(Video on Demand, September 2016) Hollywood circa 2016 is not a good place for film such as The Nice Guys. Hollywood demands spectacles, special effects, media tie-ins and easily digestible entertainment—it’s not so fond of R-rated 1970s-set semi-realist crime/comedy hybrids with a snarky tone, expensive lead actors, and unconventional narrative beats. So it’s a bit amazing that The Nice Guys managed to get made and got good reviews … but not so amazing that it did poorly at the box office, making it unlikely that such movies will come back on Hollywood’s radar any time soon. Still, let’s appreciate what we’ve got: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in fine form, forming an unlikely pair of investigators untangling a complex disappearance case against a backdrop of adult movies and industrial corruption. Writer/director Shane Black makes a great follow up to his previous Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, combining wit and narrative polish in the service of an enjoyable crime/comedy mix. It’s not necessarily conventional (by the end of the film, it’s an open question as to whether the two protagonists have actually accomplished anything) but it is enjoyable and off-beat enough. The atmosphere of 1977 is credibly re-created and Black’s typical wit shines through the snappy dialogue, absurd situations and off-beat story choices. The Nice Guys is worth tracking down, if only as a peek at what movies we could have had Hollywood not completely sold out to the megaplex paradigm.
(In Theaters, May 2013) Going back to theaters after nearly a year spent at home enjoying a fully-loaded movie cable package with video on-demand feels… strange. So many inconveniences. Ill-behaved strangers. Endless commercial come-ons. Uncomfortable seating. Oh well; at least Iron Man 3 is the kind of film designed to warrant theater viewing: It’s a big, loud, crowd-pleasing blockbuster spectacular, and it’s actually quite good at what it does. You have to be a fan of the first two films (and having seen The Avengers helps as well, which by coincidence was the previous film I saw in theaters) in order to get the most out of this third entry in the Iron Man series: It re-uses many of the relationships set up in the previous movies in order to deliver a few dramatic pay-offs, from Gwyneth Paltrow suddenly cast as an action heroine, or seeing how deftly writer/director Shane Black is able to take the mantle from Jon Favreau and yet make the film his own, much in the same vein as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The direction isn’t perfect –the action sequences aren’t as clean as they could be– but who cares when the dialogue is delicious, the plotting is strong and Robert Downey Jr. delivers another pitch-perfect performance as Tony Stark, a character so closely aligned with Downey’s public personality as to be undistinguishable from it? It’s all good fun, and Black’s subversive instinct go from unconventionally unsentimental dialogue to messing with big audience expectations at the third-act pivot point. That twist works as long as you’re willing to laugh at the reversal, and see how well it meshes with Stark’s thirst for being visibly indissociable from his superhero identity –otherwise, well, it’s one big thing the trailers haven’t revealed. As the launching entry in Marvel Studio’s “Phase Two”, Iron Man 3 is a solid film. It’s hardly perfect, but it’s accomplished and maybe even more purely enjoyable than the first two entries.