Dave Bautista

Hotel Artemis

25/07/18

Set in a dystopian, near future Los Angeles… boy, if only I had a tenner for every time I’ve started a review with that line… there exists a secret location that’s kind of like BUPA for criminals. Basically, bad people become members, they pay their dues every month and, when they find themselves all shot up and in urgent need of medical attention, this is where they come to recuperate. The joint is run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster), once a valued member of the caring profession, now a hopeless alcoholic with a penchant for repairing the trickiest of wounds. You need a new liver? No problem! She has a 3D printer that can make you one! She’s ably assisted by Everest (Dave Bautista), a veritable man-mountain who’ll do anything for her but, she’s not a happy bunny,  haunted by something bad in her past, something we occasionally catch unsettling glimpses of.

Into this pressure cooker setting comes Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother, Honolulu (Bryan Tyree Henry), who – after a bank job has gone belly-up – are badly wounded and struggling to survive. (In case you’re wondering about those names, characters are called after the holiday-themed rooms in which they are installed.)

But things are more complicated than usual. A problem with LA’s biggest water supplier has kicked off violent riots on the streets, so even getting across town is problematic. Once safely in the building, Waikiki meets up with his ‘friend,’ Nice (Sofia Boutella), an assassin who makes her living from bumping off VIPs, sharing the kill with her employers via a camera embedded in her head. Well, we’ve all got to earn a living, right?

And then, in comes The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), who, as the name might suggest, is LA’s most powerful gangster and also, it turns out, the man who set up the Hotel Artemis in the first place. So nobody is going to keep him out, right? Problem is, for a very important reason, he’s the last person that Waikiki and Honolulu want to meet up with…

Writer/director Drew Pearce’s futuristic film is an assured and intriguing piece of cinema. It may have all the trappings of a sci-fi movie, but it’s much more about the characters and the way they interact with each other. The complex storyline generates plenty of tension and there are  some fine performances from an ensemble cast. Foster is particularly good, submitting a brilliant character study in the lead role that makes me wish she’d act in more films. The setting too, with each room styled around a different theme, is memorable. Perhaps inevitably, in the final reel, events descend into violence, but this too is well-handled and doesn’t outstay its welcome. More sensitive viewers may wish to glance away from the screen at key moments.

So, that’s the Hotel Artemis. Well worth booking into for a short and occasionally enthralling city break. Just don’t expect to come out in one piece.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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Blade Runner 2049

 

 

05/10/17

The original Blade Runner (1982) is widely regarded as a classic of the sci fi genre. People forget that on its release, it didn’t receive much acclaim. The critics were distinctly sniffy about it and, for that matter, it didn’t exactly pack out the multiplexes. But, over the intervening years, its stature has grown, especially as original director Ridley Scott couldn’t seem to stop tinkering with it. This must surely be the only film where the Director’s Cut is actually shorter than the theatrical release?

When the news broke that there would be a sequel – and furthermore, that Scott would only be producing, rather than directing, expectations plummeted. But the appointment of Denis Villeneauve to the director’s seat definitely helped to bolster confidence; (his Arrival was one of the most acclaimed films of last year) and besides, Scott’s recent return to another of his franchises, with Alien Covenant, hadn’t exactly been the massive success everybody had predicted. Maybe it was the right thing to go forward with a new hand on the helm. Then the advance reviews for Blade Runner 2049 broke and it was, apparently, a masterpiece, a jaw-dropping work of staggering genius. The truth of course, is that it isn’t quite that, but it is an assured and credible sequel to the original film, which is pretty much all we could have hoped for.

It’s thirty years since the events of Blade Runner and a new generation of replicants – ones that are supposedly incapable of insurrection, are now taking on the work that humans disdain, including hunting down and ‘retiring’ the last remaining Nexus 6 models, who are still insisting on going about their business. ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is one of the new breed of ‘skin job’, working as a Blade Runner for the LAPD, under the direction of Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright). While hunting down renegade replicant Sapper Morten (Dave Bautista), K makes an unexpected discovery. Buried in a box beneath one of the world’s last surviving trees, are the remains of a woman. The pathology department soon establishes that she died in childbirth. The problem is, a serial number hidden in her bones identifies her as a replicant. And replicants are supposedly incapable of procreation. This is news that threatens to have world-changing repercussions and one, when you think about it, that is the basis for most religions.

If Villeneauve’s brief was to mirror the look and feel of the original movie, then this has to be regarded as a success. The squalid grandeur of the cityscapes are breathtakingly realised, the recreation of a smog laden, overcrowded dystopian Los Angeles is perfectly achieved – even Hans Zimmer’s eerie score manages to echo the feel of the Vangelis original while still somehow managing to be its own beast. The references to the first story are all cleverly integrated. Nothing ever feels tacked on.

But this is more than just an accomplished rehash. I particularly liked the concept of Joi (Ama de Armas), K’s virtual reality companion, which gives you an idea of where the likes of Siri and Alexa are eventually going to wind up. A VR creation capable of feeling love for its owner? This element is the film’s strongest card, (and a scene where Joi ‘borrows’ the body of another woman in order to make love to K is a standout); but there are plenty of other thought-provoking ideas in here, much more than the usual cartoonish ones we’ve become used to in this genre. They will have you discussing their implications long after the credits have rolled.

What exactly does it mean to be human? How important are memories to our evolution and to what degree can we trust them? And perhaps, most baffling of all… why does Harrison Ford never seem to get any older?

Okay, so the film isn’t quite perfect. Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace  – the man who has inherited and improved upon the Tyrell Corporation’s achievements – is a bit wearisome, to tell you the truth, given to intoning his lines like an Old Testament prophet; and while I appreciate that there must be fight scenes in a film like this, the climactic punch up between K and a supercharged female adversary seems to go on for just about forever. But the ending is cool. I really didn’t see that coming…

Inevitably, arguments will rage about this one. Some people are going to hate it. Some are going to insist that it’s way better than the original. But for me that will always be a solid gold five star picture, while this one? Close, but no cigar. Maybe just a slim panetella.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

17/05/17

Amidst the plethora of movies featuring characters in spandex and capes, the original Guardians of the Galaxy stood out from the competition. Funny, self-deprecating and soundtracked by a collection of 80s classics, it was an enjoyable space romp. It was, however, hampered by a couple of not-so-positive notes – a needlessly complicated plot and an evil villain who seemed to have wandered in from Casting Central. But the film was a huge hit and it was never in doubt that there would be a sequel. Director James Gunn is clearly on a roll – Volume 3 has just been announced.

It’s clear from the get-go that Volume 2 is going to be fun. The prologue is set in 1980 and features a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell (how the thump do that do that?) as an extra-terrestrial canoodling with an earthling woman. Then we jump twenty-eight years into the future and see the Guardians, battling a hideous space beast, which is trying to get its sneaky tentacles on some very powerful batteries. This film has a secret weapon, which its not afraid to deploy with lethal effect – and that weapon is Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, in what must have been the easiest voiceover  job in film history). This tiny offshoot of the original Groot is so downright adorable only the flintiest hearted viewers will be able to resist him. (Even the most heinous villains in the universe find themselves unable to dispose of him, which generally proves to be their undoing.)

Next up, the Guardians are visited by Ego (Kurt Russell, his real age now), who, in the best Star Wars tradition, announces that he is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father and he’s been trying to reconnect with him for years. He whisks Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) off to his home planet, which he has modestly named after himself and tells Peter that he is willing to share his super powers with his long lost son. He also introduces the team to Mantis (Pom Klimentieff), an empath, who can tell things about people simply by touching them – and who is clearly destined to be a member of the Guardians herself. But Gamora isn’t happy. She senses that something isn’t quite right about this set up. Meanwhile, back at the spaceship, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is being pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who has a few Volume 1 scores to settle…

Okay, once again, this isn’t a perfect film. The central message – the importance of family love – is as unremittingly cheesy as any of Disney’s most cloying output – but, once again, it’s saved by the deliciously snarky dialogue and some genuinely funny jokes.  I particularly enjoy Drax’s spectacularly clumsy conversations with Mantis. There’s another classic rock soundtrack, and any film that has the good taste to use Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in a key scene is sure to earn some brownie points from me. If the movie’s final confrontation becomes too much of a pixel-fest, well, it’s probably to be expected of the genre, but for my money, this once again works best when it concentrates on the engaging interplay between the characters. Overall, I feel Volume 2 works better than the original.

Make sure you stay in your seats throughout the closing credits. There are not one, not two, but five short clips to whet your appetite for Guardians 3 – plus, the by now obligatory cameo for Stan Lee.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney