Pick of the Week #2

Recap: Every Monday, as part of my school’s radio show, I make picks of the week in the four categories of book, film, tv show and book. For your delectation here’s the picks from Monday 18th January…

Book (tie between The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and After the Silence by Louise O’Neill)

I’m cheating this week and I’ve gone for two – both crime but very, very different with one light and one dark. For the light pick, Osman’s book follows four unlikely friends in a peaceful retirement village who meet up once a week to solve unsolved murders. It’s wickedly funny and so warm, playing on societal expectations, cosy yet gripping. O’Neill’s book counters this, by being brutal and scathing. I’d recommend for fans of real-life murder crime podcasts – on the ten year anniversary of a young woman on a small Irish island, a documentary team travel there to find out what really happened that day. Devastating, dark and so powerful – it’ll haunt you long after reading. 

TV (Race Across The World on BBC iPlayer)

A group of travellers are dropped off in a city, in pairs they have to race across the world to their destination using any route they like – but they’re not allowed to use their smartphones, they’re not allowed to catch a flight and their budget is only whatever the cost of a flight would be. At a time when travelling applies moving from the bedroom to living room to kitchen, this show is a wonderful escape seeing such beauty of the world. It’s also wonderful to follow the travellers as they grow in confidence and make so many discoveries about the world, and themselves.

Film (Hotel Artemis on Amazon Prime)

In a dystopian Los Angeles, a nurse (Jodie Foster) runs a secret hotel/hospital for criminals. However, the arrival of a new group of patients is about to wreck all kinds of havoc…. A blend of science fiction, action and thriller, it’s fast paced (only 93 mins) with some fantastic world building.

Song (Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen)

This week the artist was the easy bit, as last week saw what would have been his birthday and the anniversary of his death – but the big question was the song. My favourite is The Prettiest Star, Modern Love is the one that gets me on the dancefloor. But I’ve gone for the one that should result in some cathartic sing-yelling along.

The Nice Guys

Shane Black strikes again with another brilliant buddy comedy

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourite films from the 21st century. Not only did it reintroduce the world to Robert Downey Jr (with Iron Man coming out three years later) and star an underrated Batman, Val Kilmer, as a character called Gay Perry, it is also a definitive example of a contemporary pulp-y neo-noir that is also truly hilarious with a side note of surreal.  I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang so I have been impatiently waiting for The Nice Guys with desperate expectations. Thankfully those expectations were more than meet with a crime comedy that is made so much fun to watch by an awesome cast.

1977, Los Angeles. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private detective, quite a good one actually although appearances can be deceptive, very deceptive… Whilst investigating the death of a porn star called Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) he begins searching for a girl called Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) Holland comes into contact with an enforcer called Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). More specifically Jackson breaks Holland’s arm to try and stop him from hunting down Amelia. But after a failed attempt on his life occurs Jackson realises that his case and Holland’s cases actually overlap, they may have to work together to solve their cases and stop more people from being killed.

There are three truly great things about this film. 1) Ryan Gosling is truly wonderful and properly hilarious. He appears to have a natural gift for physical comedy and it is a gift he utilizes for great effect here. His facial reactions are joyous to watch and his delivery of gags legendary. His bond with teen daughter Holly (Angourie Riceadds a wonderful dynamic and an extra layer of depth to things. But it is his rapport with another truly great thing about this film that is standout.

2) Russell Crowe has been rocking a certain blend of grizzled touch-guy for a few years now. In this film he goes full grizzled tough-guy in such a way that, thanks to his mis-matched partnership with Gosling, makes him likeable. The dynamic between the pair is founded on hate-fear rather than hate-love, with both characters being so fatally flawed they shouldn’t really spend any time with each other. At all. Yet the pairing proves hilarious with both characters finding a balance between each other as Crowe’s punch-punchy character, whose only friend is a pet fish, somewhat softens through his exchanges with Gosling who frequently ends up rivalling Buster Keaton in terms of physical comedy.

Finally, 3) The script. Few scripts are this crisp with brilliantly quotable one liners and dialogue such as this gem of a sequence:

Holland March: Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.

Jackson Healy: People got hurt.

Holland March: I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.

Occasionally the plotting does get too convoluted, potentially it is too overambitious in its conspiracy plotting, but for the most part it’s typically sharp Shane Black with a blend full of action, comedy, aspects of hard-bitten noir and a side of social commentary. Few films out in the cinemas at the moment are this entertaining.

4 stars

 

 

Bastille Day

Remove brain and enjoy the stupid

To put it simply, there is nothing clever about this film. It’s too po-faced about going about its business to be a parody even when the film really feels like it’s parodying ‘the maverick detective’ genre – our ‘maverick’ is even introduced via a CIA briefing where a prior report described him as ‘reckless and prone to violence’, he does things that are so against the rule book that he’s ‘own his own’ and he punches or shoots everyone he comes into contact with. Aside from this not a single character has any actual characterisation, each one simply remains a job title or character trait. Yet somehow, and if you really try not to think too hard, this film has enough charisma and talent to actually be rather entertaining… for the most part.

Zoe Naville (Charlotte Le Bon) is persuaded by the man she thinks she loves to walk into the office of a political party candidate after hours and leave behind a bomb. He promises her that it’s safe, the office will be empty and no-one will get hurt. When Zoe finds the office to be full of cleaners she ends up being stuck in the middle of Paris with a literal ticking time bomb. That’s when con artist and thief Michael Mason (Richard Madden) spots an opportunity and steals her bag without knowing the contents. After stealing her phone he drops the back of at a bin – time has run out and the bomb explodes. Michael survives but CIA surveillance now implicates him as the instigator of the bomb so they put their best rogue lone-wolf officer on the case, Sean Briar (Idris Elba). Once Mason proves his innocence and his masterful skill of pick-pocketing the pair team up to find out the truth and stop any further lives being taken by the terrorists, who are soon found to be part of the French police force. – but just how high up does this conspiracy go? 

Again, I reiterate, there is nothing genre-defying or genre-defining here. The plot is riddled with more bullet holes than actually feature in the film – which is really saying something as every single character appears to try to shoot their way out of every single situation. Considering the main issue at hand is terrorism there is nothing logical about how any of the involved parties handle the situation.  The terrorist use a hashtag for their exploits, which magically transforms all the citizens of Paris into Bastille Day warriors. I’m sure there are many social media advertising companies who would love to know their secret.

Their ‘secret’ may just be Idris Elba who genuinely saves this film from being utter dross. He manages to droll lines which are so poorly manufactured and cliche-ridden that other actor would need to do the whole ‘nudge-nudge wink-wink’ to the camera. Instead Elba can say utterly farcical fare in such a way that you still get the joke and can laugh at multiple people’s expense. His charisma and sheer screen presence make the film as enjoyable as it is. That and the fact the film is a lean 90-odd minutes, no plot device or scene out stays its welcome and there is more than enough action. If you can ignore the utter waste of Kelly Reilly‘s talent and some of the film’s complicated (read: flawed) ideas about numerous topics then you’re good to go. 

It’s cheesy and hackneyed and only saved by Idris Elba. But, if you make sure you switch off both your phone and your brain at the start of the film, then you’ve found an entertaining enough way to while away 1.5 hours.

2 stars