BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018)

An abandoned motel straddling the California/Nevada state lines plays host to six strangers with dark pasts.

The cast is inspired, the production design is excellent and the stagecraft is fantastic. Cinematography is creative and makes the whole production feel like an elaborate stage play. Soundtrack is stacked with 50s bops.

Pacing’s a little off and it drags some in the back half, but its style and character performances really elevate it as a solid, well executed Noir thriller.

Recommended.

VIVO (2021)

A colourful celebration of Latin American music, soundtracked by and starring Lin Manuel Miranda as the titular kinkajou.

Skews to a younger crowd, with bright colours and high antics. Some of the designs are honestly pretty ugly but the story has heart and the songs are all original Mirandas, including some great performances from Gloria Estefan.

Good for the kids, but lacking that extra layer of depth that makes an animated film truly great and memorable.

NARCOS (s01-03)

A little late to the party on this one, sure, but better late than never.

The sort of prestige crime drama usually reserved for HBO, it marks a period of Netflix when they were trying especially hard to establish themselves as a viable rival. It really shows.

Usually I avoid discussing plot since I often prefer myself to be able to start watching something without knowing where it’s going, but that approach is kind if moot here since Narcos is explicitly about the burgeoning cocaine trade in Medellín, Colombia during the 1980s and 90s — most notably charting the rise and fall of legendary cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Performances are fantastic. Story is tense, engaging and frequently horrifying as the drug war escalates and corruption seeps into everything. Interests become conflicted, power shifts, lots of innocent people get caught in the crossfire.

A dark and depressing tale, the effects of which are still being felt to this day.

Recommended.

THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

It’s… fine?

Creature design is fantastic, VFX are A-grade, story is intriguing enough in principle:

A war in the future recruits people from the present to battle an unstoppable alien force. Hijinx ensue.

However, so much of the overlong runtime boils down to characters moving towards an objective while shooting in flat, uninteresting sequences.

Maybe I’ve just crossed my threshold of interest in seeing Chris Pratt as a generic soldier hero bro.

There’s some clever ideas and some great shots mixed in, but overall it doesn’t really cohere to capitalise on an interesting idea and ends up being merely competent.

It’s not bad, it’s just not great.

Probably just watch Edge of Tomorrow again instead, it’s more fun.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Absurdly violent, ridiculously silly and very, very entertaining.

The smartest move was definitely to just ignore that they made one of these in 2016 and throw a whole pile of fresh C-list characters into the grinder.

Never once takes itself seriously, yet manages to take enough time to bring an emotional core to each of these assholes to make the stakes stick and the action meaningful.

Soundtrack’s great, characters are fun, story is appropriately bonkers. Most importantly, it’s a good time!

Easily the best DC film, requires zero comic knowledge to enjoy.

Definitely recommended.

BLOOD RED SKY (2021)

Terrorists hijack a plane and unwittingly set off a vampire hiding onboard.

If nothing about that premise makes you immediately say “fuck yeah” then I don’t know what more I can tell you to sell it. It’s ridiculous and it’s fun and it takes itself just seriously enough to stay firmly a horror movie with an emotional core rather than to devolve to a trashy comedy like it easily could have.

Makeup work is great, cast is solid, execution is exactly what it needs to be.

An A-grade B-movie.

Recommended.

THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

A cinematic Arthurian heroic poem, complete with knights, woodland creatures, saints, spirits and mythic quests.

Run all of that through the sort of slow-burn style and striking visuals that A24 is known for and you’ve got The Green Knight.

Incredibly well crafted, the sort of tone that the fantasy genre is sorely missing more of.

Dev Patel brings exactly the right blend of gravitas and arrogance, the scenery and production design are gorgeous, the tale weaves and meanders perfectly as fables should.

The sense of world and myth is huge and dense — it chooses contemplation and symbolism over action and succeeds massively in presenting something thoughtful and strange. More akin to Pan’s Labyrinth than The Lord of the Rings.

It’s slow and mostly ambiguous, but if that’s your thing then this comes highly recommended.

THE STAND (2020)

Ironic that this released just as the world was dealing with a very real pandemic, so understandable that it was largely ignored or passed over given the circumstances.

Stephen King stories are best treated as limited series such as this, as it gives the characters plenty of room to exist and be human within the story.

As post-apocalyptic tales go, this is more mythical forces of good and evil acting through human conduits than say, your standard meditation on the nature of humanity in a world gone to hell.

Plus, the production quality really sells the end of the world and the casting is all excellent.

A solid and faithful adaptation of King’s epic, tweaked and modernised just enough to play to modern sensibilities.

Recommended.