• Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

    Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the greatest Hollywood movies released this year. Set in a remote hotel on the California-Nevada border that has seen its best days decades earlier, the movie follows an intriguing set of characters that end up meeting there. We meet an aging Catholic priest who is suffering from an illness, a female black singer, a communicative salesman and a sarcastic young woman who are welcomed by a nervous receptionist. All these characters have secrets to hide and aren't exactly who they pretend to be. Things take a sinister turn when the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a mysterious blackmail organization and a murderous sect get involved. When extortion, kidnapping and murder take place, the remote hotel becomes the setting of an explosive showdown.

    Filmed in the key of Quentin Tarantino's movies, Bad Times at the El Royale starts with sluggish but atmospheric pace to introduce all relevant characters and locations. The film gets a grislier turn as more and more secrets about the characters and locations are gradually being revealed. The final thirty minutes are bloody, brutal and intense as the film ends on a particularly high note.

    The location of the rundown hotel is quite fascinating as it also reflects the characters whose days of former glory are long behind them. When a storm arises and the characters are stuck in the remote location, the movie gets a quite claustrophobic vibe. The film takes place in a shiny lobby, simple hotel rooms and a few secret locations that are quite surprising to say the least.

    The actresses and actors are particularly convincing and play their roles with empathy and precision. The audience quickly sympathizes with some characters and easily scorns others. The fates of the characters won't leave anyone unimpressed.

    Bad Times at the El Royale offers relentless action, unique characters, intense dialogues, stunning locations, dramatic moments, creative plot twists and uneasy tension in two and a half particularly entertaining hours. You should definitely watch it at your local movie theatre.

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  • Gear (2017)

    When I heard that this independnet Canadian thriller was shown in a small independent movie theater in my region, I decided to give it a shot. When I arrived on a cold Tuesday night, I was told that there were only fifteen seats left and my ticket could only be purchased with the help of the manager's password. I was surprised and excited to hear that this movie could attract such a big crowd on such an unusual day. When I actually entered the cinema, it turned out that only three other people were in the audience with me: a corpulent middle-aged man who nearly fell asleep during the film, a lonely old man and a middle-aged Asian woman. Why am I telling you this anecdote? It's because the movie was a similar letdown as the disappointing audience.

    There are only a few positive points to mention about the film. The main idea of the story is intriguing as we follow a driver who is forced to bring his late wife's sister to her execution after he lost a shipment. The movie shows beautiful locations and was mostly shot in Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto. Finally, the camera work was mostly calm and precise.

    Everything else was a complete mess. The acting performances were robotic and stiff. All characters were antipathic and one could't empathize with any of them. The movie plodded on with endless driving sequences and vapid dialogues. The story never truly unfolded and even seemed ridiculous at times, especially towards the end. There were no memorable scenes whatsoever. The few action sequences seemed lackluster. The soundtrack reminded me of an untalented teenager creating songs on an old computer in his parents' basement.

    When you are an unknown filmmaker with a limited budget, you might only have one shot at glory. You need to produce a film that is convincing, gripping and unique. This movie is worse than most high school film projects I have watched. It's lacking creativity, drive and passion. I have only spent four dollars on watching this flick but even those weren't worth it. You will forget that bland film as soon as it concluded, so there is no need to watch it in the first place.

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  • A Simple Favor (2018)

    A Simple Favor is a psycho thriller that is very similar to films like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. It's a little bit too similar and therefore slightly predictable. However, this movie is still greatly executed and very entertaining. The second and especially the last third are particularly intense.

    The opening third slightly overstays its welcome. It has the purpose to introduce the numerous characters but since the very first scene already spoils one of the main characters' disappearance, the audience only waits for this to happen. However, the exposition appropriately introduces the three main characters. We follow the slightly nervous single mother and widow Stephanie who has a passion for activities in her community and especially cooking. She meets the mysterious Emily who is very strict, straightforward and even rude at times but who lives life to the fullest. Her husband Sean is an author with writer's block who madly loves his wife. The first third feels like a slice of life, using humorous and dramatic elements but being somewhat shallow beneath the surface.

    The rising action finally starts when Emily disappears from one day to the other. She asked her best friend Stephanie to take her son from school and said she would come pick him up. However, she vanishes without leaving a trace. Emily starts to wonder what might have happened and starts investigating her suspicious employer. She also uses her internet show to ask viewers from around the country for help. The movie that started in a rather light-hearted tone gets a more serious touch here that soon turns sinister.

    The climax, falling action and resolution all occur in the film's final third that comes around with several twists, lots of tension and a healthy dose of drama. The last forty minutes or so will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The final conclusion is slightly disappointing but the build-up is so outstanding that it actually barely matters.

    Aside the progressive change from light-hearted comedy drama to sinister psycho thriller, the movie convinces with its clever plot and outstanding acting performances by the three main characters. If you like the aforementioned Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you can consider A Simple Favor movie of the year material. If you just enjoy twisted psycho thrillers, you will like this gripping film that however lacks some creativity compared to quite similar movies that have been released all too recently.

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  • Appointment with Death (1988)

    I have appreciated numerous cinematic adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels, including Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that have been released throughout the seventies and eighties. The movies have convinced me and fans all around the world with charismatic star actresses and actors, characters with charisma, charm and depth as well as unpredictable twists and turns in the addicting plots. None of these things can be found in this dull film.

    Let's start with the few positive elements. The photography looks gorgeous and was filmed on location in Italy and Israel. The movie makes you want to visit these exotic locations. The only convincing actress is Piper Laurie who plays the cold matriarch brilliantly. Sadly, her character gets killed halfway through the movie. The few investigative flashbacks in the film's second half at least make you guess who might have committed the murder for a few moments but the outcome is surprisingly simple.

    On the negative side, we have not only surprisingly shallow characters but also unconvincing actresses and actors. Peter Ustinow who once again impersonates Belgian detective Hercule Poirot looks slow, old and dull and he speaks way too much without saying anything significant. His wit, sharpness and good manners of yore seem to be gone. The moment when he finally solves the crime feels artificially stretched. The story isn't particularly exciting either. This isn't only due to the fact that none of the characters evokes any kind of sympathy but also to a surprising lack of twists and turns leading to an unusually predictable outcome. The directing of the movie is also lacking sharpness as it takes almost half of the running time to introduce the numerous characters before anything significant happens. The second half of the movie feels somewhat rushed on the other side and a few questions are left unanswered. The film's conclusion is also rather underwhelming and seems misplaced. The source material is only partially to blame here since the resolution has been shortened considerably for this adaptation.

    In the end, Appointment with Death is the weakest cinematic adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel and there have been quite a few. The movie hasn't aged well at all. The acting performances are mostly underwhelming, the characters are uninteresting, the movie has strange pace, the plot is a routine job at best and the conclusion is disappointing. I can recommend the other adaptations mentioned in the introduction but would recommend anyone to stay away from Appointment with Death.

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  • The Reef (2010)

    Are there still people who are watching shark movies in the twenty-first century? Apparently so but since there wasn't anything else on television, I still gave The Reef a shot. It was a solid movie, no more, no less. The story is as simple as it gets. Five friends go on a sailing trip but their ship capsizes. Four friends decide to swim to the next Island while one of them stays on the capsized ship. They are soon hunted down by a Great White Shark and try to survive.

    On the positive side, the movie has a few solid jump scares in the first half and some tense moments in the second half that keep the tension high. Secondly, the film avoids special effects and actually uses genuine shark footage which gives the film a more realistic touch since the animal isn't portrayed as a brutal beast but rather as an intelligent predator. Thirdly, even though the characters are lacking depth, they aren't stereotypical and the movie only offers one predictable scene with a hysterically screaming woman.

    On the negative side, the movie gets slightly dull despite its relatively short running time as patterns are particularly repetitive in the second half. The fate of one of the characters and the ship is never really explained for unknown reasons. The film ends with a boring short written epilogue instead of offering a proper conclusion as if the producers had run out of funds.

    In conclusion, this film is only interesting for shark movie fans and if there's really nothing else on television. The film is neither bad nor good which makes it rather forgettable.

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