Charlie’s Cinematic Oddyssey: FIRST REFORMED

Hotel Artemis

hotel-artemis

Hotel Artemis is a weird movie that lured me in like a moth to the flame with it’s starry cast of Jodie Foster and Dave Bautista and Jeff Goldblum AND Charlie Day.

And Sophie Boutella. She’s alright. I like her ALOT.

And the guy who played Spock in the new Star Trek movies. The world doesn’t see enough Zachary Quinto.

So there is a lot of people in this movie.

So Hotel Artemis may initially look like an action movie, but like I said it’s a weird movie. It’s a noirish thriller with occasional fight scenes. It features a sad old arthritic woman as one of it’s central leads. It takes some of the ideas from the John Wick movies, secret criminal underworld with it’s own rules and places of refuge. But at the same time, it’s set in the not too distant future in amidst a John Carpenter esque dystopian LA.  Because it is set in the future there is all this future tech where you can 3D print replacement kidneys and magic booster shots that can patch up badly injured dude in no time at all.

It’s like one of those movies that was on really late on a school night. A movie you half watch on the sofa as you fall asleep.

The year is 2028 and Los Angeles is a warzone for some vague reasons between the rich 1% who are denying the other 99% any water. There is blood on the streets, rioters fighting with police, helicopters being blown out of the sky. A general state of lawlessness that remains largely outside and out of sight as the main action takes place within the four walls of Hotel Artemis.

In the midst of this are a group of career criminals led by Sterling K. Brown’s honourable thief who are in the process of robbing a bank. During the getaway, his brother gets gunned down by the police. His only option, is to go to Hotel Artemis, a safe haven for criminals run by Jodie Foster’s The Nurse, who will patch up all criminals so long as they are a paying member. Current lodgers are Sofia Boutella’s uber French assassin. Charlie Day’s human piece of shit arms dealer. The Nurse is helped by tough but sensitive orderly ‘Everest’ (Dave Bautista). Meanwhile Jeff Goldblum is the ‘Wolf King’ the criminal boss of all of LA, who is joined by his overbearing son desperate for daddy’s love and acceptance(Quinto).

It doesn’t quite have the action I was expecting, though there are gritty fight scenes in corridors. It doesn’t quite have the wit of a Shane Black or Tarantino esque caper where criminals talk shit to one another and wax lyrical about morales and stuff. The sci-fi stuff, that I wasn’t expecting, doesn’t really lead anywhere apart from making the film a little bit more interesting. The sum of it’s parts are perhaps the most interesting thing about it, but when added together it just doesn’t quite gel perfectly together.

Hotel Artemis, I liked it fine, but it bears repeating, what a weird movie.

Skyscraper

In his latest attempt to achieve world dominance and maybe one day the white house. The Rock is back with Skyscraper, a big throwback to 70s disaster movies that is geared towards the Chinese market. The Rock plays FBI everyman (haha – look at the size of him), in the beginning we see him involved in a hostage situation that goes wrong in which  he heroically loses a leg. But luckily, the moment he is rushed to hospital, he gains a wife in the form of the doctor that patches him up (Nev Campbell). Fast forward a few years into the future, he has two darling Moana looking children and is about to take his small honest consultancy business to the big time with a job assessing the safety of the world’s tallest skyscraper, The Pearl, a vertical city that towers over Hong Kong. Of course, just as he is about to verify the building as completely safe, the European terrorists come in and start setting fire to the place. With his family stuck eleventy thousand floors high and the fire quickly rising below them, The Rock must save his family and the day.

And everything else basically.

Much like The Rock’s previous two big hitters – the Jumanji reboot and Rampage, Skyscraper benefits in knowing exactly what it is. A big dumb action movie. Everything is telegraphed from the outset. From the mother’s phone problems (you have to turn it on and off again), to the hall of mirrors at the top which is definitely going to be the place of the final confrontation with all the bad guys. It’s basically a family friendly version of Die Hard. It’s less about the one man saving the day and more about him and his family having more agency in saving the day. Though let’s be honest, it’s mostly about The Rock.  At the end of the movie the cop who has been working on the outside as The Rock works in the inside says “That’s quite a family you have there!” I mean they’re literally paraphrasing Die Hard but as far as family friendly concepts go, it’s not bad and it works.  The big set pieces are well executed with the right amount of ridiculous and tension. It is no Die Hard obviously. You know exactly what to expect and the movie is only too happy to deliver on your expectations. I guess it’s a form of mental empowerment.

“Did you guess what was coming? Well, aren’t you a clever boy! Well done! Have a cookie!”

It’s safe money for The Rock, and I guess it’ll make a heckaton of money out East. But like the man himself, Skyscaper is big, tall and solid, very charismatic, and knows exactly what it is and just wants to give people a good time on a Saturday night. And you can’t really argue with that. Oh hang on, that skyscrpaer simile doesn’t really work after the charismatic part.

So yeah, I really don’t have much more to say about it, partly because I really want to move on and talk about the next movie First Reformed.

First Reformed

First Reformed is fucking excellent.

I was gripped and completely magnetised to it. It carries a strong pedigree, written and directed by Paul Schrader who has close links with Martin Scorsese, having written the likes of Taxi-Driver and Raging Bull. It also stars Ethan Hawke, who is one of those actors that is always great in movies, who maybe never reached the star status of some of his contemporaries, but maaan, does First Reformed just prove how fantastic he is. It may just be his best role yet.

Hawke plays Reverend Ernst Toller, the resident pastor of the First Reformed church in New York. A church turned museum with a 250 year history that was standing through every event of American history. Though he does provide spiritual council to his local community, he has privately become extremely conflicted and is having a crisis of faith. Gnarled by a tragic past event, he drinks copiously into the night, whilst writing a journal, a vehicle to convey all his self doubt to us the audience. And so, one day, Toller provides council at the request of Mary (Amanda Seyfried), she is heavily pregnant, but her troubled environmentalist husband cannot face bringing a child into this world with the advent of climate change in a world he is powerless to avert from ruin. Whilst giving pastorly advice, Toller becomes intrigued by the conviction of the young man before him and challenged by the ultimate question.

Will God forgive us, when we’ve reduced His creation to ruin?

Everything in First Reformed is made so beautifully, it’s shot in a squarish aspect ratio that gives everything a kind of symmetry to convey the repetitive monotony of everyday life as a pastor – providing words of comfort he no longer believes in – being the moral face of a community. Yet the slightest angle change or a certain object sitting askew in the frame is enough to convey Toller’s changing world views and the conflict bubbling just below the surface.

It’s about conflict between religion and church, it’s place in society and it’s place in relation to the self.  It’s about environmentalism and extremism. All pertinent themes that resonant to a troubling degree given today’s pressure on climate change.  It keeps you guessing throughout and just when you think you have it all sussed it removes the carpet from underneath you with an almighty message that is as powerful as any sermon you could hear.

Cinema is basically church to me. You may need to hop down to your local independent cinema to see it, but it is so very definitely worth the trip. In my opinion, it currently stands with You Were Never Really Here as one of the best films of the year. It’s just brilliant and I for one cannot recommend it more highly.

Mission Impossible: Fallout

MI: Fallout

The Mission Impossible films are kind of fascinating when you consider them all back to back. There have been loads of cinematic reboots of TV shows from yesteryear, most have been terrible and have kind of vanished into obscurity – The A-Team, Charlie’s Angels, remember they remade Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson? Occasionally you’d get the odd gem, 21 Jump Street and I always liked the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson Starsky & Hutch, these movies took a sideways look at their original source material and played it mainly for laughs.

The Mission Impossible series has grown into it’s own thing of course – it’s basically Tom Cruise’s personal franchise where he gets to play James Bond. You had Luc Besson directing the first one, a great 90s action thriller with a starry cast and a twisty turny plot. The 2nd film was peak Tom Cruise and peak John Woo with slow motion motorcycle chases at sunset. It wasn’t until JJ Abrams took over on the third film that the movies became more ensemble heist movies. Brad Bird did the 4th movie, which started to ramp up the stunts, with Tom Cruise famously climbing to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Christopher McQuarrie took over the reigns of the fifth movie and resumes with the sixth movie – Mission Impossible: Fallout and… it’s kind of being treated as a big deal.

The plot involves Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt accepting a mission to retrieve deadly Plutonium from a shadowy agency of bad guys known as Syndicate. The initial mission goes wrong, leaving Ethan Hunt and his crew Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ving Rhames to accept outside help from the CIA in the form of Henry Cavil sporting the famous moustache that sunk the Justice League. It’s an adventure that twists and turns through the streets of Paris bouncing between set piece to set piece that did genuinely leave me reeling – ‘How did they do that?’

It’s being praised as the best Mission Impossible yet and one of the finest action movies of recent years which I’m not really convinced. It’s not John Wick and it’s certainly no Mad Max: Fury Road. I still think the third and fourth Mission Impossible films are better. Though that’s not to write off Fallout completely.

There is a lot more footage of Tom Cruise running that can probably be added to that compilation video. I mean he really goes for it in this film. I don’t know if they sped the footage up but at times it looks like he’s moving at superhuman speed. He just bolts. This man is 56 years old. And then there’s a bit where he does a Halo jump, has a motorcycle chase through Paris and then does some wreckless driving in a helicopter and… yeah the action on display can only be described in superlatives. And the Cruiser’s dedication to do all his own stunts is very admirable. Tom Cruise’s very name was enough to launch movies a decade ago, but that system has broken down now – but it’s humbling that he still works very hard to really sell the action.

It probably suffers from too many twists and turns, crosses and double crosses – which do have a habit of feeling a bit messy in places – but this is the kind of action made for a big screen.

Ant Man and The Wasp

ant-man-and-the-wasp

Following Black Panther in February, and Infinity War in April – Ant Man and The Wasp is the third Marvel movie this year. Paul Rudd returns as Ant Man and he now forms a double act with Evangeline Lily’s Wasp – who has all the powers of Ant Man, but can fly and is much better at kicking arse.

About damn time. Hmmm… Indeed Marvel. INDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED.

Paul Rudd is under house arrest due to his involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War where he got real big (remember?). Being the lovable daddy he is, he’s spending most of his time building elaborate interior playgrounds for him and his daughter to run around. He’s only a few days away from parole… with no contact with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) or his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily). However, due to his entanglements with the Quantum Realm, that occurred in the climax of the first movie, where he got real small (remember?), he begins to have communion with Hank Pym’s long lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfieffer). And so kickstarts events in which Paul Rudd must once again reunite with Hank Pym to become Any Man where he is joined by The Wasp. They must collaborate to save mum from the Quantum Realm, meanwhile a villain who can walk through walls is also searching for mum but more for nefarious reasons obviously.

As with the last Ant man film, this has been billed as a smaller scale heist movie to follow up the big Avengers team up. The light desert to go after the main meal. The come down. Though it’s not as big in scale as Infinity War, it’s not a movie where the fate of the universe is at stake, it’s still a movie that has spaceships going through portals navigating vague cosmic plains. There are still elaborate effect shots depicting buildings that can go big and small – it’s still a film that has giant machines being built by giant ants. Last time, director Peyton Reed was the guy who took the helm after Edgar Wright left the production, and the sequel feels more confident and willing to go more bonkers with the big/small concept.

It’s fine.  It’s well made, has good action and lots of humour (my favourite was a recurring joke involving Baba Yaga). Marvel have been hitting home runs during their last sprint of movies, but Ant Man & The Wasp feels like the most inconsequential Marvel movie since last summer’s Spiderman: Homecoming.

At least, we can rest easy now because there won’t be another comic book superhero movie until Aqua Man in December.

 

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