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…

Captain Marvel – An Old White Critic’s View

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is well placed in the verse to help build up the ever increasing frenzy of anticipation for “Endgame” and if one old white film critic may be so bold, it is a fine addition to the ever increasing list of Mar-vell films on offer for fans of the comic universe to view. (And yes, this is one hell of a long sentence …) Starring Brie Larson as the title character/Carol Danvers with computer ‘air-brushed’ versions of Samuel L Jackson and Clark Gregg and a pretty decent cameo by Annette Bening, the film; a jointly directed effort by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is a bit of enjoyable, female empowering, fun.

Jude Law, complete with yellow coloured eyes, does a brilliant turn as fellow Kree warrior Yon-Rogg and it is difficult not to fall in love with Brit actress Lashana Lynch character Maria Rambeau. This final piece of the ‘Endgame’ puzzle fits in nicely with everything leading up to the final battle of The Avengers v. Thanos and gives us a feel good factor of 100.

One does not have to be a Captain Marvel fan to appreciate this new and improved version of the superhero and if the viewer was not a Brie Larson fan going into this installment, it is almost guaranteed that they will be by the time the end credits, and the final teaser trailer roll.

One melancholic note was the opening montage of Stan Lee Marvel cameos that reminded us of the heart of Marvel’s passing. Later in the film, Stan is reading the Mallrats script – circa 1995 – a fact pointed out in other reviews, and it is a bittersweet moment indeed.

The plot is a tad convoluted, it has to be though as it is a necessary addition to the verse (film-wise) thus far and it ties everything in very nicely to the overall story-arc. But as a standalone film, Captain Marvel overachieves in terms of powerful female role models. Everyone of the feminine gender is strong and self actualized, even the baddy – Gemma Chan as the Kree warrior who ‘has never liked’ Marvel, aka Vers…

Marvel looks stunning, the film, not the character – although Larson is beyond impressive as the title character. The set pieces and the scenery, which is most likely CG but looks brilliant in spite of its computer origins, are gorgeous and the characters all step out smartly to add a lot to the existing story.

(It has to be pointed that “Endgame” intrudes through the entire film, one cannot help but overthink the entire installment and wonder just how, or when, the timeline will marry up with the whole Thanos storyline. It takes the time-travel theory and stands it on its head but also makes one wonder if this is even a factor when the cinema airs the latest installment of the Spiderman franchise trailer after he “dies’ in “Infinity War.”)

At two hours and three minutes the film does drag a bit at the start, but, and this is a big but, it is necessary to set up the main character’s personality and to show what a prig Jude Law’s character is. (Without revealing too much about the plot, it is sufficient to say that Yon-Rogg is an insufferable arse…)

Captain Marvel takes a lot of nods and winks, not least of which is Nick Fury’s “Marvel” line, and one can literally see a load of homages in the film. Groot-like death dealing by the cat is only one of the nods given to other films in the verse. It is all good fun and while there are some extemporaneous and downright slow bits in the film, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a full five star addition to the Marvel-verse and one that must be seen prior to the final installment of Infinity Wars – aka Endgame. Check it out before April 26 and the big battle between our Marvel heroes and Thanos…

The Equalizer 2 (2018): Languid Denzel Washington Sequel (Review)

The Equalizer 2 (2018): Languid Denzel Washington Sequel (Review)

It is fair to say that I was a bit underwhelmed at the first outing of Denzel Washington as Robert McCall. The Equalizer 2, while moving at a frustratingly languid rate, does perform a tad better. The stormy ending of this sequel, directed again by Antoine Fuqua,  manages to make up for much of what is lacking in pace and storyline.

Once again, McCall deals mostly with “foreigners” versus the more homegrown baddies of the television series. The Russians have taken a backseat this go around with a trip to Brussels and a very short outing to Turkey. McCall helps out another unfortunate; Miles – played by Ashton Sanders and exacts revenge for the murder of an old friend (Melissa Leo).

However, without giving too much away plot wise, the bad guys he goes after this time around are a mixture of nationalities and at least one, is another old pal. An member of McCall’s old governmental group is murdered in Brussels and when Susan (Leo) and Dave York (Pedro Pascal) go to investigate, Susan is exterminated with extreme prejudice.

This sequel gives Washington another chance to deepen the character of McCall. We see his personal side, this time as a valued neighbor and helpful Lyft driver. (His character no longer works at the DIY store) Although he does little to help Fatima (Sakina Jaffrey whom we see far too little of) when her garden is destroyed, opting to clean up her graffitied mural instead.

Jonathan Scarfe is splendid as the nasty bit of work who murders for hire, Bill Pullman is not used enough and Pascal steps out smartly in his role. Sadly, no one has a chance to shine too brightly as the plot, despite trotting out an impressive amount of backstory, moves at a snail’s pace.  

Washington makes McCall just as believable this time around as he did in the first outing. The double Oscar winner never disappoints, bringing an impressive amount of gravitas and truth to whatever role he plays. (Take for example, his gunfighter in the abysmal Magnificent Seven remake. Washington was the one shining light in a classic western destroyed by a modern script and poor understanding of the genre.)

All in all, The Equalizer 2 does deliver in the entertainment department. The action pieces are very good – the battle between Susan and in the Belgium hotel room is impressive and it looks painful and believable. As usual, Washington, as McCall, comes across as the ultimate “bad ass.” While this ability shone through in The Book of Eli, he makes each move and countermove look impressively easy.

(Kudos to Stunt Coordinators Jeffrey J. Dashnaw and Mick Gould who make everyone’s fight scenes look gritty, painful and pretty darned realistic.)

The cinematography is spot on and the effects, especially at the end of the film, are brilliant. The Equalizer 2 is languid, as sequels go, but Denzel Washington and his fellow actors deliver across the board.

The film earns 4 stars because, despite the slow pacing, it does deliver. It has several redeeming features, like those brilliantly staged fight scenes, and is well worth watching at the cinema.