Tag Archives: joss whedon

Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

25 Oct

Take a few strangers, a bag of cash, some heroin, a heavy rainstorm, a rifle or two, CIA operatives, domestic violence, PTSD, and alcohol – throw it all together with some 70’s Americana (complete with an abundance of disco soul) and you have Bad Times At El Royale. 

Written and directed by Drew Goddard (Cabin In The Woods), the film details the events bestowing a group of unfortunate strangers who happen to be at the same hotel over the course of a stormy night along the California/Nevada border. In fact, the hotel itself straddles the boundary, with half the rooms being in the “sunny and relaxing” California section and the other half in “glamourous and indulgent” Nevada – or so the marketing pitch goes – with a bright red line dividing up the property. It’s in the El Royale’s lobby where we are introduced to a trio of travelers looking for a room. There is the priest, Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a single woman named Darlene (Cynthia Erivo) en route to Reno, and a vacuum salesman with a southern drawl named Mr. Sullivan (Jon Hamm). After some chit-chat, the hotel clerk finally shows up in the form of a boyish young man named Miles. Things get complicated as secrets are revealed, and a few surprise guests arrive at the hotel throughout the course of the night.

Bad Times is the kind of film that invests itself heavily in plot. It’s the sort of grounded, single-location storytelling that you see with movies that also work well as theatrical pieces like Wait Until Dark, 12 Angry Men, or August: Osage County. With a film like this, having a character-driven narrative is absolutely essential – especially so when the thing is over 2 hours. Unfortunately, Bad Times collapses under its own weight about halfway through and doesn’t have enough dramatic prowess to justify its lengthy runtime. Goddard is a much better director than he is writer; most of the characters in Bad Times feel stale and onenote. He gets away with it just fine in Cabin In The Woods, a horror venture co-written with Joss Whedon, where the leads are intentionally variations on common genre tropes. Here, Goddard tries to substitute unnecessary flashbacks as a proxy for fleshing out complex character motivations. What he fails to realize is that providing already-thin characters with their own backstory only reinforces their one-dimensional traits.

While I appreciated the overall narrative beats that makeup Bad Times, the characters’ behavior simply does not make enough sense to propel the script along like they need to. The best (worst?) example of this is with Billy (played by Chris Hemsworth), who is the biggest fruitcake-of-a-bad-guy to come along since Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad. Hemsworth chews up every line with a portraly that veers on the edge of camp but whose role is essential enough in the story so that Goddard demands we take him seriously (one can’t help but wonder if this character’s most effective contribution here is the image of a shirtless Hemsworth to use in the film’s marketing).

There is a lot to admire with Bad Times – a lot more than there is to dislike. I particularly dug the noir-infused tone and beautiful interior set design. The post-modern story structure (complete with title cards!) is an admirable but obvious attempt to try and emulate Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a film which Bad Times owes a lot to. But unlike that film, (Tarantino is a master at understanding the brevity of writing nuanced, complex characters) Goddard’s work trails off around the third act right when the script should be picking up steam. In retrospect, I liked the film’s first act the best simply because I knew the least about all the players at the hotel and appreciated the intrigue. Most of the second half becomes a prime example of style-over-substance and some parts of Bad Royale end up feeling like a music video that goes on for way too long.

Still though, the film showcases Goddard’s skill as a director who can effectively use the slow-burn to ramp up tension. There are enough clever stylistic choices in the film to keep most viewers happy – including some surprising plot elements that caught me off guard in a give-you-goosebumps kind of way. Bad Times At The El Royale is good. So frustratingly good that its biggest sin might be in exposing the possibility of how much better it could have been.

Bottom Line: Bad Times At The El Royale is a nifty piece of dramaturgical theatre that unfortunately relies too often on underwritten characters as its crutch. 

Rating: 6.5/10 

Film Recipe: The Hateful Eight + Identity + Wait Until Dark + Suburbicon 

Advertisements

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

30 Apr

The money-making Marvel machine is at it again with the latest entry into the largest franchise of the decade (and possibly the most lucrative franchise of all time) with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Here we see our beloved icons Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury battling it out against a sentient robot named Ultron.

Directed by Joss Whedon (who directed the first Avengers film), Age of Ultron wastes no time getting to the action, or explaining things for those who haven’t seen the first Avengers  (and let’s be honest here, with a net box office of well over 1.5 billion, who hasn’t). We are immediately placed dead-center in a battle with the Avengers as they try to reclaim Loki’s prized staff from a military base in what appears to be Russia (spoiler alert: they get it). It’s a dizzying scene and a bit of a rush to see the Avengers in action all at once so soon.  Eventually, we get to the opening title, but the fanatic pace doesn’t slows much.

Whedon is known for creating energetic ensemble pieces without compromising on characterization, making him a perfect choice to bring the long-anticipated Avenger team to the silver screen in 2012. This second time, Whedon brings back so much of that spastic energy we loved from the first Avengers film and cranks it up a notch. Age of Ultron is so jam-packed with subplots, exposition, sarcastic one-liners, mesmerizing battle sequences, and set-up for future Marvel films, Whedon barely has time to tell an actual story. There is something about an AI supercomputer named Ultron, a freak experiment of Iron Man/ Tony Stark gone wrong, but then there is also stuff about a brewing romance between Hulk and Black Widow, a new set of twins with magical powers, something about infinity stones, and Iron Man rambling off about evolution, or the nature of war.  Like a 9-year-old boy hopped up on a big swig of Mountain Dew, this thing jumps all over the place with little regard for pacing, character development, and thematic material. It looks glossy on the surface, but underneath all the explosions and CGI fighting, things feel too rushed to make much of an impact, emotionally or otherwise. For a simple popcorn-flick, things get unnecessarily complicated.

I’m no comic book junkie by any means, so perhaps I’m being a bit harsh by not understanding all that’s going on (though I can imagine Whedon has done his research and hardcore fans will end up loving this thing), and yet, Avengers: Age of Ultron still wrestled up the kid in me. There is just an endearing joy that comes from watching Hulk go at it with an upgraded Iron Man suit, smashing countless buildings along the way.

Despite there being so much stuff going on, Whedon is smart enough to avoid getting bogged down by the film’s own weight – or at least not to the same degree as something like The Amazing Spiderman 2Possibly the most brilliant line in the film, Hawkeye explains to Scarlet Witch “We are on a city, and the city is flying. And we are fighting robots…. and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes any sense.”  It might be overstuffed, but at least it still has it’s humor.

Bottom Line: An overstuffed presence keeps Age Of Ultron from being taken as anything more than mere eye candy for comic book fans.

Rating: 5/10 

Film Recipe: The Avengers (2012) + Hulkbuster suit

Best films of 2012

27 Dec

2012 was a great year for film-lovers.

With a slew of veteran directors including Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis, Tom Tykwer, The Wachowski siblings, Rian Johnson, P.T. Anderson, Ben Affleck, Sam Mendes, David O. Russell, and Tom Hooper all releasing films this year, there was no shortage of high-quality movies to choose from. Heck Steven Soderbergh, Tim Burton, and Joss Whedon each had two 2012 films.

This is why making a “best-of” list was no easy task, but after some thought here are my personal picks for the top 25 films of 2012 (meaning they had a widespread theatrical release from jan-dec).

25- Cabin In The Woods 

As cliche’ as it might seem, there is a subtle mix of playfulness and horror throughout Cabin In The Woods that makes it such a fun ride ride to see over and over again.

24 – Les Miserables 

The music, acting, and look of the film all work nicely together to create one of the most powerful musical adaptations I have seen in recent years.

23- The Dark Knight Rises

While it doesn’t quite have the thrills of it’s predecessor, Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment into the Dark Knight franchise is emotionally satisfying and clever with all the twists and turns that make the franchise unique among super-hero films. Even if they don’t make any logical sense.

 

22 – Cloud Atlas 

From the costumes to the cast to the six interwoven stories, everything about Cloud Atlas begs to be called epic.  While the first third of the film is a confusing mess of ideas and characters, things get straightened out nicely in the end once you figure out who is playing who and what planet they are on.  With such an ambitious project as this, it is really, really easy for things to go wrong. Miraculously, Cloud Atlas gets everything right.

21 – Skyfall 

Bond is back and better than ever in this wonderful addition to the 007 franchise.  Hopefully Daniel Craig will not hang up the suit quite yet…

21 – Compliance  

A simple concept brought to life with amazing performances with an even better nail-biter of a script.  This is the stuff great indie flicks are made from.

20- Chasing Ice 

The single most gorgeous-looking documentary I have ever seen.

19- Argo 

Great screenwriting and cinematography create a well-balanced political thriller. The great cast was the icing on the cake.

18- Carnage 

Four people arguing in a living room for hours might not seem like much, but when those four people are John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, and Kate Winslet…….   things get interesting and dramatically hilarious.

17- Looper

Good movies are usually either intellectually, sensually or emotionally stimulating.  Looper manages to be all three at the same time.

End of Watch

While it might seem like a feature film about the TV show COPS, End of Watch is actually one of the most emotional movies I have seen all year.  Great chemistry from Gyllenhaal and Pena.

16- Seven Psychopaths 

An amazing cast mixed with an ever-unpredictable story makes for an offensively wild film. From the writer/director of the cult-favourite In Bruges.

15- Prometheus 

The epic and visually stunning prequel to Alien, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus proves you can reach the end of a journey looking for answers, only to have more questions that when you first started. The film’s many mysteries had Alien fans scratching their heads for ages, and left me wanting a sequel.

 

14- Headhunters 

Part heist-flick, part survival-drama, Headhunters tells the story of one man’s quest to steal a million-dollar painting. And what ultimately happens when things go sour.  If you are a fan of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, don’t miss out on this.

13- The Master 

P.T. Anderson’s sprawling epic about the life of a  very peculiar WWII veteran. Both Phillip S. Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix give amazing performances and the cinematography is stunning.

12 – The Imposter 

The bizzare-but-true story about a missing Texas boy who winds up in Spain over three years later. This is the WTF documentary everyone will be talking about.

10 – Django Unchained 

Tarantino returns with a revenge/western/drama/shoot-em-up set in the South 2 years prior to the Civil War. It’s long and overly playful, but Django Unchained somehow manages to be one of the year’s most entertaining films (if you can get past the hefty amount of racial slurs and fake blood).

 

9-  The Hunt

8- Holy Motors 

Obscure and senseless, Holy Motors is a collage of surreal scenarios and situations that make up a thought-provoking and mesmerizing piece of cinema.

7 – Frances Ha 

6 – Silver Linings Playbook 

David O Russel cleverly mixes bi-polar disorders with the Philadelphia Eagle’s in this witty romantic comedy.  Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, and Jennifer Lawrence are great, but the real treasure is seeing a chic-flick that is this entertaining without being cliche’.

5 – Killer Joe 

A low-budget crime thriller that hits all the right spots, and then some. Killer Joe boasts some of the best acting of the year, and a script that leaves you on the edge on your seat. You will never look at KFC the same way again.

4 – Moonrise Kingdom 

Wes Anderson’s magnificent drama about a boy and a girl who leave the world behind and set out together for adventure. Not only does the film look amazing, but Anderson has really outdone himself (again) with the set pieces, characters, use of music and brilliant screenplay.  Though it has an all-star cast, Moonrise never lets celebrity get in the way of it’s story and splendor.

3- Beasts of the Southern Wild 

A simple low-budget film that captures the innocence and curiosity of childhood, mixed with the drama and emotion of an entire community. This movie is brilliant, well directed and breathtakingly beautiful from start to finish.

 

2-  We Need To Talk About Kevin 

A powerfully gripping psychological thriller about a child who is…. different. This is one you will want to see a second time around.

1- It’s Such A Beautiful Day 

So there ya go. An honorable mention goes to 21 Jump Street for being the funniest movie of the year.

My picks for film categories can be seen HERE.

Feel free to disagree as there were so many other great films that I didn’t mention, and  if you want to take a look at what i’m most excited about in 2013, click HERE