Ladies and gentleman, it’s a great weekend to go to the movies! Two cinematic gems and an underwhelming stinker await you. There’s the story of a charming old man with a knack for separating banks from their money, the tale of a focused astronaut with lunar ambitions, and a yarn about seven strangers with dark secrets in a hotel. Two of them are among my favorite movies of 2018 and the other was a bore and a chore to sit through.
Out of respect for legendary actor Robert Redford, I will start with The Old Man & the Gun. This is R Double’s last time gracing the silver screen and I can’t think of a better role for him to go out on. It’s the perfect vehicle for him and a fitting bookend to a career that took off when he played a bank robber. Let’s be real, the man never had a ton of range as an actor, but with a smile and personality like his, he didn’t need it. His natural charisma allowed him to gracefully fill many roles and he made it look easy, appearing in a bevy of classics in a career that lasted 60 years and never went stale.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jeremiah Johnson, The Sting, All the President’s Men, The Natural, Sneakers, All is Lost… I could go on and on. He even had a fun turn in what is arguably the best Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Redford’s no slouch as a director either, giving us the critically acclaimed, but still underrated Quiz Show, Oscar darling Ordinary People, and A River Runs Through It. In 1981, he opened Sundance Institute and he’s been a huge proponent of independent film.
As a fan of the man, I’m glad that his final hurrah is an appropriate sendoff. I had a huge smile on my face for much of the 93 minute runtime as I watched Redford operate in fine form with a phenomenal cast including Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, and Tom Waits. David Lowery (A Ghost Story) manned the director’s chair and Daniel Hart (A Ghost Story) did the music. Don’t let the title fool you, this is not a violent affair. It’s a tender tale of an old man doing what he loves and its a real treat to see old pros Redford and Spacek appear onscreen together. She’s luminous and the rest of the cast is game. Highly recommended. 4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Now I suppose we’ll get the stinker out of the way. Let me preface this by saying there’s plenty of people who like this flick, but that’s not going to stop me from giving you my raw two cents. I have a low tolerance for movies that want so desperately to be cool and just… aren’t, and Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale is a wannabe try hard and a boring mess that annoyed me to no end. It’s about seven strangers with dark secrets in a hotel that’s cut in two by the California/Nevada border (ooh *jazz hands*). I didn’t give two heaps about the seven strangers or their plights and that made the 2 hour and 21 minute runtime feel like a lifetime.
The movie is all over the place and it takes itself way too seriously. I didn’t care for the story or the writing and not even Jeff Bridges as a drinking priest could save it. A positive takeaway is Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet, a struggling singer lodging amongst the rapscallions. Despite the trappings of a character with little more to do than sing and look scared, she displays flashes of talent and it’s evident she could shine in the right role. (Perhaps in a remake of Diva? To even suggest such a thing is a high complement.) Chris Hemsworth plays cult leader Billy Lee with trashy gusto and I didn’t find him or the character appealing or entertaining in the slightest.
I had a lot of fun with Goddard’s first film, The Cabin in the Woods, but couldn’t get into this one. It felt like he was borrowing too much from other directors instead of doing his own thing. Out of the 35 films I saw at Fantastic Fest, Bad Times at the El Royale is easily my least favorite and the only one I really disliked. I can only recommend it to people who like reheated fare like Smoking Aces and Seven Psychopaths, other movies I had similar reactions to. 2.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The Old Man & the Gun is probably my favorite of this week’s releases, but Damien Chazelle’s First Man is likely the best. It stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and it might be the most realistic portrayal of space travel in the history of cinema. It manages to make flight feel as scary as it is wondrous and it portrays an epic journey and well known piece of history in an intimate, exhilarating fashion. Most space movies have a sheen to them, but First Man has a stripped back, more naturalistic look. It tells the story from Neil and his family’s perspective and the camera lingers close to them. The launch and space scenes have a claustrophobic feeling that is probably inherent to space travel but not always reflected in the movies.
Ryan Gosling is typical Gos, one of the best in the game. Here he’s subdued, playing a serious man who spends a lot of time in his own head. Trying to get to the moon is no easy task and the burden and wear and tear of the training and missions along with the grief and fear that accompanies the loss of close friends and companions weighs on him. Perhaps even more impressive is Claire Foy as Janet Sheardon, Neil’s wife in the film. He’s not the only one affected by his life-risking missions and she does a marvelous job conveying the stress and deafening angst that’s boiling beneath the surface.
First Man includes some nods to other space movies, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey with a waltz written by Chazelle’s frequent collaborator Justin Herwitz that not-so-subtly recalls Kubrick’s use of Strauss’ “The Blue Danube.” The waltz is a nice touch in a film that’s far less musical than his first two features, Whiplash and La La Land. Here the score is supportive without being intrusive. It was most notable during the end credits, but I may have been too caught up in the movie to notice. Most of the audience seemed riveted. This one soars. 4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
I will definitely be seeing First Man and The Old Man & the Gun again in theaters (First Man in IMAX) and I will not be checking in for more Bad Times at the El Royale.
Whatever you end up watching this weekend, I wish you optimal viewing conditions and a wonderful experience. -Salty
Follow me on twitter: @saltywinters
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