Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

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All roads lead here, the poster states and this is a road I’d been eagerly travelling down as I looked forward to its release. The trailer captured a perfect sense of mystery, doom and humour which are all wonderfully present throughout the entire feature. ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is a mixed bag but never a bad movie.

The El Royale is a bi-state hotel situated between Nevada and California; a place that used to be hustlin’ and bustlin’ but is now a cheap stopover for random drifters. The film sees four people staying and each have their own reasons to why they’ve ended up there.

This is a film of two halves and you can really feel when the film switches up and becomes almost a very different product. A shady figure appears dripping from the rain and that’s when you could almost check out of this thriller. It’s a shame because all the subplots are captivating tales but this one spills over into the main event and lessens what had come before. It’s almost as if the movie somewhat loses its grip on the hotel as a character.

The El Royale most certainly is an interesting character and it’s glorious production design give it a great stamp of dated period visuals. The red line streaking through the middle as it splits up the pair of states is a fun starting point for this film to create a business with odd quirks. The mystery of what the hotel management may really be up to and the secrets it possesses are vaguely lost as the aforementioned subplot takes precedence.

You can definitely tell that the director and co-writer of ‘The Cabin in the Woods‘ is behind this, as he plays around with tropes of the thriller genre with gleeful skill as he did with comedy and horror in that 2012 flick. Drew Goddard doesn’t go as extreme with this movie and perhaps this is what the film lacks because there isn’t quite the desired oomph to the later stages of this feature. Goddard’s script kind of paces out in the last forty minutes very nearly making the film feel like a wasted opportunity.

All the customer interactions are ace though and the initial set up of this dual state establishment is solid. There’s a remarkable mysterious tone swirling around who these people might be and why they are there. Chapter title cards signalling the character subplots provide the film a TV serial identity and keeps the audience easily tracking the criss-cross narrative of these characters as their paths unite.

‘Bad Times’ is a great ensemble piece and a whole host of talented actors enjoy running amok in this bold story. Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth are just a few of the names that round out a top tier cast. In the film there’s a nice tender moment between Bridges’ Father Flynn and Miles played by Lewis Pullman, the latter is really something throughout this film, he quivers with a knowing dissatisfaction to what the hotel can mean for people who enter. Jon Hamm is a hammy salesman with great comic delivery but he owns a serious side as his motives become clear and then there’s Erivo who has stunning vocals and balances her singing prowess with emotion and a resilient force to survive.

A thick layer of atmosphere and drip-feeding of mystery help this film feel positively original and a series of delectable performances keeps the investment at a high but ‘Bad Times’ cannot quite keep up momentum and becomes an almost vacant space.

7/10

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Haywire (2012)

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This thriller/action movie had me annoyingly disengaged for the majority of the run time. There is a genuine admiration to be had for the stunt work and actual fighting style used by MMA fighter Gina Carano, but apart from that I feel this was nowhere near as exciting or special as it could have been.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a former Marine and after retrieving a hostage in Barcelona she gets an assignment to Dublin from director Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). There she meets up with MI6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) and after a shady night she realises she’s being wrapped up into a conspiracy.

It’s a film that feels like it has so much potential, from the talents of director Steven Soderbergh to the impressive acting list including Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton, there’s the action grittiness that usually works so well and a story about embroilment and pointing the finger but it only comes across as…average.

It would be hard not to compare this film to the Paul Greengrass splendour of the Bourne 2 and 3. This one appears like a female version of Jason Bourne but sadly is never quite as impacting or interesting. The action is alright but the attempts at the murky world of intelligence shrouding a person in blame and mystery doesn’t ignite in the same way as the JB trilogy.

Soderbergh does a neat job in utilising blends of fast paced shots with black and white moments, he gives each new location a suitable amount of breathing time and he ensures that the focus sticks with capable Mallory, but it never felt like he was breaking out of the action thriller formula and aside from him doing well in casting an actual subject for his lead and giving the movie some sleekness, this for me felt like a blah picture.

I do commend the way we see Carano kick ass and flip off walls, the brutal elements as she takes down a succession of men is cool to see but it nearly gets blinded by the stupid choice to have Mallory and Aaron just kiss, the awful deer in car moment and a drained sense of colour and blur to most of the movie. Even David Holmes’ music at most points sounds like it comes from a 60s/70s TV show and doesn’t feel right.

There’s a neat ending which feels very right and helps the film…but it’s at the ending. I don’t know, you just never feel tense or you don’t get nervous for the main character because she just gets seen as a strong fighter and nothing else. Everything is almost to easy for her, I feel from the other reviews I’ve seen of this feature that I’m firmly on my lonesome in having this viewpoint on the film but I didn’t really like it.

 

Gina Carano isn’t much of an actress but she more than makes up for it with her display of real hand to hand combat. There’s a cold tenacity in her eye, a furious touch to her look that helps Mallory feel driven. Michael Fassbender is brooding, handsome and dangerous as Paul. Ewan McGregor doesn’t get to do much outside of the typical director cliche mould, his motive transparent and Michael Douglas also fails to get much to do to pique the interest.

I admit there’s a cool level of muscle and style to this action number, but the pace, music and been there done that plot made me switch off multiple times.

4.5/10

 

The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

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Blistering with stylish 60’s sounds and fashions, this movie based on an American TV show, is energetic, fun and sky high with a sizzling over the top series of set pieces. If anything can be taken from this film is that it’s an example of style over substance, but when it looks this damn good then I’m happy with it.

CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is tasked with helping Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape East Berlin from the Russians including super human-like KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Solo and Kuryakin soon find out they’re being paired up in a battle against the arms race to find important data and stop beautiful and deadly Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from utilising bomb technology.

Guy Ritchie directs with his trademark of barmy violence and fast paced madness. The style of period set locations aids the visuals of the action also. Ritchie seems to revel in shadowy scenes and this film is no different, with darkness playing a key trait in both look and tension of character drama in Russia versus America. He likes his almost indestructible characters too with KGB Illya standing out as the clear winner of that prize. It’s a feast of quick set pieces and 60’s lush style to whet the appetite and Guy Ritchie gifts the movie a glitzy yet gritty touch.

I’ll go with the action first of all which is the style of the movie, from hand to hand combat, boat dramas and dune buggy/motorbike chases, this film just about has it all. It’s shot well and Ritchie’s influence of top speed photography for the explosive moments never shies away. It’s topped off with brilliant split screen sections that ramps the pace even higher and darts your eyes all over the shop which can be distracting but forgiven for working in building up the sense of urgent action.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is exquisite, rising to peaks for the aforementioned action sequences and trickling to a gentile set of sounds for the softer moments in between the mad house cinematic thrills and spills. His score is rounded off with a gorgeous soundtrack of music from the time that helps the film sound truly fantastic and places the audience as if you’re in that decade.

The story itself may not be wholly outstanding, it’s gripping to a degree and has a couple of slightly good twists but it’s a script that unravels and gets lost as it goes on. It’s far from weak, it’s just not strong. I guess it’s a hard juggle between style and substance and this film almost neglects the latter with the plot being quite basic and just there to give an excuse for fun banter, high octane action and 60’s pizzazz.

Production crew, mostly aiming here at the lovely team of costume designers should take a bow or two for their work. The suave suits of Solo made my face tinge with envy, the shadiness of Illya worked from just the cap alone. Victoria’s sass is on point as she jangles with jewelry and sashays in extravagant fashionable dresses. Gabby’s wardrobe is ever changing but chic and relevant to the period with a cool funky and elegant aura about what she wears. As you can most likely tell, I’m not used to writing about the costuming of movies.

Armie Hammer had to my ears an unshakable Russian twang and a brick-house persona to match his mysterious angry KGB background. Henry Cavill is much more interesting here than his dull Clark Kent routine. Solo is smooth but arrogant and Cavill responds to the brilliant back and forth of the script really well, his and Hammer’s attempts at bettering one another are sublime. Alicia Vikander can do no wrong, jumping firmly into one of my favourite actresses, she is enigmatic as Gabby with her full brown eyes drawing you in and leaving you wondering what she’s all about. Elizabeth Debicki is sheer bliss as the calculating yet fun femme fatale villain, I only wish she had a bit more to do. Hugh Grant appears and does enough with some comedic lines but can’t hide from it being a Hugh Grant type of role.

Like a Matthew Vaughn film, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E is bright and breezy with plenty of action and style to enjoy. The story is somewhat blurred over or scripted simply but I won’t complain because it’s a treat with no expectations.

7/10