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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, Sep 17 2018 08:29AM



Midlands Review - Vigilante Style (2018)


Dir. Edward James Smith


A Pictured Visions Production


Vigilante Style is a new independent feature film written, directed and starring regional filmmaker Edward James Smith. Starting out as a short film all the way back in 2013, the filmmaker developed sequences over many years which eventually became this feature-length production.


The film begins with the “Our Feature Presentation” logo from Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse and this ‘Funky Fanfare’ combined with a fast-paced montage a la Guy Ritchie hints where the filmmaker’s influences lie.


It starts by using voiceover as it flashes backwards and forwards in time concerning events from 10 years ago and how they affect the present. Vigilante Gilmer Diamond (Edward James Smith himself) is captured by Alex Steele (Jon Peet) and with revenge on almost everyone’s mind and a wide set of criminal characters, the movie tries to balance multiple story threads in a seedy tale of deception.


However, that is easier said than done. Characters are not fully introduced or fleshed out and the story becomes a mix of confusing tales all explained using expositional dialogue.


And it’s unfortunate as the dialogue is one of the problems here owing to a sound mix that varies so wildly it’s difficult to concentrate on the matters on screen. With amazing HD cameras available, it’s such a shame to see a film with a lot of potential undermine itself with poorly recorded audio. And although the acting verges on being suitably over the top, all the performances are undercut by that poor audio production.


As characters get their comeuppance and gangs cross-paths with each other, we see an increase in violence with fights, shootouts and even a cricket bat making an appearance. Because it was filmed over many years (it was one of our first blogs back in 2014), maybe the filmmaker’s focus changed and so the movie’s broken narrative reflects those altered ambitions.



I enjoyed the Leicester locations of my home town and it was great to see the filmmakers utilise so many varied buildings and streets around the city to keep a variety to the proceedings. Yet filming around the city exacerbates the sound issues with city traffic, background hums and windy alleys all causing their own issues.


Smith throws in a lot of varied techniques in his fast-paced film though. Voice-over, freeze frames and subtitles are added to his guerrilla filmmaking style and the use of chapter titles again show a nod to Tarantino. Yet the good editing is undermined by a lack of cinematography as a huge percentage of the film looks like mobile-phone footage at times.


But in reality it keeps coming back to sound – at times a decent soundtrack is used from artists like Suicide Bees, Blake J. Carpenter and Soul Release – but the dialogue and conversations need much more work. Better mixing and some ADR would go a long way – especially with the voiceover – and improve the viewing experience 10-fold.


Clearly a passion project, it has the vibe and seemingly the budget of a student film and it wears its b-movie credentials proudly on its sleeves. In many respects it seems more like a film that was good fun to make and I admired the passion of a group of friends getting a project together. However, willing friends doing you a lot of favours is one thing, trying to pull it together over a number of years is another.


And so, although it’s all undertaken with a lot of devotion you just have to try and ignore the lack of technical expertise. A number of different quality issues – some sections underlit, others overlit – continue to show a lack of consistency and ultimately it pays the price of its cheap shortcuts.


Maybe it’s a case of running before it can walk. Vigilante Style has flashes of editing and story proficiency but they are drowned out by some sloppiness and that one fatal flaw I keep coming back to – the sound and its design.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even with a low budget a filmmaker needs to know what their budget is, and of course the limitations that brings. It’s a badge of honour to say you’ve made a feature film but sometimes the filmmaker is stretching that little bit too far with the resources at hand.


Expanding what I would imagine was an inventive short into a full feature is no easy task and Vigilante Style shows that good intentions can only go so far with a passionate but slapdash approach. More Neil Breen than David Lean, Smith has stretched a short concept to breaking point and only the most hardcore exploitation fans need apply.


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Mar 2 2017 11:02AM



The Love Witch (2017) Dir. Anna Biller


“Do you like to ride, Elaine?”


With a camp retro-ness and grindhouse quality that only an early Tim Burton or Tarantino could dream of comes a genre-loving film of obsession and sexual politics. The Love Witch stars a brilliant Samantha Robinson as the title character Elaine, who is a lovelorn witch that dabbles in mysticism, potions and tarot cards in an attempt to find herself the man of her affections. Or is it of her obsessions? Well, the film uses Hammer horror and John Walters-style kitsch to actually deliver much more complex and deeper themes of femininity and patriarchy.


The gorgeous sets and costume design help tell the story of Elaine as she arrives in a new town, escaping her ambiguous past life, and meeting a lecturer called Wayne. She suggests he whisks her off to his isolated cabin for a clandestine rendezvous, before convincing him to take a swig from her mysterious hip-flask. From here, it seems as though Elaine has concocted a brew that appears to show the true character of those who drink it.


In this instance the steak-eating hunk of masculinity transforms into a crying man-child and what began as erotic worship ends with Elaine burying his body in the garden. Adorning his makeshift grave is a “gift” of nature that consists of a used tampon and a jar of urine. The little-seen hygiene product seemed to echo Psycho’s first ever-toilet flush in a further directorial nod to the schlock and boundary-pushing of 60s horror.


Similarly a spot-on score partly parallels Bernard Herman’s iconic strings and is complemented by a psychedelia soundtrack of harps and horror Hammond organs. This mix of influences from different eras also shows Biller having fun with thematic and aesthetic anachronisms. The 60s are invoked with Cadillac and hot rod cars as well as kinky boots and hair styles from the time, but the illusion is amusingly broken as she throws in 2016 BMWs and smart phones.


These knowing winks keep the Love Witch from becoming stale as lashings of comedy – from the actors’ monotone delivery of lines to the hilarious weeping males Elaine leaves in her wake – keep the tone bouncing between light and shade. Slightly off-kilter framing and hard cuts create a quirky and self-referential b-movie humour, somewhat akin to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace series.


As Elaine continues her endeavours with bubbling dry-ice tonics, a local policeman (played with virility by a square jawed Gian Keys) attempts to crack the case of the missing man. Here we notice that plot is quite minimal with information sometimes delivered in streams of indelicate monologue. It’s deliberately slow-paced and edited – perhaps to a fault at times – BUT Biller has a voice that cuts through any of these tiny and ultimately inconsequential flaws.


Her stylish design sits comfortably with her comments on nature, identifying witches as outcasts and using sexuality as a positive. And Biller’s serious questions work well in a uniquely theatrical film of heightened reality. One man states that burlesque performance is “reclaiming womanhood” yet Biller keeps some of her voice ambiguous, as at times male clichés are espoused by female characters and vice versa. An “equality of difference” and other such thorny issues may seem heavy material but are entrapped in a Kaleidoscope of cut-scenes and drug fuelled images that reflect the bravura of the accomplished director who can handle the frequent shift in tones.


From “sex magic” to crimson bed sheets, the horror is never too far away as well. Literal (and metaphorical) bondage again reflects the clever but balanced topics Biller wishes to convey whilst a Renaissance Fayre has thespian-style staging and alludes to the natural medieval past of witches.


Enchanting and engaging, The Love Witch sees Biller creating a multifaceted masterpiece that, whilst on the surface tells the story of a technicolour temptress, is a far more magical experience mixing low-budget tropes with high-brow awareness.


9/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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