Jeff Goldblum

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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Isle of Dogs

25/03/18

The arrival of a new Wes Anderson movie is generally a cause for excitement and Isle of Dogs has the added frisson of seeing him return to work with the London-based 3 Mills animation team, whom he employed to such great effect on Fantastic Mr Fox. It must be said, however, that this is an altogether more ambitious project than his previous stop-motion foray.

The story is set twenty years into the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. After a recent dog-flu epidemic, Mayor Kobayashi (Komichi Nomura) orders all the city’s dogs to be rounded up and exiled to an offshore island, essentially a rat-infested repository for much of Japan’s unwanted garbage.

On the island, a group of dogs are struggling for survival, led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a battle-scarred stray who sees himself very much as the alpha male of the pack. His followers  are voiced by a whole menagerie of A-List talent (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, to name but three). The sudden arrival of Kobayashi’s twelve year old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), changes everything. Atari is in search of his beloved lost pet, Spot, who the mayor has insisted must follow the example of all the other four-legged offenders and be sent into quarantine off-shore. This sets Chief and his pack off on a quest to help Atari by locating the missing canine and, of course, they uncover some startling truths in the process. Meanwhile, a pro-dog student group led by the intrepid Tracy (Greta Gerwig) are leading an insurrection against Kobayashi, who, it seems, has not been as honest as he might have been…

Some critics of the film have accused it of cultural appropriation, but I can’t help hoping they are barking up the wrong tree. The love and respect for Japan and its traditions are evident in just about every frame of this delightful movie, from the Taisho drumming sequences to the visual references to veteran directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Mizazaki. What’s more, the animation is so detailed and so brilliantly realised, it’s hard to suppress my gasps of admiration as the story scampers along at high speed from revelation to revelation. All the usual Anderson qualities are in evidence – witty one-liners, a steadfast refusal to get too sentimental about the characters and a delicious vein of dark humour that ties the whole package neatly together.

On the same day we viewed this, The Cameo Cinema hosted a dog-friendly screening, but, as we chose to attend the humans-only show, I cannot really comment on how it went down with its four-legged viewers.

But in my humble opinion, at least, this film is a howling success.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Independence Day: Resurgence

Jeff-Goldblum-and-Liam-Hemsworth-in-Independence-Day-Resurgence

26/06/16

Welcome back to the world of Roland Emmerich. Hard to believe that its been 20 years since Independence Day elevated him to the position of head go-to guy for apocalyptic devastation. Since then, he’s presided over a slate of similarly themed destructathons – The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, 2012, with a couple of disasters of a different persuasion thrown in for good measure – The Patriot, which played fast and loose with American history  and Anonymous, a film which seriously posited the notion that William Shakespeare was an illiterate actor who got somebody else to write all his plays for him. Now, Emmerich finally revisits his biggest hit with mixed results. Could it have been a coincidence that it was released on the day the UK decided to vote for Brexit? I doubt it. Disasters have a tendency to cling together.

It’s been twenty years since those pesky aliens took on Planet Earth and there has been unprecedented peace and prosperity for the world ever since. (And if you’ll swallow that, you’ll swallow anything.) But of course, it was only a matter of time before the space lizards came back for another go, an event presaged by former president Whitmore (Bill Pullman) experiencing some strange visions. All the stars of the original resurface here, with the notable exception of Captain Steve Hiller (Will Smith) who we are informed has ‘perished on a test flight.’ Luckily, his son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), a chip off the old block if ever there was one, is on hand to carry on his late father’s work, despite having rivalry issues with reckless young pilot, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Meanwhile, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is in Africa, where he hooks up with Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is trying to decipher some strange alien writing that seems to hint at unfinished business…

To be honest, it’s pretty pointless to say any more about the plot which is frankly, bonkers. (It’s saying something when the alien invasion elements are the most credible part of the story). Of course, what Emmerich has always excelled at are the wide screen scenes of carnage, which at times resemble the visionary paintings of John Martin. A set-piece where one major city is unceremoniously dumped on top of another is, it has to be said, pretty spectacular. Goldblum also earns his money as comic relief, wandering around in the background making flip remarks as yet another landmark is blown to smithereens.

And yet, it’s really not enough to salvage this from it’s failings – lamentable dialogue, plot holes you could fly a jumbo-sized spacecraft through and some cheesy statements about mankind’s ability to survive against all the odds. What’s more, the premise of a giant Queen alien presiding over a ‘hive’ of extra terrestrials is too close to James Cameron’s Aliens for comfort. A final chase across the salt flats in pursuit of a busload of kids (and a cute dog) is the point where everything falls to pieces. At this point, even Goldblum looks embarrassed.

So, worth seeing? Yes, provided you can overlook the ridiculous plot and the truly awful dialogue. And a worthy successor to the original film? Nah, not really. It’s as if Emmerich has decided to crank everything up to maximum – as though his motto is ‘bigger is better.’ Why have a dozen spaceships when you can have three hundred of them?  Why blow up one monument when you can destroy a dozen? Ironically, I still remember the impact of watching the White House blown to smithereens in the first film, but for all the bombast on display here, I doubt that I’ll remember this for more than a day or so.

The film ends with a clumsy attempt to set up a Part Three, which I have to say, I won’t be holding my breath for. Enough, already. Try something new.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney