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Review Catch-Up: Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Once upon a time in Hollywood” is a film about several topics blended together. Yes, it’s a film about Hollywood experiencing a tumultuous evolution in its creative output at the end of the 1960’s, but it is also a film about ageing and the perspective that comes with the passage of time. It’s also about a few dastardly dirty hippies and a multitude of references to decades-old film and television shows and the actors that appeared in them. At times “Once upon a time in Hollywood” can feel like a departure from Tarantino’s earlier work in that this period-piece rumination about Hollywood at the end of an era takes a slower, almost meditative pace at times, but ask anyone who’s seen it and they can tell you that it’s definitively still a Tarantino picture.

This one centers around film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, and part time chauffeur, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick and Cliff are a fascinating duo, as Rick often plays machismo fueled leading men in westerns and war films, yet he’s obsessed with how others perceive his acting to the point of vanity. He can be soft and vulnerable when alone, depressed and weeping over a bungling of lines on a western TV show. While Cliff on the other hand seems to exude all of the qualities that Rick’s characters represent; calmness, masculinity, and violence when the need arises. Tarantino’s ninth film is happy to let you simmer pleasantly with its two lead characters for long stretches of time. It’s content to follow Cliff as he drives Rick in his creamy yellow 1966 Cadillac Coupe de Ville to his home in the Hollywood hills only then to switch to his blue, beaten-up, 1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and traverse a sea of neon lights out to a small trailer behind a drive-in movie theater. These two characters, clearly, live and breathe different air- yet seem inseparable as partners in the world of cinema.

Eventually, the film’s story opens up a bit and some questionable characters take our attention. We get a glimpse of Charlie Manson (Damon Herriman) himself, but it is fleeting. We also see Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) a few times, but his sightings are almost as rare. However we do get a lot more footage of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as she goes about her daily life. We watch her casually going to the theater to see one of her own movies, dancing to records at home, and generally being a good-hearted person. While the film takes fairly massive liberties with how the actual real-life events of the Manson family murders took place, there are a lot of accurate details filling out the world Tarantino has crafted. For example, it isn’t just Tarantino’s oft-reported obsession with women’s feet, apparently Sharon Tate was frequently barefoot and would occasionally put rubber-bands around her ankles to make it look like she was wearing sandals so she could get into restaurants. So while shots of bare feet may not be everyone’s thing, it is accurate in this case (source linked below). Tarantino simply inserted his two leads next door to the scene of the infamous crime. In “Hollywood”, Rick Dalton is the next door neighbor to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, to which Rick plans to turn a chance meeting with the famed director into an opportunity for the, self described, washed-up actor. Beyond the residents of the Hollywood hills, this film is filled to the gills with celebrity cameos, sometimes as an influential movie mogul as with Al Pacino, other times purely as minimal side characters like Kurt Russell’s ‘Randy’ or Timothy Olyphant’s character actor side-by-side Rick Dalton’s guest appearance on the pilot episode of western show ‘Lancer‘. The dialogue here is, as always with Tarantino, very good. However it isn’t quite as punchy as say “The Hateful Eight” or “Inglorious Basterds”, but that shouldn’t turn you toward the door, it’s just a different spice added to Tarantino’s oeuvre.

By now you probably know whether or not Quentin Tarantino’s style of filmmaking is for you, but even if you don’t appreciate the filmmaker- you have to admit that his skill in the medium is ageing like a fine wine. Tarantino has been saying that he’ll put down a ten film legacy and be done with making movies, but this film itself is a great argument against that. If he doesn’t want to make more than ten films, then he has earned that and his place in Hollywood’s history, but I highly doubt someone as in love with the art of filmmaking and movies in general will ever give it up. Here’s hoping for at least a few more films from the legendary director!

Final Score: 1 Flamethrower

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/manson-murders-once-upon-time-hollywood-tarantino-ending-868192/

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Review: The Hateful Eight, or ‘Everything you Love and Hate about Quentin Tarantino’

After troubled beginnings and much fanfare Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, the aptly titled ‘The Hateful Eight’, has come to silver screens everywhere. Returning to the western genre once more Tarantino delivers us a truly unique flick as the renegade director gleefully indulges us in his celluloid fantasies. This does not, however, deem it a masterpiece, for it is not one. This film is many, many, other things though, and it deserves accolades for its acomplishments, but it’s also not an effort that lives up to the infamous director’s previous offerings.

‘The Hateful Eight’ follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is a bounty hunter trekking through Wyoming with the prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a blizzard. Along the way, they reluctantly pick up stragglers, respected rival bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), both notably connected to the Civil War on opposing sides.

On their way to Red Rock, where Domergue is set to hang and Mannix is supposed to become the new sheriff, the four seek shelter at the mountaintop stagecoach stopover Minnie’s Haberdashery. There they find that Minnie has left the business in the hands of  Bob (Demian Bichir) the Mexican stable hand so that she may visit friends on the other side of the mountain. Once inside we’re introduced to the remaining three of the Eight through The Hangman’s John Wayne inspired inspection of each. Who is trustworthy? Who is not? We are left with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a polite Englishman who also claims to be on his way to Red Rock, but as the new hangman of the town. The quiet and seemingly affable Joe Cage (Michael Madsen), is a cattleman/biographer headed to visit his mother. Finally we meet General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate leader who shared a Civil War Battlefield with Warren, an infamous and vicious Union soldier who once had a Confederate price on his head.

Let’s break it down shall we?

The Good

If you’re a film nerd you’ll find a lot to love in Tarantino’s newest entry. From how it was filmed on an Ultra Panavision 70, a 70mm panoramic format 15% wider than the conventional 35mm standard Panavision format, to the opening overture which just so happens to be a new piece by Ennio Morricone no less, Tarantino flaunts his love of old-school filmmaking here. He utilizes depth and a sense space incredibly well. His style continues to evolve in subtle ways over the years and you can see how his grand love of the old ways influences his creative choices. You might be wondering why the filmmaker chose to use the widest angle possible on a film that is confined to one location for the majority of the runtime, but he deftly moves through the given space of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the one room cabin that acts as a watering hole and waypoint on the side of a mountain in Wyoming. Strangely in this film Tarantino both matures in his filmmaking techniques, and also reverts to his more, indulgent, adolescence stained ways when concerning plot structure and story. Not to say that this film isn’t substantive, it’s a feat itself that the film nears the three hour mark and the pace is never sacrificed ultimately, for it rests on the laurels of engaging writing and committed performances.

Speaking of, the performances here are the entire reason this film works at all. If it were a less credible cast with none of the wit and vile that these hateful participants require, it would be a mess of a movie. Credit goes to the actors here for captivating us as thoroughly as they do, even while portraying themselves as indeed, hateful people, and are yet degrees of likeability higher than what one would expect given their actions and demeanors. Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson steal the show as rival bounty hunters in the post Civil War era, but Walton Goggins, who plays a confederate sympathizer and supposed new Sheriff of Red Rock, was a surprising standout among the talent involved. Not all of the Eight get as much screen time as others, but they all add to the bigger picture.Bruce Dern’s role in particular as a curmudgeonly confederate general after the war shines as the setting’s best embellishment. He rarely moves from the point at which we meet him, and he isn’t the main attraction by far, but he serves his purpose for the story quite well. Jennifer Jason Leigh also deserves praise for her range in villainy, from her dead eyed stares to her defiant cackling after getting elbowed in the face by Kurt Russell’s Ruth she proves to be just as captivating as the rest, if not more.

 

The Bad

This entry in QT’s legacy is a fine addition overall, but it’s runtime leaves something to be desired. At roughly three hours long the film’s length can be seriously felt when nearing the end of the flick. Needless to say, I’m no Oscar winning writer or director here, but it feels as though the film really didn’t need to be quite this long. A half hour could be cut and the story would still work.

The Ugly

This film nudges too far into excess for my palette, in terms of intention and how it plays out in the story and what that means for the tale we’re being told. Particularly one scene with Samuel L Jackson’s flashback killing of an offscreen character in a brutal and pervasive manner that divulges Tarantino’s weirdest indulgences as a storyteller.

It’s not that the ultra violent sequences are shocking because of what’s shown (and it is gruesome) but rather it is because it heavily distracts from the established tension and character building that took up the last hour of screentime, only to be thrown to the way side so quickly. I was rather invested in the first half of the film, but the second half, in my mind, undermines the entirety of the first half of the story. Who poisoned the coffee again? I sincerely cannot remember. I rather liked the mysterious banter and wit among the curious nature of the motivations of these people, are they friend or foe? I suppose the film almost demands a second viewing to better understand the picture as a whole, but for the first time in a long time, I’m not incredibly excited to see this Tarantino film again. I will. I just know I can wait until the title hits Netflix or video release.

Final Score: 3/5

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Movie Pitch: Tarantino’s revival of Pauly Shore

Who better than Quentin Tarantino to bring actors back from the dead? None. Which is why my pitch this time is a challenging one. How do you bring back “The Weasel” Pauly Shore to the silver screen without inducing the longest and loudest groan from moviegoers since Phantom Menace? Not an easy task. Pauly Shore himself has said he would like to return to acting, maybe even a redemption tale. Not a bad place to start.

Since Tarantino seems to be in a western phase right now, and as someone who loves westerns I’m loving it, so why not continue that trend? When’s the last time you saw a train robbery on the big screen, and done well? Lets all collectively forget about ‘The Lone Ranger’ and that it ever existed though. My point being, Tarantino loves doing homages to classic cinema, so I’m sure there’s part of him that desperately wants to shoot an old west train robbery/chase sequence. Lets have the story center on a wanderer, Shore, and a group of notorious theives in say, 1880. This gets us past the civil war and gives us more latitude for widespread use of trains by this time. Shore can play up aspects of his well know character, trying way too hard to be comedic, a klutz, someone that wanders into danger with no clue how to overcome it, and maybe he accidentally causes massive havoc in the same town where a train with a huge score is moving through and thereby makes it all that much easier for our gang of thieves and bandits to get away with their caper.

From then on out Shore’s character is determined to right his wrongs and track down the gang. He searches for a tracker, say Christophe Waltz or some other equal caliber actor to weigh out Shore’s persona, and together they hunt them down following a string of robberies. Obviously Tarantino could carve out a more clever throughline than that, but in his films you never need to sacrifice character moments, or good acting, for spectacle. You could have several larger sequences in the film, but they would only be the frosting on this old west heist.. cake. I’d love to see the tables turned and have Shore infiltrate the gang and turn them against one another, or sabotage them into authority’s captivity. There are many ways this story could twist and turn. Shore’s character work would also need heavy work, but this wouldn’t be the first time Tarantino changed an actor’s life or reception, and Pauly Shore is a grown man now, its time to purge him in a trial by fire, in the end he might come out on top. It could be worth the effort.

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Top Five Directors That Marvel Studios Needs

Now that Marvel Studios’ resident miracle maker Kevin Feige doesn’t have to answer to a creative committee for major upcoming decisions regarding the properties at hand he has the option to court talent and crew like never before. Ike Perlmutter, the reportedly penny pinching CEO has been moved on to the Marvel Television department and Mr. Feige, along with Louis D’Esposito and Victoria Alonso, now answer only to Alan Horn, head of Disney Studios. This is excellent news for the throngs of Marvel Studios fans old and new as it allows the studio to freely fund their creative projects the way they want. This means previously considered “Untouchable” actors and filmmakers are now conceivably on the table. Below I’ve listed the five directors that I believe would most improve the Marvel comics properties and help bring not only their inherent audiences with them, but also new and refreshing perspectives to the anthology of films which is something that is beginning to become more needed as time goes on. Similarly to how Marvel fixed it’s third act issues with Captain America’s first flick I believe this new era of possibilities will only strengthen the stories and execution that come with the territory. Here are my thoughts on who should join the roster.

1 JJ Abrams

While JJ is currently off in a galaxy far far away he will need to make more films after his deep space sandbox days are over. It helps that he’s only committed himself to episode 7 so that he may return to original works, or other creative properties that he would like to immerse himself in. He’s seemingly become a master at jumping into established franchises and making magic out of them, ie Star Trek, Mission Impossible, & (hopefully) Star Wars. So I wouldn’t put it as too far a stretch of the imagination for him to take on a Marvel Comics property. I think, and this one might be a stretch, but hear me out, that Abrams would be an excellent choice for “Thor: Ragnarok”. Abrams has proven that he can be comfortable in the cosmic side of things while this project would offer that up in a fresh and exciting way. Personally I’ve quite enjoyed the “Thor” movies but there could easily be an argument made that out of all the main Avengers (save Hulk) that the Norse God’s trilogy has been the weakest overall. The series needs a shot in the arm for its biggest story yet and Ragnarok is HUGE, it will need a crew and director suited for the trials and tribulations that this story demands. JJ Abrams would be the best creative solution to Thor’s issues in my mind.

2 Christopher Nolan

The man that brought Batman back to life is no stranger to mind bending genre fair and he very well might be the dressing that the “Inhumans” movie will need. With his revered use of practical effects mixed with comprehensive CGI and the ability to pull real character depth out of traditionally ill fated on screen conceptions of villains a la Two Face then I see nothing but potential for this pairing. Nolan might be busy with a trilogy of “Akira” movies for Warner Brothers but if he ever wants to try the other side of the Superhero fence I firmly believe it should be with the fantastical Inhumans.

3 Kathryn Bigelow

There are multiple reasons Kathryn Bigelow would be a fine choice for a number of caped genre fair flicks but there’s really only one character in mind that I think would go hand in hand with her style and substance choices. Captain Marvel. The character is going to be a powerhouse of a force in the MCU and she needs to be handled with care,  remember, she’s the only leading lady in Marvel’s care as of right now. Bigelow’s style and direction would only benefit the subject matter but also the character of Carol Danvers as a person, the director has proven she can take great care in fostering strong female characters. And we can’t forget to mention that Ms Danvers herself comes from a military background, another checked box in Bigelow’s filmography. Bigelow is the obvious choice.

4 Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle is very good at taking a unique perspective and flexing it over odd creative choices. Case in point, “Trainspotting”, “Trance”, and “28 Days Later”, well, 28 days isn’t as weird as it was a new take on the age old Zombie flick that surpassed expectations. This entry is more of a theoretical choice when it comes to the specific film I think he would be best at, but if the MCU heads ever decide to make a “Moonknight” movie, they should remember Danny Boyle. Moonknight is such an unrecognized and underused title when compared to the big four (Avengers) he would be an excellent palette cleanser from what what came before. Marc Spector, the Moon Knight, is a vigilante that brutally delivers justice while receiving instruction on high from the Egyptian god Khonshu.. and he has multiple personalities… and Schizophrenia. So is he really hearing declarations from the God? That’s just part of the fun. There’s no doubt in my mind that Danny Boyle would have an absolute blast making this weird character come alive onscreen, and he should!

5 Steven Spielberg

Even with his recent comments about the Superhero genre eventually going the way of the western, who wouldn’t want the king of movie magic laying his fingerprints over one of the comic giant’s properties? I can think of no better option than Spiderman himself. Arguably the most well known Superhero the world over, Spiderman would the quintessential choice for this legend of filmmaking. Think about it, make Tom Hanks Uncle Ben, allowing for a brief cameo so as not to use up too much of his time and voila! Perfection. Can you think of a better pairing between director and character than this? The character with the most heart getting the director with the most human touch and magical whimsy ever to be involved together? Shoot me now because this is the end all be all of theoretical-but-totally-not-gonna-happen ideas. I can dream though..

Honorable Mentions

Quentin Tarantino

I wish I could say I’d feel comfortable with meshing Tarantino into the Marvel universe but other than the Punisher I see no real possibility for this one. I’m sure he’s do a fantastic revenge thriller for the character, but would the director even want to get involved?

Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

If we can’t get Spielberg then Lord and Miller would be excellent choices for the Spiderman character, maybe for one of his sequels? Their brand of humor and general favorability would mesh wonderfully with the quips and heart surrounding Spidey, which makes all the sense in the world as they are already working on some sort of animated Spiderman film, so I’m clearly not alone in this assumption.

So there you have it, those are the directors that I feel would be the best options for Marvel Studios to pursue in the coming years now that money isn’t as much of an obstacle as it had been. Hopefully we’ll see one of these visionaries take on a Marvel property, I’d love to see what they do with the boundless options this MCU sandbox has afforded us!