Tag Archives: Noir

Bad Time at the El Royale

13 Oct

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’: You can check in, then suspect no one in this noir gets out alive

 

“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a knuckleball-noir, a den of thieves stuffed with double agendas. The star of the film, besides the ripped abs of Chris Hemsworth or sexy boot-wearing waif Cailee Spaeny, is the remote resort of the title, once a grand casino straddling California and Nevada (there’s a red line down the middle of the lobby, and you can drink only on the California side). It’s seen better days, but lost its gambling license. Needless to say, few people check in; by the time the movie is over, even fewer check out.

The time is the Nixon-tainted ’70s, so cellphones are not a thing, but wiretapping and one-way mirrors are. An amiable reverend (Jeff Bridges) and a backup soul singer (Cynthia Erivo) check in first. Then there’s Jon Hamm, right out of “Mad Men” as a vacuum cleaner salesman, and Dakota Johnson, who zips in Tarantino-hip in a mod model muscle car with a bound bundle in the trunk. Not everyone’s whom they pretend to be, and the skittish hotel manager (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill, excellent in a role that seems designed for the late Anton Yelchin) bears the weight of past horrors in the hotel and has demanding owners to answer to. The inn has a few secrets as well.

As the sands shift and the mother of all storms descends, the tension rises. What’s buried under the hotel? Who is the mysterious being fled by Johnson’s Emily Summerspring and her sister Ruth (Spaeny)? Plus there’s the gruesome murder of a couple nearby that we hear about over and over on TV, with the killer still on the loose. Deep Purple and some lesser-known Motown kick up the scene – something that’s needed, because at almost two and a half hours “El Royale” is nearly an hour too long (but stylish nonetheless). And though directed by Drew Goddard, whose debut, “Cabin in the Woods” (2012) was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, the film overplays moments. The plot, which in premise bears much in common with James Mangold’s 2003 Nevada hotel thriller “Identity,” loses its enigmatic edge a little over halfway in, and many of the more likable souls perish far too soon. But fear not, everyone gets a flashback, and certain scenes get replayed from multiple POVs. They’re neat devices, but not every character comes out feeling fully sketched. 

Hemsworth, who played beautifully against his Thor persona in “Cabin in the Woods,” isn’t given much to do here as a Cali-sun god and cult leader – Jim Morrison infused with the cocky cold-bloodedness of Charles Manson. It’s a big, hammy bone, and it gets well gnawed. The camp mostly works, while Bridges and Johnson hold the fort, Spaeny and Pullman add flourishes of manic quirk and Erivo adds soul, social context and glorious chops. The Watergate fiasco and a MacGuffin that could be tied to JFK loom at the corners, but they’re mostly distractions; the film is best when characters sit and banter over whisky, even if their hands are tied and a gun is to their head.

The films of Jean-Pierre Melville

3 Dec

6 Films To Celebrate French Noir Master Jean-Pierre Melville’s Centennial At The MFA

Serge Reggiani in Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Doulos," released in 1962. (Courtesy Rialto Pictures)closemore

If he were alive today, Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the great faces of French cinema, would be 100 years old. (He was born in 1917 and died of a heart attack in 1973). To commemorate the filmmaker’s 100th birthday, the Museum of Fine Arts is running a retrospective of the auteur’s work.

If you’re unfamiliar with the name (and too many Americans are), Melville minted chic, noir-ish gangster flicks that have been widely cited for their influence and echoed in the hip, popular works of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann and John Woo. Melville also was a contemporary of, and collaborator with, many of the iconic directors of the French New Wave in the ’50s and ’60s — namely Jean-Luc Godard — and employed many of the great French actors of the time, most notably Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.

Now revered for his unique style and approach (he made the fedora and the trench coat as synonymous with the French gangster genre as dusters and 10-gallon hats are to the American Western) Melville almost didn’t become a filmmaker. Born an Alsatian Jew by the surname Grumbach, he fled to England after the 1940 German invasion of France. Later, he returned as a member of the French Resistance. His nom de guerre was indeed copped from the “Moby Dick” author, who the young freedom fighter held in high regard. After the war, Melville applied to become an assistant director, but his license application was denied so he launched his own production company. The rest, so to say, is cinematic history. Melville produced a spartan 14 films — nearly all fine cut gems. Continue reading

The Nice Guys

23 May

Shane Black, once evisceration fodder alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator” and a top-paid screenwriter “The Long Kiss Goodnight” in the 1990s, has been something of a rebirth monkey within the studio system – last seen directing an “Iron Man” installment and now, as writer and director, serving up something very retro, macho and immensely entertaining.

052016i The Nice GuysIn “The Nice Guys” we’re hanging out in Los Angeles circa 1977 where the neon buzz of “Boogie Nights” is everywhere and the veins of corruption, akin to “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown,” run deep. It’s in this tawdry underbelly that Jackson Healy (a paunchy Russell Crowe) makes a living by punching people in the face. Got a stalker? Want them off your back? Give Healy a few bucks and the problem’s solved. Healy would like to be something more than a hatchet but isn’t certain he’s got the goods to cut it as a private detective, though he might make a better one than Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a lush who talks so much he reveals all his cards before the hand’s dealt. To be fair, he’s coping with the loss of his wife and trying to raise a preteen daughter (Angourie Rice, channeling the sass of Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neal in the 1970s).

The two get tossed together after a porn actress named Misty Mountains dies in a car crash (one that is both a fulfillment of a 12-year-old boy’s ultimate fantasy and a cagey homage to Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out”) and her aunt, who wears Coke-bottle bottoms for glasses, insists she’s still alive and hires March to find her; another interested party hires Healy to get March off the case. The reluctant pairing of the two isn’t as stark as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in “48 Hrs.,” but it is a near equal stroke of genius. Gosling is something of a dopey James Rockford infused with a splash of Ratso Rizzo, while Crowe fills the screen as a weary bull, unsure of himself but quick to act with his hands. They hop from one hot situation to the next – a porn pool party with Earth, Wind and Fire in the house and March’s daughter unexpectedly in tow – unraveling a growing conspiracy that seems to choke the city almost as much as the pervasive smog.

Black layers in devilish sight gag after sight gag with smooth pulpy nuance, while maintaining the requisite forward motion. Nothing about the film feels contrived, though you think there should be a moment of pause somewhere. Much of the reason there isn’t any is because Black’s all in, and so are Crowe and Gosling. Their play off each other is one for the ages. It’s a noirish delight that both puts its arm around you with avuncular warmth and smashes you in the face. Black loads up the reels and never relents.