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Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Tarantino’s Ironic Nostalgic Twist

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quintin Tarantino’s latest offering…

once upon a time in Hollywood: Opinion

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering. It is a slant on a nostalgic tinseltown that no longer exists, if it ever really did in the way that Tarantino depicts it, and the film’s ironic ending leaves one wondering just what his motives truly were.  Critics have complained that the movie spends too little time on the Manson family and its tragic victims but this is the purpose of the entire film, to give a “Hollywood finish” to reality.

The film, starring Tarantino semi-regulars Leonardo DiCaprio (Django, and Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Death Proof) and Bruce Dern (in a blink and you will miss him cameo as a last minute replacement for the late Burt Reynolds) is a long, somewhat meandering affair. **It should be pointed out that along with Russell, Dern has the most credits listed under Tarantino.**

Margot Robbie is the tragic Sharon Tate and there are a number of familiar faces, some more special that others, who fill out the cast list of this odd offering. Please do not misunderstand, this is a visual treat for the viewer, it offers much in terms of interest and threatens to become a brilliant character study. Although it never really delivers in term of character but it teases in other ways and provides a few laughs along then way.

I was 11 years old when the 1960’s ended, along with the lives of Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood brought the sixties screaming back into glorious discordant life. The sounds of the radio advertisements, the television clips, the colours, the clothes and the cars all threw me right back into a pre-pubescent memory lane. This was both enthralling and somewhat, rather oddly, disturbing.

Tarantino gives us his version of ’60’s Hollywood. He also, by design, gives us the “Hollywood” ending to the entire “Helter Skelter” true story that the film is based around. (Not upon, as his tale is, to paraphrase a line from 1969’s The Wild Bunch of the event, not from it. In other words, it is the frame he hangs his work on.)

Once Upon a Time… focuses on Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth. Tate is in the periphery as a reminder of the impending tragedy. She flashes on the screen in small glimpses that are designed to show her as a sympathetic character, all the more to make the ending hit that little bit harder. This is, however, a ruse. A MacGuffin if you will. A tactic that sets us up instead for the “Hollywood ending.”

Tarantino lets fantasy intrude at the tail end of the movie and here the discussion will stop in order to keep spoilers from appearing in this review. In many ways, the ending is a disappointment until one realizes that the fantasy is what Hollywood studios would have ordered were the real life murders a movie.

Hollywood has long had a fixation with endings that allow the hero to ride off into the sunset with the girl on one arm and a fistful of money clenched in his fist. The bad guy gets his just reward, a bullet or a grave, or both, and everyone lives happily ever after.

There are enough nods are “real” Hollywood to allow this to work. Booth’s besting of Bruce Lee on the backlot is based around Lee’s time on The Green Hornet. He was also training many celebs and newcomers on martial arts for both onscreen and off. Lee trained Tate for her role in the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie The Wrecking Crew. (Coincidentally, this was the last Matt Helm picture made, despite another being touted at the end credits.)

Dalton’s foray into Spaghetti Western territory mirrors, to an extent, Clint Eastwood’s own journey into the Leonesque world of Western Opera. While the connection is tenuous as best, unlike the Bruce Lee vignette, it is there for the film fan to notice and appreciate.

Once Upon a Time looks luscious and real, except for the odd continuity issue, as the hippies all have filthy feet, legs and hair. Dakota Fanning plays stunningly against type as the “momma bear” Squeaky Fromme and Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is all scabby legs, black feet and sexual promiscuity wrapped in a teen drugged up dream. Qualley does such a convincing job as a Manson minion that one can almost smell the scent of eu de rubbish skip that must permeate her entire essence.

The violence in the film is convincing yet, strangely, funny in the way it is presented. All except the scene at the Spahn Ranch, the blood looked as real as the Korean cinema’s blood work, which is head and shoulders above the rest of the industry.

DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton is convincing and his suffering artist makes us feel for him. I will admit to being moved to tears when the child actor – Trudi (played exquisitely by Julia Butters ) leans over and tells a teary eyed Dalton that this is “the best acting I’ve ever seen.” Truth be told, Butters comes damn close to stealing the film from the entire cast. This is one young lady to keep an eye on.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is one to watch. Perhaps not at the cinema, streaming or DVD may just suffice as despite looking brilliant and providing a magnificent nostalgic treat, it left me, at the end of the film, feeling a tad disappointed.  However, it is an excellent example of Tarantino’s skill at hiding a genius move in plain sight. Like Inglourious Basterds he gives us a fictional version of an awful reality, one that equals, to a degree, a happy Hollywood ending. This then, is the ironic twist to Tarantino’s nostalgic Hollywood tale…

Werewolves Within (2021) Mr Rogers Gets Hairy – Review

Werewolves Within (2021) Mr Rogers Meets Werewolves
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor werewolves will stop the mail.

Josh Ruben has taken his horror second vehicle (his first was Scare Me) into the realm of comedy horror. While not quite Shaun of the Dead, it does try very hard to scare and comically entertain. A sort of Mr Rogers Gets Hairy, or heaven forbid, An American Werewolf in Beaverfield, that perhaps tries a little too hard.

The Plot:

Super nice Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) moves to Beaverfield after a small indiscretion at his previous assignment as a Forest Ranger. He meets Cecily Moore (Milana Vayntrub) and a town full of oddly dysfunctional people. A pipeline is being pushed to be rammed through the countryside and the town is sharply divided about the merits of this endeavor.

Added into this mix of weirdness and discontent, is a werewolf. There are a number of murders and Finn must find and catch the killer. He is aided by Cecily and the two struggle to survive the long night as more bodies pile up outside in the snow.

The Characters:

Finn is a man who is so nice, he makes Mr Rogers seem pathological. He also has issues asserting himself and listens to self help tapes that are aimed at making him more “manly.”

Cecily is quirky, cute, and tuned into the town where she delivers mail. She also zeroes in on Finn as a possible partner. She also throws a pretty mean axe.

There are other characters: Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) is the other outside, apart from Finn, and he is pushing for residents to okay the pipeline. Jeanine is the manager of the local hotel. Other characters include two oddball couples and an environmental scientist who is staying at the hotel.

The Twist:

The werewolf is not who you are supposed to think it is.

Thoughts:

The acting by the two leads is spot on. Richardson and Vayntrub work well together and they do have great chemistry. Sadly, the rest of the town’s characters have been painted a bit two dimensional. As pointed out by another critic, when the group are put together, they all seem to be fighting for attention. These scenes try to rise above the cardboard cutout status of Beaverfield’s denizens, but, they become sloppy and reek of impromptu sessions gone awry.

The film looks good visually, although the snow, in some scenes, looks computer generated. There also seems to be an anti-gun message, highlighted by the group disposing of all their weapons. The end result is that the werewolf has to be dispatched sans bullets.

Wrap-up:

Werewolves Within is an adaptation of a Virtual Reality video game. It is not necessary to experience the game in order to enjoy the film. It is entertaining, funny, although not exceptionally so, and moves along at a good clip. It does seem to try that bit too hard to tickle the funny bone and as a result feels contrived in places.

This is an enjoyable movie, overall, and deserves to be seen, if for no other reason, than to see “Lily” in a different light. The woman can act and her performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Making it Through COVID19? To Mask or Not to Mask

As our priest at the Church said at the beginning of this whole COVID19 pandemic, “this is the start of COVIDic times.” He was not wrong. This pandemic has changed lives and taken more. The entire “to mask or not to mask” debate continues to rage on while making it through COVID19 in one piece becomes more difficult. The arrival of the new vaccine may help, but, it will be too late for some.

Many may feel that they are immune to the virus. Having gone from the start of the whole thing till November. It certainly seemed that becoming infected was a long shot. However, waking up on the third day of a four day shift on 2 November. This turned out to not be the case.

A body that felt like a Raggedy Ann doll that had been beaten with an aluminum baseball bat and a temperature. This was not the start to a good day. After having a tasteless breakfast, the temperature was checked again.

It had gone up.

Work verified that a test would need to be done and the long trek to the “office” was undertaken. After being tested for Flu (It was also the start of the influenza season.) and the new virus,  only the COVID19 came back positive. Being sent home and placed on quarantine for 10 days seemed, at the time, a short annoying diversion while this stuff worked its way through the system.

This was not a 10 day stint, however, and the symptoms were bad. Crushed glass in every single joint, muscles that felt smashed and bruised. A temperature that never really eased off. Sleeping 12 to 14 hours every single day until the ever increasing cough made that impossible.

So it was off to the VA ER (Veterans’s Administration Emergency Room) after a phone consultation. They were friendly, helpful and patient. They also shoved that stick up an already irritated nostril and held it there for 10 seconds.

Fists clenching and unclenching to keep from punching the young lady administering the thing, it was excruciating. Feeling like blood was going to come down in freshets out of an outraged nose, it took far too long to get a reading. The result?

Positive.

(As was each subsequent reading taken at the VA ER.)

This was the first of three visits to the ER, all after phone consults. The diagnosis was an outset of Sars pneumonia that would need to be watched. Cough syrup and antibiotics were issued amid a discharge with the staff explaining that this would need to be watched.

It was watched carefully and it did not clear up as hoped. So back to the ER the next Friday. More drugs were given out and another release was signed. Then Thanksgiving and no real response from a phone check until the week after. Once again it was back up to the ER, this time for edema that was so severe shoes could not be worn.

All through the quarantine, getting up out of bed proved to be a battle in and of itself. Walking was a precarious challenge and legs, ankles and feet did not want to cooperate. Feeling and looking like a drunken soul attempting to come home from the pub, it took ages to stagger the short distance to the kitchen and get a small bite to eat. It was then back to bed filled with exhaustion and a brain that refused to do anything other than the bare minimum.

A total lack of energy combined with that cough along with a case of the “trots” that made trips to the toilet as frequent as 10 to 12 times a day, made for a miserable time. Each and every time a trip was made outside the quarantine area, a 10 X 12 bedroom, a mask was worn. Thus far, the only other occupant in the house has not been infected. So it seems that these annoying mask things do work. (For clarification, the bathroom and the kitchen were no further than 10/15 feet from the quarantine room.)

Since being diagnosed on the second day of November 2020, a total of one and a half months has passed. Three trips were taken to the Veteran’s Hospital Emergency Room and only on 11 December did the symptoms begin to ease up. The, seemingly, eternal weakness started to abate just a few days before that.

Before the 11th the total lack of energy and concentration meant that an extremely short person of advanced age and suffering from severe arthritis could have run circles around this COVID19 sufferer.

Easily.

Without breaking a sweat.

The lack of brain cognizance, in itself, would have been alarming, if it had registered. It did not. Driving to the ER put not only the mentally impaired driver at risk but everyone else sharing the road. Thankfully, no one died and the last trip did not feel like driving through a thick metaphorical fog.

Thanking God for keeping this from being a more serious affair, i.e; hospitalization, intubation and/or death, is done daily. There are, however, long term “issues” for those who took longer than the 10 to 21 day quarantine while waiting for the virus to “run its course.”

Media is reporting that patients who have suffered from the virus for a longer time period could have problems. Heart, lung, kidney issues, along with a few others, will, reportedly, erupt long after the virus is gone.  In other words, this virus is a gift that keeps on giving.

Treatment of the virus throughout this entire ordeal was practically non-existent. No COVID19 drugs were given out. A lady friend did supply some capsules similar to the drugs given to the POTUS. Handfuls of vitamins and supplements were taken daily as well and still are.

The hospital did prescribe steroids, along with antibiotics, for the pneumonia. Nothing was given for the virus itself. Granted, this is the VA and they do have a very stringent process for what can and cannot be given to this country’s veterans. So it is not too surprising that while the medical jury was weighing up the benefits of these new experimental drugs, the VA did not hand out any of these “cures.”

As hospitals continue to fill with new cases; body bags, along with food freezers for storage of same, are being ordered to cope with the massive influx of deaths. This information alone has the effect of making it through COVID19 to be a bit of an accomplishment. The ongoing argument of mask wearing may be slowing down. Although there are a few folks who feel that their freedom has been infringed and continue to ignore the new laws.

Not to mention the members of a nation filled with conspiracy theorists who believe firmly that the virus has been blown out of all proportion. There are those who, with teeth clenched and jaw muscles bulging, claim that this is a media influenced hoax. It has all been aimed to help the government take away our freedom.

Time will tell whether this is true or not. However, as one who got the virus and suffered through isolation along with all the lovely symptoms, it certainly seems, and feels, real enough.

Whether anyone in your circle has COVID19 or not, take a moment to thank a first responder and any member of the healthcare community. These overworked and beleaguered heroes have been working this issue since the start of the year. May God Bless them.

 

The Decent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent, written and directed by the brilliant Neil Marshall, was a revelation in 2005. It is begins with a shock to the system, or two, and rapidly turns into an exercise in claustrophobia. Watching it again tonight on DVD, I found it to still be a tight fit. One that manages to leave me feeling a tad panicky and breathless, despite having watched it numerous times over the years.

My daughter and I watched it initially and both of us were blown away by the mood and the many changes that Marshall manages to manufacture in the film. In terms of unique and “outside the box” horror, this talented maestro knocks it out of the metaphorical park. (The original viewing of this horror film was back in approximately 2007.)

(I will admit to being an unabashed fanboy of Marshall. This is, after all, the same man who brought us the wonderfully weird and and delightful Dog Soldiers, as well as my “go-to” sci-fi/thriller fix, Doomsday.)

Back to The Descent:  The ladies are an interesting bunch with Juno; (Natalie Mendoza) the one who seems to be guaranteed to be the “final girl,” Sarah; (Shauna Macdonald) whose mind is a myriad of mixed emotions and Beth; (Alex Reid) the observer who sets a certain chain of events in motion, heading up this ensemble effort. The dynamic between these three and its messy interlude, runs alongside the main plot, after it makes its appearance, and shows the true depth of this movie’s story.

Marshall allows us an “out,” if you will, early on in the film. The MyAnna Buring character talks of the dangers of Spelunking.  She mentions hallucinations, dehydration, and disorientation as just a few of the long list of problems that exploring deep under the earth can cause.  By the film’s end, it is all too easy to contemplate a scenario where Sarah has dreamed the whole thing up.

Juno’s affair with Sarah’s late husband, the blind and cannibalistic cave creatures, and the end battle between Juno and Sarah could all be a construct of a woman who still needs medication after the horrific death of her husband and child. Medication that she forgets to bring into the cave with her. Sarah does, after all, get stuck in that narrow and somewhat heart stopping passage between caves. Is it such a stretch to imagine that the poor woman remained trapped there and had an intense Bardo moment?

It is interesting to note that the entire film leaves one with a tight feeling in the chest, a certain breathlessness and a slight sense of panic. After that first “jump scare” (I still cannot follow a vehicle with a load of copper, or any type of, pipes in the back without an uneasy feeling that borders on paranoia.) to the final shot of Sarah’s apparent demise, the ride is incredibly tortuous and stressful. I am not, as a rule, claustrophobic. But Marshall’s offering, from start to finish, certainly puts me in that place.

Despite being over 15 years old, The Descent still manages to entertain and put the audience in a very uncomfortable place. It is available to watch, for free, on IMDB TV. If you have not had the opportunity to watch this, or for that matter, the other aforementioned Marshall films, I would highly recommend checking it/them out.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? - Review

Blumhouse’s offering in 2020 is the “remake” (re-imagining) of the ’70’s long running hit “Fantasy Island.” While I agree that Michael Peña is no suitable replacement for Ricardo Montalban (and before we go any further, I will confess to being a mad fan of both the former and the latter actors) I don’t get all the hate for this film, as the Stephen Bishop character says in the film The Rundown, “Why all the hostility bro?”

Directed by Jeff Wadlow and written by Jillian JacobsChristopher Roach and the director, “Fantasy Island” has a  motif of horror. To be fair, in watching old reruns of the old show, there were a fair few of those “fantasies” that were a bit close to the bone. And…some were downright scary. Just getting that out of the way.

Starring the brilliant Maggie Q, capable but spot on Lucy Hale, cold but creative Portia Doubleday, and the stunning Parisa Fitz-Henley, as well as two brilliant cameos by the versatile Michael Rooker and fiendish Kim Coates (Along with a bevy of other actors this reviewer has never heard of.) the film works well. It has the look and ambiance of the original television show while lacking the eternal elegance of Montalban’s take on Roarke.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)
Welcome to Fantasy Island!

Another significant change is the house. (I’ve seen the original one from the series. It is located in the Los Angeles Arboretum and looks exactly like it did in the television show. At least it did in 1977.) The new one is, apparently, mostly CG and consists of one “real” floor. While it is something to see, it lacks the style of the original, located in Arcadia, California.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)

The film starts with a blonde (Doubleday, best known for Mr Robot.) being stalked by a group of masked men.  We then meet the guests, all five of them; although two are sharing the same fantasy. The film also trots out Roarke’s “assistant” and we move into the long disjointed segue into the multiple storyline.

Modern touches such as  the addition of mobile phones and the internet, do not detract as much as the lack of elegance from this new imagining of Roarke. To be fair, there could not have been many actors who were capable of filling Montalban’s shoes. (An actor who could not only be so otherworldly, kindly and sophisticated as Roarke but could also chew up scenery like no one else as Khan in Star Trek’s Wrath of Khan.)

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)

There are things that work. For example, using stars of television in the main parts, Hale; Pretty Little Liars, Doubleday: Mr Robot, Rooker, The Waking Dead, for example. It adds to the feeling that this could, in an alternative universe be part of the original show. Even the main plot, for all its holes, is simplistic enough to feel like a first cousin to the long running series.

To be fair, the worst thing about the entire movie is its similarity, in terms of underlying plot, to the animated feature Fantastic Island. For those who have never seen Daffy Duck’s film, the power of the island is all down to a wishing well. Not too far from the power of the Blumhouse feature and its island.

We are missing Tattoo, and his tiny cry of “Boss! The Plane! The Plane!” But for all the above complaints, there is a satisfying twist and each “fantasy” ends in a Gene Levitt fashion.Not too complicated but a tad darker than the television show.

This is not deep nor overly impressive. It is, however, an entertaining way to spend an hour and forty minutes. I would give this a 3.5 stars out of 5, if only because the choice of Peña was such a poor one. He is a very talented actor, but he is not Mr. Roarke.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)Well worth the rental price of six bucks and the price of a microwave popcorn and coke.

Covid Movie News: Would You Like to Make That Mask a Large?

Covid Movie News: Would You Like to Make that Mask a Large?

 

The Corona Virus has changed the face of the world as we know it. The virus has put a mask on it. AMC with its latest press release has stated that now its patrons must wear a mask. In light of the recent Covid case increase with lockdown being relaxed, it makes sense. They have even stated that masks will be provided. One can assume that we will given one at the concession stand, if the ticket booth misses the opportunity. Will we then be asked if we would like to make it a large one for a small fee?

The introduction of this latest in Covid fashion will, undoubtedly, change our viewing habits as well. What with social distancing being a factor and the vast majority of the world on quarantine for over two months,  the average film goer may have problems enjoying the “new” movie experience.  How on earth will we shovel greasy covered popcorn or jalapeño infused nachos into our hungry mouths?

These oxygen deprivation devices will also, presumably, change how audiences react to the films as well. Granted, these “chokers” will only be on for the duration of the movie theatre experience, but, as anyone who has worn these torture contraptions knows, breathing is an issue. Not to mention, laughing, talking and seeing (as in misty glasses) all these things are impaired considerably.

On the up side, the annoying habit of other cinema patrons talking non-stop throughout the feature will be cut down. Or… It will be considerably louder with the added attraction of being indiscernible mumbling that will infuriate the unwilling listener just as much.

Kudos to AMC for trying to ride the fence and not getting impaled with splinters after their initial “We don’t want to annoy anyone” statement of “Masks will not be required.” The public outcry, which is amazing since at least half the populace are refusing to wear the annoying  things,  against the chains’ mediocre stance caused AMC to hastily jump off said fence tout suite.

Another thing to consider here is the future of film. Not just Hollywood but my beloved Indies as well, are also going to change. Mayhap, this will be short term, something that we can show our grandkids and say, “See in the early 2020’s we all wore masks.” But for all productions being filmed this year, masks will have to be on for all “present day” features.

*Also televison: So when “The Rookie” (ABC cop-show with Nathan Fillion) returns after it’s mid-season/Corona Virus  break, will the entire cast wear masks? With half their faces being hidden from view will we be treated to “acting with eyes?” Norma Desmond would have had a heart attack. “We had faces then!” We won’t even go into video games and the ominous feels this will evoke, “The Last of Us” anyone?*

Covid Movie News: Would Like to Make That Mask a Large?

2020 has been a sea of change, most of it not good at all, and parts of it have been downright terrifying:  Corona Virus, world-wide race demonstrations, hate for the Blue Line regardless of facts, a president who appears to be falling to pieces and a government tearing itself apart. All these elements combined with the Holy Catholic Church, for a time, cancelling public Mass for the first time ever in history have set most folks on the road to fear and unease.

In a world full of “fake news” and misinformation, 2020 feels like a badly written science fiction piece about global control and fear mongering. The Corona Virus, also known as “the Rona,” may yet turn out to be a proverbial mountain made out of a molehill. Until that time, it will be “masks on” and full steam ahead as the world struggles through this change in our times.

I don’t know about anyone else, but this writer will continue to place his faith in Our Lord and Redeemer and attend Mass either publicly or virtually. Movies, either streamed or publicly aired, will also be watched and enjoyed, with or without mask. Hats off to AMC for actually opening up their dream houses and trying to entertain the consumer again. Only history will tell if this was a good idea or not and we may not be around to find out. Be safe and remember to love your neighbour.

Oh and I’ll keep a regular mask please, the large would be too much.

Michael Knox Smith

19 June 2020