Question: Is the diversity issue in Hollywood making movies look the same and compromising creative freedom?

 

 

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This article is spoiler-free for the films that are discussed. Diversity in movies is important and groundbreaking but I don’t like when it’s calculated and politically motivated. Because not every new movie is supposed to be inclusive and include minorities, and creativity is compromised by pandering to a set of standards. The 1970s is often regarded as one of the greatest decades for American cinema and the freedom those filmmakers were given led to amazing work that still holds up today. Of course, there will be those who argue I’m looking at the past uncritically as the 70s also had political movements such as feminists which influenced how films were made and received. Just look at The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) where Bond teams up with a female Russian agent. The character of Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach above) not only addresses the misogyny in the series, the presence of the character also challenges the anti-Soviet tendencies in the Bond universe. Up to a point at least, as many feel the depiction of Amasova is dated by today’s feminist standards. 

 

 

 

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I understand the Tarantino backlash and he could have given Margot Robbie a few more lines in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), and treated Uma Thurman better on the set of Kill Bill, but it’s ultimately his choice how to write his characters, do we really want Tarantino to change the script to please diversity requirements? That’s not progressive that’s restrictive. I’ve nothing against other races or female driven stories, yet when writer/director Rian Johnson decided to have 10% Asian, 10% black, 50 % females, or whatever the percentages actually are, represented in The Last Jedi (2017), it feels forced and disingenuous, the inclusiveness a distraction to the story. The black storm trooper idea I was fine with albeit I don’t want to watch movies where every race, gender, or miniority has to have a “moment to shine”. This was even more noticeable in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Worried that the studio might offend someone is not what storytelling is about. Storytelling is about taking chances, interesting characters, and letting the story evolve naturally. You can say something new with a diverse cast, yet doesn’t the story lose a sense of edginess and individuality if you have to please others? I don’t want Star Wars to be a diversity ad. I want Star Wars to be Star Wars.

 

 

 

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On one hand, diversity in casting is progress and homosexuality in It Chapter 2 (2019) I agree with Stephen King is a good idea as was already implied in his novel. On the other hand, when the choice of cast is financially motivated to attract worldwide audiences, that’s abusing the progress. Because not every story needs racially diverse, politically correct casts.
You can make movies with a white cast without being a racist. Sometimes a story would be historically inaccurate if you diversified, such as WW2 war film Dunkirk (2017) which came under fire.
Diversity for the sake of diversity doesn’t work. Story comes first. If blockbusters and Oscar contenders have to follow these guidelines then movies all start looking alike. Diversity is not the same as originality as this funny YouTube video shows

 

 

 

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Representation matters, but to me only when it’s right for the story. Great films don’t follow the rules. If social justice warriors police our filmmakers and yell at them every time they do something daring or non-PC, then Hollywood is heading towards dystopian censorship.

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

 

My album of the year just turned into a two-horse race, thanks to Lana Del Rey

 

This post consists of reviews for my two favorite 2019 albums so far, plus an autumn preview of upcoming albums.

 

 

 

 

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Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey (2019)
Her new album is arguably the singer’s best since 2014’s Ultraviolence. Hardly any filler despite a 67 minute running time. Judging from the profanity in the album title you might think she is out to shock but don’t let that fool you as her lyrics have improved and Lana seems more mature as a songwriter. Lots of piano and beautiful instrumental details. There were signs on the second half of Lust for Life (2017) that her style was going in a less pop friendly direction and on the 2019 LP the singer is less interested in catchy tunes and goes for music with a longer shelf life. I’ve read she got some help with the lyrics and probably that was for the best. Produced and co-written by Jack Antonoff of the indie pop band Bleachers who also produced Taylor Swift’s 2019 album Lover. Be sure to check out the official video for Doin Time which even if you don’t like the music is worth a look, a homage to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).

 

 

 

 

 

and the other main contender is…

 

 

 

 

 

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Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood (2019)
Natalie Mering (who goes by the name Weyes Blood) describes her new album in the press notes as Enya meets Bob Seger. The first 5-6 tracks of her ten song album are especially gorgeous, creating an ethereal atmosphere that exudes a calm and introspection, with lyrics that feel both personal and universal. Besides the great songwriting, what stands out the most is the lovely vocal performance, she reminds me of Aimee Mann and I mean that as a compliment. On the song Andromeda she sounds like Karen Carpenter. The weakest moments are Picture Me Better and the second half of Mirror Forever where the lyrical content became a bit bland, and the closing instrumental felt slightly undercooked with its sudden fade out ending, but minor complaints. I could imagine Titanic Rising becoming a classic that is listened to 50 years from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are there any other albums that could match them in the rest of 2019?
ANIMA, Thom Yorke’s new solo album impressed me this summer. Certainly has a chance of moving higher up my list. Possibly too bleak to put on often, for now it’s in the top 10.  Seeing Other People by Foxygen (released April 26) has a legitimate shot as well with the amount of tasty hooks despite portions of the lyrics which don’t hit the mark. Not forgetting Springsteen’s welcome return Western Stars which I like yet if I’m honest doesn’t hit me in the gut like his classic work. Same with Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated, it’s good, but not THAT good.
The Cure plan to release a new album allegedly this autumn, word is from 60-year-old Robert Smith that it’s very dark and not stadium friendly. Michael Kiwanuka put out a catchy single in You Ain’t the Problem albeit I find his albums usually are not as strong as the individual tracks. His latest is simply called Kiwanuka and is out October 25. I loved Currents (2015) by Tame Impala though his 2019 singles are unexceptional. That said, I’m still cautiously optimistic as the new material appears to go in the same sonic direction, no word on a release date yet. Then we have Grimes whom I have a love-hate relationship with, Visions (2012) was brilliant but I couldn’t get into Art Angels (2015), she is expected to have an album out soon titled Miss_Anthropocene. Besides those, Alex Cameron drops his follow-up to the fantastic Forced Witness (2017), his new singles don’t light me up but I’ll definitely give Miami Memory a try which is available September 13. Angel Olsen might be ready to deliver her best album (True Blue with Mark Ronson was my song of the summer, Sisters from MY WOMAN (2016) floored me, and the self-titled lead single from upcoming All Mirrors (2019) is promising, the album hits October 4. I’m a fan of Metronomy and judging from the info on Metronomy Forever (September 13) it’s a collection of outtakes and not a proper album, the promo tracks I was lukewarm towards and maybe they are tapped out at this point. Hot Motion by Temples (September 27) could be good, again, I’m not super excited based on the early tracks. I think they peaked with the neo-psychedelia on Sun Structures (2014).  Canadian singer-songwriter Patrick Watson is an artist I like for his authenticity and he has a new LP titled Wave available October 18, the lead single Dream For Dreaming is good yet sounds too similar to Creep by Radiohead. Charli XCX is sure to appeal to those who love modern pop on Charli (September 13),  I doubt it’s for me. Bat for Lashes’ Lost Girls arrived on September 6, I listened to the promo material and did not fall in love with it. I’ve been recommended U.F.O.F. by Big Thief (released May 3) and will get to that soon. I’m expecting a few surprises which is always the case each year!

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: August

 

 

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968) (Robert Ellis Miller)

Watched with a friend and we both agreed Alan Arkin was amazing as the deaf-mute John Singer. I’m glad Arkin was at least nominated for an Academy Award for lead actor. Evident these were more innocent times, I doubt parents today would allow their kids to hang out and hold hands with a lodger they hardly know. Chuck McCann as Mr. Antonapoulos made an impression in a performance that is both funny and emotive despite fewer scenes compared to the book. Sondra Locke and Percy Rodrigues are also memorable.
Updates the novel’s small-town Southern setting from the Depression era to contemporary 1960s. I actually didn’t even realize about the change of decade until I read the wikipedia afterwards. Didn’t feel very 60s (apart from the race related issues) but I still connected with the characters. There’s sadness due to poverty, racism, and disability yet also moments of joy. A story that champions the outsider and is elevated by the acting. 
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Winter’s Bone (2010) (Debra Granik)

Neo noir mystery set in in the rural Ozarks of Missouri. The authentic dialect adds to the realism yet at times I found hard to understand. On rewatch, subtitles were a big help. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Words travels faster in this small town than a Facebook update. The weakest aspect is the ending but the story is good with a sense of danger and things at stake. Lawrence delivers arguably a career best performance, immersing herself and becomes the character. John Hawkes is also great as her unpredictable uncle Teardrop.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Naked (1993) (Mike Leigh)

Probably the filmmaker’s bleakest and most disturbing film although does have a dark wit. A brave move to have your characters unlikeable.
Johnny (David Thewlis pictured above) is from Manchester and wandering the streets of London, with a cynical attitude, observing and conversing with those he meets, at a friend’s house, a fellow on the street who can’t find his girlfriend Maggie, a security guard in an empty building, an older woman, a waitress, a man hanging up posters.
Johnny can’t stop talking but the most important things about his past remain hidden. A lonely, self-destructive pseudo-intellectual who appears smart at first encounter but his assumption about 666 on bar codes suggests he’s a conspiracy theorist. He seems to be a man running away from his problems.
The other male character Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell) is even more unlikeable, a yuppie-type landlord who derives pleasure from humiliating women. Doesn’t address why he has become this way but I sensed there are reasons.
I prefer Leigh’s other work though I appreciate the performances and screenplay, you rarely find dialogue of this calbre in films anymore. I find the rapid-fire conversations are easier to follow with subtitles.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 


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Miami Vice (2006) (Michael Mann)

Is it a case of false advertising? Has very little in common with the tv show which took place in the 1980s. The movie seems to be set in the present and is darker, colder and more violent. Of course, if Mann had gone too far in the nostalgia direction and took no chances I probably would be complaining about that instead!
Throws you straight into the action. Lacks the charm and chemistry of the tv series. You can admire the visual poetry such as the speed boat sequence or beautiful shots of the city at night. The action scenes have suspense, especially the opening in the nightclub, but there arn’t enough of them.
Male viewers wanted to be Crockett or Tubbs in the tv series. Sadly I just didn’t care about anyone in the film. Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) (which I love) took the time to introduce the characters and is better off for it. I’ve read defenses of the Miami Vice reboot by Alex Withrow at And So It Begins, by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at The AV Club, and by Steven Hyden at Uproxx. Could be I just missed the little moments that makes the movie special. Scenes are played out with little to no context which will divide audiences. A critic wrote that “the pretense that anyone has control over their lives is quickly dispensed” and the film is about chaos.
4/10

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Liar Liar (1997) (Tom Shadyac)

Jim Carrey pulls off over the top moves but not as rewatchable as other comedies by the actor. The boy might have the best joke in the opening scene when he talks about his dad as a liar/lawyer. Overly sentimental and predictable story. The jokes are juvenile and probably best suited to a young audience.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Descendants (2011) (Alexander Payne)
Rewatch, and it’s not growing on me. Disappointing compared to Payne’s previous films Sideways and About Schmidt. Clooney plays himself and with a better actor, who knows if the movie might have been elevated. The story is low-key and lacks memorable moments. Payne spices things up with the Sid character but when the family are together it’s pretty humdrum. There’s a good performance by Shailene Woodley and the theme of different people having different opinions about the wife was intriguing. But not enough to save the film. Without Jim Taylor as co-screenwriter the magic isn’t there. Kudos for adapting and promoting contemporary Hawaiian literature but just didn’t grab me. Surely there are stronger novels from the region to adapt? I haven’t read the book and maybe this one is better on the page. If it wasn’t for Payne, I doubt I would even have finished the movie. I really wanted to connect but unfortunately The Descendants left me unmoved.
Favorite quote: “What is it that makes the women in my life want to destroy themselves? Elizabeth with her motorcycles, speedboats, and drinking. Alexandra with her drugs and older guys”.
4/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Easy A (2010) (Will Gluck)

Goes for a John Hughes approach with life lessons about rumors, reputation, naivety, and how words once said cannot be unsaid. The “pocketful of sunshine” scene is fun and I liked the scenes with Olive’s parents which are sweet. But for much of the running time, I felt I was watching performers and not actual people.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2019
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) (Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino continues his tendency to bask in over-the-top violence, yet his latest is arguably the director’s most melancholy, nostalgic, and compassionate film to date, a love letter to 1969. It’s also quite moving in some scenes. The most vibrant sequences are when Cliff Booth goes to the Manson ranch and the ending. Although in contrast to the energetic trailer, the movie is quite slow, indulgent, and in need of an editor. Cliff Booth is one of the most ambiguous characters Tarantino has penned and Brad Pitt may finally win an acting oscar. Fantastic late 60s soundtrack, brilliant performances, and the non-CGI set design transports you back to those times. 
Full review
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Older song discoveries: August

 

 

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Bring a Little Lovin’ by Los Bravos (1968)
(Once Upon a Time in Hollywood soundtrack)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Together Now by The Farm (1990)
(A powerful anti-war anthem. Wouldn’t have been out of place on a U2 album. I read has been used by numerous football teams since, as well as by the Labour Party (UK) for their 2017 General Election campaign)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feel A Pain by Hydra (1974)
(Lesser known southern rock)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Beautiful Day by White Bird (1969)
(We’ve all got to fly, or we will die)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing You From Today by Sideway Look (1984)
(Arguably Echo & the Bunnymen clones. Beautiful guitars)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live It Up by Mental as Anything (1985)
(Appears in the 1986 film Crocodile Dundee. Thanks Alyson)

 

 

 

 

 

Constant Craving by KD Lang (1992)
(Stumbled upon an article on BBC Entertainment which mentioned this was a #1 single in the 90s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothin’ But A Good Time by Poison (1988)
(Sure the lyrics are clichéed, hair metal rockers singing about a good time with women and wine. The lyric is still effective because addresses the daily “same old, same old” we all go through)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Away With It by Electronic (1991)
(Thanks Rol. Didn’t know there was a Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr supergroup! On this track Pet Shop Boys also contributed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psycho (cover) by Jack Kittel (1974)
(A twisted country song for the time it was made, the 1968 original is sung by Eddie Noack, and covered by various artists. Thanks Maya Hawke)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look Sharp! by Joe Jackson (1978)
(Thanks moulty58 at The Future is Past)

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Don’t Know by Kirsty MacColl (1979)
(Kirsty MacColl’s original has more feeling than Tracey Ullman’s sweet, poppy 80s version. Both good though)

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Film review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

 

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*No major spoilers in the review* Quentin Tarantino films are not for everyone though they do feel like cinematic events. The director proudly wears his influences on his sleeve, you only have to look at the title which is a throwback to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Tarantino’s latest (like the aforementioned Leone titles) is a period film, going for an authentic depiction of 1969. Some characters are real people, others are fictional. Sometimes the storytelling is slow yet I could see myself revisiting as many scenes have stuck with me. It feels rewatchable and you don’t need to remember the era to connect with the story. The director has assembled an incredible cast rivalling Stallone’s The Expendables line-up or the recent Marvel Avengers blockbusters.

Stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is one of QT’s most interesting characters, he’s a contradiction of good and bad, his past is shrouded in mystery, and not dissimilar to a real life tragedy involving actress Natalie Wood. Rebecca Gayheart stars as Booth’s wife in a role that is bizarrely comparable to her own tragic circumstances in which she killed a child in a 2001 road accident. The humor and innuendo in the film is pretty disturbing, however if you’ve seen QT’s filmography you know what to expect, in terms of mixing violence, comedy, and entertainment. Another controversy is making money off Roman Polanski’s misfortune. Polanski’s current wife Emmanuelle Seigner shaded QT for not even asking permission. A third controversy involves martial arts legend Bruce Lee which I won’t go into as it’s spoilery territory.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s storyline as actor Rick Dalton has pacing issues, the parts with him acting in westerns felt indulgent but are occasionally heartfelt or funny. Tarantino has admitted Dalton is bipolar which adds another dimension to the character. If you are interested in the stress and challenges of acting, and the hard work that goes into it, then it takes you to those places. The theme of Dalton feeling like a has-been in the industry is juxtapositioned with Sharon Tate’s rise to fame and optimism for the future. The aged relic aspect also has a meta angle to it,  as Tarantino himself is reassessed in a post-Weinstein age. Perhaps QT watched The House That Jack Built (2018), a late career work by Lars von Trier, which on one level is a response to the Danish director’s own conduct and history.

 

 

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Actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) isn’t given much to do in the film but there is a sense of a character. Her already troubled marriage to Polanski isn’t delved into at all, maybe that’s not relevant to what Tarantino is doing here. Sharon Tate’s murder by the Manson gang is seen as symbolic of the end of the Sixties and overshadowed her film work. In the movie, Tarantino wants to focus on her innocence, love of life, going to parties, and enjoying Hollywood stardom. Tarantino goes for a romanticized woman rather than a truthful representation of Tate’s life. If you are hoping to learn about the real Sharon Tate, then you should probably look elsewhere. Instead Tarantino prefers to explore the joy of all aspiring stars seeing themselves on posters and movie screens. It’s easy to label Robbie’s scenes as simplistic, yet despite the sugar-coating of reality, I find her less cartoonish compared to previous cool-for-the-sake of-being-cool Tarantino characters. We only follow Tate for brief amounts of time so it’s hard to dig deeper, but you could question if she is in love with fame and has a need for admiration,  a character study of the pitfalls of fame. Margot Robbie’s performance is engrossing in spite of how few lines she has in the film.

I go to the cinema not to watch politically correct characters but to be surprised and this movie certainly is daring and unpredictable. QT has made a name for himself where anything can happen to any character, and this is what makes his films special. The director’s latest will probably be nominated for an oscar for the meticulous retro 1960s production design albeit disappointing the impatient camera doesn’t linger on the sets which a director’s cut version might fix. Perhaps QT should have turned the script into a TV-series as 2 hours 41 minutes isn’t enough time to tell all these stories while also being too long for a single sitting. A four hour cut is rumored to be heading to Netflix.

 

 

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The soundtrack features lots of great songs from the era. Probably the most memorable choices are Neil Diamond’s Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show and Bring a Little Lovin’ by Los Bravos which play nostalgically when Cliff drives his car and bumps into Margaret Qualley’s hippie character. Qualley could well be in consideration for supporting actress awards.

While QT still continues his juvenile tendency to bask in over-the-top violence, arguably OUATIH is his most melancholy, nostalgic, and compassionate film to date, a love letter to people grinding out unexceptional work. There are parallels to the decline of Hollywood now and the rise of streaming services, as well as the transition from TV to film, and vice versa.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has its moments but is not perfect and in need of an editor. The most vibrant sequences are when Cliff goes to the Manson ranch and the ending. Cliff Booth is one of the most ambiguous characters QT has penned and Brad Pitt may finally win an acting oscar for this performance.

Rating 7/10

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome