Skip to main content

I will unheal the shit out of you!

Hotel Artemis 
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Hotel Artemis is all set up. It's solid set up, undoubtedly – a heightened, John Wick-esque criminal world by way of John Carpenter – but once it has set out its wares, it proceeds to pulls its punches. One's left more impressed by the dependable performances and Drew Pearce's solid footing as a (debut feature) director than his ability to develop a satisfying screenplay. 



Pearce's most notable credits to date have been in collaboration with other, more esteemed scribes (Shane Black on Iron Man Three and Christopher McQuarrie rewriting him on Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Pearce having already been rewritten by Will Staples). This may be the most undiluted we've seen Pearce as a result, and the effect is… derivative, in a manner recalling those better '90s knock-offs that proceeded in the wake of Tarantino's genre shake-up. You can tell its writer led, as the plot revolves around interaction rather than set pieces, but it fails to stake out sufficiently fresh territory or identity amid the tropes. 


Set in 2028 LA during water privatisation riots, Pearce has fashioned a secret hotel that patches up criminals – rather recalling the hotel for hitmen in the John Wicks – wherein he focuses on the cross section of suspects with various agendas, each tended by Jodie Foster's Jean Thomas (aka the Nurse). The template proffers tried-and-tested types, their ready recognisability not necessarily being a bad thing, although agoraphobic Jean's painful past, complete with haunted flashbacks, is on the prefab side (as is the resolution of her arc, if you can call it that). She's accompanied by right hand giant Everest (Dave Bautista), fond of reciting his care code to patients, and the pair have an easy, chalk-and-cheese rapport. 


Sterling K Brown's Sherman (aka Waikiki: patients are known by the suite they're booked into) is the honourable criminal, caring for little brother following a bank robbery gone wrong. Nice (Sofia Boutella) is the deadly assassin; it's unclear how she knew her target was incoming before everyone else seems to have done, but I’ll assume there's an answer and it isn't a plot hole. Charlie Day is arms dealer Acapulco, an effectively repulsive creation; Day appears to be channelling Joe Pantoliano in Midnight Run. Adding friction to the mix are an injured cop (Jenny Slate) and the imminent arrival of Jeff Goldblum's the Wolf King (aka Niagara), the crime lord who essentially runs LA; he's preceded by his unstable son Crosby (Zachary Quinto), set on evading protocol and entering the premises by force.


Pearce peppers the scenario with advances in medical tech, from regenerative nanobots and laser surgical implements to liver transplants via 3D printing, effectively contrasting with the Artemis' dilapidated décor (garish wallpapers are the key feature of each suite, a literal depiction of their names). And he sets the groundwork for effective Escape from New York-style claustrophobia, juxtaposing the relative calm of the Artemis with the tumult outside, and underscoring Jean's fear of leaving, the potential for ensuing altercations if anyone should learn of the cop, and the pen full of valuables carried by Sherman.


And yet, as writer, the director seems content to allow the tension to defuse just as it's taking root. Conspiring threads that seem surely geared to break into a fight for survival once all hell breaks loose in the hotel, parties discovering deceits and deceptions and lurking agendas, never really gets there. Resolutions are enabled too easily. It isn't even clear that Sherman should be worried about having the Wolf King's pen, since no one on the latter's staff seems to know he has it. And since he's the only one who finds out about the cop and he has a good heart, that's never really an issue either. 


Thus, when things go wrong, they lead to the least interesting climax. Everest and Nice elect to stay behind while Jean and Sherman escape, neither for any very good reasons, but because that's what you do in this kind of tale. And then, denied exits in blazes of glory, Pearce doesn't have the heart and instead shows us that both have survived. This following a desperately rote confrontation between Jean and Sherman and a revenge-seeking Crosby. 


It's good to see Brown granted – effectively – leading man duties, and Foster, after a five-year screen absence, doesn't really give us an inking why she chose this part for a return (other than being asked and because she likes the crumpled old bag lady schtick), but it's nice to have her back. Boutella yet again shows her unrivalled chops in the action stakes with an extended fight in a corridor, while Goldblum makes the most of a glorified cameo. 


There are a number of writer-directors who have staked out a reasonably successful low-tier pegging in their multi-hyphenate field (David Koepp, David Twohy, Scott Frank, Drew Goddard), without – yet – showing any danger of busting out into truly sought-after status (McQuarrie, Black, Joss Whedon kind-of). On this evidence, Pearce isn’t likely to hit the next level any time soon, but as with all those names (just about) I'm eager to see whatever he does next. Hotel Artemis is okay for what it is, and wisely doesn't outstay its welcome, but it lacks that extra something that would guarantee future cult status.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.