Original songs by: Glenn Hansard, Marketa Irglova and Interference.
Cinematography: Tim Fleming
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
I am not sure why I missed this film first time around, however, it’s most likely due to prior prejudices against musical or music-based films. Yet, since I married in 2016, I have began to watch and enjoy more musicals. This is mainly due to my wife being a massive fan of musical cinema and theatre. While it’s still not necessarily my favourite genre, every now and then an utter gem of a musical will emerge. John Carney’s beautifully moving love story between a hoover repair guy and a flower-selling girl, Once (2007), is certainly one of those.
John Carney is an honest filmmaker who is attracted to outsiders and people with real emotional turmoil. They tend to be at crossroads in their lives and are struggling either with their dreams or their relationships. He also loves musicians, flaws and all. In Begin Again (2013), a washed-up musical executive, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, meets unhappy singer-songwriter, Keira Knightley and their first-world romance is played out to bittersweet consequences. Similarly, in Sing Street (2016), a troubled teenager comes of age through his 1980’s pop band and bittersweet romance with a rebellious and equally-troubled schoolgirl. Notice a pattern? Well, this style of music, gritty city backdrops and salty romances were established in Carney’s breakout hit, Once (2007).
Made for a ridiculously low budget of around $150,000, this ultra-realistic musical contains songs that burst with love and pain from the characters of Guy (Glenn Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova). The two meet and connect, but this is no conventional romance as they both have powerful emotional histories between them. It’s the beautiful music and their authentic dialogue exchanges which drive the story. Hansard’s singing and guitar playing are so powerful and moving. Their duet in the music shop of the song, Falling Slowly is a tour-de-force. I was not surprised when I saw it had won the Oscar for best original film. Overall, Once (2007) is a surprisingly brilliant no-budget feature, shot on the streets of Dublin, which deservedly became a big hit.
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)
Written and directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Produced by: Sefton Fincham, Jack Heller, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval, Dallas Sonnier
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Thomas Kretschmann etc.
Cinematography: Benji Bakshi
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
As a major fan of S. Craig Zahler’s first two film releases, namely Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017), I was really looking forward to another example of pulpy, slow burn and hard-bitten genre filmmaking with Dragged Across Concrete (2018). Thus, I was very upset when I found out the Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn starring cop drama was not released in UK cinemas. I finally caught up with it on Amazon Prime and, while it was probably too long, it was a hypnotically powerful crime thriller.
Set in the city of Bulwark, the film opens with a lengthy preamble which introduces disparate characters whose paths are destined to cross later in the film. These include recent parolee, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), grizzled-long-in-the-tooth-cop, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his younger, but equally cynical partner, Anthony Lusaretti (Vince Vaughn). Later, Zahler throws professional criminal, Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), and his dressed-in-black crew into the dark city soup. After a glacial set-up, the plot kicks in when Ridgeman and Lusaretti are suspended for what is perceived as a racially motivated attack on a suspect. Desiring a way out of the neo-noir and industrial decay, Ridgeman sets up a plan to steal from Vogelmann’s gang. Safe to say that given this is a Zahler film, we do not end up with a soft toy and candy apple ending.
Throwing a succession of anti-heroes at the audience and a litany of cursing and politically incorrect language makes Dragged Across Concrete (2018) a morally questionable film to experience. Do not watch if you are easily offended. Nonetheless, my feeling is Zahler, like Tarantino, is reflecting the world as it is rather than how it should be. Humanity is in the gutter and the only way out of it, in his mind, is to swear and fight and steal and kill. That isn’t to say that the characters are not empathetic. As Zahler’s hard-boiled dialogue is very poetic in places it draws you to them in a way Raymond Chandler used to do. Similarly, the performances from Gibson and Vaughn are brilliant. The scenes where they just sit in the car and eat sandwiches while staking out their quarry, are both hilarious and absorbing. Ultimately, it’s the lengthy second half robbery and final act ultra-violence which makes the film a pulsating and brutally rewarding experience.
Screenplay by Leigh Whannell – based on H. G. Wells The Invisible Man
Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne
Main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Dorman,
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematography: Stefan Duscio
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Many a work, home, pub, dinner party and school conversation has started with the following question: what would YOU do if you were invisible? Depending on the company it’s something that can descend into wild fantasy territory. Being invisible will allow you the freedom to spy and become the ultimate voyeur. You could also become a criminal and creep into places without being seen to thieve. You could be a prankster and play tricks on your friends and family. You could become a superhero, battle crime and help people. You could simply just disappear not just literally, but philosophically from society. The possibilities are endless.
H. G. Wells original novel is an absolute genre masterpiece. Arguably the most famous version was filmed in 1933 with incredible practical effects and an exceptional performance from Claude Rains. In this new version the conventional invisible scientist-goes-mad story is twisted successfully into an exhilarating horror suspense film with themes relating to toxic masculinity and abusive relationships. Here invisibility is used to control and instil fear, as the recently deceased Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is, according to his ex-partner, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), targeting her from the grave.
Leigh Whannell has great experience writing and producing low-budget horror films including: Saw (2004) andInsidious (2010). His last directorial release, Upgrade (2018), was a fantastic mix of 1980’s B-movies, sci-fi and horror cinema. Building on the crowd-pleasing thrills of Upgrade, Whannell has crafted a paranoiac classic with Elisabeth Moss giving a fantastically nerve-shredding and physically adept performance. From the tense opening scene, we empathise with her desire to escape a controlling and malevolent force. Building slowly throughout the first act, Whannell’s script brilliantly picks up the pace and plots Cecilia’s descent into a living hell. Consequently, Cecilia’s anxiety reaches peak stress as no one believes she is being set up by a gas-lighting, unseen and venal monster.
It pays to see this film on the big screen with the finest sound quality available. I watched it on an IMAX screen where the sound design and Benjamin Wallfisch’s amazing score really enhance the fear-inducing visuals. How the production team made this film for a reported $7 million dollars is beyond me. Yet, Whannell is an economical and highly efficient filmmaker. His writing is lean and mean, as the script is full of fantastic set-pieces and plot reversals. Moreover, the story is very relevant, exploring the themes of the day relating to domestic abuse, depression and mental illness. However, it’s not an overbearing message movie, but rather a smart and surprising thriller.
Overall, The Invisible Man (2020) starts strongly and proceeds to deliver a series of gripping and, at times, heart-in-the-mouth cinematic moments. There are none of the usual scientific and over-expositional set-ups that can slow down such films. The visuals, sound, score and performances deliver the story most effectively. I felt like there were a few fuzzy plot moments that Whannell could have explained in more detail, however, that could have hindered the pace of the story. Finally, with Elisabeth Moss imbuing her character with resilience, energy and steel, we get an individual who will never give up. She sees through her ghosting nemesis and will fight to the last breath to prove her innocence and remain in control.
Produced by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Bill Block
Story by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson Marn Davies
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
THE GENTLEMEN (2020)
Having dipped a big foot in the Hollywood studio pool with franchise hits like Sherlock Holmes and most recently Disney’s live action version ofAladdin (2019), Guy Ritchie is back to the crime genre where he made his mark. His reboot of The Man From Uncle (2015) was very under-rated, and while his King Arthur: Legend of the Sword(2017) didn’t quite work as a swords and geezer epic, Ritchie remains an excellent genre director and almost always produces very entertaining movies.
With Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and Rock N Rolla (2008), Ritchie excelled at carving himself a name in fast-paced-twisting-crime stories. They are full of hard nuts, femme fatales, dodgy geezers, businessmen, travellers, assassins, gamblers, plus working- and upper-class types all trying to outwit and out do each other in a variety of dodgy dealings. The films also feature fine ensemble casts, crunching violence, colourful language and cracking soundtracks. All of this combines to create fine entertainment all round. It may lack subtlety, suspense and emotion, but crime has never been so much fun.
The Gentlemen (2020) continues Guy Ritchie’s decent form in the gangster comedy genre. Matthew McConaughey is the “Kingpin”, Mickey Pearson, whose underground marijuana empire is about to come under threat from various rival gangs. The plot is essentially a story of a capitalistic hostile takeover with added bullets, punch-ups, YouTube viral videos, boxers, junkies and copious use of the C-word.
Ritchie may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly knows how to put together a movie. Using lashings of music to compliment the freeze frames, voice-overs, whip-pans, flashbacks, flash-forwards, close-ups, canted frames, slow motion and anything else that smashes the story along is fine by me. Plus, don’t forget the over-the-top, but ever quotable zinging dialogue and the unreliable narrator that is Hugh Grant’s weasly tabloid newspaper investigator. Grant is the standout performer here along with Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam’s cool but deadly fixer and second-in-command. Able support also comes from Jeremy Strong, Michelle Dockery, Eddie Marsan and Henry Golding.
Overall, The Gentlemen (2020) is not a particularly subtle film. In fact, many may find the language rather offensive in this age of the woke generation. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for political correctness and equality, but sometimes it’s just great to have a laugh and Ritchie provides this in many hilarious scenes of action and dialogue. There’s an element of substance provided in regard to the destruction drugs can cause and very mild analysis of England’s class system. However, such themes only skim the surface in what is a wonderfully irreverent, over-the-top, violent, offensive and entertaining crime comedy.
Produced by: Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tom Hooper
Written by: Lee Hall and Tom Hooper – Based on the stage musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jason DeRulo, Laurie Davidson, Ray Winstone, Taylor Swift, etc.
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*
I think it’s easy to be overtly negative and nasty in reviews, and that is fine in general, as long as you can justify it. What I have found though is there seems to have been an unhealthy pile-on this Christmas by critics in regard to the film Cats (2019). One could even interpret some reactions to the film as hysterical and unfair bullying. I, in no way have any reason to defend wealthy people such as Andrew Lloyd Webber or the director Tom Hooper. But, this review asks the question: is Cats (2019) a really bad film? The answer in short is: no! It’s just not a particularly good one.
My wife loves musicals and was a fan of the original show. Personally, I don’t like cats, nor musicals generally (there are exceptions); and did not know the original stage production either. So, my expectations were pretty low for the film. What I did know is the original musical stage production was one of the longest running musicals in the West End. Plus, it made grossed over £32 billion in various productions across the world. Clearly a film production would make commercial sense and with acclaimed director, Tom Hooper, at the helm — what could go wrong?
Firstly, it’s an obvious thing to say that stage and screen productions generally work very differently. The original Cats was based on the poems of T.S. Eliot and was adapted organically in the 1970s by the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe and Trevor Nunn. It was released in 1981 and became a phenomenal success. The narrative on stage and screen concerns a tribe of cats, inhabiting the streets, shops, theatres and homes of London, called the ‘Jellicle Cats’. Each year there is a competition as to who will be given a new life and reach the Heaviside Layer. Imaginatively named characters such as: Rum Tum Tugger (Jason DeRulo), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Mr Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), Bombalurina (Taylor Swift) and many more litter the screen. Several of these characters compete via song and dance routines, but obstacles are introduced by the nasty nemesis, Macavity (Idris Elba).
As I did not know the original adaptation, I have to say that given the lack of a proper narrative, I am surprised the show took off in the first place. This is clearly a testament to the love felt for the many powerful songs in the show, notably the brilliant ‘Memory’. The film itself is essentially a series of musical set-pieces with a very thin narrative and thematic thread throughout. The rules of the world and mythology are not very well established by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper’s screenplay. In fact, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of an opening introduction to the world. So, for me, the film fails to establish believable unbelievability and ease you into the fantasy elements properly. Basically, if you know the original production it is likely you will really enjoy the film. However, I felt it was creatively hamstrung from the start.
Overall, much of Tom Hooper’s rendition of Cats (2019) feels rushed in terms of the CGI, the editing, pacing and general flow of the action and events. The first forty minutes sees a flurry of songs from various characters and this left me dizzy. However, there are some excellent set-pieces, rousing compositions, flashy choreography and impactful singing performances in here. Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba I felt were excellent. The rest of the cast, performers and production team also commit wholeheartedly to the project too. They cannot be faulted for certain creative decisions made at studio level. Indeed, whose idea was it to even release the film at Christmas when the Star Wars franchise is likely to defeat all cinema competition.
Maybe the film could have worked better as a lower budgeted, intimate and more stripped-down production. Moreover, while they attempted to include narrative exposition via the character of Francesca Hayward’s innocent stray, Victoria, the film still felt bereft of story. But, as it’s based on a set of poems, this is case with the original show too. Lastly, while Cats (2019) valiantly attempts to deliver a fun, humorous, emotional, energetic and fresh take on thestage show, it does fall short in many places. However, given the catastrophic reviews online and in the media in general, I have to say that it is genuinely enjoyable in places and not as bad as it’s being made out to be. It is still shocking though that such experienced producers and filmmakers would release what appears to be a dog rough work-in-progress product. It just goes to show that however talented you may be, no one is purr-fect!
Produced by: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard
Screenplay: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh, Vondie Curtis-Hall etc.
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
With $100 million being spent on the film Midway (2019), which I haven’t seen, and $160 million being spent on The Irishman (2019), which I have, it’s kind of shame that a way bigger story like that of Harriet Tubman is only afforded a mid-budget tribute adaptation. Because, even if this story is only 10% true, Harriet Tubman’s character deserves so much more. In fact, I am shocked that it has taken this long for her achievements to reach the cinema screen. Especially because we had to endure another rendition of Lincoln (2012), in Spielberg’s recent ponderous epic.
That isn’t to say that old Abraham isn’t deserving of praise. I’m just an ignorant Englander, but Harriet Tubman, as represented by Cynthia Erivo’s sterling performance and Kasi Lemmon’s and Gregory Allen Howard’s fizzing screenplay, is a tour-de-force encapsulation of empowerment. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without flaws. Indeed, this is an amazing story which is professionally told. However, it seems to have been short-changed on budget and marketing possibilities here in the U.K. I mean Frozen 2 (2019) is on about a million screens, whereas I struggled to find one for this film.
Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in 1820 and into the slavery that blighted the “United” States. Eventually this humanitarian stain would lead to civil war in the U.S.A and the film charts Minty’s legacy from slavery to escape to freedom fighter, during the build up to this fierce conflict. Her character is one of guts, determination, fight and she also has the gift for second sight. Indeed, if the period setting wasn’t so well evoked, you could be mistaken for feeling like the film was using the beats of a superhero origins film.
But that is what Harriet Tubman becomes; a superhero and saviour to her family, friends, slaves and the abolitionist movement as a whole. A superhero needs a nemesis though and white slavers have now become the new Nazis. They are the bad guys and villains we boo and hiss and hate. Here they are represented by Joe Alwyn’s Gideon Brodess. While not as charismatically dastardly as Tarantino’s Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he remains a benign, matter-of-fact vision of evil. Perhaps, the brutality could have been heightened, but this is more of an inspirational and empowering tale, rather than one that wallows in the misery and genius of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave (2013).
Overall, the film is a fine tribute to an incredible human being. There are some issues in the telling of the story. It feels rushed like a “greatest hits” package. I mean I just wish they could have developed a longer television series for this character or given it the running time Harriet’s plaudits deserved. Plus, some of the direction is a little flat in places. Where suspense and fear could have been ratcheted up a bit, in certain scenes Lemmons rushes through them. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly absorbed by the subject matter, themes and character throughout. Special praise goes to star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo too. Via Harriet Tubman’s incredible actions Erivo has broken out in more ways than one.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell etc.
Cinematography: Steve Yedlin
****** SPOILER FREE ******
“What is this, CSI: KFC?”
Rian Johnson seems to have been writing and directing for years, but interestingly, KNIVES OUT (2019), is only his fifth release since his debut film, Brick (2005). His last film Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, a massive hit across the galaxy. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling.
Indeed, I was shocked that such a meta-filmmaker as Rian Johnson, with such a unique approach to genre, was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking talent was too offbeat and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver), it did not work as a Star Wars story.
With his latest film, a murder-mystery-comedy-thriller, Johnson is on more solid ground. His penchant for quirky characterisation, irreverent jokes and wicked twists is more than suited to an Agatha Christie pastiche. Especially because this one has more tricks up its sleeve than the Magic Circle. I personally love the detective genre and Johnson successfully pays homage and deconstructs the murder-mystery tropes with a brilliantly funny script. Aiding Johnson is a star-studded cast, all of whom run with the joke superbly.
The plot begins in a traditional fashion; with a heinous “crime.” The story then spins into a complicated and devious web of lies and double-crosses. It concerns famed author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and his family of sons, daughters and grandchildren. A multi-millionaire writer and owner of a publishing empire, he has managed to upset every one of his family members. So, you can guess what happens to him on his 85th birthday celebration.
Following Harlan’s apparent suicide, Lakeith Stanfield’s police detective investigates, with the assistance of famed sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). With a ridiculous Southern accent, Craig, seems more parodic than the other actors. But, he gives a fine comic performance nonetheless. Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer are also on great form. But, a playing-against-type Chris Evans, arguably steals the show as the overgrown, spoilt rich kid.
Overall, this is film is a so much fun. It should be viewed firstly as a comedy, although the murder mystery plot itself is full of ingenious plot reversals. With everyone a suspect, the fun derives from trying to work out who did it and seeing if there are any holes in the plot. All kinds of satirical, political, sight-gags and murder-mystery in-jokes are brilliantly delivered by a committed set of A-list movie actors too. Moreover, from the big mansion setting, to the costumes and the meticulous set design, it was a lovely film to look at too.
To conclude, Johnson is back on the form he showed with the incredible sci-fi film Looper (2012). Because, Knives Out (2019) definitely has the force with it, working brilliantly as a fast-paced, witty and intricate work of, admittedly style-over-substance, entertainment.
Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.
Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”
There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.
With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.
The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.
Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.
I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.
Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.
As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed,Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Nellie the Dog etc.
Music: Carter Logan
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’ve recently been working on a screenwriting development programme with someone studying at the National Film and Television School. The idea is to further develop one of my feature film scripts and hopefully improve it. The Script Developer is assessed on the work we do together.
I tell you this because we discussed my script, which is a slice-of-life-bittersweet comedy, in relation to character journeys and arcs. I was keen to present a script made more of humorous and dramatic situations that do not necessarily bring about change in the character. I wanted to go against the general rules of screenwriting manuals to create something more akin to the works of Mike Leigh or Jim Jarmusch.
Eventually, I have decided that the screenplay did need a bit more narrative impetus, however, a film such as Paterson (2016), brilliantly shows what cinematic beauty you can achieve without having a critical character journey or narrative arc. It is cinema of poetry, repetition, small moments, character interaction, and subtle performance full of emotional impact. I’m not sure why I missed it at the cinema, but there you go.
Paterson (2016) is set in Paterson, New Jersey. Adam Driver is a bus driver who has the same name as the place he lives in. This amusing coincidence is mentioned a few times throughout the film. Paterson lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who spends her days working on her art and has a love for black and white patterns. Farahani and Jarmusch fill this character with an idealised innocence and energy which perfectly complements Paterson’s more deadpan insouciance. I sensed that perhaps Paterson was depressed but I think he was happy deep down. The couple themselves are very content with their simple existence.
We spend a week with Paterson, his wife and Nellie the Dog and his days are pretty much the same. While some may wonder where the story is and when something will happen, I was hypnotised by the repetition. Jarmusch infuses the bus driving, dog walking and quiet moments of reflection with excerpts from Paterson’s and other poets’ works. These are recited by Driver with a laconic charm and mesmeric power.
Personally, I could watch Adam Driver all day. He has such a subliminal and easy acting style, yet you feel such empathy for his character. I thought the back-story of Paterson being a marine was underplayed, but also intriguing. The performance is so good we do not need to know what happened in Paterson’s past, because we can feel it in Driver’s face and being. Moreover, via Paterson we get introduced to another set of eccentric Jarmusch characters which dip in and out of his days.
In conclusion, Jim Jarmusch has created another exquisite character study where very little happens in terms of plot or character development. But that’s the point with this beautifully rendered slice-of-life. The care and love he pours into the lead protagonists, supporting characters and his passion for poetry, make this a modern mini-masterpiece. It is also a charming tribute to all those creative people who work a regular day job but aspire to express their vision of the world around them.
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.