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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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

 

The Predator (2018)

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A lot of talk has been going on as of late with ‘The Predator’ and most of it isn’t about the movie itself, so with these dramatic revelations does Shane Black’s recent feature manage to pull through or is it not worth the time?

After a Predator ship crashes to Earth, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) makes first contact but is soon captured and dispatched to a rag-tag of veterans by Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown). As these lethal aliens come after their armour; McKenna, the vets and evolutionary expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) team up to hunt the hunters.

I must admit that I have never seen any other film from the ‘Predator’ franchise so maybe that aided my amusement to watching this one. There is a great bundle of fun to be had though, if you can ignore some awful Rasta-dogs, plenty of guts, expletives and explosions fill the screen with such giddy abandon that makes this a sci-fi horror like the saga is known for but a crimson soaked comic thriller instead.

This almost non-stop action and comedy comes right out of the Shane Black book of movie-making. Sure, it isn’t set during Christmas but Black writes in plenty of witty dialogue that chips in and out of the impending danger. McKenna doesn’t just have one other person to riff with like other Black screenplays, i.e ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’, he has a whole bus full of characters to make this movie burst to the seams with laddish humour.

Comedy and ripped intestines don’t prevent the third act from feeling like a sore spot. The film descends into being overly ridiculous and more than a couple of times you can see really shameful uses of CGI. A sequence that is all about a blood sport of hunt and kill should have been way more exciting than it was. A big reason as to why this section doesn’t work comes down to the frantic editing and characters that just disappear or are culled which you can’t quite keep up with.

Aside from this weak final twenty minutes, the movie is a dumb joy to behold and a large feature of that joy boils down to the acting in the brotherhood which manifests between McKenna and a squad of men with extreme characteristics. Holbrook keeps up a near-constant grimace and aggression and Keegan-Michael Key is a big player in padding the film with plenty of laughter.

‘The Predator’ doesn’t really connect to the vets but there is enough wise-cracking involved that we know to root for them whereas on the flip side of the coin, which lands in Sterling K. Brown’s proficient palm, we face a charming yet despicable foe who chews up the scenery with Nicorette gum and pure craft. Olivia Munn, controversy aside, is great in softening the blows of constant larking about. She’s no boring damsel in distress biologist, she has enough smarts and skill to keep her cool around Predators and a team of men dripping in testosterone. Jacob Tremblay is a force of munchkin talent to be reckoned as per usual, his ‘superpower’ of autism may get heavy handed but he’s never irritating which other child actors can easily be.

Some may have issues with the plot development and yes the last stages aren’t so strong but watching antics of a newly formed squadron versus a beastly statuesque creature with dreads is an entertaining ride.

7/10

Searching (2018)

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‘Searching’ is the first big Hollywood thriller to be led by an Asian actor; the wonderful John Cho and in Aneesh Chaganty’s debut full-length feature we are presented with a technology based run of hints and danger with near-perfect execution.

After Margot Kim (Michelle La) doesn’t return home after a supposed study session round her friends, her dad David (Cho) begins to worry as this isn’t how she normally behaves. As her days gone missing go by, he learns he doesn’t know as much as he thought about his child and with the help of officers from the California South Bay police force he hopes to understand what’s happened to Margot.

It wasn’t too long ago that a similar-but-not-sequel of ‘Unfriended’ was out and showed us the dark side of the web. This thriller, again provides audiences with the same stylistic methods of the 2014/18 horrors but puts across its unfolding dark side through the drastic clue quest taken by David and the possible warning signals of people around Margot. ‘Searching’ also fares a lot better than the computer-screen heavy visuals of the ‘Unfriended’ movies by better realising its concept and creating an engaging watch from start to almost finish.

The ending is slightly underwhelming, just in the sense I found it to unravel what was an excellently taut story with a fairly ridiculous and sentimental conclusion. The plot does also rely on bordering on silly camera placements and websites to keep the online, onscreen narrative going along. Aside from this, the film is a riveting thriller boosted by Torin Borrowdale’s work, his score has hints of dark tension which add to the slow-burning stakes and with the eventual revelations this adds up to a dynamic, chilling movie.

What do you really know about your children? This suspenseful success at the box office proves that it’s not always that much. Truths get uncovered, mysteries are juicily served up and a visual representation of a detective-esque Crazy Board on a desktop scattered with files speaks volumes for the strained search a father goes on to hopefully find his girl. This film works well because it has you guessing along, as if playing a cinematic game of Cluedo. That sense of intrigue is like catnip for many people and seeing this story play out via live news broadcasts, mobile chats and social media stalking has us invested in a gripping turn of events.

John Cho is great in this movie, whether up for judgement in pixelated zoom or seen through countless FaceTime conversations he really does sell us the panicked, doting father with flaws that help round him out as an interesting character who forgets what is important to both him and his daughter Margot.

There may have been a smidge of expected moments come the wrapping up of this movie but by and large, ‘Searching’ is an expertly organised thriller that may utilise a gimmicky premise but plays on an effective story to quickly overshadow that feeling.

8/10

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

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Films spoofing spies and what they do, are far from a novel idea by this point but when ridiculed in the right way they can be fun and smart popcorn features. This latest comedic jab at the spy genre may not be in the clever pastiche realm but it’s certainly an ambitious attempt with moments of glee.

As Audrey (Mila Kunis) tries to celebrate a birthday she can’t help feeling down because she’s been dumped via text by Drew (Justin Theroux). Eventually she finds out that he’s a spy and a prized item needs to be taken into Vienna to save the lives of countless people. A chaotic melee leads Audrey and her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) to flee USA and become as close to spies as possible to finish this mission.

This is a film that fits into that same mould as last years ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ albeit this release is less funny but there’s a likely chance, of which I don’t begrudge, that ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ will pick up a sequel. Lithuania may get a raw deal as they’re plunged into a washed out grey sequence unlike every other country but on the whole, this is a bright and punchy action comedy that incorporates agreeable levels of threat, through oncoming dangers and tricksy treachery.

Annoyingly, like one too many US comedies, this movie relies heavily on people shouting or pulling stupid faces to be funny which elicits the opposite reaction from me because that’s bone idle comedy. The comedic element throughout is deeply lacking but as a feat of exhilarating action this film fares nicely. There are zippy gunfights and chases that are executed well plus there’s a violent villainess appearing with gymnastic wiles in the same vein as Gazelle from ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ but in fact this Nadedja figure is a scarier foe to oppose the American women.

Kunis equips her likeability and demonstrates some good action chops to ensure that Audrey isn’t ever a boring heroine to join the ride with. Theroux broods as only he can and is a believable dominating Bourne like copy who opens up the movie with vigour. This is going to be controversial but McKinnon overshadows the film with irritating tendencies to just be OTT. Again, like in ‘Ghostbusters’ I found her to be the most annoying quality of the film, she becomes grating after a while and as Drew says to Morgan in the film, Kate is just too much. McKinnon’s energy and wild performance abilities perfectly suit the SNL skit format but in feature length she becomes tiresome. There I said it.

As a European jolly this film trots from Prague to Berlin like an entertaining cinematic inter-rail trip which may not be the best or even good comedy but as a frothy action flick it’s pleasantly enjoyable.

5.5/10

The Equalizer 2 (2018)

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There’s a storm coming, we’re frequently told in this sequel to 2014’s ‘The Equalizer’. This foreboding grey, rain soaked onset of weather nicely mirrors the grey, dreary soaked plot that’s scattered with showers of subplots and only thunders with some flashy snaps of violent action.

In a block of apartments, former spy Robert ‘Mac’ McCall (Denzel Washington) is still living under the guise that he’s dead but makes money and back-seat friends from his gig as an on-demand taxi driver. Upon hearing that one of his only friends has been killed, Mac exits the shadows to try and get help from one time teammate Dave York (Pedro Pascal) to work out who was behind the murder.

It was four years ago, but from what I remember I enjoyed the kinetic thrill of Antoine Fuqua and Washington teaming up to create a movie which had great style, music and bloody vigilante justice. They’re both back but the their talents don’t make for a repeat success because this follow up is very disappointing.

There’s just something about the film; mostly down to the plot, that lives a bland taste in the mouth. As you try and follow the narrative it just gets littered with taxi-led subplots  and the link with Mac and his past is never unexpected or dramatic enough to sustain interest. Richard Wenk’s story doesn’t twist or turn enough to positively overshadow the underwhelming action scenes.

Some of the hand-to-hand combat are energetic, even if so snappily edited that you can’t see what’s going on but on the whole I found the action to be sorely lacking something special. The final wind-battered blowout is majorly anti climactic too. Mac constantly takes down foes with no effort before this point but here it would have been electric to watch him tackle some equally equipped opposition but that isn’t the case.

Two things are great with this film; the first is a sequence that’s empty on action but fantastic for that reason. This panic room portion is loaded with tension and really makes you feel the threatening entrapment of the situation. Second is the the presence of Washington who is cool, charismatic and a top class actor as always. A heated scene of paternal advice between him and a character named Miles demonstrates the peak performing talents of Denzel but even he cannot save ‘The Equalizer 2’ from an almost boring tone.

After this movie, all I can say is I feel like ordering a Lyft what with the excessive shots of car journeys but this movie ride won’t be gaining 5 out of 5 stars from me.

5/10

The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Just when you thought it was safe to think Young Adult tales of togetherness, political angst and romance were over, this film powers up and hits the big screen. ‘The Darkest Minds’ does little to feel any fresher than what we’ve seen countless times before and the script is muddled and tiresome.

A lethal disease has taken the lives of 90% of children under 18; the ones that survived developed powers from telekinesis to more dangerous enhancements. 16 year old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is trying to hide the fact she possesses one of the more extreme powers and goes on the run with three other super-teens to try and find a place where everyone is equal and safe from children’s camps.

Of course this film proudly screams it’s producing credits of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Stranger Things’, pretending this will be a film of similar genre and calibre and it definitely misses the latter desire. There are clear echoes of the hit Netflix show and in turn ‘E.T’ here; with the group of kids walking deserted train tracks, evading vehicles on empty streets with their powers and trying to stick together against the violent motives held by government figures but none of the acting, dialogue or visuals are as exciting or tensely dramatic as in ST or E.T.

Chad Hodge’s screenplay becomes a messy shambles and seems to just repeat ideas, most likely explained better in the novel but to no climactic gain here. Conversations about factions of authorities like Tracers or League cohorts become more infuriating to listen to and Ruby just floats between running away and coming back again in what is a highly yawn inducing watch. Ruby’s powers also seem to develop and change depending on the plot needing a way out, the villain is introduced too late and is a weak adversary, it’s not even a surprising turn of events to counter balance the feeble storytelling.

Every now and then, there are some neat uses of effects; be it practical or computer generated. There’s also a short-lived but cool moment of entrapment set up in an abandoned mall. Aside from those examples and the talents of the lead female actor, this is one of those tween sci-fi dramas that thinks its premise is way more captivating and smart than it really is.

Stenberg is good I have to admit, it’s almost like she’s trying to keep her head above the water of this sinking, stinking ship and she just about manages to do so. Skylan Brooks is probably the only other performing highlight of this movie, playing the intelligent and cool Chubs. Liam, played by Harris Dickinson looks too old to be a romantic interest for Ruby and uses his forceful power to somehow make us believe these two are in love. The pairing is hugely jarring and there’s no chemistry to speak of. Lastly, Gwendoline Christie gets the Captain Phasma treatment, by being severely underused in a role that could have been more interesting and corrupt.

‘The Darkest Minds’ is boring and nothing we haven’t already seen, it even comes complete with ‘Hunger Games’ inspired hands-up-into-the-air-in-unison moment. The film seems to think they’re kicking off another YA franchise but all I can hope is that never happens.

3.5/10