Shane Black on Mismatched Teams

Posted on May 22, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I often say that the single most popular theme in movies is two characters who don’t like each other at first but develop a grudging respect and often a deep affection. Sometimes it’s even a romance, as in “Pride and Prejudice” and most romantic comedies. Writer/director Shane Black, whose films “Lethal Weapon,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and “The Nice Guys” are exceptionally entertaining examples, told Screen Crush what intrigues him about mismatched teams.

The mismatch, the two guys who have to use each other as a sounding board and figure out how to get up in the morning when the questions they ask themselves don’t resonate anymore. It’s the notion that I think you sometimes need someone else to believe in you for you, before you have the courage to actually believe in yourself. There’s a real thread of that in a lot of what I do. When you get two great actors to play off each other what you get is good comedy, number one, because they have someone to talk to. But you also get a very heartfelt sense of friendship that hopefully, by the end of the movie when they part, you think, “Wow, these guys have been through an experience together, which had as much to do with friendship as it did kicking ass.”

I’m less drawn to movies where the pairings are buddies like in The Expendables, tossing each other guns, and more when it’s just people who sort of don’t want the other guy in their life, and have to reluctantly admit somebody or some other influence.

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The Nice Guys

Posted on May 19, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use
Profanity: Very strong, crude, and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive graphic violence, guns, explosions, fighting, falls, many characters injured and killed, grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 22, 2016 ASIN: B01F5ZY596

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Shane Black at his best lives in the sweet spot he pretty much mapped out himself in his 20’s when he wrote the screenplay for “Lethal Weapon.” He figured out that hard-boiled action could be both exciting and funny. His characters have no illusions and few scruples, but in the tradition of loner anti-heroes from westerns to films noir, they have their own set of ethics. They do not like authority and they do not always obey the rules but they will represent the interests of their clients against corruption and bullies.

Black’s mismatched and yet perfectly yin-yang characters have included a “too old for this” cop paired with a wild younger one in “Lethal Weapon,” a cop and a thief-turned-accidental-actor in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and now a small-time private detective and single dad named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and a muscle-for-hire guy named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). Healy, hired by a pretty young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to dissuade the men who are looking for her, goes to March’s home to punch him in the nose and break his arm. “We’re going to play a game. Shut up unless you’re me.”

March has been hired by a woman who says that her niece, porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), reported killed in an automobile accident, is still alive. March was looking for Amelia because he thinks she may have information about Misty. Healy is almost clinical in his communication with March. “Give me your left arm,” he says, not unkindly. “When you’re talking to your doctor, tell him you have a spiral fracture.”

But soon Healy himself is visited by some tough guys who rough him up for being in touch with Amelia. They even kill his fish. So he goes back to March to ask him to help find Amelia, and that leads them into a pervasive, murky mess of corruption, betrayal, pornography, a wild party, the Detroit auto industry, and a hit-man named John Boy (a “Waltons” reference, played by Matt Bomer), with many excellent 1970’s songs on the soundtrack.

Black is a master of the deadpan wisecrack that nails the essence of character, setting, and story, and Crowe and Gosling deliver with snap and relish. “There’s whores and stuff here,” says March’s young daughter, played by the marvelously poised Angourie Rice as Holly, the closest thing the story has to a grown-up with a conscience.” March, the sometimes hapless father who loves her dearly, is quick with a paternal correction. “Don’t stay ‘and stuff.'”

The mix of wit, slapstick, and mayhem has some dead-on period detail and some shrewd commentary on contemporary issues. Gosling’s comic timing is pure pleasure, especially in a gem of a scene where he juggles a lit cigarette, a magazine, and a gun, with his pants down. Crowe is fine, too, especially in his interactions with Rice. With any luck, they’ll be back for as many sequels as “Lethal Weapon.”

Parents should know that this film features extensive violence including mayhem, auto accidents, and guns, characters injured and killed, grisly and disturbing images, nudity, very explicit sexual references including pornography, very strong and crude language, smoking, drinking, drugs, and much of this is witnessed by a child.

Family discussion: How would this story be different if it took place today? What was the point of the Nixon story?

If you like this, try: “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” from the same co-writer/director and “Get Shorty”

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Iron Man 3

Posted on May 2, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout and brief suggestive content
Profanity: A few bad words including a crude insult to a child that is slang for private parts
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scene in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive comic-book-style action violence with a few graphic images, terrorism, guns, explosions, characters in peril, references to suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 3, 2013
Date Released to DVD: September 23, 2013 ASIN: B00CL0J99K


Good for Marvel/Disney in keeping the title simple.  No fancy Roman numerals, no colon, so extra words about the return of this or the revenge of that.  But if there was a second title for this third in the “Iron Man” series, it could be “The Rise of Tony Stark.”  The first two films were about the man who describes himself as “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” (and also says, “I am volatile, self-obsessed, and don’t play well with others”) literally losing his heart and becoming something between a robot and a rocket ship.  In this one, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) loses almost everything else and begins to find himself.

Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films, turns over the reins to screenwriter-turned-director Shane Black, who showed a sensibility ideal for bringing out the best in Downey in the breakthrough film, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”  And Downey’s best is as good as it gets.  Black, who co-wrote the film, has a darker humor and a more twisted take on the story, and it works very well, even bringing in Favreau for a small but important part as Happy Hogan, Stark’s loyal head of security, a tough guy with a soft spot for “Downton Abbey.”  Don Cheadle returns as Colonel Rhodes, whose iron suit persona has been re-branded from War Machine to the more family-friendly Iron Patriot.  And the repartee with Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) is dry as a martini, knowing, sexy, and harking back to the sublime banter of “The Thin Man.”

It begins with a flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999, where we see the old Tony, careless in both respects.  He does not care about what happens to other people and he does not care what happens to him.  He leaves a note for a woman with whom he shared a one-night stand: “You know who I am.”  But even he does not know who he is.  He barely notices anyone else, which turns out to be a major mistake personally, professionally, and in terms of setting off some very bad consequences for the future of the planet.

By the time he figures that out, he will be more vulnerable than he has ever been before.  He has allowed himself to open his arc reactor-fueled heart to Pepper, so he has much more to lose.  And he is struggling to recover from the trauma of the fight against Loki (“The Avengers”), so it will be harder for him to respond.  He does not sleep.  He barely notices what is going on around him.  He just works furiously to perfect his iron man suit, his only companion in the lab the artificial intelligence butler/sidekick Jarvis (impeccably dry delivery voiced by Paul Bettany).  “I’ve also prepared a safety briefing for you to entirely ignore,” Jarvis says briskly.

Outside, it is December and Christmas celebrations are everywhere.  But a villain who calls himself The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley, clearly having a blast) is causing damage and unrest.  “Some people call me a terrorist,” he says to the world.  “I consider myself a teacher.”  He explains that he is acting in the tradition of a notorious American attack on an Indian settlement when they knew the warriors would not be there, killing the unprotected women and children.

Happy is critically injured in an attack, and it is too much for Tony, who implusively gives out his home address and dares The Mandarin to come after him.  Invitation accepted — target destroyed.  Everything he has worked on is gone.  So is every place he feels safe.  To keep Pepper safe, he goes underground, allowing the world to think he is dead.  But that removes him from his money, his home, his power, his equipment, and his iron flying suits.  He has to fight The Mandarin — and a more powerful enemy he does not even know about — with some supplies from the local hardware store and a little girl’s Dora the Explorer (limited edition) digital watch.

There’s a lot to process.  I haven’t even gotten to the giant stuffed bunny, the beauty pageant, the secret experiments, and the attack on Air Force One.  And, of course, the stunts and special effects.

The plot is a bit cluttered, though it helps that the detours include unexpected help from “Happy Endings'” Adam Pally and a mechanically-minded latchkey kid (Ty Simpkins).  Not so much the cameos from Bill Maher and Joan Rivers, which feel tired and superfluous. The stunts are fine.  The script has some clever lines and some cleverer digs at messaging and brand strategy.  What matters, though, is Downey’s total commitment to playing Stark as a flawed, complex, but greatly gifted character.

Parents should know that this film has non-stop comic-book-style violence including terrorism, with chases, explosions, and shooting, intense but only briefly graphic, some strong language, some alcohol, some sexual references, potty humor, and references to suicide.

Family discussion: How do Tony’s actions in 1999 set the movie’s events in motion? How do we see both the heroes and villains think about the importance of public relations? How can desperation be a gift?

If you like this, try: “The Avengers” and the first two “Iron Man” movies

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