icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo Instagram FILM FREEWAY LOGO

blog

Movie news, reviews, features and more thoughts coming soon...

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, Apr 18 2019 01:59PM



Mary Queen of Scots (2019) Dir. Josie Rourke


Based on John Guy's biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, this new historical drama stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.


Covering the 1569 conflict between England and Scotland, the film opens with Mary returning to Scotland from France to take up her throne but she is immediately challenged by her inner circle and cleric John Knox (an incredibly bearded David Tennant) whilst Elizabeth, who is worried about Mary’s claim to her own throne, tries to arrange Mary’s marriage to an Englishman.


With both sides fearing a rebellion from each other and their own internal traitors, Mary’s marriage fails spectacularly and eventually she exiles herself in England. But the two queens’ devotion to their respective countries leads Mary to be sentenced to death.


Covering a tumultuous period, the film is quite timid in its drama but the two central leads are fantastic. The support cast are sadly just passable, and it’s unfortunate that a few admirable progressive themes stick out like a sore thumb in a film that, for the most part, is relatively historically accurate.


Two areas the film does excel in however is the cinematography and the costumes which is understandable given the director’s theatrical past. Glorious Scottish vistas are contrasted brilliantly with dark interiors where castle rooms are either candlelit or have striking streaks of sunlight beaming through thin windows.


At times reminiscent of a Holbein painting (as well as An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright), these locations are spectacularly filmed and Mary’s amazingly-designed period blood-red and blue dresses add tremendous colour to a film often drenched in Tudor dirt.


An acceptable diversion, Mary Queen of Scots never really steps a foot wrong, but for some reason is as forgettable as it is expertly made. A respectable way to spend a couple of hours, its cinematic charms won’t take your head off but should leave you satisfied as it marries outstanding performances with a scrutinising look at British history.


★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Feb 23 2018 11:31PM



I, Tonya (2018) Dir. Craig Gillespie


The story of real-life figure-skater Tonya Harding and her infamous involvement with a brutal attack on a fellow skater before the 1994 Winter Olympics is the subject matter in this new movie from Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night, The Finest Hours).


Margot Robbie takes on the task of giving some humanity to the vilified Harding and whilst Robbie has been enjoyable in her blockbusting roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street, this film finally showcases her considerable talents as a dramatic actress.


The biography takes a route similar to “Wolf” in so much that we get multiple viewpoints recanting their own versions of events – with many flashbacks not matching with each other – as accusations of abuse from all sides begin to fly. Documentary style “talking head” segments lend realism, but are also at odds with characters themselves talking to the screen at times as they comment on their own reactions within the film.


'Winter Soldier' Sebastian Stan plays Harding's husband Jeff Gillooly, who is accused and accuses others of domestic battery but the standout support is Allison Janney as Harding’s dictatorial mother. From making the young Harding soil herself on the ice in the 1970s to her aggressive behaviour, the redneck relationship between them begins to hurt Harding’s chances. Her “white trash” upbringing is at odds with the wholesome American “family” the championship judges are looking for.


The film recreates the 80s hair, moustaches and double denim fashion from the era complimenting the use of 4:3 ratio home video film stock for the interview segments. There are also impressive recreations of stadium dance sequences to add realism. The film is soundtracked by retro hits which are a little on the nose as tracks like Devil Woman by Cliff Richard and Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits play alongside expected sequences.


The mix of styles mean the multiple viewpoints lead to our characters disagreeing with other people’s version of eventsbut these varied accounts begin to elicit sympathy for Harding’s plight. Unsure who to believe, one person’s loving marriage is another person’s period of spousal abuse, the film eventually introduces “the incident” with a “didn’t happen like this” Harley Quinn baseball attack.


The "incident" sequence begins to play out like Fargo with a husband attempting a nefarious act alongside his wife using a bunch of inept criminals, labelled here as “boobs”. Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn Eckhardt, a bodyguard and friend of Gillooly is one such boob and the real life footage shown during the credits show how accurate his performance of a delusional and clumsy felon is. With a money exchange, shady bar meetings and telephone calls, the Coen Brothers may want to check in with their lawyers as an investigation begins into the attack on Kerrigan.


One thing the film does avoid, and to its advantage, is a “race to the top” narrative. This isn’t RUSH by Ron Howard. It’s not Kerrigan versus Harding and their fight to be the best skater. If anything, it makes an extra special effort to avoid Kerrigan at all.


And with the spotlight firmly on Robbie’s portrayal, she gives depth to a demonised woman where those around her seem far worse than herself and the final act of authorities banning her from doing the one thing she was any good at, and truly loved, is more heartbreaking than any comeuppance.


Whilst also being the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, Harding will sadly now be remembered as a modern villainess yet the film, with Robbie’s tremendous efforts, attempts to give a more nuanced reassessment of one of the most infamous scandals in sport.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



RSS Feed twitter