Male, Murky & Mysterious: ‘The Nice Guys’ Feature (The Hollywood News)

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Pectoral-happy power couple Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are barging their way into UK cinemas for action buddy comedy The Nice Guys. This mix of knockabout antics and crime, set against a sleazy 1970s backdrop, has yielded decent reviews (we here at THN loved it), while at the same time adding to the bulging genre of films where men stumble around trying to see the wood for the trees.

When it comes to a mystery, it pays to send men equipped with both fists and wits to sort it out. There’s something about the traditional gumshoe, or the bloke who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that lends itself to this situation. Whether a lone operator or, better still, a spiky partnership, it makes that journey all the more entertaining, especially when you throw in aspects that make guys easily distracted, such as women and alcohol.

Join us as we wake bleary-eyed at our desk, take a swig from the bottle of whisky in the filing cabinet and pull our fedora down against the LA sunshine, venturing out to investigate the very best the movie world has to offer when it comes to the male, the murky and the mysterious…

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT

ITHOFT1967 saw a powder keg of a scenario brought to the screen by director Norman Jewison, and at its centre was one of cinema’s most incendiary and groundbreaking partnerships: Sidney Poitier as progressive detective Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger as bigoted Mississippi police chief Bill Gillespie.

With a high profile murder case on the go, Steiger made the brilliant mistake of detaining tourist Poitier on suspicion of the crime. When it transpired the detainee was in fact an off-duty investigator, the curmudgeonly racist employed him to help track down the killer. The pair went on to form a reluctant alliance, delving into a prickly hotbed of prejudice and close-knit community secrets.

The characters (created by novelist John Ball) were reunited in a long-running TV show of the same name, though the leads didn’t return. However Poitier’s protagonist starred in two big screen Tibbs-centric sequels.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

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Jeff Bridges‘ dazed and confused amateur sleuth Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski became our guide through the Coen Brothers‘ hard-boiled maze of Chandleresque LA surrealism in 1998. By the end of the story he was none the wiser. His head hurt and so did ours, but our sides were thoroughly split from laughing.

Seeking recompense from a local business titan after his carpet was wrongly urinated on, “The Dude” found himself charged with locating the man’s porn-star-slash-trophy-bride (Tara Reid), accompanied by his bowling buddies – disturbed Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman) and timid Donny (Steve Buscemi). Along the way they encountered such warped examples of the male species as Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), as well as some questionable cases of the female variety (via Julianne Moore‘s hectoring and pretentious Maude Lebowski).

The movie entered the cult bracket and, since the Coens aren’t known for their interest in sequels, sadly that was the last we saw of Bridges and company. Despite the lack of a narrative continuation his outlook on life has managed to live on, through the unexpected offshoot religion “Dudeism”.

LA CONFIDENTIAL

LACA year earlier moviegoers had witnessed another tangled neo-noir web of crime in the City of Angels. This time the action went back several decades, for Curtis Hanson‘s adaptation of James Ellroy‘s dark saga of law enforcement in Hollywood. Film stars, fist-wielding cops and shark-like journalists all rubbed shoulders.

The unlikely trio of neat ‘n tidy newbie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), growly hard nut Bud White (Russell Crowe again) and pampered TV police show advisor Frank Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) began to realize things weren’t quite as upstanding at the LAPD as they liked to think. Between them they uncovered a network of corruption, with their boss Captain Smith (James Cromwell) at its rotten core. Kim Basinger memorably played a Tinseltown prostitute, and is reunited with Crowe for The Nice Guys.

Like In The Heat Of The Night the scenario went to TV, starring Kiefer Sutherland among others. But that particular investigation never got beyond pilot stage. Hanson’s sleaze-mired Oscar winner remains the definitive screen version.

KISS KISS BANG BANG

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The Nice Guys writer/director Shane Black is no stranger to testosterone-fuelled team ups. In 2005 he took former Batman Val Kilmer and future Iron Man Robert Downey Jr and put them together for another Movieland-set romp involving a dead girl and a mystery.

Charged by Michelle Monaghan‘s actress Harmony with finding out why her sister committed suicide, Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr) and Perry van Shrike (Kilmer) entered a world of smoke, mirrors, sex and violence in a bid to get to the bottom of the murky matter. Of course things weren’t what they seemed – Lockhart was actually a burglar who’d accidentally wangled his way into Hollywood, and van Shrike the genuine snooper helping him with his role.

The result brought Lethal Weapon creator Black back to the forefront, gave Kilmer his best part in years and lit the blue touchpaper under superhero Downey Jr. It was a project that cleared the cobwebs for all their careers.

THE NICE GUYS

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Black is hoping another mismatched male combo will get asses on seats for this hunky comedy detective flick. And if you’re looking for two actors who can get the female half of the population interested, you could do a lot worse than Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. In a way they’re kind of the ultimate odd couple. The star of Gladiator meeting the leading man of Drive? Both have serious reputations but seem to exist in different movie spheres.

The story sees them initially as enemies. Nattily-dressed private dick Holland March (Gosling) is looking into the disappearance of Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), but the pursuit gets complicated when Amelia takes on heavy for hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) to “persuade” March to back off. It isn’t long before both men have to join forces against the criminal underworld, who have their own sinister reasons for wanting to get hold of the wayward girl. Can Crowe and Gosling wrap things up before they get stamped on…?

With a publicity tour that’s been more engaging than most due to the stars’ natural awkwardness toward each other and a helmer with proper action comedy credentials, it seems The Nice Guys isn’t going to have a problem attracting men and women alike. Will it be a dead cert for box office greatness, or simply wind up deceased? That’s a question not even Philip Marlowe could answer.

This feature first appeared on THN.

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Men, Motors & Meltdowns – A MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Feature (The Hollywood News)

mad-max-fury-road-590x366 It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you stick cars and explosions in a movie, men will go and see it. The FAST & FURIOUS franchise has clocked up a ridiculous number of miles at the box office and now another series is about to join the fun, set in the future but resurrected from a seemingly-dormant past.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD takes us back to the dusty, post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky, a man as burned by tragedy as by the relentless Outback sun. Originally played by Mel Gibson, this time round rising Brit Tom Hardy adopts the mantle (and indeed the accent) for a blistering thrill ride of machine-based mayhem that has had even the most genteel critics foaming at the mouth.

Though Charlize Theron provides equal star power as Imperator Furiosa, it’s safe to say this film is largely one for the boys. So with that in mind, THN are taking a less-than-leisurely trip along the highway of man-angst. Hot engines and noisy exhausts are the order of business as we get under the hood of this staple genre that shows no signs of conking out…

DENNIS WEAVER – DUEL (1971)

Dennis-Weaver-DuelOur first choice is a man who starts off as just another traveller on the road, and winds up a hunted animal pursued by a relentless truck which doesn’t take kindly to being overtaken in the heat of the California desert. I mention the truck as a character in the movie because you never find out who’s driving it, making the monstrous vehicle a key player in the tense battle of wits and wheels.

Star Dennis Weaver was familiar as the affable father in bear-based kids TV classic Gentle Ben, so for audiences to see his nerves literally shredding onscreen became an increasingly traumatic experience. Weaver’s David Mann is a salesman who’d have difficulty saying boo to a goose. By the end he’s capable of snapping its beak and pulling eggs out of its butt.

Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, DUEL is best-known as the film that launched the career of a certain Steven Spielberg. Beginning life as a TV movie, it soon gained the momentum to be released in cinemas. Unlike Weaver, Spielberg never needed to look back.

RYAN GOSLING – DRIVE (2011)

RyanGoslingDriveWeaver played an innocent man caught up in a motorized death match not of his making. Ryan Gosling’s character in the next selection, however, lives his life in the driver’s seat of danger and excitement. Working a dual life as a movie stunt driver and ace getaway jockey, his nameless figure is up to his neck in crime and fantasy.

That’s all well and good, until his cool, controlled Eighties-inspired existence is rocked by an entanglement with Carey Mulligan’s working mum Irene. Getting involved with her and her convict husband (Oscar Isaac) leads to the unravelling of The Driver’s knife-edge world. In the second half of the film he’s getting all Travis Bickle’y on the asses of the Jewish mafia as blood spurts and gaskets blow.

Nicolas Winding Refn brought James Sallis’s book to the big screen, establishing himself as a helmer of notoriety. He created a stylish universe where chaos was just around the bend, light years away from the rusty, dusty carnage of the MAD MAX franchise.

TOM HARDY – LOCKE (2013)

VIDEO-Festival-de-Venise-Tom-Hardy-en-pleine-course-contre-la-montre-dans-Locke_reference-1Weaver and Gosling had some extreme experiences, but at least they got to get out and stretch their legs. Concrete expert Ivan Locke spends the duration of his story stuck behind the wheel of his car with only voices for company. Over the course of an hour and a half his life is reduced to roadkill when he learns the woman he had a fling with is giving birth and decides to head for the capital to be with her.

Only trouble is, he’s supposed to be supervising a major construction project and returning to his wife and children. Attempting to negotiate this perilous road over the phone leads to him using the vehicle as a makeshift office for his tortured soul. Everything except the new arrival is demolished by the time he reaches his destination.

Mixing the atmosphere of a road movie with the intimacy of a radio play, writer/director Steven Knight crafted a memorable trip into one man’s embittered pysche. And look who played the central character – rebooted MAD MAX Tom Hardy!

GUY PEARCE – THE ROVER (2014)

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Our penultimate man whose mental tailpipe is a little clogged takes the malnourished, feral shape of Guy Pearce in THE ROVER. Eric lives in an Australian wilderness which plays host to the remnants of society following an economic collapse.  When a gang of thieves steal his car he gives chase. There’s something in the boot that’s precious to him, though quite what isn’t revealed until the closing moments. Whatever it is, he sure is determined to get it.

Of all the entries on this list, Eric is the closest to the character of Max. Obviously he’s from The Land Down Under, but the setting clearly echoes the fuel-famished wastelands Rockatansky patrols. Eric used to be a civilized guy, until a tragic event shaped his life in the maelstrom of the financial crash.

Writer/director David Michôd gave Pearce a human dimension of sorts by making him a father figure to Rey (Robert Pattinson), the wastrel the criminals leave behind. But redemption isn’t marked on Eric’s road map, and before long he’s surrounded by violence yet again.

TOM HARDY – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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When Michôd was putting THE ROVER together, he probably didn’t suspect a new chapter of his movie’s spiritual ancestor lay ticking over in a layby, just waiting for the chance to screech into view. Thirty years in the offing, this fresh if mucky batch of skull-cracking petrol-incinerating action seemed like it was never going to happen. Yet director George Miller has managed to get his show on the tarmac, with Tom Hardy sweating it out amongst the fumes and foes.

It’s been a hell of a journey for the leather-clad dark knight of the roads so far. Beginning his saga of scorched innocence in 1979, Max saw his family slaughtered by a maniacal, ever-so-slightly camp biker gang. This turned him from law enforcer to revved-up vigilante. Having visited venegance on the murderers, 1980’s THE ROAD WARRIOR found him protecting a ragtag community from the nastier elements of the unforgiving four-wheeled dystopia. 1985’s troubled BEYOND THUNDERDOME had Max look after a group of filthy-faced moppets whilst encountering Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity in the no-holds-barred arena of the title.

FURY ROAD looks to take the brand back to basics, with a generous helping of spectacular old-school stuntwork that’s been knocking the fanbelts off reviewers’ frazzled minds. The plot concerns Rockatansky’s skills being utilized by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is fleeing the might of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in order to save five “brides” who the villain intends to use as breeding stock.

By all accounts the movie is a triumphant comeback for Max after a lengthy period where it appeared he’d never get his engine going again. Judge for yourself – it’s out in cinemas now!

This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.