Out on Friday 3 June
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are the funny guys. A Studio Ghibli classic returns to cinemas.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Nice Guys, Warcraft: The Beginning, Only Yesterday, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Me Before You, Race, Holding the Man, The Measure of a Man, Misconduct, Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach, Blood Orange, and Breaking the Bank.
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THE NICE GUYS
Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Crowe and Gosling? Entertainment may be littered with classy double-acts, but only the wisest sage could've foreseen the Gladiator (opens in new tab) star and Drive (opens in new tab)'s cucumber-cool Gosling hooking up together to tickle our funny bones. But it's their partnership that forms the beating heart of Shane Black's '70s-set caper comedy – a buddy movie where one breaks the other's arm in the first five minutes, causing him to squeal like a stuck pig.
Set in 1977 in a seedy, smoggy L.A. of porn stars, hit-men and fish-killing low-lifes, The Nice Guys is a lurid tale that starts as it means to go on. A car, driven by stag-film star Misty Mountains, crashes through a suburban house. A boy, who just so happened to have been admiring a naked picture of said adult actress, then gets to see her sprawled in the same pose on the bonnet, gasping her last breath and spluttering: "How do you like my car?"
This, as we soon discover, was no accident. Who killed Misty is just one of the mysteries in Black's tale, co-written with his old pal Anthony Bagarozzi, which rarely stops for breath across its 116 politically incorrect minutes. Gosling stars as Holland March, a private detective hired to find Misty by her goggle-eyed aunt, who is convinced the girl is still alive. Crowe'’s Jackson Healy is a tough-guy schlub who meets March when he's hired to steer him away from the case.
After breaking Holland's arm, Jackson is soon teaming up with him. The reluctant partners are forced to go looking for Amelia (Margaret Qualley), an anti-smog activist connected to Misty whose boyfriend Dean has already turned up dead, burnt to a crisp. Everyone, it seems, is after Amelia, and the 'experimental' film she and Dean made, and that includes Department of Justice honcho Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger, weirdly inexpressive).
Daughters are also prevalent, with Gosling's offspring Holly (Angourie Rice) tagging along for the ride, when she really shouldn't. As Crowe says in his opening voiceover, "There's something wrong with kids today – they know too much." Indeed, innocence is a precious (read: non-existent) commodity in The Nice Guys – not least when Matt Bomer's automatic weapon-wielding hitman John Boy (no, not the kid from The Waltons, we're told) pays a house call.
Black, who practically invented the buddy comedy when he penned 1987's Lethal Weapon, knows what it takes to sustain such breezy affairs, and the Crowe-Gosling chemistry is peachy. Gosling, in particular, shows a real prowess for physical comedy. From fumbling a gun, cigarette and a magazine on the toilet to falling over a balcony trying to impress a party girl, he's a clowning, comic delight.
A grisly and rather portly Crowe is never quite as quicksilver as his partner, but his loser-bruiser act is nicely judged. He even finds a note of poignancy in one scene where Holly (almost) witnesses him permanently silencing a villain, and he's forced to lie about his murderous activities. Perhaps this is his L.A. Confidential (opens in new tab) cop Bud White, gone to seed after years on the beat. Telling stories about a one-time heroic act in a diner, he exudes a down-at-heel, deadbeat quality.
While the dialogue is delivered deadpan ("You made a porno film where the plot was the point," is one choice line), Black strikes a neat balance with the action and noir-ish plot that manages to embroil our two nice guys in corporate/legal corruption. As for the '70s setting, there's an almost surreal, hallucinogenic feel at times, notably at a porn party filled with contortionists, colour and craziness.
Musically, it might be argued Black goes for the obvious – from The Bee Gees' 'Jive Talkin'' to Kool & The Gang's 'Get Down On It', but it's a toe-tapping soundtrack that helps conjure the film's funky soul. You half expect Shaft to walk in at any point. There are other blink-and-you'll-miss 'em pointers to the era (a Jaws 2 billboard), but Black never overplays the decade that style forgot.
Whether Black's boy-ish sense of humour will appeal across the board remains to be seen. You may also tire of Gosling's one-too-many pratfalls and a story that revels in chaos rather than coherence. But for a knockabout farce, The Nice Guys scores high on the charts. Admittedly, setting itself up for a sequel may be overly optimistic: these guys aren't that nice...
THE VERDICT: Should be called 'The Funny Guys'. The Crowe/Gosling partnership drives Black's lurid comedy at top speed. Enormously entertaining.
Director: Shane Black; Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING
Rather than leaping straight from a feted debut to the gryphon-in-flight heights of a studio tentpole, Duncan Jones took the cannier, Chris Nolan-esque route of following his minimalist Moon (opens in new tab) with Source Code (opens in new tab)'s head-spinning branch-out.
But that slow path wouldn't necessarily prepare anyone for this franchise-seeding RTS/videogame adaptation's challenges. Tasked with brokering a peace between event-sized thrills, gaming lore and high fantasy, Jones embraces Warcraft's world with laudable commitment: but when it comes to charging it with life, sheer bulk gets the better of him.
The road to Azeroth begins distinctly enough, with Jones and Bill Westenhofer's FX army forging a complex orc society. Where Middle-earth's hordes merely drooled, great warrior Durotan (Toby Kebbell, eyes emoting through the CGI) engages in bedtime bantz with his pregnant wife. These hefty and heartily characterised performance-capture orcs stand tall among many mighty and mightily detailed CG achievements, particularly in the cases of Durotan and Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), a warlock using soul-sucking magic to punch open a portal into the human world of Azeroth.
But plot problems kick in early, as the orcs' reasons for invading Azeroth (their own world is dying) are skipped over and their human counterparts struggle to make orc-sized impressions. Despite Travis Fimmel's restrained twinkle, the knightly Lothar is a bit Aragorn-lite; Ben Foster, meanwhile, tosses off all restraints as a magician dabbling in some dark ham. Paula Patton impresses as the half-human, half-orc Garona, though her panto fangs play havoc with the talking bits and her history remains frustratingly opaque.
All three at least try to imbue the familiar fantasy stuff of spells and speech-y blurb (about loyalty, honour, family) with character, but the need to build Warcraft's world stifles certain vitals: drive, levity, audience investment. While Ramin Djawadi's buff score and Jones' gryphon's-eye shots of swarming battle sequences stir the blood, the brutish fights themselves are done'n'dusted rather swiftly, sometimes effectively (one swishy disembowelment scores), sometimes with fun-sapping brevity. Hammer, head, game over.
Some shock deaths show narrative daring, but it's hard to get that involved when the two-hour runtime is too crammed to let in emotional air. Lacking the longer-form luxuries of Game of Thrones, Warcraft occasionally manages to feel both rushed and dull, impressively staged and disengaged. True, a few quips in the abyss help to alleviate the lumbering piece. But there aren't enough leavening influences on show, beyond Ben Schnetzer's endearingly flummoxed trainee wizard, a few fan-pleasing Easter eggs and a nifty, snarling end-tease for a sequel.
If the likelihood of Warcraft netting the returns for that second bout is debatable, what's more certain is that it feels incomplete in itself. Despite Jones' stalwart efforts, this is a film that does a lot of 'Beginning' without ever truly lifting off.
THE VERDICT: After years in development, the problems of staging Warcraft become clear. Epic world-building aside, Jones's ambitious but cumbersome game-play needs more wonder, wit and thrills.
Director: Duncan Jones; Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Rob Kazinsky; Theatrical release: May 30, 2016
In 1989's Kiki's Delivery Service, Studio Ghibli gave a young witch's city-set self-discovery a joyous telling. For their next trick, the Japanimation giants executed a typically fluent reversal. Toggling past/present, dream/reality and youth/adulthood, Isao Takahata's 1991 manga adap makes great work of a woman's journey from city to country: add a broom and it could be What Kiki Did Next.
In this new dub, Daisy Ridley engages as 27-year-old Taeko, an office worker whose childhood memories flood through her when a farming vacation dangles life-changing prospects involving farmer Toshio (Dev Patel). It sounds like a simple journey, but subtle riches rise as Takahata honours the pull of the past without candy-coating.
Expressive animation renders Taeko's memories near-tactile, from the taste of fruit to a father’s slap. Periods are delineated subtly: city scenes hum in deep purple, the past whites out at the edges, the country seems fertile. What emerges from the weave of time and place is an achingly tender meditation on change, couched in images that glow with the poignancy of memories fading and forming. Either way, this rare gem is ripe for rediscovery.
THE VERDICT: Away from fantasy, Ghibli retains its magic with this heartfelt beauty. Ridley's star continues to rise...
Director: Isao Takahata; Voices: Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Ashley Eckstein; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS
“What would Vin Diesel do?” muses one of the TMNTs in this second scoop of Michael Bay-produced half-shelled hero hijinks. The answer, you’d hope, would be to stay as far away from possible from a film whose only aim appears to be to repel the few Ninja Turtle aficionados who weren’t already put off by its alienating 2014 predecessor.
Not content with reviving that film’s creepy CG incarnations of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, Dave Green’s follow-up also has a bland Casey Jones (Arrow’s Stephen Amell), obnoxious fan favourites Bebop and Rocksteady, and an extra-terrestrial meanie (voiced by Brad Garrett) accurately compared at one point to masticated chewing gum.
It all has something to do with an “interdimensional portal-opening thinga-me-bob” whose activation means yet more punishment for New York – though if there is any pity to be shown, spare it for Laura Linney in her thankless role as a police chief.
As for Megan Fox: well, at least her crusading reporter is given a few lines of dialogue at Grand Central and a scene with Tyler Perry’s boffin before being called upon to bare her midriff...
THE VERDICT: A watery diversion in the Brazilian rainforest apart, this noisy, repetitive, nonsensical franchise-extender is a turtle waste of time.
Director: David Green; Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Tyler Perry; Theatrical release: May 30, 2016
ME BEFORE YOU
Arriving just as Euro 2016 kicks off, this take on Jojo Moyes' hit novel feels like intuitive counterprogramming. Yet it does enough to avoid being pigeon-holed as a stereotypical romantic weepie.
Sam Claflin plays Will Traynor, embittered after an accident left him paralysed. Emilia Clarke is the sunny Lou Clark, the ex-waitress brought in by his parents (Charles Dance, Janet McTeer) to keep his spirits up. Figuring out the plot development isn't much of stretch: soon enough, feelings blossom between Will and Lou. Yet Will wants to end his life at Dignitas, the real-life assisted suicide facility in Switzerland. Imagine that in a Richard Curtis movie.
Scripted by Moyes and helmed by experienced theatre director Thea Sharrock, Me Before You may be too glossy for some (castles, private jets, exotic holidays), in places recalling French mega-hit The Intouchables, which similarly featured a wealthy soul confined to a wheelchair.
But Clarke and Claflin forge a believable bond that all but the most cynical audiences will be able to resist. With moments of pain and poignancy undercutting the 'seize the day' theme, Me Before You digs into your heart by the end.
THE VERDICT: The tone doesn't always sit well, but Clarke and Claflin are very watchable, right up to the tear-soaked finale.
Director: Thea Sharrock; Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Charles Dance, Janet McTeer; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
The on-the-nose title gives fair warning that this biopic of African-American Olympian Jesse Owens won't be subtle. Yet Stephen Hopkins' take on the Alabama athlete who caused a sensation at the 1936 Berlin games is an engrossing look at a crucial moment in history.
Events are split between Owens' (Selma (opens in new tab)'s Stephan James) rise under the eye of Jason Sudeikis' coach and the hand-wringing over whether America should boycott in light of Nazi Germany's extreme policies. James is a sturdy Owens, but the revelation is Sudeikis, far from his comic comfort zone in a surprisingly explosive turn.
Director: Stephen Hopkins; Starring: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice Van Houten, William Hurt; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
HOLDING THE MAN
Tender, unabashedly explicit and tear-jerkingly sentimental, this adaptation of Australia's most famous gay love story follows sweethearts Tim Conigrave (Ryan Corr) and John Caleo (Craig Stott) from their high-school hook-up through to Sydney in the age of AIDS.
Though it never shakes off its stage-play origins, it's a touching piece, clear-eyed about the temptations, disapproval and tragedy the couple endured. Anthony LaPaglia and Guy Pearce provide classy support as the boys' baffled fathers, but only Corr gives the film energy, his witty Tim refusing to be crushed by homophobia.
Director: Neil Armfield; Starring: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony La Paglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
THE MEASURE OF A MAN
French filmmaker Stephane Brize's deeply affecting sixth feature is centred on a stunning turn from his favourite leading man Vincent Lindon, who rightly picked up the Best Actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival.
Lindon plays unemployed fiftysomething Thierry, who finally lands work as a security guard only to find himself having to side with fat-cat bosses against shoplifters who act out of a desperation he knows only too well. Watch Adam McKay's flash and funny financial crisis movie The Big Short (opens in new tab) and then turn to The Measure of a Man to see the human cost.
Director: Stephane Brize; Starring: Vincent Lindon, Karine de Mirbeck, Matthieu Schaller; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
"It's better to go too far than not far enough," says Al Pacino's Southern (we think) lawyer. In which case, bravo. Debut director Shintaro Shimosawa (formerly a producer on TV's The Following) presents his guilty-pleasure thriller as a slick Wall Street/Fatal Attraction mash-up that quickly veers off into Razzie territory as lawyer Josh Duhamel is seduced by old flame Malin Akerman, and drawn into a battle between Pacino and Anthony Hopkins' bickering local bigwigs.
The result is pacy, patchy and, at the last, plain old slapdash: if anyone can work out what the eventual villain did – or why – please let us know.
Director: Shintaro Shimosawa; Starring: Josh Duhamel, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Alice Eve, Malin Akerman, Julia Stiles; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH
If politics and conflict are the essence of drama, as Ken Loach argues, Louise Osmond's docu-celebration of the Brit-film veteran's 50-year career more than fulfils the brief. Loach emerges as a softly spoken radical; his self-effacing surface harbours burning convictions.
The director's early days are thoroughly detailed here; if his later career is rushed over, an impressive trawl of talking heads (Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy) keeps thing lively. So does Loach, who recently left retirement to direct again.
Director: Louise Osmond; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
Iggy Pop plays – what else? – an ageing rocker living in rural Spain with his younger wife Kacey Barnfield (Neil's sister from The Inbetweeners (opens in new tab)), who's also having an affair with pool boy Antonio Magro. Into this awkward threeway stumbles old flame Ben Lamb, but the unsavoury sexual politics snuff out any chance of engagement. The result is part charmless Bigger Splash (opens in new tab), part soporific Sexy Beast (opens in new tab).
Director: Toby Tobias; Starring: Ben Lamb, Kacey Barnfield, Antonio Magro, Iggy Pop; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016
BREAKING THE BANK
This Brit-com stars Kelsey Grammer as an inept CEO who leaves his investment bank in ruins after being duped into buying dodgy shares. Directed by Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer) it’s a flat farce, offering cheap gags about erectile dysfunction and trouser-swapping. The Big Short proved humour could make economics accessible, but this is tasteless.
Director: Vadim Jean; Starring: Kelsey Grammer, Tamsin Greig, Mathew Horne, John Michael Higgins; Theatrical release: June 3, 2016