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: Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s latest film, “Baby Driver” hits theaters this weekend, and it doesn’t disappoint! While I may have come into the theater with a biased love of this director’s work, I believe it may be his most broadly accessible feature yet. The film still offers loads of winks and nods to those eagle eyed viewers with a heart of celluloid to catch and nod knowingly while still engaging in expertly crafted thrills set to a heart thumping soundtrack.

The film is set in Atlanta this time, a departure from Wright’s usual English countryside comedies, and begins with one of the most entertaining opening scenes in recent memory. We’re introduced to Baby (Ansel Elgort), the quiet yet calculated driver to a rotating crew of bank robbers and general degenerates, as he waits for a job to be completed while he taps and thumps and hums along to his personal soundtrack that’s set to the rhythm of the robbery. You may wonder during these few small moments as Baby joyfully thumps along to the music “Is this kid’s shtick going to become grating?” Hold. As soon as Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Griff (Jon Bernthal) trot back across the street and hop into Baby’s red Subaru, you’ll know whether you’re into this movie or not. The opening heist alone is a thing of beauty as Baby shows what he’s made of behind the wheel.

Baby is constantly listening to music, earbuds always in, even as the details of an upcoming heist are at hand. As Kevin Spacey’s Doc explains near the beginning, Baby was in a crash when he was young resulting in tinnitus, so he plays music all the time to drown out the ringing. Bats, an unpredictable criminal played chaotically by Jamie Foxx, doesn’t buy it. He calls the quiet kid out, but Baby effectively proves his observative nature and fine tuned attentive skills. Jon Hamm turns in a great performance as Buddy, he chews the scenery with a sort of grimy dignity and was a surprising delight among the cast. Lily James stars as Baby’s love interest Debora, a diner waitress sporting a familiar look if you’ve ever seen the first two seasons of Twin Peaks. While Debora is almost more of an idea than a fully fledged person, the characters do have a bit of that going on, but James and Elgort sell the romance well enough to do the film justice. The film’s downtime between heists focuses on the quiet nature of the lead and delves a bit into his background to give levity to the people Baby cares about in his own life.

Wright is chiefly invested in the music and sound editing of this film. Even when things turn sour and bullets begin to fly, the blast of bullets is set to the beat of the song at hand. Playfully edited to the beat, Wright’s precision here is music to the eye’s ears. The quick cuts and snappy cinematography that have permeated the director’s previous efforts are littered throughout this film. This film is genre at it’s finest. Curiously inventive and turning expectation on its head, this film is about style, music, and some killer getaway sequences. It’s been the most fun I’ve had at the theater so far this summer and I cannot tell people enough: Go see this movie! If you want more originality, more new ideas and stories in film, then please support original films when they’re showing, lest we become entrenched with the same old thing until the end of time.

Final Score: Three red cars & four cups of coffee