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By midlandsmovies, Oct 3 2019 01:42PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


Now deep into the second half of the year, there's more films being released in cinemas, on video-on-demand and home format than we can keep up with but we have three new reviews of some of the latest releases out there. In this review catch-up post we take a look at SKIN, MA & CHILD'S PLAY.




Skin (2019) Dir. Guy Nattiv


Jamie Bell plays real-life ex-white supremacist Bryon "Pitbull" Widner in this new dark drama asking whether a racist can be reformed. At various white-power gatherings, Bell acts as father figure to new recruits but begins to doubt his own convictions when he meets Danielle Macdonald as Julie Price and becomes an actual surrogate dad to her two children. Based on an amazing true story, Bell’s Neo-Nazi is covered in tattoos, including significant ones to his face and so the drama is punctuated with gruesome flash-forwards of tattoo removal scenes as his past is literally burnt away. The film has dashes of Imperium and American History X as it tries to get under the surface of the ugly face of American fascism.


Starting with eerily prescient scenes from 2009, the film mellows slightly in the middle before Bell makes a desperate call to a man who is trying to help people leave behind their Neo-Nazi past. As Bell denounces his previous life, he erases his tribal ink along with it. Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’) delivers a warm turn as the empathetic wife, whilst Bell is great as the former skinhead. With a multifaceted performance, he looks for something (or someone) to blame but then takes control of his own life to make it better. With a timely subject matter, Skin delves into themes we’ve seen before but this almost unbelievably true life story gives hope to a better world by erasing, and learning from, one’s past mistakes. ★★★★



Ma (2019) Dir. Tate Taylor


Director Tate Taylor made 2011’s The Help which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before his adaptation of The Girl on the Train earnt more than $122 million worldwide but what he is doing with Ma is anyone’s guess. Billed as a psychological horror, the film neither provides any depth to the psychological part and little in the way of horror either. In fact, 45 minutes in and all we have is a group of terribly broad and clichéd teenagers partying at a house owned by “Ma” (Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington) who has lured the group to her basement as a place to consume alcohol under the relative ‘safety’ of her adult supervision. However, a humiliating incident from Ma’s past has built up a psychopathic resentment and her initial concern and protectiveness for the teens’ well-being slowly descends into ludicrous revenge sub-plots. Octavia Spencer, who was so excellent in Hidden Figures, does her best to hold the film’s under-developed aspects together but she cannot overcome the film’s rather large flaws. Unlike suggested in the trailer, the horror is sparse and the first terrible thing Ma does is at 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Given the credits rolled at 1 hour 32 minutes, it really is a missed opportunity for what looks, on paper, to be an interesting set-up. The sewing of a teen’s mouth shut hints upon the gore and nastiness a film like this really should have had more of, but Ma ends up being a pretty terrible and boring film with a solid idea spoiled by its sub-par execution. ★★



Child's Play (2019) Dir. Lars Klevberg


80s video-nasty Child’s Play gets a technological upgrade in this reboot about a killer doll on a murderous rampage. Unlike earlier films in the franchise, the conceit here is rather than a killer’s soul being magically transferred to a toy doll, the recently released “Buddi” is a misfiring high-tech toy that interacts with other products from the Kaslan Corporation who make it. After a suicidal employee at a Vietnamese toy factory decides to disable the safety protocols of one of the dolls on the assembly line, the corrupt product ends up in 13-year old Andy’s hands. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a shy youngster who lives with his single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and names his doll “Chucky" (oh-oh). Before long, the doll has murdered the family’s cat and decapitated his mum’s boyfriend after hearing Andy bad-mouth both of them. The film wisely takes broad aim at consumerist culture but the comedy-horror works well in the style of 80s fare like Gremlins as the characters never nod-and-wink to the audience. This makes the dark comedy all the more funny. From table saws, blood spurts and a horrifying scalping, the required gore is present and the film’s young child actors are pleasantly relatable. Some 80s clichés work themselves in too – the investigator, the adults who don’t believe their kids, a finale in a department store – and these help solidify the tone in which the film aims for. Mark Hamill does great with his Joker-infused tones as the voice of Chucky also. Much better than it has any right to be, Child’s Play digital modernisation respects the origins of that first film and whilst it won’t win any high-brow awards, for this sort of thing it’s surprisingly entertaining. ★★★



Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 11:02AM



It Chapter Two (2019) Dir. Andy Muschietti


The success of the first IT film came as a bit of an industry surprise with the best opening of a horror movie at the box office ever. The inevitable sequel was not just because of that – the book is “essentially” two parts anyways – so now we follow the Losers Club as adults as they return to Derry to fulfil their promise to each other to stop Pennywise the (killer) Clown if he ever returned.


Director Andy Muschietti builds upon the good work of his first film which, for me, is by far the best of the recent glut of mainstream Hollywood horror. But this time we have a selection of adults embodying grown-up versions of the child actors from the previous film.


Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis star as the old and young versions of Bev respectively, James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell are Bill, Bill Hader and Finn Wolfhard play Richie, Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs are Mike, Jay Ryan and Jeremy Ray Taylor act as Ben, James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer are Eddie and finally Andy Bean and Wyatt Oleff play Stanley Uris.


As the gang reunite, the film sees their memory of past events slowly return and the success of the excellent young actors’ chemistry from the first film has led to the director inserting plenty of flashbacks to flesh out the story.


And of course, the fabulously malevolent Bill Skarsgård is Pennywise the Dancing Clown with his piercing eyes, child-like voice and drooling smile all coming back to scare the adults who are all dealing with their personal past demons too.


As well as the actors, the film is shot superbly and the glowing cinematography during the flashbacks harks back to the innocent past whilst the modern versions have a more contemporary look. And a smattering of humour, mainly built around the excellent Bill Hader helps keep the protagonists likeable.


However, despite some excellent work from the cast and filmmaker, there are some problems with that. The film is not really scary at all. A Thing-inspired spider-head and a tense meeting between an old lady and Jessica Chastain’s Bev are superb but an over-use of CGI and the humour is tonally a little off. There are also some “meta” moments with a film set location, a Stephen King cameo and constant references to McAvoy’s writer who is known for the bad endings of his published books. This makes the film feel more like the satirical Scream 2 and these self-references took me from the movie completely.


Also, we must talk about the runtime. At 169 minutes (!) it’s AT LEAST 30-minutes too long. The great drama played out by the gang works well but by the cataclysmic and over-the-top end confrontation, I was actually yearning for a conclusion. A Return of the Rings-style multi-ending added another 10 minutes on that and it soon became quite comically misjudged.


The cast (did I mention them at all?) really help the slightly ramshackle film from falling apart but with its aim to be “epic”, it falls flat at times despite the interesting dark themes of dealing with the past sitting nicely with some more positivity set within fun 80s retro references. In the end though, IT Chapter 2 is a more than solid 2 hour sequel with an added 50 unnecessary minutes that ideally could be wiped from your brain like a memory from Derry.


★★★½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 10:06AM



John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) Dir. Chad Stahelski


Keanu Reeves returns once more as the eponymous ‘hero’ John Wick in this third instalment of the hyper-violent neo-noir action series. The movie picks up immediately from the previous sequel where the ex-assassin is in New York escaping from a $14 million hit put upon his head after his unsanctioned killing of a member of the “High Table” – a seedy cabal of hitmen and women. But before you can say “parabellum”, Wick is involved in bloodier fist/knife/gun fights than ever before.


Influenced at times by old gun-slinging westerns – (Wick-y Wick-y Wild Wild West) he uses 6-shooter guns and tomahawks, rides a horse through Manhattan and there is a distinct steel-guitar vibe on the soundtrack. Technical wise, the lighting is beyond fantastic with the gorgeous visuals, neon lights and heavy rain giving the locations a classic cinematic feel in comparison to other genre films.


The culture continues (as first seen around Rome in Chapter 2) with scenes set at theatres, museums, libraries and art galleries setting the somewhat low-brow fight action against more civilised environments.


During a ballet rehearsal, a rare but welcome Anjelica Huston appearance explains “the path to paradise begins in hell”. This is one of a number of religious nods alongside a crucifix necklace, stained glass windows and later on a cross is seared on Wick’s back before a gruesome scene of anatomical sacrifice. And redemption is a big theme too. Wick wants out but is drawn back in – not just by his guilt – but by a sense of obligation to the codes of conduct the High Table group enforce.


Support comes from an excellent duplicitous Ian McShane as the manager of a hotel refuge whilst Laurence Fishburne brings his mouthy gravitas to underground crime lord, the Bowery King. The excellent Halle Berry is sadly wasted in a silly shoot-out sequence in Casablanca. The bland gun action is not helped by some CGI dogs - however, those waiting for some long overdue dog revenge will lap up the hounds’ killing spree.


What doesn’t work? Well, the action – as good as it is – is constant. And relentlessly so. Characterisation is kept to a minimum but expected I suppose and the much-lauded motorcycle chase is a poor facsimile of the superior one in The Villainess.


Also, and I’m not sure if it’s because I watched this recent video breaking down stunt choreography from an expert, Keanu was starting to look his age as the overly-choreographed fights seemed to have a few missed marks. A minor gripe I admit.

Whilst expanding the mythos Wick has also lost some of its initial Taken-style charm. The two films were never realistic per se but in Parabellum, murders in public at Grand Central Station and bus-loads of SWAT push it a little bit too far into fantasy. Heck, it even bordered on WANTED (2009) territory with its clan of shady assassins clinging to their historical rules of engagement.


All that said, Wick does what it sets out to do with no apologies. A few nice nods to The Matrix are a nice inside-joke - Neo, I mean Wick, is asked to make a choice by a monologue-ing mentor in a video-screened room and also asks for “Guns. Lots of guns”. And not to mention that Morpheus is in it of course!


And so, genre fans will lap up the explosions, punches, martial arts, gun-fu and the well-executed stunt work. But Wick goes beyond b-movie staples with a film that not only delivers on its action but is a feast for the more discerning viewer with its eye-wateringly impressive lighting, cinematography and production design.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Aug 28 2019 10:13AM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


In this collection of recent reviews we take a look at ANGEL HAS FALLEN, KILLER'S ANONYMOUS, IN FABRIC and THE STANDOFF AT SPARROW CREEK.


Read on to hear our thoughts on some of these new 2019 cinema and dvd releases.



Angel Has Fallen (2019) Dir. Ric Roman Waugh

A frankly out-of-shape Gerard Butler returns in this third instalment in the Fallen film series following Olympus Has Fallen (the number 10 entry of our worst films of 2013) and London Has Fallen (the number ONE entry in our worst films of 2016) again playing secret service agent Mike Banning. Suffering from a form of PTSD, he protects US President (Morgan Freeman) from a drone attack but is implicated in the crime itself. Cue a tedious game of cat and mouse between an on-the-run Banning and his previous colleagues. He’s also chased by forces “unknown” (it’s so obvious from the outset who the culprits are) who want to get to Banning to finish the job and execute their conspiracy.


What we have then is an unexciting, monotonous and dreary “action” film whose 2-hour runtime feels like 2 weeks. Jada Pinkett as an FBI agent spouts tedious action-film clichés passing itself off as dialogue and its plot has been done numerous times before as seen in the Bourne franchise, Sentinel (2006) and most of M:I series as an operative is framed for a crime he didn’t commit whilst others attempt to bring them to justice.


Positives? Although I’m struggling to find many, when Banning meets his father (Nick Nolte) in his remote wood cabin, the film is given some much-needed pleasure with a tongue-in-cheek tone and some nifty banter. A mid-credits scene has to be seen to be believed too, so if you manage to make it to the end, stick around for that. I also thought the explosions were pretty spectacular with some stuntmen really taking a battering as they are thrown around. But the woeful quick editing on the fights makes them hard to follow and one brawl in a car at night is frankly unwatchable and shouldn’t be in a movie with this budget. In the end it may just be the best of the series, stay with me on this, as the others were beyond terrible and this is simply mostly bad. Action fans may find something in this that I didn’t get out of it, but for general audiences, the franchise should fall into retirement as soon as possible.


Killers Anonymous (2019) Dir. Martin Owen

This American crime thriller film directed by Martin Owen tells the story of a group of assassins being brought together in a secret hideaway situated in a London church after the assassination of an American Senator on UK soil. Opening with an elongated conversation between Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba – filmed strangely, as characters talk to the camera Peep Show-style – the group finally congregates in a small set of rooms as they share their backgrounds and “days since last killing” stories like an AA meeting. The film wastes its talented cast which includes a delicious Tommy Flanagan as Markus, an excellent Rhyon Nicole Brown as Alice, a subtle performance from MyAnna Buring as Joanna and stalwart Tim McInnerny as Calvin who all did their best with some awful dialogue. It could have worked as a more serious chamber piece like 12 Angry Men (1957) or pushed the envelope and gone further into the knowing horror of the more recent Would You Rather (2012) but in the end it sticks to a bland unsatisfying middle-ground. How Oscar-winner Gary Oldman got involved in this is anyone's guess and it most reminded me of the darkly comic Inside No. 9 both in flat TV look and its eclectic soundtrack. In the end though, what could have worked as a one-off ITV drama is not cinematic enough for the ideas it has. And sadly this more than tiresome movie tries to be a big screen blockbuster but is much more of a lacklustre little screen disappointment.

★★



In Fabric (2019) Dir. Peter Strickland

A horror comedy infused with Italian ‘Giallo’ genre stylings, In Fabric is a new movie featuring, bear with me, a killer dress. A ridiculous conceit, the film in fact uses this far-fetched idea to look at consumerism, desires and hypnotising capitalism. It stars Oscar-nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sheila, whose awful managers and worse dates increase her feeling of loneliness since her recent divorce. She purchases a crimson dress at the enigmatic Dentley and Soper's store from assistant Miss Luckmoore (an incredibly creepy Fatma Mohamed) who appears part of a ritualistic coven. The cursed dress leaves a strange rash on Sheila as the supernatural piece of clothing causes havoc with a washing machine and attempts to murder Sheila’s son’s girlfriend – played by a welcome but all too brief appearance from Gwendoline Christie. A sharp turn in the narrative though is where the film started to lose its way a little. The dress ends up in possession of washing machine repair man Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) whose story of hypnotism is far less interesting and developed than Sheila’s. In Fabric’s tone however seems not only to be hinting at classic Italian horrors but also by very British influences too. I saw hints of the satirical website Scarfolk Council, who is in itself influenced by the panic-filled sensibilities of 1970/80s government health and safety films and iconography. And In Fabric at times seems to be what Matthew Holness was attempting in Possum (2018) which was a snail-paced disappointment. A beautiful looking film of strong colours and lighting and a terrific cast playing bizarre and peculiar characters, In Fabric suffers most with its plotline switch at the halfway point, dismissing almost all of what came before it. Fans of the cinematic influences will lap it up but for me, it’s a slightly missed, but to be fair with a lot to like, opportunity to bring Suspiria to suburbia.

★★★



The Standoff of Sparrow Creek (2019) Dir. Henry Dunham

Written and directed by Henry Dunham in his feature debut The Standoff at Sparrow Creek tackles current U.S. obsessions with gun ownership, responsibility, media blame and political and social paranoia. Throwing us straight in, James Badge Dale plays ex-cop Gannon who has joined a local militia and ends up investigating his own group after one of them is suspected of a mass shooting at a police funeral. Information comes in sporadically over the police radio meaning a time limit is set, and in their secluded warehouse base one of their machine guns is suspiciously missing. Creating a sense of dread and hidden motives, the film is set almost solely in this location and using the fantastic conceit, the group is faced into confronting this situation with the audience trapped in this mystery along with them. The cinematography mixes dark shadows and spotlights as the questions fly and these help create the best scenes which involve Gannon interrogating members using his previous experience. A small but powerful indie feature, its 88 minutes gives the movie a swift pace with more depth than most small dramas. But it doesn’t let up either with a multitude of talented performances from the excellent cast playing distrustful characters obsessed with protecting their “freedoms”.

★★★★



Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2019 07:49PM



Double Date


Directed by Benjamin Barfoot


After two years sitting in digital streaming no-man’s land, 2017 horror comedy Double Date finally comes to BluRay on September 9th courtesy of new British firm Sparky Pictures.


Written by and starring Danny Morgan, he plays Jim – a tongue-tied virgin whose arrogant wing-man friend (Michael Socha as Alex) tries to get him laid before his 30th birthday as his own personal goal.


A Sin City/Shaun of the Dead comic style opening with blood red titles against stark black backdrop sets the scene for this comedy-horror which has rude and crude dialogue but its fair share of blood and guts too.


As Alex tries to get Jim to use his ABCs of pulling - Act, Blag & Check-out – the two lads have the misfortune of running into two killer sisters (Georgia Groome and Kelly Wenham as Lulu and Kitty) who are looking for a virgin man to sacrifice as part of a cult ritual.


The cinematography is great for a low budget indie feature and the soundtrack is also a highlight with a cool collection of tracks & a tribal groove score from a band called Goat. Run to Your Mama is noticeably good even for an old rock-metaller like me!


Like the sirens of mythology, the two girls lure the two hapless geezers to a mansion ready for their “sacrifice”. They go via Jim’s embarrassing family who do the most mortifying quartet singing since Trading Places. The middle section in a club slows the narrative a little but as they go to Alex’s father living in a caravan, we get a more than welcome cameo from Dexter Fletcher.


For me though, the horror worked much better than the lad-culture comedy which I didn’t much care for. It seemed to want to subvert the machismo but it revels in it at the same time. The bloody violence, well-choreographed fights and the flickering candle lighting in the second half of the film gave it a creepy vibe I wanted to see much more of.


Not without its charms, lovers of the genre will lap it up and it is way better than average for this sort of movie. And although it’s not completely my cup of tea, fear fans could do a lot worse than set a date to see this frightful yet fun flick.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Aug 24 2019 07:00AM



The Wind (2019) Dir. Emma Tammi


Emma Tammi’s directorial debut is a western horror and although the title sounds like a sub-Blumhouse video on demand chiller (or an unwanted Shyamalan The Happening spin-off) the sombre tome makes this a scary trip to the West worth checking out.


Horror westerns are a small sub-genre – from direct-to-video sequels From Dusk Til Dawn 3 and Tremors 4 all the way to S. Craig Zahler’s excellent Bone Tomahawk via the slightly less-excellent Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966). John Carpenter’s Vampires also mixed the genres but here though, the film ditches any b-movie stylings and feels more in tune with the Coens’ Buster Scruggs.


The film stars Caitlin Gerard as Lizzy, a resourceful woman in a remote cabin on the American plains. She lives with just her husband, Ashley Zukerman as Isaac before being joined by Julia Goldani Telles as Emma Harper and Dylan McTee as Gideon Harper. With just 4 people, the women toil the crops as the men leave them for long stretches hunting and gathering.


Opening on a horrific scene of a pregnancy gone wrong, we know we’re not going to be in for an easy ride. The structure of the film flashes back and forth from the present, where Lizzy is surviving on her own, to the 4 people trying to settle in this harsh environment back in the past. The two intertwining narratives was a fantastic device to create mystery and leave questions unanswered. For some though, the lack of clarity between where we are in time could infuriate. And I have to admit myself, there were times of head-scratching to work out where we were in the story.


As Emma Harper gets pregnant, she begins to have visions and feelings of another presence in the area. Initially dismissive herself, Lizzy takes little notice of these until later when the wind – and whatever forces it is hiding – comes to her own door.


The dialogue is minimal but effective from scriptwriter Teresa Sutherland and Caitlin Gerard is great as the lonely woman battling supernatural entities and possibly her own sanity. The film is also beautifully shot and slowly allows the story to build before we get a shock scare or two.


With intrigue and violence, the film is ambitious yet doesn’t always hit its mark. The slow editing makes its 90 minutes seem longer, but in many ways the film is too short and the ending is a little rushed and offers little in the way of explanation. Although I suspect that was the point.


In conclusion, The Wind is an impressive and sporadically frightening first film which takes the large scale and uncharted American wild West and places its foreign nature into the cabin - and the mind - of a female pioneer. With heady themes of religion, redemption and the unfamiliar, you will be rewarded as you roam into this undiscovered and menacing windy wilderness.


★★★ ½


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 22 2019 11:06PM



Under the Silver Lake (2019) Dir. David Robert Mitchell


In 2001 indie chiller Donnie Darko became an underground runaway success and director Richard Kelly followed up that intelligent dark drama with a film so bad, indulgent and incomprehensible (2006’s Southland Tales) it pretty much killed his career. Well, in true Groundhog Day style, this L.A.-set neo-noir mystery film is a gigantic misfire on almost all counts, which is a shame as fans of David Robert Mitchell’s 80s-infused horror It Follows were no doubt anticipating something exciting for his second movie.


The plot, if you can decipher it, involves Andrew Garfield investigating the sudden disappearance of his neighbour Riley Keough, but during his escapades uncovers a large and complicated conspiracy. A great score clearly influenced by Bernard Herrmann’s music for Hitchcock is about the only positive to recommend the film, as low-brow discussions on masturbation and nudity crossed with comics and animated sequences fill a ridiculous incoherent narrative involving songwriters, a dog killer and some underground Pharaoh bunkers.


Influences range from Mulholland Drive, Raymond Chandler and Chinatown as we get dream sequences, the seedy underbelly of the city and some classic detective tropes but although it’s never really boring, it’s always awful.


There’s a scene midway through that so sums up this gigantic misfire that you must think that the director is trolling the audience into disliking his own film. “Do you like the movie?” asks one character to Sam (Garfield) as he stands in a cemetery next to a HITCHCOCK grave watching a film before 3 girls get into a limousine with a fancy-dressed pirate. What? How VERY clever of you.


The music is stupidly on the nose such as it is, including the “Behind movie scenes” line from Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha to REM’s What’s the Frequency, Kenneth. Ambitious, weird and bizarre but consistently terrible, Under the Silver Lake is what 2 stoner mates may think was a good idea at 4am but the film is baffling in construction and makes a terrible attempt to satire the movie industry and provides a lame and superficial commentary on female representation.


The only reason I watched right to the end of the credits was because I was hoping to get a fucking apology. I didn't.


★ ½


Michael Sales

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


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