After 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 2013’s Iron Man 3, Shane Black’s directorial hot-streak continues with The Nice Guys (Icon).
Los Angeles. 1977. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a wise-cracking, down-on-his-luck private eye, unsuccessfully plying his trade in the City of Angels. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a hired enforcer and debt collector who hurts people for a living – and generally enjoys it. Although their first meeting ends with broken bones, fate turns them into unlikely partners after a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears following her participation in what is referred to as an ‘experimental artistic film’. The two men’s natural curiosity leads them into the murky orbit of pornographer Sid Shattack, and the stakes get even higher when the bodies start piling up.
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Since his screenplays for Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout cemented his reputation as a writer capable of delivering smart, violent crowd-pleasers, Shane Black has opted not to deviate too far from his favoured approach. His adherence to the buddy movie template is well-documented, and The Nice Guys sees him deliver another memorable double-act in the form of March and Healey.
The tone – and retro setting – is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers at their most playful, with shades of The Big Lebowski in this offbeat, duplicitous caper. The memorable set-pieces come thick and fast, and while the movie lapses into self-indulgence every now and again, it seems churlish to complain too hard, as everyone is having so much fun – viewers included. I certainly hope Shane Black runs with these characters, as they have serious franchise potential. Great fun.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a bombastic TV personality whose popular investment-themed TV show Money Monster (Sony) has made him an influential Wall Street player. However, after he hawks a high tech stock that mysteriously crashes, an irate investor (Jack O’Connell) takes Gates, his crew, and his long-term producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) hostage live on air. Unfolding in real time, Gates and Fenn must find a way to keep themselves alive, while trying to untangle the web of lies being spun by charismatic IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West).
After the downbeat surrealism of 2011 Mel Gibson vehicle The Beaver, Jodie Foster steps behind the camera once again, for a movie that is likely to be a far easier sell to audiences. Clooney is clearly enjoying himself as the brash Gates, and it is nice to see Jack O’Connell get a shot at another major US production. That said, his embittered hostage-taker is positively dialled-down compared to his ferocious role in the excellent Starred Up, and this whole endeavour is a weirdly grit-free production, with not a rough edge in sight. Slick and purposeful, Money Monster is an appealing mainstream thriller with decent crowd-pleasing chops.
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Observance (Soda) is an ultra-low-budget Australian skin-crawler about Parker (Lindsay Farris, Home & Away), a grief-stricken, cash-strapped private eye who reluctantly takes on an assignment to ‘observe’ a woman from a derelict building. In doing so, Parker witnesses a series of bizarre occurrences, oblivious to the dark presence that has infiltrated his own damaged life. Director Joseph Sims-Dennett has weaved together an enjoyably enigmatic little movie, peppered with strange, feverish interludes. It may be too raw for some tastes, but Observance should serve as a good calling card as Sims-Dennett plots his next move.
Directed by Howard J. Ford, who – along with his brother Jon – directed the cult zombie movies The Dead and The Dead 2, Never Let Go (Icon) is a post-Taken kidnap thriller, starring bit-part actress Angela Dixon as Lisa Brennan, a single mother – and ex-FBI agent whose infant daughter is snatched by human traffickers. With no witnesses to the abduction, Lisa is forced to take the law into her hands, using what we have come to recognise as a ‘very particular set of skills’! Never Let Go is a valiant attempt to jump on the middle-aged revenge movie bandwagon that is still trundling along, but its evident lack of budget and star names will more than likely hamper its popularity. Little-known Dixon does pretty well in the lead role, but ultimately, this feels like a dress rehearsal for a bigger, better film. Respectable, but slightly underwhelming.
Based on the Detective Martin Beck novels by Swedish husband-and-wife writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Beck – The Series: Volume 2 (Nordic Noir & Beyond) sees the curmudgeonly cop pressed into service for another set of slow-burning mysteries. The show, which has been running on an intermittent basis since 1997, stars Peter Haber (Martin Vanger in the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as the titular cop. With the original ten-book series filmed many years ago, this latest incarnation of the character sees him investigate an ever-increasing set of all-new cases. (Billed as ‘Volume 2’, this two-disc set actually comprises the four episodes that made up series six of the drama.)
Solid, rather than spectacular, Beck is a decent addition to the Scandinavian crime canon, but lacks the fiendish plotting and brutal eye for detail that the Sjöwall/Wahlöö books delivered so memorably. Non-essential viewing, but Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to see a role for Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane) who stars as charismatic Norwegian homicide investigator Steinar Hovland – a new recruit to Beck’s team.