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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22 July


Viewed – 06 August 2019. Netflix

We live in scary times. Terrorism has scarred and seemingly shaped the modern world and one such atrocity occurred in 2011 in Norway that I still find hard to comprehend. When a group of students go to an isolated island for a summer camp getaway, unbeknownst to them a right-wing extremist, Anders Breivik sets off a bomb by the Prime Minister’s building, before disguising himself as a Police officer to get onto the island and proceed to gun down the students.

The movie hits the ground running with that horrific attack, and later focuses on three figures, firstly a student as he goes through rehabilitation after receiving horrific injuries, then the lawyer tasked with defending a monster … and finally Breivik himself as he awaits trial. Director Paul Greengrass’s movie is a tough watch and decidedly harrowing but very well done with authentic casting that whilst not always delivering the best performances, still aid the realism. Breivik is especially well cast and made this viewer angry at his arrogance and smug attitude.

I’d have preferred more backstory on Breivik as his motives are only shown in a very one-sided way considering his complex issues with the Norwegian government which are not elaborated upon. However as a portrayal of such an atrocious event, Greengrass delivers an effective yet respectful drama that’s very much worth seeing.

Verdict: 4 /5

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

Climax


Viewed – 31 July 2019. Online rental

French director Gaspar Noe made ‘Irreversible’, arguably the most disturbing and unpleasant movie I’ve ever seen. So sitting down to this generally well-received drama, I was understandably cautious. Yet I’m also someone who likes to challenge one’s boundaries and I do have a love for French cinema. So thought I’d give this a go.

What story there is focuses on a group of free-spirited dancers who all seem part of a group who hang out and dance in a club that blasts rave music where they can feel free to let themselves go. Only thing is as the night progresses people start feeling ill and begin acting crazy as if their drinks have been spiked. I’ll admit it was at this stage I began to get interested as up until then this fairly plodding, about nothing in particular movie was doing nothing for me.

Gaspar Noe, his direction like an observer of the mayhem that unfolds, however ruins a potentially provocative, unhinged idea by lingering way too long on various moments. His long-takes whilst initially impressive in style quickly out stayed their welcome – a longer than necessary series of talking heads as the opening, various moments of chatter and banter that go on far too long, all culminating in contorting and convulsing bodies on a dance floor that’s like something out of a nightmare – which goes on and on and on. I get it, its a decent into drug-fuelled hell, and is performed convincingly but even with this it doesn’t go far enough to achieve much of anything. Noe’s-weak attempts to comment on birth, sex or death. just come off pretentious also.

Incredibly arty, self-indulgent, good camera work, impressive dance moves, but ultimately … rather boring.

Verdict: 2 /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