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

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

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…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

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…

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.