REVIEW: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Directed by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Written by Rhys Bowen-Jones

Drew Goddard is fast-becoming a household name. Having been on the scene for the last 10 or so years, he now has two directorial efforts under his belt, 2012’s cult hit horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods and now this, a neo-noir mystery thriller with an excellent cast to support it. As with Cabin, El Royale manages to put an enjoyable spin on a classic genre with an impressively surprising and twisty tale of violence and intrigue.

The El Royale Hotel exists on the state line between California and Nevada. A former hot spot for celebrities, it has seen better days and it finds itself as a late night refuge for a band of lovable misfits from across the land. As the hotel guests arrive, the hotel’s secrets reveal itself alongside the hidden pasts of its new inhabitants.

A film such as this – a dialogue-heavy mystery that relies as much on intrigue as it does on action – needs an onboard cast, and Goddard struck gold with those at his disposal. You have a powerhouse like Jeff Bridges, alongside a relative newcomer like Cynthia Erivo, backed up by a terrific actor who is due a leap into the Hollywood big leagues by now in Jon Hamm. That’s not even mentioning Chris Hemsworth in an against-type villain role and Dakota Johnson, one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars. Everyone engages fully with their character, and it compliments the film beautifully.

In fact, its characters are the film’s strongest suit in my book. Every conversation is fascinating because it’s delivered with panache and passion, Jeff Bridges’ mysterious priest Daniel Flynn is an easy example of this. He takes a shine to Erivo’s equally mysterious (there’s a lot of mystery going on here, as is becoming clear) Darlene Sweet, a struggling singer from Indiana. The two have a conversation over pie about where they’ve come from and where they go is extremely engaging; Bridges, in particular, is terrific in this scene, managing to make me laugh and then pull at my heartstrings only a few lines of dialogue later. El Royale does an excellent job balancing these conversations with action, and this scene is the first example of this; you won’t see the climax of this scene coming and it made me react in a more visceral way than I would have done to a horror jump scare.

I could go on and on about the performances in this film. Jon Hamm impresses me every time I see him, and here it’s no exception. He starts off as Don Draper from Mad Men but with the irritating smarm cranked up to 100, but below the surface, he’s far more charming and genuinely funny than you first think. Dakota Johnson is effortlessly charming despite her villainous nature, pulling you in with her demeanour before stabbing you in the back. Chris Hemsworth, like I said earlier, goes against type as the film’s villain, and he absolutely convinced me that he would have young women fawning over him to do his every bidding. I quite liked Hemsworth here, I saw a different side of him that hasn’t been in his filmography thus far, hopefully, this signals the start of Hemsworth going for more alternative roles.

The film’s MVP is surely Cynthia Erivo though, given her relative lack of experience, but her ability to dominate a scene is unrivalled here. There are multiple scenes that showcase not only her acting skills but her singing ability too. Goddard puts her West End and Broadway background to terrific use. What could seem unnecessary is completely captivating because of how good a singer she is. I could listen to her sing for hours, and I’m honestly furious her versions of classic songs aren’t on the soundtrack.

There is so much good to say about the film that I haven’t even touched on yet. El Royale has extremely pretty visuals, gorgeous neon and bright colours surround the slightly garish hotel décor but it works thanks to its clever lighting, particular as fire comes into play at nightfall. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey is known for his visually compelling style given his experiences on 2014’s Godzilla and 2012’s Avengers Assemble, and it’s put to great use here, managing to make a film set completely within a hotel seem massive at times, sprawling through the dark corridors behind the scenes.

Goddard also excels on both a writing and directing level, for me. As already mentioned, his dialogue is completely engaging, but he has crafted a very delicate story that had to be told in a certain way. Using an easy framing structure of the characters’ rooms split up into chapters, he’s able to delve into the character and develop the story simultaneously. What I found particularly enjoyable was the way the stories overlapped; we’d finish with one character, take a step back in time to follow another character and witness how they affected each other, seeing scenes from different angles that reveal new information. It’s a really impressively design film on that level, and it fits exactly what I like to see in a noir mystery.

The film isn’t without its flaws, however, and that’s largely due to its runtime. I found the story enthralling for 80% of its 140 minutes, but in its final act, it really begins to drag itself out longer than it needs to. I got the impression that Goddard thought he had more loose ends to tie up than he needed to, even though he didn’t but still left a loose end unresolved. The atmosphere in the cinema changed in this final act; the excitable buzz from the people around me had vanished for people checking their watches next to me. It didn’t affect me too badly, but it’s a film that absolutely could’ve shaved 20 minutes off its runtime and it wouldn’t have hampered the film in any way.

Still, for its runtime to be my only real concern, I’d say El Royale is a sterling success. Drew Goddard continues to impress as a young director and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The cast is terrific across the board, hopefully making a star out of Cynthia Erivo and telling the world that Jeff Bridges has a lot of enthusiasm left in him yet. I had high hopes for the film going into it, and though it wasn’t quite the masterpiece I wanted, it’s still a terrific time at the cinema.

Rhys’ Verdict:

4

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LFF 2018: Suspiria (2018)

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick, Chloë Grace Moretz

UK Release Date: November 16th, 2018

Written by Dave Curtis

For a person that had never seen Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic (or so I’m told) Suspiria, a viewing of the remake at the London Film Festival seemed like a good idea. I decided not to watch the original beforehand. I didn’t want to compare it. I wanted to see it with fresh eyes.

Right from the start I just want to say this is a film that will divide opinion. Its one of those you are going to love or hate!

Director Luca Guadagnino is a man with vision, that is very clear. He is also a man who has his own ideas. Suspira is achievement of sorts. It has a slow build up and then goes hell for leather in its final act. It’s able to be shocking and tedious all at the same time.  Gone are the flashing red lights that everyone was expecting from the original. Suspiria 2018 uses colours from the darker end of the spectrum. There are some splashes of colour, Dakota Johnson’s red hair sticks out making her the stand out from the crowd and the rest of the dance troupe.

Johnson takes on the role of Susan Bannion a talented dancer who is auditioning in Berlin (a city she is drawn to) at a famous dance company. The company is led by Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc. She impresses at her audition and is invited to join. She is even given a room rent free above the rehearsal studio because Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) another dancer has disappeared (they are told she has quit). Patricia has been visiting a psychoanalyst in the name of Dr Klemperer. He has concerns that the dance school is hiding something.

I can’t work out what to make of Johnson’s performance. It borders on the edge of greatness, but every time she does some heavy breathing (and there is a lot of that) I’m taken back to her awful performances from the 50-shade trilogy. I try to remember that this is the same actress from Guadagnino’s ‘A Bigger Splash’.  Her use of her body through dance is great. It is clear she is a very talented dancer. Tilda Swinton is as strong as you could imagine, brimming with confidence in every role she inhabits. The support cast are also good. Mia Goth performance is her strongest and Chloe Grace Moretz gives the film a strong opening which the whole film is built on.

The film does have a growing sense that everything is just not right. Over the two hours and 30 minutes (an hour longer than the original), everything is made to unsettle and unnerve you. From the sound effects to the music, it a makes an uneasy feeling. It also seems to never stop raining!

This isn’t a convention horror, there are no jump scares. It depends heavily on the mood and the atmosphere through the use of sound effects, cinematography and the music (Thom Yorke’s first film score). A dance routine paired with a horrible attack on one of the students is Suspiria at its best. It is bone-crunching and eerily beautiful at the same time, an odd mixture for any film to get right. The hardcore third act does rack up the stakes and the gore. Maybe, in this case, less would have been more. It all gets a bit OTT.

Honestly, I was expecting something a little bit out there and trippy. The overly long runtime really does weigh down the film. Technically Suspiria is a spectacle but overall it just lacks that degree of awe from a story that had so much promise. Will it stand the test of time like the original,? Only time will tell. All I know is that I’m still not sure if I liked it. It stays with you, constantly at the back of your mind. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Dave’s Verdict:

2-5

The Headliners & Hidden Gems At The 62nd BFI London Film Festival

Yesterday saw the announcement of the full line-up of films for the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (LFF), and boy is there a ton to get your teeth stuck into! But this year we have even more reason to be excited as JUMPCUT will attending and covering the festival for the first time ever!

We’ll be covering a whole range of films screening at the festival, including some of the headliners and hidden gems! JUMPCUT’s LFF Queen Sarah has kindly picked out just some of the films she thinks you are going to want to keep your eye on!

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The Headliners

Widows
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya

Why it is worth a watch: I mean that cast list alone is worth the admission price, but this female-fronted action thriller is also helmed by the man who brought us 12 Years a Slave, a film which previously enjoyed awards success. But the talent doesn’t end there, Widows is penned by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn and Hans Zimmer provides the score. This is an action movie of the highest calibre and one that will be well worth your time and money.

Screening at LFF: 10th, 11th, 12th October
UK Wider Release Date: 6th November 2018

Stan & Ollie
Directed by: Jon S Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston

Why it is worth a watch: An ode to cinema, entertainment, and with two leading actors known for their brilliance as physical comedians, Stan & Ollie seems like the perfect film to close out London Film Festival. Coogan and Reilly bring beloved comedians Stan Laurel and Ollie Hardy to life on the big screen, focusing on the twilight years of their career. This is set to be a real crowd-pleaser and the most fitting curtain call for the festival.

Screening at LFF: 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 11th January 2019

The Favourite
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Why it is worth a watch: A divisive filmmaker, but certainly one that gets people talking, Yorgos Lanthimos brings his third English-language film in four years to the London Film Festival. With stand-out performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, The Favourite promises to be bizarre, bonkers, and brilliant!

Screening at LFF: 18th, 19th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 1st January 2019

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck

Why it is worth a watch: It’s the Coen Brothers! In all seriousness, the latest from the incomparable Coens promises to be wild (west) entertainment, hilarious, offbeat, and surprisingly melancholic. Dark humour and the trademark Coen brothers flair will be here in abundance

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Screening at LFF: 12th, 13th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: TBA

Beautiful Boy
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Why it is worth a watch: Just try and get through the trailer to this one without crying. Sometimes you just need to let it all out, and this will be the film that gets audiences at LFF reaching for the tissues. Starring man-of-the-moment Timothee Chalamet, hot off the heels of last year’s Call Me By Your Name, and Steve Carell in what is set to be another great dramatic role for him, Beautiful Boy will be the one to watch for those early Best Actor hints…

Screening at LFF: 13th, 14th, 16th October
UK Wider Release Date: 18th January 2019

Suspiria
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Chloe Grace Moretz

Why it is worth a watch: Full disclaimer, I am a massive horror wuss and will therefore not be seeing this on the big screen, but it would be very remiss of me not to mention it here. There is no denying the trailer is stunning, and the hype levels amongst the JumpCut team have reached fever-pitch for this one. It won’t be for everyone but it’ll certainly be a talking point. And also it has Tilda Swinton in it; you can’t go wrong!

Screening at LFF: 16th, 17th, 19th October
UK Wider Release Date: 16th November 2019

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The Hidden Gems

Wild Rose
Directed by: Tom Harper
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo, Julie Walters

Why it is worth a watch: After impressing in Beast, Jessie Buckley stars in what is set to another impressive film. A Glaswegian single mum dreams of being a country singer, how hard could it be?! This is the sort of film that will make your heart soar, and with Julie Walters also appearing, it is hard not to draw comparisons with the underdog story of Billy Elliot. This film is already set to be one of the truly underrated gems of the festival.

Screening at LFF: 15th, 16th, 20th October
UK Wider Release Date: 8th February 2019

The Hate U Give
Directed by: George Tillman Jr
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Common

Why it is worth a watch: Adapted from Angie Thomas’ ‘Black Lives Matter’-inspired Young Adult novel, this film certainly feels like an important one, and one which is sadly still so relevant. Focusing on the young lives affected by the tragic shootings of their peers, the BFI are also offering £5 tickets to see this one for 16 to 25 year olds. Even outside of this age range, this film has a lot to offer, promising to be a powerful and timely watch.

Screening at LFF: 20th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 26th October 2018

Assassination Nation
Directed by: Sam Levinson
Starring: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bella Thorne

Why it is worth a watch: Don’t let the early trigger warnings put you off, this is a film that bears everything upfront and then unleashes all hell. Assassination Nation is the Salem witch trials meets the digital generation in this thoroughly modern cautionary tale, and one which is poised to join other teen cult classics such as Heathers and Spring Breakers. Subversive and utterly unique, this could be one of the surprise hits of the festival.

Screening at LFF: 19th, 20th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: 23rd November 2018

Burning
Directed by: Lee Chang-dong
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, Steven Yeun

Why it is worth a watch: This film wowed audiences at Cannes, which is often the mark of a successful festival film! This lean slow-burning thriller promises to have you gripped right from the start, as well as exploring complex themes such as obsession, class-conflict and suppressed male rage. It will be unlikely to have a wide cinema release, so catch this one at the festival whilst you can!

Screening at LFF: 19th, 20th October
UK Wider Release Date: 1st February 2019

Mandy
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Why it is worth a watch: Yes, Nicolas Cage. Stop reading now! Just kidding, this synopsis alone is enough to make you want to see it so we’re not even going to add to it: “In a mountain-cabin idyll, lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives in perfect harmony with his great love Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). But the couple’s blissful utopia is cruelly shattered when a ragtag band of Satanic cultists invade their humble abode and claim Mandy for their own. Traumatised and distraught, Red is left with no option but to exact a bloody revenge.” (Michael Blyth, BFI)

Screening at LFF: 11, 12, 17th
UK Wider Release Date: 12th October 2018

Blaze
Directed by: Ethan Hawke
Starring: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Sam Rockwell

Why it is worth a watch: Ethan Hawke is having quite the year, and fresh from his acclaimed performance in First Reformed, his latest directorial offering his heading to LFF. This biopic about a little known musician is shot with affection and true passion that is hard to replicate, and quite frankly anything Ethan Hawke is passionate about, we love already!

Screening at LFF: 20th, 21st October
UK Wider Release Date: TBA

Let The Games Begin In New ‘Bad Times At The El Royale’ Trailer

“Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell.”

Directed by: Drew Goddard

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Offerman, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman

Release Date: October 5th, 2018

First Full Trailer For Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ Has Been Unleashed

“A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.”

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Chloe Grace Moretz

Release Date: November 2nd, 2018 (US)

It’s Time To Check-In In The First Trailer For “Bad Times At The El Royale”

“Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell.”

Directed by: Drew Goddard

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Offerman, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman

Release Date: October 5th, 2018

 

Let The Nightmare Commence In First Teaser Trailer For ‘Suspiria’

“A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the troupe’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.”

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Chloe Grace Moretz

Release Date: November 2nd, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed

Year: 2018
Directed by: James Foley
Cast: Dakota JohnsonJamie DornanEric Johnson, Rita Ora 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Well, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of the filthy film trilogy and I don’t know where to begin telling you about it. I still maintain that the first film (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson) was pretty good and holds up to re-watches. However, the subsequent two (directed by James Foley) have been terrible and I think the gender of the directors is more than a coincidence here. If ever a film were crying out for the female gaze – surely this is it? If only STJ had been given the creative control she desired and wanted to stay on the franchise, we may have ended up with something of better quality. Yes – the source material is trash but the books could have been turned into either higher quality ‘arty’ films or more fully leaned into the enjoyably cheesy trash, but instead we have something unsatisfying and middling, which helps no one.

The reason the first film works so much better than the subsequent two is that the first film is explicitly ABOUT the sex and the red room. In the sequels, it feels as if the sex is shoe-horned in and all the tension has been lost from those scenes. In the first, Christian is dealing with his traumatic abusive past (he doesn’t like Anastasia touching him) and there is a clear link between this and his need to dominate in the bedroom. Anastasia is figuring out whether she loves this man enough to cope with the ‘contract’ and all of the weird sex stuff. The tension in the sequels is fabricated by a force outside of the couple and this is why they are so much weaker.

Surprisingly, this film dispenses with the wedding very quickly in a montage right at the start of the film and we move onto the honeymoon in the blink of an eye. Of course, the money porn is at the forefront with the honeymoon, as Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is whisked away to Paris and Monte Carlo by her new husband Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The ‘big bad’ from the second film; Anastasia’s old boss (Jack Hyde – why didn’t they just name him Jekylland?) is back, causing Christian to up the security surrounding Anastasia. This causes tension, as she just wants to go get drunk with Kate (Eloise Mumford – one of the more appealing actors from the trilogy). Christian spontaneously buys a house and the architect firstly comes onto Christian and then his brother, Elliot (Luke Grimes). Of course, interspersed with all of this plot are the infamous red room scenes, which are, you know, fine I guess. Bizarrely, Christian’s former mentor Elena (Kim Basinger) is in the trailer but seems to have been cut from the final film – although she still manages to cause problems for Anastasia.

Sigh. I am so frustrated by these films. They could have made both characters hotter; by giving Johnson a better haircut and allowing Dornan to keep his Northern Irish accent instead of his painful attempts at an American one. Christian has a beard for one brief, shining moment and then Ana tells him to shave – so that’s the end of that. Both Johnson and Dornan have been so much better in other things (‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘The Fall’ for example), so why they are so bad here remains a mystery.

The reason I get so annoyed is that teenage girls and women deserve better. We deserve to have sexy films told from a woman’s point of view and yes, that view men through the female gaze. The closest thing we have at the moment is ‘Outlander’ on television which uses many female writers and directors. I will defend the ‘Twilight’ films (which I truly love and were a springboard for ‘Fifty Shades’ of course) and the ‘Magic Mike’ films, which were WAY higher quality than they needed to be. Oh, and I love Nicholas Sparks films too – sue me. Yes, Fifty Shades was written by a woman and she is responsible for many of the problematic aspects of the film trilogy. However, I still feel that if women writers, directors, casting agents and producers had worked on the whole film trilogy, things would be different.

However bad I think (particularly the last two of) these films are; I get exasperated by the level of snark directed towards them. It comes from a place of misogyny and snobbery. If a group of girls or women want to get together, have a few drinks and watch these films, then good for them. They should be allowed to enjoy them without being subject to the level of howling derision that is aimed at this franchise. ‘Chick flicks’ will never be taken seriously, even though films such as ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Girls Trip’ did so well financially last year. I just hope that ‘Fifty Shades’ has a positive legacy. More sexy thrillers (the types of films that Basinger starred in during the 80s and 90s) would be a great result. Just please, put more women behind the camera

Fiona’s Rating: 5.5 out of 10

The Final Chapter Begins In The First Trailer For ‘Fifty Shades Freed’

“Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson return as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades Freed, the third chapter based on the worldwide bestselling “Fifty Shades” phenomenon. Expanding upon events set in motion in 2015 and 2017’s blockbuster films that grossed almost $950 million globally, the new installment arrives for Valentine’s Day 2018.”

Directed By: James Foley
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Tyler Hoechlin, Rita Ora
Release Date: 14th February 2018