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Film Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

“This Is Not A Place For A Priest, Father. You Shouldn’t Be Here…”

Written and directed by the excellent Drew Goddard, the mind behind the likes of Cabin in the Woods and Netflix’s first season of Daredevil, Bad Times at the El Royale bundles together an abundance of top-notch actors within the confines of a script which mixes together an Agatha Christie-esque air of neo-noir mystery with a very obvious nod to the quirky and wordy works of Quentin Tarantino. Set in the dying embers of the late 1960’s, the majority of the action takes place within the lifeless, unkempt eeriness of the titular hotel, one straddled with history and echoes of a previous life involving the rich and famous but now suffering from a lack of custom primarily due to a newly founded inactive liquor license. As soon as the film’s colourful band of characters slowly check themselves in however, the presence of the murky collection of cats including Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Catholic Priest, Donald “Doc” O’Kelly, Dakota Johnson’s (Fifty Shades Freed) rebellious young Emily and Jon Hamm’s (Tag) travelling vacuum salesman, Seymour Sullivan, result in the mysteries of the hotel and the secrets of its’ guest’s unraveling with particularly violent and menacing ends.

Whilst Goddard has proven to be successful in the past with work which has always remained entertaining and interesting, even if at times not exactly for everyone, Bad Times at the El Royale is unfortunately the American’s first cinematic turkey, an excruciatingly overlong and plodding mess of a movie which although begins in intriguing fashion, fails to warrant almost two and a half hours worth of your time as it drags its’ way towards a finish line without any real sense of purpose or point. Whilst the film does boast a healthy selection of well-executed dialogue heavy set pieces alongside excellent central performances from the likes of Bridges and Cynthia Erivo’s wandering soul singer, Darlene Sweet, as the film crosses over the hour mark, the over-reliance on wasteful backstory and wandering narrative stretches result in a painful longing for the action to come to some sort of meaningful end. Enter Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Infinity War), whose appearance come the ninety minute mark as a curly haired, spiritually baffling and overzealous cross between Charles Manson and Jim Morrison, meant the film then decides to go on for another excruciating forty five minutes, concluding with a soppy and rather weak attempt at humanising a particularly annoying character and then finally ending with a final gasp of saintly praise as I left my seat and headed to the exit. Whilst not totally awful, Bad Times at the El Royale is a simple case of style over substance and made me check IMDB pretty quickly to see if an editor was actually hired at all to do a decent job. On inspection, Lisa Lassek, you are in my bad books.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: The Big Lebowski

“Let Me Explain Something To You. I Am Not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m The Dude…”

Unbelievably, The Big Lebowski is twenty years old. As we all hide under our bed sheets and weep at the quick turn around and passing of two decades, Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult comedy classic returns to cinemas for one night only, offering the chance to witness the iconic presence of Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski stroll around 1990’s Los Angeles slobbering White Russian’s and dozing around in flip flips upon the big screen. With the Coen’s undoubtedly supplying some of the best examples of  modern cinema throughout the past three decades, with Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis and No Country For Old Men being my personal favourite trio, The Big Lebowski has always remained the primary Coen release which a high percentage of cinephiles always relate to the swiftest. Whether it be the film’s endless array of quotes which falls only second to Pulp Fiction in terms of hit count from the 90’s, the hilarious comedic performances from its’ brilliant cast or the tonal balance between crime, drama and zaniness, The Big Lebowski is indeed endlessly watchable and thoroughly entertaining but ultimately does fall short of being masterpiece as it remains the one Coen release which still hasn’t completely and entirely won me over.

With a narrative which becomes entangled within a eclectic array of plot threads which seems to mirror the care-free, bohemian nature of the film’s leading Lebowski, the Coen’s movie centrally focuses on a bizarre case of mistaken identity as Bridge’s The Dude is introduced in a hilarious attempt to procure funds on behalf of Ben Gazzara’s (Dogville) criminal overlord Jackie Treehorn. With the real Lebowski being uncovered as David Huddleston’s (Blazing Saddles) wheelchair bound millionaire, The Dude quickly becomes embroiled in kidnap plots, bowling tournaments and the over-bearing, manic nature of John Goodman’s (Argo) Walter, whose on-screen relationship with Steve Buscemi’s (Reservoir Dogs) Donnie undeniably ranks up there with one of the most misunderstood bromances of the modern era. Whilst the laughs and giggles are quick-quipped and constant and the performances all fall into a Coen-inspired level of ripeness, The Big Lebowski still to this day remains on the zanier side of the Coen’s back catalogue, and even when the film is nowhere near the sheer wackiness of The Hudsucker Proxy or Burn After Reading, the Coen’s most famous venture still remains slightly too overbearing to be considered at all in any way flawless, but with a rewatchability factor which makes it undeniably entertaining, The Big Lebowski is back for one night only and deserves to be admired once again. Yeah, well, that’s just like, my opinion, man.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Only the Brave

“No Matter What You Hear Or What’s Going On, Stay Together…”

Directed by American filmmaker Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion), Only the Brave tells the dramatic and heartbreaking tale of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters who in their attempts in thwarting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013 became American heroes and the subject of Sean Flynn’s GQ article “No Exit” of which Kosinski’s movie is based upon, and whilst the American’s previous forays into the world of science fiction cinema have been somewhat laboured, the same cannot be said for his ability in the genre of biographical dramas, with Only the Brave being a slow-burning, character-driven tale of heroism and bravery which follows in the footsteps of Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day by being effectively crafted without ever falling into the realms of schmaltziness or cliche. Working with an ensemble cast which includes a reunion with Jeff Bridges and the likes of Josh Brolin and Miles Teller, Kosinski uses the ultimate conclusion of the tale to full emotive effect by using the bulk of the movie to develop meaningful relationships and characteristics, ranging from Miles Teller’s Brendan’s evolution from junkie to father to Josh Brolin’s “Supe” who uses the thrill of his occupation to fill the gap left behind by a previous illegal pastime.

Whilst the movie does suffer slightly from being twenty minutes too long and sometimes not using the likes of Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly to full effect considering their pedigree as actors, Only the Brave chooses instead to focus primarily on Josh Brolin and Miles Teller’s characters, particularly in regards to their respective personal issues and familial ties, and whilst this sometimes leaves other members of the team to come across as simply window dressing, the performances of both hold the key to the film’s successes, with the contrasting final arc of their tale bringing the previous development together to a nicely cropped end which will leave even the most thick skinned audiences gasping with a sense of awe and shock, particularly in one of the film’s final shots when we see our heroes’ family members waiting together in a staggering state of uncertainty. Mixed together with a soundtrack which ticks all the boxes in terms of greatness, with the likes of Pearl Jam, AC/DC and Metallica all making a welcome appearance, Kosinski’s movie manages to be both an excellent homage to the true heroes of the tale and a menacing thrill ride at the same time and with central performances at the top of their game, Only the Brave is an excellent piece of biographical cinema.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

“Manners. Maketh. Man. Let Me Translate That For You..”

Arguably being the director responsible for the rise of Daniel Craig as the world’s greatest British secret agent due to his successes with Layer Cake back in 2004, Matthew Vaughn’s successful trip with the Kingsman series returns this week with The Golden Circle, a star-studded action sequel which follows on from the fanfare of the first by being a film fundamentally addicted with the Bond series and all its’ many pleasures, but too a sequel which is primarily focused on the excesses evident within arguably the worst Bond films in the canon, releases which chose CGI surfing and invisible cars over any form of substance, and whilst The Golden Circle does boast a returning Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, there is too few elements to enjoy within the space of a two hour-plus movie which follows the common trends of the sequel by being not at all in the realm of critical greatness as its’ predecessor. Whilst the first film did have a variety of flaws, including a crass, laddish undertone which attempted to derail the film completely, The Golden Circle goes one further in mediocrity and suffers fundamentally from elements which so easily could have been avoided, particularly when admiring the previous works of director, Matthew Vaughn.

Of the many elements which do not work, the chauvinistic, sexist portrayal of female characters which began slightly in The Secret Service continues to an extent within The Golden Circle, a particular flaw which makes Roger Moore’s treatment of women in his respective Bond films seem gentlemanly beyond belief. Whether it be a completely twisted and jarring scene of sexual spy implementation rape in a Glastonbury tent or the total lack of substance for characters portrayed by the likes of Halle Berry and Sophie Cookson, The Golden Circle is ran by a script which simply doesn’t care for its’ characters whatsoever, and with the return of Colin Firth after his death in the previous movie, the film suffers too from a complete lack of peril or fear due to the notion that a bullet wound to the head can simply be fixed by magical glue. With fight scenes a-plenty which are just CGI-fueled mania, Julianne Moore arguably giving her worst performance ever and Elton John popping up to add humour to proceedings, The Golden Circle is an absolute mess of a movie, but one which is somewhat redeemed by flashy editing, a cucumber cool soundtrack and a solid leading performance from Taron Egerton but ultimately a sequel which still manages to be the lesser body of work when compared to its’ predecessor. Shame.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Hell or High Water

“We Ain’t Stealing From You. We’re Stealing From The Bank…”

Much like Bone Tomahawk, which reaffirmed the cult status of the legend that is Kurt Russell, Hell or High Water, the latest from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan and Starred Up director David Mackenzie, above all, highlights the power of the cinematic pro, those that have been in the game for so long, that you know, if given a decent script, are going to bring their A-game to the floor and pull it out of the bag. In the case of Hell or High Water, that pro is Jeff Bridges who brings his most True Grit performance since, well, True Grit, as rugged police chief Marcus Hamilton, unsure of the notion of his impending retirement when news of numerous bank robberies bring him swiftly back into the action alongside trusted colleague, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Flip on to the other side of the coin however and we thrown into the lives of Toby and Tanner Howard, portrayed majestically by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who are the cause of such crimes in order to align their families’ financial difficulties amongst a seemingly despaired and depressing West Texas. Like Sicario last year, scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan has once again pulled off an intelligent and thought-provoking crime thriller, one which understands the impact of subtlety and the power of effective characterisation.

Where many of this years’ summer blockbusters have simply failed due to a sublime lack of any sort of residual quality, intelligence or fundamental originality, Hell or High Water is the perfect film to combat the pains of the past two months or so with it being a well-scripted, flawlessly acted work of drama which attempts to portray each side of the law, each with their own necessities and issues, with each given equal screen time to build up an efficient level of depth in order to sympathise and care for these characters in the space of only 100 minutes. Where Sicario was a film seeped in ambiguity and became a much darker entity for it, Hell or High Water is for the most part, a laid-back western bromance, with humorous banter and jet-black humour not only adding to the characterisation but to the audiences’ perception of a plausible, true-crime drama which could perhaps be regarded as some sort of realism within the financial uncertainty of the 21st century. Of course, when the violence ensues, it is observed with sheen and calculative efficiency, something of which was sorely missing from the whirlwind-editing of the recent summer blockbusters. Hell or High Water is the type of movie which puts its’ larger and bigger hyped Hollywood cash-cows to shame; it’s a proper, hard-edged drama with top-end acting and a superb script, showcasing the ever-increasing talents of writer Taylor Sheridan. Ironically, Hell or High Water is this year’s Sicario, just with a lighter touch.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Seventh Son

Unlucky Number Seven

Julianne Moore. Oscar Winner. Jeff Bridges. Oscar Winner. Kit Harrington. He knows nothing. In terms of an A-List cast, Seventh Son does pretty well, with it even having the chance to show off rising star Alicia Vikander who seems to be in absolutely everything this year, from Ex Machina to Testament of Youth alongside Jon Snow himself.  Based upon the novel, The Spook’s Apprentice, something of which I was unaware of before watching the film, Seventh Son tells the tale of seventh son of the seventh son Tom Ward, played by Prince Caspian’s Ben Barnes, who is taken under the wing of Jeff Bridges’, John Gregory, the legendary “spook”, who is tasked with defending humanity from the dark supernatural forces around them, including Julianne Moore’s Mother Malkin, the renowned evil blood-magic witch. With such a cast, and a pretty cool premise including all the mystical tropes of dragons, witches and sword-fights, Seventh Son has to be nothing short of amazing, surely? Erm. no. It really isn’t.

Firstly, from the kick-off, Jeff Bridges is incomprehensible. Imagine Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, mashed together with a drunk Billy Connolly and that’s pretty much how Bridges has chosen to play this particular role, although, to be honest, none of what he says really matters throughout the 100 minutes run-time, with the script being unbelievably dull and the characters even more so, particularly Barne’s, Tom Ward, who will take some beating to not win worst and, or, most forgettable main character in a film released this year. Truly awful. As for newly crowned “Best Actress”, Julianne Moore, her performance as the witch/dragon/thing antagonist has made me think twice whether she was right to gain such an award earlier this year. In my opinion, Moore and “Best Actor”, Eddie Redmaybe, both made secret pacts with Hollywood that involved both of them being given Oscars as long as they performed as bad as they could at being baddies in other films released this year.

Talking of Eddie Redmayne and Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son at least has one up on the latter by having rather enjoyable action sequences throughout, particularly in ones when the General Grievous/Kali-esque warrior is present, but Seventh Son is definitely at the level of the abomination that was Jupiter Ascending earlier this year. It’s dull. It’s badly CGI’d. It’s a total waste of time. There was talk of Seventh Son being turned into a franchise for the future. If that franchise is going to be at this level however, don’t waste your time lads and lasses. Wait for Star Wars.

Overall Score: 4/10