Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Brad Pitt’

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!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

Read Full Post »

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was one of my favourite films of 2007 so when I heard that director and star Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt were re-teaming I was in. The original crime novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins was first published in 1974, the film has been updated to the modern day and is set against a backdrop of the financial crisis and the transition from Bush to Obama. 

A low level mobster (Vincent Curatola) hires Frankie and Russell, a pair of small time crooks (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) to hold up a mob run card game. As planned initial suspicion falls on Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) who is know to have previously staged a hold up. In an effort to restore order, mob enforcer/hit man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is sent in to clear things up.

On first viewing the dialogue may sound like Tarantino without his vigour or humour (there is comedy but it is very dark). The music, especially during the slow-motion killings could be seen as a rip-off of Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The television reports of the 2008 election and financial crisis seem heavy-handed. But there is far more to it. With all the glamour and romanticism stripped from the genre we are left with a downbeat tale that is a perfect metaphor for the time. At the centre of the story is Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, a hitman who despite being good at what he does has a problem. He is hates it when his victims beg for mercy and is especially squeamish about killing people he has previously met. This is where fellow hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) comes in, his problems provides both prospective and comic relief. Richard Jenkins plays a mob equivalent of middle management, a sort of buffer between Pitt and unseen bosses. They talk about their inability to make a decision and how in finding a solution what is seen to be done is more important than what is actually done,. Cogan’s goal isn’t revenge, it is getting the poker games back in operation, it is returning to the status quo. This is when I suddenly realise the whole movie is a metaphor and as such couldn’t help watching it differently. The other stark thing about this movie is the lack of woman. The most notable female character is a prostitute who appears in one scene, but this is a man’s world, a world of low rent, low life crooks.

With a runtime of just 97 minutes the movie is short by modern standards, but is perfect for the genre movie it is on the surface. If reports that the first cut was double the length are true it shows the maturity of Andrew Dominik as a filmmaker. With his previous movie clocking in at 160 minutes, it would have been easy to do the same again, that would have been a mistake.

An effective and affecting crime movie, the social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. An interesting movie on one level and an enjoyable one on another, it isn’t for everyone and those who don‘t like it will really hate it. Give it a chance, I can’t guarantee you will like it but its worth the risk and even if you don’t like it Brad Pitt’s great performance is fantastic.

Read Full Post »