Monday, November 5, 2018

In Case You Missed Them

by Adam Riske
Brief reviews of movies now in theaters.

Bad Times at the El Royale
A gorgeous looking 1.5-star movie that thinks it’s a 4-star movie. Bad Times has a great cast but gives them uninteresting, literal dialogue to deliver over a tedious 140 minutes. The film rips off (others might say "pays homage to") the chapter structure of several Quentin Tarantino movies, stops for a dozen or so Motown needle drops (which played to me like producer-writer-director Drew Goddard acting as if he’s the first person to realize Motown music is good), and has a Chris Hemsworth cult leader character who putzes around with unearned gravitas that becomes this weird statement about the movie he’s in without the movie realizing it’s making that statement about itself and not just his character archetype. Sorry for being so catty, but this movie really irritated me. I can’t tell if it’s sincere but self-indulgent or a deconstruction that’s not even close to as good as the films it’s commenting on.

Rating: 1.5 out of 4 Riskes

If not for Tom Hardy’s lunatic performance, this movie would have been agonizing. I honestly can’t believe Venom exists in 2018. I’m not saying that in a snobby “superhero movies are art now” way. It’s just that Venom feels like Stranger Things for people who love 2005’s Fantastic Four. The action is okay, the supporting cast is wildly overqualified and it’s possibly the most Sony-looking movie ever made (they keep topping themselves in this department aesthetically). I wholly admire Venom’s hubris of making the end credits literally 20 minutes long (it includes a groan-inducing mid-credit scene and a sequence from the upcoming Spider-Man: Oops! All Spider-Mans). Venom is a fascinating mess that has no idea how to feel about the Venom character being a murderous Mr. Hyde-like alien. They just never deal with that aspect. For example, the thing eats a person in the middle of a grocery store, Tom Hardy tells a joke and presumably just leaves a bloody carcass on the floor for the shop owner to clean up. I’m not a stickler for movie realism, but that’s a big thing to suspend disbelief about.

Rating: 2 out of 4 Riskes

Bohemian Rhapsody
I could look at this movie in two ways. On the plus side, it’s certainly watchable, has lots of Queen music, and a terrific lead performance by Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. On the negative, the movie ultimately fails the gut check. What I mean is that during the climatic Live Aid performance, the film shows the faces in the crowd moved by Queen’s performance and…it doesn’t register at all for me. This is strange because I like the band and I’ve watched the actual Live Aid performance and it makes me feel the positive vibes that mirror that concert audience. So why the disconnect? I think it’s because this is largely Freddie Mercury’s story but doesn’t feel like it’s told from his point of view. The dialogue throughout the movie isn’t particularly insightful and sometimes the attitude toward Mercury is rather harsh while the rest of the band comes off like a choir boy calming force. Bohemian Rhapsody is a missed opportunity exacerbated when I read how factually inaccurate it is. A biopic doesn’t have to be true to life events, but it shouldn’t feel emotionally dishonest, either.

Rating 2 out of 4 Riskes

First Man
This was a weird movie for me. Damien Chazzelle’s last two films (Whiplash and La La Land) were my favorite movies of 2014 and 2016 and even with that I had to drag myself to see the director’s latest. I think I’m just outer space-IMAX’d out (especially since so many of them amount to “It’s space! Or aliens! But jk it’s really just about your relationship with your kids.”). First Man is best as a portrayal of how dangerous and scary the NASA missions in the 1960s were and how Neil Armstrong’s grief during this time was so enormous that landing on the moon felt more manageable by comparison. I’m back and forth on this movie. The performances are strong, some of the sequences are terrific (e.g. the test flight that opens the movie and a terrifying sequence where the astronauts’ capsule is in a roll), but the moon landing finale is somehow underwhelming, and the film doesn’t leave a strong impression, which is strange considering the story its telling is inherently dramatic.

Rating 3 out of 4 Riskes

A Star Is Born (2018)
This is one of those too rare circumstances where a filmmaker’s passion was met with all the resources needed to make the film work. Everyone is in peak form in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born: Lady Gaga is a natural actress, Bradley Cooper can sing (and confidently direct), and, best of all, theirs is a romance with magnetic chemistry. I really ended up caring a lot about these flawed but decent people. The movie is filled with great supporting performances (including Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle) with everyone having interesting, spontaneous and emotional conversations. A Star Is Born (2018) is also a throwback to movies I love from the '80s and '90s where a great soundtrack informs so much of its personality and gives the work life even when you’re not watching it. This is the type of studio movie I love that I wish they made more often. It’s melodrama (in the best sense) that glides on the charisma of its talent.

Rating 4 out of 4 Riskes

Have you seen anything else currently in theaters worth recommending? What did you think of these movies?


  1. I'm not gonna lie, I really enjoyed Venom. It's stupid and I have no desire to ever see it again, but I managed to get on its wavelength and had a blast. I also saw it in the middle of Scary Movie Month picks of varying quality and it was just nice to get out of the house at that point. Also, the Eminem song's chorus always makes me laugh.

    Bohemian Rhapsody was a deeply flawed movie but for me, the music and Malek's performance carried it enough to leave a positive impression. Plus I kinda admired that they cast Mike Myers just so they could make that one stupid joke.

    Planning on seeing A Star Is Born tonight, excited about that.

    1. Looks like i spoke too soon and jinxed it. Less than an hour after writing that, got a call from the boss. Guess I'm working tonight and seeing A Star Is Born another time.

    2. I couldn't find a way to fit in something about the Eminem Venom song but WOW. I hate myself for how much I enjoy it.

      The Mike Myers stuff didn't bother me except for the cutaway the last time we see him. That was a bit on the nose considering the Live Aid performance wasn't meant as a F.U. to that guy.

    3. Myers didn't bother me, that Wayne's World joke just pulled me out of it.

  2. Agreed heavily about Bad Times at the El Royale. WTF is Jon Hamm doing with that dialogue? I wanted to leave. Dakota Johnson and her sister were the most interesting characters in the movie, until they weren't. So many useless music moments.

    A Star is Born is the only other movie I've seen yet. Loved it. Hope it wins all the awards. I still cant believe all the audible crying. Its a top 3 for me in terms of sniffling and straight up balling I've witnessed in a theater, alongside with Titanic and The Notebook.


      Re: Jon Hamm. I read it as him being as big of an over-the-top boor as possible in order to misdirect the other people.

  3. better...All Eyez on Me or Bohemian Rhapsody???

    1. Bohemian Rhapsody. I rewatched All Eyez on Me on cable and it's way worse than I wrote in my review.