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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Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

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Fifteen years later and Johnny English is still a thing! I won’t lie, I did enjoy the first once upon its 2003 release and find it stupidly quotable to this day but when you have a character originating from a bank advert appearing in a weak third instalment, then you’ve got to question things. Imagine Flo and Joan from Nationwide riffing on a ‘Thelma and Louise’ like adventure or Greg from Halifax popping up in the full 100 minutes of ‘The Wizard of Oz’…it’s enough to make you shudder.

As the UK faces multiple technological shutdowns from a mysterious hacker, there’s only a few old school MI7 agents left unrevealed to the world, step forward Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) who teams up again with trusty Bough (Ben Miller) to track the source of the breach and get in all manner of mishaps.

The first film did possess a few chuckles and silly moments to tickle the funny bone but after ‘Johnny English Reborn’ from 2011 which I’ve all but forgotten about, there’s little in this newest spy outing to call for more English and in fact it dampens the nostalgic humour of the original. A large percentage of the stale feeling comes from the same writer being involved on the entire trio, this therefore means we face a tried and tested formula that is quickly unfunny.

On top of the deeply missed comedy aspect are brief touches of racism and other out dated thinking that makes it hard to stomach the film. A good 95% of the gags can be seen a mile off and that’s not just the ones that are sign-posted by obvious pre amble in the dialogue. There simply isn’t any need for this film, if it had been well put together then maybe it could be forgiven but it’s a dreary load that is massively tiring.

A story thread of old versus new runs throughout; with Johnny utilising a lack of mobile tech against a villain keen on gadgets. This leads to clear spoofing of James Bond which lie in English’s arsenal of sweet treats and dangerous candy but these nor anything else that tries to lampoon Britain’s most famous spy can save the movie from being less than amusing. Every now and then it feels like we may just witness a good scene or funny idea but aside from a well story-boarded VR sequence, English shouldn’t have struck again.

Rowan Atkinson harnesses the neat Mr. Bean routine of great physical comedy and he gurns like a king; there’s no doubt the man can commit to well performed choreography but it’s enough to lighten the film. Emma Thompson is on board and though she gives her role as PM a good deal of gusto even she can’t lift this film out of the gutter it speedily prat-falls into. Once again Olga Kurylenko is short changed, she’s a good glamorous actress who can’t quite get to appear in a film worthy of her talents. In this she is underused as a character impatient yet oddly drawn to Johnny’s antics, as was I.

Hopefully the hacker of the film will come to life and wipe all trace of 2 and 3 from memory, leaving us with the 2003 one, that though dumb is a huge sight funnier than this movie could ever hope to be.

3.5/10

 

A Star is Born (2018)

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From comedy star in ‘The Hangover’ to more dramatic turns in films like ‘American Sniper’, Bradley Cooper has certainly been down many avenues and now he throws his stetson behind the camera for his directorial debut; a musical romance and fourth remake of the ‘A Star is Born’ brand.

Hugely famous country star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) seriously struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. On a desperate trawl to find a bar, Maine staggers into one where waitress by day-singer by night Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing. He quickly falls for her looks and talent and they begin a whirlwind relationship that sees Ally become a singer/songwriter idol.

In the 1950’s Judy Garland headlined the first remake and the 70’s saw Barbra Streisand take the lead in a rock and roll setting, one Bollywood film later and now it’s mega popstar Lady Gaga’s turn to take the cinematic stage. There’s no doubt that she’ll be up for an Oscar nomination because her performance is sensational and she makes the film what it is. The road to success with tricky obstacles and media manipulation is ripe for the times currently in Hollywood and the music perfectly encapsulates Ally and Jackson’s rocky relationship.

This movie is like a biopic of Gaga’s career, you can just see how the films’ content of moulding someone to how the management want them to be, mirrors her Poker Face days, before her songwriting and more heartfelt tunes took flight. The pop music side of Ally’s journey and the SNL showbiz aspect are necessary attributes in showing how the industry works and really demonstrates Ally as a strong individual to stick with all these changes in the dream of being recognised for her talent. She also sticks with Maine because he saw that spark within her, their relationship may be odd and harbour some cheesy moments but it feels real and the pair work beautifully together.

At a certain point it does feel like the film stretches ever so slightly and you could almost check out of the plot but thanks to the music you get drawn back in. Also, there is a very predictable narrative to follow but there’s some stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique which goes from a pristine bathroom to a gorgeously crimson tinged drag club and the films final shot rests on a powerful, stunning image and though it is silent it sings a thousand words. On top of the great DoP work, the musical numbers themselves are toe-tappingly heartfelt and ‘Shallow’; a song penned by Gaga and Mark Ronson is gunning for an Oscar nom as well and rightly so because it screams with drama.

Cooper, with his flushed red cheeks and slurring Western drawl embodies the stereotypical drunken cowboy singer but softens this rough edges with a clear love for his Ally rose. Gaga is incredible throughout, her voice is a God given gift that fills the heart and the speakers with power. It isn’t just her singing talents that sell the film, she makes Ally a fully rounded character and you truly buy into her rise to stardom with a difficult romance aiding the way.

‘A Star is Born’ is a country and western musical for modern times and like TV show ‘Nashville’, it hits with lyrical gems and dramatic characters to soar to the top of the charts.

7/10

First Man (2018)

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There’s no doubt that the moon landings of 1969 were a monumental achievement, but is Damien Chazelle’s latest feature as monumental an experience?

‘First Man’ follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he takes up a job for the Gemini programs, as NASA and America hope to reach the stars and send a man to the moon. As the Soviets claim their own space race victories, Armstrong becomes determined to succeed even if that means losing time with his family and wife Janet (Claire Foy).

Chazelle’s directorial career is extraordinarily good, this is only his fourth movie and in less than ten years. Each one has been critically acclaimed and adored by audiences so there’d be no surprise if the 33 year old would feel pressure to follow suit with this Armstrong biopic. The film may not be his most stylistic one but as you’d expect the use of music; scored by Justin Hurwitz, is exceptional. Chazelle truly knows how to utilise sound, whether Hurwitz’s score is twinkling like the stars or cutting out completely to really create dramatic tension, it’s a bold demonstration of sound mixing that adds to the formidable power of space.

Another positive about the film is that it isn’t afraid to highlight the costs and questions these Gemini and Apollo missions cause. People waving placards or queries about the price of human life to achieve this daring quest become little drop points amongst the course of Neil Armstrong’s pursuits. This is a blessed relief because the actual focus on the astronaut is less than engaging, a large percentage of ‘First Man’ feels like a paint by numbers drag which does little to excite.

This is a biographical look not at the exploration of space or the moon landing itself but more about the man, Armstrong himself. It never really rockets to anything special and dare I use the B word; it often feels a little bit boring. It is as if the film cannot really connect to Neil, even if the camera feels forever by his side. There are some absolutely amazing shots in this film but the story drags the whole thing back down to Earth.

Gosling is a charismatic actor and he manages to ensure his portrayal of the first man on the moon is reflective and he shows off this quiet, laser-focused attitude but a lot of the time it makes the film less than interesting to follow because he’s so drained of emotion. Claire Foy is the stand-out as the woman behind the man, she displays a great balance of love and sadness to the man who wants to step on the lunar surface.

‘First Man’ has a lot of impressive visual standouts, so when we’re being thrust into the capsules or training pods with the astronauts the film is exquisite, it’s let down however by the grounded home-life and disengaged approach to Neil Armstrong.

6/10

Venom (2018)

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Well it’s fair to say this superhero flick has been scooping up a lot of negative attention as the months rolled closer to its release date; not getting the universe or Spider-Man cameo they wanted, early reviews comparing it to ‘Catwoman’ levels of bad and star Tom Hardy himself stating his favourite 40 minutes were cut, but is ‘Venom’ actually all that terrible?

Eddie Brock (Hardy) is an investigator/journalist happily engaged to attorney Anne (Michelle Williams), but when he’s sent on an assignment to interview Life Foundation owner Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock asks hard-hitting questions about the rumoured dark side of Drake’s company, which is harbouring alien symbiotes that crash landed on Earth. It isn’t long until Brock comes one with this planet devouring thing and they unite as Venom.

In all honesty, I have no idea whether this film is a joke or not. The inconsistent style of t the writing is wildly skittish, jumping from silly humour to darker, dramatic tones which make for a seriously unbalanced movie. When you have three writers on board who have credits for past features like ‘High Fidelity’, ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ working on the screenplay it’s not that hard to see why it’s a plot that feels like a chaotic mix of comedy and anti-heroism.

The film has a horrendous amount of messy VFX, even Venom himself is nasty looking and not in a good way. A creature feature showdown is a massive garbage storm of excessive CGI and frantic editing which makes the entire event a damn dud, a total misfire of which there’s nothing to engage with because it just washes over you with loud noises and awful visuals.

It says a lot when the scene arriving after all the credits, is the better than what came before them. ‘Venom’ just feels like it is rushing around, never really developing any interesting ideas of the bond between man and alien. This head biting fan is meant to be a villain and anti-hero at times but he teams up with a guy who can handles his influence and tame him rather quickly, they replace grittiness with goofiness and it doesn’t really work.

Tom Hardy is utterly bizarre throughout this swift Sony Marvel death, his performance is as scruffy as Brock becomes, his hunched look and mannerisms are weird. Michelle Williams is also odd, she seems to have gone under some alarming possession making her turn in this one of the worst roles I’ve seen her do. Riz Ahmed starts of alright in the beginning with enough big business menace but when the wrath of the slick black symbiote takes over then he too falls under a curse of laughable actions which all come to a supremely quick conclusion.

In a peculiar way, I can see this movie turning into a silly cult film or a dumb guilty pleasure but for myself it’s neither dumb or silly enough to make me want to remember I’d seen this turd of a movie rolling in the wind.

4.5/10

Night School (2018)

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After success with ‘Girls Trip’, which I’ll be honest I still haven’t seen, director Malcolm D. Lee once again teams up with breakout star Tiffany Haddish who unites with Kevin Hart in this American comedy. It’s just a blot on the whole thing that the comedy proportion leaves something to be desired.

After an explosive incident at a BBQ store, Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart) is left needing a job and to get to work with his friend as an investment advisor he’ll need to obtain his GED. Roll on Walker attending night school classes taught by Carrie (Haddish), where he’ll have to swot up to hopefully pass the test but he’s doing this on the sly unbeknownst to his fiance.

Written by six, yes six different writers, this movie and the comedy is hopes to achieve cause all the problems. There’s too many cooks and the jokes bomb hard, not even a single one of them is funny which isn’t great when you’re selling yourself as a comedy film. The likes of principals doing black voice, prom-night twerking, fart jokes and boring prat-falls do zero to make you laugh. In all honesty with more refining and less American style comedy of screeching dialogue, this could have been a better film in terms of a comic touch.

What is slightly surprising is there are traces of charm to be found and the film does have its heart in the right place. The drama may not be impressive but these bunch of night school sad saps and their bonding have a smattering of magnetism which makes the road of GED revision a fairly entertaining watch. The morals of trying hard and redeeming yourself through honesty and motivation are nice themes which hold up well amongst the Hart vs. Haddish shouting fest.

You’re in for a forgettable watch but each character on the GED course has enough of a generic quirk to pull them through against the boundless and annoying energy of Kevin Hart. Romany Malco gives Jay a great distrust of technology based off Terminator fears. Anne Winters and her youthful charisma are up for some stereotypes but she acts a developed caring side when chatting with Theresa who is played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, she may be the best of the group with her craziness and mumsy quality ripe for oddball moments. It’s Tiffany Haddish as the teacher who excels most though, her commitment to ensuring her students do their best are well played and help the film in its more grounded stages.

Success can be achieved with second chances, or 3…or 4 and maybe if you have nothing better to do you should give this film a passing chance as even though it’s not at all funny, there’s something lightly distracting and so-so about it.

4/10

 

 

 

Mile 22 (2018)

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Director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg have teamed up for the fourth time for this action outing. Their past efforts may have picked up acclaim and entertainment value in equal measures but this is the dud of the bunch by a mile…or 22.

After an operation at a Russian safe house, a strike-force are still on the hunt for caesium, before it could devastate thousands of lives. Li Noor (Iko Uwais) hands himself in to the U.S Embassy in Indonesia, claiming to have memorised the code to open a powerful disc which holds the location of the caesium. An Overwatch team led by Jimmy Silva (Wahlberg) need to transport Noor, 22 miles to a plane so he can claim asylum and tell them the code.

This so called action thriller is a nasty tolerance test of how long you can stomach watching the confusing film play on. It’s an extremely manic movie, one that makes your eyes hurt from the dizzying back and forths between scenes that seem to bear no connection. The editing resembles Jimmy’s repetitive wristband flicking; a sharp snap series of cuts which causes an unwelcome headache, so many of the fight scenes are shoddily edited that you just can’t see what’s happening.

Easily this could have been a rip-roaring short little brutal flick which sees characters heading from point A to point B, instead it feels like 2 hours when it’s only 94 minutes long. Any chance of ‘The Raid’ like antics and combat are lost thanks to the director and cast taking themselves and the dull story way too seriously. It’s a hot mess of a plot with atrocious dialogue and moments where the screenplay believes it’s being light-hearted and amusing are misfires or plainly misplaced.

In all honesty, I checked out of the movie 15 minutes in and let the rest of the near constant screaming of curse words and bloody violence play out as some cloudy filler in front of my hardly attentive eyes. It’s a film which boils down to the most simple reveal and is completely unsatisfying so I dread to think what someone who was invested in the film would think to this lazy conclusion.

One character comments that Jimmy Silva may have a personality disorder and he’s clearly meant to be different but Wahlberg is annoying quite frankly, as a fellow Overwatch member states he’s an asshole. In fact one of the major problems, amongst many, is that the entirety of the strike-force are unlikable and they lead the film to be a disengaging shambles. Iko Uwais is the only meagre redemption for the movie, his action skills are impressive but not enough to save the movie from the dire bog of rubbishness that it is.

‘Mile 22’ is simply put, a terrible feature from point A to point B. Jimmy Silva says at one point, “the end of an operation is euphoric”. Well, I experienced euphoria at the end too, because the film was over.

2/10