Bad Times at the El Royale

Every once in a while a movie comes along that draws you in without giving you any information in the previews. Well that’s exactly what we have here with Bad Times at the El Royale. The previews show a great cast with a cool 60’s atmosphere but not much in the way of plot. Now its true most movies try to keep the plot pretty wrapped up but in general you have a basic idea of what the movie is about before going to the theater. But in talking about this movie with friends and family I still literally had no idea what this movie was really about besides there are a bunch of strangers staying in a hotel. That is all and despite knowing almost nothing else about the movie I was still tremendously excited to see this one and couldn’t wait to get to the theater to check it out.

A lot of things to like about the second movie from director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods). If you had seen his previous film then you know he has a unique style of story telling and you should be ready to expect the unexpected. The cast is very impressive here with a few standouts. Jeff Bridges is outstanding as Father Daniel Flynn, a forgetful priest. At this point in his career, Bridges is almost expected to turn out great performances so it shouldn’t surprise you when he delivers. Now what may surprise you is Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee, a charismatic fellow who steals the scene whenever he is on screen. I have not seen Hemsworth deliver a performance quite like this one so far in his career. The remaining characters all bring their own intrigue and mystery to the entire roller coaster of a film. Another interesting thing about the El Royale is the cinematography. There are lots of unusual camera angles and scrolling views that help heighten the suspense. I also really enjoyed the set design of the hotel itself. It absolutely nailed the time period and really helps reel you into the feeling of being in 1969 (or somewhere there abouts).

While this movie is absolutely enjoyable it is not without its blemishes. I did feel that the movie dragged a bit through some scenes on its way to the 141 minute run time which can be a bit long for those with shorter attention spans. I also found myself wanting a little more background on a few characters. Additionally there are some branches of the plot that get mentioned and then stay unresolved. I didn’t find too much to complain about beyond those things but it indeed kept it from a perfect review.

In the end all you really want out of a movie theater trip is to be entertained and this movie surely does that much. If you are looking for a wild ride then sit down, strap in and let this one blow your hair back with a rousing 2 Apology effort from Drew Goddard. Definitely looking forward to more entries to his filmography. I would recommend checking this one out if you get the chance.

-Movie Apologist

IT (2017)

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: remakes can be extremely difficult to pull off successfully. That is especially true when talking about something that has such a cult following like Stephen King’s It (1990). With such a well respected performance by Tim Curry it is easy to see that it was going to be a tough act to follow. Before going to see IT I was very excited since the previews were some of the best in recent memory but there was also a little doubt creeping in since there were several horror movies that had built up too much hype before being massive let downs.

I’ll try to give out some basic details of the plot without giving too much away. The story is set in Derry, Maine in the late 80’s as school is beginning to let out for summer. There have been increasing reports of missing children. Bill and his group of friends Richie, Eddie, Stanley are trying to figure out where the kids are going and avoid being harassed by the school bully Henry too much. As the summer progresses the group gains a few more misfits with the additions of Mike, Beverly, and new kid Ben. Each of the kids has begun to see scary visions and apparitions which all seem to be connected to the same creature known as Pennywise the Clown.  As they dive deeper into their investigation of the missing children they seem to find more questions than answers.

This remake does have several strengths to its credit. The main group of kids played by Jaeden Liberher (Bill), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben) Sophia Lillis (Bev), Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie), and Wyatt Oleff (Stanley) all deliver terrific performances as grade school kids who are on a terrifying journey. They show a wide range of emotions throughout the film. Another standout is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. There were massive shoes to fill (ha) from the great Tim Curry but he definitely delivered a high quality portrayal. He is both funny and also fairly chilling in his interpretation of the role. I thought the pacing of the movie was another strength. The movie has a 135 minute run time but it zips right along moving from scene to scene and fright to fright. Those frights are indeed another strong point here compared to the last few horror/suspense movies I have watched recently. There is a good balance between suspenseful scares and the more traditional jump scares that had Mrs. Apologist watching from behind her own fingers.

There were not very many weaknesses but IT was definitely far from a perfect movie. I did happen to think that some of the scares were predictable. Some of the story also followed that same predictability but that is easy to do when dealing with a remake. While there were mostly high quality scares there were also a handful that just didn’t work out and came off as cheesy which almost brought down the entire creepy vibe the movie worked so hard to establish.

Remakes can be a very tricky bunch, especially when the first version was well received and generally well reviewed. Expectations that are built up pretty high can sometimes lead to big time letdown but luckily for us this movie packed enough of a punch to keep us entertained for the night. If you’re in the mood for some scares and don’t mind some occasional gruesome violence then I would recommend checking out 2017’s version of IT with a very respectable 2 Apologies.

-Movie Apologist

The Lego Batman Movie (spoiler free)

There are two things that can be enjoyed by kids and adults throughout their lives: Legos and Batman. Naturally this movie was to be expected after the massive success of “The Lego Movie” and with how the popularity Batman’s character received in that movie it was bound to get a spin off. I was very excited to see this one as Batman is easily my favorite super hero and Mrs. Apologist was equally excited since she is a certified Lego fanatic. “The Lego Movie” set up some pretty high standards for Lego Batman in his standalone movie to follow but with a phenomenal cast and Chris McKay back to direct, it seemed poised to match up nicely.

The plot is pretty standard here. The Joker is on his quest to take over Gotham City and Batman is out to stop him. We see Joker’s diabolical plan to destroy Gotham city thwarted by Batman early on and we also see Joker’s feelings get hurt by Batman since Batman is kind of a loner who does not seem to appreciate the symbiotic relationship they have. Next Bruce Wayne attends a gala for Commissioner James Gordon’s retirement while his daughter Barbara prepares to  take his place. This gala gives young orphan Dick Grayson the opportunity to introduce himself to Bruce and try to get himself adopted. Bruce is very distracted as he seems to be instantly smitten with Barbara until she starts talking about her plans to have the police work with Batman since Batman hasn’t caught any of the major villains in Gotham. Joker has now rounded up all the major bad guys in Gotham and attacks the gala with a new evil plan. Its up to Batman to save the day yet again! I do not want to spoil the movie too much so that’s where we will leave the plot summary at this time.

This movie does have several strengths on its side. They assembled a great cast for this movie just like in “The Lego Movie”. We have Will Arnett back as the main star and he does a fantastic job with his delivery and his tone. Michael Cera (Robin/Dick Grayson), Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred Pennyworth) and Zach Galifianakis (Joker) round up the main group of characters and they each deliver their own flair to the roles. Also included in the cast is Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Kravitz, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill round out the voice stars here. The humor is another standout with plenty of silly jokes for the kids and quite a few jokes slipped in there for the adults as well. It wouldn’t be a Batman movie without some action and the action flows fast and furious throughout, keeping the 104 minute run time lean and exciting. I also really enjoyed the references to all the previous Batman films.

There weren’t too many glaring weaknesses in the movie but it did have a few cheesy or predictable moments, which are to be expected in a family movie. The story was just a bit lackluster with much of the focus was on how Batman is lonely and Joker is insecure. Some of the humor feels a little forced at times which again can be a symptom of movies aimed at children/family. The bar was set pretty high from “The Lego Movie” and Lego Batman just didn’t quite have all the goods to exceed it.

Overall “The Lego Batman Movie” provided enough action and humor to be enjoyable but I’m not sure that there is enough there to warrant multiple views unless you’re under 10 years old. It takes an excellent cast with some quality jokes and action and comes out with a very solid rating of 2 Apologies. You could certainly pick a worse movie for a night out at the theater by yourself or with the family.

-Movie Apologist

The Magnificent Seven (2016 spoiler free)

This is a movie that I have been looking forward to seeing for months after the preview sank its hooks into me. It has all the right ingredients: an old west setting, an amazing cast, an accomplished director, and the perfect amount of action in the trailer that leaves you wanting more. If you have read my other reviews (check them out if you haven’t) then you’ll know how I feel about remakes: they are difficult to master and often face extra scrutiny if the original is considered a classic. The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake and that original film (Seven Samurai) is widely considered to be one of the best movies ever made. However, the fact that it is a remake coupled with some of the not so nice reviews I read did not manage to dwindle my desire to see it.

If you have seen either of the “original” movies then you should know the basics of the story. There is a small quiet town being taken advantage of by a merciless group of bandits, this time mining for gold. They are led by the ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who uses violence and intimidation to get his way. One of the townspeople Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) reaches out to bounty hunter/lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washinton) to help them fight back against their oppressors. Sam assembles a rag tag team of hired guns to battle Bogue and his army of mercenaries. Sam manages to recruit gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), former military man Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), wild man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), wanted fugitive Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Native American bow master Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Knowing that they are grossly outnumbered they come up with a plan to defend the town. This brings us to the climactic battle sequence which is fun and frantic and at times very intense. For those that haven’t seen either of the originals I will not spoil it for you.

This movie has a lot of very good qualities to it. As I mentioned before the actors all do a wonderful job with their roles. Bogue is played masterfully by Peter Sarsgaard and his character is just begging us to hate him. Sam Chisolm is portrayed by Denzel Washington who doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen from him before. He just delivers the rock solid performance we have come to expect. Chris Pratt also does not vary too much from his known style but its not necessarily a bad thing: he is witty, a little smug and sarcastic, but overall very likable. Ethan Hawke turns in one of the better efforts in the movie as Goodnight Robicheaux. He is emotional and very believable. Byung-Hun Lee is energetic in his action scenes as Billy Rocks. Vincent D’Onofrio turned in a surprising role as mountain man Jack Horne. He was hilarious with his one liners and his delivery. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier were both more than adequate in their roles. In addition to the outstanding acting in the film there were many other standout features. The set design and costumes were nearly perfect for creating an authentic old west feeling. The action sequences were all done superbly without relying on too much shaky camera work. I appreciated the comedic touches to break from the serious and sometimes slow moments as well.

This movie does not have that many negatives against it but there are a few. There are some slow moments in between the actions scenes and they happen to seem extra slow making the 133 minute run time seem even longer. The movie introduces many characters with not much back story. With so many interesting characters in this film, it would have been nice to have more background information to learn about why they are who they are. During the final shootout I had an issue with the depiction of the gatling gun being such an unstoppable force of destruction. Since gatling guns are most useful in short range situations (under 100 yards) it seems far fetched, even for a movie, that the gun could be so accurate and deadly at 400-500 yards. That obviously did not make me hate this movie but it was a detractor none the less.

Overall I quite liked this movie. It was a nice addition to the end of summer movie experience. The great actors combined with a compelling story line and fast paced action all added up to a fun day at the theaters. This modern version of a classic western earned itself a respectable 2 Apologies and I would definitely recommend it.