Once Upon A Time In Hollywood


Viewed – 14 August 2019. Cinema

Quentin Tarantino is for the most part probably my favourite director and has had very few missteps in a career that’s spanned over twenty years and so far 9 movies (if you count Kill Bill 1&2 as one movie). So it was with some degree of excitement I sat down to see his latest. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a washed up Western actor reaching the end of his career and along with best friend and stunt-double Cliff (Brad Pitt), they attempt to continue working in an ever changing industry. Meanwhile, a religious cult threaten to shatter the glitz and glamour and bring the Hollywood dream and sixties with it, to an abrupt and bloody end.

With knowledge of the real life murders and that of Charles Manson’s cult I thought this was perfect material to get the Tarantino treatment. Imagine my surprise then to discover that that aspect barely fills up even a quarter of this long, drawn out movie’s 160 minute run time. Which would be excusable if what we get otherwise pulled me in at all. Here, Tarantino is at his most self-indulgent and selfishly nostalgic, revelling in a Hollywood I’m guessing many of us won’t even recognise, name dropping tv actors I’d never heard of and even doing a deserving to those I had (Bruce Lee is pretty much relegated to gag-fodder). Margot Robbie turns in an appealing, sexy but otherwise redundant performance as Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski and the most famous victim of the Manson Family murders. Even the dialogue lacks the usual flow and zip of a Tarantino script, that whilst natural sounding, in a movie that basically has little to no actual plot, it really needed to shine. Also, if your idea of entertainment is to watch Margot Robbie for longer than necessary watching herself in a movie theatre, or countless women show off their bare feet, Brad Pitt drive (and drive) around Los Angeles or feed his dog, and DiCaprio cough a lot … then more power to you. The ending will also divide audiences for sure yet I suppose I get what Tarantino was going for … even if it kind of pissed me off.

So, Tarantino’s apparent ‘love letter’ to late sixties Hollywood somehow does the unfathomable and makes the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of the movies actually look boring, Pitt & DiCaprio are fine, but even they look like they’re only here to do a friend a favour and collect a pay cheque. It’s real redeeming feature then is often impressive camera work, because shock – even the soundtrack gets a bit annoying. Definitely the director’s weakest effort since Death Proof – and at least that was more fun. Disappointing.

Verdict: 2 /5

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Toy Story 4


Viewed – 25 June 2019 Cinema

When toy cowboy ‘Woody’ (voiced by Tom Hanks) finds himself sidelined by new owner ‘Bonnie’ in favour of other toys, he finds new found purpose after Bonnie’s hand-made new toy ‘Forky’ goes missing at a carnival during a family road trip. At the same time Woody is reunited with his old flame, Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

I was looking forward to this. I’m a big fan of the other movies and couldn’t wait for the further adventures of Woody, Buzz and the gang. This time around we are introduced to a new villain, antique shop dwelling Doll ‘Gabby Gabby’ (Christina Hendricks). Yet despite initial promise with her brilliantly creepy Ventriloquist doll henchmen, she just failed to live up to her potential. The same could also be said for wasting the presence of such established characters as Jessie, T-Rex or even Buzz Lightyear (who is mostly demoted to a supporting role). Instead the movie focuses on Woody and Bo Peep which is at least different, even if Bo’s topical feminist symbolism was a bit too on the nose.

With that said, Forky is a welcome addition and gets all the best gags, and the movie looks as expected, stunning – the CGI animation often wowing this viewer. The caper at play here, if a little typical is still great fun too. The heart-strings get pulled firmly towards the end and the key characters are well written with at times real emotional depth. Overall though, this fails to be quite as sharp, clever or funny as what’s come before and the plot was not as engaging, Looking back, Toy Story 3 had everything come full circle. This however, whilst still worthwhile … didn’t have much more to say.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

Brightburn


Viewed – 19 June 2019. Cinema

I love it when I go in blind to a movie and come away surprised and impressed. This novel take on the superhero origin tale has a young couple, desperate to have a child get their wish granted when one night something falls from the sky. Soon they discover a baby boy and decide to bring it up as their own. However as he grows older ‘Brandon’ begins to develop violent tendencies and before long it becomes clear this little fella ain’t going to become superman.

A cast of familiar faces headed by Elizabeth Banks and a strong central performance from Jackson A Dunn as Brandon, makes this sci-fi horror immediately intriguing and under the watchful eye of producer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) this is smart, refreshing and rather freaky. Atmosphere is piled on in a Twilight Zone meets Friday the 13th kind of way and liberal doses of effective gore (glass splinter to the eye?) and a great build up to some pretty messed up moments … I was quite taken back by this out of nowhere gem.

it plays loosely with some horror movie cliches (investigate the weird noise) and the ending left me contemplating sequels – asking where can they take such a concept? Yet that’s a good thing regardless whether we get any of that. If you’ve grown tired of all those comic book adaptions and fancy something a little different, check this out.

Verdict: 4 /5

John Wick 3: Parabellum


Viewed – 15 May 2019. Cinema

Everyone’s out to kill John Wick (Keanu Reeves) following the events of the last movie and the former safe zone of The Continental has ex-communicated him. So a price is put on our favourite assassin and now it’s just a matter of survival.

Once any franchise reaches its third instalment you’d be forgiven for expecting the stakes to be raised and they certainly are here leading to several violent, immaculately choreographed and particularly brutal confrontations. This is certainly a visceral, pulse pounding experience yet this time around any plausibility and believability occasionally leap out the window in favour of increasingly thrilling, but at times ludicrous set pieces. The violence takes on a near cartoonish quality at times and when you consider scenes of public fights where the public don’t batter an eye lid or run away screaming, it’s clear the movie exists in its own version of reality, not unlike that scene in The Matrix with the woman in red.

So despite these obvious gripes, how come I still managed to get a real kick out of this? It’s edited and presented with such a visual sheen with so much energy and personality that coming away from this not entertained means you either hate action movies or are a bit dead inside. Smatterings of humour are a welcome addition, and memorable support from Lawrence Fishburne, Ian McShane and especially Halle Berry as a dog-loving fellow assassin still managed to make this sequel worthy despite it all feeling a bit deja at this stage. And no, I haven’t a clue what ‘Parabellum’ means.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

Avengers: Endgame


Viewed – 30 April 2019. Cinema

This year’s most hyped movie begins with a rather gentle ‘where the world is now’ first act that sets a melancholy tone for this sequel and eases the viewer into a complicated turn of events to ‘put right what once went wrong’. As anyone could predict after that ending for Infinity War … this is all about time travel as Ant Man gets a disbanded team of the surviving Avengers back together to attempt a risky mission to reclaim the infinity stones before Thanos originally did.

So what we get are several very entertaining sequences taking place in earlier time periods (but mostly the first Avengers movie) that prove funny, exciting and rather clever … if it wasn’t for the fact that this movie turns time-travel conventions as we’ve come to understand like ‘the butterfly effect’ on their head. This leads to a few moments of ‘hang on, how can they do that? Won’t that change such and such…’ which proved problematic for me.

That aside, banter between the various characters is at the forefront and brilliantly comical and well written. also throwing in a few emotionally poignant scenes between the characters we have grown attached to over the years. Add to this some very slick action (Captain America v Captain America?), epic battles and feel-good moments this still delivered a satisfying, at times awe-inspiring piece of cinematic grandeur. Shame then, that towards the end it had to hit a few of those pc-culture tick boxes that came across as obvious and totally unnecessary. So not quite the masterpiece I hoped for, but regardless I still had a great time.

verdict: 4 /5