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

A Simple Favour (2018)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Feigco Entertainment

A Simple Favour – Film Review

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

Director: Paul Feig

Synopsis: Single mother Stephanie (Kendrick) meets and befriends high-flying Emily (Lively). When Emily suddenly disappears without warning, Stephanie investigates the circumstances surrounding her disappearance…

Review: When any person goes missing without a trace, there is bound to be a plethora of questions surrounding that particular person’s disappearance. As a consequence of something like this, an intense media scrutiny can begin to surface as to what transpired. The impact of which often falls hardest on those that knew the person the most, but what if they knew more than they were letting on? 

An intense media furore is certainly something that director Paul Feig can certainly relate to, with the fierce backlash that ensued following his Ghostbusters reboot. However, in this interesting concoction of thriller meets comedy, that forensic media glare takes a backseat. Instead, the camera that we partly watch this story unfold from is the webcam belonging to single mother and vlogger Stephanie. When picking up her son from school, she crosses paths with the chic Emily who is also on the school collecting run. Though they are in many ways complete opposites, they form a close connection and become good friends. When Emily disappears one day after asking Stephanie to pick up her son from school, Stephanie starts to piece together the clues of what might have happened to Emily. 

As a director whose last few films have all had female leads, but in very much comedic central films, this is uncharted territory for Feig. As such, he has left behind frequent collaborator Melissa McCarthy and recruited Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as his leading women this time. Kendrick as Stephanie has something that is very quirky and charming about her, but there is more to her goody mummy vlogger persona that she is letting on. Likewise for Lively as Emily who may dress in a suave manner, but there are some sinister secrets about her past also. Both give excellent performances, playing off each other tremendously well, though ultimately it is Lively who ends up stealing the show from Kendrick as well as her husband Sean (Henry Golding). 

The film pitches itself in a very Gone Girl-esque manner, and the screenplay from Jessica Sharzer certainly tries to capture that grittiness and suspense that Gone Girl had in abundance. While it does achieve this to a certain extent, it is nowhere near as compelling nor suspenseful as David Fincher’s aforementioned thriller. Unfortunately while trying to balance the comedic element of the story with the dark and gritty nature, there is a little bit of a mismatch when it comes to the overall tone of the film. Furthermore, by the time the film reaches the third act, it all feels a bit too rushed. As such the suspense that has been built up in the preceding two acts, is completely squandered on a finale that just packs so many twists and turns, it feels like a classic case of less would have been more. 

For all the excessive twists and turns that the film offers, one thing that it certainly is not lacking in is style. Feig certainly brings this to his direction in a suitable manner that befits this stylish backdrop. There’s a very aesthetically pleasing visual style to aspects such as product design, and it is evident that no expense was spared on the costumes either, especially when it comes to Emily’s attire. However what the film brings to the table in style, it doesn’t deliver in terms of providing a truly gripping and unnerving thriller that just doesn’t pull as many punches that past films of a similar nature delivered in abundance. 

Stylish in its design, and bolstered by two assured leading performances, but a mismatch of tones and one too many twists result in a thriller that just doesn’t deliver many thrills. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Searching (2018)

Image is property of Sony Pictures, Bazelevs Company, Screen Gems and Stage 6 Films

Searching – Film Review

Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Synopsis: After a young woman vanishes without a trace, her fraught father tries to piece together clues that could explain her disappearance…

Review: There’s no hiding from the fact that in this era we are living in, that technology is driving a considerable proportion of how we live our day-to-day lives. So much of our time, be it at work or at home, involves computers and smart phones. One such aspect of our digital lives that has become prominent, especially in the lives of young people, is social media. Given how much these devices drive of many aspects of our lives, to tell a story in its entirety through technology and social media is an inspired and refreshing new approach to a story to a very realistic story, and one that would be any parent’s absolute worst nightmare.

At the centre of this all is David Kim (Cho) a father who has to endure the most heart-breaking of circumstances in his family life whilst raising his daughter Margot (La). All seems well after some father-daughter time until Margot disappears with little information available to David as to what possibly could have happened to her. Using any information he can find from his own computer as well as Margot’s, David begins to piece together clues that could lead to anything that could uncover new details. As he receives help in the investigation from Detective Vick (Messing), what begins to become apparent is quite simply unimaginable for him.

Making his directorial debut, Chagnanty and co-writer Sev Ohanian, utilise family videos to establish the early stages of Margot’s life through family videos and what she and her father have been through. It’s simple but it does the job of establishing their relationship, and just how much did David actually know about his daughter and her life? The means of telling this story could become stale very quickly, but it never becomes overbearing or annoying. If anything it makes it feel fresh and unique, and crucially makes the audience care for David’s plight. What’s more, it captures how if a story such as this was on the news, the social media aspect of such a story would be very prominent, and that makes it feel all the more real.

In what may be some of his best work, Cho gives a superb performance. Though he is faced with a horrendous situation, he goes about trying to find anything he can with resolute determination, even though you can feel the pain he is feeling during the investigation and in the years prior to it.  In a thriller such as this, it is critical that the audience is kept on the edge of their seats, and as we follow this investigation, it does exactly that as you are never sure which way the investigation is going to turn next, keeping you very much in suspense right throughout the film’s run time.

It is frustrating however that once we reach the climax of this investigation, the resolution does feel a little bit rushed and a few things could have been explained in a bit more detail. However, though the Internet is a wonderful thing that is capable of enthralling and delighting us, there is an extremely dangerous side to it. In the age of social media where people can share quite a bit about themselves, this film serves as a reminder that like the internet itself, social media certainly has its upsides, but the perils of it are all too real.

With a powerful lead performance from John Cho, bolstered by its innovative and fresh approach to a subject matter that we so often see on the news, it makes the film feel uncomfortably grounded in reality.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Red Sparrow (2018)

Image is property of TSG Entertainment, Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Red Sparrow  – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: A Russian ballerina is enrolled into a top secret programme that trains its recruits to become highly skilled agent known as Sparrows. Her primary target quickly becomes a CIA agent who is in possession of some top secret information.

Review: The United States of America and Russia,  two countries with an extremely murky history. A history that teased the terrifying prospect of nuclear conflict that lasted the best part of the 20th century. As such, it opens the door for filmmakers and storytellers to tap into this relationship of sorts between these two countries and how that may develop in the years to come. Mix that in with elements of espionage and seduction, and you have the materials to make a dark and unsettling espionage thriller.

Yet despite ticking all these boxes, there is something about Red Sparrow that just never  hits the mark. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, it’s intriguing premise offers much, but the hope that this intriguing premise would deliver a compelling story feels really misguided. Marking his first project since completing the Hunger Games franchise, Francis Lawrence has reunited with his Hunger Games collaborator Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) to tell this story of Dominika. A gifted Russian ballerina who suffers a devastating accident which destroys her career as a ballerina. Unsure as to what she should do next, she is pushed into the direction of the Sparrow programme, and it’s from this moment, her life will never be the same again.

The trailers certainly made the movie look as though it was going to be an intriguing espionage thriller, yet sadly it really is not all that thrilling. The screenplay by Justin Hythe certainly offers up an intriguing first act, including some very dark scenes that could have taken the story in a very interesting direction. However, it all quickly fizzles away into insignificance before long. A story with this premise should not be this mediocre, but several scenes just meander and it all becomes just not very interesting to watch. The actual plot itself is extremely convoluted, and it all just gets a little bit messy.  There’s some impressive camerawork involving the moment her ballerina prospects go up in flames, but there’s not much else to shout about, which is frustrating given some of the work we have seen from Lawrence as a director (see Catching Fire).

Lawrence has shown that since she hung up her bow as Katniss that she can take on a variety of different roles and make them her own. Her performance is admirable as she tries to hold the film on her shoulders, but the extremely lacklustre material she has been given to work with prevents her from doing so. Though her accent does slip on occasions, she gives comfortably the strongest performance. The rest of this very talented cast are by and large either extremely under-utilised or not given enough development to really make the audience care for them. Edgerton is perhaps the only exception, but even then the development he gets is thin, at best. Meanwhile, other actors such as Jeremy Irons seem really miscast in their roles.

The chemistry between Lawrence and Edgerton is serviceable, but it could and really should have been so much stronger given the talent of the actors. The plot is so convoluted that by the time the credits begin to play, you’ll be wondering if it was worth it, and the answer sadly, is probably not.

An intriguing premise, thrown away on an extremely convoluted and messy plot, combined with very bland and forgettable characters, all of which results in an extremely disappointing finished product.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: A skilled surgeon meets a young man whom he befriends, but when strange things start happening to his family, he is left facing a terrible and heartbreaking decision…

Review: Sometimes, a film lets you know right off the bat that the story you’re about to witness is unconventional to say the least, and not like anything you have ever seen before. The dominance of certain genres in mainstream cinema mean that such pieces of idiosyncratic cinema can be most welcome interludes. Indeed, these types of unique storytelling can almost be deemed necessary. Following in the wake of The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos certainly continues on down that path of peculiar storytelling.

Of course, we have already seen an example of this type of out of ordinary storytelling in the form of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, a film that it would be fair to say polarised audiences massively. And though not quite as shocking as that film was, Lanthimos certainly aims to unsettle the audience in this tale of Steven, a renowned heart surgeon who encounters a teenage boy named Martin whom he befriends. Everything seems fine and dandy between Steven and Martin, he introduces him to his wife Anna (Kidman), his son Bob, (Suljic) and daughter Kim (Cassidy).

Yet as time goes on and mysterious, unexplained things start happening to Steven and his family, and something suggests that the root cause of these events is Martin, who has a grudge against Steven for something that he might have done in the past. The story is certainly very unconventional and the characters are not exactly the most likeable bunch of people you’re ever likely to meet in your life. Farrell plays Steven as your loyal family man who loves his family more than anything, but despite all that, there’s some dark undertones to his character. Kidman is perhaps the most likeable of the bunch, but even she is sucked into this murky situation that is enveloping this family, and the duo certainly shine in these roles that are certainly designed to test the actors to the maximum.

Perhaps giving the best performance of them all though is Keoghan as Martin. Initially he starts off as quite a friendly young man, but it isn’t long before you notice the very troubling and sinister occurings that are going on with him, and perhaps the root cause behind all of this psychological, nightmarish horror that is unfolding. Lanthimos’s directing style, including long shots of panning down ominous looking hallways certainly helps add to the uncomfortable vibe of the film, not to mention the very dreary colour palette. Lanthimos’s script (co-written by Efthymis Filippou) is shrouded in themes that are designed to haunt the audience. It opts to explain certain things, but not others, and it’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps.

There is certainly a lot of mystery surrounding, which you would think keeps the plot moving along at a brisk pace, yet this doesn’t prevent the film from suffering pacing issues. It is a very slow burn, particularly in the first act as you watch all the the pieces fall into place. However, once it reaches the second half and in particular the climax, it pays off, but not in a way that is going to leave the audience at all satisfied. Not because the climax doesn’t pay off, it pays off alright, but the pay off is not exactly going to leave you blissfully happy once the credits begin to roll. No, it is instead going to mess with your mind.

 Unnerving to the maximum, but tremendous performances across the board result in an intriguing but ultimately extremely uncomfortable experience that doesn’t lend itself to repeat viewings.

 

Posted in Film Review

The Girl on the Train (2016)

girl-on-train-movie-poster
Image is property of Dreamworks, Universal Pictures and Reliance Entertainment

The Girl on the Train Film Review

Cast:  Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Edgar Ramirez, Luke Evans and Allison Janney

Director: Tate Taylor

Synopsis: Rachel (Blunt) is an alcoholic, unemployed,  divorced, woman who becomes fixated on the people she sees while on her daily train journey, until one day, she sees something that turns her world upside down.

Review: Ah trains, don’t you just love them? For many of us, they are a valuable asset that we use to get to our day jobs, even if they can be a bit late or a bit too full on occasions. Whilst on board, many of us bury our heads in a newspaper or listen to music, but what if you saw something that shocked you? And before you know it, one thing leads to another and you find yourself entangled in a criminal investigation over a missing persons case? This is precisely the situation the lead character finds herself in in this missing persons thriller.

Adapting from Paul Hawkins’s best selling novel of the same name, Rachel having lost her job and seeing her marriage fall apart has become a hopeless alcoholic who seems destined to go off the rails (pun absolutely intended.) Her life has hit a red signal, and in order to maintain a routine she take the train every day and becomes attached to the people she sees, making up stories about their lives. This is until she finds herself right in the thick of a criminal investigation and after become a bit too intoxicated one particular evening and in a similar vein to Gone Girl, we have an intriguing mystery on our hands.

Hawkins novel is very unpredictable in terms of its narration and storytelling, and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, manages to adapt it for the most part pretty well. The change of setting from London to New York will undoubtedly upset fans of the book, but it doesn’t detract from the story. The main character here is of course Blunt’s Rachel. Although the novel’s version of the book describes her as being overweight, Blunt does her level best and gives a wounded performance as Rachel. The film does a good job of making you feel sorry for her, but at the same time, makes her look like a terrible human being when she’s a drunken mess, giving subtle warnings over the dangers of booze. The blackout scenes are handled expertly by director Tate Taylor, and adds to the intrigue of the story, it begs the question, just what did Rachel see that night? Through a mixture of past and present storytelling, the blanks are slowly filled, and the tension is well built throughout.

Blunt is well aided by an excellent supporting cast some of whom like Rachel are a bit on the unstable side. Haley Bennett as Megan, the person at the centre of this investigation also gives an unpredictable performance. After showing what an unbelievable badass she was in Rogue Nation, Rebecca Ferguson also is excellent as Anna, the new love of Rachel’s ex husband Tom (Justin Theroux) These characters get the most character development, understandably so, yet you would have liked to have seen other characters such as Megan’s husband Scott (Luke Evans) get more screen time. The script does lack a bit of focus on occasion, but this does not derail the intrigue and suspense that has steadily been building up.

The comparisons between this and Gone Girl are to be expected, and while Gone Girl is a superior movie, this adaption certainly holds its own as a very suspenseful thriller, particularly for those who have not read Hawkins’s brilliant novel. Adaptations from page to screen can sometimes go awry, but thankfully not on this occasion.

Unpredictable, tense and expertly directed by Taylor with a superb performance from Blunt, be sure to catch this one before it leaves the platform.

Rating: A-

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Hateful eight
Image rights belong to The Weinstein Company and FilmColony

The Hateful Eight – Film Review

Cast: Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: When eight strangers become trapped in a lodge during a ferocious blizzard in Wyoming, USA, a mystery begins to unfold as to whether some people are who they say they are.

Review: When you walk into a film written and directed by the one and only Mr Quentin Tarantino, chances are you know what to expect. After all he is a man who has made his name in Hollywood for his extremely well written characters, excellent dialogue, and some VERY bloody violence. All are on show and then some with his eight feature film, which is his second Western after the glorious Django Unchained, which happens to be his highest grossing film of all time.

While Django was set pre Civil War, Mr Tarantino takes us post Civil War in this film, with the focus being on a group of individuals (eight in total funnily enough) who get acquainted with one another while they are trapped in a small building during the blizzard that has set them back on their way. Yet immediately something is off, the suspicion and mistrust begins to grow amongst the characters, as some have doubts as to whether they are who they are claiming to be. There’s a mystery that needs to be solved and it isn’t long before things start to get a little bit messy.

Tarantino is one of the finest directors working today, his movies are synonymous with terrific writing, sharp dialogue and very strong characters. All of the ensemble cast truly shine in their roles with each and every one of them giving truly excellent performances. However, there are a couple of performances that truly deserve special praise and could well be in with a shot of picking up some awards. Principally, Tarantino regular Mr Samuel L Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh give arguably the best performances of this incredibly talented cast, but that should take nothing away from all of the other performances, because they are all superb. It is at times a very dialogue driven film, but this is not a problem,  because the dialogue is so riveting and so well written, that the audience is captivated the entire time, watching these characters interact and develop distrust and suspicion.

As is the case with nearly all of Tarantino’s films, the great acting is matched with great writing, and the Hateful Eight is no exception. In this over three hour story, the first hour or so is all build up, getting to know the characters, meeting them one by one. The tension here remains at a minimal level, but there is not exactly a warm feeling between anybody. The early build up is a little slow, until we get to Minnie’s Haberdashery, and that’s when any warm feelings are immediately turned as cold as the weather outside, and the tension and suspicion gets stronger with each passing minute of screen time. Tarantino does enjoy some good monologues and there’s a few to be witnessed here. It wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie if there was no violence and when the axe finally drops and it begins, boy does it provide some glorious and bloody entertainment for the audience and then some!

The cinematography on show, provided by another frequent Tarantino collaborator Robert Richardson is gorgeous, capturing the setting of a chilling winter in the USA perfectly. The audience feels the freezing temperatures the characters find themselves in. The score composed by Ennio Morricone is also equally superb. Like with The Revenant, this cannot have been an easy shoot for the cast and for the crew, but for all the troubles of everyone involved, it was all worth it to deliver another extremely good film from Tarantino that is sure to receive a bunch of Academy Award nominations in this upcoming awards season, and they would be very well deserved ones at that.

A little slow in the early stages, but it pays off big time in the end, with superb writing, tremendous acting, terrific directing, and a top score. Another superb edition into the near perfect filmography of Quentin Tarantino.

a