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

Donnie Brasco


Viewed – 19 April 2015  Netflix

Sometimes there is a reason you don’t get around to watching a particular movie.  Maybe it’s just passed you by, other movies have caught your interest more … or something is trying to tell you, it’s not really as good as you’ve heard.  This is one such movie.

Donnie-Brasco

Johnny Depp plays undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco who gets embroiled in the goings on of a gang in New York and gets mentored by aging mobster Lefty (Al Pacino).  Based in a true story this is of course an intriguing set up and makes for at first engrossing viewing.  Pacino this time around isn’t playing the boss, the main guy, but more an always overlooked and fairly disgruntled ‘hood with one eye on a boat trip out of town, and another on the boss’s job.  It’s definitely an interesting change of pace for the usually loud and brash actor.  Depp is the confident, slightly cock-sure guy who thinks he’s got it all under control, as his family life begins to fall apart and he gets pulled further and further into the underworld.  Michael Madsen is on hand as the guy everyone fears and looks up to.

Depp & Pacino’s friendship holds this together well, but isn’t the most convincing, as Lefty seems to take much of Donnie at face value despite many moments that should have lead him to question the guy’s identity.  There is however plenty of tension as Donnie juggles his family life with that of the mob and tries to keep one step ahead of everyone else as the FBI increasingly pressure him for results.

The biggest issue is the supporting cast.  The surrounding actors are plucked from the poor-man’s mob actor barrel, lacking much of the menace or presence of a Joe Pesci or Harvey Keitel.  British director Mike Newell goes for a realistic style and avoids much of the grandeur or energy of other great mob movies like Goodfellas. With only smattering of violence and a script that often felt like it was satirizing the world it was depicting (how many times do we hear ‘forget about it’ ?), something about this just never came to life.  Add an ending that seriously lacked the big pay-off I’d been lead to believe was coming … and I came away rather disappointed.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Good Movie Remakes


Generally movie remakes have a bad name despite Hollywood’s insistence on making them.  However in my experience there are a few that while not always improving on the original, at least do a good enough job to be worth seeing, without insulting the memory of a classic.  Find below a few I personally have enjoyed.

Little Shop Of Horrors

littleshopofhorrors

Although not familiar with the Roger Corman original, this Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, John Candy starring musical is a riot … very memorable tunes and great practical effects.  I really need to watch this again… soon!

Evil Dead

evildead

Was really expecting this to just not get what made the original so good – but it ramped up the gore and violence to epic proportions, had a great cast and was scary … maybe not as tongue-in-cheek as the series is famous for, but still felt like an Evil Dead movie.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

texaschainsawmassacre

Am I alone in thinking this version rocks?  Tons of gore (which the original lacked, even though I know that wasn’t the entire point) a perfectly mad performance by R. Lee Ermey and a twenty something bunch of ‘victims’ you don’t immediately hate.

Miracle On 34th Street

miracle

Charming with a great performance by Richard Attenborough.  A star making turn by the where is she now Mara Wilson (see also Mathilda).  Haven’t seen original but this was a perfect Christmas treat.

Heat

heat

Am I cheating by including this?  A deserved genre classic with a (possible) career best from both Pacino and DeNiro, and yes it’s a remake of TV movie L.A. Takedown.

The Assassin (aka Point of No Return)

theassassin

Perhaps sacrilege to remake Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, and another I think I’m alone in loving.  I had a major crush on Bridget Fonda in this… but its a competent thriller with several decent performances, including a cameo by Harvey Keitel that’s worth seeing!

Piranha 3D

piranha3d

Breasts and naked skinny-dipping porn stars aside, this has gore by the bucket and a fast energetic pace that makes for one of the most fun horror movies in a long while.  Director Alexandre Aja cements his reputation as the go to guy for horror remakes!  (see also: The Hills Have Eyes).

Scarface

Scarface

Easy one this.  Not seen the original but with a powerhouse performance by Al Pacino and that line ‘say hello to my little fiend’ this took a basic blue print and seriously went to town with it!

The Thing

thething

This shouldn’t have worked, but with a strong lead by the mouth-watering Mary Elizabeth Winstead  and half decent and freaky CGI, as well as all the atmosphere the original had (ok this is technically a prequel…but it still counts…I think), this really surprised me.

I am starting to think that although they get the worst press, horror remakes have got it right a fair few times going by the list above.  That’s just my opinion though and you may differ.  So what would your choices be?

Carlito’s Way


Viewed – 15 June 2013  Blu-ray

This is one of those gangster thrillers that for some reason, I’ve never managed to see since the first time it hit VHS a number of years ago.  From that viewing, all I recall was that whilst good, it lacked a bit of action, and for me I found it a tad boring.  Now I suppose with more mature eyes, I was happy to sit down to this and take in the story and the acting with much more appreciation than I previously expected.

carlito

Al Pacino plays Carlito, a recently paroled hood who is attempting to go straight.  Helped by his friend and lawyer, Sean Penn who pulled more than a few strings to get him an early release, he is soon helping run a nightclub and getting reluctantly re-acquainted with the local mobsters.  At the same time he tracks down his lost love, who he previously dumped when he got nabbed and thought he was looking at 30 years.  Directed by Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) and with a confident, complex turn from Pacino who makes a violent crook and former drug dealer sympathetic, this was quality viewing from the off.  De Palma has always been a very stylish and imaginative film maker, and here his talent is on fine form, with clever camera work (if not quite as showy as he’s known for), good choices of music and a gradually building momentum, leading to a very thrilling conclusion.

Penn although good, is a touch too weaselly for my liking, although Penelope Ann Miller is perfect as Carlito’s potential salvation.  I’m not a fan of John Leiguizamo either, but at least his part is only small here.  It’s also not as violent or as hard-hitting as other movies of the genre, but this isn’t about gangster’s doing gangster-shit, it’s about performance and story – and overall I enjoyed it a lot.

The Blu-ray, whilst a little light on extra features (we get a making of and a photo gallery … but no commentary?) the picture thankfully, is nicely detailed for the most part, despite a little fuzziness in some scenes.  The soundtrack, in 5.1 is more than acceptable too, and this remains a great movie to listen to.  Not the best Blu-ray out there, but as HD treatments, this was still pretty decent.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 / 5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5