film

Review: Bad times at the El Royale

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, “Bad times at the El Royale” is a thriller set at the El Royale, a hotel that straddles the state lines between California and Nevada, while housing a number of guests with pasts as mysterious as the hotel itself. It’s a shame this film didn’t find its audience at the box office, it grossed only a pittance over seven million during its opening weekend, because I loved this film. The cast is the single greatest asset of the film, but the writing, cinematography, and twisty turns that the plot takes are also incredibly well executed. Much like Quentin Tarantino in the compartmentalization of the story beats with reveals and flashbacks, not to mention some classy stylistic choices, Goddard perfectly poises the seven strangers that collide into each other’s lives that day at the past-its-prime establishment. Each character has a past that clearly identifies their motivations and intent- but the film strings along it’s secrets at the perfect pace to keep the audience on edge and curious as to what the hell is happening at any interval.

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Set in the late 1960’s, the film opens with motown R&B singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) and Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) making small talk on their way into the hotel. Upon crossing the threshold they find an empty lobby, with the exception of fast-talking vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) searching the cupboards for coffee. Eventually the young and anxious concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is successfully summoned and begins to dole out room keys before the last guest, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), arrives abruptly- with a hearty nonchalant attitude.

Once everyone is introduced and acquainted the film is split into vignettes concerning each room and its tenants. Every character has their own goals throughout the film and as each is unveiled the timeline of overlapping events becomes clearer. The standout performances of the cast were Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn and Cynthia Erivo’s Darlene Sweet. Erivo was a breakout talent here with heart and a crystalline wit about her- she won’t suffer any fools, not anymore. Bridges’ tragic Flynn has more to his tale then he lets on, but then again every character involved does. Chris Hemsworth’s Billy Lee steals the show once he enters the frame, though he isn’t present until the third act is underway. A self absorbed cult leader channeling the likes of Jim Jones and Charles Manson, Billy Lee’s appearance is due to the actions of Ruth (Cailee Spaeny), a younger woman in her late teens seemingly obsessed with the cultist, who also appears to be kidnapped by the ever cynical Emily.

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I don’t want to dive too deep into the plot details, mainly because I believe that this is one of those films that’s better with less information going into the movie, but also because there’s a lot to unpack with each new character’s introduction and all of the secrecy that accompanies them. If you enjoy a good mystery based in the world of a crime thriller, you’ll probably enjoy your time with this film. This is the kind of movie that I tend to gravitate towards, but not everyone will appreciate the slow burn approach to this tale either. At roughly two and a half hours, this film is a bit beefier than most concerning runtime- but I personally thought the pacing and intrigue was executed well enough to never lose interest. I can only speak to my own experience though, as I’ve heard the runtime negatively effected some viewers opinions.

Final Score: Seven strangers meet under serendipitous circumstances

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film

Review: Pacific Rim – Uprising

Written by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin, and Steven S. DeKnight and directed by DeKnight, “Pacific Rim Uprising” is the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s initial film featuring giant robots fighting giant monsters in 2013. Uprising takes place ten years after the end of the first film and focuses on the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, Jake (John Boyega). As the film likes to point out on several occasions, Jake is not his father, and there’s a feeling that the screenwriters’ would like you to measure your expectations as this film is not Guillermo’s either. Which isn’t to say that the sequel isn’t fun, it has plenty of giant robot fighting action to sate the core audience, rather the film simply lacks the stylistic touches that Guillermo brought to the genre film the first time around. When the action does begin though, it is pure genre fun.

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This film has a harder place to begin with than the first, how do you follow up cancelling the apocalypse after all? Set during a rebuilding post-war society, there’s less inherent drama to drum up the tension, so the focus falls to Jake and his run in with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) a young upstart Jaeger engineer who’s built her own pint-sized mech. While Jake had reaped the benefits of a broken world on the black market, Amara had built something from it- illegally though. When they’re both caught and turned in, they are given a choice, recruit to the PDCC (Pan Pacific Defense Corps) or imprisonment. Once they arrive at the shatterdome the story follows some atypical Top Gun style cadet infighting with Scott Eastwood using his father’s likeness to great effect as the lead Ranger Nate Lambert (Jake’s former Jaeger co-pilot) before turning our attention to the returning characters from the first film.

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Gratefully, one of the best attributes of this film is that it very much lives and breathes in the world created by the first “Pacific Rim”. The quirks and peculiarities of the first are kept in place, each Jaeger still needs two pilots who need to be drift compatible in order to pilot them, the headquarters of each base the PDCC runs are still called shatterdomes, there are even a few breaches and plot points from the first film that come back in surprising- but spoilery– ways that I feel would be best discovered through a watch of Uprising itself. Speaking of twists and turns, I won’t divulge the details, but I personally found them to be delightfully weird and a fun contribution to the world of Pacific Rim as a whole.

Now, as for the downsides of the film, there’s a noticeable lack of style and atmosphere that the first film was steeped in. There was a few questionable choices throughout the story as well. While Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler (Charlie Day), and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) all return in various scenes, the lead from the first film, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), is only mentioned once. His absence from the story is never explained whatsoever, not even a line to say that he’d died in-between films. Another equally confusing decision is the lack of use of the score, or theme, from the first film. It’s brought back for one short montage and never noted on again- which is a shame as the first one used that signature theme as often as possible and helped to craft the tone of the film. Another palpable vacancy is the sense of scale and weight that accompanied the Jaegers and Kaiju in the first film. They were gigantic, yes, but slower in movement while the angles and framing accented the towering nature of these behemoths. Uprising certainly has gigantic and thrilling action sequences, but the Jaegers here are so unrealistically nimble and graceful in their actions that immersion becomes more of an afterthought to the Power Rangers style choreographed fight sequences. My last nitpick here is of the flat lighting. Which, yes, might seem incredibly nitpicky of me, but while this provides admittedly more visual clarity during some fight scenes, it speaks to the overall theme of lacking atmosphere and the touches of artistic quality that comes from a more deft filmmaker.

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Overall I have to say I honestly really enjoyed “Pacific Rim Uprising”. It might not have everything that made the first film special, but it certainly has a lot of what works in this genre of movies- beautiful special effects and lots of visually stunning fight scenes. The film introduced some good new characters and an intriguing evolution to the mythos that I didn’t expect. You probably already know if this is a film you’d enjoy or not, but if you liked the first film, this is a solid sequel- even with a few detracting factors.

Final Score: 3 Kaiju, 4 Jaegers