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Bad Times at the El Royale

A dilapidated hotel holds more than dusty sheets in this hilarious thriller

© 20th Centruy Fox / Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo in Bad Times at the El Royale.
      The El Royale on the California/Nevada border was once a hangout for gamblers and glitterati. But the hotel has fallen far, having lost its gambling and half its liquor license plus its appeal.
      The bellboy wanders empty halls, watching the building decay.
      Until one rainy evening four customers appear, each with a secret, all fighting for their lives in a building whose secrets make surviving the night more dangerous.
      I could tell you more, but it would spoil the fun. The less you know going into this movie, the better.
       Writer/director Drew Goddard (The Martian) has crafted a retro thrill ride. Characters are flashy and fun, dialogue is sharp, the soundtrack is swinging ’60s — and humor and violence are balanced. 
       In his directorial feature debut, Goddard displays solid narrative and brilliant visual skills. Shots are creative, pacing is tight and set design is wonderful. 
       Helping sell this stylish thriller is a fantastic ensemble cast. El Royale is its own character full of twisting hallways and ramshackle rooms. Think of the El Royale as The Overlook Hotel with a mod makeover.
       Among actors, Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Infinity War) puts in a fine performance as cult leader Billy Lee. Hemsworth uses natural charm and imposing physical stature to make Billy Lee both hilarious and terrifying.
As an imposter priest, Jeff Bridges (Only the Brave) is at his best, wry and funny without going over the top. Best of all is Broadway actress Cynthia Erivo (Broad City). Her Darlene Sweet is the calm center in a storm of plot twists and outlandish events. She shines as a failed singer who wants only to make a living doing what she loves. The chemistry between Erivo and Bridges adds heart.
         If this film isn’t perfect, it’s close. A few characters — among them Lewis Pullman’s Miles — are shortchanged. Still, the performances and dialogue smooth over any plot problems in this vibrant, fun film. 
Good Thriller • R • 141 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
First Man
        The journey to the moon was not easy. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) earned standing as the greatest American hero for making the trip. But becoming an icon takes its toll. This first-person account of the moon landing puts you in Neil Armstrong’s head as he takes a giant leap for mankind. 
       Director Damien Chazelle (who won an Oscar for his work on La La Land) re-teams with Gosling to let you feel how emotionally and physically taxing the feat was for Armstrong. It’s a uniquely immersive experience. If you have strong stomachs, you may want to seek out a Virtual Reality screening offered in major market cities. 
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 141 mins. 
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
       Sam and Sonny (Caleel Harris and Jeremy Ray Taylor) make Halloween creepier by breaking into reclusive author R.L. Stine’s (Jack Black) house. Finding a locked book, like most dumb kids in spooky movies, they open it.
      The boys unleash Stine’s scariest creation, Slappy, a sentient dummy that brings to life all the creepy creatures in decorations and storybooks.
      Can the boys stop Slappy and save Halloween? Or is that not the way this scary story ends?
       The perfect combination of spooky and silly for younger viewers, this is a good starter scary movie that won’t terrify little ones. However, its gentle antics may be too silly or boring for older viewers.
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 90 mins. 
The Hate You Give
       Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a code-switching master. At her predominantly white private school, she plays down her race and cultural background. At home in her black working-class neighborhood, she is freer with who she is. 
      Starr’s two worlds combine horrifically when she is the only witness to a police shooting. All eyes are on her. Her community seeks her voice to protest the injustice. School friends want her to not make trouble and prove she really is a part of their world. She must decide how much the truth, and her voice, are worth. 
       A powerful movie about code-switching, police violence in minority communities and young women learning to speak out, The Hate You Give will be an inspiration to many. Timely, beautifully acted and thoughtful, it’s a must-see for all ages, especially teens.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 132 mins.