Movie Review ~ Bad Times at the El Royale

The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Nic Offerman

Director: Drew Goddard

Rated: R

Running Length: 141 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  After making a sizable splash with the super fun horror film The Cabin in the Woods and then netting a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his adaption of The Martian, Drew Goddard was clearly given a wide berth for his next project.  He was also evidently given final cut of the movie because Bad Times at the El Royale winds up clocking in at a staggering 141 minutes.  Now, I’m all for movies that take their time but they have to earn their running length and, while I enjoyed El Royale for the most part there are absolutely sequences that could be trimmed or removed all together to keep the film moving along.  This is, after all, a crime drama that sees a group of strangers converging on a motel that sits on the border of two states one rainy night.  Told from various points of view (it has a Pulp Fiction vibe to it) with each person adding a piece to a complex puzzle of deception, the movie worked far better for me than some of my critic colleagues and that’s totally fine.  It’s a movie that I think will play best in a home viewing instead of in a theatrical exhibition so you can stretch out and get comfortable.  Though it’s filled with A-listers like Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Dakota Johnson (Suspiria) and Jeff Bridges (Only the Brave), it’s actually newbies Cynthia Erivo (Widows), Lewis Pullman, and Cailee Spaeny (On the Basis of Sex) that manage to be the most memorable.  Worth a look.

Movie Review ~ Only the Brave

The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

Stars: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Andie MacDowell, Ben Hardy

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: It’s a good idea to go into Only the Brave without having seeing the trailer or knowing much about the true story that serves as the basis for the film. I say that because that’s how I found my way to the movie and I’m not sure I would have been as rapt as I was if I knew how it all turned out. Instead of being too informed as to what I was seeing, I was able to sit back and let this tale of heroism unfold without any pre-conceived notions. In a time when most movies arrive with spoiler-heavy fanfare, I took the viewing of Only the Brave as a rare opportunity to really experience the movie I was watching.

My grandfather was a firefighter for the city of Minneapolis so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for any movie/tv show that featured these courageous men and women running toward the flames as others were running away. Based on Sean Flynn’s 2013 article in GQ magazine, Only the Brave chronicles the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots founded in 2008 in Prescott, Arizona. The first half of the movie shows how this scrappy and at times unconventional crew established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Led by hothead Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice, never better) and mentored by town fire chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges, Iron Man, who finds time to sing as well!), the merry band of firemen had egos as big as their heart and formed a bond of brotherhood that couldn’t be broken.

Entering into the established crew is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now) a troubled kid just out of prison trying to get on the straight and narrow now that he has a new daughter to take care of. Struggling to find his place, Marsh takes him under his wing and soon he’s cutting his own path as a valued member of the group. He even makes nice with a former adversary (Taylor Kitcsch, John Carter) and the two men form a bromance that is a cornerstone of the picture.  Another strong bond on display is between Marsh and his equally headstrong wife (Jennifer Connelly, Winter’s Tale, in an award-worthy performance). The married couple bicker and reconcile often throughout the film, both wanting to better themselves but not understanding how to bring their partner along in stride. Brolin and Connelly have some of the year’s best chemistry, accurately portraying a complex relationship with unexpected layers that keep getting peeled away throughout the movie.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) and screenwriters Ken Nolan (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) pay great homage to the town and crew that are featured in their picture. As they go from town to town saving homes and landmark trees from wildfires that put them in harm’s way, a camaraderie develops not only between the men onscreen but with the audience watching their adventures. Stock up on your napkins before the movie starts because this one has moments that might make even the hardest tough guy shed a few manly tears.

The Silver Bullet ~ Seventh Son

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Synopsis: Young Thomas is apprenticed to the local Spook to learn to fight evil spirits. His first great challenge comes when the powerful Mother Malkin escapes her confinement while the Spook is away.

Release Date: February 6, 2015

Thoughts: In this day and age where movies are saturating the cinemas week after week, I’ve taken to not paying much attention when a film gets its release date moved in order to steer clear of getting lost in the wake of another. Still, with a film like Seventh Son it’s hard to ignore the smell of turkey from this wizards and witches saga based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. Some chalk up its long delay to the dissolution of a partnership between Warner Brothers and the production company Legendary Studios but I think it’s because the film looks positively goofy. I can’t for the life of me understand why Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) and Julianne Moore (Non-Stop) consented to this; though both actors have made some off-the-wall choices in between more celebrated works as of late. The day of reckoning for all will come in early February; I hope we have other things to distract us that weekend.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Giver

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Synopsis: In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.

Release Date: August 15, 2014

Thoughts: A bit surprising that it’s taken 20 years for Lois Lowry’s popular young adult novel to make it to the big screen…but not a total shock now that big budget films about seemingly utopian societies that reveal dystopian undercurrents are all the rage (see The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Host, and Divergent if you think I’m wrong).  Attracting an impressive cast including Oscar winners Jeff Bridges (Jagged Edge) and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County, Hope Springs), this has potential…unless audiences find themselves maxed out on this genre which may be reaching its saturation level.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Iron Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Leslie Bibb, Bill Smitrovich, Nazanin Boniadi, Micah Hauptman

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Though highly successful with their Spider-Man films, Marvel Studios had long tried to get a solid franchise started around The Avengers and it wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that things started to click.  After failing to start a fire with 2003’s Hulk, the studio treaded carefully until they saw an opportunity with Robert Downey Jr. to really take things to the next level.  The end result was truly the start of something great and five years later the character and the franchise are raking in the big bucks all over the world.

Iron Man was one of the comic book heroes that wasn’t much on my radar when the film opened in May of 2008 and I didn’t really get why the film was so highly anticipated.  Aside from seeing the character on the big screen, many fans knew that this really was the first film in a new series of planned superhero films that would culminate in a gathering of The Avengers.  All eyes were on the film when it opened and when it was so well received, a collective sigh of relief was heard from fans and studio bosses alike.

The success of the film can really be attributed to Downey Jr.’s well formed portrayal of mega-billionaire Tony Stark who becomes Iron Man after nearly losing his life in a terrorist plot that takes up a good 40 minutes at the start of the film.  These crucial 40 minutes have a lot of mileage to cover and for me the movie just skimmed along at the beginning.  When Stark returns to his life after a spectacular break-out is when the film really started to jive in my eyes with the script allowing more interaction with Stark and his surroundings as he hones a new idea about where his life is headed.

Most definitely an origin story that seems like more of a set-up for the films that would follow it, there’s still no denying that there’s a lot of excitement to be had in this first installment of Iron Man.  Downey Jr. is pretty excellent as the flawed anti-hero that comes into his own over the course of the movie.  There’s nice support from Paltrow and even if her role isn’t as developed as it would be in future films, she has a great rapport with Downey Jr. that feels right.  Director Favreau takes a small role for his own and one wonders why he even bothered because there’s not much for him to do.  Knowing now that Don Cheadle would replace Howard as Stark’s best friend, it’s hard to give the peformance much of a review…only to say that Cheadle is much more suited to the role than Howard was.  Future Oscar-winner Bridges is the very essence of movie villainy but there’s a curious lack of danger as the film thunders toward a conclusion.

For an introduction to Tony Stark and the Iron Man world, this is a very entertaining film…even with some bugs in the system.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ R.I.P.D.

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Synopsis: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

Release Date:  July 19, 2013

Thoughts: After watching the trailer for this summer’s 3D sci-fi action comedy R.I.P.D. I have some good news and I have some bad news.  Ok…bad news first.  Though it’s an interesting concept this looks remarkably like a reboot of the Men In Black series and even though Men in Black III was a nice diversion I don’t think we need something so similar so soon.  Now the good news: I think the cast might just save this one with Oscar winner Bridges letting his hair down and allowing his accent to do most of the work.  Mary-Louise Parker is always an interesting addition to any film and she’s re-teamed with her RED director Robert Schwentke who knows his way around a tongue and cheek energized flick.  Ryan Reynolds hasn’t quite yet made it to proven leading man status and this might be the litmus test for how he fares in the future. 

Down From the Shelf ~ Jagged Edge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When an heiress is brutally murdered in her remote beach house her husband soon finds himself accused of her murder. He hires lawyer Teddy Barnes to defend him, despite the fact she hasn’t handled a criminal case for many years.

Stars: Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, Peter Coyote, Robert Loggia

Director: Richard Marquand

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review

This is a pulpy little thriller from the mid 80’s that probably was responsible for ushering in movies like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Final Analysis, Guilty as Sin, and countless other films where a protagonist is blinded by their animal attraction to someone that may be out to do them harm.

Almost thirty years after it was originally released (yikes!), revisiting Jagged Edge has become something of a yearly trip for me and I still enjoy it.  Time has been kind to the film, owing in large part to a restrained script from Joe Eszterhas (before he went over the, um, edge with the aforementioned Basic Instinct and, later, Showgirls) and two strong lead performances in Close and Bridges.

Before Close became known for playing unhinged women in a string of films, she was a reliable guiding force in whatever project she was working on and that’s true here as well.  Though her seemingly intelligent lawyer winds up doing a lot of stupid things, Close brings a class to it that’s hard to deny. 

Bridges handles the role of the widower accused of killing his wife for her money well and he rolls nicely with the twists that the movie doles out without hinting either way whether he’s guilty or not.  Loggia turned his foul-mouthed, wise-cracking private investigator working with Close into a deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and Coyote is appropriately blustery as a shady District Attorney.

Set along the Bay Area of California and several of its outlying coastal towns, Jagged Edge is directed just fine by Marquand (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi) but really benefits from an effectively dissonant score from John Barry and interesting cinematography courtesy of Matthew F. Leonetti.

The film chugs through many a red herring and courtroom drama mechanics in its journey to a decent but not wholly satisfying conclusion.  I’ve some thoughts about the wrap-up that I won’t go into here as it would spoil the ending for you and I don’t want to give it all away.  You see, even if the ending doesn’t totally work in hindsight the film succeeds because everything that leads up to it lands and lands well.  As far as movies of this ilk go, Jagged Edge easily rises to the top of the pile for me.