Tag Archives: Arthouse

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW – A $90 MILLION “ARTHOUSE” & FETISHISTIC CLASSIC!

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW

Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.

Cinematography: Robert Richardson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!

So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.

Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.

DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.

Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.

Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.

While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.

Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.

Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!

Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.

I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW: THIS IS ENGLAND ’88 (2011)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’88 (2011)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Shane Meadows

Writers: Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Katherine Dow Blyton, Stacey Sampson etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Shane Meadows’ Midlands-based drama classic continued two-and-a-half years after the tragic events of its predecessor, This is England ’86 (2010). While obviously harking back to the late 1980’s and infused with nostalgia, it is arguably even darker and keenly focused than the previous series. Dealing mainly with the aftermath of Lol (Vicky McClure) and Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) relationship breakdown, it also explores Shaun’s (Thomas Turgoose) misadventures attending drama school.

While there is a lot of humorous situations in these three episodes, Meadows and co-writer Jack Thorne essentially structure around Lol’s heart of darkness descent into depression. They present a devastating character study as she struggles with single parenthood following her self-destructive affair with Milky (Andrew Shim) and subsequent split from Woody. Lol is crushed with guilt over this and her father’s death; an act she committed in self-defence and Combo (Stephen Graham) took the blame for.

Vicky McClure as Lol gives a devastating performance. She wears her grief as a second skin, with the weight of her world pushing her deeper and deeper into the mire. Moreover, as Lol confronts her difficult life choices head on, she is literally haunted by the ghost of her father. Meadows and McClure deserve such praise for presenting depression and the disintegration of a characters’ mind so convincingly and sensitively. Lol is a lost soul and her story felt so real to me when watching.

Woody, on the other hand, is living with a new girlfriend, Jennifer, at his parents. Things are going well for him on the surface but you feel he’s lost without Lol. Indeed, Lol and Woody are one of television’s iconic couples. It’s strange not seeing them together. Joe Gilgun’s performance as Woody is excellent too. It’s clear he’s putting on a brave face and using humour to direct his pain. However, heartache is never too far away from his crooked smile.

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Meanwhile, Shaun’s excursion into six-form acting provides some light relief but also personal trauma. It’s very funny when the gang, high on speed, almost ruin his opening night with constant laughter. To be honest the play is pretty awful so I don’t blame them. Furthermore, Shaun’s hormones are bouncing round like a squash ball, as he finds himself attracted to one of girls in the class. The scene where he’s caught with his trousers down by girlfriend Smell is both funny and sad. Quirky actress Rosamund Hanson, in her role as Smell/Michelle, impresses with a mix of punk and hysterical rage here.

Yet, the main theme of the narrative is one of overcoming loss through community and togetherness. While Woody eventually confronts the gang and more specifically Milky over perceived treachery, Lol sinks deeper into a downward spiral. Here Shane Meadows is able to present isolation and loneliness very powerfully. Indeed, the series captures raw and human emotions in a very convincing way. Through these characters we experience trauma and tragedy but through love and unity we also find hope.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

SCREENWASH REVIEWS- APRIL 2016

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – APRIL 2016

April was a mixed bag of viewings on the various platforms this month, with a couple of stunning films, decent stand-up comedy and my new favourite TV show witnessed. So, with marks-of-eleven, here are my latest reviews. Enjoy.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

ANOMALISA (2015) – CINEMA

I love Charlie Kaufman’s work as he offers one of the most original minds to writing and directing films. Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation character study which is breath-taking in style and thought-provoking in content. David Thewlis voices a writer who, while in a small American town to deliver a key motivational speech, he finds his personality and mind dismantling before him. The film is at times a challenging experience but Kaufman’s conceptual genius, splashes of droll humour and spicy sex scenes make it a worthy arthouse hit. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BLOODY SUNDAY (2002) – NETFLIX

Director Paul Greengrass’ excellent docu-drama depicts the tragic deaths of the infamous bloody massacre which took place Sunday on January 30, 1972 when 27 civilians were gunned down by the British Army in the streets of Northern Ireland. It’s heartbreaking and powerful drama as the day unfolds in real time and chilling authenticity. The cover-up by the British Government was a disgrace and this stands as a testament to those who tragically lost their lives. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CHILD 44 (2015) – AMAZON PRIME

This Soviet set thriller was a box office bomb and was mauled by some critics, however, I found it very absorbing thanks to a fine lead performance from Tom Hardy. He plays an orphan who becomes a war-hero and then police officer who, goes against his superior’s orders, and investigates the brutal crimes of a serial-killer. It gets bogged down in a number of subplots but thematically it was strong; as the crimes of the child-killer are compared to that of the Soviet State under Stalin’s brutal regime. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

COP CAR (2015) – NOW TV

Kevin Bacon and his fake moustache are sensationally funny in this story of two runaway kids who “accidentally” ruin Bacon’s nefarious doings by stealing his cop car. Overall, it’s lower-budget gem which, despite the stupidity of the moronic children, has a lot of Coen-style humour and bloody violence to make it worth ninety minutes of your time. Bacon of course takes the er… biscuit honours with a rip-roaring, scenery-chewing and smoking performance as the baddie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GOMORRAH (2009) – BLU RAY

Having watched the terrific Sky Italia show I went back and found the original film based on the book of the same name. It is another brutal indictment against humanity and life on the mean streets of Naples as gangs old and young shoot and cull each other to death.  It’s structured around four separate stories involving the Casalesi clan and is a violent drama with a gritty documentary style that keeps you gripped from beginning to end. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

INSIDE OUT (2015) – NOW TV

Brilliant Pixar movie with the wonderful vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Richard Kind, Phyllis Smith and Bill Hader; plus of course the incredibly imaginative minds of Pete Docter and his army of animators. The story shows us two worlds simultaneously: young girl Riley Anderson and the various emotions inside her actual mind.  The superb script shows the variety of changes this troubled girl is going through – moving home to a big city for one – as chirpy Poehler as Joy and depressive Smith as Sadness, initially clash, then join forces to stabilize the crumbling psyche of Riley’s mind. It sound really heavy in themes and it is, but it’s done with an incredible light touch and contains some incredible visuals, drama and zinging one-liners.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

JESSICA JONES (2015) – NETFLIX

Jessica Jones was a very enjoyable wall-smashing-sex-splashed-bloody-violent-noir-X-rated comic book show. Tough-as-hell Nemi-lookalike Krysten Ritter kicks ass and David Tennant has a ball as the mentalist villain. Arguably the “purple man” storyline didn’t hold for thirteen episodes and perhaps there were too many mad subplots (the bonkers brother and sisters upstairs); but you could see the makers were establishing loads of future characters notably Luke Cage. Entertaining watch and I loved the dark humour and twisted brutality which stands as an alternative to the glossier cinema Marvel adaptations. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

MARTYRS (2008) – AMAZON PRIME

DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM IF YOU HAVE A WEAK HEART OR DISPOSITION!

Not since I Saw the Devil (2010) have I seen such a violent and mental film such as this. It concerns Lucie, who having been trapped by unknown captors as a child, grows up with delusional and violent tendencies desiring to wreak revenge on the people who savaged her. Her friend Anna attempts to support the crazy actions of Lucie but gets dragged into a hellish nightmare that I just cannot begin to explain. It’s insane, shocking, violent and has gore galore. Impressive horror! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) – CINEMA

Jeff Nichols prior films have been quietly brilliant notably Shotgun Stories (2007) and the biblical Take Shelter (2011). Thus, I was looking forward to Midnight Special very much. Indeed, I enjoyed this film mostly as it had some intriguing themes of: “special” children, family, religious cults and the notion of what is on “the other side”?  Excellent actor Michael Shannon plays father to his young son Alton, who has mysterious gifts which has everyone agog and the Government hunting him; so we get an impressive race against time pursuit and some fine dramatic moments. However, the film fell flat at the end for me and not enough was done at the beginning to set-up the story. Nichols shows though he is a fine filmmaker producing alternative viewing to the often anaemic Hollywood machine. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

NARCOS (2015) – NETFLIX

Narcos is a brutal and rightly unglamorous recount of Columbia’s and the DEA/CIA battle with Pablo Escobar. Hard-to-watch at times because it shows the insanity of society and human beings; but the acting and production values are very high quality. Like Italian TV film and series Gomorrah (2014) it’s not for the faint-hearted as Escobar rises through the ranks drug-trafficking; murdering rivals; kidnapping and slaying politicians, all for the power and wealth. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 –) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Season 2 is a terrific post First World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang and Steven Knight, writer/director of the superb film Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare. In this season Tommy Shelby has new enemies including Jewish ‘baker’ played by Tom Hardy and mad Italian portrayed Noah Taylor. Safe to say plans and plots and crosses and double crosses occur with bloody violence and twists to boot! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – 2015) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NOW TV

I caught up with the grandiose, gothic and monstrous Grand Guignol TV horror show that was Penny Dreadful and thought both seasons were great entertainment. Loved the Victorian setting and the smoke and mirrors and dead coming back to life! Faux-literary dialogue was floridly written and delivered. Genuinely scary and gory in places too! John Logan’s scripts are a thing of beauty and horror and the cast are just perfection, notably, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett and Rory Kinnear.  I grew up watching Frankenstein, Dracula, Hammer House and The Exorcist films when I was a kid and this show just takes all manner of horror tropes and monsters and left me breathless in style and content. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

I doubled up watching this and the recent DVD Carpet Remnant World and what can I say. Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles. In his fourth comedy vehicle he picks over the bones of: Wealth, Islamophobia, Patriotism, Death, Migrants and Childhood and the routines themselves are funny and challenging. Once again he veers toward Brechtian anti-comedy and potential career suicide with patience testing routines about a cat called Jeremy Corbyn and journalist Rod Liddle. However, I loved such routines and like great art his work gets better on further views. Exceptional comedy! (Mark: 10 out of 11)

STILL ALICE (2014) – NETFLIX

Julianne Moore deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland, a college professor, who suffers the tragedy of early onset Alzheimers. Her performance, in a relatively low-budget film, is an incredibly nuanced and emotional rendition, as a once brilliant mind disintegrates in front of our very eyes. A sterling cast including Alec Baldwin as the workaholic husband and Alice’s offspring played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart are uniformly excellent in support. Overall, it’s a small film with a massive heart and one which reminds us of the fragility of life and the mind. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) – NETFLIX

There Will Be Blood is a thing of beauty and ugliness and stands up to viewing after viewing. This is a phenomenal classic American story about greed, madness, religious fervor, parenthood and the pursuit of the black gold which has cursed humanity for donkey’s years. Oil sucks! Daniel Day Lewis is incredible in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece which moves slowly but moves with grandiose style as it examines one man’s obsession with the capture of land and oil; all the while failing to find favour with humans and humanity around him. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

VICTORIA (2015) – SKY MOVIES

This is an unbelievably brilliant German film shot in one-take!  Yes! One-take!  There are literally NO joins. It runs at over two hours and unfolds in real-time as the thriller takes in Victoria, a Spanish clubber working in Germany, and her involvement with a bunch of charismatic criminals including the handsome talents of Sonne (Frederick Lau). While the story contrivances were slightly difficult to swallow on brief occasions, this ultimately is a superb technical feat and very suspenseful and even touching at times. Plus, it’s not all one-hundred-miles-an-hour-action as Sebastian Schipper, the director, allows the characters to build so you feel emotion for them throughout.(Mark: 8.5 out of  11)