Movie Reviews: The Nice Guys & Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I have two noir-ish films I want to get to, and have drawings to go with, but I wasn’t able to type out thoughts just yet. So here’s some quick reviews of two movies I wanted to see: “The Nice Guys,” starring Russell Crowe & Ryan Gosling, and “Hail, Caesar!” starring Josh Brolin and a bunch of other people.

The Nice Guys: Gosling is a sketchy private eye who meanders fruitlessly during investigations, stretching out his fees to his clueless and desperate clients. Crowe is a bruiser who uses his self-defense notoriety to get enforcer type jobs. The two cross paths as Gosling is looking for someone related to his case, a dead but somehow presumed missing porn star, and Crowe hired by that someone to keep Gosling away. Crowe is then attacked by some goons (one being the amazing Keith David), and decides to hire Gosling to get back on this clearly solved case. That someone they’re looking for is another fledgling porn star who is also the daughter of a Justice Department bigwig, and who claims to have made a porno that is a statement exposing the dangers of the auto industry. Everyone involved in the film is dying violent deaths.

I have some issues about how female characters are treated in this film, which is written & directed by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, and (sigh) The Last Boy Scout fame. I have nothing but bad memories of those latter film’s characters, and I actually don’t remember anything about the plot other than Bruce Willis’ daughter screaming at him, and everyone being unpleasant jerkfaces. I wouldn’t have batted an eye in the opening death scene with the porn star & the pre-teen who discovers her body, but my most unpleasant memory of The Nice Guys is a woman , in a bathroom in another building, who gets shot (and probably killed) by accident when Crowe faces off against those goons I mentioned in the last paragraph. She won’t be the only innocent bystander in the film, but someone wrote, staged, and filmed that bit. Is that for laughs? The stakes are raised? Considering that Crowe and Gosling are, scenes later, taking cover behind palm trees and thin poles from multiple sources of gunfire, this poor lady gets nailed in the spine from across the alley?

There’s also a little girl who gets thrown through a window by a henchman and she’s okay. No cuts, no blood spewing. Yet one of Gosling’s introductory scenes includes him trying to break a window and cutting himself in the wrist. His bloody injury was part of a setup, telling us what he’s willing to go to for his case when he does try yet how incompetent he actually is, and is funny. Girl thrown through a window? Not sure what the point of that was.

I have a few questions about some other disjointed parts, and we can guess if there’s just some sort of running misogyny themes or if it just seems like this is a cruel world where women get punished by some higher unrelated party if they’ve used their sexiness to be remotely combative with the established forces of these worlds, who knows. (Hey, the corrupt Justice Department baddies are women, so equality!) However, this is an otherwise fun and funny film. There are, I guess, moments where Crowe & Gosling open up about their pasts, but their approach to their occupations is plenty to show that they’re damaged characters who just need to become buddy cops in a hurtful 70’s version of a Philip Marlowe novel. Crowe & Gosling make a good team here, as detectives and actors playing off each other (see the wordless elevator moment as they leave a crime in action), and I would totally watch a tv series about these characters.

I should mention that this takes place in the 70’s in much the way the Starsky & Hutch movie takes place in the 70’s. I’m shocked the four don’t cross paths. The “Me-he for Yoo-Hoo” was a nice touch. One of my favorite moments of the Marvel films is the reveal of the Mandarin in Black’s Iron Man 3, pulling the rug out from the Marvel comics canon is such an unexpected way. So kudos to Black for messing with us like that.

Hail, Caesar! is an interesting movie by the Coen brothers. It’s a comedy about a studio “fixer” (Josh Brolin) who has to find a missing actor (George Clooney) while handling a number of other mishaps involving other actors who do terrible things but need to present wholesome images to promote their churned-out elaborate film productions. It’s filled to the brim with some of your favorite actors & actresses, but most don’t get that much screen time. There’s focus on Brolin, who is most troubled by a job offer from a serious weapons manufacturer; he’s more at home keeping unwed pregnancies and homosexual acts out of the eyes and ears of pushy gossip columnists. The other stories are almost an afterthought. There’s a genuine mystery but the time spent with, say, Scarlett Johanssen and Jonah Hill, doesn’t add to or advance Brolin’s investigation. The lack of connection the characters have to each other is perhaps less about the who kidnapped Clooney and more about the disjointed studio family that Brolin proudly keeps together under the studio’s roof.

The movie looks great, there’s plenty of funny moments, but it’s an empty adventure as things just happen to the characters and they move on. Clooney is kidnapped, Brolin zips around solving problems…that’s pretty much it. Nearly everyone that Clooney runs into only appears once, separate from each other, so you don’t get to know them too much beyond their involvement in the elaborate productions the movie is parodying.

More interesting would be a biopic of the actual Eddie Mannix, the character Brolin is named & based on. You should definitely check out this 70’s documentary on the Hollywood blacklist.

I don’t have much else to say about these films. Both are a little hit & miss, but you should check  ’em out sometime.

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