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.

 

 

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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

Favorite moments from Bond soundtracks (part 1)

 

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Time for a new blog series! I was recently youtubing score arrangements from the Bond movies and re-discovering my favorite piece of music from the franchise. To be honest, I don’t know why I haven’t shared this sooner on the blog. There are many I love and this one I can listen to on repeat. John Barry’s soundtracks tend to be beautiful, melancholy, romantic, taking you to another place.

 

 

Bond Lured To Pyramid (1979) by John Barry

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a favorite era for Bond music? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: June & July

 

 

 

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Midsommar (2019) (Ari Aster)
Managed to get under my skin by building an unsettling mood. The subject matter in the pre-credits sequence felt rehashy from Aster’s previous film Hereditary (2018).
Puts you in the shoes of the American guests and I had the feeling I was there at the Swedish camp with them. To be honest, a relief when was finally over, a harrowing watch. A feel-bad folk horror movie, not a personal favorite, though I appreciate when a filmmaker can bring out an impactful reaction. Many modern movies are forgettable but this one hit me hard. Whether I liked that reaction I’m still unsure about. Was I even supposed to enjoy spending time with the pagan cult? I assume the intension was to make an anti-cult movie in the vein of Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011).
A reviewer for USAtoday wrote: “What’s terrifying is how real this film feels” and was certainly more realistic than Hereditary. Florence Pugh is a rising star and delivers the best performance in the film. Not knowing Dani’s sister’s motivation adds to the eeriness and sense of being lost. The most powerful scene is when Dani screams with the group. You can kind of guess where the story is heading yet there are surprises along the way. Has been advertised as a horror movie that scares even though takes place in daylight, and having now seen it that is an accurate assessment.
I must have missed the mention of bipolar disorder when I watched. Apparently a character suffers from this and groups have raised concerns about the link between violence and mental illness.
I wonder how much sleep deprevasion from the daylight plus being in a communal bedroom with crying babies affected the characters’ decision making. Some took sleeping pills, others did not.
?/10

 

 

 

 

 


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Metropolitan (1990) (Whit Stillman)
Debut feature by the American auteur. Set in New York amongst a group of upper-class college friends who are joined by an outsider. The strength of Metropolitan is the witty, rich, rewatchable dialogue. It feels like a labour of love. The performances and vocal deliveries are mostly deadpan, giving the impression of artificiality with the writer/director pulling the strings and the actors as puppets. The music and outfits are posh. The story may be satirizing the lifestyle but if so it’s done tastefully without making them into clowns. A group disbanding is something many experience when they are young.
The deadpan style is not dissimilar to other indie directors such as Hal Hartley, Wes Anderson and Aki Kaurismäki, although Stillman is arguably the most intellectual of these filmmakers.
Now I understand the name of Dan’s blog Public Transportation Snob, a quote from the movie.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Live in Concert: Richard Pryor (1979)
Listed as #1 on Rolling Stone’s top 25 Best Stand-Up Specials. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Not as funny as I had hoped. A few of the sketches, especially about the animals, brought a smile to my face, and the physical comedy is fun. A lot of profanity. Feels very personal as Pryor draws from his own life such as a heart attack, boxing, a funeral, beatings as a child, and so on. I guess it’s therapeutic for him (and the audience) to deal with these issues through comedy. By today’s standards it isn’t a groundbreaking show but back then the style was edgy and new.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An American Tail (1986) (Don Bluth)

Rewatch. The first film I remember watching in the cinema as a child. Was the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. The main characters are mice and cats. Clearly with kids in mind but has plenty of heart and beautiful animation. The song “There are no cats in America” is catchy. The weakness is the predictable story and naiveness of the Mousekewitz family. The title of the film and the names of the characters are sweet. The themes about prejudice, fighting for freedom, and hope are overused in Hollywood yet timeless. My favorite of the characters is probably Tiger voiced vividly by Dom DeLuise. Tiger sings the inspiring “A Duo” with the main character Fievel. Another stand out is “Somewhere Out There” which is sort of a sister song to the Wizard of Oz’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Several images will stay with me such as the devilish ocean, the moon, and the poster walking on the bridge.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Road to Perdition (2002) (Sam Mendes)

Takes place during the Great Depression. Nice cinematography which Conrad L. Hall won an oscar for. A decent watch although the characters are too bland and feel like gangster stereotypes. Based on a graphic novel and has been compared to a Greek tragedy because of the theme of fathers and sons. Basically a warning (see the title) about a life in crime.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Leopard (1963) (Luchino Visconti)

Historical period drama which won the Palme d’Or in 1963. I’ve liked other Visconti films. The Leopard was too slow and lacking a compelling story. I guess I prefer his smaller productions such as White Nights (1957) and Obsession (1943).
Set in Sicily in 1860, we hear about relationship issues, political corruption, and more. The ballroom sequence looks impressive but ultimately overstays its welcome. There’s an attempt to juxtaposition the sadness of Lancaster’s character with the joy of the party but it felt contrived as Lancaster hadn’t looked despondent beforehand. There seemed to be a passing of the torch to the next generation (probably why he was sad) which I found pretty vague. An explanation of the title The Leopard tries to tie things up. I watched the three hour Italian-language version.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Arrival (2016) (Denis Villeneuve)

Isn’t as good as I remembered. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play it well and the language aspects were handled believably. The slow build-up heading to the spacecraft becomes tedious rather than suspenseful, especially when you’ve seen it before and know what to expect. The last act does make you think about your own life but felt under-explored and ends just when it started getting psychologically and philosophically interesting.
On rewatch I knew the twist but the opening scene still made no sense as takes place before she even visits the spacecraft. Perhaps the prologue is not meant to literally happen before the arrival but simply be a teaser of later events in the film. Kind of a modern Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (documentary) (2005) (Martin Scorsese)

There’s a dispute over who discovered Bob Dylan, was it John Hammond at CBS or Artie Mogull who claims he made the singer popular. Albert Grossman is said to have brought Dylan’s music to a wider audience.
A story about Dylan stealing Woody Guthrie records and the owner coming after him has an almost mythical quality.
The funniest scene has Dylan rearranging Pet Shop signs into nonsense and I also realized the opening sequence from the Watchmen movie was ripped off from this documentary.
Joan Baez talks about a night when a motel wouldn’t give Dylan a room because he looked scruffy and she persuaded them to let him stay which Baez argues led that night to him writing “When the Ship Comes In” about an injustice.
Goes into the political relevance of songs like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which some linked to atomic rain and in Dylan’s own words is about something bad is going to happen.
“Only a Pawn in their Game” could be interpreted as a song for the civil rights movement and the killing of Medgar Evers.
Dylan is perceived as a leftwing folk singer in the vein of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie, carrying on their tradition. But he’s a contradictory man in the 1960s, saying in an interview all his songs are protest sings while also a discomfort with being boxed in as a topical political voice in his speech at the Tom Paine award ceremony.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Climate Change – The Facts (2019) (60 min BBC documentary)
Narrated by David Attenborough, the focus is CO2 and global warming. Nearly a third of CO2 admissions are caused by deforestation, fields used for cattle or clearing rainforests to make room for huge palm oil plantations. Palm oil is in many products we buy (margarine, bread, soaps, shampoo, chocolates, ice cream).
Provides disturbing predictions. Methan gas can cause an acceleration of global warming as it’s 21x more powerful than CO2 (this is one of the so-called ”tipping points”). There are tons of frozen lakes in the arctic which could release methan if they melt. But not all bad news, Iceland have one of the world’s first carbon collectors.
Sea level has risen by about 20cm in the last 100 years which so far affects Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Jean Charles, Louisiana in the US which loses a football field every 45 min and citizens become so-called climate refugees. By end of 21st century our planet will potentially be between 3-6 degrees warmer. 600 million live in costal areas that are less than 10m above sea level. If we don’t do anything, we could be looking at 80cm to 1m rise of sea level.
James Hansen warned Congress in 1988 that he was 99% sure the increase in carbondioxid had led to warmer temperatures than any time in measured history. The fossil fuel companies for oil and gas are some of the most profitable businesses in human history and didn’t want a change.
How we can make a difference in our own lives:
-Eat everything we buy, less waste.
-Avoid air-freighted food which is 100x more impactful to climate change than putting it on a boat.
-Insulate our homes which wastes less heat.
-Reduce meat and dairy consumption, especially beef and lamb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stranger Things, season 3 (2019) (Duffer brothers)
Episode 1 started out very dark but the mood soon brightens. The third season has a few of these tonal shifts, in another moment a group are mowed down with a machine gun, the next the teenagers are listening to music in a car.
The bickering between Steve and Robin (you can buy the above outfits) worked so well. New or expanded characters in season 3 include Priah Ferguson(she has a bunch of funny lines) and Maya Hawke (I didn’t know Ethan Hawke and Urma Thurman’s had a daughter, her voice is similar to Thurman’s).
We see the gang sneaking into the cinema and the radio transmission stuff was entertaining. Sweet that Dustin has a girlfriend off screen. Hopper the sheriff I found annoying in the home dispute with Eleven and Mike but once Hopper goes on the adventure with Joyce I was hooked. Will is dealing with his friends maturing while he still enjoys kid’s games, the sadness of leaving your childhood behind is affecting but gets a bit forgotten about by the final episodes. Billy is admired by the pool by the females and he is given a more substantial role than before. Surprised Cary Elwes was the major although the creators have picked actors from iconic 80s movies before such as Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and Sean Astin.
Hopper’s letter in the final episode is really moving and that is my favorite scene. Steve and Dustin reuniting (they became friends in S2) is heart-warming and funny. The quintessential 80s moments are Steve and Dustin spying in the mall with Things Can Only Get Better by Howard Jones (1985) on the loud speaker, and the upbeat/synthy Starcourt and Madonna’s Material Girl used when Eleven and Max have fun in the mall’s shopping area. All in all, season 3 is light-hearted, enjoyable escapism.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Killing Michael Jackson (2019) (
45 min documentary)
Documentary that revisits the final days of the pop singers life, with new interviews of the three detectives who were involved in the initial investigation. The blame for his death is not limited to only the doctor, the singer was secretly taking other drugs while on propofol and crucially did not inform his doctor about this. Doctor Conrad Murray also behaved irresponsibly by not having a defibrillator at the house, not dialling 911 immediately, and using propofol outside a hospital environment. Doesn’t go into the suicide theory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Older song discoveries: July

 

 

Stranger Things 3 soundtrack

 

 

80s discoveries from season 3 of Stranger Things:

 

Lovergirl by Teena Marie (1984)

 

Things Can Only Get Better by Howard Jones (1985)

 

Open the Door by Gentlemen Afterdark (1983)

 

All Your Reasons Why by Smart Remarks (1984)

 

Never Surrender by Corey Hart (1985)

 

Phone To Phone by Life By Night (1985)

 

Place In My Heart by Brian Page (1985)

 

Main Title by John Harrison (Day of the Dead soundtrack) (1985)

 

Sarah Breaks Down (Day of the Dead soundtrack) (1985)

 

Heroes (David Bowie cover) by Peter Gabriel (2010)

 

 
guitar

 

 

 

Johnny Come Home by Fine Young Cannibals (1985)
(Always hated the band name. Is this catchy or what?)

 

 

 

 

Jackie Blue by Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)
(Their most well known song. Thanks Rol)

 

 

 

 

The Way by Fastball (1998)
(Won multiple music awards in the late 90s)

 

 

 

 

Key Largo by Bertie Higgins (1982)
(A live duet version with Matthew McConaughey was included on the soundtrack of new movie The Beach Bum (2019). I prefer the original)

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

 

On a side note,  I am having technical problems with the startup of Windows. My laptop could be on its last legs. This may result in me not replying to comments immediately. 

Best viral videos of 2019 so far: Why Did China Send a Probe to the Far Side of the Moon?

 

 

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This year is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969. In January, you may remember China launched a spacecraft to the far side of the Moon. The video below from YouTube channel Seeker sums up the recent Chang’e-4 mission.  With scientists warning about global warming and a potential breakdown of the eco-system (insects may be heading towards extinction), it seems essential to seek out new places for growing plants.

 

 

 

I’m also including the footage of the actual landing here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome