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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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 

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.

 

Child’s Play (2019) Review

“Why are you reviewing this film?”

Asked my very confused script guy.

“You’ve never seen any of the other films in this franchise, there’s no real buzz about this film, the marketing budget is zero as you’ve not seen a single trailer or even poster on even a single bus. Hell, even your local cinema couldn’t be bothered to advertise it”

True, conceded I, but you could make the same argument about Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and that disgusting, sick little film is still riding high in my end of year top ten.

Besides, isn’t that the whole point of a reboot? To attract a new audience to a franchise? As well as ridding yourself of a sometimes suffocating amount of some frankly baffling continuity?

Besides, Aubrey Plaza is amazing in pretty much everything she does and legendary voice actor Mark Hamill (who I think also did some space wizard film back in the ’70’s- Battlestar Galactia I think it was called) is playing the role of Chucky and the child actor is pretty tolerable even if he does have to deal with supporting characters called Falyn and Pugg. For no discernible reason that I could work out.

The set-ups interesting as well- gone is the soul of a serial killer getting trapped in a doll and instead we get Skynet.

Which might sound like a bit of a course correction but in certain scenes it actually works. Given that the villain is AI instead of a trapped soul, he can control everything that’s connected to the internet of things- cameras, thermostats, driver-less cars and more which is an idea that’s really underused in modern horror.

But it all falls apart when, instead of being an evil and malevolent AI, we realize that our villain is a doll that sometimes has super-speed whenever the plot requires it and the rest of the time just sort of beams around the set.

I mean, when the death scenes to start to occur (far too late in the film for my liking I mean about an hour into a 90 minute film? Get a wiggle on). Their at their best when it’s just seemingly the technology malfunctioning. I mean, imagine it- some unseen, twisted hacker killing those who he feels have wronged him by manipulating their technology with humiliating, madness inducing and finally lethal consequences. I mean, imagine what you’ve said in front of or around your Alexa that you wouldn’t want broadcast…

In other words, the villain in this movie is scarier when he isn’t around. As when he is on set, he’s about as scary as cold pizza. And can be defeated with a good kick.

But this film has issues beyond the monster who could have been easily removed to the improvement of the film at only the cost of loosing all that lovely name recognition.

There were at least three major plot holes which would have brought about the utterly beautiful end credits even sooner and a scene at the end which just seemed to be gift wrapped for dozens of gory and inventive deaths but the film just wastes it completely in favor of a completely generic and utterly tedious ending as if the budget ran out just a smidge too soon.

The characters are all cardboard, too many of them make it to the end credits and there’s just something so old fashioned about it. I called everything that was going to happen about five minutes before it did and called the ending about two minutes in.

This film needed to develop tit’s ideas more, use it’s ideas to create a sense of looming horror from which there is no escape- as there is a great idea for a horror movie in here, hell, they even have a guy who would have been a much better villain at least until Chucky bumps him off anyway.

As a film to throw on it’s slow until it goes mad in the last half an hour, as a horror film it’s monster is scarier when he  isn’t around and it’s just utterly predictable and old fashioned, squandering what could have been a really cool, scary, idea for the sake of a brand name. It’s not completely hopeless, there were some inventive death scenes and the actors are doing what they can with what they have- especially Hamill, but it just comes across as a pointless remake that could have been a cool idea for a brand new franchise in it’s own right.

My Score- If Nothing Else

Men In Black International Review

“Hey, I was just wondering if you planned to review MIB?”

Asked a long suffering subscriber and I suddenly felt like I was back at school being asked if I planned on doing my maths homework when I already had one eye on my PlayStation.

Which should not be the reaction to reviewing what should be a fun little timewaster. I mean the original film was a fun buddy cop meets monster flick starring two leads with great chemistry, it’s not like it’s their fault that the two sequels were respectively unwatchable and basically passable, was it?

Nor is it their fault that according to Sony, the first film (despite taking 600 million at the box office) technically still hasn’t turned a profit.

Hollywood- where the most creative people work in the accounts department.

Anyway, for those of you.who need a refresher, the Men in Black films feature a secret, unaccountable, agency who keeps the aliens living among us secret. Their films always feature an all powerful mcguffin which has the power to defeat a seemingly all powerful alien who has an allergy to weapons, armour or anything that might give them an edge in combat against some sharp suited squishy humans.

And it’s nice to see that some things never change. Despite an interesting idea (A mole in MIB), there is still a hunt for an all powerful mcguffin which has the power to defeat a seemingly all powerful alien who has an allergy to weapons, armour or anything that might give them an edge in combat against some sharp suited, squishy humans.

Which is the first on a very long list of disappointments that this film heaps upon it’s audience.

Yes, Thor and Valkyrie still have good chemistry together but their so rarely together, their either with other MIB or an irritating little CGI… thing who I’m convinced exists purely to sell toys.

Hell, this films so bland that when I checked Wikpeida, it wasn’t for production notes, director, budget, etc. It was in the hope that someone could tell me what in the name of Zhoul was going on.

There was a whole 15-20 minute segment featuring the worst use Rebecca Ferguson I’ve ever seen that could have been safely left on the cutting room floor. Naturally our heros get framed and have to go on the run from MIB which could have lent a cool Jason Bourne air to the whole thing but it also goes nowhere and could have been left safely on the cutting room floor.

What else…

Well, I hesitate to say that the action scenes sucked because I’m not entirely sure that this film HAD action sequences. I mean, there were scenes where guns went bang and other where people made sort of punching type motions and then other people fell over but it was so over edited and I so so uninvested in the whole thing, they might well have been showing off particularly aggressive forms of chiropracting to each other.
Oh, and all together now… “the best bits were in the trailer.”

Which, given that the trailer is about two and a half minutes long and this film clocks in at an almost punishing two hours long (When it has no business being over 100 at the longest.) Shows that maybe you should let the accountants write the next one as this one isn’t going to turn a profit through being unwanted, unwelcome, unimpressive and uninteresting as opposed to being a reason to give them all energy powder and tax deductible bonuses.

I mean, I do like this world and it is a good idea in principle but overall, it’s as memorable as… well?? I would say a flash from a neuraliser but since that’s already been used in over 75! Other reviews, I’ll just say it’s a bland, dull, pointless remake from a company desperately throwing all its franchises with the slightest hint of name recognition at the walls and leave it at that.

In other words? Just go see Godzilla.

MY SCORE- Skip It.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Review

Are the John Wick films pulp or art? One one level it’s the story of a nigh unkillable hit-man racking up a body-count that even an 80’s action film would think to be a bit over the top whilst taking on a super secret society of assassins with more influence, manpower and indecipherable rules than the post office.

On the other hand though, my God these films look and sound so… good that it makes every other film look like their just not even trying. The framing of shots, the choreography of the numerous fight scenes  the fact it looks like they paid their editor by the cut and the budget was really running low by that point, the near total use of practical effects and the way that the more that’s revealed to us through hints and whispers the more we want to know, the minimal use of dialogue and fact that this film just seems to take its-self seriously when it could so easily fall into camp.

I’m prepared to think that it’s some sort of miraculous hybrid which exists because a hell of a lot of people put in a hell of a lot of work to create this piece of part? Alp? Put? Pulart?

Anyway…

We pick up ten minutes after the end  of John Wick 2: Wick Harder, where, to paraphrase Finding Nemo  There are 7 billion people in the world, and all they’re looking for one. As soon as the buzzer goes off. Manners count.

Then a ton of fight scenes happen, Halle Berry finally gets some cinema work that she can feel proud of for the first time in a decade and 131 minutes later the wife picks my jaw up off the floor, pops my eyeballs back in and says that no, it is not a good idea for me to start taking martial arts lessons again and I start counting down the days until part 4 gets released.

Because whilst this is an amazing incredible beautiful film which brings in some awesome new characters and develops some existing ones, I mean The Italian Job (1969) had a less obvious cliffhanger ending!

I suppose I could comment on how there seems to be no situation that Wick ( By the way,  technically, it isn’t the wick that gets set off, right? You light the wick, sure, but then it burns down until the flame reaches some kind of explosive, and THAT’S what gets set off, right?)

Sorry, where was I? Notes, notes, notes….

Oh, right, there’s seemingly no situation where Wick doesn’t have some sort of favor or loophole or McGuffin to exploit when he’s not killing every non-dog organic life-form in a 5 mile radius. Because apparently every non-dog organic life-form in a 5 mile radius is an assassin in this universe. Apart from me. Obviously. I’m not an assassin. (As far as you know…) I’m not too sure about my script guy though. That guy is weird.

Tiny, pitiful, irrelevant niggles aside, this film is awesome. It’s got the best horse chase since True Lies, the only interesting underwater fight I’ve ever seen, every character is cool, interesting and fun. Even if one did get a bit weird towards the end, I mean there are films where you can chew the scenery and some where you can’t. John Wick 3: Wick A Vengeance is in the latter case.

But minor niggles aside, this film is the Mona Lisa of action films. It’s a simple, basic story  which is nevertheless full of twists and turns and never less than enjoyable. I liked that the films theme of actions having consequences is carried over to so, so, many characters and it’s got more inventiveness in it’s fight scenes than every other blockbuster this year put together.

Not too sure about the upcoming TV series though. Think that might be a step too far. Once more to wrap everything up with before this franchise gets crushed under it’s own weight and allow film geeks like me to hold it up for the ages whilst everything else gets covered in CGI, 12a sludge.

My Score- See It Now

Eighth Grade Review

When a film is released the same day as Avengers Endgame, this raises two possibilities in my mind- Either this film is so amazing and low budget that it can go up against what will probably become the biggest film of all time and turn a profit from parents who want to see something whilst little Timmy is distracted by all the CGI.

OR, it’s a bad idea to have the unpaid intern decide your films release date.

And having seen the film then I can confidently answer… (Drum-roll)

Yes.

To both.

Eighth Grade is an incredible piece of film-making which would normally have an audience of maybe twelve people but because of the unpaid intern is going to get one of maybe 6. Although I get the feeling that a lot of secondary schools will be buying copies.

Because culturally this film is worth about 100 Endgames. It’s a film about coming of age (which I don’t recommend. I did it once, it sucked and I had it a hundred times easier than today’s kids) owing to the ubiquity of social media sites.

But also, this film, I think represents something of the beginnings of a sea change in the film industry. The writer/Director Robert Pickering “Bo” Burnham began his performance career as a YouTuber. The lead actress Elsie Fisher was discovered on YouTube athough she has previously starred as one of the interchangeable girls in Dispacable Me). Hell,  Steven Spielberg recently announced that the role of Maria in his new version of West Side Story has gone to Rachel Zegler a 17-year-old whose highest-profile stage experience to date was her school production of Shrek. But Zegler has thousands of subscribers on her YouTube channel, where she’s been belting out pop covers and showtunes.

Performing to the camera is a part of everyday life for this generation, and a YouTube channel is a permanent showreel – edited, curated and subject to the demands of the medium to be sure, but for the time being, an authentic showcase for raw talent. Old Hollywood practices such as the “screen test”, the “audition” or the “talent scout” seem quaintly redundant in this new realm. It could spell the end for a whole tier of middlemen, not to mention that other notorious tool of movie-industry exploitation, the “casting couch”. None of which I feel are going to be missed by anyone who isn’t part of this system already.

Back to Eighth Grade though and it’s lead actress gives an amazing performance as someone trying to navigate what can be a very awkward and character forming part of life. And a certain scene towards the end (during which time the lighting budget had apparently run out) set in a car had me squirming in my seat.

As you may have guessed, social media plays a huge, almost overwhelming role in the film. The main character is a YouTuber, more comfortable communicating with people via technology than in real life- especially with her father and I don’t think any film has used “Orinoco Flow” by Enya to better effect.

Don’t go into this film expecting something as slick as mean girls, this film is more naturalistic and understated than that. It feels very realistic and as something that could have happened to me or someone I know. As a coming of age film I think this could become a classic if people ever actually hear about it, but as a film about coming of age during this modern cyber age it could well become indispensable.

Surprisingly, as someone who normally avoids coming of age films I can truly recommend this film.  smiled at some parts, reminisced at others and squirmed when that scene in the car happened.

Stupidly though, it has a 15 rating in the UK thanks to profanity and some more ‘mature’ aspects of coming of age it’s not going to be seen by the audience that needs it the most.

Because it was released against Avengers where it received no oxygen and this week has at least ten films coming out meaning it’s going to be lost in the shuffle.

What a shame.

My Score See It.