Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Bad Times at the El Royale – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Director: Drew Goddard

Synopsis: The once famous El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe has become a shadow of its former self. However, when a bunch of mysterious individuals all check into the hotel on the same day, it promises to be an eventful evening…

Review: If a film pitches itself as a mystery/thriller, there has got to be an almost immediate moment in the first few minutes that grabs the audience’s attention and ensure they become subsequently absorbed into the ensuing suspense of the unfolding drama. Within the opening moments of writer/director Drew Goddard’s second directorial effort, you get just a taste of the drama and intrigue of what’s to come, with more than a few dashes of neo-noir thrown in for good measure.

It is 1960s America, and the titular El Royale hotel has, shall we say, seen better days. However things begin to take a turn for the interesting when an unusual collection of folks all rock up looking for some lodgings. It doesn’t however take long before things begin to unravel and our guests may not be who they appear to be. These guests consist of a Priest (Bridges) , a singer trying to catch her break (Erivo) , a smarmy salesman (Hamm) and a woman (Johnson), whose identity is initially withheld. There’s something immediately suspicious about each member of this cast, as to who they really are, and what secrets they’re hiding.

Every member of this cast is on their best form, and there is not one performance that feels out of place. However somewhat unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges is leading the way, being his usual charismatic self in a role that (probably) was exclusively written with him in mind. A relative newcomer, Cynthia Erivo shines very brightly as a singer who really hits those notes both in terms of her incredible singing ability and her performance. Yet the scene stealer in all of this is Chris Hemsworth, once again not shy in showing the world his muscles. He gives an astonishing performance, the likes of which we haven’t really seen from him before, certainly a world away from his work in the realm of Norse mythology.

Welcome to the El Royale ab show….

A quick glance at Goddard’s resume shows some impressive projects, such as the scribe of The Martian, the show-runner of season 1 of Netflix’s Daredevil, and his directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods. It is a resume not to be sneezed at. For the remarkable array of acting talent he has assembled here, his screenplay is ambitious to say the least in the way it chooses to present itself to the audience. It seems apparent that Goddard was inspired by Quentin Tarantino, and the ways that the latter has used to tell some of his stories, to great effect.

It is smart and ambitious story-telling on Goddard’s part, but there are instances where the momentum that is being built in a certain scene is lost, as the perspective of the story changes. This can, and does have an extremely negative impact on the film’s pacing, which is just a tad problematic for a film that centres on a mystery. Nevertheless, despite that problematic pacing, the film really starts to click once we reach that all important third act and everything that these interwoven stories have been building towards comes to an exciting, and nerve-shredding climax.

When such original pieces of work like this come along, something that is increasingly rare these days, they must not be overlooked. However, for all of its originality with its premise, its eclectic array of characters and very colourful and stylish production design, that potential is never fully realised. Hence, those who check-in to the El Royale, may just check out with not as much satisfaction as they almost certainly would want to.

Goddard turns on the style with some lavish production design and a unique bunch of characters, but the screenplay just feels too ambitious for its own good, and is at certain points a case of style over substance.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox and Marv

Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Film Review

Cast: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Sophie Cookson, Pedro Pascal

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Synopsis:  After their organisation comes under attack, The Kingsman seek the help of their US Counterparts, the Statesman, to help them save the world…

Review: It is always nice when a film knows exactly what the audience wants and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In addition, when said film knew that it was a ridiculously over the top, almost parody of the the spy films that it obviously drew inspiration from, and plays that to its advantage to deliver an absurd amount of entertainment, and laughs, that’s always a most welcome outcome, and this is precisely what Kingsman: The Secret Service was. Therefore, a sequel to this surprise hit was almost inevitable, and Vaughn despite perhaps some initial hesitation, eventually came back to the director’s chair.

The first film was, for the most part British-centric, and more specifically on the Kingsman and the recruitment of young Eggsy into this elite spy organisation. The plot now goes a bit more global, well across the Pond to be exact. With the Kingsman on their knees following a vicious attack, a clue leads them to their US based allies, the Statesman. Their research leads them to something that is known as the “Golden Circle” and with the Kingsman and Statesman now side by side, they must band together to help save the world because as you would expect, as there’s always some dastardly villain looking to wreak world havoc.

Eggsy’s development from deadbeat chav, to a sophisticated gentleman spy was a central theme of what The Secret Service was all about. All the while saving the world with mentor Harry Hart (Firth) by his side. Though Harry initially seems to have suffered a grim demise, but with a presence that is hard to miss if you have seen any promotional material, it indicates that Harry did not meet said demise. Their character development was a key arc of the first movie, but there is much less focus on that arc, and indeed character development as a whole, which can be frustrating to say the least.

“We are the three amigos…”

Instead Vaughn and Goldman zone in on the action stakes, turning up the volume to maximum. If his past work is anything to go by, Vaughn is certainly a director who knows how to helm jaw dropping action scenes,  the church scene from the first film certainly stands out. They’re very fast paced and exhilarating, although sometimes they way they are cut together, with very fast, quick cut editing can make them a bit jarring to watch. The plot is again a bit far fetched to say the least, even more so than the last film, but the movie knows that this is part of its charm, and it uses that to its advantage.

Taron Egerton remains on great form as Eggsy and he is ably supported by the familiar faces of Merlin and Roxy, whilst continuing a relationship with his royal girlfriend. The main bunch of new recruits comes in the shape of the Statesman cast, with Bridges giving Rooster Cogburn a 21st century makeover in the form of Statesman top dog Champ. Tequila and Ginger Ale (Tatum and Berry) are welcome additions but both feel somewhat underutilised. Meanwhile Pedro Pascal as Whiskey is perhaps the most interesting of the new bunch, honing his Oberyn Martell-esque fighting skills to great effect, and while she does have some time to shine, Julianne Moore as the antagonist would have benefited from a bit more screen time.

Though it doesn’t get too bloated, the film does feel perhaps a tad too long, perhaps because Vaughn does cram so much into this new adventure. but there’s more than enough good material here for audiences to enjoy. Like last time, the movie remains very self-aware, it knows it is a bat shit crazy experience with spies, espionage, gadgets, action and VERY adult humour. And that’s just what you signed up for, suited and booted and all.

There’s not a great deal of character development to be found, but like its predecessor, The Golden Circle delivers those insane and thrilling action set pieces and adult humour that make it such a blast to watch.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hell or High Water (2016)

hell-or-high-water-poster
Image is property of CBS Films, Lionsgate, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and OddLot Entertainment

Hell or High Water – Film Review

Cast:  Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

Director: David Mackenzie

Synopsis: Two brothers (Pine and Foster) begin robbing banks in order to keep their finances afloat. However, their crimes soon come to the attention of a Texas Ranger (Bridges)  

Review: Chances are if the premise of a film that is centred on two guys who are resorting to robbing banks as a means of financial support, you’re unlikely to want to see these guys get away with their crimes and you hope that the full justice of the law catches up with them. You think the crooks are the bad guys and the law is the good guys? Well yes and no is the answer to that in the case of this enthralling crime heist movie with a modern Western vibe.

Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) are the criminals in question, brothers who have remained close even after Tanner has had some spells in prison. The pair are in severe financial trouble and so in their desperation, they hatch carefully hatched plans to rob some local banks in order to stay afloat. However their deeds unsurprisingly begin to attract unwanted attention on their part and it is up to a Texas Ranger, played wonderfully by Jeff Bridges to investigate and foil their schemes.

The script from Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote last year’s Sicario, is absolutely tremendous. The winner of the 2012 Black List, it certainly borrows elements from movies in this genre. It is hard to not see the very obvious comparisons to the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. That being said, it certainly holds its own as an excellent and riveting piece of storytelling. Though the brothers are far from perfect human beings, one certainly being far more unlikable than the other, it does a splendid job of making you want to root for these guys even in spite of the crimes they’re committing. Even when the rozzers soon start to piece together their investigation, there is a dilemma, as to whether you want the coppers to catch them or hope that they get away and rebuild their lives.

Pine and Foster are excellent in their roles. You buy their chemistry and even though it is clear Toby has a few misgivings with Tanner, their relationship and love for each other as brothers is absolute. Pine in particular has made his name as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but here he arguably gives the finest performance of his career. Yet more could have done to flesh out and give bones to the brothers’ back story, as it could have been touched upon in a bit more detail. Bridges, in a very similar role to his eye patch wearing, half mumbling performance as Rooster Cogburn from the 2010 remake of True Grit, brings his very unique and very funny sense of humour to his role as the Texas Ranger, even if he is a bit hard to understand in places. The back and forth between him and his partner (Gil Birmingham) certainly provides the laughter. Yet it is the leading men who undoubtedly steal the show and don’t be surprised to see potential award nods come their way.

After directing Starred Up, David Mackenzie does a tremendous job of bringing this gritty story from Sheridan’s screenplay to the big screen. The cinematography is majestic with some tremendous wide and panoramic shots of the Eastern New Mexico landscape, cleverly doubling up as Texas. These are fused brilliantly with the scenes that take place in the town. In addition, the bank robbery scenes are masterfully executed, ensuring the tension and suspense is maintained right throughout. The movie does lag in parts as it is a slow paced film, the cat and mouse chase that ensues from the first bank robbery scene combined with brilliant performances and a first rate score. All of the aforementioned elements ensure that the film stakes its claim as an awards contender as awards season starts to come into view.

Tremendous performances from Foster and Bridges, with arguably a career high from Pine, combined with a tense and superbly written script. Come hell or high water, you should definitely see this film!

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

True Grit (2010)

True-Grit
Image rights belong to Skydance Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Scott Rudin Productions and Paramount Pictures

True Grit – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A young woman (Steinfeld) seeks revenge for the murder of her father and enlists the help of a US Marshal (Bridges) to help track down her father’s killer.

Review: Remakes and retelling of stories we have seen before tend to have something of a curse upon them. Audiences may tend to moan and whine and say that the new effort to tell a story that has already been told is not worth telling. Well Messrs Joel and Ethan Coen might just have something to say about that, as their retelling of the novel of the same name by Charles Portis, which was first adapted for the big screen in 1969, is well, a remarkable triumph.

The story focuses on young Mattie Ross, a girl of 14 years of age, who after her father is murdered by an outlaw, seeks vengeance on her father’s killer. To do this however, she must enlist the help of the law in the shape of US Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and so begins a manhunt. The Coens certainly showed that they understood the Western genre with the thrilling No Country for Old Men, albeit that was a Western set in modern times. Here however, it’s a traditional western tale fused with good ol’ fashioned revenge, and the Coen brothers absolutely nail it once again with a terrific story and a wonderful screenplay, that is aided in no small part by the phenomenal performances of its actors, and the quality of the source material.

In the lead role of Rooster Cogburn, a role that won John Wayne an Academy Award, Jeff Bridges is excellent as he re teams with the directors that brought to life one of the most iconic film characters of all time, that’s the Dude man! His accent is very thick and a little bit hard to understand in places, and while he may have been a bit hostile towards her in the early stages, his relationship with Ross is ultimately what drives the story forward and their chemistry is excellent. Speaking of which, Steinfeld as Ross is also fantastic, in what was an incredible breakthrough performance after she beat well over 15,000 people for the role. Matt Damon also puts in a superb performance as the Texas Ranger but it is the work of Bridges and especially Steinfeld that steal the show, as the two of them ensured Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively came their way, and well deserved ones too.

As usual with the Coens, the film making here is of a very high quality,  the cinematography by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins is as usual glorious. Night time scenes feel realistic and one can almost feel the cold of winter as the Marshal and his employer set off and encounter some of that pesky snow. Deakins certainly knows how to set up a good shot and there are plenty of these packed throughout the movie, with the Coens once again showing they certainly know how to direct remarkable action sequences that are sure to leave the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The Coens certainly know how to leave their unmistakeable stamp on a project, as they did so in emphatic fashion with No Country for Old Men, and here they do so again. As well as the acting nominations, the film secured eight other nominations, and while it failed to secure any, make no mistake, this adaptation, likes its characters certainly is full of true grit, and of a very high calibre to rank itself as one of the finest films the Coens have ever put to the big screen.

Anchored by two tremendous performances from Bridges and Steinfeld, with a great story stamped with that distinctive Coen brothers seal, top drawer film making. 

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