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Review – The Nice Guys

With Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger. Written by Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi. Directed by Shane Black. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use. 116 minutes.

Shane Black doesn’t have the cachet of Quentin Tarentino, but he’s getting there. He first came to notice as a screenwriter of over the top action films like “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout,” and then finally got to direct with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” In his third film as director (after “Iron Man 3”), Black is back with the sort of bent thriller that made “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” different from most of what was out there. THE NICE GUYS is at once very violent, very funny, and a true original.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) have a bizarre “meet cute” in 1977 Los Angeles. Healy, who’s not really a private investigator, is hired to beat up March to scare him off his latest case. However they soon join forces in the search for a missing woman involved with a porno film that has already led to the deaths of several other people. Like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon” or Val Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr. in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Crowe and Gosling are an odd couple. If their characters can figure out how to work together without getting killed, they just might crack the case.

Black (who wrote the script with Anthony Bagarozzi) recreates a time when porn meant physical film not the internet, as the two detectives–and March’s precocious 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice)–follow the leads. These include hit men, an elderly woman who believes her dead niece is still alive, a self-described “projectionalist,” and the head of the Justice Department (Kim Basinger briefly reuniting with her “L.A. Confidential” co-star Crowe).

One quickly loses track of the “collateral damage” of innocent bystanders caught up in the mayhem, but the scene that may best sum up Black’s unique take on the material is when March discovered a dead body in an unexpected place and tries to get Healy’s attention. Fans of the comedy horror classic “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” will instantly pick up that Gosling is channelling Lou Costello as he soundlessly tries to attract his partner’s attention while simultaneously conveying the horror of his bloody discovery.

In the end the plot doesn’t bear too much analysis. It’s a vehicle for us to enjoy the buddy cop film which could, quite possibly, launch a new franchise. That has yet to be determined. However, for those who want their action as pulpy as possible but want some laughs as well, Black nicely mixes it up while deftly managing the unexpected chemistry between Crowe and Gosling. “The Nice Guys” turns into a film that is not only set in the ’70s, but carries the sensibility as if it was made then as well.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Click for the R-rated "Red Band" trailer!FILM REVIEWNEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISINGWith Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz. Written by Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien & Nicholas Stoller & Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use. 92 minutes.

tt4438848Five writers, including director Nicholas Stoller and star Seth Rogen, are credited with crafting the screenplay for NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING. Perhaps “crafting” isn’t the right word. It plays more like they had a great time passing around the bong and somebody remained coherent enough to write down the wacky ideas they produced.

It’s some time after the events of “Neighbors.” Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen, Rose Byrne) are trying to sell their house. The fraternity next door seems to have vanished, although their nemesis from the first movie, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), still gets together with his “bros.” And some young women, led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), have decided to start a sorority in–wait for it!–that very same house next door.

For the next hour-and-a-half, the Radners and the sisters of Kappa Nu go at each other, just like the Radners and the frat in the first film. There are a few mild laughs, but there’s also a baby playing with a vibrator (apparently that’s such comedy gold it’s a running gag); Kelly vomiting on Mac during sex, and Teddy being rubbed down with barbecue juices because he forgot his baby oil. Oh, right, Zac Efron takes off his shirt since he seems to be required to do so in every movie he’s in. Well, to quote the great Max Bialystok, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

It’s lowest common denominator humor that only occasionally rises to the level of actual cleverness, as when Shelby tries to steal their phone and is startled that a landline means that it comes with a cord. For the most part it’s people of all ages – well, perhaps not the toddler – acting like idiots. It says something when a two-year-old is the most mature character in the film.

It’s pointless to talk about the performances. From the leads to cameos by Lisa Kudrow and Kelsey Grammer, no one here turns in anything like a performance that they will want shown at a life achievement award presentation (they should be so lucky). Occasionally, the humor crosses the line from being merely moronic and disgusting to downright offensive. Mac tries to tell a potential buyer that the house next door (with eight bedrooms) is actually owned by a Jewish family who have lots of children. His friends then pretend to be those neighbors, with the wife visibly pregnant. Mac says she has “a Jew in the oven.” The “joke” is supposed to be that Kelly hits him for his tasteless remark, but really, if they weren’t stoned at the time how did that ever get out of the writer’s room?

There will be those who will praise the film for it’s “female empowerment.” It rails against the sexist attitudes that Shelby and friends are up against and cheers their decision to steer their own course. Wonderful. They win the fight to be as self-absorbed and obnoxious as the boys. It’s not exactly “Norma Rae.”

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is a terrible movie. And no doubt it will make a lot of money. You’ve been warned.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Money Monster

With George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito. Written by Jamie Linden and Alan DiFiore & Jim Kouf. Directed by Jodie Foster. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence. 98 minutes.

It’s summer as far as Hollywood is concerned, and from now until late August you can count on two things: movies with superheroes, cartoon figures and cartoonish figures… and the unending Presidential campaign which may seem like it’s featuring much of the same. What’s someone looking for a grown-up movie to do? Other than arthouse films, there’s usually something out there for counterprogramming and right now it’s MONEY MONSTER, the sort of movie that Hollywood had seemed to have forgotten how to make.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, host of “Money Monster,” a cable show about investments that plays like a three-ring circus (think of CNBC’s shows like “Fast Money”). Gates has a huge ego, which is why his long-suffering producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is planning on taking another job. On this fateful day, however, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shows up in the studio with a gun and an explosive vest demanding to know why an investment Lee recommended tanked, wiping out all of Kyle’s savings.

In a little over ninety minutes, director Jodie Foster–in her first film behind the camera since the 2011 curio “The Beaver”–offers up a smart and fast-paced thriller. The script (credited to Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf from a story by the latter two) keeps throwing curve balls so we don’t get a chance to get ahead of the story. Along the way there are sharp-edged obseervations about the media, the world of high finance, and public reaction to both.

While the film offers a strong cast across the board, it’s the three leads who have to carry the action. Clooney has a field day as the fast-talking Gates, who almost always has something to say until he literally has a gun pointed to his head. Roberts continues her pivot away from glamour parts (not that she’s any less attractive) as the professional TV producer who has to improvise what amounts to live coverage of a hostage situation. O’Connell holds his own as the young man who’s not too bright–while insisting he’s not stupid–and who wants answers.

The timing of the film fits the political mood of the season no matter where you are on the spectrum, with characters claiming the system is “rigged” against the little guy and a plot twist that has a character insisting they “do the math.” Foster deftly juggles the thriller elements, the substantive plot points, and the flashes of dark humor that help to relieve the tension without turning it into a comedy.

Movies about high finance, like last year’s overrated “The Big Short,” sometimes spend so much time explaining things that they come across as ineptly made documentaries. “Money Monster” is less interested in critiquing the “system” than in showing us how small-time investors can get taken for a ride. Enjoy it while you can, as we may not be getting another major grown-up film anytime soon.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Captain America: Civil War

With Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem. 146 minutes.

There was a time when Hollywood’s latching onto to the “Marvel Universe” seemed very clever. There were movies featuring the various superheroes individually with teases for what eventual became “The Avengers” (2012). It worked. Four years later, though, it’s getting a bit tiring. In order to fully appreciate CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR you will need to have seen all three “Iron Man” movies, both “Captain America” movies, both “Avengers” movies, and “Ant-Man.” Being familiar with “Spider-man,” “Thor,” and “The Hulk” wouldn’t hurt either. If you’re devoted to these characters, then this is second nature, but with each new entry requiring knowledge of so much back story–and there are many more films in the pipeline–it’s beginning to seem a little bit like homework.

Here’s the new story: The Secretary of State (William Hurt) informs the Avengers that while some see them as heroes, many others see them as vigilantes. It doesn’t help that in their latest adventure, which opens the movie, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) protects Captain America (Chris Evans) from a bomb, inadvertently blowing up a building and killing a lot of innocent people. The solution is an agreement by 117 nations that would place the Avengers under the authority of the United Nations. For Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) this is the responsible course of action. For Captain America, it is unacceptable. Thus when Zemo (Daniel Brühl), the film’s villain, activates Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the heroes are divided as to whether to take action or get authorization.

The rest of the film focuses on the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, and the various heroes who align with one side or the other. Thor and the Hulk are absent from the proceedings, but we get not only Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Vision (Paul Bettany), all from last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but also Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and the newest Spider-man (Tom Holland). For the experts there’s also Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the niece of Agent Carter–who knew Captain America in the 1940s,as well as Iron Man’s father (played by John Slattery). For extra credit, look for Marvel elder statesman Stan Lee in a cameo as a delivery man.

Does it work? It’s a fast-paced movie for something running almost two-and-a-half hours. It raises an interesting question only to put the thumb on the scales on the wrong side (note which hero gets the film’s title), and then resolves the immediate story only to leave the larger issues hanging for movies to come. It’s sure to please those who beat up on “Batman v. Superman” because it mixes lots of quips in with the action, the moralizing, and the tragic revelations.

So enjoy what is, believe it or not, the kickoff of the summer movie season. And take notes. There are more than a dozen additional movies in the Marvel Universe already scheduled over the next four years.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Mother’s Day

With Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant. Written by Tom Hines, Lily Hollander. Anya Kochoff, Matthew Walker. Directed by Garry Marshall. Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material. 118 minutes.

After “Valentine’s Day” (2010) and “New Year’s Eve” (2011) one would think that Hollywood would never let director Garry Marshall make another movie associated with a holiday. He’s back with MOTHER’S DAY, and the good news is the scriptwriter of the previous two movies is not associated with it. Instead, four different writers have their fingerprints on it, and the result is a safe sitcom on the theme of motherhood. It’s not a blockbuster, but it’s certainly an appropriate movie to take your mother to in the week leading up to actual Mother’s Day (May 8).

There are four intertwined stories set in the suburbs of Atlanta. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is the divorced mom of two boys who has to deal with the fact that her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has remarried. Jesse (Kate Hudson) is estranged from her mother (Margo Martindale) who didn’t approve of her relationship with someone whose family is from India (Aasif Mandvi), and whom she has subsequently married. Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widower with two girls whose wife died during deployment in Iraq and who is still mourning. Kristin (Britt Robertson) is a young single mother who lives with her boyfriend (Jack Whitehall) but is afraid to commit. Julia Roberts appears as a Home Shopping Network celebrity who connects with several of the stories.

You can probably already figure out where the stories are going–and wonder why it took four writers to get them there–but that’s not the point. As a director Marshall, who was one of the kings of ’70s TV sitcoms (“Happy Days,” “Mork & Mindy”), has never been a critical favorite. Yet films like “Beaches” and “Pretty Woman” hit the sweet spot for moviegoers looking for entertaining stories that would make them feel good. At 81, he’s not likely to compete with Clint Eastwood in tackling new challenges as a filmmaker, but with “Mother’s Day,” he lets the sitcom stories play out while focusing on the characters. The stories may not be believable but the emotions are.

The ensemble cast works well. As is typical with a film like this, the performers have done better work elsewhere, but they carry the goodwill they’ve built up into the movie so that we’re rooting for the happy endings no matter what it takes. Even Hector Elizondo–who has appeared in every one of Marshall’s films–takes it easy here, providing a variation of the comic dignificed presence he perfected in “Pretty Woman.”

Like the recent “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” “Mother’s Day” is a movie for a particular audience. You know who you are. If you’re gagging at the thought of it, don’t bother. If it sounds like the sort of movie you thought they didn’t make any more and miss, you’ll enjoy it.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Huntsman: Winter’s War

With Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost. Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. 114 minutes.

With the film starring Chris Hemsworth and given the title THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR, the casual moviegoer should be forgiven for thinking this is the latest entry in the Marvel Universe. In fact, it’s a prequel/sequel to”Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012). And due to various matters off-screen, it’s one in which Snow White–played by Kristin Stewart in the original film–is seen only briefly.

Instead, what we get is the origin of the Huntsman, Eric, played by Hemsworth. When the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) assumes the throne, her younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt) discovers she’s pregnant by a man pledged to another. Horrible tragedy ensues and Freya leaves her sister having developed her own supernatural powers to become the Ice Queen. She brutally rules over the Northern Realms, rounding up the local children to be trained as soldiers in her army. Young Eric is one of them. Sara (Jessica Chastain) is another. They fall in love, in violation of Freya’s rules.

That’s essentially the first act of the film, which then jumps ahead several years to the post-Snow White “present,” in which the enchanted mirror held by the late Ravenna has been stolen and Eric is employed to get it back before it falls into Freya’s hands. He’s accompanied by Nion (Nick Frost), one of the dwarves from the earlier film, and a new dwarf character Gryff (Rob Brydon), to provide some comic relief. If that’s not enough, two more dwarves, Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexander Roach), provide some love interest as well. To reveal any more of the plot would be to give away the film’s surprises, so suffice to say there is romance and fairy tale adventures before the inevitable showdown over the evil mirror.

The movie has two things going for it. First is a strong cast, bringing some weight to characters who could easily be mobile mannequins. That three of the four principals are women and–in different ways–strong women, makes this an interesting standout against most of what’s in theaters. Theron, Blunt, and Chastain are all solid performers who bring some nuance to their characters. They make Hemsworth have to work at being more than a conventional hero, and he succeeds, seeming to channel a bit of Errol Flynn in his derring-do.

The other plus is the art direction. From the castles to the costumes to the special effects, this is a movie that looks magical without looking like everything we’ve seen already. The story may not be deep, but it remains visually arresting while it’s unfolding.

There probably wasn’t a crying need for a sequel to a “Snow White” movie, particularly one that doesn’t include Snow White, but considering how many superhero movies are in the pipeline for the months ahead, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” gives as a fairy tale that’s fresh enough to be engaging.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Elvis & Nixon

FILM REVIEWELVIS & NIXON. With Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks. Written by Joey Sagal & Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes. Directed by Liza Johnson. Rated R for some language. 86 minutes.

If there wasn’t an actual photograph, you might not believe it. In fact, in December 1970, Elvis Presley was welcomed into the Oval Office to meet President Richard Nixon and that famous picture of one of the most unlikeliest meetings in history has become one of the most requested photographs of all-time from the National Archives. Now, through the historical record and a good bit of dramatic license, ELVIS & NIXON gives us a glimpse of how that meeting came about and what might have transpired.

By 1970, Elvis might have been “the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but he was well past his prime, and the notion that he might still be a conduit to America’s youth showed just how out of touch White House aides like Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) were. The true cluelessness, of course, was on the part of Elvis (Michael Shannon), who wanted the president to designate him a “special agent” so he could go “undercover” to investigate how drugs and subversion were permeating the music business.

He arrives in Washington, D. C. with trusted friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), who’s a bit skeptical about the whole thing. When he’s rebuffed at the White House, he tries other means to get the special badge he wants. However, Krogh believes that a picture of Nixon (Kevin Spacey) with Elvis would be a tremendous publicity coup for the White House, and works to make it happen.

The meeting itself is a comedy of miscommunication, as Elvis does all the things he’s told not to do, and the socially awkward Nixon tries to run out the clock with small talk. Yet something interesting happens as the two stumble onto common ground and make a connection. Are they really hearing each other? It’s doubtful, but each gets something meaningful out of the experience–including an autograph for the President’s daughter Julie.

As Elvis, Shannon–who often plays uptight characters–gets to go in a different direction. His “late Elvis” is trying to find his place in a world very different from the one in which he came to fame, and seeks out Nixon not as a supplicant but as a peer. He’s respectful, at least as he comprehends it, but thinks that reaching out to the President of the United States is something in his purview. Spacey, who plays the devious Frank Underwood, the President on “House of Cards,” is a different sort of President as Nixon. He sketches in enough of Nixon’s mannerisms to seem real without turning into a caricature.Watching the two actors have their characters slowly come to terms with each other is one of the highlights of the movie.

If “Frost/Nixon” (2008) was about a dramatic encounter where the then former President was forced to confront his role in history, this is a small comic gem in which two twentieth-century icons get to confront each other and, possibly, learn something about themselves.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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