Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(USA 2017)

Justice, like morality, is ambiguous. Accordingly, determining exactly how justice should be meted out is mired in a lot of grey. Translation: life is not black and white.

This old adage makes people uncomfortable, and it’s exactly the concept that colors Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It works so well because it acknowledges that there is no one right answer. Thankfully, as luck would have it, it’s also kind of funny.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is pissed off and tired. Seven months ago, her daughter was raped, murdered, and set on fire, though not necessarily in that order. The police have made no arrests, they have no suspect, and they haven’t uncovered a single lead. The case is precariously close to cold.

Driving down a rural road one morning, Mildred spots three abandoned billboards and gets an idea: she’ll shame Chief of Police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) into action. She rents the billboards for a full year and posts ads that attack him. The problem is, her idea doesn’t pan out as she plans — in fact, it works against her cause.

Not far off from a Coen Brothers venture, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a twisted and twisting nailbiter. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has a sharp wit, a warped sense of humor, and an impeccable grasp of human nature. The cast is outstanding, with not one subpar performance. At times heartbreaking, this is all around a tightly assembled and enthralling film.

With Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Sam Rockwell, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Abbie Cornish, Riya May Atwood, Selah Atwood, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Malaya Rivera Drew, Sandy Martin, Peter Dinklage , Christopher Berry, Gregory Nassif St. John, Jerry Winsett, Kathryn Newton, John Hawkes, Charlie Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters, Brendan Sexton III, Eleanor Threatt Hardy, Michael Aaron Milligan

Production: Blueprint Pictures

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Warner Brothers

115 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B+

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/threebillboardsoutsideebbingmissouri/

Suspiria

(Italy 1977)

“We must get rid of that bitch of an American girl. Vanish! She must vanish! Make her disappear! Understand? Vanish! She must vanish. She must die! Die! Die!”

— Madame Blanc

Dario Argento’s cult classic Suspiria is a perplexing film, and not because it’s scary. It’s pretty ridiculous, tongue and cheekiness aside.

Cowritten by Argento with Daria Nicolodi from Thomas DeQuincey’s 1845 essay “Suspiria de Profundis,” the plot is prosaic: American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) enrolls at “the most famous school of dance in Europe,” the fictitious Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg, Germany. Suzy notices immediately that something about the place isn’t quite right — maybe it’s the two students who are murdered the night she arrives. It doesn’t take long for Suzy to discover that the school is a front for something far more nefarious. Except for a few good lines here and there, the writing is terrible. The acting is even worse. The two exceptions are Alida Valli as Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc, both of whom deliver fabulously campy performances as women of power at the school.

None of this matters, though, because this isn’t Suspiria’s raison d’être. No, Suspiria is a sensory masterpiece that places style way ahead of substance. In other words, it’s eye candy.

Argento expresses his vision through his imagery, and it’s unforgettably dazzling and unique. From the opening titles to the last scene, Argento shocks, thrills, and seduces with color, light, shadow, and surreal imagery. His sets are elegant and fake, and his blood is even faker. He lights the screen with bright reds and glowing blues (when it’s not all black from night), and he keeps the perspective distorted to create a trippy dissonance. Plus, he throws in a number of creepy psychological menaces, from maggots to a dog attack to a treacherous room-size wire dustbunny. Luciano Tovoli’s camera work perfectly articulates Argento’s vision.

This is what Suspiria is all about:

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The soundtrack by Goblin is a nice touch, and it goes far in creating the mood here.

For all its flaws — and there are many — Suspiria is a memorable film. We caught a digital restoration of the original print, which is five or six minutes longer. A zealous audience member engaged us in a discussion as we left the theater. He told us that Suspiria is the first of a trilogy known as “The Three Mothers,” and he enthusiastically recommended the second film, Inferno. I’ll see it someday, but it’s not a priority.

With Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Margherita Horowitz, Jacopo Mariani, Fulvio Mingozzi, Franca Scagnetti, Renato Scarpa, Serafina Scorceletti, Giuseppe Transocchi, Renata Zamengo

Production: Seda Spettacoli

Distribution: Produzioni Atlas Consorziate

98 minutes
Not rated (alternate version)

(ArcLight) C+

Kill, Baby…Kill! [Operation Fear] [Operazione paura]

(Italy 1966)

“Something in this town is supernatural. Tell me, why did they abandon the church? I’m scared. I almost think the devil’s here.”

— Monica

The second offering of a Mario Bava weekend double feature, Kill, Baby…Kill! is one of the director’s more commercially successful films. Many commentators have pointed out its influence on the horror genre and praised Bava’s gothic sensibilities, visuals, and use of irony. All good, I agree. Still, none of these things means Kill, Baby…Kill! is a great — or even a good — film.

In the early 20th Century, a coroner, Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), is en route to a remote village in Transylvania to perform an autopsy on a woman who died under mysterious circumstances. In a church — an abandoned one, no less, no doubt to provide a metaphor. The carriage driver, warning that this place is messed up, will only go to the edge of the village, not inside it.

Dr. Eswai finds the police inspector (Piero Lulli) at a local inn, where he is given instructions. When none of the superstitious and rather wan locals volunteer to help him with the autopsy, Monica Shuftan (Erika Blanc), a nurse of some sort who grew up there and just happens to be visiting the graves of her parents, steps up to assist.

During the autopsy, Dr. Eswai is puzzled to find a silver coin stuck in the woman’s heart. It’s a practice to thwart a local ghost that visits villagers in their sleep and puts a hex on them, making them commit suicide in ghastly ways — like jumping from heights and impaling themselves on iron posts.

Dr. Eswai runs into a creepy young thing in a white dress. He soon learns she’s the ghost of seven-year-old Melissa Graps (Valerio Valeri), who died 20 years before. She’s the little bugger who’s been freaking out everyone in the village for the last two decades. The doctor and Monica sense a spark, but first they must deal with this Melissa situation.

Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, and Bava all contributed to the screenplay. The story is unoriginal and silly, complete with cringeworthy dialogue and an actual sorceress (Fabienne Dalì). There’s an odd dub thing going on, too.

This being a Bava picture, though, Kill, Baby…Kill! works on primal instinct, here fear. Plus, it has its share of arresting visuals. The colors are vivid, though the palette is heavy on brown and green. The sets have a grimy, dilapidated medieval appearance to them, giving the look of a ghost story. There’s a cool scene where Dr. Eswai chases after Monica through a series of doors that keep taking him back to the same rooms — it’s delightfully dizzying.

Overall, Kill, Baby…Kill! is okay. It’s got Bava’s unique fingerprint all over it, and it’s fun to watch. It’s just not spectacular. Blood and Black Lace grabbed me; this did not, at least not for long. I hate the title — they should’ve kept Operation Fear.

With Luciano Catenacci (Max Lawrence), Micaela Esdra, Franca Dominici, Giuseppe Addobbati, Mirella Pamphili, Giana Vivaldi

Production: F.U.L. Films

Distribution: Internazionale Nembo, Distribuzione Importazione, Esportazione Film, Alpha (Germany), Europix Consolidated Corp. (USA), Astral Films (Canada), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

85 minutes
Rated PG

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C

Two Men in Manhattan [Deux hommes dans Manhattan]

(France 1959)

In his cool noir mystery Two Men in Manhattan [Deux hommes dans Manhattan], director Jean-Pierre Melville in his only starring role is Moreau, a cheerless and jaded reporter with Agence France-Presse. As he’s leaving work one night, his boss (Jean Lara) asks him to investigate the whereabouts of one Mssr. Fèvre-Berthier, the French United Nations delegate, who curiously has gone M.I.A.

Moreau heads straight to the flat of a frequent collaborator, hardened alcoholic photographer Pierre Delmas (Pierre Grasset), and yanks him out of bed—never mind the girl there with him. Delmas is the archetype paparazzo: cold-blooded and motivated by money. He knows his way around Manhattan.

The two men trail Fèvre-Berthier through a number of female associates: his secretary (Colette Fleury), a two-bit actress (Ginger Hall), a jazz singer (Glenda Leigh), a burlesque stripper (Michèle Bailly), and a high dollar whore in a high class brothel (Monique Hennessy). They find out what happened to him, but the story is scandalous.

Moreau doesn’t want to print it, but Delmas insists otherwise. A strange car following them around may persuade them to do the right thing—whatever that is.

With enough trench coats and fedora hats to clothe a newsroom, Two Men in Manhattan reflects Melville’s characteristic minimalist neo gangster movie style. The personal ethics here are all grey, which fits nicely with the night scenes, especially the exteriors shot on Times Square by cinematographer Nicolas Hayer. Aside from the exteriors, Manhattan never looked more fabulously fake: most of the interiors—the subway, a bar, a club, a theater, a hospital, a diner—were shot in a studio.

Part detective flick and part morality play, the tone shifts quite a bit between drama and waggishness, leading me to conclude that Melville didn’t take Two Men in Manhattan very seriously. It’s a minor work that comes off tongue in cheek, which makes it fun to watch—it compensates for Melville’s rather thin script. Plus, the whole thing sure is pretty.

With Christiane Eudes, Paula Dehelly, Nancy Delorme, Carole Sands, Gloria Kayser, Barbara Hall, Monica Ford, Billy Beck, Deya Kent, Carl Studer, Billy Kearns , Hyman Yanovitz, Ro. Tetelman, Art Simmons, Jerry Mengo

Production: Belfort Films, Alter Films

Distribution: Columbia Films (France), Mercurfin Italiana (Italy), Cable Hogue Co. (Japan), Cohen Media Group (USA)

85 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Spellbound

(USA 1945)

“The Fault…is Not in Our Stars,
But in Ourselves…”

—William Shakespeare

I’ve read enough online rankings of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to know that Spellbound often ends up in his top 20 or 30—sometimes higher than that—thank you. While certainly impressive considering the number of films he directed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Hitchcock_filmography), I found Spellbound lackluster, comparatively speaking.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. In the grand scheme of all things cinema, Spellbound is a solid work—it’s just not a great Hitchcock film. Ingrid Bergman is psychoanalyst Constance Petersen, the only female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Her male colleagues see her as detached and cold, which doesn’t bode well for her career—particularly for a woman in the 1940s.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), is “retiring.” His replacement is young and handsome Dr. Anthony Edwardes (a young Gregory Peck), who catches Dr. Petersen off guard. Truth be told, she’s smitten—and who can blame her? Gregory Peck is gorgeous here. Anyway, Dr. Edwardes has a secret that becomes apparent: he’s not who he says he is. He’s actually John Ballantyne, a.k.a. John Brown, a dude with amnesia who says he killed the real Dr. Edwardes and assumed his identity. Dr. Petersen doesn’t believe him, and she sets out to find the real murderer—through psychoanalysis. It all leads to a fateful ski trip that comes full circle to Green Manors. Gasp!

Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht based their screenplay on the 1928 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by John Palmer and Hilary A. Saunders (as Francis Beeding). Clearly obsessed with Sigmund Freud, the story is clunky but cute and oddly entertaining even if it’s kind of stupid. Two things stick out in my mind about this film: one is Salvador Dalí’s cool dream sequence complete with random objects like big bleary eyes, scissors, a faceless figure, and wings; and that final scene where a gun is fired into the camera—I won’t ruin it, but it literally ends Spellbound with a bloody bang. Fucking awesome!

The nitrate print used for this screening was gorgeous, shimmering with rich blacks and luminescent whites. It impressed me. Miklòs Ròzsa’s grand, sweeping score is fierce—no wonder he won an Oscar for it (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1946).

One extremely personal but annoying detail: the Siouxsie and the Banshees song “Spellbound” played in the back of my mind the entire time I watched this film. Yeah, I’m hearing voices, I guess…but it could be much worse (I’m talking to you, Paula Abdul).

With Michael Chekhov, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey

Production: Selznick International Pictures, Vanguard Films

Distribution: United Artists

111 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B-

Nitrate Picture Show

Inland Empire [A Woman in Trouble]

(USA/France/Poland 2006)

“What the bloody hell is going on?” asks Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) at one point during Inland Empire, David Lynch’s last (so far) full length feature film. It’s an excellent question, one that anyone watching this three-hour nightmare no doubt has already wondered by this point.

Laura Dern is Nikki Grace, an elegant actress up for the lead in a new film, On High in Blue Tomorrows, due to start shooting very soon. A strange Polish neighbor (Grace Zabriskie) who lives “just up the way” drops by her California mansion one afternoon and casually but ominously brings up a murder in the film. “That’s not part of the story,” Nikki tells her visitor, who insists she’s wrong and throws a tantrum right there in the sitting room, screaming about “brutal fucking murder” and an unpaid bill. Annoyed and visibly freaked out, Nikki has her butler (Ian Abercrombie) remove her.

Nikki gets the part. Some weirdness happens, and the film’s director (Irons) tells Nikki and her rugged costar Devon Berk (Justin Theroux) that the film is supposedly cursed: it’s a sort of remake of an old Polish movie called 47 that was never completed because of a double murder on the set. The actors are upset but they agree to proceed with production despite the producers’ lack of transparency.

Meanwhile, Nikki is falling for Devon. The narrative gets weird here, ping-ponging back and forth between Nikki and Devon and their characters, Susan and Billy, as well as Susan’s husband, Smithy (Peter J. Lucas), who knows something is going on. Billy’s wife (Julia Ormond) proves to be a character of interest of ever increasing importance, bleeding into another seemingly unrelated subplot about Sue Blue (Dern), a rough and caustic Hollywood chick who finds herself pregnant. The problem is, her husband (Lucas) is sterile. And just who are all these hookers hanging out with Sue, smoking and dancing to “The Loco-Motion” in her living room?

Interspersed between all this is yet another triangular subplot set in 1800s Poland: a cheating wife (Karolina Gruszka) learns that her husband (Krzysztof Majchrzak) plans to kill her lover (Lucas). And just to keep thing interesting, Lynch throws in “The Rabbits,” a spooky sitcom about a family of…rabbits. Actually, actors in rabbit suits (one of them has the voice of Naomi Watts). Later, Sue somehow ends up in their living room.

Probably his most indulgent film, Inland Empire is the kind of thing I imagine most people associate with David Lynch: a surreal trip through the subconscious, the imagination, alternate universes, and time that starts out with a discernible plot but disintegrates into seemingly disjointed events, actors playing multiple characters, bizarre and vivid imagery, random upbeat pop songs, and a creepy score by Marek Zebrowski. Flashes of Lynch’s usual sense of humor pop up here and there, but for the most part this is a dark and somber film about betrayal, loss, and karma. Perhaps its strongest aspect is its overriding sense of dread, and the worst thing about is that it’s impossible to tell whether the scary part is coming or has already arrived.

Inland Empire is surely a horror film. I imagine not many people getting into it, and most even being turned off. Length and structure—or lack thereof—aside, it’s not an easy film to watch or understand, and frankly I’m not entirely sure I grasp what the whole thing is about. Indeed, different characters say “I don’t understand” over and over, and Devon/Billy tells Grace/Susan a few times that she isn’t making sense. A common thread that ties the multiple plots together eventually emerges, but I get the impression that this is merely a heap of undeveloped ideas Lynch assembled into one big project.

Still, I found myself mesmerized all the way through it. The ending, where Sue’s fate plays out over the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is dowright distressing. In a way, it’s also beautiful. Lynch offers a lot to chew on here; I’ve gone over it multiple times since I saw it. I have my theory of what really transpires in Inland Empire, and someday I’ll watch again with an eye toward backing it up. It won’t be anytime soon, though.

Post script: I had the pleasure of seeing John Waters speak in the afternoon before I caught Inland Empire. Needless to say, it required a major shift in gears.

With Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd , Mary Steenburgen, Terry Crews, William H. Macy, Leon Niemczyk, Nastassja Kinski, Monique Cash, Latrina Bolger, Fulani Bahati, Ashley Calloway, Erynn Dickerson, Jovonie Leonard, Jennifer Locke, Helena Chase, Nae

Production: Absurda, Studio Canal, Fundacja Kultury, Camerimage Festival

Distribution: Ryko (USA), 518 Media (USA), Absurda (USA), Studio Canal (International), Mars Distribution (International)

180 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) A

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

http://www.inlandempirecinema.com

http://www.davidlynch.de

Mulholland Dr.

(USA/France 2001)

“No hay banda, il n’est pas d’orchestra. It is all an illusion.”

—The Magician at Club Silencio

The perfect opener for a retrospective on its director, Mulholland Dr. is an inimitable film that’s really hard to write about. You can look for answers online all you want, but even after seeing it multiple times you still don’t know what happens in it.

Not unless you’re David Lynch. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, though.

I’ve seen Mulholland Dr. maybe three times, and I’m not sure. I have my theories. Maybe they’re right, maybe not. Who cares? As with any of Lynch’s best films, the draw to Mulholland Dr. is that it’s a puzzle. He makes you work to solve it, or at least try to. He gives you just enough to go on but leaves the whole thing open to interpretation. At points, he gets you so frustrated, you lose patience and you hate him. But you don’t want him to stop. It’s artistic sadomasochism.

What began as a project for television is a mystery mindfuck tailored to the big screen. Dreamlike, hypnotic, and erotic, Mulholland Dr. is visually demanding and aesthetically worth every minute. The premise is deceptively simple: perky and wide-eyed blond actress Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood and bumps into beautiful young brunette Rita (Laura Harring), who can’t remember who she is after a car accident on Mulholland Drive.

As the two set out looking for clues to Rita’s identity, Lynch throws in a bunch of random characters, muddled subplots, and perplexing events. The narrative arc he puts us on comes to an abrupt halt with a small blue box the girls acquire at a night club. This is where Lynch pulls the rug out from under us.

Mulholland Dr. is definitely a love story—one fraught with competition, petty jealousies, one-upmanship, and ultimately murder. Lynch’s trademark sense of humor flickers here and there, but this is still dark stuff. I see Mulholland Dr. as a denouncement of Hollywood and all its ruthless superficiality. It’s a town that eats you up and spits you out.

Motifs of filmmaking, commerce, ego, vision, and of course the color blue stand out. Rebekah Del Rio’s performance of “Llorando” is beautifully forlorn and eerie. I would be remiss not to mention Peter Deming’s cinematography, which makes Mulholland Dr. shine.

Sadly, Lynch hasn’t done a proper film since 2006. He’s the one living filmmaker whose work I miss the most. Mulholland Dr. is a testament to why: like the street where it takes its name, this film is twisting, treacherous, and ultimately breathtaking.

With Jeanne Bates, Robert Forster, Brent Briscoe, Patrick Fischler, Michael Cooke, Bonnie Aarons, Michael J. Anderson, Ann Miller, Angelo Badalamenti, Dan Hedaya, Daniel Rey, Justin Theroux, David Schroeder, Robert Katims, Marcus Graham, Tom Morris, Melissa George, Mark Pellegrino, Vincent Castellanos, Rena Riffel, Michael Des Barres, Lori Heuring, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tad Horino, Missy Crider, Melissa Crider, Tony Longo, Geno Silva, Katharine Towne, Lee Grant, Lafayette Montgomery, Kate Forster, James Karen, Chad Everett, Wayne Grace, Rita Taggart, Michele Hicks, Michael Weatherred, Michael Fairman, Johanna Stein, Richard Green, Conti Condoli, Lyssie Powell, Scott Coffey

Production: Les Films Alain Sarde, Asymmetrical Productions, Babbo Inc., Canal+, The Picture Factory

Distribution: Universal Pictures

147 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) A-

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

http://www.lynchnet.com/mdrive/

Arrival

(USA 2016)

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

—Louise Banks

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival isn’t exactly what I expected. A sort of updated Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life is a pretty straightforward observation about language. However, it’s a bit more academic than the average alien movie: it examines the theory of linguistic relativity, the idea that the structure of a language shapes the way its speakers relate to their environment (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity) (http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought).

12 mysterious otherworldly spacecrafts land in what appear to be random places all over Earth—including remote Montana. It isn’t clear why they’re here, and people are freaking out. Not surprisingly, world leaders are perplexed—some are handling the so-called invasion better than others.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

The aliens, octopus-like creatures dubbed “heptapods,” hold visiting hours each day, allowing those who wish to engage them to do so—up close and personal inside their ship. A U.S. Army colonel (totally underused Forest Whitaker) seeks out linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) for a mission working with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a team of scientists to figure out how to communicate with the aliens and find out what they want. Banks learns that they have a language—circles and curlycues that they blow into the air. The more of their “words” she learns, the more Banks has visions of her deceased daughter (Jadyn Malone, Abigail Pniowsky, and Julia Scarlett Dan).

Arrival does a nice job showing the limitations of language. A clever plot development involving a mutual misunderstanding of a word demonstrates how things can unravel on a dime. I like the depiction of the aliens in a totally plausible form. Villeneuve slowly builds suspense; he kept my interest almost all the way through. Sadly, Arrival pulls an emotionally manipulative sleight of hand toward the end. The wrap up is insipid; it knocked the film down a few pegs for me.

With Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

Production: Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), Sony Pictures Releasing (International)

116 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C+

http://www.arrivalmovie.com

http://sites.sonypictures.net/arrival/site/

London Road

(UK 2015)

“Everyone is very, very nervous. Um. And very unsure of everything, basically.”

—The Cast

“British,” “murder,” “mystery,” “thriller,” “comedy,” and “musical” are words that might sound dubious when used together to describe the same work. These elements, though, gel nicely in the amusingly quirky London Road, Rufus Norris’s adaptation of Adam Cork and Alecky Blythe’s musical theatre revolving around Steve Wright, the notorious Suffolk Strangler a.k.a. Ipswich Ripper.

The subject matter of London Road certainly isn’t anything to sing about: Wright moved to a modest working class neighborhood in Ipswich for ten weeks and killed five prostitutes during Autumn 2006. The bodies started showing up, casting paranoia over the small town. Wright was arrested just before Christmas, stressing out his neighbors on London Road, where the murders occurred in his house.

London Road could accurately be called an anatomy of a community directly affected by a macabre event, as the story is not really about Wright but rather his spooked neighbors. Based on actual interviews, the story traces their reactions to the murders and the fact that they occurred so close to home. Particularly hitting is the impact of the small street’s invasion by the police and the media on the various residents’ daily lives. Flowers bring them to their ultimate redemption.

London Road features Olivia Colman, Anita Dobson, Kate Fleetwood, Nick Holder, Paul Thornley, Michael Shaeffer, and Tom Hardy, whom I didn’t even recognize in his small role as a cab driver. Norris respects the characters’ dignity, letting them each have their own voice without putting them in a negative, unsophisticated light. The mood is a bit schizo, going from tense to darkly comic before erupting into song and choreographed numbers. The songs, by the way, are droll and clever, incorporating verbal ticks into the rhythm. They’re catchy, too—I’m still singing one of them two days later. I loved one scene in which a newscaster (Shaeffer) struggles in song to explain how forensics identified Wright through DNA in his semen, a word he can’t use during daytime TV—who knew the Brits have prudish broadcasting rules just like we Americans do?

Overall, London Road is an interesting experience unlike any other film I’ve seen lately. I laughed, I was intrigued, and the music pulled me in.

91 minutes
Not rated

(Facets) B-

http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlout11-london-road-film

The Nice Guys

(USA 2016)

Last year’s Inherent Vice disappointed me; I dug its ’70s Venice Beach vibe, but I found the story choppy and its execution ultimately lackluster—unforgivable for a film with arguably the best all-star cast in years. Little did I know walking into the theater that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is exactly what I hoped for with Inherent Vice: an unapologetically dippy and fun action retro-comedy with stylish sets, cool clothes, and a rad soundtrack. Shallow? Maybe. But I enjoyed The Nice Guys a lot more; like old MTV, it’s a fluffy guilty pleasure.

Los Angeles, 1977: Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a detective—the world’s worst, by his own admission—down on his luck. Amid jobs like the senile widow looking for her missing husband—his ashes are in an urn on the mantle—March is hired by the aunt (Lois Smith) of a dead porn actress, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio); she claims her niece just visited her, and she wants him to find her. After a run-in with thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and a trail that leads to a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) and an “experimental” skin flick called How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy, March joins forces with Healy to solve a mystery that brings them right to the heart of the porn and auto industries.

The Nice Guys is a treat all around. No one thing carries this film; it’s a successful combination of multiple elements. The story and tone—a mix of the aforementioned Inherent Vice, Lethal Weapon (also by Black), and Boogie Nights with a whiff of Scooby Doo—is surprisingly cohesive, absorbing, and entertaining. Where Lethal Weapon‘s Martin and Roger are buddies, March and Healy are “frienemies:” the former is as drunkenly and sweetly inept as the latter is soberly and brutally efficient. It works; Gosling and Crowe, who looks like John Goodman these days, have a solid chemistry. It’s fun to see them both in something light, and they seem to have a good time here. I never thought of Gosling as a comedic actor, but his timing is great—my favorite scene is Healy busting into the men’s room stall on him. March gets by thanks in large part to his teenaged daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who serves as a voice of reason even as he corrects her grammar. Matt Bomer makes a brief, creepy, and violent cameo as John Boy, a hitman with a big mole on his face—anyone familiar with The Waltons no doubt will get the reference right away. Kim Basinger is a welcome surprise as a hard, all-business federal agent. The whole thing ends in a crazy choreograped sequence involving a film canister.

Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography is snappy, with vivid colors that shine though even during the night scenes. The Nice Guys depicts a sleazy era of Los Angeles in a cheeky, over-the-top way—a time I would have loved to have seen it. This is not a film that takes itself seriously—it seems to revel in its frivolity. Seeing it over Memorial Day weekend was a great way to kick off the summer movie season. Indulge, I say.

116 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B-

http://www.theniceguysmovie.com