The Royal Hotel
If someone told you that you’re going to a place called the Royal Hotel, you’d expect top-notch service, five-star meals, and the best damn sleep of your life. Instead, you get a run-down bar in the middle of nowhere, aka, the Outback of Australia. It still is technically a hotel, but only for the workers of the establishment who can’t leave since there’s nowhere else to go. The Australian version of Hotel California, except without any of the glamour.
Hanna and Liv, played by Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick respectively, are two Americans pretending to be Canadian as they vacation in Australia. When their funds empty out, they are left with no choice but to get a job. The job? Bartenders in a pub that is located right next to a male-dominated mining community. Using “dominated” seems like an understatement in both senses of the word. The area is exclusively filled with men, and they seem to hold a lot of power when it comes to the pub. Which is bad news when it comes to the fresh-faced women who are replacing another set of women tourists at the Royal Hotel. Safe to say, Hanna and Liv have entered a world very different from what they are used to.
This is Julia Garner’s second time working with director Kitty Green, the first time being for 2019’s The Assistant. It’s clear to see why they want to work with each other. Garner provides a superb performance for a woman who is afraid of the world around her but wants to keep a strong look on her face to try and deal with it. No smiling, only toughness. Meanwhile, Jessica Henwick plays her best friend, an easy-going person who is vulnerable to making a mistake every now and then. She does make a few, especially the one convincing Hanna to stay and work there. The tough thing when it comes to talking about this movie is that there are so many great performances in here. From Hugo Weaving’s portrayal as their boss (who is more moronic than a threat compared to the other men visiting the bar) to Daniel Henshall’s Dolly, a man who grows more menacing and fearsome whenever he appears on screen. The only friendly face for our leads is the chef, Carol, the sole person that Liv and Hanna can trust to help them out.
There’s a theme of sisterhood throughout this. Carol looks after Hanna while she has a five-minute break by giving her food, and Hanna tries to look after Liv while she is clearly intoxicated. Due to Kitty Green, there’s a feminine view in the film, and it works brilliantly because of it, with a true realisation of the male gaze on show. Her and Oscar Redding’s screenplay is sharp and pinpoint with its dialogue. When the patrons speak to Hanna, we’re honestly not sure if we should feel intimidated or if we’re just making that intimidation up. Making intolerant, sexist remarks under the guise of a joke, the male characters make it seem as if women are not able to take the piss, while they are getting pissed themselves and making passes at them, with one of the patrons getting agitated at another patron due to the fact that he took the girls to a remote swimming spot instead of him; like the girls are entitled property for these miners to own.
With some really chilling moments, The Royal Hotel proves to be an unnerving thriller. Placing us right into the perspective of a woman trying to deal with the world of sexist men. Although a lot of the moments are well earned, it feels as if the film underplays its hand at times, especially when it keeps the background as to what Hanna and Liv are running away from a secret. With a third act that really ramps up, tossing aside the subtlety it had before, The Royal Hotel makes it a worthwhile stay and asks how romantic can a sleazy pub be?
In 1999, we got the film Fight Club. In 2023, we got the female Fight Club in Bottoms. Following up on her feature debut, Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman delivers a wacky, high school comedy flick. We follow Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, who decide to start up an after-school self-defence club, with the end goal of sleeping with the girls who come to it. As this plan goes on, the more explosive it gets and, eventually, blows up in their face. Just like the end of Fight Club.
As opposed to a psychological thriller, Bottoms is a psychological comedy. The tone is established quite quickly, such as in one of the opening scenes, when an American football player for the school team fakes a huge injury after getting the slightest of taps from a car. Or when PJ and Josie sit in class for one minute and the bell rings, but they are self-aware enough to realise how short the class was. The best way to describe the humour of this is that there’s no preparation for the jokes, you’re already watching them as they happen. Absurd humour that goes further and further as PJ and Josie keep up the lie that they went to juvie.
The comedy in this doesn’t seem set-up or overly written, but rather off-the-cuff. Improvised rather than strategized, much like their approach to the self-defence club. When you get talented leads such as these two, banking on them to naturally make situations funnier seems like a smart play. Except, it can be really hit-or-miss with the jokes. The one exception being Marshawn Lynch as an extremely irresponsible teacher. He steals every moment he has, charging into the scene like he is still playing for the Seattle Seahawks. The film keeps swerving and subverting any assumption you have about where the plot will go next, while somehow keeping to a formulaic story archetype.
Bottoms puts its life on the line to see if you’ll come aboard the craziness that it’s bringing to the table. To put it simply, Bottoms is a wild time but really requires you to accept the absurdities that come with it. For better or for worse. I did, and I had a decent enough time with it, even if it didn’t always hit. But the bottom line was still net positive by the end.
It’s only fitting that Nicolas Cage should star in a film about being in everyone’s dreams. He’s given us nightmares with his hatred of bees and given us a lucid dream of playing himself on screen. So, how does he fair with being in the mind of so many unconscious people? The answer isn’t gracefully.
Paul Matthews is a tenured biology professor at a college, a fact that he’d hate for you to forget, who meets up with an old college buddy. He confronts her on a new book she’s writing which seems to have taken its inception from one of Paul’s ideas many years ago. With a plan of a headfirst attack, the meeting ends with him begging for a credit on it. After the meeting, Paul has a couple of peculiar encounters with various people, some of which Paul knows. He then eventually gets a call from an acquaintance retelling him a story about how one of the members of his dinner party sees Paul in her dreams, despite the fact they’ve never met. Paul’s life is then turned upside down as a whirlwind of fame is heading straight his way as he finds out this isn’t an isolated incident and lots of people see him in their dreams.
Taking the saying of overnight fame to its most literal sense, Kristoffer Borgli fleshes out this idea and branches away from what would be a great short film. While watching it, I kept thinking about how I was watching the latest Charlie Kaufman film, but he had nothing to do with it. It feels like a combination of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, which is a damn good mix to have, and it also shares the lead of Adaptation. It enacts a smart play of never diving into finding out why he has been appearing in everyone’s dreams, instead opting to go on the wild ride that follows; proceeding forward with the effect as opposed to looking back for a cause.
Nick Cage does a great job here in this role. I know it can be a crapshoot with him, but we’re in safe hands with this one. He’s the perfect casting as he’s already like a man who shows up in our dreams, playing weird roles we’d never expect to see him in; thinking we should pinch ourselves when we see him playing Ghost Rider, Dracula, or even himself. At one point, someone likens memes to becoming like our dreams, and what better man than the movie meme king himself to take on the challenge of Paul, paying a role in which a professor tries to claim credibility and attention and, when he gets it, he becomes too socially awkward to turn into a full-blown narcissist that he’s so close to becoming, having smoke blown up his ass by a fantastic Michael Cera, the head of an advertising company. A man who wants to monetize the one place they can’t advertise: Your dreams.
Tackling the topic of fame and the result of it is the highlight of Dream Scenario, all while still giving us stuff to relate to. Ever had someone be mad at you because of something you did in their dream? This has got you covered. Although you don’t get cancelled because of it, Paul does. When it does go south for him, we see what it looks like when an angry Twitter mob actually does something about the person they are cancelling. The conflict here is that Paul has done nothing wrong in the real world. It really is a fascinating take on cancel culture, and, by the end, you do feel sorry for Paul.
This film nails the dreamlike feel, visually showing people’s dreams as we watch preposterous situations like someone floating towards the sky as Nicolas Cage rakes leaves in the background. The frantic splicing of the editing and cutting abruptly creates this feeling of waking up from a dream and being in one. None of the edits make linear sense when speaking in the traditional form of editing, yet we understand it due to how our mind takes in the information. It’s clear, if not nonsensical, taking sci-fi and fantasy and mixing it together. But fantasy in terms of desire rather than the genre. However, the last twenty minutes take a strange turn. It’s an interesting idea, but the way it went about it could’ve been implemented more smoothly than a walking advertisement from Silicon Valley. Still, the film is a dream you’d want to journal.
The Marvels is the latest outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking the stories of WandaVision, a Disney+ show; Ms. Marvel, another Disney+ show; and Captain Marvel, and placing them all together into one big crossover movie. With two shows that are roughly eleven hours long, not including a two-hour movie, can you go into this not knowing about them? Yeah, you can, all you need to understand is that superheroes are fighting to save the universe…again.
The film opens with a quick summary of who Kamala Khan is for the uninitiated through a great comic book panel animation. We then get a quick summary of Carol Danver’s backstory, in case you didn’t know it. And for Monica Rambeau? Well, hope you’ve seen the show she’s in. The three magically become linked, with them swapping places whenever they use their powers, as evident from the end of Ms. Marvel, Brie Larson is currently in the bedroom of her biggest fan, while Kamala has ended up in a spacesuit in outer space. The three then team up together as they try to stop Dar-Benn from taking resources from other worlds to make her planet habitable again. Zawe Ashton plays the Kree leader, who must’ve been egged on to take the role by her partner, and now MCU colleague, Tom Hiddleston.
By this point, it’s going to be hard for a Marvel film to shock you. It does what it says on the tin, but I can’t help but applaud the directing from Candyman director, Nia DaCosta. With the action scenes, a lot of heart is put into making them. It truly seems that they are having so much fun doing them. With the concept of switching places, the film starts strong with this idea, giving us one of the best action set pieces I’ve seen in a Marvel film for a long time, but the freshness peters out as it goes on and they gain control of their situation.
I say that they had fun with the action, but it looks like they’ve had a blast throughout the whole thing. For the first time in a while, I’ve laughed at several of the jokes; something uncommon for the latest efforts from the studio. The key to it is gags rather than punchlines. There are a lot of wacky scenes and it’s extremely amusing to watch them play out. Having a musical number in the middle of a superhero film wasn’t an idea that I thought could work, but it so, so does. Go along with the madness and you’ll have a good time.
Another key reason for the good time is due to how well the cast play off each other. Teyonah Parris shows restrained resentment towards Captain Marvel for not being there after promising she’ll be back when Monica was a child (The superhero equivalent of popping out of a litre of milk). Brie brings an extremely likeable and funny lead to the film, as she spearheads the mission while having to work as a team, something I’m sure she could’ve gotten used to had she been a part of the Avengers missions more. Larson would’ve been the best thing about this had Iman Vellani not interrupted mid-sentence to freak out about her idol, Captain Marvel. Iman brings this burst of energy that is unparalleled in the MCU. She loves the fact that she’s a superhero and gets to team up with her role model, constantly funny in how awkward she makes things by fangirling out about everything. If this is the way the MCU is heading, I’m on board. She’s every kid who dreamed of being like a superhero and you can tell Vellani loves doing it too. The whole Khan family is just extremely wholesome. I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit emotional when they were backing her to save the world.
Sadly, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with the film. Due to it being one of the shorter films in the MCU (a choice that I respect the filmmakers for), the story feels as fast as the Flash. Not the film, but the character. The plot speeds along, leaving you with hefty segments of exposition and quick scenes that help the characters put behind their differences and forgive each other. It would be emotionally barren if it wasn’t for the great performances. Another downfall of it is the hollow villain, an easily forgettable antagonist. So much so that I had to research her name prior to writing this review. There’s no depth to her bar the fact she wants revenge on Captain Marvel and wants to save her planet. Maybe if the film was given an extra half hour, all these aspects could’ve been fleshed out more, leaving us with an ending that packs a real punch to the gut. But sadly, we aren’t left with that, making the last half hour of the film resort back to classic Marvel final acts without strong emotional stakes. But to hell with it, this film was weird, wild fun and a solid action flick while at it.
Dale Kearney is the Film Editor for Post-Burnout, and is a passionate film enthusiast, boasting multiple years studying and working within film, with an intrigue in all genres of film, from horror to comedies to musicals.