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By midlandsmovies, Aug 16 2019 02:39PM



Review - Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019) Dir. Quentin Tarantino


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a new film fable from Quentin Tarantino which harks back to a Hollywood cinema golden age yet mixes the loss of 50s innocence with 60s counter culture in the pulp-way only he knows how to.


Tarantino launches us into his screen obsessions (and in this film in particular, his love for the small screen) with a 4:3 black and white interview of TV Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend/stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).


Jumping forward to 1969 L.A. Dalton is concerned about his less-than-stellar career as the up and coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) moves in next door to him with her director partner Roman Polanski. Whilst the paranoid Dalton meets with agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who encourages him to get into Italian Westerns, the laid-back Booth reminisces about a time he fought Bruce Lee whilst also meandering around town as a handyman seemingly without a care.


The Bruce Lee fight is one of the many comedic scenes and Tarantino’s fingerprints are all over the film which acts like a highlight reel of all his usual obsessions – Westerns (Django), martial arts (Kill Bill) and hippies and stunt-men (Death Proof) to mention just a few. But at 161 minutes oh boy is it long again, but at least it doesn’t take place in just one room like the disappointing chamber piece that was The Hateful Eight (our review).


As Rick Dalton tries his best to stake a claim in the movie world in Italy, Booth is enamoured by a hitchhiking hippie who takes him to the Spahn Ranch – the real-life desert commune location of the Manson Family cult. Radicalized by leader Charles Manson's teachings and unconventional lifestyle, Tarantino has brawly Brad searching for the ranch’s owner in one of the film’s best scenes. With tension and fear the director surprises the audience with the scene’s reveal whilst he returns with a violent ending typical of the director.


Tarantino also expertly plays with the medium of cinema too. We begin by watching the making-of a movie, but it literally becomes the movie in the absence of the film-crew and behind-the-scenes tech guys. But they are soon brought back in by Tarantino as he moves his camera back into place for a second take. And archive footage is mixed in with his usual eclectic soundtrack which feature classic hits from the era whilst almost 2 hours in, he decides to throw in a voiceover for good measure. Why not!


Perhaps the only director today to get away with such arrogant shifts in style, the film is so well made you can’t stop from watching – whether it be a slow-paced scene of Dalton reading a book, an elongated scene of Pitt making dinner for his narratively-important dog or the visually stunning shots of classic cars in the sun-drenched valleys.


And of course it is "about" the movies and history too. As Sharon Tate heads to a theatre to watch her own feature film, Margot Robbie is given few lines of dialogue but this gives power to her happy demeanour and innocent goldilocks which contrast with the audience expectations of the real-life tragedy that befalls her.


But as the film comes to its conclusion – Dalton has some mild success in Italy and returns with a new wife and Booth is let go as his odd-job man – four of the Manson Family members head to the Hollywood Hills preparing to murder these rich “piggies” of the motion pictures.


Tarantino plays upon the audience’s knowledge of the Sharon Tate case and yet like the best fairy tales of yore, he delivers a dream-like ending where the damsel in distress and wicked wolves (not Mr. Wolf) clichés are turned on their head.


The director throws everything into the flick where our focus on the real-life cursed heroine is actually sidelined by the enchanting performances of the fictional characters played by Pitt and DiCaprio.


Where fact and fiction blur, the film uses a terrific cameo by Damian Lewis as an uncanny Steve McQueen at the Playboy Mansion to continue with the real-life people in fictional set-ups. Excellent support also comes from Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern and the late Luke Perry as well as Tarantino regulars Kurt Russell and Zoë Bell (as stunt coordinators, what else) and Michael Madsen.


But does anyone live happily ever after? Well although there are no glass slippers, there are LOTS of shots of feet, Tarantino’s favourite fetish. But the film’s resolution is the really satisfying surprise here. Known for his love of violence it’s strange that although there is a very uncompromising finale, it may just be his most uplifting ending yet – providing a little bit of lost Hollywood hope.


Far better than his last film, yet not quite hitting the heights of a Django Unchained or Jackie Brown, the film demonstrates that Tarantino truly is in a class of his own in a period where franchise building has mostly replaced the draw of the big-named actor. But this incredibly satisfying love letter to these fictional pulp princes and real-life silver screen starlets provides a brilliant fantasy romance steeped in the glow of an era long gone.


Helter Skelter in a summer swelter indeed.


★★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Aug 8 2018 02:02PM



Dear Josephine


Written, Directed & Produced by Duaine Carma Roberts.


CARMA FILM MOTION PICTURES


“The most sensational woman, anybody had ever saw, or ever will” - Ernest Hemingway


Described as a visual poem that recounts the life of 20th century icon, civil rights advocate and superstar, Josephine Baker, this new 4-minute short comes from West Midlands filmmaker Duaine Carma Roberts and his Carma Film production company.


Starring Zellia John as Josephine Baker, the film is part poetry reading and part theatrical drama against a plain backdrop to summarise the background of this legendary woman.


For those unfamiliar with Baker, she was an American-born entertainer and activist whose career began as a celebrated performer headlining the Folies Bergère in Paris. Dubbed the "Black Pearl", the "Bronze Venus", and the "Creole Goddess" she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to a French industrialist. And she was the first person of colour to become a worldwide entertainer and to star in a major motion picture.


Taking a stance by refusing to perform for segregated American audiences, she was offered unofficial leadership in the civil rights movement following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Although Baker declined the offer, she was later awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military owing to her aiding the French Resistance during World War II.



Josephine Baker at the March on Washington 1963
Josephine Baker at the March on Washington 1963

Roberts’ film mainly uses close ups to quickly convey the subtle emotions and hardships Baker faced during her life and a suitably laid back jazz score harks to the 1930s along with time-specific costumes.


Some black and white footage of the real Baker is used sparingly throughout to give us a glimpse into the legend, whilst Zellia John throws in some flapper dancing to set the period before changing into all black for her later civil rights engagements.


With no dialogue or sound effects, the film echoes the silent stylings of Marcel Marceau, the legendary French mime artist. Like Baker, he also performed at the Folies Bergère and was also in the French Resistance as well.


But this isn’t about Marcel despite the nods to his brand of performance art.


Roberts instead places images of beauty and harshness in opposition to one another. The drama sometimes literally translates the overdubbed poetry, whilst at other times, it simply evokes a tone or mood from the era. A final montage of the real-life Baker starring in Hollywood movies again reiterates her trailblazing cinematic legacy and an image of Baker in her World War II uniform shows a determination to fight for justice, both inside and outside of the system.


An interesting take that sets it aside from the usual style of local films, Roberts shows that a different cinematic approach on subject matter close to his heart can have a strong effect. Along with his sci-fi film Graycon, the director proves he can move between genres and film structures with ease.


With dreamy images of an historical icon some may not know much about, the simplicity of the words and images together makes the story come alive and allows the importance of Baker’s memory to speak for itself.


Mike Sales


Watch the full film below on Vimeo:







By midlandsmovies, Aug 1 2016 06:16PM

Golden age Hollywood films come to the UK for the first time


Midlands fans of classic movies are in for a treat this month as six films from a bygone era are released from the Universal Pictures/Hollywood Classics stable.


Starring a wealth of screen legends including Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds and Spencer Tracy, the films come to DVD for the very first time in the UK and are due for release on 8th August 2016.





From comedy, drama, action, romance and musicals, each movie is a forgotten gem from the period with a long-lasting legacy which also mix big name celebrities and solid support in overlooked motion pictures.


First up, The Purple Mask (1955) is set in Napoleonic France with Some Like It Hot’s Tony Curtis roped into a kidnap plot in a rollicking tale that also feature’s Britain’s own Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote).


Sign of the Pagan (1954) stars swaggering Jack Palace (of 1991’s City Slickers https://t.co/oPYt6iWsgK ) as Attila the Hun who meets his match in Jeff Chandler who plays a Roman Centurion. Betrayals abound as they fall in love with the same woman in this historical epic – the kind of which influenced 2016’s Hail! Caesar from the Coens.


Next, the young Russian composer Rimsky‐Korsakov is the subject of 1947’s Song of Scheherazade as he falls for an exotic Spanish dancer which inspires his greatest work. Fact and fiction combine in this romantic drama which also stars Hollywood icon Yvonne De Carlo – also seen in The Ten Commandments.


Film legend George Scott stars in the elementary They Might be Giants (1971) as a widowed judge who loses his wife and his grip on reality to believe he is in fact Sherlock Holmes. This romantic mystery is directed by Anthony Harvey (editor on Dr. Strangelove) and stars Joanne Woodward as a psychiatrist who becomes Scott’s very own Dr. Watson.


Screen starlet Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) stars as a woman juggling the attentions of two men in This Happy Feeling (1958) as her boss and an up-and-coming actor attempt to woo her. John Saxon (seen also in The Godfather) won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Male Newcomer for his performance as the younger suitor.


And finally, Howard Hughes-produced Sky Devils (1932) is a comedy caper showcasing Spencer Tracy as a workshy airman who, along with his sidekick, attempts to dodge strict sergeants and distracting damsels as they become accidental war heroes.


You can grab these DVDs from http://www.simplyhe.com and Midlands Movies will also be soon offering one lucky reader a chance to win all the films on DVD courtesy of Simply Media.


In a special Hollywood classic competition we will be launching later in the month, the prize winner will get to enjoy each of these timeless movies as a definitive collection of rediscovered masterpieces.


Watch this space!


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Oct 18 2015 10:16AM

Midlands Movies Feature - Top 10 Nicolas Cage films


Nicolas Cage. Well, what can you say?


Critics have described the actor as a pantomime or someone who reverts to over-the-top performances to compensate for a lack of quality. Others (such as Roger Ebert, no less) have noted that he has an “operatic” air to his work. In a world of method acting and weight gain/loss, the overdramatic theatrics of Nicolas Cage still dazzles and confuses fans in equal measure.


So, without too much ado, I plan to look back at 10 of my favourite (not necessarily the critics’ best) films the actor has appeared in. Right off the bat, I admit to being a much bigger fan of his action roles than his serious work but Cage has always been one to have taken many risks in his career. Never can anyone say that he’s not a very risky proposition for a film. An unlikely, sometimes odd-looking, leading man, his box office draw appears has subsided somewhat with an increase in straight to DVD “filler” and far less quality (but still very much of quantity).


A glut of poor choices more recently has seen the likes of Drive Angry and Ghost Rider 2 but still in the mix in the last few years are films like Joe (a notable return to form) and a supporting role in Kick *ss showing he still has the cinematic charisma that drew audiences in the first place.


Wikipedia cites 76 (!) films he has appeared in with 42 of those since 2000. Man, the boy Cage is prolific if nothing else so here’s some of my favourites from the huge body of work from a man whose roller-coaster of a career has no sign of letting up (4 Cage-helmed films were released in 2014 alone).


Close but not quite making it was the car-tastic schlock of Gone in 60 Seconds, his greasy-rocker road movie in Lynch’s Wild at Heart, the comedian Cage in the Coen’s Raising Arizona and the more recent bayou drama Joe.


N.B. Big thanks to Nick Staniforth who first published our article over at our good friends at Reel Good


10. Adaptation (2002)

Cage plays two roles in this meta-project from the warped mind of Charlie Kaufman which covers Kaufman’s own struggles in adapting The Orchid Thief for the cinema. Covering depression and writer’s block, Cage’s role as both brothers allows him to experiment with his own duality with his dark and brooding choices conflicting with his blockbuster sensibilities of the brother. An Academy Award nod saw Cage with the best critical reception in years and a testament to his acting ability when given the right material.


9. Lord of War (2005)

Andrew Nichol directs Cage as a Ukrainian-American arms dealer in this drama and dissection of war, conflict and weaponry. Tracing the story over many years across a global backdrop, Cage is great as the morally ambiguous gunrunner and the slightly heavy handed message is neatly wrapped up in a Cage performance that shows both a family man and his criminality and the ultimate if inevitable end game of human destruction.


8. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Winning the Academy Award for Best Actor, Cage’s most lauded role is as an alcoholic heading to the big city in order to drink himself to death. Cage embodies the carnage as a trail of broken dreams and his own broken body are the focus of a dark and disturbing film. With great support from Elizabeth Shue who balances the extremes of Cage’s performance, the film is a superb study of the dangers of addiction but you may struggle to sit through multiple viewings given its power and Cage’s haunting embodiment.


7. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Werner Herzog re-imagines Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film and Cage challenges the previous incarnation as the craziest copper in town with this police-crime drama. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cage’s Policeman spins out of control in a haze of drugs, corruption and lizard hallucinations. A solid tale of bribery, contraband and conflict, Cage’s experience with substance abusive characters is again showcased in this addictive film set in the Big Easy.


6. Kick Ass (2010)

Very much a supporting role in Matthew Vaughan’s violent take on comic book superheroes, Cage excels as the father to Hit-Girl in this subversive 2010 flick. Channelling every ounce of Adam West’s 1960s Batman (from the obvious bat-suit similarities to the pauses and strange ticks), Cage shows a quirky restraint but also a much needed adult focal point to the adolescent action throughout. With added moustache, Cage breathes eccentric life into an eccentric character helping to balance out the group of have a go heroes.


5. Snake Eyes (1998)

A film many critics and audiences never took to, Brian De Palma’s movie about a policeman (a staple of Cage) trying to solve a murder at a televised boxing match is an underrated gem in my book. From the directorial flourishes of split screen and long tracking shots, De Palma uses Cage’s watchability to ensure the 10-minute opening one-shot focuses on Cage’s character from the start. A series of genre tropes are mixed in with a narrative that plays and then re-plays sequences for the audience – along with Cage – to see things from different angles. Cage himself, portrays the character too from different angles as he transforms from smarmy cop to duped fool in this twisty and taut thriller.


4. National Treasure 1 & 2 (2004 & 2007)

Right, I don’t care what you say, the 2 National Treasure films are a highlight of Cage for me. Where Cage often went for independent strangeness or blockbuster action, this could have been one of his biggest departures ever. Could Cage really carry a family-friendly Disney movie? Well yes. And he even upsets purists by keeping Sean Bean alive by the end of it! Part Indiana Jones and part Da Vinci Code, director John Turtletaub makes a stupidly fun and idiotically entertaining film that those two missteps could only dream of being. A heist adventure with comedy capers thrown in, Cage’s now blockbuster likeability helps him play cat and mouse with previous Bad Lieutenant Harvey Keitel!


3. The Rock (1996)

Michael Bay has made some terrible films of late and his music-video aesthetic, wafer thin characters and sickening gyratory camera shots are now the stuff of parody. Yet, he did direct The Rock. The Rock was made immediately after Leaving Las Vegas and tells how Cage (Stanley Goodspeed) travels to Alcatraz to help release hostages held by National Treasure 2’s Ed Harris with the help of ex-MI5 convict Sean Connery. A surreal set of action beats, car chases, shootouts and punch ups are helped by the buddy-cop back-and-forth between Cage and Connery. Of course it’s silly and OTT but Cage and his fans wouldn’t have it any other way


2. Con Air (1997)

Cage’s hair has been famous throughout his career but never more so in this all-out action prison break-cum-airplane flick. A b-movie premise (escaping prisoners take over a plane) utilises Cage’s balding yet flowing locks as his good con tries to keep hostages alive and the authorities on his side. Comedy, action and a great villain (John Malkovich’s “Cyrus the Virus”) help package this film as a suitable follow up to The Rock but with Cage as the prisoner this time. Further great support from John Cusack and Steve Buscemi seals the deal with Cage demanding the “bunny back in the box” as he fights his way to freedom on a flight full of felons.


1. Face/Off (1997)

You’ve just won an Oscar and you’ve followed that up with 2 of the best action films of the 1990s so what did Cage do next? Well make another one of the best action films. Focusing more on fists and guns, the film is perfect to show one of Cage’s signature skills in playing two sides of character (see all films above). In this movie, he literally plays two characters (he starts as the insane Castor Troy & switches to the good cop Sean Archer for most of the film) and along with Travolta, both actors get to play off not only their character traits but their fellow actor in a riotous role-reversal. The story is silly, Cage is cool, crazy and criminal and the premise is ludicrous but John Woo decides to use the multi-faceted Cage, whose career is made up of using extreme characteristics and polar mannerisms, as the perfect person to tackle duality in this 90s classic.


Midlands Movies Mike


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