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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 ’90 (2015)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’90 (2015)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Director: 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, Perry Fitzpatrick, Joe Dempsie etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM – THIS IS ENGLAND ’83, ’86 & ’88**

So, just to reiterate if you have NOT seen the previous film or TV series of This is England, I would advise you start with the film and watch them in order of release. Safe to say that this review also contains MASSIVE SPOILERS from the previous productions too.

As the title says we are now in the year 1990, some two years after the trauma of Lol’s (Vicky McClure) suicide attempt. Her and Woody are now thankfully back together and he, the gang and Milky have reconciled. Structured into a seasonal order of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter the show shifts focus to a more ensemble narrative presentation. Here more secondary characters such as Lol’s sister Kelly (Chanel Creswell) and Milky (Andrew Shim) are given meatier storylines over the four episodes.

As it’s the 1990’s we get some of my favourite music of all time presented. Indie, pop and rave tracks by the likes of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The Pixies, The La’s, James, Beats International and many more dominate the soundtrack. Thus, the Spring and Summer months begin in an upbeat mood for the characters on the main. Gadget, Harvey, Trev, Shaun and Kelly are into the rave and Madchester scene, popping pills with heady abandon. This is where Kelly’s story veers into dark drama as her grief for the loss of her father spills into drug addiction and self-destructive behaviour.

This reaches a head in the Summer episode. Beginning as a humorous drive to a field in the England becomes, for Harvey, Gadget, Trev and Shaun a narcotic escape out of Midlands mundanity. However, for Kelly it leads to a dark, drug-induced and sexualised nightmare. For the first time in the series though I felt the drama was slightly gratuitous and felt uncomfortable with Kelly’s ordeal. However, Chanel Cresswell gave a haunting performance of a character lost in a fog of addiction and despair.

With Kelly’s character adrift in the Autumn and Winter months, the narrative also brings back Combo (Stephen Graham) into the mix. As the racist thug in the original film, his character had ventured into some twisted redemption when taking the blame for Lol and Kelly’s Dad’s death. With Combo about to be released from prison the series examines whether people can change and most importantly be forgiven for prior crimes. It is hard hitting stuff and Stephen Graham is a superb actor who lives and breathes the mistakes of his characters’ past. His Winter scenes with Milky are particularly painful and ultimately shocking.

Indeed, during the Autumn and Winter episodes we get some of the most painful and dramatic scenes in the whole series. The scene around the dinner table when Lol decides to confess to her mum, Kelly and Milky the actual events regarding her Dad’s death are so compelling. Meadows directs this scene with simple and devastating effect. He allows the amazing performances from the cast to create emotion via long and tense takes. News of Combo being released impacts them all and the aftermath leads to a vengeful decision by Milky which haunts both him and the audience.

Meadows, co-writer Jack Thorne, the cast and the production team of This Is England ’90 deliver another nostalgic, humorous and hard-hitting drama series. It ends with the characters moving toward the light but with darkness not too far behind. Lol and Woody finally get married in as close to a feel-good ending you get with Shane Meadows. Overall, as slices of life go, these films and TV programmes are genuine British classics and a must watch if you are drawn to gritty, realistic dramas which chuck everything at you — including the kitchen sink.

Mark: 9 out of 11

THE DEUCE (2017 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – HBO REVIEW

THE DEUCE (2017 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – HBO REVIEW

Created by: George Pelecanos & David Simon

Producer(s): Jessica Levin, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mark Henry Johnson

Writers: George Pelecanos, David Simon, Richard Price, Lisa Lutz, Anya Epstein and more.

Directors: Michelle McClaren, James Franco, Ernest Dickerson, Alex Hall, Roxann Hall, Uta Briesewitz and more.

Starring: James Franco, MaggieGyllenhaal, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Chris Bauer, Gary Carr, Chris Coy, Dominique Fishback, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Margarita Levieva, Emily Meade, Natalie Paul, Michael Rispoli, Luke Kirby, Jamie Neumann

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Pornography is a strange stain and paradoxical phenomenon within humanity and society. Most of us are born from the natural act of sexual intercourse and as such lust and passion and love are catalysts for this. For some though conventional relationships do not satisfy desires and of course there are those without a romantic or sexual partner who will need an outlet for their desires. Because deep down whatever you say we are animals and the basest instinct is to pro-create. But what happens if we are denied that opportunity? A person may seek satisfaction elsewhere and one such avenue is pornography.

Pornography sounds dirty. It’s a dirty word. Yet, since way before the internet, photography, video and film were invented humans have always found a means either through literature, theatre, poetry or art to represent sex. As technology has progressed the rise of pornography has reached epidemic proportions. It is massive business and billionaires have been made by the sex industry. In my opinion pornography is like war. It happens every day and while most of us are not involved in it, one feels powerless to stop it. Ultimately, you can argue it’s empowering to the men and women and contributes to our capitalist economy. However, one cannot escape the fact that it, like war, pornography would have left many, many people exploited and damaged.

Eschewing any socio-political criticism of pornography, HBO’s big budget television show The Deuce presents a massive American slice-of-gritty-mean-street-porn-life in 1970s New York. It is created by David Simon and George Pelacanos, who as writer-producers possess a great track record for creating acclaimed shows such as: The Wire, The Pacific, Treme, Generation Kill etc. Here they have created another ensemble period drama which show-cases a cavalcade of colourful characters including: pimps, prostitutes, police, bar flies, gangsters, dealers, gigolos, film producers, actors and politicians. The show essentially reflects the lives of those at ‘the Deuce’; an intersection of 42nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue. It accepts that, for good or for worse, the sex industry is part of our existence and people basically are just trying to survive or escape anyway they can.

The first season starts in 1971. Main characters include: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fiercely independent prostitute ‘Candy’; James Franco as twin brothers feckless Frankie and bar manager Vincent; Gbenga Akinnagbe as Larry Brown, an intense pimp; Chris Bauer as Bobby Dwyer, a construction foreman who is dragged into the sex industry; Gary Carr as C.C., a stylish but ruthless pimp; Dominique Fishback as Darlene, a sweet-natured sex worker striving for educational betterment; Lawrence GilliardJr. as Chris Alston, an incorruptible NYPD patrolman; Margarita Levieva as Abby Parker, a college student who rejects her wealthy upbringing by striking up a relationship with Vincent; and Emily Meade as Lori Madison, an impressionable young woman who C.C. entangles in his pimp web. Plus, there are a whole slew of characters that appear within each season; so many in fact in does get a bit crowded in the complex drama.

There is a lot of sex in both seasons; straight and gay. It’s presented not simply as titillation but also humorously and realistically as part of the life the characters lead. Sex sells but it also has a dark, violent side and the programme often shows this. The sex worker’s customers and pimps regularly commit acts of violence as the danger of working the streets is palpable. The exploitation by the mob bosses too who front the money for the sex parlours and peep shows is sad to witness and much empathy is gained for those trapped by poverty and drug addiction. Aside from a few good cops many of the NYPD are happy to take bribes to line their pockets.

Season 2, which moves forward to 1977 is a lot more political. The rise of feminism, activism and protest is reflected in the character Abby who works with others to provide a safe space for the women on the street. Moreover, City Hall is trying to clear up ‘The Deuce’ in an attempt to welcome rich corporate businesses to the area. Candy meanwhile has worked to get off the street and is now pornographic film director with artistic designs. Frankie is still gambling and ducking and diving while his brother Vincent begins having doubts about his involvement with the mob and sex industry. The second season, for me, was more focussed narratively;especially where Candy’s porn adaptation of ‘Red Riding Hood’ called Red Hot is concerned. Mirroring the reality of masculinity exploiting humanity, the predatory wolf chasing women and ravaging them is a thematic strongpoint of the season. But Candy is striving to turn the tables and female empowerment is a key driving force for her work.

The Deuce is ultimately a glorious production which is not for the faint-hearted. It holds up a dark mirror to a flawed society; and does it with humour, wit, compassion, lashings of sex and smatterings of sudden, brutal violence. I for one believe the world should do without pornography but The Deuce demonstrates that human beings are drawn to it like moths round a flame. It’s money, drugs, vice and sex that seems to excite many people and because of this exploiters will make money out of them.

Finally, as this is a HBO production the acting, direction, cinematography, editing, soundtrack, costume and period design are flawless. The writing is exceptional as the dialogue stings from the exceptional ensemble cast like written bullets. Season One was slightly slow building the characters but Season Two really found its’ feet dramatically and emotionally.  On occasions I felt like some episodes lacked pace due to the sheer number of characters presented; but Season Two had real dramatic momentum. The final season is due for release next year and I highly recommend it if you are a drawn to the corrupted elements of humanity on screen; and characters just trying to make it with odds stacked against them. On ‘the Deuce’, like in life, sadly not everyone makes it out alive or in one piece. 

Season 1 – Mark: 8 out of 11

Season 2 – Mark: 9 out of 11

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

Created by: Donald Glover

Writer(s): Donald Glover, Stefani Robinson, Stephen Glover, Jamal Odori etc.

Director(s): Hiro Murai, Janicza Bravo, Amy Semetz

Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz

Original network: FX

'Atlanta' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Feb 2018

Donald Glover and his multi-talented cast and crew deserve all the praise and accolades they have or will receive for Atlanta. It is easily one of the best and most originally voiced television shows I have watched in the last decade.  Set in the Atlanta, which is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia; it centres on a collection of characters on the outside of the capitalist system just trying to make their way in life through: creativity, music, strange schemes, ducking, diving; and possibly a bit of drug dealing.

Atlanta has a rich political history. In the 1960s it became a major organizing centre of the civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and many others playing serious roles in the movement’s leadership. Flash forward fifty years and, while we find the USA has moved beyond segregation from a legal perspective, inequality and social divide remain everyday from an economic perspective. The underclasses stay just that with the rich getting richer and the poorer communities unfortunately scrabbling around just trying to get by.

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It is against this social milieu we meet our main protagonists in Atlanta. Donald Glover is Earnest “Earn” Marks, a young Princeton dropout turned manager; Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Earn’s cousin and up-and-coming rapper; Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps, Alfred’s eccentric right-hand man and visionary; and Zazie Beetz as Vanessa “Van” Keefer, Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of their daughter Lottie. These are presented as complex characters who, while at times, not following the law or rules are just trying to survive in these difficult economic times. A mixture of both society and their own poor decisions trap them, and from this comes much drama and comedy.

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This is a very rich show, which over two seasons, is brilliantly acted, scored, filmed, written and directed. Thematically, it is very powerful while retaining a very honest humour. Episodes cover: stoner culture; crime; family relationships; the working class struggle; guns; violence; street gangs; drugs; children; social media; hip-hop; fashion; celebrity; as well as satirizing white people’s attitude to black culture and the music scene in general.  It is confidently written with a loose episodic structure with events linked thematically and often looping back and re-joining much later in the season. Atlanta also experiments with form as well as style using a meshing of genres including: pop video, short film, chat-show, horror, comedy, internet and various dramatic devices to tell its story.

Overall, this is one of those shows which constantly surprises you and what appears to be a loose vibe is in fact a cleverly structured series of impactful vignettes full of rich moments.  Indeed, episode 6 of Season 2 called Teddy Perkins is one of the most amazing pieces of television I have seen in a long while.  Atlanta is not just a TV show but an experience not to forget and I certainly had Georgia on my mind long after I’d finished watching it.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

SIX OF THE BEST #4 – FILMS TO AVOID WHILE EATING

SIX OF THE BEST #4 – FILMS TO AVOID WHILE EATING

My blog strand of collating six of the best of something or other continues with a breeze through a series of disgusting, vile and horrific movies that it’s best not to watch while eating.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS & DISGUSTING IMAGES**

BRAINDEAD (1992)

Peter Jackson’s monstrous rom-zom-gore-fest is an utter joy from start to finish. A rabid monkey bite sets in motion a series of flesh-eating zombie attacks as carnage ensues with lawnmowers, death, intestines, blood and dog-eating mothers in 1950s New Zealand.

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EVIL DEAD (1981)

Sam Raimi’s debut feature is a low-budget horror treat.  But be warned as Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) battles his friends and girlfriend — who all become demons — the bloodletting, decapitations and violent deaths are enough to put you off your pudding.

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THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2010)

We all like to connect with people socially but this film takes the cake. Watch and learn as an insane German scientist stitches two American tourists and a random Japanese bloke together. Both grim and hilarious at the same time and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Eat shit and die!”

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ICHI THE KILLER (2001)

The site of a man cutting off his own tongue is enough to have you reaching for the remote; as Takashi Miike’s off-the-wall-manga-gangster-mash-up really tests the boundaries of taste. My favourite image is a sliced face slamming and sliding down the wall following one particularly offensive fight scene.

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RATS (2016)

Morgan Spurlock’s brutal documentary takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the globe visiting New York, Reading, Rajasthan, Cambodia and so on. Amidst the rat-catching, baiting and butchering we are also witness to scientific examination of rats. Most disgustingly the eating of rodents in Vietnam is considered a delicacy. Gross!

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TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

While Irvine Welsh’s classic novel was a dark, violent, black-humoured yet grim portrayal of heroin addiction in Edinburgh; Danny Boyle’s adaptation entertainingly presents it as a fast-paced-rock-and-rolling-drug-lifestyle-sketch-show! Nevertheless, with scenes that involve: the dirtiest toilet in Scotland; Tommy’s toxoplasmosis squat death; and Spud’s shit being flung across the breakfast table, make this one to avoid while tucking into a Friday night curry with your partner.