Film Review: Hotel Artemis (dir by Drew Pearce)


Oh, Hotel Artemis.

I had such high hopes for you.

Hotel Artemis, you may remember, was initially released way back in June and, at the time, it was advertised as being some sort of nonstop action thrill ride.  The commercials made it look totally over-the-top and exciting, which was I wanted to see it.  Of course, I didn’t see it because …. well, actually I don’t remember what was happening in June that kept me from going to the movies.  But there had to have been something going on because I not only missed seeing Hotel Artemis in the theaters but I also missed Ocean’s 8 and Hereditary as well.

Well, regardless of why I missed it the first time, I did finally get a chance to watch Hotel Artemis earlier this week and, unfortunately, it turned out to not be anything special.  It’s certainly not terrible.  It has its moments and the film looks great but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel somewhat let down by the film.  Hotel Artemis has promise but much of its goes unrealized.

The film takes place in one of those vaguely defined futures where there’s a lot of rioting and a lot of militaristic cops.  In fact, the film opens with Los Angeles in the middle of one such disturbance.  The riot scenes attempt to go for a Purge-style intensity but, for the most part, they just kind of fall flat.  There’s a lot of scenes of people yelling and occasionally, a police transport rolls by but, for the most part, there’s no danger to the film’s riot.  It’s all just a bit too obviously choreographed.  You never get the feeling that things could just randomly explode.

The Hotel Artemis is a combination of a hotel and a hospital.  It’s run by Jean Thomas, who is better known as Nurse and who is played by Jodie Foster.  Jean was once a doctor but, haunted by the death of her son, she became an alcoholic and lost her license to practice medicine.  Severely agoraphobic, Jean has spent 22 years inside of the Hotel.  She only treats criminals and other people on the fringes of society.  Helping her is Everest (Dave Bautista), who helps to keep order in the often chaotic hotel.

All of Jean’s patients are given codenames, based on which room their occupying in the hotel.  There’s Acapulco (Charlie Day), who is wealthy and short-tempered and who is waiting for a helicopter to come pick him up.  And then there’s Nice (Sofia Boutella), an international assassin who gets to beat people while wearing this red gown that is absolutely to die for.  There’s also Wakiki (Sterling K. Brown), who is a bank robber who is worried that his partner, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), is going to die from the wounds that he suffered during a robbery-gone-wrong.  Further complicating things is a gangster named The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), who needs Jean’s help but who also happens to be a cop.  Zachary Quinto is also in this film, playing the Wolf King’s son, because you really can’t make a pretentious genre film without giving a role to Zachary Quinto.

Anyway, there’s a pretty good action sequence towards the end of the film but it takes Hotel Artemis forever to get there.  Before that, you have to deal with a lot of talking but, unfortunately, none of the conversations are particularly interesting.  Hotel Artemis may clock in at 94 minutes but it feels considerably longer.  On the plus side, the cast is big and interesting but, on the negative side, nobody really seems to be that invested in their role.  It’s fun to watch Charlie Day play a bad guy but otherwise, the majority of the actors struggle with their thinly drawn (though certainly verbose) characters.  The majority of them struggle to convince us that they’re anything more than a group of talented actors slumming it in an action movie.  The fact that Jodie Foster received a good deal of praise for her performance in this film has everything to do with the fact that she’s Jodie Foster and little to do with anything that actually happens in the movie.

On a positive note, the movie looks great.  Visually, the Hotel Artemis is a fantastic creation that combines the decaying luxury of The Shining with the claustrophobic sterility of an underground bunker in a Romero zombie film.  (I’m thinking of the original Day of the Dead in particular.)  The Hotel itself is so fascinating that you can’t help but kinda resent that the film seems to be more interested in the boring people inside of the building than with the building itself.

Despite the superior production design, the film itself is slackly paced and never quite as a clever as it seems to think that it is.  Hotel Artemis is not a terrible film but it is a rather forgettable one.  It’s hard not to feel that it could and should have been a hundred times better than it actually was.

Film Review: Fahrenheit 451 (dir by Ramin Bahrani)


(Before reading this review, make sure that you’ve read my review of Ray Bradbury’s novel!)

(And then make you sure that you’ve read my review of the 1966 Truffaut film!)

The latest HBO original film, Fahrenheit 451, is bad.

For all the talent involved, for all the hype, and for all the hope that many of us had for it, it is extremely bad.  It sets up its targets and then fires at them with all the aim and success of a myopic archer.  By almost any standard, it’s a misfire of almost Vinyl proportions.

The film, of course, is based on Ray Bradbury’s novel about a future dystopia where the population is kept in line through pharmaceuticals and mind-numbing television and where firemen burn books.  Michael B. Jordan plays Montag, the fireman who develops doubts.  Michael Shannon plays Beatty, Montag’s boss. Sofia Boutella is Clarisse, who inspires Montag to question why.  And no one plays Montag’s wife because that character was apparently cut from the film.

From the minute this version starts, it’s obvious that this film was inspired less by Bradbury and more by Black Mirror, Blade Runner, and the Purge franchise.  The entire world is defined by neon and dark shadows.  Gone is Bradbury’s suggestion that a world without books would be a bland one.  Instead, a world without books is now one that looks like every single recent sci-fi film.  People may have stopped reading but apparently, they’re still watching old Ridley Scott movies.

Gone too is the idea of Montag as a middle-aged man struggling with an existential crisis.  Now, he’s Michael B. Jordan, who comes across as if he’s never had a moment of doubt in his entire life.  He’s less Montag and more Creed in an authoritarian future.  Also gone is the weary relationship with Captain Beatty.  Now, Beatty is almost a father figure to Montag.  Of course, Montag’s real father died mysteriously years ago.  Nothing indicates a lazy screenwriter quicker than a character with daddy issues.

As I mentioned earlier, in this version, Montag is not married.  Instead, he lives a bachelor lifestyle in a glitzy apartment and he spends most of his time asking questions to the future’s version of Alexa, Yuxie.  (“Yuxie, was Benjamin Franklin the first fireman?”)  Of course, in the novel, Montag’s wife stood in for every citizen who never questioned why books were being burned.  It was Montag’s dissatisfaction with his bland home life that led to him getting to know Clarisse and eventually questioning his job as a fireman.  Now, Montag starts to doubt after a random rebel says that Benjamin Franklin didn’t support burning books.  But why, if Montag has spent a lifetime refusing to question anything, would some rando rebel suddenly make him reconsider?

The Book People are still around but now they’re kind of a pain.  I love books but I wouldn’t want to hang out with any of them.  They’re a humorless group of people who live in a farm and apparently being a book person means you can’t wash your hair or something because seriously, everyone looked a bit grimy.  I mean, it’s important to rebel again authoritarianism but that doesn’t meant you can’t look good while doing it.  Each Book Person has memorized a book and you have to wonder how they decide who gets to memorize which book.  We’re told that one Book Person has memorized Chairman Mao but if you’re battling censorship, would you really want to hang out with a person who has devoted her life to the guy behind the Cultural Revolution?  Another Book Person claims to have memorized all of Proust but I think he’s a damn liar.  I mean, how is anyone going to check that?  I’m guessing he probably only memorized the first 20 pages or so of Swann’s Way.  What I want to know is who got to memorize the Twilight books?

This version of Fahrenheit 451 is a bit of a mess.  I’m not one to demand that literary adaptations stick exactly to their source material.  (For instance, the film version of The Godfather was greatly improved by ignoring 60% of what happened in Mario Puzo’s novel.  For that matter, we can all be thankful that It didn’t end with the Losers Club solidifying their bond by having group sex with Beverly.)  But, in this case, the changes don’t improve on the original.  Instead, they just turn Fahrenheit 451 into yet another shadowy dystopian film.

When it comes to Fahrenheit 451, my advice is just to read the book.

Horror Film Review: The Mummy (dir by Alex Kurtzman)


Oh, where to start?

The Mummy was promoted as being the first entry in Universal’s new Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe that would supposedly do for the classic monsters what the MCU did for super heroes.  (Of course, horror fans with a good memory remember that Dracula Untold was originally supposed to be the first part of the Dark Universe franchise but, after that film bombed with both critics and audiences, Universal announced, “We were just kidding.  The Dark Universe starts with The Mummy.”)  The Mummy was released in June and it got absolutely decimated by critics.  That wasn’t too surprising.  One could tell from the commercials that, even with 2017 being a good year from horror, The Mummy was not going to be a critical favorite.  But then, audiences rejected it as well, throwing the whole future of the Dark Universe franchise into limbo.

To be honest, I think The Mummy could have been a fun little movie if it had only been 90 minutes long and hadn’t gotten bogged down with all that Dark Universe nonsense.  There are a few moments that actually do work, though they are few and far between.  The film stars Tom Cruise, who is a veteran at handling nonsense and who gives a somewhat lighter version of his standard Mission Impossible performance.  Jake Johnson shows up as a talking corpse and he has a way with a sarcastic line.  Some of the special effects are effective, though The Mummy is often far too dependent upon them.

The plot is damn near incoherent and it didn’t take long for me to give up on trying to follow it.  The film started with a bunch of crusaders moving in slow motion and then it jumped forward to modern-day Iraq, where Sgt. Nick (Cruise) and Cpl. Chris (Johnson) uncovered an ancient tomb.  Apparently, opening the tomb unleashes Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who is thousands of years old and is still alive because she was cursed to be both immortal and buried alive.  So, now, she’s free and apparently, she wants Nick to merge with Set, the Egyptian god of all things evil.  But Nick doesn’t want to be evil.  He just wants to save the lives of Chris and Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), an archeologist who basically has the same role that Natalie Portman had in the first Thor film.

Meanwhile, Russell Crowe is wandering around as Dr. Jekyll.  This is where the whole Dark Universe things kicks.  Dr. Jekyll is in charge of this secret organization that keeps tabs on all the paranormal stuff that’s happening in the world.  However, if Dr. Jekyll doesn’t regularly get his injection, he turns into evil Mr. Hyde.  In this movie, that means that Crowe suddenly starts talking with a cockney accent.  I’m assuming that, much like Samuel L. Jackson did for the MCU, Russell Crowe is meant to link all of the Dark Universe films together.  Of course, the difference is that the early MCU films usually only had Jackson show up at the end of the movie, often in a post-credits scene.  Crowe, on the other hand, pops up out of nowhere, takes over a huge chunk of the film, and then vanishes.  I was already having enough trouble trying to keep up with the Mummy’s schemes without having to deal with a random Mr. Hyde sighting.

The Mummy is a mess.  When it starts, it’s a likable mess, with Cruise and Johnson exchanging silly lines.  But then the movie gets caught up in trying to launch a franchise and it all goes downhill from there.  There’s even a scene where Ahmanet stands in the middle of a London streets and starts throwing cars around.  It’s such an MCU scene that I was surprised Robert Downey, Jr. didn’t come flying by.  If The Mummy had just been a content to be a silly monster movie, it could have been fun.  But instead, The Mummy tried to launch an entire universe and it just wasn’t up to the task.

Star Trek Beyond Looks Much Faster and More Furious


Star Trek Beyond

J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the Star Trek film franchise when he did a sort of sort-reboot in 2009. It brought the franchise into the consciousness of a younger demographic who didn’t grow up as fans of the franchise both in film and the many tv series. The film was a success and Paramount made sure to strike while it was still hot and greenlit a sequel that looked to build on the strong foundation set-up by J.J. Abrams.

2013 saw that sequel come out and to say that it underwhelmed and burned much of the goodwill created with the 2009 film would be an understatement. Star Trek Into Darkness (a title derided the moment it was announced) literally took the “darkness” part of the title and ramped it up to 11. There wasn’t any of the fun and adventurous nature of the first film. It didn’t help that screenwriter’s Robert Orci’s 9/11 Truther ideology seeped into the film’s plot.

When it was announced that Robert Orci would end up directing the third film after J.J. Abrams went to go direct the latest Star Wars film, the outcry was loud and clear. Orci was a bad choice and just keeping him on would just sink a film franchise already teetering on the brink of becoming irrelevant in a blockbuster environment where superhero universes and the original blockbuster universe reigned supreme.

So, it was with some relief and cautious optimism when Paramount dumped Orci and went with Justin Lin (hot off the massive success of Fast & Furious 6) and rewrites by Simon Pegg. The franchise was going to get the fun back into the series and everyone was invited. Even the chosen title, Star Trek Beyond, spoke to a creative team who saw a chance to bring back the franchise from just being part of a fandom but for those who wouldn’t know a dilithium crystal from a Sith Lord.

The first teaser shows the fun part of what Justin Lin and Simon Pegg have been talking about. Now, will the next trailer show a much more dramatic side to the events fans are hoping will balance all the fun.

Star Trek Beyond looks to land on July 22, 2016.

Quick Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service (dir. by Matthew Vaughn)


file_118522_1_kingsmanposterlargeKingsman: The Secret Service was a no brainer for me. I’ve been following Matthew Vaughn since Stardust, and a friend pointed me towards Layer Cake, which I love. Most audiences know Vaughn from his work on X-Men: First  Class and Kick-Ass. That’s the main reason I ran towards this movie. I also found out writer Mark Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass, Marvel’s Civil War) was involved and the story was originally a comic, so the flow of the film makes perfect sense. Overall, Kingsman is a triumph for everyone involved, easily a film I could see myself returning to see again, but it’s not without it’s quirks. If the movie were cut into four acts, the first three were great, but the last act comes close to falling into the clichés it tries so hard to avoid.

Short and Sweet:

If you liked Wanted’s and Kick-Ass’ action sequences and copious amounts of violence mixed with bloodletting, Kingsman has your name written all over it. Throats are cut, people are shot, and bones are broken. It doesn’t happen often throughout the film, but when it does, it can get messy. The movie may have you considering wanting to get yourself some good business attire. It isn’t for kids by a long shot, it’s rated R for a reason.

The Slightly Long Version:

Kingsman is the tale of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a young man who ends up being recruited for The Kingsman after a run in with the law. The Kingsman are a secret society of spies that at one time were tailors to great people. When a threat to the world rises in the form of a rich tech wiz named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), the Kingsmen must find a way to stop him.

Eggsy’s recruiter is Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth, who does the best job out of all of the actors involved (in my opinion). Being the one who has to explain what all this is about, Firth manages to play the mentor role well. When it comes to fighting, he shows everyone who’s boss. Who knew Mark Darcy could fight (well, other than Daniel Cleaver, I guess)?

The casting for Kingsman really couldn’t offer any more surprises than it did. You have Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean), Mark Hamill (channeling his inner Joker here), Michael Caine, Mark Strong (a Vaughn favorite), Sofia Boutella (whose dance techniques work well for her blade wielding character) and Sophie Cookson. There’s really no one out of place here, save for maybe Jackson, who’s villain hates violence yet sees when it needs to be done. I do like that the movie kept me guessing about the Valentine’s intentions.As for Egerton, though I’ve never seen Egerton in anything before this, he’s good enough to warrant seeing him in a sequel. I can see him becoming a Vaughn regular in another film – maybe as an X-Men member?

As if the crew spent some time watching John Wick, the action in Kingsman moves pretty fast and fierce at times, and there’ll undoubtedly be a few scenes that will have you abusing the slo-mo feature when it arrives on digital download. The film moves through scenes with few cuts involved. You’ll have someone staring into a monitor at a fight that travels to the fight itself, and then flow into another moment. It’s Vaughn at his best, and at times, it’s all beautiful. I guarantee you that at least one scene in particular will probably have people talking. By far, one of the most unique uses of a Lynyrd Skynyrd track since The Devil’s Rejects. On a side note, it’s wonderful to see every advertised gadget get some use.

So, with all that praise, what’s the problem? Well, the last part of the film felt a little flat for me. If you’ve ever watched Batman Begins and it’s repetitious “stop the train before it hits the Wayne Tower” sequence, Kingsman feels similar. What bothered me was how some of the events were kind of caught in a bubble. Given the stakes involved (especially near the end), you’re never really told or shown the outcome of the actions. It’s really hard to explain without giving anything away, but I could put it like this. If you fired a gun in the middle of a street in broad daylight, someone would react and call the cops, no? So, if you escalate that action, shouldn’t the reaction / after effects be big? Between this and an annoying bit of product placement, I suppose it couldn’t be avoided. Still, it may be something that stands out for some audiences. It’s by no means a deal breaker, though.

I’d happily see it again at the cinema.