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New films: First Man, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Old Man & the Gun

Moviebriefs

Damien Chazelle reversed course from “La La Land” for “First Man,” but stuck with lead Ryan Gosling for this biopic about Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. For a film about a pilot, test pilot, and astronaut, it’s very grounded and unemotional. Whether or not this is accurate, it tells a story of a man more adept at maneuvering a damaged plane or space vehicle than at maneuvering a career or life circumstance, and we’re led to believe that Armstrong was the safe pick – as if the film might have been called “The Right Place at the Right Time Stuff.” But there’s a workmanlike approach to space exploration here that lacks much emotion, perhaps because those involved have become used to death and loss, but the end result leaves the man, the film, and the moon all feeling equally cold and distant. And so much ground, and time, is covered that there’s also little detail about any of it. This could be the least informative of the various NASA exploration films.

Bad Times at the El Royale” is inspired, in part, by the CalNeva Lodge which sat astride the California-Nevada state line, and the fictional El Royale has half a lobby and rooms in both states. Although in the film, aside from being a cute gimmick, it has little narrative value. This is the story of a dark and stormy night, an odd group of guests, most of whom aren’t quite what they might seem or claim to be, and a run-down hotel that also isn’t quite what it seems. There are multiple stories of redemption here in a grindhouse-style film that’s channeling to some extent the work of Quentin Tarantino. But it does that in what might be the worst, and least intentional, way possible by overstaying its own welcome – like the hotel guest that won’t leave. There’s a sharp, snappy, funny, dark film here with a running time of approximately 110 minutes – but it’s trapped, like the all-star cast, in a running time of 141 minutes.

Robert Redford has said that “The Old Man & the Gun” will be his last film in which he appears, as an actor, in front of the camera. Whether or not that proves to be true, it’s worth watching not just for that part of this actor’s history, but also because it’s a neat film about an interesting person. Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber and prison escape artist, who at 70 literally sailed away from San Quentin to pick up where he left off as the most charming thief to ever point a gun in your face. It’s an intriguing conundrum, when nice people do bad things, and that affects the judgment of a woman he meets (Sissy Spacek) and a cop trying to find him (Casey Affleck) – he’s a gentleman rogue but he’s the hero of a story in which he’s also the villain. But your price of admission is easily covered just by watching Redford and Spacek sitting across a diner table from each other, eyes twinkling, flirting like teenagers. When you’ve got it, flaunt it.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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