Hotel Artemis – Film Review

This film had a great trailer, a great cast, and a great concept, but is it another disappointment from this year? 

We’re in Los Angeles in 2028, and Jodie Foster runs the longstanding Hotel Artemis, a safe haven and hospital for criminals of all kinds (except paedophiles, serial killers and terrorists).  The city is barely surviving its worse ever riot, and when a bank robbery goes side-wards, Sterling K. Brown is forced to take himself and his brother to the Artemis.  They’re not the only visitors and are quickly tangled up in a whole mess of criminal plotting. 

Going into this film you can convince yourself that it’s going to be a simple thriller, and you would be wrong.  The film doesn’t revolve around one thing, one McGuffin, or one plot device.  There’s loads of them, and for the most of the film writer and director Drew Pearce is trying to set them up.  So that means quite a baggy middle, where your expecting cheap thrills but getting a lot of chatting, and emotion.  Thus, the film almost becomes a massive anti-climax, however thanks to a 94-minute run-time and some surprise ultra-gore the last 20 minutes are entertaining.  Which was a huge relief, because honestly I thought it was never going to get going. 

During that baggy middle there is a strong attempt for an emotional connection through the Jodie Foster character.  She’s likeable, and it’s nice to see Foster again, but her story was too familiar and predictable.  There’s a twist involving her past that wasn’t needed, and you don’t really care about her demons until the very end.  And fair enough to Pearce because it does get more touching as it goes on, it was just a bit dull?  A lot of the routes the film goes down were unoriginal, including some of the action, which lets the good concept down.  It’s like: here’s this exciting idea, about future criminal cultish stuff, but let’s just fill this world with things that everyone has seen in every crime movie ever.   

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Thankfully Pearce elevates his weak writing with some competent film-making.  The action isn’t shot amazingly, but it’s exciting enough.  Pearce uses violence well – it’s extremely strong and used in short bursts.  I was also a fan of the films look, especially when it changes its colour palette towards the end.  The characters are fun and well played.  Goldblum in anything is great, Charlie Day was very funny and Dave Bautista continues to impress.  Some critics have called the film lacklustre, and I would disagree with that because of how enjoyable little individual moments were. I was a bit confused by the films messages, and the film gets caught between being political and silly so who knows what they’re trying to say.  Overall the film is likeable, short and full of watchable people. 

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

Yes! 

Sicario 2: Soldado – Film Review

I never bought into the hype of the first Sicario, and saw it as a well-directed thriller with a strong central performance from Emily Blunt.  Did it need a sequel?  Probably not but there’s certainly stories to be found on the drug cartel and the Mexican border. 

Josh Brolin reprises his role as federal agent Matt Graver, and is tasked to start a drug war on the border in attempt to stop the cartels trafficking terrorists across to the US.  He’s given license by the US government to use any means necessary so he enlists the help of shady operative Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).  

The plot may seem a bit convoluted, silly and backwards, because it is.  Many critics have cited the film as right-wing propaganda, which I don’t think it entirely is, but it definitely stretches some racial political narratives to get the ball rolling.  And that makes the whole movie a bit uneasy, because spoiler alert, the film kicks off with a terrorist attack in a supermarket.  An attack that has no basis in reality, and pretty separate from the rest of the film.  So, what was the point exactly?  Other than to create some form of ultimate baddie and an excuse for some dirty tactics and killing later on.  It felt unneeded.  That aside the plot ends up properly straightforward, though quite irritating.  There are several moments that have no meaning, as the guys pulling the strings keep going back on themselves.  It was frustrating because the film lost all its narrative direction, with the constant starting and stopping. 

Despite this director Stefano Sollima does a good job of copying Denis Villeneuve’s style from the first movie, keeping the action sharp and subdued.  The action is thrilling and a nice break from the plot nonsense.  It’s a gritty movie, with a lot of death, which I wasn’t a massive fan of, but it’s directed well enough to make it pass.  Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are fine in the major roles, however they are playing very uninteresting characters.  They are bad guys, and seem to have no redeemable qualities so I didn’t care about them in the slightest.  Even the attempt to give Alejandro (Del Toro) depth didn’t land, because of how astronomically menacing he is.  The emotional connect with cartel boss daughter Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner) was there for a brief moment, but wasn’t written with much detail.  It’s amazing that this was penned by Taylor Sheridan, who I like, because the script lacked any sort of weight.   

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I don’t think the film is offensive because it’s obvious that everyone in the film are bad people, doing bad things and nothing is justified as a necessary evil.  However, the film didn’t have the good and idealistic Emily Blunt character to balance it out, or for a reason to be bothered, so it ended up being very dull.  Yet dull doesn’t mean boring, and the film wasn’t boring.  It has a few exciting scenes, and it’s patiently shot and acted.   

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

No, let a whole new host of people make a drug cartel movie that has a point to it. 

Hereditary – Film Review

Boy was I excited to see this one.  Horror films are the greatest genre when done right, and this film has been praised almost across the board from critics.  The trailer was incredibly enticing, and I entered the cinema anxiously, worrying about how much the film would scare me.  How disappointed was I?

Toni Collette stars as Annie, a miniatures artist, whose mother has just passed away.  Her husband and two children (one a young teenager, one an old teenager) are dealing with the death in their own ways, however in their mourning something more sinister appears to be going on.

This is a classic case of great form not equating to a great film.  On a technical level this film is outstanding, with perfect cinematography, tight writing, and high class performances.  However the film struggles to find a hook or a point of interest by the time it’s done.  And this was properly disappointing because I got about two thirds of the way through and was thinking: this is good, but this is it isn’t it – nothing more is coming.  There was no ‘grab you by the throat’ plot point, and ultimately the film lacked meaning.

Focusing on the positives though, it is an expertly crafted couple of hours.  The film is beautifully shot, with Wes Anderson esque framing, and low key natural lighting.  It parallels stylistically between Annie’s miniature models and reality well, and the opening shot (an example of this) is sublime.  The acting is top draw – Collette is brutally engaging as a very emotive and often deranged mother.  There is a moment where she lists all the crazy things that have happened in her family, and is so captivating because of her delivery.  Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff are brilliant as the children; Wolff in particular is starting to impress me with his range of teenage sadness (Patriots Day).  I was also a fan of the quieter father role, played by Gabriel Byrne as he effectively becomes the only hero of the film.  These actors in the drama are what the film gets right, over the horror stuff.

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However not that all of the horror stuff doesn’t work.  In fact a lot of it is unnerving, and spooky.  One scene involving a séance was the only real scene that got me on edge, but overall the film made me uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout.  It was a little lacklustre at times that’s all, and even though the themes of the film work, (mental health issues passed down through a family like a curse), they could have been delivered with more vigour.  And they could have unpicked more things that they set up, because without spoiling anything, I got the feeling there is a much more interesting road this film could have gone down.  If you’re into slow burn horror movies, you’ll enjoy this, but you might not love it like some critics do.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review

Something that Infinity War showed me was that a massive blockbuster franchise can be interesting, and can get me excited for what’s coming next.  I enjoyed The Last Jedi but it made me pretty much stop caring about what was coming next in the Star Wars universe – it made me stop caring.  There seems nowhere to go in the saga, and the spin-offs are looking backwards.  They are looking backwards at a character whose main attraction is their mystery, and seedy past.  Han Solo is one of the great movie characters, so why ruin it by explaining it all?  So it’s taken me a while to catch this, but now I have, not all of my worries came true.

One of the positives I’ve heard people say about this film is that it is fun, and I’d have to agree with that!  Yet it’s not out and out silly fun, and handles the tone well.  It’s fun where Rogue One sometimes wasn’t, and serious where sometimes The Last Jedi was too zany.  However I’m not going to only compare it to other Star Wars movies, because actually the film felt the most separate from the main saga – for the first time!  Even though it revolves around an iconic character of the franchise, the content was distant to the usual space opera affair.  It really does have a criminal and dirty aesthetic, away from the melodramatic Sci-Fi stuff which at times was bleak but I liked because it was consistent right the way through.  The film starts grey and ends grey.

All credit to Ron Howard for steering this ship into a more than competent directorial effort.  He was cited as a safe pair of hands, but the film actually has a lot of style.  The action sequences were exciting, cohesive and well put together.  I was a massive fan of how mechanical the film was; with everything having a meaning and a purpose.  Okay so the characters have got to get to a planet to get a thingy?  There’s a special route to the planet though, and we have to fix something so that we can carry the thingy.  This made the usual bore of the same plot more engaging, because it felt grounded in its problem solving.  It’s quite muted visually, which allowed the flair to come from the acting performances.  And I wasn’t expecting much.  Alden Ehrenreich was weird casting, but honestly I thought he nailed.  He’s given the odd bad line, and occasionally makes out of place decisions as Solo, however his imitation of Han is great.  Emilia Clarke on the other hand is a bit of a snooze, though her fraudulent acting doesn’t crumble the entire movie.  Paul Bettany is of course the best part of the film, with his villain being the perfect mix of polite and evil – he was probably more inspired as a baddie than Darth Vader to be honest.

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Not sure I could ask more than what the film gave me.  It’s the first modern Star Wars film that didn’t feel too long, and each set piece was a blast.  The range of minor characters were good company – Lando (Donald Glover) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) both charming.  Unfortunately the film lacks any form of true empathy, and any emotion presented felt forced, with any quieter dialogue coming across as phony.  I’m still waiting for another “I love you.” “I know,” moment.   Despite this I’m thankful that the film didn’t bludgeon the Han Solo character, and worked as a snappy adventure film.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

I was planning on saying NO whether the film was good or not, simply because the only way to gear Disney into new characters and stories is if these back story films stop making money.

Love, Simon – Film Review

This film’s first trailer was appalling, and I had no desire of seeing it till a couple of weeks ago.  It’s had good things said about it, and the last trailer made it seem more appealing.  Basically it’s another teenage comedy of age movie, except here the main character Simon is gay, but hasn’t told anyone yet.  On his school’s blog that reveals ‘secrets’ about its students, an anonymous poster comes out to the world.  In an attempt to not feel so isolated Simon begins emailing this student, and suddenly his immediate life starts to change.

I think it’s important to note that this film is a proper middle to upper class painting.  The American class system is strange, but the film revolves around well off kids, whose main problems are trying to get into Ivy League schools.  Their parents are good looking, happy, liberal and successful who obviously love their kids more than anything else.  This is fine, just a little soul-sucking, because middling USA is so uninteresting.  Teenagers going to Starbucks, performing in a school play, and going to tedious parties is boring, so the films setting is a little dull.

What keeps the film from getting stuck in that setting is its main character.  Nick Robinson as Simon is great, and likeable.  He’s laid back, smart and believable.  Some of the decisions he makes to get the plot going in the middle are frustrating, and thin, but Robinson’s acting is good enough that you enjoy being in his company.  Other than that the adults are the best thing about the film, with Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell as the teachers having the funniest moments.  Simon’s parents are also played well (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and they steal the emotional scenes late on in the film.  The other kids are fine, but aren’t given anything interesting to do.

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At times the movie is fun, and moves along nicely, then all of a sudden there’s some bad dialogue that had me cringing.  This happened a lot, and has ruined any thoughts of me wanting to see it again.  The character Martin (Logan Miller) was actually intolerable, and the film sort of relies on his involvement, which is a shame.  Though despite this the film worked on an emotional level, where the message of the film lands.  It’s about a young man struggling to open up to massive part of his personality, and I think how even in a progressive society it’s still hard to come out and feel accepted by the people around you.  This is all dealt with well, and the dramatic scenes that come from it have some punch.  It is also directed with some style, having some terrific cinematography throughout.  So it is an okay film that is schmaltzy, sometimes excruciatingly cheesy and often bland but with enough sentiment to save it.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Sure, I wouldn’t be rushing out to see it though.

Ghost Stories – Film Review

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film has a pretty big release.  A British horror, with a writer from Yorkshire, and produced by a company based in Sheffield.  It gives a different look to UK cinema on a mainstream scale, which is a good thing (probably).  The film stars Andy Nyman (who also writes and directs alongside Jeremy Dyson) as supernatural debunker Professor Phillip Goodman, who encounters three paranormal cases that may be unexplainable.  He goes through these ‘incidents’ and begins to unpick the people at the centre of them, however something is lurking on his own mind.

The way this is film is presented gives it a fluid, and loose feel.  At first it appears as a mockumentary, then it turns into a straight narrative, then soon it’s unclear who’s telling the story at all.  This worked because the film never got stuck into any of these zones, and it kept the film out of reality, which makes the supernatural elements more authentic.  These spooky events were spooky, thanks to the characters apart of them, and the way that they were shown.  Each case came with an interesting performance , the first being Paul Whitehouse as a sad working class man, then Alex Lawther as the misfit teenager, and finally Martin Freeman as the snobby high-flyer.  They all brought their own intrigue to the table, and were played superbly by the actors.  The ‘incidents’ themselves were bog-standard for a horror – some kind of attack in the dark that could possibly be put down as a mental break.  These scenes have their scary moments, but ultimately weren’t really terrifying.  They relied on quite a few jump scares, which are only annoying if that’s the only thing going on, and thankfully this film had a lot more going on.  It was the mystery of the situation, and the person, that made the cases engaging.

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As the movie proceeds, it gets more unhinged, and soon the intensity of the horror becomes something different.  This was an excellent progress of the narrative, and Andy Nyman in the central role guides this.  He’s good as the cynical psychic denier, who slowly questions himself as the film goes on.  It’s something we’ve seen before, but the payoff in this film was so satisfying for me, and it’s where the proper terror comes.  There’s a moment right at the end, where the film actually scared me, and it’s a piece of true horror.  I loved this, and enjoyed the film a great deal.  It’s well done, to a point where the narrative is perfectly paced, with a mix of credibility and mysticism.  The directing is great, from two first timers, with some brilliant lighting effects, and nice use of open cinematography.  If you are a horror fan, you can’t go wrong here, but more than that the film seemed to involve so much more than the poltergeist events, with lots of poignant subtleties (definitely a good thing).

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

YES!  This film ties in well with Journeyman (review here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/04/04/journeyman-film-review/) because that too was a ‘Screen Yorkshire’ film that I described as possibly not the best cinema experience.  Ghost Stories is one hundred percent a top cinema experience, and a good representation for what you can do with a decent budget in the UK.

* also in the screening of this, I was sat next to three awful people who were talking and making noise all the way through it.  Almost to a point where the middle case was a slightly lacklustre because I was distracted.  This has made me want to see the film again, on my own.

Blockers – Film Review

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a good track record as producers, and they’re the only pedigree that made me want to see Blockers.  A teen sex comedy, but with 40 year old wrestler John Cena as the lead didn’t particularly entice me.  Though after hearing some good things I decided to give it go.  At first it’s basically just Superbad, but with three girls trying to lose their virginity before they leave for college, instead of three guys.  However these three girls have protective parents (in their own particular ways) who are going try and stop this from happening.

Something to notice about most of the comedies Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are involved with, is that their heart is in the right place.  If you think about movies like The Night Before or Knocked Up, their emotional centres are good, and work in the narrative.  They are not total chaotic laughs, and usually have some form of family or friendship value to them.  This film is similar, where the love between the characters is present and it makes the film a pleasant viewing.  It’s hard not to keep a smile on your face, when it’s clear the parents love their kids, and the writings good enough that you believe all the friendships.  This comes directly from how well all the teenagers act.  Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon play the main three, and they have great chemistry.  Viswnathan is the best of them, and is charming throughout.

Unfortunately John Cena cannot act, however he is naturally funny.  And the film as a whole has a naturally funny feel.  Not all the jokes are original, smart or interesting but they come in as likeable.  It is a funny movie, and a couple of bits really got me going, from both situation and the actors.  Leslie Mann is hilarious in everything she is in, and had a fun connection with Cena.  The third parent Hunter, played by Ike Barinholtz, was actually a well rounded, engaging character who was also funny from his way of being.  I think this way of being comes from the writing, so props to Brian and Jim Kehoe, because the characters were humorous in different ways.

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Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut here, and it’s nice to have a female director with this kind of film, because we get a new perspective on the mainstream comedy (less masculine nonsense).  The directing in the end isn’t massively impressive, though the film does not look bad, and is never boring.  It did become that gross-out thing that I don’t enjoy, where Cena is put through something I wish on no-one – a scene that is dragged on for too long.  Most of the runtime is pretty funny though, and it’s a comedy so what more do you want.  It’s also just a nice film, about nice people doing stupid things, and I’m glad films like this are popular.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!