The Nice Guys
Do we really need another buddy detective action comedy? Perhaps, but this isn’t the one. Shane Black, both as writer and director, has made a career out of our affection for mismatched guys who like to act tough but also love each other, y’know, just that little bit, but not enough to trouble the insecurities of the heterosexual majority. Now he has made a film to really challenge that model: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play a duo of mismatched detectives, the former a no-nonsense hard case and the latter an alcoholic closeted wimp, who must learn to get along in order to solve a case. If you can’t tell how this one is going to pan out, you’ve obviously been avoiding the right films.
It’s not enough that its title is deliberately ironic, it’s not enough that it has occasional moments of pithy self-awareness (Gosling observes at one point: ‘I don’t seem to be able to die – I think I’m invincible!’), it is in love with its own boring fantasy of two buddies tackling a corrupt world and it has no original perspective on this theme. Crowe and Gosling seem as mismatched to the comedy genre as their characters are to each other; their commitment to appearing silly is undoubted, but they have no knack for slapstick and the chemistry between them never catches fire in the same way as it did for Tatum/Hill in 21 Jump Street or Pegg/Frost in Hot Fuzz. In fact, Crowe/Gosling are shown up in the comedy department by the child stars of this film, including a young boy who boasts about the size of his dick and a young girl who unhesitatingly lets her dad know her low opinions of him. That dad just so happens to be played by Ryan Gosling, and she acts circles around him.
The 70s Detroit setting allows for some overused R&B and rock tunes to be played on the soundtrack, tacky period costumes to be worn, and gratuitous female nudity to be deployed at every available opportunity, because we’re led to believe that parties were wilder back then. It references Nixon and ‘government corruption’ throughout in poorly realised attempts to gain wider social relevance, but sadly has no satirical bite. It ambles along to an overdue conclusion, and you won’t remember it for much longer after it’s ended.
Love & Friendship
Jane Austen’s is one of the supreme comedic voices in literature, a fact which has often been overlooked in the collective memory due to the romanticism and repressed sexuality of recently filmed adaptations; scenes such as Mr Darcy’s topless swimming in the lake in Pride and Prejudice are generally more widely acknowledged than the original work’s satirically pointed prose. Austen always delighted in skewering the pretensions of the British aristocracy and the absurd games they played in order to maintain their privileged way of life. No other film has captured that element of her writing quite as successfully as Love & Friendship, a refreshing update of the bonnet movie franchise, which is an adaptation of several of the more obscure short stories in her canon.
It follows the callous, manipulative and (much to her delight) recently widowed Lady Susan as she deigns to sleep with most of the eligible young men (bachelors or otherwise) in Somerset, whilst simultaneously trying to marry her daughter off to a rich yet hilariously foppish landowner, played to absolute comic perfection by the unheard-of Tom Bennett. Kate Beckinsale is also excellent in the lead role, as a woman who knows what she wants and is willing to use either of the nouns in the title to achieve it, no matter what damage she causes to others; only the lightness of the script’s touch allows her to get away with it. A full-blooded heroine she is, which is more than can be said for the men on the scene, who are portrayed as hopelessly in thrall to the women of their lives and far too passively sentimental to play a significant role in the cynical games of courtship at work. This is an encouraging reversal of the depressing machismo of so many comedy films, where women are often relegated to faceless background objects: here it is the men who are largely devoid of character. It is satisfying to see them impishly squirm before their feminine intellectual superiors, but it doesn’t quite make for effective drama. The best of Austen, and the ideal adaptations of her works, have well-rounded characters on both sides of the sexual divide. Still, though it may not be particularly illuminating with regards to either love or friendship, what a great deal of fun it all is.
Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
One of the most promising young talents working in music, Chance the Rapper has frequently been touted as the next Kanye. Certainly he draws on many of Yeezus’ trademarks: live choirs and instrumentation, deeply layered soul and gospel samples, and a restless enthusiasm to explore the world outside of the gangsta clichés with which hip-hop is commonly associated. Yet Chance is different and tougher than Kanye: he grew up in a troubled area of Chicago and as a youngster witnessed his best friend’s murder at the hands of hoodlums, a scene chillingly recalled in Acid Rap’s ‘Paranoia’. The brutal reality of life on the street is one of rap’s most persistent meta-narratives, but Chance’s unique take on it is to use the terrors of his youth as a dramatic contrast to the ebullience and boundless optimism with which he has faced life since becoming a musician.
The joy Chance associates with the simple act of making music is palpable in Coloring Book, as it has been throughout his career. On the first verse of ‘Angels’, for example, his rushed flow and rhythmic contortions ooze excitement at the prospect of being… well, alive. Collaborations with the great (his hero Kanye, Lil Wayne) and the merely famous (Justin Bieber) spur him on to greater heights, and he frequently shouts out to them in his lyrics. This is all in line with the community spirit and positive vibes of last year’s Surf, recorded with Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, but instead of the jazz inflections of that album, the focus is far more on gospel music, particularly in its use of the Chicago Children’s Choir to stirring effect throughout.
Chance loves being alive, and he loves thanking God for his being alive, so the gospel elements of Coloring Book are in keeping with the overall theme of the album, which is to do with contentment at how his life has panned out. It is a tribute to his feelings of being blessed by God, expressed most explicitly of course in ‘Blessings’, but evident from start to finish (where that track’s title is reprised). Alienating this should be to an atheist like me, but I find the optimism of his faith uplifting nevertheless, as I do with the best gospel music. Besides, he extracts from his religion a humanism that is always important to hear in this world: in ‘How Great’ he raps along with a Muslim on the theme of God’s benevolence, for example. And in ‘All We Got’ he detests evildoing so much he’s willing to give Satan a swirlie.
This is Chance’s third album (fourth including Surf), all of which have been made exclusively available to download for free. He hasn’t perfected his craft yet; he is too prone to undisciplined bouts of nostalgia as it stands, particularly on this album’s ‘Same Drugs’, where he mawkishly addresses a lament on lost childhood to Wendy from Peter Pan. But his proud stand for individuality, both against the record labels (for whom he is refusing to make a profit) and the tired gangsta postures of too many rap stars, leads him to a mantra I can get behind: ‘I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom.’