Entertainment Movies First Man versus Bad Times at the El Royale
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First Man versus Bad Times at the El Royale

El Royale compared with First Man
John Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo in El Royale. Photo: Supplied
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Going to the movies is expensive business these days. As we rocket towards awards season, we’ll help you choose which of the big guns are top dollar.

This week’s battle is between Damien Chazelle’s race-to-the-moon drama, First Man, and Drew Goddard’s twisty-turny crime thriller, Bad Times at the El Royale.

Oscar Buzz

Chazelle already won Best Director for La La Land, plus screenplay nominations for that moody musical and Whiplash. There’s a tonne of buzz around First Man too – rightly so, though it missed out on the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in favour of Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming Netflix drama Roma.

Combining breathtaking, claustrophobic cabin sequences that feel like you’re being shot into space in a shoebox, with Ryan Gosling’s restrained-but-pained performance as Neil Armstrong, a grieving father focused on the mission, it’s a powerhouse.

First Man movie review
Ryan Gosling spent much time studying the life of Neil Armstrong. Photo: Supplied

Blessed with Tarantino-esque whip-sharp wit, El Royale is a longer shot, though gripping nonetheless, and Goddard was Oscar-nominated for his adapted screenplay for Ridley Scott’s The Martian.

VERDICT: The smart money is on First Man.

Star Power

Obviously, Gosling is the big drawcard, but Claire Foy captured hearts globally as the young Queen in Netflix mega-hit, The Crown. She’s brilliant here too as Armstrong’s wife, Janet, trying to keep the family grounded.

El Royale might not be quite as starry, but Jeff Bridges is grand as a murky morality priest alongside local lad Chris Hemsworth’s scene-stealing turn as malevolent cult leader.

El Royale movie review
Australia’s own Chris Hemsworth. Photo: Supplied

And what’s not to love about Mad Men’s John Hamm as a smarmy vacuum salesman with a secret, and 50 Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson as an unpredictable bad girl handy with a shotgun.

VERDICT: Gosling’s huge, so First Man lands it in the face of stiff competition.

Sex factor

Sure Gosling has an army of thirsty fans, but there are no gratuitous shirtless scenes to rival Crazy, Stupid, Love here. In fact, First Man has very little to goggle – beyond its stunning, Kubrick-like space sequences.

Hemsworth, on the other hand, more than delivers on the unbuttoned front, with his mesmeric nipples deserving an Oscar each. Plus did we mention how much of a babe Johnson is? Also starring in stylishly suspenseful horror reboot, Suspiria, we’ve forgiven you Mrs Grey.

VERDICT: El Royale wins the sex appeal seal.

Storytelling hook

We know how the space race winds up, but Chazelle’s focus on the intimate reveals new layers to the Apollo 11 mission.

 As impressive as First Man is, we were gripped from go-to-woe as El Royale’s opening shot (quite literally) hooked us on a mystery where no one’s safe and there’s everything to play for.

VERDICT: El Royale roped us in.

 Sounds cool

The overwhelming roar of rockets had us covering our ears regularly during First Man, but for all that noise, the beauty of returning La La Land and Whiplash composer Justin Hurwitz’s out-of-this-world score soothed our frazzled nerves.

There’s no denying El Royale’s secret weapon. No, not all the smuggled guns everyone’s packing, but the stunning vocals and magnetic delivery of Tony Award-wining British singer-songwriter, Cynthia Erivo. She blew us away as back-up singer Darlene Sweet, caught in the middle of bad men’s machinations.

El Royale movie review
Cynthia Erivo is a revelation. Photo: Supplied

VERDICT: Erivo is a revelation that sings it for El Royale.

AND THE WINNER IS …

Who woulda thunk that with all the critical muscle, El Royale would just pip First Man to the post? Very different movies, the truth is they’re both brill, so if you can, stretch to two tickets.

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