Tag Archives: Filmmaking

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

TOLERANCE (2019) – FIX FILMS SHORT FILM – ONLINE RELEASE

TOLERANCE (2019)

Last year I wrote, produced and directed my second short film called Tolerance. Post-production was carried out and completed including artwork and the music. It was finished earlier this year and I am now releasing the film online here.

SCREENINGS

TOLERANCE premiered at the Unrestricted View Film Festival, London in April 2019. Also, it was nominated for best art direction award at http://www.uvff.co.uk.

Also screened at:

Fix Films Ltd Film Night, London, March 2019
UK Monthly Online Film Festival, April 2019
Lift-Off Online Sessions, Pinewood Studios, April 2019
Direct Monthly Online Festival, April 2019

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PITCH

Tolerance is a story of obsession, revenge and murder. It concerns a dinner “date” which takes a murderous turn. Inspired by narratives by Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected and Inside No. 9, it suspensefully examines both personal and societal issues when a relationship breaks down.

On the surface it is essentially a suspensful thriller and dark comedy. However, within the subtext I attempt to examine the harm people inflict on each other with their relationship choices. Lastly, with the recent #MeToo furore that correctly highlighted the horrendous toxicity of human behaviour, I wanted to consider wider concerns of gender politics.

CAST AND CREDITS

Written and directed by: Paul Laight
Starring: Georgia Kerr and Patrick Tolan
Sound: Marina Fusella
Camera: Edward Lomas
Lighting: Kato Murphy
Make-Up: Camille Nava
Music: James Wedlock
Editor: Jodie Williams
Set Designer: Melissa Zajk

Running Time: 13 minutes – 52 seconds

Website: http://www.fixfilms.co.uk

A Fix Films Production © 2019

SHORT SIGHTED CINEMA 2019 – BRITISH SHORT FILM PROGRAMME REVIEW

THE SHORTEST NIGHTS – 2019

On Sunday the 30th June 2019 I did two of my favourite things. I took a long walk through the city of London and watched loads of short films.

London is obviously a very busy city and hive of activity during the week. However, on a Sunday it, despite there still being traffic, is way more peaceful. Well, especially from eight in the morning until around lunchtime. Indeed, until I got to the tourist trap that is Westminster it had been a pleasure to walk down the Thames Embankment and through the city of London.

I set out to walk from Clapham to Hackney and my destination was the Yard Theatre, Hackney. I made the walk of around ten miles in good time and the event was The Shortest Nights 2019 – Short Film Festival.

Details can be found here:

https://shortsightedcinema.com/

The Shortest Nights is an annual celebration of British short film. They bring you five cutting-edge programmes across a range of themes and genres featuring new works from emerging British filmmakers.

The people running the event are so enthusiastic and put on a great array of different British short film productions. Overall, there were thirty-nine short films and I watched all of them. It was a great day and I was especially impressed by the: comedies, horrors, documentaries, dramas, animation and art-house films on show.

There were low-to-high budget short films of brilliant quality and the programmes were broken down into five categories. So, if you ever get a chance to go to their film events I recommend it to all filmmakers and film fans alike.

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #16 – JODIE FOSTER

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #16 – JODIE FOSTER

Having recently caught the underwhelming B-movie crime movie, Hotel Artemis (2018), on Sky Movies, I was suddenly reminded what a brilliant actor Jodie Foster is. She has been around for years so it’s easy to take for granted what a consummate performer and on-screen creator she is. Indeed, her sterling work held Hotel Artemis‘ weak narrative together; as she gave a nuanced and clever portrayal of a morally ambiguous medical professional.

Foster is an actor, director and producer who has received two Academy Awards, three BAFTAs, two Golden Globes and countless other nominations recognizing her screen skills and brilliance. She is one of those rare actors, like Ethan Hawke, who has transcended child stardom and become a prolific performer in adulthood too. Here are, in keeping with the rules of this feature, FIVE stand-out Jodie Foster roles that I can highly recommend you watch.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Already boasting acting heavyweights such as Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, this existential classic finds Foster as a teenage prostitute, Iris. It was a very risky role for all concerned, especially as Foster was only twelve at the time. However, it is one of the greatest child performances of all time, with Foster bringing vulnerability, toughness, smarts and pathos to girl lost on the mean streets of New York seeking salvation.

THE ACCUSED (1988)

Foster’s incredible performance as Sarah Tobias deservedly won her a first Academy Award. Tobias’ character is the victim of a brutal gang-rape and the film sets about to highlight the savagery of men and the injustices of the legal system. I have not seen this film in years but I will never forget Foster’s steely and emotional acting tour-de-force, plus the physical and mental bravery she committed to the stunning portrayal.

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

If I didn’t include her role of Clarice Starling then I would need my head examined. Obviously, NOT by Dr Hannibal Lecter, I must add. Indeed, while Anthony Hopkins gets much kudos for his startling turn as no one’s favourite chef, it’s Foster’s sterling work which glues the film together. All in all it’s almost a perfect genre film which owes much to Thomas Harris’ fine characterisations of Lecter and Starling and Jonathan Demme’s excellent direction. Nonetheless, Foster brings the tough, determined, yet vulnerable, FBI rookie to life brilliantly; and her scenes with Hopkins spark, scare and thrill especially.

CONTACT (1997)

I wasn’t a massive fan of this film when it was first released. That was because I was expecting something more action-based akin to Robert Zemeckis’ previous body of work. However, Contact, on subsequent views is an emotionally rich and intelligent look at religion, science and contact with extra-terrestrials. Foster is Dr Ellie Arroway, a scientist who utilises radio signals to chart potential alien signals in space. In a role which doesn’t exclusively find her life in danger, Foster is able to show her range as an intelligent, heartfelt and sensitive character. As such Dr Arroway is, amidst the vast expanse of space and time, ultimately searching for that all-encompassing and universal desire: love.

INSIDE MAN (2006)

I love this heist film because it has so many brilliant aspects; notably one of the cleverest twists in recent movie history. Spike Lee directs in confident style, with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen excellent as the lead cop and main criminal, respectively. Jodie Foster steals her scenes as a feisty and venal fixer brought in by Christopher Plummer’s bank owner, to handle a more “delicate” element of the robbery. I liked that Foster chose a less heroic character to portray, as she struts and sells her services to the highest bidder. Ultimately, her Madeleine White is anything but white; instead she’s a black-hearted vulture, dealing with the greedy capitalists and politicians of first-world Manhattan.

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #6 – THE CHESS GAME (2012)

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #6 – THE CHESS GAME (2012)

TITLE: THE CHESS GAME (2012) – short film (15 mins)

TAGLINE: “Not all of us are destined to be Kings!”

DIRECTOR: Gary O’Brien

WRITERS/PRODUCERS: Paul Laight and Gary O’Brien

CAST: Philip Delancy, Bill Thomas, Tyrone Atkins, Bobby Freeman and Andy Davies

I haven’t written one of these short film retrospectives for a while but I thought I’d look back on my sixth short film – The Chess Game – and how it came to be made.

We hadn’t written or produced a film since 2008 when Elephant Trunk (2008) was released. Looking back it was for a mixture of personal and financial reasons. I mean making short films is a passion but sometimes the amount of work you put in can sometimes be the only reward. It is pleasing to complete a film but then what do you do? With Elephant Trunk (2008) I should have tried to get it into more festivals but ultimately I did not market it well enough. Moreover, I’d started doing more stand-up comedy as a creative hobby so decided to commit to that for a few years. I basically did not have enough time for filmmaking, especially with other family and work commitments.

In 2012, my filmmaking partner, Gary got in touch and quite rightly said it was about time we got back on the horse, as it were, thus we began working on the script that would become The Chess Game (2012). He had a basic premise of a seemingly harmless person living in a village fully integrated into the community. However, that said individual was actually hiding a secret past.  We wrote the screenplay and, in terms of its length, became an ambitious thriller focussing on themes of guilt, revenge and war. It starts simply with the offer of a ‘friendly’ chess match between two strangers and spirals into a game of cat and mouse culminating in a deadly end game. Arguably, the story would probably have suited a Tales of the Unexpected half-hour length but we felt, given the lack of budget, we could do it justice at fifteen minutes.

Once we were happy with the script we raised the very low budget from independent sources and set about casting. We decided to use the talented Phil Delancy, who we’d worked with before and could be trusted to deliver a great performance. We also cast three excellent actors I knew from the comedy circuit in Tyrone Atkins, Andy Davies and Bobby Freeman. With regard to the lead role of Viktor, we knew we’d have to cast someone of great experience. Here was a character with charm keeping a dark secret close to his chest. Eventually, we cast seasoned professional Bill Thomas; an experienced screen actor who had been in many television and film roles including: The House Of Eliot, Cutting It, The Bill, Doctors, Holby City, Pusher (2012) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) etc.

The rehearsal process was fantastic as myself, Gary, Phil and Bill really stress-tested the story and characters. Conversely, it was a script which changed a lot prior to production; not in terms of structure but rather the development of the characters’ motivations. Ultimately, the production would be a very successful shoot over two weekends in Oxfordshire. The story itself stands up to a re-watch as it twists and turns to a big reveal. My only regret is the end of the shoot was a bit rushed, however, the cast and crew were amazing and I think the film is not too bad, despite being shot on a shoestring budget.

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MOUNTVIEW FILM ACADEMY RETROSPECTIVE #1 – THE BLACK ROOM (2008)

MOUNTVIEW FILM ACADEMY RETROSPECTIVE #1 – THE BLACK ROOM (2008)

A rather indulgent post this!!  

Between the years of 2008 and 2011, I did some screenwriting work for the Mountview FilmAcademy; a filmic extension of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Based in London, they would produce a number of student acting projects including many low budget short films. Notable Mountview Alumni include: Craig Parkinson, Eddie Marsan, Lois Chimimba, Connie Fisher, Douglas Henshall, Rebecca Trehearn and many more.

Writers would be shuttled in and given a remit to create short films using specified actors,locations and length of film.  In 2008, I wrote a film called THE BLACK ROOM. It featured some talented actors and was directed by Jonathan Wolff. It’s a black comedy farce, concerning a writer who is struggling so much to write a period drama he starts to go a bit mad.

Watching the film back after ten years is interesting from a creative perspective. I actually think it works really well still and the story holds up despite the very low budget. Indeed, in places I still think the short film is pretty funny; echoing, on a very minor level, Charlie Kaufman’s meta-textual work in the film Adaptation (2002). Anyway, here it is:

SCREENWASH GENRE FILM ROUND-UP including reviews of: The Nun (2018), The Predator (2018) and A Simple Favour (2018)

SCREENWASH GENRE FILM ROUND-UP – OCTOBER 2018

It goes without saying that I watch a lot of films and have over the last few years reviewed quite a few too. The last three I saw at the cinema were a bit hit and miss yet overall serviceable examples of, despite their flaws, the Hollywood genre film. The genre film is the staple of the Hollywood production model and the word genre can be used to describe and organize films according to: type, style, form, characteristics and marketing possibilities. Moreover, certain movie stars and actors would become synonymous with movie types such as: John Wayne and the Western; Humphrey Bogart and the crime or noir drama; Arnold Schwarzenegger and the action film; plus directors such as Martin Scorsese making a cinematic mark with the gangster film. In the 1950s genre film theory was debated by academics such as Andre Bazin. From then on many a film degree essay was delivered and arguments ensued between auteur and genre theories. More importantly the Hollywood movie-making monster which rose from the 1920s onwards used genre conventions and tropes, along with the star system, to promote a formula of mass production within their cinematic releases.

Such genre production is still very much in place today. But, as audiences get seemingly both attention-deficient and more cinema-knowing the melding of genres is very much a postmodern trend for the now. While a perennial spy classic like James Bond still holds onto the genre conventions like: gadgets, action and over-the-top villains, films such as American Werewolf in London (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Shaun of the Dead (2004) successfully combined horror and comedy. Furthermore, of late Marvel instilled many of their superhero films with properties from the heist, thriller, comedy and horror genres in order differentiate and market their stories. Indeed, filmmaking has become so sophisticated some filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers cross a multitude of genres within their works. As so happens I watched three proper genre films at the cinema recently so would like to review them from both a critical and genre perspective. As usual I will give them marks out of eleven.

Film-Genres

THE NUN (2018)

As marketing departments attempt to find new ways to promote their products we have now entered the arena of the film “Universe”. This finds events, characters, places and in this case, demons, all linked within the same historical timeline and world. The Nun is part of The Conjuring “Universe”. The demonic monster Valak first appeared in the James Wan sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016); thus, within the horror genre The Nun is both a prequel and origins film. Set in 1950s Romania is concerns a haunted Catholic nunnery which is under threat from an unholy evil. Taissa Farmiga’s novice Nun and Demian Bechir’s grizzled Father Burke are dispatched to have a look about and of course are thrown into a face-off with something from the pits of hell.

The-Nun-Movie-2018-Poster-Valak

The main genre requirement of a horror film is to create fear and excitement in the audience and while The Conjuring films, directed by the brilliant James Wan did just that, this film is, aside from a couple of moments, not scary enough. It has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation. Having said that, while watching The Nun, I at times felt it was on the cusp of being a surrealist horror classic with much hallucinatory trickery of a “what’s real and what isn’t real” variety. However, by the end I decided that while the director is clearly a talented filmmaker the screenplay did not really serve the horror genre or story well as it was illogical at best and had no defining “rules of the world” substance. Ultimately, though the main draw for studios is that horror films are one of the cheapest genre films to make yet reap rewards from the cinema-paying public. Indeed, The Nun has so far grossed $330 million dollars from a $20 million outlay. Now, that is scary!!

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

THE PREDATOR (2018)

Talking of genre-crossing directors, the writer and director of The Predator (2018), Shane Black has had an interesting career trajectory. He was a supporting actor in the original classic Predator (1987) and would subsequently become a more successful screenwriter and wrote scripts for: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Last Action Hero (1993) and most memorably Lethal Weapon (1987).  Such movies put Black firmly in the Hollywood blockbuster territory so it was no surprise when Marvel employed him to write and direct Iron Man 3 (2013). Arguably his best films though were the buddy-buddy comedy-thrillers Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016) which benefited from great chemistry from their male leads. Coming full circle then to write and direct The Predator (2018), Black has delivered the best elements of his genre work but also the worst. He’s often a writer of excess, with a succession of ideas, gags, set-ups and punchlines which, if allied to a decent story, create a barrage of fine entertainment.

The-Predator-2018-Movie-Poster-Images-and-Wallpapers

From a genre perspective The Predator is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes.  It moves at such an alarming pace you barely have a chance to breathe. In a nutshell Boyd Holbrook’s crack soldier must save his son and the world from both nefarious Government agents and not just one Predator, but another incredibly kick-ass uber-Predator. Chuck in a dirty-half-dozen motley crew of “insane” soldiers, plus an autistic kid (Jacob Tremblay) who may or may not have the power to defeat the Predators, and you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense in places. For example, characters, vehicles and animals pop up in the narrative out of nowhere then disappear, which created a hell of a lot of confusion for me. Still, Black is a great writer of concepts and punchy dialogue so you’re never far away from something cool-looking, something blowing up or a funny gag or three. It’s just a shame the story was so confusing and plot delivered in such an illogical fashion.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)

Once again here is a filmmaker who, while predominantly working from a genre perspective has taken their comedic skills and light touch and infused it within other genres. Indeed, the very talented Paul Feig has marshalled some extremely funny films and TV shows in recent times including: The Office (U.S.), Arrested Development (2004), Nurse Jackie (2009), Bridesmaids (2011) and Spy (2015). His Ghostbusters (2016) update starring Melissa McCarthy was arguably not very successful from both a genre or reboot perspective, however, his latest film A Simple Favour (2018) is much, much better. It stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, as polar-opposite mums, whose paths criss-cross one fateful day when the latter asks the other to look after her son. Blake Lively absolutely nails her role as the stylish, beautiful and brutally honest PR executive. Her spiteful Emily Nelson is a career best performance and when her character vanishes, the effervescent Kendrick’s go-getting, busy-body-single-mom, Stephanie Smothers, decides to hunt for her “friend”.

What follows is more comedic but still suspenseful as the plot twists from one exciting turn to another. As the unlikely detective Kendrick hilariously enlists the help of her “Mums-Net” video-log subscribers in trying to track down Emily. As the story moves forward Emily’s husband (Henry Golding) and Stephanie herself become suspects until the final revelations dig up something totally unexpected. A Simple Favour is the most successful of the genre films I watched. Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well and while I would have preferred the tone to be darker, I accept that Feig is what I call a “day” director; in that all his scenes seem to happen during the day. Thus, in the hands of say, David Fincher, the original novel this is based on would have been a totally different beast. Having said that we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale and that is worth the admission fee alone.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)