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Archive for August, 2019

Spoiler warning – I have avoide any final act spoilers, but do talk about many aspects of the film in detail.  If you intend to see the film but have not as yet, I recomend you watch it before reading this.  once upon a time in hollywood poster

I was really concerned when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was announced.  Firstly we don’t need another movie about Charles Manson, but more significantly, is Quentin Tarantino capable of the sensitivity needed to tell the story of the horrendous murder of actress Sharon Tate?  My fears were exacerbated  by the fact I didn’t particularly enjoy his last film, The Hateful Eight (2015).  Quentin Tarantino has been self indulgent ever since  Kill Bill (2003 and 2004) got so long the studio forced him to cut it in half.  Django Unchained (2012) is a good 165 minute movie that could have been a great 100 minute movie.  The Hateful Eight, just dragged!  But I am always hopeful of a return to form, after all, I love Tarantino’s first six movies (Kill Bill is officially one movie), and despite their problems Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight had some really good moments.  It is has been suggested that his work is also hollow and shallow, and totally lacking in sensitivity.  As for lacking in sensitivity, he would probably say guilty as charged and proud of it.  Shallow, is unfounded, but they are certainly hollow, this isn’t a problem, and shouldn’t be considered a criticism.  This is partly because they are so entertaining, but mainly because it is the intention, it is part of the art, the idea of l’art pour l’art suggests true art, is free from any didactic, moral, or function.  The lack of sensitivity was a bigger hurdle to overcome knowing what happed to Sharon Tate and how it could have been depicted.  However, I had overlooked one thing: Once Upon a Time.  The title evoked the Sergio Leone Once Upon a Time movies, I had forgotten that Tarantino had started a movie Once Upon a Time, and that movie, Inglourious Basterds was revisionist at very least, bordering on a fairytale.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, falls very much in this category, revisionist and, or fairytale, and like Quentin Tarantino’s best movies Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), its full of characters you want to spend time with.  The film is littered with a mixture of real and fictional characters, it is told from the prospective of two of the fictional characters Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Dalton is an actor who had been the star of a TV western, until he quit to pursue an movie career, think Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.  Unlike McQueen who within a couple of years of leaving TV was making The Great Escape, Dalton’s career is in a slow but undoubted descent, playing villain of the week on other peoples shows.  Booth is Daltons stunt double whose work has dried up in line with Daltons.  He now works as a driver and general gofer for Dalton, who finds himself without a driving licence thanks to a string of DUI charges.  If not an alcoholic, Dalton is on his way to becoming one!  Racked with insecurity, Booth is also a crutch, the friend who will tell him how it is, but with a positive spin, an ego massage.once upon a time in hollywood dicaprio and pitt

The film is set at the turning point in cinema after the death of the Golden Age, and in the early days of New Hollywood when young filmmakers were making films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967),  The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider (both 1969).  This is symbolised by Dalton who doesn’t know his place in the new order:  Idols like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart are a thing of the past.  At the same time, he is too old to be a star of new Hollywood like Al Pacino (who appears in the film as Daltons new agent), and Dennis Hopper (who is referenced in the film).  He isn’t as good, or possibly just as lucky as Steve McQueen (who appears as a character played by Damian Lewis).  The actor who isn’t mentioned, is Clint Eastwood who went from the TV show Rawhide (1959–1965) to Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy of spaghetti Westerns (between 1964 and 1966).  But then neither is James Arness who was the star of Gunsmoke for twenty years but never found anything like that success on the big screen.TV Cowboys

In the film, Dalton lives next door Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and his new wife Sharon Tate (delightfully portrayed by Margot Robbie).  This both brings the story together and gives prospective to the Daltons character.  Polanski is the hottest director in town thanks to his previous film Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  His young wife Tate, is something of an enigma, groomed as a studio ingénue, in a system that no longer existed.  Married to, and working with Polanski, what could have happened if not for her tragic death?  Polanski is largely absent from the story concentrating more on Tate as she drifts through the film, an ethereal presence in the background of the story.  It has been suggested that she doesn’t have enough lines of dialogue, but that somehow misses the point of what this story is.  The film portrays Tate purchasing a first edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles as a gift for Polanski.  A fan of Hardy’s work, she recommended the story to her husband for a movie adaptation.  Ten years later, he made the film, with Nastassja Kinski in the title role.  It was nominated for six Oscars, winning three of them.  Would this have been a project they worked on together?  Polanski is largely absent from the story concentrating more on Tate as she drifts through the film, an ethereal presence in the background of the story.  It has been suggested that she doesn’t have enough lines of dialogue, but that somehow misses the point of what this story is, she is the heart of the movie, not the subject of it.once upon a time in hollywood margot robbie

Forgoing a traditional three act structure, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has one prolonged act, a time jump and a montage followed by a final act.  The least you know about the final act the better, I am therefore not going to mention it further.  The montage that separates the two acts is Tarantino at his best, it is snappy and fun where it could have been clunky and distracting.  Narrated by Kurt Russell, it gives a great insight into the “spaghetti” film industry, filled with too clever for their own good in jokes.  What we see is the natural conclusion to the first act, and a perfect setup for the conclusion.  This is no surprise as one of  Tarantino signatures, and expertise is the juxtaposition of narratives.   The brilliance of the montage is how it blends a little truth, and a lot of in jokes into the fiction.Rick Dalton Movie posters (1)

Quentin Tarantino has an interesting history of shooting people in cars talking, and making it really interesting, his first two movies, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction are full of them.  The latter even had a key scene in a restaurant where old cars had replace booths.  This isn’t anything new, he would have grown up watching movies like American Graffiti (1973), and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), that latter making great use of the smaller Techniscope cameras to get inside the car and changing the way cars were shot.  Here we see great conversations in cars, or one particular car, Rick Dalton’s Cadillac Coupe DeVille.  We see Dalton talking to Cliff Booth, these conversations centre around Dalton’s insecurities and fears.  But we also see Booth picking up Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a hitchhiker; their conversations are frivolous and fun in the vein of what we expect from Tarantino.  Tate however is more a mystery, we see her driving with Polanski in his old MG, and in her Porsche giving a lift to a hitchhiker.  The two journeys have destinations, the first at the Playboy Mansion, the second at valet car park.  Despite the lack of dialogue we learn so much about the character in this moment.  The hitcher and Tate embrace and wish each other luck, an instant if temporary friend.  At the Playboy Mansion, Tate is greeted by friends Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf) and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse), the trio immediately go off to dance joyously.  We learn a little more, thanks to some exposition from Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis).  That is where we start to understand, the film is Rick Dalton, and Cliff Booth’s fictional story that we follow while the real world happens around them.  They, like everyone are witnesses to history unfolding, and they are our way into this world separated from us by almost exactly fifty years.  The reason to stay with the film, is that you want to spend more time with these people.  Booth is described as a war hero, it is suggested he may have committed, and got away with a terrible crime.  He comes across as a nice guy, the type you would like to have a beer with, but there is something under the surface, is he totally zen, or is this anger management?  Is he a coiled spring waiting to explode?  As always, Tarantino writes characters better than he rights stories, this is probably why Jackie Brown, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch remains his most accessible film.  But, as all successful people are, he understands his limitations and works with them, sometimes embracing them.  Structure is his his friend, his collaborator. talking in cars

Like all the best Tarantino movies, Once Upon a Time is as much about look and mood as it is about story and character, and that is what he has created so well.  You believe that Rick Dalton, lives in that house, and that Tate and Polanski live next door (and he is afraid to talk to them), and that Booth lives out in the valley behind a drive-in.  The streets look like the 1960’s and look like a real world, not a set (except the E-type Jaguar, on Daltons road that never moves in six months), the people dress like they are from the 60’s not dressing up to look like the 60s’, and listen to music of the time.  Music has always been a big thing in Tarantino movies, and he is famous for his deep cuts, there is no exception here.  He wisely stayed away from The Beatles (referred to as, The White Album) and we get a perfect blend of Paul Revere & The Raiders, Bob Seger, Neil Diamond.  a lot of the songs I recognise, but don’t really know.  This vague recognition is all part of the shorthand that drags us in, as is Booth’s T-shirt bearing the logo for Champion spark plugs (I’m sure I had one when I was a kid, and expect to see people wearing them again now).  But, I suspect it goes deeper than that.  Tarantino isn’t just saying “remember the 60’s?” He is saying “this is what the 60’s were, and this is what they could have been!”. He is reminding us of the ideas and ideals of the day, and how they were lost, forgotten and destroyed, but for the smallest things, those ideals could have been realised.  And most significantly, he is telling us that we are at a similar tipping point today and asking the question, “what the fuck are you going to do about it”.  This is possibly the first time since Inglourious Basterds that he has had something to say.  Am I reading too much into this and attributing Tarantino depth that he doesn’t have?  I don’t think so.  This is a film that needs a second and a third viewing, and like Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds one that film students will be debating and deconstructing for a generation.

As mentioned at the top, I am not going to go into the final act, but have said enough to indicate that it isn’t an accurate depiction of events, it doesn’t try to be.  If you are interested in what happened, and how this was a turning point for the era and movies, listen to Karina Longworth’s amazing podcast You Must Remember This, where she dedicated a who season to the lead up, events, and aftermath.

If this is to be Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate movie (I don’t believe it is), it is truly a return to form, and an amazing springboard to his swansong.  Taken on its own merits it is a fun, and often funny film that somewhat recaptures my favourite of his films, Pulp Fiction.  It is also a fitting love letter to the Hollywood as a whole, and the birth of New Hollywood.  A director who has always had an eye on late 60’s,a and 1970’s cinema, he has finally visited, and it was a rich and rewarding trip.  The film has its issues, but they are easily forgotten simply because they are outweighed by everything else that is so good.  Not Tarantino’s masterpiece but an accomplished work and for only the second or third time in his career, he isn’t just entertaining us, he has something to say.  Thank you Quentin!

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The Fast and the Furious was a 1950’s Roger Corman B movie about a man charged with a murder he didn’t commit.  He kidnaps a woman to aid his escape, as you would expect for a film of this type, the two fall in love.  Only the title survived for the franchise that became The Fast and the Furious. 

The Fast and the Furious (2001) – Legend had it that director Rob Cohen and star Paul Walker dreamed up the idea of an action movie: Donnie Brasco meets Days of Thunder.  They borrowed the plot from Point Break and hired Vin Diesel in the Patrick Swayze role.  The film was dumb, but fun, most importantly it exceeded box-office expectations. The Fast and the Furious

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) – Diesel, the heart of the first film declined to return in the sequel and was replaced by Tyrese Gibson, who had previously worked with director John Singleton.   The story revolved around a new car related undercover case for FBI agent Paul Walker.2 Fast 2 Furious

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – Walker and Diesel both declined to return for the third movie.  Justin Lin, was hired as director and Lucas Black as the star.  Vin Diesel appeared in a cameo (in exchange for the tights to the character Riddick). The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift

Fast & Furious (2009) – Director Justin Lin returned bringing with him Sung Kang reprising his role of Han Lue.  As Han had died in the previous film, this was set earlier.  After a string of flops, Vin Diesel was keen to return and convinced Paul Walker to join him.  Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster also returned from the original film.  Notable for Gal Gadot’s film début. Fast & Furious

Fast Five (2011) – This is where the franchise started to morph into Mission Impossible, and also the highpoint of the franchise.  With a plot that started life as a sequel to the Italian Job remake.  As well as Diesel, Walker, Gadot, and Brewster, from the previous film, Matt Schulze from the first film returned, as did  Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Tyrese Gibson from the second film.  The first appearance in the franchise of Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs.  The final “Mission Impossible” heist (Tyrese Gibson even call it Mission Impossible) is possibly the highpoint of the franchise. Fast Five

Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) returns from the dead, and Luke Hobbs recruits the team from the previous film to help take down  Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) former SAS Major turned thief.  Continuing a theam that started in the previous film, Tyrese Gibson’s character started to change from a badass, to an idiot for comic relief.  MMA fighter Gina Carano also appeared, and Jason Statham  makes a mid credit cameo. Fast & Furious 6

Furious 7 (2015) – After defeating Owen Shaw, the crew return home pardoned for past crimes and the franchise goes full mission impossible.  Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)  tries to kill them to avenge his brother, and they have to steal a maguffin.  The film took over $1.5billion, nearly double that of the previous film that was the highest earner of the franchise up to that point.  The last film to feature Paul Walker who died before the films was completed.   Furious 7

The Fate of the Furious (2017) – Dom is coerced cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) into betraying his team. Both the maguffins and the action gets bigger and more silly.  Another film to take over $1billion.  Previous antagonists Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) are retconned in more sympathetic roles with Helen Mirren in a cameo as their mother.  Reports from set suggested Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson didn’t get on, results of their pissing competition have never been made public!The Fate of the Furious

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) – So this brings us up to date with the film that really should be called Fast & Furious Presents: Mission Impossible.  There isn’t a single plot point in the film that hasn’t been used in Mission Impossible, most notably infecting a primary character with a doomsday virus. Forced to work together, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) don’t like each other as played out in the previous film. The mismatched partners could have got old very quickly, fortunately Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, Deckard estranged sister is the most interesting character in the movie.  Idris Elba has fun as the villain, he even introduce himself as “bad guy”.  By far the silliest, of an already silly franchise.  Kirby and Statham play siblings of a similar age, despite the fact their ages would be better suited to farther and daughter.  I can’t say it’s a good film, if you think too much about it, it’s actually quit a poor, film, but it’s great fun to while you are a watching it, I really enjoyed it. Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

So what next?  Fast & Furious 9 , and 10 are scheduled for 2020, and 2021, with Justin Lin returning as director, with an “Untitled female-centered film” to follow.  Vanessa Kirby seems a more likely lead than Michelle Rodriguez, or will it be a totally new cast?  XX Warning, Spoilers for Hobbs & Shaw XX Idris Elba appeared to be killed at the end of Hobbs & Shaw, a near guarantee that he will appear in a future film as a good guy!  The ultimate big bad of Hobbs & Shaw isn’t Elba’s Brixton Lore, but the unseen “director” of Eteon.  It will be a great surprise if this character doesn’t return, at which time it will also be a surprise if it doesn’t turn out to be Cipher (Charlize Theron).

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After three slightly lean months July is back to normal with eleven trips to the cinema.  Which will be movie of the month?

Apollo 11 – Documentary made up of NASA footage shot at the time of the moon landings.  Much of it shot on 65mm.  With no voiceover and no talking heads, it’s a wonder the film can hold the attention for its 93minute runtime.  The key word here is wonder, because the film is filled with wonder, it is nothing short of stunning. Apollo 11

Yesterday – What happens when Danny Boyle walks away from directing the new Bond movie?  He makes a rom-com with Richard Curtis, the results aren’t as bad as you would expect, or as some reports will have you believe.  The high concept of a world where only one man remembers The Beatles is a fun one, but the plot is full of holes.  The film is enjoyable fun, and Himesh Patel and Lily James make likeable leads but the film is too lightweight to be truly good. Film Title:  Yesterday

Spider-Man: Far From Home – Following the events of Endgame Peter Parker just wants to go on holiday with his class and hook-up with MJ, but the world needs Spider-Man more than ever.  A better Avengers film than a Spider-Man film keeps its head above water largely thanks to the allways excellent Tom Holland. Spider-Man Far From Home

Anna – The story of a reluctant female assassin is nothing new to Luc Besson.  While Anna has the odd breathtaking set piece it is shot with Besson’s usual flair, it can’t hold a candle to Nikita (1990). Anna

Midsommar – If you hated Hereditary, you will really hate Midsommar!  I was mixed on Hereditary but loved Midsommar.  The film looks amazing and is disturbing rather than scary, the near two and a half hour runtime flew by.  Once again Florence Pugh proves she is the most exciting and talented young actor working today. Midsommar

The Dead Don’t Die – Jim Jarmusch’s all star zombie film that doesn’t make much sense and nothing much happens.  Far from Jarmusch’s best work but good quirky fun. The Dead Don't Die

Animals – After ten years of hard living a inseparable friendship, two young woman find their relationship stretched as one when one of them meets a new man.  A powerful story about real people with real flaws, and lots of them.  Holliday Grainger is sensational. Animals

The Matrix – Both the 20th anniversary of a classic movie, and my first experience of 4DX.  The film was as great as ever, the 4DX was fun, but distracting at best. The Matrix

Toy Story 4 – Following a perfect trilogy with a forth movie was very risky.  This new film id very different to the earlier films, and sits comfortably aside from the trilogy, it’s also the best and cleverest existential movie of the year.  null

The Intruder – A young couple buy a Napa Valley home but soon find the former owner is having trouble letting go.  Dennis Quaid is effective but extremely hammy as the unhinged vendor, ultimately the film is both dull and derivative. The Intruder

Crawl – Show as a Secret Screening three weeks before general release.   A young woman goes to check on her farther during a hurricane, the pair soon find themselves trapped with incongruously large alligators. Director Alexandre Aja delivers the action ad tension we have come to expect from him.  Kaya Scodelario does well bringing some life to a two-dimensional character.  Ultimately it is dumb, but good fun.  Crawl

There are only two contenders, they are too good, and too different to choose between, therefore, we have joint movies of the month: Apollo 11 and Midsommar.

 

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