Bad Times at the El Royale

Still from Bad Times at the El Royale

Final­ly, last night, I watched Bad Times at the El Royale. Back when I first saw the trail­er, I thought it was an Evans movie for sure, but it end­ed up play­ing at the mul­ti­plex down the street instead, for all of two weeks. I man­aged to miss it. Now I regret not see­ing it on the big screen.

El Royale takes place at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, on the bor­der between Neva­da and Cal­i­for­nia. The bor­der lit­er­al­ly bisects the hotel. Rooms on the Cal­i­for­nia side are $1 more per night.

The movie opens with a priest, a singer, and a vac­u­um-clean­er sales­man try­ing to check in, one love­ly after­noon in 1969, but the clerk is nowhere to be found. Once they do track him down, a fourth guest appears, and she’s got some bag­gage. Well, they all have bag­gage, but the fourth woman appears to have kid­napped some­one.

Of course, this is a noir-ish thriller, and no one—not even the venue—is who they seem to be.

I quite enjoyed El Royale. It felt a lot like a Quentin Taran­ti­no movie, but it was writ­ten and direct­ed by Drew God­dard. God­dard man­aged to take all the good things about a QT movie—colours, music, sud­den vio­lent twists—and dis­card the end­less solil­o­quies. It real­ly makes for a tight, nasty thriller, and it’s just the thing I was look­ing for.

If you like vio­lence, secrets, thun­der­storms, ’60s music, and vio­lence, it might be just what you’re look­ing for too.

Head­er image from The Movie DB.

Christmas movies

still from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Is Die Hard the best Christ­mas movie? I dun­no, I’ve always leaned toward The Night­mare Before Christ­mas*, myself.

But this arti­cle makes a com­pelling point for oth­ers, too. I just re-watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in the sum­mer­time, dur­ing my writ­ing retreat. (How is that five months ago already? Man, time flies.)

[M]ost of his films [have a] fairy-tale like sheen, sim­i­lar to what makes Die Hard so suc­cess­ful. And mak­ing it Christ­mas in L.A. (which the major­i­ty of his films do), offers a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ty to the use of the hol­i­day on film.

—Emi­ly Ash­er-Per­rin, Die Hard is Great, but Shane Black is the King of Christ­mas Explo­sions

* Oh who am I kid­ding? Night­mare is sec­ond; A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas is first, even if it’s only about half an hour long.

The Old Man and the Gun

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

Last week­end I watched The Old Man and the Gun at the Evans The­atre. I loved it.



For­rest Tuck­er (played by Robert Red­ford) robs banks. We meet him as he’s rob­bing the lat­est one. He’s polite, he’s charm­ing, he’s got a gun that he shows the man­ag­er (but that we don’t actu­al­ly see till much lat­er). He makes his get­away, and after he’s switched cars he spies a truck bro­ken down on the side of the road. It’s dri­ven by Jew­el (Sis­sy Spacek), whom he offers a ride home (after the cop cars go scream­ing by, hunt­ing a get­away car he’s no longer dri­ving).

For­rest is in a gang with Ted­dy (Dan­ny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). The media dubs them the Over-the-Hill Gang. They don’t seem to need to rob banks, not for the mon­ey, at least; they seem to enjoy it.

(Aside: Teddy’s tragi­com­ic Christ­mas sto­ry was my favourite scene in the movie. It’s got noth­ing to do with the sto­ry, but it says some­thing about his char­ac­ter.)

Round­ing out the sto­ry is the police offi­cer John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who is deter­mined he’s going to be the one to nail the Over-the-Hill Gang. Will he suc­ceed? Will our plucky anti-heroes get away with their next heist? Will For­rest and Jewel’s meet-cute turn into some­thing deep­er? Watch the movie to find out. It’s worth it.

Few things in this movie are stat­ed out­right. What appears at first glance to be an old-timey hear­ing aid is more like­ly a police-radio scan­ner, and this rev­e­la­tion makes it eas­i­er to under­stand how Tuck­er man­ages his get­away in the open­ing scenes. As men­tioned, we don’t actu­al­ly see his gun for quite some time, and it’s unclear by the end of the film if he’s ever even loaded it, much less fired it. One of the cen­tre­piece heists isn’t even shown on-screen; we see a bit of the plan­ning, a lot of hand-wring­ing by the Over-the-Hillers (“Can we even do it? Is it worth try­ing? I can’t run near as fast as I used to”, etc), and then a news report about the crime as Tuck­er puts the loot into its hid­ing place.

It’s a fun movie, a fun­ny movie, and a sneaky, sly movie. I loved it.

I read recent­ly that Robert Red­ford decid­ed to retire after mak­ing The Old Man and the Gun because he want­ed to go out on a fun movie. I think he did a fine job.

Tomorrowland

Still from Tomorrowland

On the week­end I final­ly watched Disney’s Tomor­row­land. I sort-of remem­bered its the­atre run, which was under­whelm­ing (appar­ent­ly it lost over $100 mil­lion dol­lars, based on its pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing costs vs. its box-office take).

The sto­ry in a nut­shell: As a boy, Frank Walk­er goes to live in a retro-future par­adise, till he’s boot­ed out for some crime that remains unspec­i­fied until near­ly the end of the movie. He grows up into a bit­ter, bit­ter man (played by George Clooney). Mean­while, Casey (Britt Robert­son) might be the key to Frank’s return to Tomor­row­land, and also the key to, you know, staving off the seem­ing­ly inevitable end of the world. Fac­ing off against them is Nix (Hugh Lau­rie) and his army of skin­jobs Audio-Ani­ma­tron­ic robots.

I thought it was a decent movie, worth a watch, even if it was unsub­tle. The scene in the Texas col­lectibles store (Blast From the Past), where Casey squares off against evil AA ’bots Hugo* and Ursu­la, was chock­ablock with reminders that Dis­ney bought Star Wars. Some of the AAs were pret­ty creepy, espe­cial­ly the man­i­cal­ly-grin­ning leader of the Men-in-Black–styled “Secret Ser­vice” squad.

In a world that seems to pre­fer its enter­tain­ment on the grim & grit­ty side, opti­mistic SF is a hard sell. It has a ten­den­cy to come off preachy or heavy-hand­ed, and this movie didn’t man­age to evade those pit­falls. I’m still glad I watched it, though.

It’s an inter­est­ing com­pan­ion to Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays, which I read a few months ago, in that both explore the idea of alter­nate futures, espe­cial­ly the sorts of futures we seemed to expect in the 1950s (fly­ing cars! shin­ing tow­ers! per­son­al jet­packs!).


* Hugo Gerns­back, because of course.

Anomalisa

I went last night to the Evans The­atre to check out Anom­al­isa, which was an Oscar nom­i­nee in the Ani­mat­ed Fea­ture cat­e­go­ry.

anomalisa2

I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect what I got. The sto­ry is pret­ty sim­ple, in a way, but trip­pi­ly com­plex in anoth­er way. The way it’s told leaves it up to the view­er to fig­ure out cer­tain things, which I pre­fer to hand-hold­ing and spoon-feed­ing. The pup­petry / ani­ma­tion was amaz­ing; some­times it was solid­ly in the uncan­ny val­ley, oth­er times it was so life­like that I for­got these were pup­pets.

If you’re look­ing for a movie that makes you think, that makes you won­der, check it out. If you’re look­ing for the feel-good hit of the sum­mer, this may not be for you. (I’ve seen it called “hilar­i­ous” and “laugh-out-loud fun­ny”; I don’t agree. I did find some amuse­ment in it, but most­ly in the small details (“Try the chili!”, for instance), not in the broad­er sto­ry.)

 

Movie time

Tonight I watched about half of Man of Steel and all of WALL•E. I had nev­er seen the for­mer; I saw the lat­ter at the cin­e­ma.

The end cred­its of WALL•E are a bet­ter movie than Man of Steel, IMHO.

Action scenes

Ear­li­er this week I read an arti­cle on io9 about why you shouldn’t write action scenes, an arti­cle aimed at screen­writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those mak­ing big-bud­get action movies. Then this after­noon, I went to see one of the biggest action films cur­rent­ly in the­atres: Avengers: Age of Ultron.

From the arti­cle:

You don’t do an action sequence for the sake of doing a damn action sequence — you do an action sequence because it’s a new or more effec­tive way to advance your char­ac­ter or sto­ry.

Ultron fea­tured a lot — a lot — of action sequences. The bulk of them, to my eye, were action for the sake of action. A few of them — the mass fight at the start, for exam­ple — fea­tured some char­ac­ter build­ing. Among oth­er things, it estab­lished the team as an actu­al, cohe­sive team, and it showed the start of the Widow/Hulk sto­ry­line. But a lot of the lat­er action sequences were there, it seemed, to Make Things Explode. More than once I found myself won­der­ing when they were going to get back to the sto­ry. (That, or try­ing to cal­cu­late just how much mon­ey Stark’s rebuild­ing fund must burn through in a year. It’s got to be a lot.)

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. I liked it. It was a pleas­ant diver­sion. For a big stu­pid fun movie, it was decent­ly smart (though the whole plot hinged on a cou­ple of super­ge­nius sci­en­tists mak­ing some pret­ty bone­head­ed deci­sions).

Once more, quot­ing from the arti­cle:

Don’t write action sequences. Write sus­pense sequences that require action to resolve.

We’ll call Ultron a par­tial suc­cess there. Here’s hop­ing that the next film I see — slat­ed to be Mad Max: Fury Road1 — does as well or bet­ter.


Update: I watched Mad Max: Fury Road on the hol­i­day Mon­day. Even though the movie is one pro­tract­ed action scene (or maybe it’s more like a dozen or so action scenes, linked togeth­er with brief paus­es so the audi­ence can catch their col­lec­tive breath), it had more char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and sense of sto­ry than Avengers: Age of Ultron. So that’s a win.


  1. I appear to have a thing for com­mas2 colons in movie titles. 
  2. Typo. Gah! 

Tiens, cherchons le mot juste

Tonight, I watched a pair of amaz­ing home-grown doc­u­men­taries at the Evans The­atre: the 3rd film in the Warpaths tril­o­gy, sub­ti­tled Sil­ver Cross­es, for the memen­to received from the gov­ern­ment by moth­ers and wives of the men killed in action dur­ing the First World War; and Shaun Cameron’s Tales from the Eddy, a look back at Brandon’s famed Prince Edward Hotel, whose open­ing was delayed by the loss of its fur­ni­ture in the Titan­ic dis­as­ter, and whose igno­min­ious end could have (per­haps) been avert­ed if the list of pro­pos­als before City Coun­cil had been ordered dif­fer­ent­ly.

Warpaths: Sil­ver Cross­es, like its two pre­de­ces­sors, was an amaz­ing look at the effects of a glob­al con­flict on the lives of local folks (specif­i­cal­ly, the Bowes fam­i­ly of Bois­se­vain, MB). I enjoyed it immense­ly, as I knew I would. Kudos to Marc George and Gra­ham Street for a fit­ting cap­stone to an impor­tant series.

Tales from the Eddy was an eye-open­ing expe­ri­ence. I moved here years after the hotel was demol­ished; I nev­er knew a sky­line with its impos­ing bulk in it. For the last two decades I’ve heard peo­ple rem­i­nisce about the Eddy, usu­al­ly with that far­away look in their eyes, and I must admit, I rolled my eyes a lit­tle (inward­ly, any­ways). It’s just a hotel, I would think. How grand could it be, real­ly?

Very grand.

I learned a lot about Brandon’s hey­day in the hour-and-change that the doc­u­men­tary was up on the screen. Dozens of still frames of the hotel’s inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or showed me just how amaz­ing the Prince Edward was in its day. For what­ev­er rea­son, see­ing the skate park that has been built where the hotel used to stand — com­plete with help­ful paint­ed labels mark­ing LOBBY and PLATFORM to indi­cate rough­ly the extent of the building’s one­time foot­print — struck me quite hard.

Entropy grinds away at us. That could be tonight’s theme, I sup­pose. But we keep push­ing back against it, and I think I like that theme bet­ter.

Watch­ing Shaun’s doc­u­men­tary, I felt a strange emo­tion, a nos­tal­gia for some­thing I nev­er knew. If the Ger­mans don’t have a name for it, sure­ly the French do.