Quickie Reviews: Hotel Artemis; American Animals

If Ocean’s 8 feels too safe a bet, and Hereditary looks too darn creepy, have no fear — you’ve got a couple of quirky alternatives to choose from in a crazy crowded weekend at the box office. Hotel Artemis stars Jodie Foster as “The Nurse”, the caretaker of a secret “members only” hotel/ER that caters to wounded criminals. The rules are simple and few: No guns. No cops. No killing the other patients. But on a single night in riot-torn Los Angeles 2028, rules are broken – and blood is shed.

I had my doubts going into this one, but a tight script and stellar cast turned what seemed like a B-movie wannabe into a solid action-filled crime thriller. Foster, in her first major motion picture since 2013, is joined by Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, and Dave Bautista (playing a bulky “health care professional” who works alongside the Nurse and is sweetly protective of her and the establishment). Hotel Artemis will surely draw comparisons to the ‘hotel for assassins’ featured in the John Wick movies. And that’s fair. It’s the first thing I thought of as the plot unfolded. So if you’re feeling Wick-ish, then it’s worth checking out – or checking into – Hotel Artemis.

 

American Animals is a unique little heist movie that differs from Ocean’s 8 in two major ways: it features an ensemble of guys; and, it’s a true story. The film recounts one of the most brazen art heists in U.S. history, ill-conceived by four young men looking to inject some excitement and purpose into their mundane lives in Lexington, Kentucky. The target: rare books, worth millions of dollars, locked in a special collections room at the Transylvania University library.

The 2004 heist led to the imprisonment of Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk and Chas Allen. The film includes interview footage with the men themselves, intercut with a dramatization of events by actors Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk), Evan Peters (Quicksilver in the X-Men movies), Jared Abrahamson (MMA fighter turned actor), and Blake Jenner (Edge of Seventeen, TV’s Glee and Supergirl).

The movie presents different points of view as to how events unfolded, and who roped who into what, giving the hybrid film somewhat of an I, Tonya vibe. Are we supposed to sympathize with these shmoes to some degree? Perhaps. Writer/director Bart Layton (exec producer of the docudrama, Locked Up Abroad) didn’t let the actors meet their real-life counterparts until after filming, so they wouldn’t feel any undue responsibility toward the cons. It’s hard to know if meet-and-greets would have influenced the final product, but it’s interesting to contemplate.

Bottom line: While Ocean’s 8 offers a light-hearted take on a meticulous, fabricated plan to steal and fence valuable jewels, American Animals delivers a darker, yet intriguing look at a meticulous plan to steal and fence valuable books – for real, proving truth really is stranger than fiction.

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