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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 26, 2016

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.

Nice Guys, Power Players, Hamilton

It's hard not to like The Nice Guys. It's a detective buddy movie that wants to be as likeable as, say, 48 Hours, and gets it close enough. The two stars, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, earn their salaries by being likeable no matter how we feel about their characters.

Crowe is unashamedly fat (unlike me; I'm ashamedly fat) and plays a character who makes his living by punching people in the face. He's reasonably sure the people he hits deserve to get hit. Then again, he's reasonably sure pretty much everyone deserves to get hit.

He takes a job from a young woman named Amanda, who claims that there's a guy stalking her. And it's true -- because the guy is Ryan Gosling, who plays a detective who took a job to locate Amanda. Well, kind of; he actually took a job from an old woman who claims she saw her niece, the recently-deceased porn star "Misty Mountains," alive in her apartment a few days after her supposed death.

Only it wasn't a supposed death. We already saw her car sail down a mountain and plunge through a house, and we saw the boy her car nearly killed and watched him cover up her semi-nude body with his shirt.

The problem is, that boy was the only actual nice guy in the movie. I kind of thought that he was one of the two starring characters as a boy, and that he'd grow up to be that nice. But no, he's a contemporary of our heroes, and they are not actually nice.

Russell Crowe's character makes his living in a brutal way. In fact, he meets Ryan Gosling by punching him in the face and then using other brutal persuasions to convince him to drop his search for Amanda. The film remains completely vague about why searching for Misty Mountains involves searching for Amanda -- if they explained this, it wasn't clear.

But Ryan Gosling is incredibly forgiving when he then joins forces with Russell Crowe's character to search for Amanda in order to protect her from people who are trying to kill her. Again, for reasons that are never really clear. Or maybe they were clear, but I didn't care enough to remember them.

Ryan Gosling is not nice, either. He's amiable enough, and not particularly brutal; but he's more con-man than detective. If people want to pay him to search for absurd things, he'll take their money. Also, he's drunk pretty much continuously, except when he's even drunker, which makes him a lousy custodial parent for his thirteen-year-old daughter, who has to drive him around 1970s Los Angeles because he has lost his license. As if having a thirteen-year-old minor drive him is some kind of improvement on driving with a suspended license.

The daughter is the most interesting character, both because of her candid assessment of her father's skill as a detective and as a father, and because she has a penchant for opportune disobedience, getting herself into and, mostly, out of ridiculous scrapes.

Like 48 Hours, the detective work is serious enough: people die, and people are about to die, pretty much continuously. There are some mildly interesting bad guys, but we know that after some shooting and some fighting, they'll lose.

There's also an incredibly dumb subplot about an FBI director (don't they mean a special agent in charge in Los Angeles? Because the director would have been, like, J. Edgar Hoover, right?) who is Amanda's mother, and Amanda believes her mother is corrupt and is trying to get her killed. And, oh yeah, the car companies are Bad and so is Big Oil and Amanda is a target because of a porn-like art movie she made that would apparently blow the lid off a big corporate conspiracy.

Not believable and not interesting for a second. But we're not watching for the plot, anyway, right? We're watching because instead of being coy about going into nudie bars and nudie parties, with discreet shots that only imply that stuff (like 1970s movies did), it's all in our faces. So is the bad language. So if you don't want to see pointless nudity and hear otherwise likeable actors use the f-word a lot, you shouldn't see this movie.

And, if it had any other actors in the leading roles, you shouldn't see this movie. But it does have Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, and they both continue to be so likeable that we overlook the fact that in real life we would hate pretty much everything about the characters they play.

And the script, while it makes little actual sense, and seems to be all over the place on 1970s culture, gives the actors good enough dialogue that the movie remains not just watchable but enjoyable most of the time.

So my wife and I didn't walk out. We also didn't talk about the movie afterward. It was just ... something we did on Saturday night.

Here's something else we did. Because the restaurants we usually go to for quick meals before a movie were all filled with promming teenagers, we actually went to McDonald's. It's been years since my wife would enter a McDonald's, but now that she can get an Egg McMuffin (No Meat) any time of day, she consented to go in while I got my Sausage McMuffin with Egg.

A meal so quick that we got to the theater half an hour early, so we got to sit in those seats where you can put your feet up on the railing cause there are no chairs right in front of you.

But it occurs to me that watching The Nice Guys was kind of like eating at McDonald's. We had wanted the tomato sampler at Green Valley Grill, but we settled for a meal that was good enough. Likewise, we wanted The Nice Guys to be about actual nice guys, with a story we could believe in and care about now and then.

But we settled, in both cases, for something much, much less. In both cases, what we got wasn't bad; we enjoyed it, to a degree. It's just that they weren't what we had hoped for.

When we came home, we watched the last of the Power Players Week on Jeopardy!, which we had TiVoed while we were in Manhattan on Friday night. The Power Players Week actually kind of sucked, and not just because Louis C.K. and Al Franken were way better educated than any of the professional journalists.

No, Power Players Week sucked because all those journalists had to show off about how they really knew the answer and they couldn't believe they got it wrong. Lots of histrionics, lots of whining, because if there's one thing media journalists hate, it's looking as ignorant on camera as they actually are.

Anderson Cooper was the biggest dork about acting out how frustrated he was about his stupid errors.

And on two of the nights, there were female journalists (whose names I never registered) who thought Jeopardy! was a talk show with prizes, so they kept chattering when they should have moved on to the next question.

The result was that they always left a ridiculous number of unasked questions on the board because they had wasted so much time on drivel. And since my wife and I, keeping score with our little clickers, can't answer questions that aren't asked, our scores were ridiculously low.

Maybe the problem was that all prize money was being contributed to a charity, so these celebrity players had nothing at stake except looking stupid. In vain did the Jeopardy! producers try to make "power players" out of these media insiders. They were as pathetic as any other "Celebrity Jeopardy!" players -- except for the two comedians (one of them now a Minnesota Senator) who were far better informed.

The hilarious thing is that our media celebs like to be taken for intellectuals. Anderson Cooper clearly does, and he is just as clearly unqualified for that role. While Louis C.K. and Al Franken came up through the discipline of comedy, where you can't be funny unless you know something in the real world to make fun of!

By the way, we were in Manhattan on Friday because we had to see Hamilton, the new rap Broadway musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton.

Well, no. My wife and oldest daughter had to see it. (Our young daughter saw it a couple of weeks before.) And our older daughter couldn't get away from Maine, where her husband the film director was shooting a movie, unless she took one of their two children with her.

That meant that my wife and daughter were in Manhattan to see Hamilton, while our youngest grandchild was there to stay in a hotel room, playing with Grandpa and going to sleep without the tiniest fuss -- all because I'm so extraordinarily good with children who have fewer than four teeth.

I was thrilled to miss Hamilton because a few weeks ago, I heard some horrible noise coming from downstairs, and when I rushed down to see who was getting murdered, my wife was jigging to the first song on the Hamilton CD.

I knew I could never stay in a room, even a large one, where that noise was being produced at top volume, so the quiet hotel room where I sang children's songs to my granddaughter was by far the better bargain for me.

However, I must also say that I approve very strongly of Hamilton being a huge hit among people who can listen to that kind of music without thoughts of murder or suicide. From all I hear, the creator of the show -- Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer, composer, lyricist, and star of the musical -- has done a brilliant job of adapting Ron Chernow's brilliant biography of Alexander Hamilton.

I credit this musical with saving Alexander Hamilton from having his picture removed from the ten-dollar bill, because the show really does explain that Hamilton laid the foundation for America's prosperity, and his work survived despite Thomas Jefferson (as dismal an economic idiot as we've ever had as president) doing his level best to undo both Hamilton and all his works.

I, however, already knew the whole story because I listened to Scott Brick's brilliant performance of Chernow's bio of Hamilton back when it first came out. If you want to know the story, but you can't stand the obnoxious score (which all my womenfolk loved, so, you know, I'm wrong), I urge you to buy the book from Audible.com and listen to Scott Brick read it to you. Or simply buy the book and read it to yourself.

As I walked the streets of Manhattan from hotel to restaurant and back again, I loved the vigor and variety of the street life in America's quintessential big city, and I wondered why I had let so many years pass without visiting there.

Then I remembered: All my grandchildren live on the west coast, in Van Nuys CA and Bothell WA. And I generally don't travel these days except to see them. So ... until one of my family moves to NYC, my visits there will continue to be rare, alas.

Meanwhile, though, much as I enjoy New York (in small doses), I'm always glad to return home to Greensboro, which is still my favorite city in the world, in every season of the year.

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