Last night my wife and I were contemplating going to the movies. She really wanted to see the cystic-fibrosis–related teen rom-com/drama Five Feet Apart, and I wanted to see the post–alien-invasion SF drama Captive State. So we compromised: she went to Five Feet Apart, and I went to Captive State.Continue reading “Review: Captive State”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Capsule review of the movie: Finally, a Star Wars prequel that doesn’t suck.
Capsule review of the mall parking lot on the Saturday before Christmas: Don’t. Just don’t.
I went last night to the Evans Theatre to check out Anomalisa, which was an Oscar nominee in the Animated Feature category.
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.)
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.
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.