Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Love & Friendship (2016)

Dreams do come true, about 25 years later.

I'm not too familiar with Jane Austen -- I only know what the movie adaptations have taught me, that among other things they are Hoiti^Toiti and they require 95% perfect of my attention. Love & Friendship stands apart from my impressions of her story content, and from Stillman for that matter, in the sense that the plot isn't driven by characters failing to communicate with one another but from one character coldly manipulating the others for not-quite-so-nefarious reasons.

Stillman is suited to the time period in the same way Whedon was suited for a modern Shakespeare adaptation. He is no stranger to elegance, subtlety or grace. Whit wisely allows his team of acting powerhouses to do the heavy lifting, and so there's not much to the film other than watching Kate Beckinsale's horrifying plan unfold before us, told in pieces to her best friend Chloe Sevigny (the Disco team is back!), and played in such a way that we can't help but admire the cunning. The film is a showcase of acting talents at its core, lifted further upwards with your constant curiosity at who's ahead of whom, dry jokes that take two seconds to reach their chuckle-points, and one jarring but well-timed gag using subtitles.

As with most of Stillman's work to this point, we have such a good time with the characters and the performances that when we are suddenly dropped into the closing credits, we are left with an intense desire to stay in that world longer. Then we remember that we are surrounded by 2 1/2 hour noise-fests and get whiplash reversing our position. Keep doing this, Whit.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Review: The Nice Guys (2016)

Hope you like Christmas. Shane Black keeps his streak alive of recalling his usual trademarks (even a direct one from Last Action Hero) and gives us the gift of watching two lovable characters fumbling through a classic Schlubs v. Coverup scenario. No one writes reluctant partners, kills off background extras, or puts noir in a new setting quite like Black. Refreshingly, he's also unafraid of putting kids in incredibly adult situations ("Don't say 'and stuff.' Just say 'They're doing anal.'") and completely ignoring our discomfort at that prospect. An action film is an adult venture, but there's nothing that says it can't be fun for everybody.

It's a shame, therefore, that the plotting isn't as tight as Black's earlier efforts, that some jokes don't land and character arcs don't quite thread through the runtime; regarding that in particular, Crowe learning mercy even though describing the time he beat someone with a shotgun as the greatest day of his life and Gosling embarrassing his daughter with his drinking but solving a surprising amount of problems through it (and ending the film that way). These seem to be symptoms of a stretched pilot script, moments that would play correctly along a shorter time span and, at the very least, make a fairly major twist less obvious.

It's charming enough to make it all work. In a shockingly dismal year for Hollywood, The Nice Guys is not a beacon of hope but a torch in a mineshaft. It offers the opportunity for a sigh of relief, and it definitely deserves a sequel even if we all know it won't get one.