The Nice Guys

Director: Shane Black (2016)

Since his first writing success with Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon (1987), writer/director Shane Black has spent his career creating crowd pleasing action comedies.

After recent blockbuster superhero success with Iron Man 3 (2013) he’s back with another smartly written, explosive and character driven adventure, riffing on Los Angeles detective noir such as Chinatown (1974) LA Confidential (1997) and The Big Lebowski (1998), among many others.

If you’re as in the dark to what’s going on as the dimwitted detective duo, don’t worry. An opaque plot is a vital element of the genre. Other hallmarks present and correct are the voice over, a dead glamour model, a bag of cash, sinister doctors and a corporate conspiracy.

In typical style Black ramps up the action but finds his normally sharp comic dialogue is subdued by the pot headed sun kissed California vibe. Nor can he resist including an unnecessary trademark Christmas scene.

However Black’s writing has reached sufficient maturity to splice together porn movies and car adverts in a scathing commentary of both industries.

Plus a degree of satirical self knowledge is needed to write a script set in Hollywood where a character dodges bullets to save a canister of celluloid of utmost importance to solving a murder.

Heavy weight Russell Crowe teams up with a comically dim Ryan Gosling as the ironically titled leads.

As mismatched down market private detectives Healy and March, they’re employed to solve the case of a missing teenager in 1970’s Los Angeles.

Though a pair of cynical, violent alcoholics in true noir style, this is disguised by their easy screen charisma and laid back chemistry.

Kim Basinger and Margaret Qualley are strong support as a mother and daughter at the centre of the story.

Our point of view of proceedings is guided by March’s 13 year old daughter Holly. Angourie Rice is terrific as the bright, brave, street wise moral conscience of the film.

Her sweet nature proves these nice guys aren’t all bad and Black is continuing to improve.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Water Diviner

Director: Russell Crowe (2015)

Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe makes an ambitious directorial debut in this handsome and exciting period action adventure.

Set in Turkey in the aftermath of the First World War, it’s a sweeping and occasionally sentimental story filled with sacrifice, suffering, grief, duty, mysticism and romance.

Crowe casts himself as Joshua Connor, a farmer and the titular water diviner. We first encounter him and his loyal dog in the digging in the red dusty earth for water. Crowe the director cheekily demonstrates his confidence by riffing on Daniel Day-Lewis in 2007’s There Will Be Blood.

After the tragic death of his wife he swears on her grave he will return with the bodies of their three sons. Four years earlier they were all lost in the battle of Gallipoli on the Turkish peninsular. The money-grabbing church offers no solace to Connor, he’s even smacked with a cross at one point.

He travels from the Outback to Istanbul where he struggles against pickpockets, the Turkish resistance, invading Greeks and the belligerent British army bureaucracy.

Connor’s helped along the way by Turkish soldiers Major Hasan and Sergeant Jemal (Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz). He also finds plenty of time to form a gentle bond with a beautiful hotel receptionist.

Turkish culture is treated with respect and in some detail. We see inside the fabulous Blue Mosque and witness several political protests. There are markets, religious ceremonies, brothels, cigarettes and raki. As a cultural exchange Connor teaches the Turks to play cricket.

The Water Diviner is built with the director’s virtues; it’s solid, honest, macho and hard-working, it’s easy on the eye and and offers unexpected moments of charm and humour.

Crowe underplays his own performance but still allows himself a lot of derring-do. There’s plenty of riding, fighting, drinking and even a rooftop escape to keep him busy.

As director he delivers some terrific action moments – especially an excellent sandstorm sequence – and there’s a harrowing depiction of trench warfare. We see the retreat form Gallipoli from the Turkish point of view, proving their soldiers are as brave and foolhardy as the ANZACS.

The film is less steady when Crowe approaches the delicate subject of the opposite sex, demonstrating he’s more comfortable with animals and children than he is with women. Connor even confesses he’s no good at courtship – it could be the director speaking.

There’s a decent stab at providing the character of Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) with more to do than just being the love interest. She’s intelligent and proud yet realistic about life. As well as beating carpets and fetching wood, she runs the hotel and cares for her invalid father. She faces choices about her future which will affect her son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades).

Kurylenko seems uncertain in her early scenes though she improves as the film progresses – however the candlelit romantic subplot with Connor slows down the story when it should be gathering pace.

Faring far less well as a rounded character is her friend Natalia the prostitute (Isabel Lucas). She’s ever so jolly and lives upstairs in the hotel.

Crowe has thrown himself into the deep-end with this film but it’s no surprise he swims not sinks under the pressure.

Man Of Steel

Director: Zack Snyder (2013)

Brit actor Henry Cavill carries the weight of the world on his shoulders in this monumental rebooting of Superman.

The planet Krypton is in deadly peril so the baby Kal-El is jettisoned off to Earth for safety by his father Jor-El – Russell Crowe on top form.

An attempted coup by Krypton’s compellingly evil General Zod is defeated and he is banished to the Phantom Zone.

Zod, an elemental Michael Shannon, swears revenge on the son of Jor-El and when Krypton is destroyed he escapes into open space with his followers.

Kal-El is 33 and has developed super powers when Zod’s spaceship arrives to demand the US military hand him over – but only Lois Lane knows where he is.

The battles that follow are conducted in state-of-the-art CGI and there are some nifty flying sequences. All the costumes and space hardware are fabulously well designed, as is Krypton.

For all her no-nonsense journalist-on-a-mission attitude, Lois (Amy Adams) exists only to be rescued. The plot makes great leaps over logic to keep her involved.

Cavill is so ridiculously handsome and buff he could well be from another planet. But his Man of Steel character is somewhat flat here because of the absence of the traditional Clarke Kent alter ego.

It is not until the absolute end that the actor is allowed to demonstrate any humour, charm, or light-heartedness, which is a waste of his talent – and a lot of our time.

Superman saves more soldiers’ lives than civilian ones despite the military being stupidly belligerent and not trusting of him. Mind you, the civilian body count must be astronomical.

With the Man of Steel no longer wearing underpants outside his tights, everything is played with utter seriousness.

The tone stays in the narrow realm of the ominous and desperately solemn. Doom-laden declarations litter the dialogue, which is workaday, dull and occasionally silly with Adams’s Lois Lane having the worst of it.

A well acted and solid spectacle is bookended by two titanic battles. But taken as a whole, Man of Steel never escapes the heavy gravitational force of its own furrowed brow.