Bad Times at the Hotel El Royale

Post hoc ergo proper hack

Tarantino without the writing ability. And Tarantino can't write anymore.
Reported on 21st of February, 2019

Ah. A new rule. To be distinguished from both A-Scene-Where-ism and Surprise! It’s The Surprise I Told You About. Are You Surprised?, this occurs when a filmmaker has an idea that must go in the film, and retcons the whole affair to make it fit. Yep, ‘retcons’. It’s like having a nonsensical prequel within the film itself.

Bad Times at the Hotel El Royale

13 November 2018 @ Le Cinema Club 6

-$11.30 or, if one must be prosaic, and one must... 
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


There are many PHEPH’s in Bad Times at the Hotel El Royale, and unlike the film, I’m going to save you some time and select one. I will then proceed to waste your time in other ways.

Our topic: bugs (as in listening devices). Mr. John Hamm discovers twenty bugs in one of the rooms of the titular hotel, ten of one type, ten of another. That’s pretty neat.

Well, no, it isn’t. It could be, if it didn’t have to be explained. Mr. Hamm is working for the FBI (another surprise…to explain) and half of the bugs are bureau-issue and the other half are not. How did the boneheads of either side not notice this while they were installing them? No, that’s not the retconning I’m talking about.

So this not terribly clever but thinks it is conceit tells us that both the FBI and some blackmailers were recording people at this hotel. Stupid, implausible and boring, but fine. Why not?

However – I did discover the absolutely wonderful ice cream maker, Éric Élien. For those of you traveling to St. Brieuc anytime soon. Ate it before the film started, so doesn’t reduce the pain.

Mr. Hamm is there to recover ‘the tape’. Of course we’re not to be told what’s on it, because of all the surprise, but again, so be it. The problem is, (and this is after all other stuff is revealed and nothing explained), the FBI is just finding out about the tape, having discovered the presence of the bugs in that moment. In other words, they sent him there to recover a tape that they didn’t know existed.

What is laid bare is the process that gave non-life to this project – post hoc ergo proper hack. Mr. Goddard came up with premise – the FBI and criminals bugging a place at the same time, and then an image: someone finding both types of bugs.

Neat, Mr. Goddard may have said.

But then after all the other story elements (see below), attachment sets in. This has got to be in the film. Never mind that one would have to then explain that image to the audience (why wouldn’t, for example, the FBI or the blackmailers have simply switched suppliers mid-creepiness). Without an intimate knowledge of 1960s listening devices, any simplicity the gag implies is lost on the audience.

Thereupon, Mr. Goddard pours in a girl kidnapped from a cult and a fake priest looking for money and the FBI retrieving their listening devices and a secret blackmailing operation discovered and a cult leader and so on. This all happens on the same night, which would be coincidence unless someone inserts a speech about how fate is the tool of the lazy screenwriter.

The film does its somersaults to keep these many conceits in place. Like most audience members, I’m distracted by implausibilities, what might be called credulity taffy. But what matters, as does in all film, is feeling. That we have some.

As I’ve said many times, all these mysteries and reveals translates into not just not knowing about the characters. But this film goes a bit farther, making sure we are perpetually unsure that we even could know. For instance, Ms. Cynthia Erivo is there to sing a gig the next day. Or is she? Mr. Jeff Bridges is talking about his brother. Is he/it real? He has memory problems, which besides being a cheap device, actually brings into question even the reality of fake reality – is he faking his own fake memories of being real? Is it all a dream of a butterfly thinking he was Patrick Duffy? Without knowing, or even a way to know, connection any character evacuates.

Such shenanigans lead – possibly because Mr. Goddard had thought of it and couldn’t let go – to the Let’s-tie-up-everybody-and-have-a-scene now…scene. Mr. Christopher Helmsworth (in it to win it, in his defense), lets chance decide whether characters live or die. Chance, the even-eviler-twin-to-the-coincedence-that-led-all-these-characters-here-on-the-same-night, script-writing-wise.

Finally we encounter the inherent ugliness in people dying both by screenwriter whim and because the bad sister (Ms. Cailee Spaeny) betrayed the good sister (Ms. Dakota Johnson) who saved her, i.e. bad things leading to bad events, i.e. deep philosophical insight. Mr. Goddard flirted with nihilism before in Cabin in the Woods, with unfortunate results at the end of an otherwise diverting film. As reveals float and then disappear rippleless beneath the surface, the nihilism is more prolonged and takes center-stage; Tarantino without the writing ability.

And Tarantino can’t write anymore.

The Take

Nick! Fuck it, I’ll take what I can get.
The nice woman in front of me had a subscriber discount and gave it to me, so the film cost only €2.70. I’ll deduct $2.70 for the kindness of the French film culture.
Total Profits
 It’s odd that Mr. Hamm is called upon to ‘act racist’ even though his cover doesn’t require it, and, in fact, all his talkiness is the last thing anyone under cover would do.
But now you’ve done it. You’ve done the easy let’s make the audience think he’s a villain thing. But having done that, here’s what you can’t do and yet you did: make the woman about whom he’s being racist into…a soul singer. You sure you didn’t want her to dispense wisdom to a coming of age white kid?
And no, I don’t care how much you wanted to see her sing a song and have a single tear go down her cheek ™
He’s got memory problem. Or doesn’t he…remember???
A hateful film
Total Losses


Thoughts on Bad Times at the Hotel El Royale

  1. Dorothée says:

    This film is WAY more enjoyable than anything Tarantino ever did!
    So grateful for this luscious homme fatal. Hemsworth is perfect. More please 🙂

    1. Scott Scott says:

      I LOVE how much you (correctly) hate Tarantino. I wish only that this hatred could be applied (correctly) to this film. Even if Mr. Hemsworth has his charms. I’ve added ‘My Flimsily Concealed Homoeroticism’ to the post in his/your honor.

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