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

Advertisements

Creed II


Viewed – 03 August 2019. Netflix

I had mixed emotions whether I was going to watch this sequel to the sort-of spin-off / reboot to the famed Rocky franchise. I really liked but didn’t love the first movie but after hearing about the setup this time around, I’ll admit I was very much intrigued. After becoming world heavyweight champion, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) the son of former champ Apollo Creed gets an offer from a new boxer hailing from Russia – Victor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) the man who killed his Dad in the ring back in 1985 (Rocky IV). With Ivan on hand as Victor’s trainer also, it quickly brings back painful memories for Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who doesn’t approve of Creed taking on the fight, believing old wounds shouldn’t be re-opened.

I’ve gone on record in the past as saying, for as much as Michael B Jordan always looks good in movies, especially in the first movie, his acting skills have never quite been up to the task. Here though he fairs better and is given much more depth thanks to fleshed out relationships, not just with Stallone but also his girlfriend and mother, and is given a bigger, more emotional journey too. Add to this great support from Stallone who may take more of a back seat to give Jordan the spotlight – but still delivers. I was also surprised and pleased to see that, although very subtle, Victor Drago and his father Ivan’s relationship was given much more than the one-dimensional bad guys treatment.

Every story-beat and character moment was well done too that even if the material and the structure is far from new, it’s the way it was directed, with skill and care by relative unknown Steven Caple Jr. Oh and its a boxing movie so what about the fights? Superbly filmed and visceral that every punch had genuine impact. Some of the most effective fight footage I’ve seen in a long time. Yeah, not really much to criticise here. It dabbles in a few cliches, has a couple of corny tugging-on-heart-strings moments, but comes together to make one of the best Rocky movies that’s not strictly a Rocky movie. A must see.

Verdict: 5 /5

Green Book


Viewed- 09 July 2019. Online rental

After seeing the trailer for this drama I had a strong feeling it would be good. Viggo Mortensen, an actor I feel I haven’t seen in anything for a while, plays Tony Lip a bouncer who after a stint at the coppacabana comes to an end finds himself out of work with a wife and kids to provide for. As an Italian, Tony tries to avoid working for the local mob and instead gets a job chauffeuring former child prodigy and pianist Dr Don Shirley who happens to be African-American. So begins an unlikely pairing and a journey of self discovery for both men.

This entertaining and engrossing drama boasts two strong performances aided by a story inspired by true events. The mismatched pairing mixed with a road trip may be familiar fair but it’s the gravitas of the real-world spot light it puts not only on racism and prejudice in 60s America but also that of different classes and how throwing such people together can change otherwise narrow-minded opinions. The movie is often funny with Mortensen brilliant as a loveable wise-guy type and the gradual bonding and chemistry that is formed between the characters is heart-warming and particularly thought-provoking.

Yes the story doesn’t quite tackle the real ugliness of racism and offers up a more palatable take on the subject but I’d say that works in the movie’s favour and makes this a must watch.

Verdict: 5 /5

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

Aquaman


Viewed – 23 June 2019. Blu-ray

When Nicole Kidman’s Atlantian queen washes up before a lighthouse, her forbidden love with land-dweller Temuera Morrison produces Arthur a half-breed who grows up to become underwater superhero Aquaman. However despite his reluctance to be the hero he’s destined to become, a war at his home world of Atlantis causes his own kind to come calling.

This colourful, energetic comic book adaption has a potentially star-making central performance from Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa and delivers a setting that immediately intrigues. It’s a shame then, that an over-use of CGI and green screen means that almost nothing in this looks like it was shot on location, leading to a largely artificial look and feel. Add to this a cliched story I felt I’d already watched with strong resemblances to the Thor films and Black Panther, with predictable revelations and plot twists … and what’s left is a movie that feels like it arrived too late for its own party. Momoa is charismatic and well cast and handles a plethora of fight sequences with genuine skill and showmanship, and the gorgeous Amber Heard is equally enjoyable. Willem Defoe feels kind of miscast and despite often being cast as the villain – should still have been the villain (Patrick Wilson is largely forgettable) and what really, is Dolph Lundgren doing here?

With that all said it’s hard not to be entertained. The action is slick and at times jaw-dropping (a particular roof top chase is heart-in-mouth exciting) and at times it’s really feel good. It re-introduces the character (following Justice League) well and brings with it a fascinating underwater world ripe for sequels. Just a pity it’s all feels so deja-vu.

Verdict: 3 /5