Good times with four great movies

Bad Times at El Royale (2018) is pulp fiction. Pulp Fiction it ain’t, but it unashamedly massages that movie’s feet, then steals its shoes to walk in them for a while. It’s directed by Drew Goddard, who gave us The Cabin in the Woods (2012). You’ve seen The Cabin in the Woods, right? If not, go and watch it right away, it’s an absolute cracker of a film, a great horror comedy with depth and smarts.

Forearmed with that knowledge, it’s clear from the outset that El Royale is going to be more than it initially appears. The film is set in 1969, and the El Royale of the title is a hotel on the border of California and Nevada. These are clues about where this is going, but it takes a fun, winding road to get there. For those of us sick of Hollywood’s morbid refusal to forget a murderer who deserves nothing more, there is enough distance and artistic merit to hold the interest.

It’s no Cabin in the Woods, not even close, but it’s entertaining, has a great cast and enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. If nothing else, it’s worth seeing for the fantastic music throughout.

Our Kind of Traitor (2016) stars Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Damien Lewis in an adaptation of a 2010 John Le Carre novel. It was poignant to see the author’s cameo in the film, having lost him last year.

The cast is uniformly excellent, the story compelling and it’s well shot. True, if your familiar with Le Carre’s work, you might guess the ending before you put it on but, as you would expect it’s an excellent journey to reach that point. And give me this over the much more storied adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) every time. That film suffered badly from its casting, so the final revelation of the traitor was underwhelming.

The Invitation (2015) is the best film I’ve seen so far this year. You really, really should know as little as possible about the film before watching it to get the most from it. All I’ll say genre-wise is that I’d class it as ‘uncomfortable.’ Going any further than that risks spoiling it. Other reviews I’ve read rightly commend the film for its intelligence and not talking down to the audience, but don’t worry, this is no Nolan flick, you’ll follow it fine first time. The plot is, as it says, about an invitation extended to Will (played by Logan Marshall-Green, separated at birth from Tom Hardy) and his girlfriend Kira. Awkwardly, said invitation comes from Will’s ex-wife, Eden. Accept the invitation yourself, and you’ll spend the whole movie second-guessing what is going on. It’s a brilliant piece of work, which takes you on a thrilling, believable journey with a great pay off. Exceptional.

Fair Game (2010) tells the story of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative exposed by the Bush administration in retaliation for her husband Joe Wilson’s op-ed article, ‘What I didn’t find in Africa’, which exposed one of the key lies about intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Naomi Watts portrays Plame, and Sean Penn plays Wilson. If anyone can sell anger, it’s Penn, and while he’s not an actor everyone likes, he is brilliantly cast here. Irrespective of your opinions of the Iraq invasion, or Wilson himself, the man was a hero to many, best exemplified by the stand he took against Saddam Hussein in 1990. He was the last American diplomat to meet Saddam after the invasion of Kuwait, telling the dictator to leave. Saddam then told all the Baghdad embassy heads, Wilson included, that he would execute anyone sheltering foreigners. Wilson’s response? He called a press conference in which he appeared with a homemade noose around his neck. He said, “If the choice is to allow American citizens to be taken hostage or to be executed, I will bring my own fucking rope.”

Backing his words with actions, he sheltered over a hundred people and evacuated thousands. He was a brave, principled man. Certainly, that’s how he’s portrayed in the film, as well as being confrontational and difficult, and unwilling to suffer fools (the look on his face at a dinner party when one of those present is speculating on how the diners would feel about men in turbans boarding a plane in the aftermath of 9/11 is priceless). Watts and Penn portray a convincing professional couple, and the fissures in their marriage that widen due to the fallout of the leak are well played, along with the wider ramifications of the government’s actions. The anger that many of us felt as we were marched to an illegal war burns hot from the screen, but the film doesn’t quite work. Maybe it’s the sense of familiarity or the inevitable outcome. As a packaged piece of history, particularly for those less familiar with the time, it’s certainly worth a watch, maybe as a double bill after the superior Vice (2018). Together, they certainly help to explain the current state of the world.

Tomorrow: Rebellion, Don’t Breathe, The Climb, and … Line of Duty. Fella.

I watched the movies reviewed above on the following platforms (no additional cost other than subscription):

Bad Times at the El Royale – Disney +

Our Kind of Traitor – Amazon Prime

The Invitation – Netflix

Fair Game – Amazon Prime

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