Film Review: Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

I am not a sports fan. That marks me out as weird, in England. The European football championships are on TV. Most days, they are on both sides, no matter how obscure the match, or which teams are playing. So when I settle down in the evening, I have to search the channels that do not show sport for something to watch.

That is how I found this film, which I had never heard of before, for some reason. (British readers should be able to find this for free, on ‘All-4’.)

**Update** Fraggle has just reminded me that I read a review of this film on her blog. I had completely forgotten that, which is worrying! Apologies to her. https://fragglesotherplace.com/2020/03/02/march-2nd-movie-monday/

***No spoilers***

The action begins in 1969, at a hotel that once played host to high-rollers and famous people. The El Royale straddles the border between California and Nevada, with the state line quite literally running through the centre of the building. Its glory has long-faded, and the location off the beaten track no longer attracts holiday-makers and gamblers to the area around Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Ten years earlier, something happened at the hotel. An event that will bring a small group of strangers together on a rainy night.

Scene-setting begins with the separate arrivals of a Priest, and a black woman. Inside the hotel, they find a vacuum cleaner salesman waiting in the huge lobby. He is noisy and brash, and explains to them that there is no clerk around, despite having rung the bell on the counter numerous times.

When the young clerk finally shows up, we soon discover that he is the only person working there. He also cleans the rooms, serves at the bar, and does anything else that needs doing. He actively tries to discourage them from taking rooms, but they all insist on booking in.

Then an edgy young woman shows up, also looking for a room. She is rude and aggressive, for no good reason.

Once each person receives their key, we begin to find out why they are there, and get each backstory through flashbacks. Not only does each one of them have their own secrets and demons, the hotel itself is keeping a darker secret from all of them. And not one of the characters is who they appear to be on the surface, including the clerk. The tension builds as they interact, and it becomes clear that something bad is going to happen.

And it does.

Sorry, but without spoilers that’s it. I can tell you that this is very much ‘film noir’ for the 21st century, despite the often lurid use of colour. The script is spot on, the sets of the hotel are simply amazing, and the pop-music of the era soundtrack is a complete delight. Everyone in the small cast plays their role to perfection, and even after the ‘reveal’, there are still enough surprises in store to keep your attention in quite a long film.

The flashbacks are very well done, and not remotely confusing. Period feel is completely authentic throughout, as are costume and vehicles. That cast includes Jeff Bridges as The Priest, Dakota Johnson as the edgy woman, John Hamm as the vacuum cleaner salesman, and Chris Hemsworth as a nasty man who shows up later. And it’s a great cast!

This feels like the Quentin Tarantino film that Quentin didn’t get around to making. Quirky, occasionally violent, and all to a soundtrack of appropriate music, it has his hallmarks. It’s certainly as good as most of his offerings, and better than some. On release, it flopped, and lost money on its budget. Despite critical acclaim, the public stayed away. Maybe because the director was Drew Goddard, and not Tarantino.

Me? I loved it! It looks good, and it is as good as it looks.

Here’s a trailer.

Mythaxis Review: Sci-Fi And The Environment

Mythaxis Review Magazine has a feature on Stanley Chen. His new book (and forthcoming film) ‘Waste Tide’ explores the possibility of environmental disasters in the future.
Here is a link to read more.

https://mythaxis.com/2021/06/08/meet-stanley-chen-at-the-wilson-center-forum/

The magazine also has a new regular feature, a News category. Here is what Daniel told me.

“I started a News category. If anyone has any publishing news, even a book release, let me know!”

Here is a contact link for that.
https://mythaxis.com/contact/

Film Review: The Eight Hundred (2020)

I have just had my film review published in the online magazine, Mythaxis.

‘The Eight Hundred’ is a Chinese war film, set during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

Here is a link, if you are interested in reading it.

(I watched the film in the original Chinese and Japanese languages, with subtitles. The trailer on the link is dubbed)

https://mythaxis.com/2021/06/02/the-eight-hundred-movie-review/

‘Blood Simple’: The Best of The Coens and McDormand?

In 1984, I used to subscribe to film and cinema magazines. (No internet then, don’t forget) There was a lot of ‘buzz’ about a new film soon to be released in the UK. It was called ‘Blood Simple’, and being described as ‘Film Noir for the 1980s’.

Back then, I had never heard of the Coen brothers, or the female lead, actress Frances McDormand. But I had heard of John Getz, the menacing Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh. I read in my magazines that this was a family affair. As well as the two brothers writing, producing, and directing, one of them (Joel) was married to McDormand.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival too, so it seemed like something I should be watching. One of the good things about living in London then is that there were a lot of cinemas. You could find one showing virtually anything you wanted to watch, seven days a week. And though I lived in Wimbledon at the time, I owned a motorcycle, which meant I could avoid the heavy traffic, and then park for free on a motorcyle bay.

Off I went, to a late afternoon showing before going into work for a night shift later.

I will give you some idea what it’s about of course, but I will start by saying that I loved it. Dark, edgy, violent, and also very humourous at times. Great performances from Getz and Hedaya, who rarely got lead roles, and the ever-reliable M. Emmet Walsh. And that new girl, a Frances McDormand before she started to take herself seriously as a ‘film star’ with a lot of opinions. She was good too. Really good.

Sets, location filming, lighting, good direction from the Coens, and a snappy script. All spot-on.

It is a familiar story. An unhappily-married woman is having an affair. Her husband suspects, and has hired a private detective to spy on them. After that, it stays in still more familiar territory. A dead body, (or is it?) confusion about who killed him, and subsequent disposal of said body. The detective becomes personally involved, (Walsh on top form) and then everything starts to go terribly wrong. That’s about it, with no spoliers.

What makes it so good is the darkness. The dark violence, that dark humour that is interjected, and the scenes filmed at night. It really was ‘Film Noir for the 1980s’ after all.

And for my money it remains the best film the Coens have made, along with the best performance from a younger, fresher McDormand.

Some Historical films

One more 2013 film post that only Eddy and Roland commented on back then. Historical dramas this time. Something for everyone, I hope.

beetleypete

Many films have been set in various Historical periods, or specific events in History. Since the silent days, and up to many of  the latest films of the past few years, History has provided rich ground for the inspiration of film makers everywhere. In my usual five film selection, I have tried my best to recommend lesser known films, and to avoid the obvious epics.

The War Lord. This film is getting on a bit, and it shows sometimes. Nevertheless, this 1965 production, starring Charlton Heston and Richard Boone, still has a lot to offer. Set at the beginning of the 11th Century, in Normandy, it tells the story of a Knight, rewarded for loyal service, with a bequest of lands, and a run-down small castle. The land is poor, and the local villagers resentful. Still, the Knight, and his accompanying soldiers, rebuild the old fortress, and begin to impose…

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Retro Review: Metropolis (1927)

A silent film from 1927, directed in Germany by the masterful Fritz Lang.

It is a science-fiction epic of outstanding prescience, with special effects way ahead of its time.

I first saw this as a teenager, at the National Film Theatre in London. Unconcerned about the fact it was silent, and the dialogue appears on old-fashioned cards between scenes, I was swept away by the visuals, and had to keep reminding myself that it was made before 1930.

A futuristic society where workers toil like automatons, living below ground, while the rich elite enjoy a champagne lifestyle of parties and indolence in the pleasure gardens and luxury skyscrapers above. Highways almost in the clouds, flying vehicles, robots, and androids, it has it all. Almost every science-fiction film made since has drawn on the influences of Lang’s vision of the future, including ‘The Fifth Element’, ‘Blade Runner’, and ‘Dark City’.

The story is almost secondary to the experience of watching this film, but it revolves around the attraction of the son of a rich industrialist to a poor working girl he encounters by chance. In his desire to find her, he ventures below ground, into the worker’s city. Here he encounters the terrible conditions first-hand, and is completely shocked by how they live, and their dangerous working environment.

Determined to change the cruel society, he changes places with one of the workers so he can help organise the resitance against the billionaire industrialists like his own father.

With no plot spoilers, I cannot reveal the outcome. However, I urge you to try to find this and watch it, avoiding at all costs the ‘colourized’ and edited version. I have not listed the cast members, as they will be unknown to most of us anyway. But I have found a full version of the film on You Tube, and I hope that will play for you wherever you happen to live.

Hard to believe now, but this film was a flop at the box office and lost a fortune for the backers.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: My Feral Heart (2016)

Every so often, a British film-maker delivers a low-budget independent film that far exceeds the output of the famous directors and massive Hollywood studios. ‘My Feral Heart’ is a fine example of that. Directed by Jane Gull, and starring Steven Brandon, this film won fourteen international awards, yet is little-known in this country. Thanks to BBC 4, I was able to watch it, and I will say from the start that it is exceptional.

This is the story of Luke, a young man with high-functioning Down’s Syndrome. He lives with his mother, and he is her carer. He feeds her, goes out to get the shopping, even bathes her and dresses her. He is completely devoted to her. Then one morning, he finds her dead in bed, and his routine life is shattered. Despite his obvious capabilities, the fact that he has Down’s Syndrome means the authorities will no longer allow him to live in the family home.

Against his will, he is taken to live in a care home, with other young adults who have learning difficulties.

At least the staff are kind to him, especially day manager, Eve, (Shana Swash) who takes a shine to him and allows him an element of freedom. Luke uses that freedom to go shopping for the care home, and to wander the rural district of Essex where he now lives.

Some men arrive to look after the gardens of the care home. They are offenders, sentenced to do Community Service instead of prison time. One of them, Pete, (Will Rastall) befriends Luke, and also becomes close to Eve.

On one of his countryside explorations, Luke finds a young girl caught in a snare trap. He takes her to safety in a old barn. She is filthy, uncommunicative, and scared. He brings her food and clothes, washes her, and visits regularly to look after her. She is the Feral girl who gives the film its title.

We discover that Pete is a hunt saboteur, part of a group who go out and disrupt fox-hunting in the area. As Luke loves animals, he asks Pete if he can go. Worried about Luke’s condition, and other medical problems, Pete refuses. But Luke follows him anyway, and becomes involved. Going to check on the feral girl later, Luke cannot rouse her, so carries her back to the care home to get help.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. A short running time of less than ninety minutes, no car chases, no police sirens, and no sex. A small film about people on the margins of society, doing their best to get by in a world where they are almost invisible to outsiders.

It is just fantastic, believe me. It will break your heart with its honesty.

Filmed on location in Essex, beautifully photographed and sparingly directed with skill, the film is anchored around a truly remarkable performance from Steven Brandon in the lead, (he really has Down’s Syndrome) with a completely believable portrayal of Eve from Shana Swash, and every other member of the cast on top form.

If you can find it, please watch it. I will never forget it.

Guest Post: Krish Mayani

Today I am featuring a post from Krish Mayani, who blogs at https://theconfessionsofarandomblogger.com/
His subject is the abusive control known as ‘Gaslighting’, and he explains it with reference to the film of that name.

WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?

So by now you all probably know my tradition of sitting up until 2 a.m. every night watching trashy reality shows and true crime documentaries with my mom. However, the other night we decided to be classy and watch something more sophisticated for a change.

So instead, we decided to watch ‘Gaslight,’ a 1944 psychological thriller starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Angela Lansbury.

A very long Google search later, I discovered that the psychological manipulation term ‘gaslighting’ actually originates from this movie! I don’t know about you, but I think it’s so incredibly cool that an actual clinical psychology term originates from a Hollywood, Golden Age, romantic thriller.

I was so incredibly captivated by the film’s plot and cognitive themes, that I just knew I had to write a blog post about it!

Today, I’m going to be discussing and analysing the film, as well as talking about the psychology of gaslighting and how you can protect yourself against it. However, I am not a therapist or a psychologist, and therefore everything I will be speaking about is from my own personal opinion, experiences and research.

SYNOPSIS

Fourteen year old Paula Alquist lives with her aunt Alice Alquist, a renowned opera prima donna in a quaint London square. Paula’s mother died when she was very young, with Alice being her only surviving family.

That is, until Alice is murdered in the middle of the night during a robbery gone wrong. The perpetrator was in search of her famous, valuable jewels; until the robbery was interrupted by Paula awakening in the middle of the night.

The murderer is never found.

Now truly alone, Paula is sent to Italy to become an opera singer, just like her aunt.

The film then fast-forwards a couple of years to a now adult Paula (Ingrid Bergman). After a 2 week whirlwind romance with Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer); a man she has just met; she marries him and he convinces her to move back to the London townhouse that her aunt left her; the site of her murder just a few years ago.

However, as soon as they arrive at the house, Paula begins to notice a slew of strange occurrences. Picture frames taken off the wall and hidden, sentimental possessions that suddenly and randomly go missing, and most importantly, gas lights that dim randomly without any apparent interference with the house’s gas supply.

Gregory slowly begins to convince her that she is the one removing the picture frames. That she simply loses their precious possessions because of her growing irresponsibility, and perhaps most maddening- that she is imagining the dimming of the gas lights.

Is she careless? Is she a kleptomaniac? Is she simply insane? What other explanation is there? Why would anyone lie about the sound of footsteps late at night and picture frames being removed without any explanation? There’s simply no motive. Right?

But thank goodness for her husband Gregory! She may be slowly but surely losing her mind, but at least she still has her husband. At least he’s there to help her. Her constantly replenishing pool of “sanity.” In fact, she needs him doesn’t she?

Paula is slowly being psychologically terrorised and driven insane by her ominous menace of a husband, all the while being convinced that he’s doing her the biggest of favours. That he is simply a blessing for ‘tolerating’ her many many faults and mental incompetencies.

The question on everyone’s minds- will she be able to fight a psychological battle with her husband that she doesn’t even know she is in? However, the more important question here is why? Why is he doing this to her? There is absolutely no reason to do such a cruel thing to a person, your wife much less.

Is there a reason?

There seems to be something far more sinister at play here.

PAULA’S PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE

Soon after their arrival at the townhouse, Gregory presents Paula with a brooch, a valuable family heirloom that he claims has been in his family for years. First, he tells her the story of how the brooch “belonged to my mother, and before that to her mother, and now it belongs to you.”

He then lectures her about the importance of not losing it, as she is “inclined to lose things.” He then promptly steals it back from her, leaving her with the gut-wrenching feeling that she has indeed lost the brooch. Not only was he right about her tendency to lose things, but he was also so understanding when she told him.

However, as picture frames begin to disappear from the walls, with them later being found by Paula, he begins to berate her for her kleptomaniacal tendencies. She has no memory of ever taking the pictures of the walls- why would she? However, who else could it be? The question she begins to ask herself is no longer if she did it. But why she did it. She has no memory of ever taking them off the walls, so why is she subconsciously stealing the picture frames?

Gregory makes elaborate and extensively-detailed plans to go to the theatre, but just before they leave, Paula discovers a new facet of her ‘mental illness,’ and is forced to stay home. She believes that she has ruined their night.

However, one night, Paula is invited to a musical concert by old friends of her aunt, and decides that she absolutely must get out of the house, even just for a night, even if she must go alone. However, Gregory decides that he must accompany her.

After a nervous breakdown at this public social event, caused by yet another one of Gregory’s tricks, he convinces her that she is not “well” enough to be in public anymore, effectively isolating her from the already extremely small social circle she has around her.

The following events only escalate in psychological torture and abuse. He tells her that objects in her hands are not really there. He tells her that her mother died in an insane asylum, paralleling her current ‘symptoms,’ and later threatens to have her institutionalised.

He constantly reprimands her for her behaviour, asking her why she lies, steals, and claims to see things that aren’t there without reason, leading to her desperately trying to know the answers to these questions herself.

If not bad enough, as the gas lights constantly flicker (he switches on the lights in the attic), he convinces their maid to lie to Paula as well, telling her that she is seeing things.

An intricately planned descent into insanity and paranoia; and for what? I’m not going to tell you why. Watch the film! I’ve given you enough spoilers!

WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?
Gaslighting (noun)- is an abusive psychological manipulation tactic that when planting seeds of doubt (using denial, misinformation, misdirection, and contradiction amongst other techniques) in the victim’s mind, can make them question their own memory, judgement and perception; severely altering their sense of reality.

As we saw in this context, Gregory gaslights (verb) his bride in an attempt to gain access to her house. He manipulates certain elements of her environment, which makes her question her own sanity by distorting her reality. When Paula asks her husband to verify her perception of these changes, he insists that it’s all in her imagination. he then isolates her from the world and prevents her from having outside communication, making her dependence on him even stronger.

Make no mistake, gaslighting isn’t limited to romantic relationships. It can and has been used in varying degrees of extremity in politics, friendships, parent-child relationships, and even professional workplaces.

THE EFFECTS OF GASLIGHTING

1. THE VICTIM BEGINS TO DOUBT THEIR OWN THOUGHTS

The gas-lighter has distorted the victim’s reality to such a great extent that they can’t trust their own memory, judgement and perception of the world around them.

2. FEAR AND SILENCE

Every time the victim voices their opinions or view of a situation, they are convinced that they are wrong, and that they might even need professional psychological treatment.

This not only leads to fear- what is real and what is not? However, it can also lead to repressed thoughts and opinions. If every time you speak, you are convinced that you have viewed a situation wrongly, you later convince yourself that you should just keep your thoughts to yourself, lest you further ‘upset’ your gas-lighter.

3. ISOLATION

The victim is now completely and utterly dependent on their gas-lighter- a source of reason and sanity. So, either as another manipulation tactic or by internal revelation, the victim is slowly isolated from their friends and family. The victim is convinced that the outside world wouldn’t understand- they would be judged, or worse, pitied.

However, when feelings of isolation and entrapment later begin to seep in, the victim now has no one left to rely on, apart from their abuser. This ensures that the gas-lighter remains in power. There is no one left to rescue the victim.

4. DECISION MAKING ABILITY

The victim has now been convinced that they are insane.

They can no longer trust their own judgement. Therefore, even the smallest of decisions, like what shirt to wear have to be approved by their abuser. As their decision-making ability dwindles, the gas-lighter now has full control.

HOW TO EXTINGUISH GASLIGHTING

I’m sure I know what you’re thinking right about now. “Gaslighting sucks be careful.” Okay! However, what do you do if you’re already in this situation? How do you escape? For lack of a better word, how do you extinguish the gas light?

STEP 1- RECOGNITION

Gaslighting depends on secretly distorting the victim’s reality. However, it’s very difficult for someone to alter your perception of reality if you are aware that this is happening to you. Before accusing someone of gaslighting you, first make sure that the situation is actually gaslighting. It isn’t always so easy to recognise.

Try to find repetitive patterns of undermining, contradiction, manipulation and deception in this particular circumstance. What is the intention behind these tactics? Is it really gaslighting, or are they just voicing their opinion? Do they care about you, or do they want to control you? Find the motive.

STEP 2- EVIDENCE

Now that you know that you are being gaslighted, it’s time to collect evidence. Not only are screenshots, pictures, and written accounts helpful for legal purposes; if the situation is extreme; but it can also help reinforce your view of the situation.

It’s sort of like “retracing your steps” in a way. Just because you now know that you are being manipulated, doesn’t make you immune to the effects of it. Every time your view or outlook of a situation is altered or even flat out denied, you have your own evidence to look back on if you need the mental reinforcement.

STEP 3- DEVELOP YOUR OWN SUPPORT SYSTEM

As we spoke about earlier, one of the main manipulation tactics of a gas-lighter is isolation. Both so that you can’t escape their control, and so that you can’t have your outlook and version of events authenticated.

However, and I once again say this only because I don’t necessarily know the extent of the situation, I would also suggest figuring out your finances as well. Sure, family and friends are an amazing support system. However, we can’t just ignore the financial aspect of it as well.

Money is important. If you have to, you need to be able to escape this abusive situation at any given time.

Can you imagine going through all the work to finally discover that you’re being gaslighted, only to realise that you still have to rely on the abuser for financial support?

Thank you for reading! Especially if you managed to read through all that!

Let me know if you’ve ever seen this movie, and if you’ve ever had an experience being gaslighted by a friend, romantic partner, parent or even at work.

You can check out my last few posts here:

World Poetry Month- The Second Issue
Mirror Superstitions
My Irrational Fears
World Poetry Month- The First Issue
Borrowed Poems From An Anonymous- ‘Destiny’ and ‘Today?’
Until Next Time.

Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

Based around a real historical event that happened in Manchester in 1819, British director Mike Leigh directed this superb drama looking at the plight of the working classes following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, in 1815. Assembling a large cast of some of the best British acting talent, and searching the country for authentic locations, Leigh delivered a long film (Two hours and thirty minutes) that is rich in historical accuracy and period detail.

In 1816, conditions for the working classes in Britain were terrible. Rich landowners and factory owners paid tiny wages for long hours at work. In the cotton mills of Lancashire, that work was very dangerous, and done by all age groups, including very small children. Most families barely had enough to put food on the table, and the imposition of the Corn Laws banning imports of corn forced up the price of bread to unaffordable levels.

There was also no representation for normal people, as only landowners and nobles were allowed to vote in elections. With King George III incapacitated by mental illness, his foppish son The Prince Regent was in control of the country, and his lavish lifestyle caused outrage at the time. The Reform Party sought to achieve better conditions for the working classes, with the right of one man, one vote, and proper contracted and safe working conditions. But government agents and spies infiltrated the meetings, as they feared a revolution like the one that had happened in France, in 1789.

The story follows one family, and their friends and neighbours. Returning home with PTSD after his harrowing experience at the battle of Waterloo, son Joseph can find no work. His mother sells pies to make enough money to feed the family, and the rest of his relatives work long hours in the local cotton mill. All are interested in the Reform Party, and attend meetings urging protest against their living conditions and lack of voting rights. Very soon, they come under the watchful eye of government agents, as the film starts to build to the climax in 1819.

Despite this being a ‘worthy’ film, full of long speeches, and a lot of regional dialect used, I never found its pace too slow. I was completely invested in the life of the family, helped by a wonderful performance from the excellent Maxine Peake as the mother. When the Manchester reformers ask a famous orator to come and address a public meeting, they have to use the large site of St Peter’s Field in Manchester, as it is to be the largest public gathering ever seen in the north of England. There will be no violence, and no weapons carried. Families will dress in their best clothes, and march to the field together, accompanied by musicians, and carrying banners and flags.

They choose a Monday, a working day, as their absence from their jobs will also serve as a protest to the wealthy owners, and the Magistrates who dominate their lives with an iron hand. This worries the government, so the local Yeomanry and Cavalry detachments are mobilised, in case of civil unrest. Once the famous orator begins to speak, the Magistrates instruct the military to disperse the crowd. What followed was later described in the newspapers as ‘The Peterloo Massacre’, using the idea of Waterloo to impart the scale of the slaughter on the day.

Around thirty people were killed instantly, many of them women, children, and babies. Over seven hundred people were injured, by swords, bullets, bayonets, or being trampled by horses. Many of those would later die from their injuries, and some were so badly injured they could never work again.

This is not a film for everybody, but as historical dramas go I thought it was outstanding. A wonderful cast, great script, and authenticity throughout.

Here’s a short trailer.

Tourist London: A Walk In History

My friend Antony sent me another of the You Tube videos of Joolz presenting one of his very informative walks.

This time, he is walking around some very famous Central London tourist areas, and giving a detailed history in his inimitable style.
(The film is just under 30 minutes long.)

If you have ever wandered around the same places, you may well be interested in the background to them.