Drew Pearce channels the spirit of John Carpenter to give Hotel Artemis instant cult appeal, while the stars come out to play in the excruciating Mama Mia sequel
A-list screenwriter turned debut director Drew Pearce channels his inner John Carpenter with Hotel Artemis, a near-future-set gonzo action movie about a group of rival criminals stuck in a private hospital over the course of a riot-strewn night in LA. Jodie Foster takes the lead as the Nurse, the titular establishment’s ageing proprietress whose administering of medical aid to criminals injured in the field – the hospital has been using the guise of a fleabag hotel for 20 years – is predicated on a strict adherence to the rules. Rule number one is no killing the other patients, but that proves more of a challenge when a riot confines a not-so-random collection of bank robbers, assassins, arms dealers and drug kingpins in the building for the night. Though the criminals-on-lockdown premise echoes classic Carpenter fare like Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13, Pearce imbues the film with enough weird flourishes to ensure it generates its own cult appeal. Foster’s character is especially fun in this respect and she has a blast playing this fundamentally decent but damaged woman as an eccentric weirdo set on her current path by past tragedy. She’s ably supported by a collection of up-and-coming and established actors (Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista and Jeff Goldblum among them) all of whom seem to be embracing the outlandish B-movie spirit of the film as much as Pearce, who restricts the running time to a tight 90 minutes and keeps the action entertainingly bloody.
Based on a best-selling memoir by a heroin-addicted British amateur boxer Billy Moore documenting his own three-year stint in a Thai prison, A Prayer Before Dawn offers such a relentlessly bleak portrait of his ordeal it almost can’t help but fall prey to the mimetic fallacy. Nothing in this film is easy to watch and even in a genre littered with extreme depictions of violence and institutionalised barbarity, this tries to go the extra mile to strip it of any movie-like gloss. Gang rapes are shot in uncomfortably long takes; face-pummelling yard brawls are filmed in uncompromising close-up and the prison boxing matches show every detail of every puked bit of blood and torn earlobe. There’s no doubting the commitment of young British actor Joe Cole either: his depiction of the taciturn but resourceful Moore inveigling his way into the upper echelons of prison society by proving his worth as a Muay Thai fighter is an exemplary piece of in-the-moment rawness. And yet the film itself – stylishly directed as it is by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire – doesn’t transcend this. It beats us into submission without providing the temporary enlightenment Moore himself apparently found.
An unashamedly frothy drawing room farce, Madame offers a welcome showcase for Pedro Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma. She plays Maria, a maid who pretends to be a visiting dignitary to help make up the numbers at a suddenly uneven dinner party designed to facilitate the sale of a piece of art necessary to help keep the family of her long term employer, Bob (Harvey Keitel), solvent. Needless to say, Maria becomes the life and soul of the party, albeit much to the horror of Anne (Toni Collette), Bob’s social-climbing second wife who sees in Maria’s success a reflection of her own failings. Though it lacks the sharp zingers that would make the Paris-set story the paragon of sophisticated silliness it’s clearly striving to be, de Palma’s scene-stealing skills raise it up a notch and Michael Smiley (as the Brit art dealer who falls for her charms) is a delight.
Interviewing the last surviving men and women to fly Spitfires during the Second World War is a great idea for a documentary. Sadly, while Spitfire does just that, the end result is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Having this first-hand testimony on record is, of course, invaluable, but the film would have done better to follow the lead of its interviewees, who question the nostalgic obsession with a machine they pragmatically viewed as an instrument of war far more than this overwhelmingly celebratory film does.
There’s a distinct end-of-days vibe to Generation Wealth, Lauren Greenfield’s horribly compulsive documentary about the culture of excess and spiritual decline that’s gone hand-in-hand with globalisation and society’s increasing obsession with money and fame. Using her Oscar-nominated recession documentary Queens of Versailles as a jumping-off point, Greenfield looks back over her 25-year career as a photographer and filmmaker on the frontline of this cultural shift. From photographing the Kardashians when they were still high school students to documenting heartbreaking stories about cash-strapped Americans sacrificing everything to have hideous plastic surgery, she reveals a society with its priorities seriously out of whack, one in which Trump’s presidency is the inevitable consequence.
And on the subject of hideous cultural phenomena: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again arrives in cinemas a decade on from that moment of madness when the country’s cinema-goers briefly turned the Meryl Streep-starring original into the highest-grossing film of all time in the UK.
Depending on your dedication to that kitsch karaoke musical atrocity, this belated sequel’s lyric-referencing title will either function as a cheerful clarion call or a resigned acknowledgement that the torture
is starting all over again. Co-written by Richard Curtis and directed this time by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s Ol Parker, the new film functions as both sequel and prequel, allowing Streep to minimise her contribution to a ghostly cameo by having Lily James play the younger Donna in the extended flashbacks while Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie and the rest of the returning cast mourn her character’s passing in the present day.
The big Abba hits are woven into the narrative in a slightly more polished way, but the conga-line choreography and variability of the singing remains true to the first film’s that’ll do aesthetic. It all builds to a grand entrance from Cher as Sophie’s grandmother that is as bizarre as you might imagine. ■