Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood Review

Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction are among my favourite films of all time. They are all written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and that made me very excited to sit down and watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A Tarantino film set in the late 60s Hollywood with Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie? Sign me up. 

The film is an alternate reality version of the Sharon Tate/Manson Family tragedy, and it focuses on DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, an actor whose career is slowly dying, and his stuntman body double Cliff Booth. Brad Pitt as Booth is a stark reminder that all men are not created equal. This man is in his 50s and looks absolutely stunning. There seems to be a flock of 50-something humans around now who look absolutely stunning, including J-Lo at the Superbowl last night. So glad that Kansas City won after Arsenal let me down earlier in the day.

Back to the film, DiCaprio and Pitt play off each other well, and I genuinely bought their friendship even if Cliff seems to be making most of the effort. He is employed by DiCaprio as a Driver/Handyman and you see his own life is pretty simple, and he has a dog, which makes him 100% more lovable. Pitt plays the role brilliantly and is magnetic on screen, stealing the show from the other talents in the film. I have to say he deserves all the praise and accolades he is being nominated for and awarded.

DiCaprio has moments of genius, but never quite matches Pitt’s performance, almost feeling a little like a caricature of a 60s actor at times. I think that’s sort of the idea, but it didn’t quite sit right with me for some reason even though I did enjoy his performance. He has arguably the biggest laugh in the film’s final act, and he also delivers a big emotional moment earlier in the film when his character is acting. He acts as an actor acting as a cowboy, but there is a moment in that scene where you actually feel like there is something else there and you find yourself feeling sorry for him in an odd way.

Margot Robbie plays the role of Sharon Tate, and in this film while she is great as always, she is completely unnecessary. I am taking nothing away from her performance, she’s great and stunning to look at and everything else, but I could not understand why this film needed Sharon Tate and the Manson murders in it. It could have just been a bunch of mad people trying to get at Rick and Cliff, without Sharon Tate’s involvement in the film at all.

The other issue with her role, and the role of women in general in this film, is that the camera spends most of the time on her legs and feet. I think Margot Robbie is possibly the most attractive woman on earth, but I found myself in shock at the levels of gratuitously long shots on her legs and feet. Margaret Qualley plays another girl, one of the Manson family, and once again there are egregious shots of her legs and feet.

It’s a common feature in Tarantino’s films to have a shot of feet, he likes feet, it’s his thing, whatever. But to me it signified this film’s biggest issue. Everything about this film is self-indulgent. Tarantino is one of my favourite directors, but to me this just felt too much. The first two hours are a slow, frankly dull series of events with a few highlights, but at 2 hours and 42 minutes, someone should have been editing this down to a comfortable 2 hours and 15. Off the top of my head there is no reason for Margot Robbie’s character, and there is a ridiculous scene with Bruce Lee, both of which can be cut.

That Bruce Lee scene is a 5-minute-long set up for a joke. It’s funny, its entertaining, but it’s completely unrelated to the story, it does nothing for it and I don’t understand why it’s there. Which is kind of where I land on this film, and that is something that really hurts to write. There is just too much of this movie that I found myself questioning why I was watching? Where was it going?

For the first three quarters of its run time, this film sits in the departure lounge. Eventually we jump into a jet and fly off, but it comes a little bit too late. The last 40 minutes are the kind of mad, frenetic incredible entertainment I watch a Tarantino film for, but when the price is 2 hours of standing still, it just was not worth the wait.

This film is a technical masterpiece, the production design, the sets, the acting, even the direction is fantastic. There is just no story being told here, nothing to pull on your emotions or give you anything to think about, it will make you laugh at times, and there are some really good characters in there, but this is a rare disappointment for me from Tarantino.

Good: The acting, the direction, the production design, the technical elements are great, and the main characters are fun, except for Margot.

Bad: Lack of an engaging story means it is 2 hours of characters talking about their past success, and then something entertaining happens.

6/10 – Technically great, Actually Boring.

 

 

Bad Boys For Life Review

Everyone remembers the song and the “We ride together, we die together” phrase, but does anyone remember much else about the Bad Boys films? I certainly didn’t and perhaps I have done myself a disservice by not catching myself up on the previous instalments in this Franchise? The question mark because I am not sure when something becomes a “franchise”.

What I do remember is the action was fun to watch, there was lots of one liners and jokes that get a laugh, and Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have good chemistry together. Well frankly I could just leave the review there because that’s kind of exactly what you get with Bad Boys for Life.

Will Smith & Martin Lawrence return after 17 years doing other things to varying levels of success, and I have to say their chemistry has remained. They exchange quips back and forth like old friends, and that makes for some fun exchanges in between the action. They are joined by a new squad of fresh-faced youngsters who are all fine, but nobody really stuck out as a memorable character. They all have a laugh or a moment, but nothing that made me remember their characters names.

If you’re happy to suspend your disbelief, 51-year-old Will Smith looks cool chasing and exchanging punches with a man a fraction of his age. This isn’t like Rambo, where you believe he’d convincingly beat the shit out of most human beings, this is kind of ridiculous. There is one point where Smith sprints so far on a rooftop that you’d think he should be playing in this Sunday’s Superbowl (GO CHIEFS!).

The plot exists, and I acknowledge that it does, but I can’t say it’s good or bad. Its functional, it propels you from one entertaining action scene to the next. As I mentioned last week when I wrote about The Gentlemen, this film to an even greater degree feels like a palette cleanser. It is something to take away the weight of the emotional and thought-provoking movies I have been watching lately.

I was surprised how often I laughed throughout the film, it’s funnier than I remember the Bad Boys films being. I couldn’t recite a line or tell you scene that really got me giggling, but again it’s just generally quite entertaining without making you think too hard.

Bad Boys for Life is an odd film to review because it’s the “finest” movie I have watched in quite a while. There is nothing bad in this film. The Plots thin, but it’s functional. The jokes aren’t hilarious, but they’ll get a little chuckle. The action isn’t mind boggling, but it’s fun to watch unfold. The characters aren’t one note duds, but they’re not a fleshed-out ensemble cast either.

People will come to this film for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s chemistry, and it delivers that bromance in a tidy and easy to consume package. If it’s something that interests you, grab some popcorn and enjoy the ride. If you’re dragged to see this it won’t offend you, you might even have fun.

Good: Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are fun to watch throughout.

Bad: Unremarkable and swiftly forgotten afterwards. The most okay film I have seen in a while.

5/10 – Not bad, but not great either. 

 

 

The Personal History of David Copperfield Review

It’s rare that I go into a film completely unaware of what it’s about. Beyond the rather lengthy title, I had not even watched a full trailer, just a 30 second teaser and that hinted at a fun film but not much in the way of the story. Having seen it, I now know it is a Charles Dickens novel that is being brought to life by a “colour blind” cast of very talented actors and actresses. 

The film opens on a stage with Dev Patel, playing the titular David Copperfield, beginning to tell the audience the story of his life which. As he is speaking, he turns and walks through the theatre stage’s back drop and out into an open field as he walks towards a house where a woman is giving birth. That woman is his mother, and he is the child being born. We are taken through his life, from birth, through all the major events and up to him writing the very thing he is reading on stage.

I don’t always write a synopsis-like description of a film in these reviews, but I felt it necessary to frame the story which plays out, and for me it helped sell some of the films whimsical nature off as it is a man retelling his life, rather than us actually living it with him. The word whimsical was constantly popping into my head as I watched this story play out. It is silly, its whimsical, but above all it’s entertaining.

Dev Patel is genuinely brilliant in this, as he tends to be in most things I have seen him in, but the pure joy he seemed to have playing this character spread across the entire cast and everyone is just enjoying the Dickensian world they’re in. The world is full of grey, gritty situations, and the bad characters are cartoonishly evil and always wearing black. This serves just to highlight the good people, dressed in much brighter garb, with fun accents and over-emotive expressions.

Every new character introduced is another actor you will recognise from somewhere. There is Tilda Swinton & Benedict Wong (Avengers Endgame), Peter Capaldi (Dr Who), Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) and Hugh Laurie (House) just from memory, and all of them are great in their roles. Each of the characters serves a purpose and has something quirky about them that make them instantly memorable. It’s an excellent display in how to write side characters that serve their function in the story and have something entertaining about them for the audience as well.

I had some issues with the way the story is told, and the devices they use to do so. The way it flits in and out of having a voice over from Dev Patel, then from other characters, then it doesn’t have any voice over for ages, then once you’ve forgotten it was ever there, its back again. I had kind of settled into the story and was enjoying it then suddenly Dev Patel is talking to the audience over the scenes unfolding and it stood out like a sore thumb. I was never quite sure whether we were watching the story as it played out or if it’s being remembered by David Copperfield a certain way or if you’re in a sort of dream sequence. It’s an odd thing as I am pretty sure this is done intentionally, but it just didn’t quite work for me.

As someone who loves the craft behind making these films, I found the production design and scene transitions are incredible. Each character’s colour palette stays consistent and the world is very well realised, you believe you’re watching mid 1800s England, even if there are liberties taken with the time it takes to travel by horse and cart from London to Yarmouth.

The Personal History of David Copperfield reminded me a lot of Little Women, but unfortunately it isn’t quite on the same level as that film. It’s an entertaining ride through a whimsical world of fun, but it missed that emotional beat that I wanted to come along at some point in the story. The performances are worth the admission alone, and there is a lot of good stuff to be enjoyed.

Good: Performances of all the cast, the production value and the joy you’ll have watching these characters interact.

Bad: I felt there was going to be an emotional beat that never came in the third act and the storytelling felt a bit muddled.

7/10 – Whimsy: The Film

The Gentlemen Review

Guy Ritchie made his name with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and one of my personal favourite films: Snatch. With the Gentlemen, he has returned to his British gangster film roots and brought to it a cast packed with big names and huge talent. His writing and his dialogue are what made the films hits, and from the trailers it just looked like him flexing his writing and directorial muscles after years working in different genres. 

In recent years he’s made Aladdin and Man from Uncle, two films I really enjoyed but didn’t quite have that Guy Ritchie style I love. I missed catching King Arthur, but that film just didn’t seem like it suited the director’s flair. The Gentlemen, whilst initially giving me a Kingsman vibe, is Ritchie going back to what he does better than anyone. It’s fast paced, anarchic, over the top fun, and that’s a word that’s relatively dull to use to describe a film but honestly, it’s how it is best described.

The last few films I have watched have been Bombshell and Little Women, two dramas about real issues and bringing up emotions. The Gentlemen never tries to kid you into thinking it’s going to be that. It knows what it wants to do, and it goes about achieving it as best it can. Getting the talents of Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell and the surprise star of the show Hugh Grant elevates the expectations a little for me. I love Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam seems promising in everything I’ve seen of him, and McConaughey is one of the best in the business. All three sell the fast-paced dialogue and excessive nature of everything well. Even little things like how many different suits McConaughey’s character gets through made me smile, as every new scene has him sporting a new pattern and pulling it off.

Hugh Grant is unrecognisable from the heartthrob audiences know from his various romantic comedies over the years, and he looks like he had an unbelievable amount of fun playing such a quirky oddball. He is the one delivering the exposition, and normally it would be excessive, but the character is so incredibly entertaining throughout that you just eat it all up.

To be honest, the flaws in the movie are all things that you just don’t come into a Guy Ritchie gangster film to see. If you want an introspective drama or a tragic story, there are other films that do that, this is unashamed to be here proudly displaying what it is. You know from early in the film what you’re in for, and it doesn’t change or surprise you. It subverts expectations by what the characters say and do, but mainly because there is nobody who writes dialogue quite like this.

There’s countless cunts and fucks thrown around with happy abandon for the offence people take to that language. There is no time for you to dwell on it, because before you know it, you’re into the next scene and something else bonkers is happening.

There is something in most of Guy Ritchie’s films that have reminded me of Tarantino, and this is another one where I can see shades of it. The difference, at least for now, is that Tarantino somehow takes a similar strain of over the top craziness and funnels it into a more investing story, something which The Gentlemen never threatens to do.

There is a narrative at play, but it felt like it’s just a vessel to get us to the next moment. I laughed consistently throughout, I was hooked by the performances, but I never cared. It never made me feel something for the characters, and that’s what holds this style of film back now.

If you enjoy Snatch or Lock Stock, this will be a fantastic ride for you. It’s got all the hallmarks of those films and a few references here and there, but if you want something to make you think or challenge you emotionally, this isn’t the film for it. This film is here to give you a good time, and in Oscar season it came along at just the right time for me.

Good: Dialogue, Performances, plenty of laughs and dripping with style.

Bad: Not going to make you feel much, no real connection to any characters.

7/10 – Guy Ritchie having some fun. 

 

Bombshell Review

Bombshell caught me by surprise late last year when I stumbled across the trailer and saw it had some of the most talented actresses all bundled together to tell an important, powerful story. It then fell off my radar until it finally released, and now I have finally been able to see whether it could live up to the expectations such a talent packed cast demand. 

Well first off, that cast all turn up and deliver excellent performances all-round the board. Everyone follows the lead of Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles and that level of performance is what really drives this film and makes it so compelling. Charlize Theron in particular catches the eye, and the Oscar nomination she has received for this role is well earned.

Margot Robbie is less central in the film, but she has some of the most powerful scenes and that’s why she is in the running for the supporting actress role, once again earning it. I did feel that those two were just a level above Nicole Kidman, who plays a very important role in the film but never threatens to steal a scene from anyone.

John Lithgow plays Roger Ailes, the man in charge of Fox and the man who is pitting these women against each other in their competitive field. He channels the ability he’s displayed in several roles over the years to be incredibly unsettling. He shares scenes with all the leads and although Margot Robbie’s character is a blend of several real women, the idea that this is based on true events made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

The story, if you don’t know it already, is essentially a dramatic telling of the events that led to Roger Ailes being removed from his role at Fox due to him sexually harassing numerous women over years in power at the news platform. The movie does a fantastic job of bringing you through the events, and the voice over from the three leads provides extra exposition when needed to give you more information as we go through the events.

There are a couple scenes in this that really feel powerful, and the film starts to go deeper into the characters and their emotions and the struggles they had to deal with. Margot Robbie bears the brunt of these scenes, with one showing how much the events have hurt her and another asking cutting questions to other women asking why they didn’t come out sooner to protect the next group of women from being abused the same way they was.

In these moments, the film threatens to step up another level to a point where I would be championing it for best picture, but it never quite goes for that step up and delivering something that really pulls at your emotions. It’s not that there is a joke that breaks the tension, it’s that the moments sort of fizzle out, they pass without a big moment to really punch it over the line and that’s where this film doesn’t quite make it to where it could have.

I found the subject matter horrible to watch, as a straight white dude I have not experienced anything like this and I am ashamed of the men in this story, as they stand idly by and turn a blind eye to these events. I can imagine that in the moment these situations are unbelievably difficult to manage. Their careers and personal aims would be unaffected by them staying on the outside of this, but they could lose it all by stepping into the fight for women against powerful men.

This film wasn’t about them though, and rightfully so, its focused on the women that stood up to the Mad Men style patriarchy and came out of it with an important win. I would be interested to know how this film makes women feel watching it, and I am looking forward to the conversations I will have about this film.

Good: Fantastic Performances carry this film, and it tells an important, interesting and at times powerful story.

Bad: The tone doesn’t always match the events unfolding, and the pacing took away from some of the more dramatic beats that could have elevated this film even higher.

8/10 – Bombshell is full of Bombshells. 

 

 

 

 

1917 Review

1917 is the latest movie to explore the horror of war. This time, as the title may have given away, we are in the trenches of the first world war, following two soldiers who must carry a message to another division to prevent them from heading into a trap laid by the Germans. That is essentially the entire plot, and once the film starts, its one long, winding journey all captured in one seemingly seamless shot. 

That effect is the most obvious place to start. Director Sam Mendes teams back up with cinematographer Roger Deakins to produce this one continuous shot effect that immerses you in the film. You discover the landscape and the horrors right alongside our two characters and the film does much of its storytelling visually.  The film shows the cost of war to the people on the front lines, and the majority of the time, the cost is their lives. The continuous camera rolls past scarred battlefields littered with bodies, through abandoned homes that have been turned into ruins.

Being a war film there is violence throughout, but not actually as much as you would think. It’s used sparingly, and that gives the moments it is present much more impact. It’s here where the sound design steps to the forefront and really shines. Every gunshot pierces the air and pings off surfaces. Every explosion is followed by the patter of debris showering down. You genuinely feel at any time anyone on screen could be hit, because we don’t see them as invincible. They aren’t Rambo, they aren’t super soldiers running and gunning their way to their target. Engaging in conflict is terrifying for the people on screen, and as we learn more about Blake and Schofield, we discover they’re as prepared for this task as you or I would be in this situation.

The film starts with Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, being woken up and told to pick a man and meet an officer in a bunker. They don’t have any idea what they’re being tasked with, they learn it with us in the audience, and they have the same amount of time to process it as we do. Schofield, played by George MacKay, and Blake set off and that is pretty much all the setup we are given. It is a very basic plot, but it gives the film licence to explore anything they want on this journey, and the destination is just a target in the distance.

What they explore, as I mentioned above, is the horror of war, and to that end it does a very good job. The films plot and the gimmick of the camera following along is very much a device for Sam Mendes to show how bad things were for these people. The characters aren’t particularly deep, they aren’t there for you to invest in and buy into a bond between men, they’re there to drag the camera through the landscape. As much as this works well for what Mendes was trying to achieve, it feels odd coming out of a film that I really enjoyed watching, but not really feeling anything for the main characters.

At its conclusion, I felt myself feeling satisfied, but not really any overwhelming emotion. It’s very much about the journey, and not the destination. 1917 is a nearly perfectly executed film, a clinic in film making at its best. It is a must see for any film junkies out there who love the craft of the industry. The impact of the scenes throughout can’t be questioned, it just didn’t have that knockout punch I wanted toward the end, but I don’t think that’s what this film was going for.

1917 is a movie that will win a lot of awards, and rightfully so. I don’t think it will be anyone’s favourite movie of the year though. That accolade will go to films like Little Women and JoJo Rabbit this year.

Speaking of JoJo Rabbit, watching this film in the wake of that film being a reminder of how ridiculous the beliefs that start wars can be, 1917 serves a sobering reminder of the cost that those idiotic beliefs incur on humanity.

Good: The best made film in years, it’s an amazing experience for your eyes and ears. Achieves exactly what it set out to do.

Bad: I just wanted that final moment to have a little more impact than it did for me.

9/10 – They will show 1917 in film making classes everywhere. 

Little Women Review

On my journey home from the office before seeing this film, I decided to watch a trailer to give myself an idea of what I was in for. I must be honest, the trailer did nothing for me. An hour later, I was in the cinema ready to experience the film for myself and tried to cast the shadow of a trailer that made it seem like a generic love story out of my head. 

I remember seeing the Suicide Squad trailer and being extremely excited. The action was cut to the beat of the music, and Jared Leto looked mental as The Joker. Of course, when I saw the film, I discovered it was a mess. Well Little Women is similar to Suicide Squad in one way:

This film should not be judged by its trailer.

Little Women is based on a novel of the same name by author Louisa May Alcott in the 1800s, and it has been adapted for the silver screen, the small screen and the stage countless times over the last 100+ years. When a story has that kind of staying power, you know there must be something to it. I knew nothing more of the story going in than it was based on a popular book but coming out I can see why this story has resonated with people for so long.

Telling the story of 4 sisters who all have their own dreams and the film jumps between their formative teen years and their young adult lives. Set in the 1860s, a period I normally struggle to get immersed in, we follow Jo March, played by Saoirse (Sersha) Ronan, as she tries to make her own way in the world. I won’t say much more as a lot of people will already know the story from the book. If you don’t know it, you get to experience it all like I did. With no idea what was coming next.

Top of the things to praise in this movie is the cast. Leading the line is the aforementioned Saoirse Ronan, and she is phenomenal. I have only seen her in one film before this, Lady Bird in 2017, and she impressed there and has improved to the point where she is now one of the best young actresses working. She has been nominated for two academy awards already, and more are bound to be on their way, with a win not far off I am sure.

Backing her up, and rivalling her for the title of best young actress around, is Florence Pugh, fresh off her great performance in Fighting with my Family earlier in 2019, she plays a completely different character here and still owns all the scenes she is in. Meryl Streep and Laura Dern are both exceptional as well, and the other sisters Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen both do decent jobs, the former starting to show she might not always be instantly recognised as Hermione. I know that’s more of a problem in my own head with just associating her with that character, but this is the first time I have seen her and really bought her as any other character.

Timothee Chalamet, pronounced Timotay Chalomay, is the main male presence, and he continues to be an ageless quantity. He can look any age between 10 & 30. I haven’t seen him in too much, just Lady Bird that I can recall, but he shows in Little Women why he is being expected to become a huge star. He is charming at times, and then borders on creepy and unnerving when the moment requires it.

It’s not too often I praise a score in a movie. I don’t tend to talk about them too much unless there is a real stand out moment where the score shines, but in this film I found the use of the score, and at times the use of silence, to be extremely powerful and it really helped with setting the tone of each scene.

There is a key scene in this film that is one of those “That is why I watch movies” moments for me. It’s a scene which nearly got me to tearing up, in which there are no words. The combination in the scene of the score, the cinematography, and the actor’s performances are all you need to feel all of what is happening and that is when Little Women is at its best.

The scene nearly got me to tear up, but didn’t, and a reason for that is because it comes so soon after another which meant I was still kind of processing it. It really comes down to the decision to split this story in 2 timelines, and that device, whilst it used well throughout, felt a bit out of place in that scene. To be honest it’s not a huge problem, but I noticed it in the cinema, and I can’t help but feel it could have had even more impact.

The other element of this film I wasn’t too keen on was the Love story element. I won’t elaborate to avoid spoilers, but there are events towards the end of the film that didn’t quite play out in a way that fit with the characters. Writer Director Greta Gerwig does try to get around this in a quite clever way, but the ambiguity at the end left a little bit of a blemish on this otherwise great picture.

I said in my review of JoJo Rabbit that “Films are at their best when they make you feel emotions”. Little Women achieves that, gives us a great world to live in for a little bit and throws in some characters you will be invested in. With all that going for it, Little Women is one of the better films you can see in cinema’s right now.

Good: An excellent cast put in great work, beautiful cinematography and an expertly used score. Emotional ride will hit people.

Bad: Love story element was a little unearned and ambiguous at the end.

9/10 – Little Women, Big Score.