Bad Times at the El Royale, and at El Teatro

The pacing — especially in the early going — of Bad Times at the El Royale is terrible.  With the rather simple story at hand, an hour could easily have been lopped off.  Either that, or throw some more taters in the soup.  Maybe a little celery.

Put another way: the remarkable setting — as hinted at in the lush and lovely poster above — is largely wasted.  I can only imagine what David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino would have done with both the motel and the pine trees behind it.  Of course, I needn’t speculate: we have Twin Peaks,  and we have The Hateful Eight.

It makes you appreciate Tarantino.  Even at nearly 30 minutes longer than El Royale, The Hateful Eight, largely set in a single lodge room, is never boring.  Only if that could be said of this poorly thought out knock-off.  4/10


Film Brief: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers features a great, rich, and seemingly accurate visual representation of the burgeoning frontier west, but the language didn’t seem so authentic, oft filled with anachronisms — though I wonder if that was intentional.  A character-driven story, the plot could have been beefed up.  Still, I was entertained as I followed these rapscallions.  6/10

Comparison Notes: Dead Man, Django Unchained, all westerns

If A Star Is Born, I’d like to see it happen

A Star Is Born is more sketches of a movie instead of a movie.  It was like watching actors in acting school: here’s the intro bar scene, here’s the big conflict scene etc.  Each of these scenes works on its own, but one scene to another is pieced together in a forced, inorganic manner.  There is no natural flow to the movie.

Worse, “A Star Is Born” to me is supposed to be about a latent talent finding her voice.  Lady Gaga is clearly a star from scene 1 — which makes the film fail its entire premise.  There is no “birth” to be found.  Indeed, the perfection of her singing is a major part of what is wrong with this picture.  She’s never anything short of a pro.

More bad stuff: she’s got no character flaws.  Even her husband has only one.  It’s not exactly tricky screenwriting to put in a character flaw or two.  Lady Gaga’s character is perfect in all ways — which besides being unrealistic, is a little boring.

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I do marginally recommend A Star Is Born on the strength of Lady Gaga’s absolutely sublime songs and singing, and very good acting.  Her character is completely endearing, and I see an Oscar nod in the offing.  Bradley Cooper’s performance is strong as well, unlike his story development.

So to conclude… A Star Is Born is a borderline disaster with Lady Gaga’s performance as its saving grace.  I would much rather watch 2 hours of Lady Gaga on stage.  I guess there’s a way to do that called going to a concert.  6/10

Comparison Notes: Whiplash, Crazy Heart, Blaze, Love and Mercy, Ray, Walk the Line, Little Voice, Il Postino

Film Brief: Free Solo

There’s no margin for error.  Imagine an Olympic-gold-medal-level athletic achievement that if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.

That’s pretty much what free soloing El Cap is like.  You have to do it perfectly.

At some point I will finally publish my Ratings Explained post.  Case in point is Free Solo: why is it less than a 9/10?  It’s completely gripping and a profound examination of life.  Answer: there are obvious comparisons to The Walk.  Free Solo is probably the best of the year so far, but I didn’t have that feeling of unbridled joy that The Walk gave me.  9/10 is a high bar — almost as high as El Capitan.

So, for now, Free Solo stands tall at the high end of 8/10.

Comparison Notes: Meru, Everest, The Walk

Blaze of something less than glory

Telling your audience at the very beginning of the movie that the star of the film is now dead, and how he died, doesn’t help your plot development a whole lot.  That glitch is emblematic of the weight holding down Ethan Hawke’s Blaze.

Which is too bad, because Blaze had an impact on me.  It is richly textured and filled with outstanding performances, especially the central one.  On top of that, I loved the music.  It was a great portrait of a talented and tragically flawed musical soul with whom I identified.  But a movie is not a portrait.  It’s a movie, something Hawke doesn’t seem to fully understand.

How so?  The movie meanders all over the place, perhaps to echo the rambling nature of Blaze Foley.  It doesn’t work.  Focus on the story was badly needed, as some of the most salient aspects of the musician’s life were glossed over or outright omitted, while less impactful episodes were stretched thin.  And a theme of mine — the power of linear storytelling — is blaring in its absence.

Blaze is a very heartfelt and honest film, so I’d love to give it a higher score.  Maybe because of its meandering nature, I didn’t get the emotional connection I might otherwise.  I absolutely recommend it, but can’t get past 6/10.

Comparison Notes: The most direct comparisons are to Crazy Heart, then to Walk the Line, Ray (Jamie Foxx), and other musical biographies, but perhaps the better comparison is a movie like Leave No Trace — the idea of a character who has some strong personality vectors but is fundamentally flawed.

TV Post 2018 Part 1: Winona Ryder

I get goosebumps every time I see this ad.

Understand that when it first aired, you did not know it was Winona Ryder until the reveal.  Knowing ahead of time may diminish the impact, though I don’t think by much.

And that almost concludes my belated TV 2018 Part 1 post.  I sincerely intend to publish Part 2 in the not-too-distant future.

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The short version above is the original I saw all those months ago, and arguably the more potent, but the full-length version may pack even more of a punch.  Apparently there was some controversy around the original airing of this commercial in regards to the MeToo / TimesUp movement(s), but it was another case of people just not getting it.