Saturday, 9 February 2019

Hotel Artemis (Drew Pearce, 2018)

In the near future, LA is gripped by riots. As the city dissolves into chaos, a pair of bank robbers (Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry), an assassin (Sofia Boutella), an arms dealer (Charlie Day) and a gang boss (Jeff Goldblum) gather at the Hotel Artemis, a covert hospital for criminals.

The rules are simple: only members get in, no weapons.

Tonight, both those rules are going to be broken...


This movie would make for a great remake in 20 years (or a Netflix series any time). What makes this movie kind of dispiriting is that it is trying to do something I love and wish more genre movies would do: a story based around characters with no defined backstories, whose personalities are defined by their actions in THIS narrative.

There is a fashion nowadays to expand upon and dissect characters - this is based on the industry's current focus on building franchises from existing IP, and in a more tangential way, from the way a certain vocal segment of the viewing public watches movies (i.e. as single instalments in on-going narratives).

Hotel Artemis feels more classical in focus: we are introduced to a group of mysterious characters in a single location, each in the middle of their own story.

The title location is an interesting idea: a hospital for criminals. And as a log line, the plot sounds like a great thriller - someone breaks the rules and the whole operation collapses into chaos.

The problem is that the movie is both too complicated in the number of characters with their own stories, and a clear dramatic through-line to build and sustain the movie's tension.

It's a pity because the cast are uniformly terrific: Jodie Foster plays the Nurse who runs the hotel - she's great, but the movie spends so much time juggling everyone else's stories that her eventual arc feels like an afterthought. Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry are also great as two bank-robbing brothers. It is a classic noir-tinged relationship of a man who has to do one last job to keep his sibling on the (relative) straight and narrow. Once again, their storyline feels sidelined.


It's no secret that I am a fan of Sofia Boutella and her Legs of Death. Aside from her physical talents, she is really good actress who has not really been given a role that can really show off her capabilities. Playing an international assassin with a sliver of heart tissue, she is undermined by a redemptive arc that never really comes into focus. She has an unspoken history with Brown's character which is one of the film's most interesting threads as she has to weigh her assignment against old feelings for Brown.

My main problem is that there is no real sense of escalation to the situation. All the pieces are there - the brothers have accidentally stolen a fortune that belongs to the crime lord (Jeff Goldblum) who owns the Hotel; the same crime lord has been wounded and his entourage are inbound to secure the location; the Nurse has broken her own rule to let an outsider into the facility; Boutella's assassin has infiltrated the Hotel to break its cardinal rule (no killing)...

All of these pressure points are solid, but are deployed in such a fashion that there is no escalation of stakes. The intent is clearly there for these various perils to feel like a series of different, horrible events leading to one collective cataclysm, but the finale never reaches that level of peril.

Sure, there is plenty of violence, but it never feels like our key players are genuinely in dire straits.

This movie is not an outright failure, but it always feels like you you can see where another draft of the script - and some tightening in the edit - could have pulled everything into focus, and turned Hotel Artemis into a genuine pressure cooker.

As a home rental, Hotel Artemis is a serviceable but flawed potboiler. The cast is great (including Charlie Day as a sleazy arms dealer), the world-building is intriguing, and the final action set piece is fun, but ultimately it never comes together.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starring George Lazenby. Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

THE JAMES BOND COCKTAIL HOUR: On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Peter R. Hunt, 1969)

"This never happened to the other fella..."

The James Bond Cocktail Hour returns with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the 1969 epic that introduced and bid farewell to George Lazenby, the man who only lived once.



What to say about this movie? The hyper-kinetic editing? John Barry's towering score? Diane Rigg's scene-stealing performance?

Join my co-host Hugh Benson as we take a step back (or is it forward?) in time. The older this movie gets, the more evergreen it feels!

Download the episode! Subscribe! Share with your friends! Share it with your enemies!

Related

Bond 25 speculation: What Could Lea Seydoux's return mean?

Den of Geek articles



Bond reviews

Diamonds Are Forever

The Man With The Golden Gun

Moonraker

For Your Eyes Only

Octopussy

A View To A Kill

The Living Daylights

Licence to Kill

GoldenEye

Tomorrow Never Dies

The World Is Not Enough (2010)(2017)

Die Another Day

Casino Royale

Quantum of Solace

Spectre (2015); (2016)




Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Marine 6 - No Quarters (James Nunn, 2018)

As a jury deliberates on the sentencing of a local crime boss, his daughter Maddy Hayes (Becky Lynch) has kidnapped the daughter of one of the members of the jury, in order to scupper a probable guilty verdict.

After meeting up with his old CO Luke Trapper (Shawn Michaels), ex-Marine/current EMT Jake Carter (Mike 'The Miz' Mizanin) accompanies Trapper to an abandoned factory to check on a fellow veteran who is squatting in the building.

After accomplishing their mission, the pair stumble on Hayes' gang, who are holding their hostage in the factory. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues as the ex-marines try to get the girl to safety.


Happy New Year!

I was considering a theme for this month. Considered, and ignored.

Here's review of the latest instalment in The Marine franchise.

As with the last movie, Close Quarters (directed by The Marine 5's James Nunn) feels like people making this created a movie to scale with its resources: the disused factory setting; a (initially) small group of villains; and a reasonable reason to avoid guns (the gang do not want to draw attention to themselves).

A good genre movie establishes a set of rules to define the way the world of its story works - in action movies, one of the most important (and often underestimated) rules is the impact of the violence characters enact on each other. Will an explosion knock you off your feet, or disintegrate a squad? Will your protagonist shrug off a gunshot wound that would kill someone in the non-reel world? Can a throwing knife kill someone?

Throughout No Quarters, the filmmakers keep the action lo-fi. There is only one big explosion, and firearms only enter the picture late in the movie. One of the best set pieces involves our heroes using an old air duct to escape to a floor below. Rather than a big fight, the scene is largely based on suspense, and the endurance of our heroes.

The best part of the scene is how the villains figure out how to screw Carter and Trapper's escape. Since they are stuck slowly climbing down a tube with an unknown terminus, the thugs start dropping sand bags. Considering the franchises' past excess, it is refreshing to watch a scene predicated around Shawn Michaels trying to brace himself against a near-sheer surface as the weight grows on his shoulders, while the people below him try to get to the bottom of the shaft.

Top to bottom, the movie never feels like its ambitions will exceed its budget.

Carter and Trapper
As far as the performances go, they all work well. The Miz is good as the Steve Rogers-esque lead, and he has a really good rapport with Shawn Michaels as Carter's old CO. The wear-and-tear of his off-screen antics have clearly had a toll on the veteran wrestler, and plays well into the character of a veteran soldier. Having Trapper there also grounds the action in a way.

The movie's forte is not comedy but there is a thin sliver of irony to watching the exasperated CO watch his protege go about his business. Trapper's reactions make Carter's super-heroic antics even more singular. There is also a catharsis to the finale, as by the end of the movie, Trapper is ultimately responsible for taking the bad guys down.

Despite her character's unfortunate name, Becky Lynch is also solid as the villain. She gets plenty of nasty 80s-style business to make her as evil as possible, and the script bothers to make her smart enough to counter the marines' attempts to get out of the building.

Overall, I don't think Close Quarters is as good as the previous movie - there is a fun twist just before the third act that is fun in the moment, but aims for a pathos that feels more dependant on a knowledge of the previous movies than this one. The third act is fine, but lacks the low-level inventiveness of the rest of the movie.

Still, The Marine 6 - No Quarters is a really solid flick. James Nunn is a really solid filmmaker, and I am looking forward to whatever he decides to do next. The movie does end in an interesting place, which actually makes me interested in where the series goes next.

If you are in the mood for CG-free action, The Marine 6 - No Quarters is a fun watch.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Monday, 31 December 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: One False Move (Carl Franklin, 1992)

After her boyfriend Ray (Billy Bob Thornton) and his associate Pluto (Michael Beach) murder six people in LA, Fantasia (Cynda Williams) finds herself a fugitive as the trio tear cross-country to her hometown of Star City, Arkansas.

After identifying the perpetrators and learning of their destination, they alert Star City sheriff Dale 'Hurricane' Dixon (Bill Paxton) to prepare for their arrival.

What the police do not know is that Dale and Fantasia have a shared past that could jeopardise an already difficult assignment.


A low-budget thriller released in 1992, One False Move marked an early credit for Billy Bob Thornton, who, as well as playing one of the villains, also co-scripted the film (with Tom Epperson). The movie also gave Bill Paxton his first lead role, and gave director Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time) his big break.

A great example of contemporary noir, distilled and refracted into a new form that does not feel like a homage to the chiaroscuro and fedoras, One False Move embodies the essence of classic noir - the existential dread of being stuck in a situation that you have no control over. In this universe, people make choices, and those choices trigger a series of consequences they have no control over.

No character feels like an archetype. Every character, from Fantasia through Ray and Dale, never fit any of the archetypal boxes: Fantasia is no femme fatale; Ray is a victim of his own addictions and paranoia; and Dale is not the upstanding citizen he initially appears to be. Even Pluto, the ostensible criminal mastermind, is undermined by his associates.


In light of Paxton's passing, watching this movie reaffirmed what a great actor he was. Mostly a character actor famous for his flashy turns in Aliens and True Lies, or his late-career success with Big Love, Paxton always rode a line between everyman and oddball. As Dale, he lends the green lawman a cocksure swagger that feels simultaneously like a macho front for the out-of-town officers he is working with, and a natural state of being.

Initially, Dale appears to be an open book - an honest man without the street smarts or foresight to be ready for the hardened criminals barrelling towards his small town. Paxton gives Dale a guileless optimism that is a refreshing inversion of the typical southern lawman.

When Fantasia shows up, Dale is forced to confront the one skeleton in his closet. Paxton excels in the latter half of the movie, as the 'Hurricane' has to face his past and his present threat at the same time.

What is great about One False Move is the way it effortlessly moves between character POVs, complicating the viewer's sympathies while placing their actions in a broader context that disrupts any clear binary between 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. As Dale is forced to recognise, no such dichotomy exists.


As Fantasia, Cynda Williams is great. Flighty, seemingly helpless yet always calculating, she is the furtherest thing from a 'femme fatale' in the movie. The fact that this movie did not launch her on to bigger things is a sad reflection of Hollywood's inability to diversify its casting.

The thing I loved about her character is how she is incapable of abandoning her companions, yet when given the opportunity, is totally willing to make her own moves that serve goals which go beyond her own self-interest.

I want to go further, but that would spoil an important plot point that really pushes One False Move into the conversation of crime movies.

To sum up, One False Move is a great undersign gem that is definitely worth your time. It is available to rent or purchase from iTunes.

See you in the new year!

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Friday, 28 December 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley, 2018)

Frank (Nick Offerman) is in the middle of transition: daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is leaving for college and he is going to have to close the music store he has run for almost 20 years.

The one constant in his life is his love of music.

After a jam session with his daughter results in the title song, Frank has an idea to keep his daughter close and his musical dreams alive...


This movie is a microcosm in all sense of the word - not only does it involve a small cast in a few locations, it is extremely intimate in terms of its theme.

This year, I made a commitment to avoid trailers and plot synopses as much as possible. It has worked out more often than not. Going into this movie, I was expecting something a little bigger: for some reason I thought the pair were going to go on a lo-fi tour of the country, playing gigs in dive bars while work-shopping multiple songs.

Hearts Beat Loud is not that - it is more about the way musical collaboration brings these two people together, at a point in their lives when they will have to separate.

Initially, it feels like the movie could go the other way: Frank's passion is re-ignited by this initial collaboration, and once the song pops up on a Spotify playlist, he begins to imagine a new path forward where he and Sam form a real band and become rockstars (or at least working musicians).

Instead, life goes on: Frank recognises that Sam has dreams of her own, and Frank adjusts his ambitions to a live gig to celebrate the closing of his music store.

In its focus on how creativity can be catalyst for personal development, this movie reminded me a little bit of Brigsby Bear. Whereas that movie uses its main character's creativity as a vehicle for navigating the world, in this movie Frank and Sam's music is an emotional release. Frank's journey is ultimately about recognising that his daughter has her own dreams, and that he does not need to become a rockstar in order to enjoy doing what he loves.

While I liked how small the movie was, it does feel slightly undercooked - there are a few beats which could use more connective tissue. While I loved where Frank and Sam ended up, I felt like I needed a few more scenes to make that finale really hit.

I love reading about how music is made, and the initial jam session, where father and daughter build 'Heart Beats Loud', from the initial hook through the vocals and the rest. It is not that long, but it was nice to get a sense of the craft involved.

Overall, Hearts Beat Loud is a fun little indie boosted by strong performances, and a mature approach to the way creative endeavour in and of itself can be a catalyst for personal happiness and connection.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: The Villainess (Jung Byung-gil, 2017)


After a violent rampage through the men who killed her loved ones, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin) is captured by South Korean Intelligence, and is put through a rigorous training regime to become one of their covert operatives.

Released into the real world with a new name, a child and a passion for non-killing skills like acting, Sook-hee has the building blocks of a new life.

But this fresh start is put in jeopardy by her latest target - a ghost from her past who does not want to be forgotten...



I have been skimming through Netflix, trying to find something - anything - to watch. 

This is the first movie I have not switched off after five minutes. The opening sequence is shot from first-person. It has been a bĂȘte noir of mine in recent action movies, but here it feels totally necessary, especially when the stunts appear to have been done in-camera: There is a sequence involving a sword fight during a chase between speeding motorbikes on a highway, and the the movie's finale involves another one-take inside a moving bus.

The one downside to the movie is the title. I was expecting something more deconstructive and satirical - a true inversion of typical action movie dynamics. If you feel the same way, forget it. The Villainess is not that movie.

The movie's original title is Have You Been A Good Girl?, which makes it sound like a lost Sion Soon movie (and frankly feels more appropriate to what the movie winds up being about).

In terms of story, the movie is a variation of Nikita, except our anti-heroine starts as a hyper-skilled killer who is snatched up and re-trained by a covert organisation. Also unlike Nikita, she falls pregnant, has a child and gets involved in romantic hijinks with her boyishly handsome neighbour (Sung Joon).

The one aspect of the movie that I wish had been expanded more was the love story she has with a neighbour. What she does not know is that her love interest is really a member of the organisation who has been observing her during her training and is presenting a version of himself based on what he knows will appeal to her. It's disturbing, and the one subplot that made me think the movie was about to live up to its (English) title, but it goes in a different direction which -while brutal - felt like something out of a Cannon movie.

Watching the romance subplot, I pondered whether a movie could exist that centred around a 'villain', that did not try to make them sympathetic - where notions of 'good' and 'evil' are replaced with protagonists and antagonists. It could just be that I am overly familiar with the shorthand action movies use to make their protagonists 'relatable'.

Overall, The Villainess is a really fun movie: the action is jaw-dropping and Kim Ok-vin (Thirst) is great in the lead role. My bugbear is the familiar plot, but if that does not bother you, then you'll be in for a good time.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

IN THEATRES: Aquaman

When his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson) threatens to wage war on the surface world, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) returns to Atlantis to challenge him and save mankind from catastrophe.



As far as the actual story goes, the movie kinda falls flat. The script never cracks what being a hero means to Arthur, and so it is difficult to figure out what the conflict is that forces him to put this belief system on the line. It does not help that the movie plays out scenes of Arthur's childhood that never provide any backbone to his adult personality. 

Playing the titular character, Jason Momoa has solidified in my mind as an accent piece - he’s fine at light comedy, and can do action, but as the lead of a potential franchise, his limitations are laid bare by a script that never figures out what his character is about. 

The disconnect really solidified for me in the scenes where Arthur and his brother/enemy Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson) are reunited with their mother - who they believed had been executed by Orm’s father decades ago. 

From a visual standpoint, the overtly cartoonish elements (mer-people, Xenomorph-like trench dwellers, an octopus playing drums) are really fun, and occasionally striking - the sequence of Arthur and Mira trying to escape their boat as the trench dwellers swarm over it is legitimately haunting.

Otherwise, the movie suffers a bit from too much green screen. Because the movie takes place underwater, that means a lot of CGI - so a lot of the action suffers from feeling weightless (no pun intended). This is fine when the action is below the surface, but during the film’s extended land-based action sequences, the lack of tactile reality really undermines the sense of danger.

The set piece of Arthur and erstwhile love interest Mera (Heard) running from Atlantean goons across the rooftops of a Sicilian town should feel far more visceral than it does, but there is never any doubt that Arthur and Mera will win.

I would have liked more grounding in Arthur’s upbringing, and what being a hero means to him. The movie pays some lip service to why he should return to Atlantis, but I never really had a sense of what he got out of being a hero. It did not help that one of the early scenes is based around Arthur saving his dad (Temeura Morrison) from a tidal wave, yet after he has done so he makes no move to help anybody else from the town nearby. 

But if you take it as a pile of ridiculousness, Aquaman kind of works - Momoa gets introduced in slo-mo to a super manly guitar riff, a trope that is sadly not continued for the duration of the film; Julie Andrews voices a leviathan monster; wine gets weaponised into daggers.

A goofy movie about the ultimate surfer dude fighting monsters with a trident, Aquaman is fun in patches, although it might be a tad generic and dramatically undercooked to get you punching your fist in the air.


If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

The latest episode is out today - to get in the holiday spirit, we review John Gardner's Christmas-set thriller Win, Lose or Die (1989). Available wherever you get your podcasts.