The Nice Guys
Two not so nice guys, one a private investigator, the other a wannabe P.I., join forces in 1970's L.A. to find the elusive Amelia and solve the mystery surrounding the death of a porn star.
"Nice guys" is a relative term in this retro dark comedy cum buddy film written (with Anthony Bagarozzi) and directed by Shane Black (who gave us the 1987 "Lethal Weapon") that spoofs hardboiled detectives and L.A. film noir like "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential." And in case you didn't get that, Kim Basinger, who won an Oscar for her role in "L.A. Confidential" makes an appearance.
Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private investigator who hasn't gotten over the death of his wife. He is raising his 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), on his own. He is drinking too much and doing a lot of bumbling and his own daughter says he is "the worst P.I. in the world." She's right. He is rather clueless. Well, let me be frank. He's kind of dumb, but maybe it's all of that drinking.
Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe) is an enforcer. You pay him, he beats up whomever you choose. He would like to have P.I. credentials, but it's too much trouble. The two "meet cute" when Healy is hired by a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to get the message across to March to stop following her. Healey finds March, punches him in the nose and tells him to back off. Later Healey discovers why March is looking for Amelia. Her aunt thinks she is her niece who was the porn star, Misty Mountains, who died in a mysterious car crash. When two hoods show up at Healey's apartment also looking for Amelia, Healey is drawn into the search for the mysterious Amelia and joins forces with March to find her. March's obnoxiously precocious 13-year-old daughter also keeps insinuating herself into the search, much to the detriment of the film. (I think the writers could have done without that character. Rice is a good little actress and a pleasant presence but her character getting involved in all of the shenanigans is distracting. But you know I am already biased against kid actors).
Once Amelia is found we learn that everyone is looking for a film that Amelia made. It's part porn, part diatribe against the Detroit automakers who are fighting the installation of catalytic converters. You see, Amelia is an activitst trying to save the air for the birds. In "Chinatown" it was drought, remember? Here it's pollution. The plot goes on and on and becomes more and more convoluted, but it's a fun little romp, mostly because of how startling it is to see Crowe and Gosling doing comedy.
Speaking of Gosling, unlike most women, I have not fallen under the Ryan Gosling spell. I don't get his sex appeal, but even my Hubby thinks he is hot and he generally doesn't go for guys. I think it must be some of the films Gosling has been in where he plays the complicated sensitive types. I don't like those kinds of men. That's why I married Hubby. But Gosling belies that stereotype here and plays a not-so-bright guy who falls out of windows so much that he starts believing he is immortal. Not sure about the scene where he finds a dead body and seems to be channeling one of the Three Stooges, but all in all, he was funny.
Likewise, Crowe is another one who routinely plays difficult types, as in "Gladiator" and "A Beautiful Mind," and I have never forgiven him for his singing in "Les Miserables." Here he mostly plays straight man to Gosling, but gets to do a few comic turns and his timing is good. I liked him. So I have now officially forgiven him for "Les Miserables."
I always thought both of those guys were rather grumpy withdrawn types, but you know what? Seeing them on talk shows talking up this film, they were outgoing and funny and genuinely seemed to enjoy each other and it shows in this movie. They both demonstrate some comedic chops and have good chemistry here so I enjoyed their performances. So this film changed my opinion of them.
Despite the fact that the film dragged a bit (it could have been shorter), the script was original and had surprising elements that you didn't see coming and the set design and costumes capture the L.A. of the 1970's.
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a Gosling and/or Crowe fan, you might enjoy seeing them doing something different. All in all this is a fun buddy film, and I smell a sequel.
***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
Now Out on DVD
Zev has dementia but that doesn't stop him from leaving his nursing home to find the man who killed his family at Auschwitz. He is a geriatric Nazi hunter.
Zev (Christopher Plummer) awakens and is disoriented. Where is his wife, Ruth? The nurse in his assisted living facility comes into his room and reminds him that his wife Ruth died a week ago. Zev's friend at the nursing home, Max (Martin Landau), also asks Zev if he remembers what he said he would do once Ruth died. "You promised to go once Ruth died. You promised me and you promised Ruth."
Max and Zev were at Auschwitz together and are the last living survivors of their prison block. Max was a Nazi hunter who had captured many during his life. Zev is the only one left who can recognize the man who killed their families at Auschwitz. Max gives Zev a letter and tells him to go read it alone. The envelope contains money and tickets. Zev calls a cab, leaves the nursing home and boards a train at Penn Station headed to Cleveland.
We learn that the letter is a list of things that Zev must do. Zev is on a mission to find the man who killed his family at Auschwitz. After the war, it was common practice for Nazis to take the names of Jewish people in order to escape detection and not have to answer for their crimes. The man Zev is looking for is Rudy Kurlander and he and Max know that there are four Rudy Kurlanders. Zev must find which Rudy Kurlander is the killer.
Unfortunately, Zev has dementia and is often disoriented and after sleeping often forgets where he is and what he is doing. He writes "Read the letter" on his arm to keep himself focused on his task. When he goes to a gun shop to buy a gun, after the clerk shows him how to use it, fearing he will forget, Zev asks the clerk to write down the instructions. The clerk looks quizzical but, OK. When traveling to Canada, Zev is told his passport has expired. Since he is carrying a gun, this could be worrisome, but he is given the go-ahead anyway, thus proving that no one thinks old people are up to much.
In the meantime, Zev's adult children have put out a missing persons report on Zev and the police are looking for him. Will he find the real Rudy before the police find him?
Christopher Plummer is just astonishing here. It's amazing to see these older accomplished actors at the height of their craft. Just as someone like Eric Clapton, who at 71 can play complicated guitar riffs with ease now that he has been doing it for so many years, so too actors at the height of their powers can transform themselves and draw us in with the same ease honed over years of experience. There was much Oscar buzz about Plummer's performance and he should have been recognized. It's also refreshing to see him aging gracefully. He was once a handsome leading man and now he is obviously an old man (though a handsome one), but those lines and creases on his face just enhance his character. Even male actors fall victim to that old plastic surgery and it is a vanity that will not hold them in good stead when it comes to playing roles like this. But Plummer is one of those actors who did not have to rely on his looks. This guy can ACT!
The film, written by Benjamin August and directed by Atom Egoyan, is what excellent filmmaking is all about: an original story that slowly unfolds, wonderful dialog, direction that is tense and riveting, unexpected moments and moments you can relate to, and an ending that I defy you to figure out. I am usually really good at seeing the twist, but I was totally blown away.
You know I have said that when a movie is really, really good, I cry at the end, even if the film wasn't sad? I cry because it was such an incredible experience. I cried at the end of "Spotlight." I cried at the end of "The Big Short," and I cried at the end of this film. All three amazing films. When you see a film like this, a movie that makes you feel something, you are reminded "Why Movies Matter."
Moral of the story: Put your parents in the nursing home and god knows what they will get up to.
Rosy the Reviewer says...one of the best movies of 2016.
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Through a series of letters read by musician Cat Power, interviews and never-before-seen footage, we get a poignant and new look into the life of Janis Joplin.
For those of you who have read books about Janis and followed her short career, many of the stories relayed here will be familiar: her difficult high school and college years (She was voted "Ugliest Man" by a college fraternity); her finding solace in music and in creating a wild persona for herself; being discovered by Chet Helms; her over-the-top performance at Monterey Pop and subsequent success and her death at 27 of a drug overdose, thus making her yet another singer who joined the "27 Club."
But Director Amy Berg, who also directed the stunning documentary "West of Memphis" as well as the feature film "Every Secret Thing," has managed to bring some freshness and soul to Janis' story through never-before-seen footage, interviews with her siblings and friends, and letters she wrote home (read by musician Cat Power). The letters to her friends and family give us insight into the real Janis, an intelligent, sensitive person that belies her public persona. The performance footage is wonderful and the candid footage of Janis interacting with friends and other artists is awesome
One can't help but compare this film to this year's Academy Award-winning documentary about another singer, "Amy," which told the story of Amy Winehouse's rise and fall and who also died tragically at 27. This film about Janis is every bit as riveting and sad, but for different reasons.
I remember how shocking Janis's death was. I had just graduated from college and moved to San Francisco. With all of the rock bands touring and playing in San Francisco, we had hopes of seeing her live. Since Jimmy Hendrix had just recently died at 27, this was another blow. But other than her albums with Big Brother and the Holding Company and her triumph at Monterey Pop, we didn't really know much about Janis' personal struggles and demons. This was an age before the Internet, before TMZ, before the incessant obsession with a star's personal life. We knew all about Amy Winehouse's struggles, but we didn't know much about Janis's until after she died.
We see that the life of a female rock star can be a difficult and lonely one. Her love affairs didn't end well and when her male counterparts in her band would go off at night with groupies, Janis would spend her evenings alone. We see that Janis, for all of her braggadocio, was just a sensitive soul who couldn't stand to be alone.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Janis as you have never seen her.
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
250 to go!
Have YOU seen this classic film?
Wake in Fright (1971)
When a school teacher is stranded in a strange town full of drunk crazies, he becomes a drunk crazy himself.
The Australian Outback is one of the most forbidding places on earth, and it is never more apparent than when this film begins and the camera does a 360 degree pan of the town of Tiboonda and the surrounding landscape. Tiboonda appears to be nothing more than a railway station cum bar and a school with a desert as its neighbor.
John Grant (Gary Bond, who looks like a young Peter O'Toole) is headed away from a teaching job and the barren town he hates for his five-week Christmas holiday. He is headed to Sidney to see his girlfriend, but has to stop in another, but larger Outback town, Bundanyabba, to catch his plane the next day. He has his small paycheck from his teaching job and his lovely girlfriend awaits. But first he has to get through the night.
He checks into a seedy hotel and then heads over to the bar, a loud, crowded place mostly full of men. A local cop befriends him and plies him with beer. Downing beers in one long swig seems to be de rigeur in this town. John encounters a gambling game where a set of coins are thrown up in the air and the men bet on whether they will fall heads or tails. John, already fairly drunk, wins big and goes back to his hotel to gaze upon the $1000 he has won. That is five times his salary because the teaching situation in Australia at that time was, according to him, tantamount to being an indentured servant. To pay ones dues, as it were, one had to serve out time in a remote locale for a pittance. He wants out and sees this gambling game as the way. So instead of putting himself to bed with his winnings and getting on that damn plane tomorrow, he takes his winnings and heads back to the bar to try to double his money thus freeing him from his teaching job. All you want to say is, "No, John, no!"
Guess what? You are right. He loses everything and it's all downhill from there. Totally broke and hung over, he runs into a group of guys who, shall I say, don't have his best interests at heart, and there is all kinds of drunken stuff that goes on, none of it good. John has a hard time saying no to a drink or asserting himself among a bunch of louts so John finds himself in a kind of hell that he can't get out of.
Ever wake up after a drunken night and not remember what you did but you have this frightening feeling it wasn't good? OK, good for you, but some of us have. For those of us who know that feeling, this is the kind of horror film this is. It's also the kind of horror film where you stumble into a place by accident and find yourself stuck with a bunch of crazy yahoos. That is what happens to our hero.
I am fascinated by films set in the Australian outback just because I can't imagine living there. It's like a moonscape. It is so barren and menacing. There is a reason why "Mad Max" was filmed there and this film captures how unrelenting the Outback can be.
There is one horrific scene where John and his new "friends" get drunk and go kangaroo hunting at night in a jeep. They chase the kangaroos down with the jeep, shine the lights in their eyes so they are frozen and then shoot them. They also get out of the jeep and wrestle with wounded kangaroos and then kill them by slitting their throats. There is lots of shouting and laughter and this is all done in the name of fun.
Now, I have to tell you, as I was watching this, I practically said out loud, "There had better be a disclaimer at the end of this film saying 'No Kangaroos were harmed in the making of this film." And, yes, there was a disclaimer, all right. It said the scenes of the kangaroo hunt were REAL! The kangaroos were shot by "professional licensed hunters" and then went on to say they had consulted with animal rights groups and decided the scenes should be shown to save the kangaroo population. I guess the point was to show how gruesome it was to kill kangaroos so people would NOT kill them. Not sure. But anyway, if you watch this film, brace yourself. Those scenes are horrendous.
Why it's a Must See: "[This film] is one of the key works in the New Australian Cinema movement...[it] has been acknowledged as an influrnce on contemporary Australian directors..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Directed by Ted Kotcheff, who went on to direct "North Dallas Forty" and "Fun with Dick and Jane," this film is considered one of the seminal films in the Australian New Wave of cinema, but it was little seen and considered "lost" until negatives were found and it was remastered in 2009, 38 years after it was originally released. The New York Observer observed "...may be the greatest Australian film ever made."
A relatively young Donald Pleasance is probably the only actor who would be recognizable to American audiences. He creates a character of benign menace. But the other actors are all good, creating quirky, strange characters that add to our hero's nightmare.
Based on a book by Kenneth Cook with a screenplay by Evan Jones and, originally released in Europe and the U.S. as "Outback," this is a nihilistic story of how easy it is to fall to the lowest common denominator and find your bottom in one night.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a horrifying, amazing and riveting film journey. Moral of the story? While waiting to catch a plane in an unfamiliar town, stay in your hotel room until it's time to get on that damn plane!
***Book of the Week***
My Father the Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt (2016)
The son of "The King of 20th Century Smut" remembers his childhood growing up in Appalachian Kentucky with his difficult writer father, Andrew Offutt.
Side Note: Yes, another memoir.
Readers have asked me why I review so much nonfiction and so little fiction. There are a couple of reasons. One is that I think I have read enough fiction in high school and college to last me a lifetime. But the real reason is discovering that true stories have more interesting "plots" than any fiction writer can make up. I first discovered this in college in a "20th Century Literature" class when I read Tom Wolfe for the first time. It was "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test." After that I discovered biographies of and autobiographies by actors and other entertainers. Since I thought I was going to be an actress, I have maintained an interest in that world and am still keenly interested in how people find themselves there. A little scandal thrown in doesn't hurt either. Peoples' own stories are often more riveting than anything anyone can make up.
However, don't despair. I have a pile of recent fiction in my office, all books that are "must reads" for women as well as some fiction from other "must read" lists, so you can expect some fiction from time to time.
But, yes, this week, it's another memoir - a very interesting one, I might add. I mean, how many of our fathers were pornographers?
Chris Offutt's father started out as a traveling salesman writing science fiction and fantasy at night and on weekends, but when he realized how much money he could make putting out short little porn books, he opted for that career. After all, he needed to pay for his son's orthodontia.
So Offutt Senior started to write full-time and that changed everything in the house. Where once he was gone much of the time, now he was at home full-time. The older Offutt ruled the house with an iron fist. No one was allowed to enter his office. Even his wife had to stand outside the door and wait for permission to enter.
"I avoided communicating with Dad in his office. It was a multi-step process that began with tiptoeing to the door so as to not startle him. I tapped softly and waited for acknowledgment, an interval that could run a few minutes. I wondered if he heard me, but I knew better than to knock again and risk arousing his ire. Dad regarded any intrusion as not merely a distraction but a form of disrespect and attack."
Even a trip to the bathroom could cause problems.
"Are you deliberately aiming in the center of the toilet to maximize sound and irritate me?"
His father also didn't allow anyone to have an opinion that wasn't his, he held many negative beliefs about people and life and what friendships he made ended badly. At the height of his writing career, he would attend conventions where he would get accolades from his fans. When he returned home, he expected his family to act like fans as well, and when he didn't get the adoration and respect he felt he deserved, it wasn't good.
And my kids thought I was bad!
When Offutt's father died, Chris went back home to help his mother sort through all of his father's things and discovered 1800 pounds of pornographic fiction. In going through his father's things, he also had to go back over his own life, what it was like living with his difficult father and how his father had influenced him. Despite the difficulties he had understanding his father's severe personality, his father's death still affected him.
"The loss of a parent takes away a kind of umbrella against the inclement weather of life. Regardless of condition -- tattered fabric and broken spokes -- it had always been at hand, offering the potential of protection and safety. Dad's death made me the nominal head of the family, maker of decisions, next in line to die. Now I had to provide my own umbrella -- for myself, my siblings, and my mother."
It's human nature to wonder about our parents and how they affected us, but few of us have had to come face to face with our father's fetishes and obsessions as Chris did. It's also ironic that despite his issues with his father, he also became a writer, though not of pornography.
Any of us who have had parents whose peccadillos affected our lives can relate to this story, though I have to say his father was more difficult than most. The story made me look back at my own growing up years with my parents and on my own parenting. As a parent, my thing was not letting anyone turn on the heat in the morning because it disturbed my beauty sleep. We lived in California after all and if you're cold, put on a sweater. That was how I was raised, but I know that is not a happy memory for my kids. Parents pass on psychological scars without even knowing it. In Chris's Dad's case, though, he didn't care who he was scarring. Probably didn't occur to him to wonder.
Offutt's father never allowed any dispute, didn't care about anyone else's opinions or feelings, he was cruel in so many ways and yet even so, Chris felt a loss. Even when parents are thoughtless and abusive, most children still have feelings for them.
Offutt is an award-winning author and screenwriter. He has written for HBO's "True Blood" and "Treme" as well as Showtime's "Weeds." He writes with a clear, tight prose style that is moving and candid.
A book like this can't help but make you think of your own Dad. In my case, my Dad was kind and thoughtful, and the book made me feel grateful for the father he was. I am also glad he wasn't a pornographer.
Rosy the Reviewer...an interesting, well-written story about a son trying to make sense of his narcissistic father who made a living with his typewriter, churning out book after book, and a reminder to many of us that our parents could have been a lot worse!
That's it for this week!
Thanks for reading!
See you Tuesday for
"A Woman of a Certain Age
Going to the Gym:
What I Have Learned"
What I Have Learned"
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