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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

SCREENWASH: FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP including: CHRISTINE (2016), I, TONYA (2017), LADYBIRD (2017) etc.

FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP – MARCH 2018

Rather coincidentally I have watched a number of films recently with female lead protagonists and hopefully this harks a more progressive move toward equality in leading roles. As a humanist myself I applaud any movement which proclaims and pursues empowerment and equality to every human being. For far too long people have been oppressed, including women, and we must rid the world of prejudice and negativity based on gender, race, sexuality, health, shoe size, hair colour and looks in general.

Thus, in mild tribute to yesterday’s International Women’s Day I am reviewing some very different films where female characters are to the fore. In these reviews I will consider the characters and their strengths and place in their given setting and world; as well as my own subjective appreciation of the films. As usual the marks are out of eleven.

AMERICAN HONEY (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Andrea Arnold is an incredibly talented filmmaker and her films Red Road (2006) and Fishtank (2009) were bleak, honest and brilliant representations of working class British life. In American Honey she tackles the on-the-road-under-belly-working-class representations of American life with mixed results. Sasha Lane portrays Star, a young, transient and energetic character attempting to find hope, love and money on the oily, grimy roads of the USA. She joins a rag-tag troupe of magazine sellers led by Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, who drink, smoke pot and fuck while crossing various States! Star’s character is naïve and feisty, and as she falls for LeBeouf’s charismatic Jake, she finds her life choices coming into question. Overall, this is a beautifully shot and directed film and Arnold gets some very interesting performances from an amateur supporting cast, but the film is TOO LONG and many of the characters are just too unlikeable and stoned to care about. With editing Star’s journey could have been even more fascinating but despite some enthralling scenes I struggled to connect. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

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CHRISTINE (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Christine Chubbuck was a Sarasota TV news journalist who became infamous for an incredibly sad act she carried out live on TV. I won’t reveal what is was for fear of spoilers BUT safe to say it was not pretty. Rebecca Hall portrays this complex character with an artistic and haunted beauty; with Christine’s character totally infected by stark depression. She just does not fit in as she seeks artistic more human stories at work and clashes with her ratings-seeking boss, portrayed sympathetically by Tracy Letts. Michael C. Hall as the handsome news ‘anchor’ also tries to connect with Christine but her mood swings, paranoia and punishing work schedule pushes her away from those around her. Family, friends, and colleagues all rally round but ultimately Christine’s depression defeats her. Rebecca Hall is brilliant as Christine and this is a very absorbing, character study which sticks in the heart and mind. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) – SKY CINEMA

The ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson once again takes on an impressive kick-ass futuristic female role which finds her “ghost” inserted in to a computer-powered “shell”. Despite incredible visuals and fight scenes and Scarlett again proving a dominant screen presence the film is a let-down from a narrative and script perspective. There is a decent story in there as Johansson’s Major uncovers a nefarious murder plot being carried by evil corporations (is there any other kind?); but while looking pretty and carrying some impressive special effects this is an underwhelming adaptation of the original Japanese anime cult classic. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

I, TONYA (2017) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE CINEMA

Tonya Harding was an incredibly talented and driven ice skater who went on to represent the USA at the Worlds and Olympics.  She was also the first American female skater to perform two triple axel jumps in the same set. However, she also surrounded herself with and married fucking idiot men who ruined, along with her poor decisions, her career. As portrayed by Margot Robbie, Tonya is a potty-mouthed, bitter, energetic, unlikeable person yet effervescent and funny. Off the ice she continually chooses to go back to her abusive husband Jeff Gilhooly (impressive Sebastian Stan); while on the ice she skates with passion, determination, and brilliance. Steven Rogers script and Craig Gillespie’s direction present the story in mockumentary form with some comedy sketch-style cutaways which on occasion take away from the emotional core. Alison Janney is formidable as Harding’s hard-faced, pushy mother. However, it is her aggression and abuse which, while creating an incredible sportsperson in Tonya, also crushes all the love from the mother-daughter relationship. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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LADY BIRD (2017) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE CINEMA

Greta Gerwig’s very personal rites of passage character study is a breezy, touching, emotional and funny hop through the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, as she navigates from High School to College. Lady Bird is a complex representation of young womanhood as her character is irrational, bitchy, kind, irritating, neurotic and somehow kind of loveable. Saoirse Ronan, Tracy Letts, and Laurie Metcalfe excel in a great ensemble cast and Gerwig’s script begins like a train with a flurry of very quick and funny scenes involving Lady Bird, her family, school friends and objects of desire. Later, notably with Lady Bird’s strained relationship with her mother, the film tugs at the heart strings to enthralling effect. Lady Bird has received a lot of critical acclaim and deserves much praise as Gerwig shows she is going to be a directorial talent to watch out for.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016) – NETFLIX

Another ambiguous, cerebral arthouse film from filmmaker Olivier Assayas containing both thriller and ghostly elements. The haunted Kristen Stewart plays a grief-stricken individual who is both a psychic and personal shopper. Stewart’s character Maureen is a lost soul working a job she hates searching for closure.  While attempting to connect psychically with her deceased brother she is also stalked by an unknown person or “force”. As a character study the film works very well but I would have preferred the ghostly element of the story to play out emotionally as the other story did not successfully merge for me. I guess it’s open to interpretation but it felt like the filmmaker was telling two stories which did not hold together successfully. Stewart though imbues Margaret with a cold, distanced but powerful empathy and her fear and paranoia drives the story, notably in a couple of very creepy scenes. (Mark: 7 out of 11)