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

Burt Reynolds dies


Sad news.

A movie industry legend and a genuine hero of mine in the 80s with the Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run movies has died today. Burt Reynolds was set to star in Tarantino’s latest Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, due out next summer.

1936 – 2018

R.I.P. a true star.

Jackie Brown


Viewed – 14 May 2016  Blu-ray

This is probably the one movie in Quentin Tarantino’s career that divides audiences most.  There are critics and fans who love it for it’s laid back, character-driven approach and then there’s the ones who really don’t like it for it’s lack of energy or that Tarantino pop-culture referencing, larger-than-life aesthetic.  I sit somewhere in the middle and even watching this now, I’m still unsure exactly how I feel.

Pam Grier

70s Blaxploitation star Pam Grier plays airline stewardess Jackie Brown who gets caught by a couple of Feds bringing back $50,000 in cash in her luggage.  Turns out she’s carrying it for local mobster Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and finds herself in a bit of a pickle when the feds want her to inform on her ‘business’ partner.  Lucky for Jackie a kind natured bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) is on hand to help.

Now firstly my issue with this is usually what attracts me to a Tarantino flick – the dialogue.  This time around occasional lines that I’m sure are meant to sound cool, come off more cringy when delivered by actors not best suited to Tarantino’s style.  Pam Grier especially seems awkward or just out of practice, but thankfully fairs much better in her intimate exchanges with Robert Forster than attempts at sass with other characters.  However Jackson of course is right at home and doesn’t put a foot wrong despite a rather bizarre ‘look’.  Robert DeNiro is also here as Ordell’s buddy straight out of lock up, but seems to be (intentionally) sleeping his way through his performance, yet comes alive in the final act.  Additionally Bridget Fonda plays stoner surf girl Melanie and looks gorgeous and makes for a fun character, but is mostly forgettable.  So the show is left up to veteran actor Forster, who is easily the most likable and well rounded character and the viewer’s anchor to weigh all the other stuff down with.

Deniro & Jackson

Quentin’s direction though is clearly a love letter to Blaxploitation and 70s TV cop shows, and with this he captures a perfect tone, decorated with various memorable Motown and bluesy tunes that really bring the movie to life and capture certain moments beautifully.  Yet in the grand scheme of things, for me this is still his least engaging picture – it desperately needs a sharper knife in the editing room as it languishes in all but the final act – which at least proves dazzling, classic Tarantino.  Following on from Pulp Fiction was no mean feat, and as with Hateful Eight following Django, this was a different beast entirely … but not without it’s merits.

The Blu-ray is pretty decent with a very detailed and impressive image to the movie that although a little fuzzy and rough-looking in places, perfectly captures a 70s look.  The DTS HD Master Audio is very clear and brings the various tunes to life.  Adding to this are a wealth of extras with plenty of featurettes and documentaries both looking back at the movie and showing some behind the scenes stuff as well as deleted scenes.  Jackie Brown is a peculiar beast as overall there is much to love but it doesn’t entirely come together as well as it should.  Yet the Blu-ray does a decent job of disguising this and is still worth a look if you’re a fan of Tarantino.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

The Hateful Eight


Viewed – 07 May 2016  Blu-ray

(updated: 06/08/2016) I approached this with expectations seriously dialled back after hearing a few mixed and negative reactions to Quentin Tarantino’s eighth directorial effort.  Following up arguably one of his best movies, Django Unchained was no easy prospect but as expected with a director that single-handily seemed to shake up a tired industry in the 90s with his brand of pop-culture referencing, sharply written scripts, this doesn’t even try.  Instead what we get is a slow burning but thoroughly gripping character-piece that harks back to Tarantino’s bold, iconic début Reservoir Dogs more than anything else he’s made.

hateful_8_sam_jackson

Kurt Russell is a bounty hunter transporting a woman accused of murder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) via stage coach to Red Rock, when he comes across fellow Bounty Hunter and former Major Samuel L. Jackson who also needs to get to Red Rock to claim his own bounty.  Yet along the way a blizzard hits and the men are forced to hold up in a local tavern, where they come across several other colourful characters.  Like Tarantino at his best, the key to enjoying this is the snappy dialogue, the fleshed out characterisation and the tension that gradually builds.  Some have said this movie is slow, that nothing happens … and considering it’s on for over 160 minutes, I understand the restlessness, but awaiting a gunfight or some violence or a chase etc. is to miss the point – it’s not about action, the dialogue is the action and it’s about learning about all these characters, figuring out their motives and watching it all play out, not unlike a game of chess.  With this in mind, Tarantino is on solid form – his writing skills, if a tad self-indulgent throw in humour, red herrings and surprises and still has that edge that made his name.  On a pure dialogue-basis I’d even go as far to say it’s some of his best writing in years.

Hateful EightSamuel L. Jackson is the star here and does a stellar job and is ice-cool and decidedly him, no bad thing if like me you’re a fan.  It was also great to see Kurt Russell commanding and tough-talking, and a flamboyant Tim Roth was also a lot of fun.  There isn’t really a bad turn here, and even lesser characters like The Mexican stand out.  A turn of events in the final act was a tad hard to swallow however and the ending was a little over the top and perhaps overly brutal.  Yet that’s to be expected I guess, and along with Ennio Morricone’s classy score and simply gorgeous cinematography, obviously echoing the great westerns of yesteryear like Once Upon A Time In The West or The Good The Bad and the Ugly … this love letter to the genre, and to cinema itself just worked for me on many levels.

Verdict:  4 /5

10 directors who have shaped my movie viewing tastes


Inspired by a recent post over at abbiobiston.com, I thought I’d sit down and list ten movie directors I either seek out without hesitation, or have made some of the most affecting and inspiring movies I’ve ever seen, shaping what kind of movie viewer I am today and creating experiences that have transcended basic entertainment to actually mean something to me as a person.

Quentin Tarantino

tarantino

As a reviewer, occasional-writer and movie fan, Quentin Tarantino ignited a spark inside me that has yet to go out.  When first seeing Pulp Fiction, I knew this was the sort of material I wanted to write about, and this continued with his script for Natural Born Killers and also his debut, Reservoir Dogs.  He was a rebel, he challenged people’s ideas of what violence was all about on screen, not there for just shock value but to make you feel something.  He managed to back this up with amazing dialogue writing skills and a keen eye for pop-culture and cinema history that has continued to this day.

David Cronenberg

cronenberg

Horror for me was never just about hiding behind my cushion and trembling – horror for me was about the strange and surreal, the gruesome but in a way that made you ponder what it meant.  Croneberg has always been a master of this, of using body-horror to make you feel something you’ve never felt before, backed up by intelligent direction that more often than not has a lot of social commentary of the times we live in i.e. sexually transmitted infections with Shivers.  He has continued to shape his often controversial style into the modem gangster and crime genres to brilliant effect in movies like Eastern Promises.

Stephen Spielberg

spielberg

Probably the most famous director of all time who seems to barely put a foot wrong and can turn his hand to a wealth of different genres and subjects, from the industry defining Jaws and Jurassic Park to powerful masterpieces like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  Assured, confident and always entertaining and thought-provoking, this maverick director continues to be a name to bet on even after almost 40 years in the business.  As long as we don’t mention the most recent Indiana Jones movie, Spielberg remains one of those names every movie fan will know and surely appreciate to some degree.

John Carpenter

carpenter

Fallen from grace he may be, but during the seventies and eighties, this guy made some of the coolest and most sort after movies I’d ever seen.  Who can argue the merits of Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China?  Although I can’t say I totally appreciate Escape From New York as much as others, I have a soft spot for lesser known efforts like Prince Of Darkness and In The Mouth Of Madness.  This guy knew how to create perfectly entertaining genre movies and although he hasn’t made much of note for years, that’s a hell of a back catalogue of classics.

David Fincher

fincher

Although I think he’s become a bit relaxed in recent years, churning out fairly ‘safe’ movies, for the most part Fincher has still created some of the most stylish and intricately directed movies I’ve seen, namely the multi layered classics Fight Club, Seven and even Zodiac.  His directing style is crisp and beautiful even when it’s dealing with very dark subject matter, and his camera work and imagery have stayed with me long after the credits have rolled.  He’s a technical directing fan’s dream director, as for me I can appreciate every aspect of the setting, the camera work to the music and lighting.  Helps he can also pull out great performances from the likes of Brad Pitt and Jake Gyllenhaal to name but a few.

Stanley Kubrick

stanley kubrick

With a fairly small catalogue of movies, this director like no other has made some of the masterpieces of my lifetime.  The Shining is still the best horror movie I’ve ever seen and probably the most perfectly directed, on a technical level movie I’ve seen also.  His strong visual skill at making every shot and every camera movement look so well executed has made movies even of lesser impact like Eyes Wide Shut a work of art.  He proved again and again that careful eye for detail, iconic performances can turn even a well worn subject like the Vietnam war into amazing cinema.  I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but of the movies I have, he keeps on amazing me, and is possibly the best director on this list.

Dario Argento

67^ MOSTRA INTERNAZIONALE D'ARTE CINEMATOGRAFICA

Perhaps at his best during the seventies and eighties, but this often controversial director has gained a strong cult following over the years and remains one of the most stylish and genre-defining film-makers around.  At his best he can make gruesome murder look beautiful, and his frequent collaborations with the band Goblin and musician Claudio Simonetti has helped create a brand of effective Italian cinema that still stands the test of time.  Try watching Suspiria or Tenebrae without marvelling at the camera work, atmosphere or use of lighting and music.  Argento will always be the maestro when it comes to horror, even if his light has considerably faded over the years.

Martin Scorsese

scorsese

The Don.  How does this guy keep doing it?  To this day Scorsese still manages to amaze and impress.  He has crafted true classics such as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas and still manages to churn out quality movies like Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street.  It’s always exciting when I hear he’s making another movie and even diversions like Hugo retain that Scorsese eye for style and cinematic creativity I’ve grown to love about him.  He has a tendency to work with the same actors but also manages to bring out wildly different performances from them, that give each movie their own voice.  One of the best film makers of all time in my opinion.

Joel & Ethan Coen

50957026JC070_portrait

In recent years their brand of southern comedy and thrillers has felt a tad hit and miss, but when these sibling directors are on form, they can make some of the best movies you’ll ever see.  Comedies like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona offer up laughs as well as style and assured direction along with iconic performances, and thrillers like Fargo and No Country For Old Men prove they can deliver tight, well executed stories that pack a punch.  They continue to be favourites at Oscar season and amongst a huge cult audience, and with a strong visual style and often award winning performances, their movies are hard to dismiss.

Park chan-Wook

chan-wook

Another director who can explore very dark themes but make them beautiful with imaginative camera work, scene setting and particularly artistic shots.  His American debut Stoker is a perfect example of strong story, strong performances and beautiful, almost poetic direction.  His vengeance trilogy that incudes the cult classic Old Boy is powerful, gut-wrenching but extremely moving and artistic, blending classical music with striking story-telling and stunning cinematography.  Park chan-Wook’s the real deal if you can appreciate quality direction with a signature touch.