Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Review

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is, as the advertising proudly tells us ‘The 9th film from Quentin Tarantino’ except he recently reveled that Kill Bill is really one film which makes this his eight? But then what about Death Proof and Grindhouse? IMDB’s no help, it claims he’s directed 22 things. (Including an episode of ER? That must have been a bit of a lane change.) You know what, it’s too early in the morning for an existential mathematical crisis so i’m just going to say that Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is A film from noted Phalanges enthusiast Quentin Tarantino.

And it is a film about…. Erm what the hell is it about? Tarantino has asked us not to spoil the film and I fully intend to honor it so i’m simply going to say that Once Upon a Time is about a faded television actor and his stunt double striving to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

Which already throws up an issue as the “Golden Age of Hollywood” had long been over by then, and by practically two decades. The 1960s to the 1980s are, according to movie historians, considered the era of “post-classical cinema”. But, as this is the Era that Tarantino grew up watching, this is (and indeed comes across as) a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood. It’s a film that feels like a dream, a tale of… erm… ‘life?’

Or, as ABBA called it in their masterly song about being over the hill and on your way down whilst seeing the next big thing coming to take your place in the eternal circle of life.  About raging against the dying of the light whilst in another thread, Brad Pitt’s former stuntman seems more philosophical about it all, just hanging around with Leonardo Di Caprio (who spends most of this film looking like Zac Efrons dad), whereas in a third plot thread, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate just sort of hangs out and goes to see her own movies. That’s the first two hours, their baggy, saggy, full of scenes and indeed entire segments that could have been cut but then… it wouldn’t have been a Tarantino film.

And yes, I did say the FIRST TWO HOURS. This film is a Lord of the Rings long but unlike that slightly over-rated series, this film flew by. For me. I get the feeling that the love of my life was slightly less enraptured. Then in the last 45 minutes something resembling a plot turns up and we see where Tarantino was heading. And that’s all i’m going to see on the matter asides from the fact that we both loved the ending.

Besides, there’s so much more to say about this film. Because, and I know you’ll never believe this, a Taratino film has been making the controversy rounds. And he normally makes such sweet, family friendly films. But the controversy this time has not been from where you’d expect but instead from Bruce Lee’s estate of all places. Which seems pretty tame given all  the controversies he’s engendered in the past. Also, if last years completely awful Birth of the Dragon didn’t do any damage to Bruce Lee’s legacy a two minute cameo in what might possibly be a dream sequence ins’t going to do anything.

It’s hard to quantify Once Upon a Time. It’s baggy but also tight, it’s so easy to state that the first two hours of this film are plotless but they develop such interesting characters it barely seems to matter. There are loads of Tarantino films with strong narratives, but this is a reminiscence, of the kinds of films that you grow up watching and then hold up as ideals that modern films can never measure up to. (Unless you came of cinematic age in the 90’s. Then you cling to the 80’s for dear life.)

I don’t think it’s going to get any Oscar nominations (even though all the lead cast deserve them) and I don’t think it’s going to stand up to repeat viewings or be put on at movie night at chateau Miles anytime soon. It’s the kind of film you watch twice. Once to see it, then again to see what you missed and then probably never again.

Some people might not even manage that, I noticed a few people walking out of my screening and a few other shuffling in their seats. But if you can get this film, then  you’ll love it. The way it looks back (in a slightly idealized way) about a time that has passed and will never come again. Besides, the day a Tarantino film pleases everyone is the day Jai Courtney wins an Oscar and brings about the end times.

There is no-one else like Tarantino who could have made what by rights should be a shambling, overlong – even though the original cut ran for four and a half hours which i’m sure will come out one day, mess of a film.

I many ways it is a mess, but, looking back, I just can’t see what I would cut. It’s no masterpiece but I kind of get what it was going at. And I loved the little touches, putting Di Caprio into old roles that his character ‘almost got.’ The extended cutaways and just the whole feel of the film.

Don’t go into Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood expecting anything. The title should be a clue. It’s a dream, a ‘what if? a singular vision made by a singular filmmaker. And whether he only makes one or two more movies then i’ll still be waiting for them with baited breath and tickets booked for opening night.

My Score- See It 

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Angry Birds 2 Review

Ok Sony Pictures Animation you’ve released arguably one of the greatest animated films of all time with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and maybe brought yourself some respect after releasing such cinematic classics as The Smurfs, Hotel Transylvania, Peter Rabbit and not forgetting The Emjoi Debacle. But hey, clearly someone with some talent is working there now and we can all turn over new leaves so what are you doing with the microscopic amount of slack i’m prepared to cut you?

Another masterpiece like Spider-Man or…

Another cash on of an already slightly popular franchise? Buy slack! Nice knowing you.

Actually, is anyone still playing Angry Birds? Everyone sitting near me on the tube is playing either a Clash of Clans or Candy Crush knock off (not me- Amazon Prime FTW) And the first film doesn’t seem to have any sort of cult following that I’ve noticed. But, when a film is a box office success, grossing over $352 million worldwide and becoming the third highest-grossing film of all time to be based on a video game, behind Warcraft and Detective Pikachu I guess there’s no harm in having a second film. Even though Angry Birds is mostly remembered for casting Sean Penn as a character who communicates purely through grunting.

This time around, we find our highly marketable, voiced by overpaid celebrities instead of actual voice actors friends being forced to team up after a previously unknown third island launches an attack.

From there, it’s actually a pretty enjoyable ride little film. I mean yes, most of the films least awful jokes were in the trailer, your going to see where every single plot thread is going within minutes if your over the age of 7 but your going to have to be pushing 37 to get most of the references (I mean, Blockbusters, really? That reference is so old it still probably  thinks Brexit was a good idea.)

The voice cast is full of i’m going to guess American celebrities because I’ve never heard of half of them but their passable, no-one distinguishes themselves  but I wasn’t really paying attention after the first ten minutes which is closest to what I vaguely remember the game being like. After that the plot suddenly starts and I start wondering exactly how much the director wanted to knock off Mission Impossible.

Does this film hurt? No, it’s bright and colorful and if your not enjoying this scene or joke, then there will be another along in a moment. Trust me, I’ve seen worse films spin off  from video games (Assassins Creed take a bow.)

Is it going on anyone’s top ten list?

No

Is it going to sell a lot of toys? Probably.

Will anyone even remember it in a few weeks?

Nope, judging from how often i’m having to check y notes I doubt i’ll remember it in ten minutes.

Angry Birds 2: Angry Harder is apparently the best video game film in history which is like being the winner of the Peirs Morgan lookalike contest. It resembles a film, 3 act structure, characters that change slightly over the run time. Well, the lead two sort of do, everyone else just stays as is. I smiled a few times and liked that it had a positive message about working together without claiming that they had become a ‘family’ something that modern cinema does which never fails to send me up the wall.

Ok Sony, this might be a step down from Spider-Man but it’s still better than the drokk that you’ve been pumping out. Keep it up and I’ll consider taking you off the naughty step.

Whats that script guy? The next film is Peter Rabbit 2?

That’ll teach me to have hope.

My Score- If Nothing Else.

Fast and Furious: Hobbes and Shaw Review

On paper (and indeed on film) Hobbes and Shaw seems to embody everything wrong with this generation of film I mean it’s a spin off of the tenth-highest-grossing film series of all time with a combined gross of over $5 billion which began way back in 2001 as basically a remake of Point Break with cars instead of surfing and the villains plot is to steal TV VCR combos (ask your dad) whereas today, these are basically superhero films. Except these guys allegedly don’t have any superpowers beyond making never ending runways and having cars with unlimited gear changing abilities.

The fight scenes are over edited for reasons i’ll get to in a second, all the best bits were in the trailer making moments that should have whacked an awesome goofy grin on my face seem tired and old, hell, it’s a spin off from an 18 year old franchise, starring arguably three of the biggest names on the planet right now, backed by one of the biggest studios in the world, with a budget of 200 million dollars.. and it’s an underdog movie because it’s the only one of the… I’ll say 7 films to break a billion dollars this year that isn’t from the House of Mouse. Seriously, how is this good for cinema!?!? But since i’m the only one who seems to care that basically allowing one company to monopolize modern entertainment might be A VERY BAD THING I’ll get back on topic.

The characters are all paper thin, everybody should have been dead in the first twenty minutes but they never get so much as a scratch because our two main leads literally have it in their contracts that they can’t lose a fight meaning that the only tension in this film comes just before elevension, the plots utterly mad and yet completely predictable at the same time, it’s completely overstuffed for it’s run-time, there’s barely any time to absorb what mad, awesome, sometimes practical, sometimes bad CGI stunt just happened. Genetically super enhanced bad guys who still can’t shoot straight.  Oh, and it sequel baits, because of course it does.

I loved every single second.

I mean, within a minute Idris Elba has walked on screen, declared himself The Bad Guy, beaten up a load of extras and then we start running and never stop and I loved it. There’s just something about this franchise that makes my inner eight year old break out into a huge grin which never wavers for a single second.

The plot, (such as it is) features former member member of Britain’s National Swimming Squad Jason Statham team up with Former Pro Wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to stop Idris Elba who’s evil plan is to kill billions of people because villains in blockbuster films are now only allowed to be Thanos. I think the UN passed a resolution about it. Or Hollywood is now run by people who used to work in customer services. Either way works for me.

And I think the reason that this franchise works for me is that well, the whole franchise – it’s an 80’s cartoon that somehow made it to the big screen.

I’m serious! Tell me you can’t see it, whatever members of this group that need a paycheck are doing their thing then the alarm goes off and they all rush off to defeat whatever evil villain is doing evil things this week in their tricked out cars and with whatever gadgets their version of Q has made for them this week. It’s a similar reaction to the one I have for 2010’s A-Team or 2005’s seriously underrated Sahara- The dialogues at about the same level.

Most of the stunts are practical and the ending third – which is about the same time that the director remembered that he was making a Fast and Furious spin-off and not a Mission Impossible spin-off that the whole film really just goes for it.

Which, to be honest is all that I wanted from this film. I wanted madness, I wanted a film full of dialogue that sounds like a 12 year old wrote it. Hell, I want more films loaded with practical effects. I love this film because it reminds me of what film was, what it could be and probably will be again after the superhero bubble pops in the next few years. In the meantime though, this is a blast. It’s many, many flaws not withstanding.

My Score- See It

The Lion King (2019) Review

The Lion King was first released as Hamlet in 1609 whereupon it became a fixture of pretty much every English schoolchild’s education from that point on. (Not me, I got lumbered with The Scottish Play.) 400 years later, the Disney corporation got their grubby mitts on it and (allegedly without borrowing from or even hearing of  Kimba The White Lion) released a film which, even today sits very comfortably inside IMDB’s top 250 films of all time at number 44.

This is despite it’s lead character being voiced by Matthew Broderick.

And, yet, despite that insane drawback, watching this film again this weekend I blown away by this absolute masterpiece, at how well it’s held up as arguably the best animated film that Disney ever made and defiantly it’s last great animated masterpiece.

I laughed, my nephew cried and I reaffirmed my truth that animated films don’t age.

Now, it’s time to take that masterpiece where if you rewind a certain scene Mufasa gets up and everything is right with the world. But life changing revelations aside we’re going to take this masterpiece, put it in a box and never reference it again for the duration of this review because you don’t need me to tell you to go see The Lion King (1994) and comparing that to the 2019 version is like comparing a 5* restaurant to the dinner I served last night- both count as ‘food’ but you and I both know which one you’d come back to again- (Mine, my cocktails are out of this world).

And look, lets get one thing straight- this film is the best looking CGI film I think I’ve ever seen. Apparently the director included a single live action scene to see in anyone could spot and I certainly couldn’t. This film genuinely  looks like they flew to Africa, trained a bunch of animals to act and then just let the cameras roll. I’m certain that one day it’s going to look as fake as a £7 note but I spent half of the film marveling at the way it looks.

Which is both the main strength and weakness of this film. Because otherwise there’s not much else to talk about. It’s The Lion king, 985% (scriptguy, is this a real statistic? Seems a bit low) of the cinema going public know the plot and this film has beat for beat and almost frame for frame remakes of scenes with one clear difference. The whole thing is a photo- realistic film about a bunch of lions. And lions, well, their not really known for their acting skills. The animators probably did what they can but when some seriously realistic looking lions start singing (and to be honest pretty much all of the songs appear to have been forced in against the directors will as he try’s to get them over with as quickly as possible) the whole thing just seems slightly bizarre. The films shot so realistically that there’s no chance for any dynamic lighting or shading or any of the dynamic numbers surviving the change. It might have been a better idea to just strip out the songs entirely and letting the story stand by itself.

After all, it did pretty well without songs for some 400 odd years.

But, back to the cast and with the exception of Seth Rogan, who instantly needs half of his lines cut as they serve no purpose and are simply there because films have recently become terrified of silence for some as yet unknown but agonizing reason. The rest do what they can and their pretty good. Some actual voice actors would have been great but why hire someone that the public have never heard of when an alleged budget of 260 million dollars means that you can hire Beyonce, Donald Glover and James Earl Jones?

The film did do one or two things that I found cool, we actually see what happens at Pride Rock when we didn’t previously, some characters get some slightly different motivations which means that their more developed than had previously been  the case but the trouble is, well, the animals just can’t emote that well. Scenes that should elicit an emotion from me just didn’t.

This film feels like… a product. Like the other two live action remakes that came onto cinemas this year, it doesn’t feel like it exists because Disney wanted an exciting new take on a classic story or their circling the drain and desperately need some hits to keep the wolves from the door because DISNEY OWNS EVERYTHING. It feels like they wanted to show off their shiny new tech and The Lion King was the obvious choice. The trouble is, CGI is cold and uninvolving, the animals looked so realistic that I felt like I was watching some kind of demented documentary but if I want to watch a documentary about Lions or the Serengeti then I’ve got BBC documentaries for days about this very topic.

I mean there’s nothing wrong with this film but once the graphics inevitably age, there’s nothing to come back too. There’s padding where there doesn’t need to be any, celebrities where there should be voice actors, realism where there should be fantasy. This film is a product, designed to make a billion dollars in ticket sales, double that in merch and then be forgotten about in time for the next product that’s designed to make a billion dollars, shift toys and then be forgotten about. Because films aren’t designed to be treasured any more, their just disposable products. It’s true that this is an advancement in CGI but that’s all it is. It won’t be remembered 20 years, hell I wont remember it in 20 minutes. Which is exactly how I’ve felt about pretty much every big film this year. Apart from Hellboy. That film is scarred into my retinas.

Oh well, at least it’s the worst Cats related film ‘ll see all year.

Ah.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

Kursk/ The Command review

Normally I love watching submarine films. I mean the long lamented genre of siege films is my favorite and the idea of taking a siege mentality, putting it in a giant windowless cigar tube, with the knowledge that even a sneeze could sentence you and 100 other people to death from some unseen enemy is, to my mind a recipe to great movies. And U571.

Normally….

Because normally I’m not watching Kursk or The Command in the US or Kursk: The Last Mission in the UK. Normally I’m not watching a story which should not need to be told because there’s absolutely no reason for it to have happened.

Normally I’m not watching a film and getting Chernobyl flashbacks. You remember Chernobyl, right? Literally the greatest TV show ever made and, unlike Breaking Bad a TV show that you actually should put next on your to binge list. (I’m starting Breaking Bad next week, I swear! On my script guys life!)

Because all of the issues flagged up in that show are flagged up here, despite the Cold War allegedly being well and truly over by that point.  Over, according to the papers but not in the mindset of those high enough up the food chain to accept the offers of help that came in thick and fast, instead choosing to rely on outdated, inefficient machinery that didn’t have a hope in hell of doing what they needed it to do.

Then you have the people back at home, desperate for information who, instead are being fed useless out of date slogans and information that’s so irrelevant that the people delivering it might as well not have bothered.

However, unlike Chernobyl (which was so realistic that the only people who got a bit miffered were the Pro-Kremlin media which continues to deny the extent of the disaster at Chernobyl, saying it has been exaggerated, with state-run media scoffing at the “myths,” such as large numbers of leukemia. Segments of the Russian government were so unhappy with this program that state TV channel NTV is producing its own more “patriotic” account of the events, involving a wholly fictional storyline based on a conspiracy theory that a CIA agent was in Chernobyl to sabotage the plant.)- I can’t wait. But Kursk defiantly takes a more fictional route- the end results still the same but the way we get there is slightly different than what happened in reality.  Because otherwise it would be even more depressing.

Anyway, the plotline (in case you haven’t guessed 420 words in) is that during a Russian naval exercise in the Barents Sea two explosions severely damage the submarine. Twenty-three sailors survived the crash and desperately waited for help to arrive while their oxygen ran out minute-by-minute. It’s cold, it’s grey, it’s depressing and it’s one of the most affecting film I’ve seen in months.

I do have some issues with the film in the Colin Firth (whilst playing a smaller role than the ad campaign would have you believe) is somewhat distracting in the role because a story like this is strong enough that it doesn’t need star power, it’s simply distracting. It’s the same with Léa Seydoux who is a fine actor but I feel that casting an unknown would have lent the story more resonance. Also, toning down the melodrama might have helped somewhat, with the increased time being used to focus on the people trying to save those desperately trapped under the sea, as well as those trying to use their limited resources to get more time for the rescue that they know is coming if they can just hold out a little bit longer…

Kursk/ The Command/ Kursk: The Last Mission is a film that doesn’t pull it’s punches or attempt to quell it’s anger at the fact that every decision that was made was wrong, and (at time of writing) no-one has bee brought to justice. There’s no Hollywood style bombast or moments, just real people trying to make the most of a horrifying, nightmare, situation. I mean, the characters aren’t for the ages (the guys on the sub are pretty interchangeable) but I  liked them, I liked their sense of camaraderie, the way that they kept each other sane in the most terrifying circumstances imaginable. The effects were passable and, on the whole, this was a story that needed to be told, I just think that they needed to take out the star names, maybe stick closer to reality and treat this as an entry point to a fascinating story.

My Score- See It. 

The Queens Corgi

I

Uh….

Dwah?

I have so many questions about this… well, I hesitate to call it a film- not just because it’s an unpolished mess (which it is) But because it lasts a mere 81 minutes!?!?! Now, that’s not to say good films can’t be short – Airplane is 88 minutes, Spinal Tap 89, Toy Story 81, but each of those (and many more) was a lean mean fighting machine with absolutely no fat on it’s bones.

The Queens Corgi? Let me lose in the editing suite and I can get that down to an hour easy. Hell, if I was to get rid of all the fat on this films bones I could get rid of 81 minutes worth of fat.

But, leaving that aside, this films release date smacks of some unpaid intern who was told to release the film but couldn’t be bothered to check IMDB to see what was coming out this month. I mean, this is a low budget animated film coming out in the immediate aftermath of Toy Story 4 whilst boasting the animation of Toy Story 1.

Seriously, where Toy Story 4 opens with a scene IN. THE. RAIN. as well as photorealistic cats and human that don’ look like soul sucking nightmare creatures whereas this… has those things I just said. I mean, I could get something like this coming out in deadtime such as September or January but in the middle of the summer bloodbath? That way madness lies.

I mean, this film came out on 3 April 2019 in France and Belgium, Uzbekistan (!) on 22 June 2019, Scotland and Ireland on 28 June 2019 and in England and Wales on 5 July. I mean, words just fail me. because this has got to be one of the worst release schedules I think I’ve ever seen. Oh, and the film is threatened to be released around the world, including China, Latin America, the United States and Russia at ‘some point in 2019.’ Avoid it if you can.

But, bad animation, pathetic run-times and mind-boggling release schedules do not a bad film make. Other things do. And this film checks a lot of those boxes.

Now i’m loath to mention the voice acting because it’s all universally awful but because it’s different actors in different locations- not just for language reasons but even between English speaking location’s! 11 cast members are due to be swapped out before this film crosses the pond – now that has to be some sort of record. Hopefully some of those 11 will be able to match their voices to their PS1 lips but I won’t hold my breath.

 

The Dead Don’t Die Review

The most annoying films to review are not the terrible films like your Hellboys who get everything wrong or your Mad Max Fury Roads who get everything right but the films that squander their potential.

The ones that, on paper have everything going for them but just can’t quite make the most of their ideas, cast or potential.

The ones that just make me want to scream at the screen, go back and write another draft and get it right this time!

Because The Dead Don’t Die should tick all my boxes. It’s a zombie film which usually means a siege movie (my favourite genre), it’s got a great cast, an amazing director- every film geek should check out the directors previous film Only Lovers Left Alive.

But… pretty much it’s every problem can be traced back to question ‘so what are you going to do with that?’

For example, it’s revealed early on that polar fracking has disturbed the day-night cycle. ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ Are you going to go the Stepford Wives thing of having every scene in broad daylight? Juxtaposing the glorious sunshine with the creeping horror of a zombie hoard? Nope, the last half of the film is in darkness.

Technology isn’t working. ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ No phones to call for help, no cars to escape in or alarms to warn us. Nope, tech works when the plot wants it to and doesn’t when it doesn’t.

The greatest cast ever disassembled screams the marketing, great, but (all together now) ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ With a cast so large I can’t get invested in anyone. Is Bill Murray going to say that unusually fights ghosts? No. Is too Danny Glover too old for this? No. Is Selena Gomez going to sing a song to cheer everyone up or discover that her songs drive everyone away a la Mars Attacks? No.

The zombies are smarter than your average zombie, drawn to places that were important to them in life. ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ A Wi-Fi joke? Seriously.

And it just goes on and on and on like that. This film has enough ideas to fill out a TV show but doesn’t DO anything with them. Or it’s cast. Apart from Tilda Swindon. Her character rules but the cast is so big with so much going on that she never has a chance to develop as a character.

Look… It’s like I tell the tourists I’m forced to interact with, yes, New York New York has enough stars on Broadway to make a new galaxy but do you know what the west end has? Plays worth watching.

It’s the same here, if your not prepared to use your cast except as an advertising gimmick then why have them?

Oh, oh oh! I have another one. Some of the characters appear to have forth wall knowledge. ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ Nothing? Moving along.

The plots your bog standard set up. In nowherevill USA, the dead start rising and the living try to fight back. Zombie films not really being big on a twisting narrative. But as a way to mock society? How consumerism and the daily grind means that we probably wouldn’t notice a zombie apocalypse? Or a way to examine what makes us human, placing compassion and empathy against our drive to survive? It’s a hard lens to beat but here? Nothing. Zombies arise and sometimes it’s hard to tell the living from the dead because apparently any emotion in this world is illegal or everyone took some downers before coming to the set.

Seriously, if your case doesn’t seem to be invested then why should I? I could be at home watching Anna and the Apocalypse again. At least that has characters i care about, singing and dancing penguins and a villain actually remembering to have fun. But here? Nothing.

Squandered opportunity after squandered opportunity after squandered opportunity. The violence is mostly off screen, there’s nothing distinctive or memorable about this film and at times, it feels so much longer than it’s 1 hour 40 minute runtime.

Everyone’s acting like the Straight Man, we never learn anything about any of the characters, two of them might have feelings for each other ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ Noble sacrifice? Tearful confession before a nearly certain to fail desperate last roll of the dice? No. Of course not. Don’t be silly.

The townsfolk go straight to zombies as an explanation for a series of murders that happen ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ Set traps? Prepare? Try to escape? Nope.

There’s seemingly only one song in this universe ‘so what are you going to do with that?’

You have one of the most unique singing voices in history acting as an observer/narrator ‘so what are you going to do with that?’ Your not even going to let him sing?

I just don’t get you movie.

Perhaps the inevitable cult that’s going to grow up around this will tell me where I’m going wrong but at the moment I just don’t see it.

Look, not every zombie film has to be Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland but being better than Strippers versus Zombies or Zoombies 2 should not be this hard! At least I can laugh at how bad they are!

To me, this film is just a stilted, boring mess that squanders every opportunity the film gods have given it. Hell, I genuinely think this would have been better as a slow burn TV show, as is?

My Score- Skip It.