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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: Tag

“We Lose! He Beat Us! The Game Is Over..!”

Beginning his big-screen career with a collection of Hollywood stars and a mildly comedic central gag to play with, debutante director, Jeff Tomsic, adapts Russell Adams’ 2013 article, “It Takes Planning, Caution To Avoid Being It”, an account of a true story published in The Wall Street Journal which focused on a group of life-long friends who spend one month each year playing the titular game of tag with overly dedicated and sophisticated measures in order to succeed. With a band of usual American comedy suspects including Ed Helms (Father Figures), Hannibal Buress (Blockers) and Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street), Tomsic’s movie follows the reunion of four particularly immature friends as they team up in order to finally “tag” Jeremy Renner’s (Captain America: Civil War) swaggering, soon-to-be married Jerry before his self proclaimed retirement at the end of their chosen month in which the game takes place. With a handful of child-like slapstick set pieces, seething bromantic chemistry and an overarching sensibility which relies on its’ audience to be as similarly immature as its’ leading characters, Tag is indeed a solid comedic winner, one which although suffers slightly from a violently overstretched central gag and a couple of strange narrative add-ons, works due to a likeable array of personalities and sharp, well-timed gags which managed to make even this hard chestnut giggle with childish amusement.

With an opening act which introduces the central relationship between Helms’ Hogan Malloy and Jon Hamm’s (Baby Driver) Bob Callahan, a successful businessman who hides his inner paranoia and low self-esteem behind sharp suits and formal haircuts, the movie’s first set piece in which Malloy takes a job as a janitor at Callahan’s place of work in order to tag him pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with the zippy one hundred minute runtime being crammed with slapstick inspired chase sequences which move from golf courses to wedding receptions as particular characters attempt to evade the embarrassment of being it. With Renner as the self-proclaimed master of the game whose transition from child to adult has remained free of ever being tagged, his planned wedding is the battleground for one last attempt, and whilst Renner is only used sparingly at times in favour of the core quartet of friends, his performance is joyously entertaining, with Renner clearly embracing the sheer nonsensical nature of the script which he is working with. With a concluding attempt to pull at the heartstrings, the movie does finish on surprisingly rank terms, particularly when the tone of the movie pretty much throughout is utter silliness, but within the rather middling genre of contemporary American comedies, Tag is trashy fun which passes the time rather neatly.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Baby Driver

“The Moment You Catch Feelings Is The Moment You Catch A Bullet…”

Of all the rare successful exports of sunny, sunny Dorset, director Edgar Wright is undeniably up there with the best the South West has had to offer within the 20th century, and whilst his humble beginnings with the likes of the Simon Pegg starring Spaced gave Wright the opportunity to begin his venture into stardom through the medium of televised entertainment, his crowning jewel is indeed the triage of movies within the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy”, a series of successful movies which began all the way back with Shaun of the Dead in 2004 and continued with Hot Fuzz and The World’s End in 2007 and 2013 respectively. Emerging once again into the cinematic spotlight, Wright returns with Baby Driver, a star-studded action comedy led by the likes of  Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, and a movie which overtly revels in a superbly crafted jukebox soundtrack, a collection of musical accompaniments which acts as the cornerstone for both the narrative and the development of the film’s titular leading character, resulting in a blockbustingly entertaining thrill ride which features all the tricks and twists you expect from an Edgar Wright film, albeit one which is slightly lacking in a similar level of charm which has encompassed his earlier work.

With an opening set piece which sets the standard for the rest of the action ahead, the audience is swiftly introduced to the life of Baby (Ansel Elgort), an ultra-skilled, high-speed driver who alongside suffering from a hard case of tinnitus, is caught under the thumb of Kevin Spacey’s crime boss, Doc, a softly spoken, calculating Joe Cabot figure who forces him to carry out heist after heist in order to pay off a substantial debt. Using music as both a blockade to its’ leading character’s ailment alongside acting as a bedrock of carrying out the film’s narrative, Baby Driver is undeniably an audience pleasing joy-fest, one which wins on a surreal number of levels through its’ constant supply of rib-tickling humour, brilliantly measured OTT acting and action set pieces which prioritise practicality and stunt work over the CGI overkill which tends to encompass many so-called contemporary blockbusters. I mean really, who can beat a high-speed car and foot chase played out to the backdrop of Hocus Pocus by Focus? Whilst the ending set piece does seem a little too far-fetched and overlong, one which makes the final shootout of Hot Fuzz look like the lowest key fight scene ever, Wright has managed to bag himself another cinematic success, using his love of cinema and sound to create a film which will no doubt be as big a hit with audiences as it has been with critics, a rare combination to say the least.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Minions

And It Was All Yellow…

One of the many benefits of heading into my local cinema is to experience a wide range of movies which jump from one completely different genre to the next with my experience of watching Universal’s Minions being a prime example, with it undoubtedly unlocking the 7 year old child that is still inside of me and seemingly transforming all the bad energy in the world to a charming and quite bonkers 80 minutes. The fundamental existence of the minion character has always managed to make me crack a smile, regardless of how I felt at that certain time, meaning before even entering the cinema I was bound to at least like Pierre Coffin’s spin-off from the Despicable Me series, yet unfortunately for the cute little freaks, “like” seems to be the key word after watching Minions with it yes, being rather heartwarming and funny, but altogether not being pretty spectacular whatsoever.

After years of isolation from both the world and a evil leader to follow, Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob are tasked with leaving the confines of their cave in order to seek a new leader to follow in order to bring back the long-lost sense of purpose which has been taken from their race. During their journey, they are taken up by crime-lord Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, Gravity), who tasks them with stealing the crown jewels in return for the race of Minions to serve once again. In terms of the plot of Minions, not only does it lack originality and freshness, but it is also completely bonkers and thriving with quite huge plot holes, but hey, it’s a kid’s film with bald, yellow alien things, what do you expect? Yet the fact that such plot holes were even picked up reinforces my sadness at how just un-engaging Minions actually was, with an over-reliance of the Minions either falling over or making a complete tit of themselves wearing off and becoming rather quite tedious after the first 15 minutes or so.

On the upside of Minions, in places, it was rather funny, with the scenes in a rather rib-tickling overly stereotyped 1960’s London being the highlight of the film, with every English character seemingly all having exactly the same traits including drinking tea, eating scones, and shouting “cor blimey,” of which I found rather enjoyable. Overall, if a film such as Minions can just about hold a 21 year old’s attention for its’ short 80 minute run-time, then I’m pretty sure the kids will love it. Charming and funny in places, but lacking in originality and engagement in most, Minions passes the time, but don’t expect it to be loved as much as you would like.

Overall Score: 6/10