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.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Se7en (1995)

Image is property of New Line Cinema

Se7en – Film Review

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey

Director: David Fincher

Synopsis: Two detectives are assigned to a case in which the killer is brutally murdering his victims, based on the seven deadly sins.

Review: Sometimes, it just seems that there is just no escaping from the brutality and horrors life can sometimes be. On any given day, you tend to come across stories of horrific violence committed against all sorts of people, brutal murders and the like all seem to have become just so common for us to hear about. As such, there is something almost generally disturbing and unsettling about the second directorial effort of David Fincher, because it depicts events that could very well happen in the world today.

The opening credits along let the viewer know the sort of ride that they are in for, and it sure as heck won’t be pretty. In an unnamed US city,  Detective William Somerset is a veteran at the job, and is just a week shy of retirement when he gets assigned to this deeply disturbing case of a killer who is using the seven deadly sins as a basis for his crimes. With each respective murder representing each of the seven sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride and lust. Also assigned to the case is the recently reassigned Detective David Mills who’s a bit brash, polar opposite to the calm and methodical William Somerset. Together these two must piece together the clues of the crimes to catch the killer. Except this mystery killer always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

Even from the opening credits, there’s something just so deeply unsettling about the events that we see on screen. The weather is almost always drab and bleak, which mirrors the tone of the film, extremely sombre and just downright macabre. The film-making is gritty and realistic to the point that it and almost makes you feel like the events you’re witnessing are real life events, but the film doesn’t go all out with the gore, it all just feels very realistic. With each murder that takes place, it keeps the plot moving along at a very steady pace. You want to turn away as the events, and more specifically the murders are so disturbingly gruesome, but the quality of the writing keeps your interest glued to the screen.

In a story that feels like it could be something you see in real life, the performances from everyone, in particular Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are tremendous. Their relationship is not exactly harmonious, and indeed the crime scenes they’re investigating understandably take their toll on the duo, but they remain committed in their efforts to bring down the killer. Gwyneth Paltrow as Mills’s wife Tracy also gives a very vulnerable performance, a woman who is hiding something quite important from her husband, something that plays great significance when we reach the final act of the film.

Speaking of said final act, though there is tension right right throughout the film, particularly during a gritty gun battle in a residential block. The finale is where the tension is really turned up to maximum and the whole story comes to a head. Right up to this point, you had never actually witnessed the murders be carried out on screen, only the very bloody and unpleasant aftermath of each crime scene. Yet all that changes, and the whole plan of our mystery serial killer comes full circle. It’s so unexpected, delivering one of the best twists in cinematic history and providing the viewer with an ending that is more than likely to leave them reeling.

It’s shocking and bold storytelling combined with meticulously crafted film-making. Thus, credit where credit is due to Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker for creating not just an ending that surely ranks up there with one of the very best ever put to screen. For creating a chilling tale that won’t be leaving your mind in any hurry, and one that ensures you will never hear the sentence “what’s in the box?” in the same way ever again.

Dark, brutal and uncompromising storytelling, with great performances from Pitt and Freeman, and a masterfully executed ending all equal one of the best films of all time.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Scott Free Productions

Blade Runner 2049 – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: Set thirty years after the original Blade Runner, after uncovering a decades old secret, Blade Runner Officer K (Gosling) goes on the hunt for information, and his investigation leads him to a very familiar face…

Review: In terms of a challenging project for a director to get their hands on, being tasked with making a sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time, is surely right up there with the hardest.  Having garnered quite the cult following, in spite of decidedly mixed critical reactions upon release, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic has built a legacy that has endured.

So in a time when Hollywood certainly likes making a sequel or two, one was perhaps almost inevitable. Though a sequel was for a long time in development, with Scott considering the possibility of directing, those plans were shelved. As such, the chance and indeed the enormous pressure of making this fell to Denis Villeneuve, and well simply put, it’s a challenge that he rose to in magnificent style delivering a superb blockbuster that combines tremendous style with emotional substance.

I see your true colours shining through…

Right from the off, Villeneuve, re-teaming with the great Roger Deakins following Prisoners and Sicario, they beautifully recreate that futuristic and visually mesmerising world that was so elegantly brought to life, but once more with those murky undertones. With superb production design this time being provided by Dennis Gassner, it’s all just a stunning visual treat to watch. Having shown his ability to dabble in mind-bending science fiction with his astonishing masterpiece Arrival, Villeneuve has once again shown he’s a formidable force to be reckoned with behind the camera. Oscar nominations are surely bound to follow, and hopefully this time, this will be the time that Deakins takes the statue, one can hope. But Oscar or not, Deakins has added another visual masterpiece to his glowing portfolio.

The great risk of making a sequel to something so beloved is that if you fail to live up to those lofty expectations, it could taint the original for some. However, the story crafted by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher along with Michael Green, delivers a deeply personal story that expands the world that was so elegantly brought to life in the original film. At the centre of the new story is Officer K who works as a Blade Runner, and stumbles upon a secret that opens up a can of worms. Much like its predecessor, the film is a slow burn in terms of pacing, it is not all out guns blazing action. Instead the film takes time with its story, which works to its advantage, whilst delivering those moments of intense action when it really needs to.

In a world where humanity and replicant are deeply intertwined, the lines between the two are almost non existent, and no one exemplifies this better than K. Gosling’s performance shows him in his much grittier, more melancholic mood in the same a similar manner to his performance in Drive. Charisma to boot (as well as a cool coat) he makes for a very compelling protagonist. For Harrison Ford meanwhile, after having made a triumphant return as Han Solo, he’s on masterful form once again as Deckard.

Ford is not here to just collect a pay cheque, as he delivers a performance that really packs the emotional punch making Deckard a relevant piece in this dystopian world of futuristic Los Angeles. Other new figures also include Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace and his associate Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Leto might have copped a lot of flak following the much maligned Suicide Squad, but he is effective as the eccentric leader of a global corporation. Meanwhile, Hoeks’s Luv certainly makes her presence known.

The expectations were enormous. And with the pressure to deliver something to stand shoulder to shoulder with a film that has help to significantly define this genre, was equally gargantuan. Yet Villeneuve once again shows his remarkable credentials by delivering a sequel that beautifully pays homage to its predecessor, whilst at the same time, making things feel almost new and fresh. There will have been those who said that the original was untouchable, but we have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and it is truly something to savour.

As visually mesmerising as its predecessor, and continuing the themes that are just as thought-provoking now as they were when the first film was released. A worthy sequel to one of the most significant films ever made.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Memento (2000)

Image is property of Summit Entertainment

Memento – Film Review 

Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A man tries to piece together clues as to who murdered his wife, whilst trying to overcome the fact that he has short term memory loss…

Review: The conventional way of telling a story: Beginning, middle, end. It is how most movies choose to tell their story. Of course, some directors have a habit of telling their stories in not exactly the right order. But for a film to elect to tell its story from the end to the beginning, is certainly bold to say the least, and could very easily backfire. However when you have a director like Christopher Nolan at the helm, it works an absolute treat!

With a screenplay adapted from a short story written by his brother Jonathan, focusing on Leonard Shelby, a guy who suffers from short-term memory loss, with not a single recollection of what he did 5 minutes ago. He’s certain of his identity and of the fact that someone killed his wife and during that incident something happened to him that gave him his condition. Through use of Polaroid pictures and tattoos on his body, he uses these as clues to what he hopes will lead him to the answers he’s desperately seeking. With some scenes playing back to front, and others playing in chronological order, it could have ended up as one convoluted mess, but under Nolan’s expert vision, it’s not a mess, it’s mindbogglingly brilliant and, at the same time, really perplexing.

“Can’t remember if this is my car…”

The way he tells the story is certainly unconventional, but it keeps you engaged. You know how the story went from point A to point B, but watching it go from point B back to point A, is just completely riveting to watch, and very unique. The riveting story is boosted significantly by the brilliant work of the case, especially Pearce. Given that the film focuses on Leonard and his condition, it was of critical importance that the actor gave a believable performance, and that is exactly what Pearce gives, you buy into this guy and his condition, and it remains perhaps the greatest performance of his career. Carrie Anne Moss is also superb as Natalie, a woman who is helping Leonard fit together the pieces of his puzzle and there’s Joe Pantoliano’s Teddy, a man who you’re never quite sure as to what his ulterior motive is.

Whenever you watch a thriller, a twist that the audience never sees coming is so often thrown in there so it can stun the audience when the penny drops and it’s revealed. Though Nolan doesn’t give himself that chance to shock the audience, the structure of the film ensures it remains a cinematic experience unlike anything else. With an excellent score from David Julyan, this was the film that made audiences really sit up and take note of Christopher Nolan and his considerable talents, which were duly recognised with an Oscar nomination for his screenplay. And as we all well know, it certainly wasn’t the last time audiences would hear of him, not a chance.

Original storytelling, told in a very innovative manager that will keep you hooked, anchored by a superb performance from Pearce.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Nice Guys (2016)

the nice guys
Image rights belong to RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Waypoint Entertainment, Silver Pictures and Warner Bros Pictures

The Nice Guys – Film Review

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Margaret Qualley, Angourie Rice

Director: Shane Black

Synopsis: Two unlikely detectives are pitted together to solve the case of the death of a porn star, and soon find themselves on the hunt for a missing girl.

Review: Everyone loves a story about a detective, or a private investigator. Stories such as these are packed into popular culture with the many portrayals of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock coming to mind. So often you think of these private investigators as good guys, doing a job for the good of the community, investigating crime and so on. Yet in the case of the comedy duo at the centre of the new film from Shane Black, as the film’s poster suggests, they’re really not nice guys, but they do try to make the world a better place and are given the chance to do just that when a case falls into their hands.

Shane Black’s last directorial outing, Iron Man 3, was a little bit different after his smash hit and directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but here he returns to that genre with great aplomb. It’s 1977 Los Angeles, and our two detectives Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) become involved in the hunt for a missing girl named Amelia, whose disappearance leads to a whole series of interconnected events that are occurring. The duo are the most unlikely partners and given how their first meeting goes, it is somewhat amazing that they agree to work together. Yet this makes their relationship all the more interesting, and hilarious to watch as their efforts to crack this case develop.

The script, penned by Black and co-writer and Anthony Bagarozzi, is absolutely hilarious. The laughs are packed throughout the run time of the movie, which may be odd given the nature of the story about a missing girl, but they make it work, they make it work very well. Part of that is down to the chemistry between Gosling and Crowe, their characters are completely opposite to each other in terms of their methods, but as they say opposites do attract and it’s certainly applicable here. The daughter of Gosling’s character, played by Angourie Rice is also excellent. Young actors can be the kiss of death in movies, but she is not the kiss of death in the slightest. The script also keeps you hooked as you watch the case develop and see all the clues that they acquire gradually form the big picture.

While Iron Man 3 is far from the greatest Marvel movie ever made, Black showed there that he certainly knows how to handle action sequences, and he demonstrates that here once again. There are some gripping and tense shootout scenes, packed with some terrific camerawork, that again manage to weave humour into them and it’s done very well indeed. Black from his previous written works certainly knows the genre well and how to make it pretty damn entertaining.

There are some characters that you would have maybe liked to have seen a bit more of, but it cannot be denied that Black has come up trumps with a very witty, hilarious and original piece of film-making, packed with some great performances, that will have you laughing all the way through.

Brilliantly funny, with great lead performances from Crowe and Gosling, with an amazing script, the King of the Buddy Cop movies is back on his throne!

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Nightcrawler (2014)

nightcrawler_poster1
Image is property of Bold Films and Open Road Films

Nightcrawler – Film Review 

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm.

Director:  Dan Gilroy

Synopsis: A man desperately seeking work finds himself a unique opportunity to get into the world of LA crime journalism, as he gets more and more into it, he ventures into a dark and dangerous world of crime.

Review: The news, something that many of us pay a very close attention to, and has a deep impact on many lives across the globe. Every day, we see stories from across the globe that trigger reactions in all of us. Crime stories in particular often have the most impact on people as they usually take deep root, particularly when innocent victims are attacked and struck down in what may seem unprovoked assaults. As it is told in the movie “think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the streets with her throat cut.” The media thrives on these sorts of stories, and in particular the TV news plays its part in bringing these stories to life, especially through TV news. In the city of Los Angeles, one man happens to find his calling.

Lou Bloom is a dark and twisted individual, portrayed excellently by Jake Gyllenhaal. This man possesses an incredible personality and an insatiable desire to achieve great things. When he stumbles upon an accident and finds someone filming it for TV news for profit, he finds what he knows he was born to do. Thus he sets out to become a “nightcrawler” and develops a strong ability for this unique career, to the point where he gets too good it at it, so much so that he meddles in criminal activity to get the perfect shot, or sabotage his rivals so it is his shot that gets the news studio’s approval and thus he can get the big story on the TV news and earn that big pay cheque to go with it.

Through his pursuits, he develops a grand ego and spectacular self-delusion, he hires an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and immediately, there is talk of him and his company and his ego just gets bigger and bigger. Through all of his arrogance, you want to hate him, but you really just cannot bring yourself to do so. Through his extreme of confidence, he doesn’t hold back in demanding what he wants, even though in some cases he cannot have it, and in that, there is almost a desire to root for him as he goes from once crime scene to the next. Yet at many points he turns into a dangerous psychopath that you probably should not root for. Enter Rene Russo as TV boss Nina, who’s out looking for any footage she can to splash all over the TV news that day.  When he has what she needs, he senses an opportunity to either get a pay rise or make sexual advances on her and will seek to do anything he can to get that ultimate goal that he desires, to be the best man in his field. His exploits do not make you like him, or the way he treats people particularly Nina, but yet his confidence and sheer self-ambition ensure your interest in him does not waiver and despite his blunt walk of talking to people and his extreme self-confidence, he keeps you interested.

Through his various screenwriter endeavours, writer/director Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut, brings us a dramatic character driven story with a fantastic script that bagged him an Oscar nomination for original screenplay and a well-deserved one at that. The streets of LA are looking vibrant and bright as well as they since 2011’s Drive came along. He handles the intense action scenes very well, it is riveting and pulsating cinema that just keeps the audience engaged and reminds them what it is like to view a film, in a cinema in all of its dazzling glory.

What is more, it reminds you that despite the dominance of superhero movies, young adult novels and reboots and continuation of many a popular franchise that mesmerising, unique and outstanding stories are still being brought to the big screen.  Though it only scooped the one Oscar nod, it arguably could and should have another for Gyllenhaal’s outstanding performance, nevertheless despite its significant lack of award nominations, it has much to say for itself. A magnetic screenplay with terrific acting and exquisite directing, watching the news will never quite be the same again.

With a brilliant screenplay, terrific performances with a career best from Gyllenhaal, this is a visually explosive thriller that ensures the news will never be seen in quite the same light again. 

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