Now showing.

If Emilia Clarke is worried about life after the dragon-taming of Game of Thrones, Me Before You should dispel any fears.

This UK disability romance sees Clarke capably ditch the stentorian speeches and togas for pigtails and garish fashion sense as Louisa. Quirky and kind, she takes on a job as a caregiver for one Will Traynor (Sam Claflin).

Will is in a wheelchair following a road accident and has had his high-flying London career and outdoorsy lifestyle destroyed. It falls to Louisa to cheer him up with her working class charm and help him look beyond his disability.

All the obvious ingredients are plonked on the table of this adaptation of Jojo Moyes chick-lit bestseller. The result is the dramatic equivalent of an English crumpet drowning in sugary whipped cream. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Warcraft:  The ­Beginning

Cert 12A. Now showing.

Another month, another humongous gaming franchise gets an omniplex makeover. This time, it's Warcraft, a "real-time strategy" fantasy game loved by the type of people who live in basements and don't get much sunlight.

It's unfortunate that the $160m outing is directed by Duncan Jones who helmed indie sci-fi gem Moon (2009) and time-jumping frolic Source Code. He surely had another couple of more earthy offerings in him before being fed to the big-league Hollywood moneymen.

An admitted fan of the game, Jones's latest is designed solely to please up-to-speed subscribers. The rest of us will be baffled by the CGI slugathon of orcs vs knights vs wizards. Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster, Vikings' Travis Fimmel and Irish actress Ruth Negga collect a cheque. 2 Stars

Hilary A White

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