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Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

“In This Town, It Can All Change, Like That…”

After a summer of truly awful summer blockbusters, with only the likes of Midsommar and reissues of Jaws, The Matrix and Apocalypse Now the very few cinematic releases to keep my sanity intact and preventing me from ending my relationship with film forevermore, thank the baby jesus for the return of Quentin Tarantino, one of the select few of talented filmmakers currently working in the world of film who is always guaranteed to expel greatness upon the big screen, with the critically acclaimed American returning to cinemas for the first time since 2016’s excellent, The Hateful Eight, with the hotly anticipated and star-studded, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Hyped with a typically tantalising word of mouth after its’ debut at this year’s Cannes Festival, Hollywood sees Tarantino once again at the top of his filmmaking craft, with his so-called “ninth” picture (with the big man himself seeing both chapters of Kill Bill as a single entity) his most mature work since Jackie Brown all the way back in 1997, and whilst Hollywood by no means manages to surpass Pulp Fictiona film which remains to this day Tarantino’s undisputed magnum opus, Tarantino’s latest is the closest the American has come in ages to creating a full-blown masterpiece.

As per the norm when it comes to the back catalogue of Tarantino, Hollywood sees the American have complete and utter control over a release which is seen as his most “personal” to date, a two hour, forty minute drama which essentially follows three separate plot threads for the majority of the runtime, all of which then convene for a final, and highly memorable, concluding act which for those with prior knowledge of the historical basis in which the film is based, is incredibly satisfying in its’ revisionist way of distorting true events. Of the three threads, all of which set in the peace-loving, hippie ear of 1969, the primary basis of the plot follows Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) and Brad Pitt (The Big Short) as Rick Dalton, a fading and emotionally crippled actor whose success on the small screen hasn’t exactly paid dividends upon the big screen, and Cliff Booth, a war-hero turned stuntman with a particularly ambiguous past, two long-standing partners in the titular land of Hollywood whose careers seem to be dwindling into non-existence. Second to the primary narrative is Margot Robbie’s (The Wolf of Wall Street) depiction of Sharon Tate, the beautifully angelic figure of tragedy whose involvement with the Manson Family, the subject of the film’s third and final plot thread, supposedly sparked such a dramatic shift in the air of tinseltown that the landscape was changed forevermore, and with Tarantino expertly managing to mould each segment together with a surprisingly low-lew approach at times, the more you take into Hollywood in terms of knowledge about Manson and the events at Cielo Drive on that eventful night, the more you will undoubtedly take from it, particularly on an emotional level, something of which Tarantino’s movies more than most tend to lack.

With such a contained yet sprawling narrative, Hollywood is clearly the closest Tarantino has come to recreating the storyline structure of Pulp Fiction since its’ release in 1994, and whilst I have seen some reviews which have criticised the movie’s storyline as excessive and over-indulgent, the entire point of the movie is to focus on a forgotten era in cinema of which Tarantino is absolutely fascinated with, and with a large majority of the runtime content with following our leading characters as they drive around the sunny, silky streets of a land filled with stars and dreamers, I for one was absolutely transfixed with the direction of the narrative from start to finish and bulked at how quick two hours just seemed to glide by without any issues whatsoever. Of course with such an eye-watering cast, the performances are all typically marvelous, with Pitt slightly outperforming his partner in crime and a standout cameo from Dakota Fanning (Ocean’s 8) topping a wholly memorable acting collaboration, but the real winner here is of course Tarantino himself as he directs some of his best set pieces to date, particularly one staggeringly tense extended sequence in which Pitt’s Booth is invited to the home of the Manson Family at Spahn’s Movie Ranch. As the movie reaches its’ climax, Tarantino carefully takes his time as he delicately pulls back the curtain on his perspective of events on the night of August 8th 1969, and as white-knuckle tension goes, the last twenty minutes of the movie are as gripping as anything I’ve ever seen, capping off what is clearly the best original movie of the year so far and a welcome return for Tarantino who provides his best work in years. Stupendous filmmaking.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots

“Our Hatred Is Precisely What They Hope For. I Know Your Heart Has More Within It Than The Men Who Counsel You…”

In a year which has begun with a rich abundance of non-fiction cinematic adventures ranging from the radical ripeness of The Favourite to the oddball, misjudgement of Welcome to Marwen, Mary Queen of Scots, the debut feature from British filmmaker, Josie Rourke, once again drops us into the realm of period historical drama, this time focusing on the trials and tribulations of Saoirse Ronan’s (Lady Bird) titular monarch during the latter stages of the sixteenth century. Touted as a delicious one-two of acting delight between Ronan and the glowing talent of Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as Queen Elizabeth, House of Cards showrunner, Beau Willimon, provides the screenplay for a movie which although plays its hand rather safely in regards to treading on familiar ground within a genre which nowadays takes something different to really stand out, is still an interesting, well designed and brilliantly acted work of drama and political intrigue. With a career predominantly based in the world of theatre before venturing into the world of big screen movie-making, it comes at no surprise that Rourke utilises her expansive knowledge of the stage for a film which for all intents and purposes, could have been left on the stage in the first place, but with a much bigger budget and two of the best actresses around to mould to her will, Mary Queen of Scots fails to be spectacular, instead settling for a straightforward, rather traditional, period drama piece with added David Tennant.

As with any film which has its storytelling roots based on historical events, Willimon’s screenplay relies on the audience’s willingness to accept that every portion of the events which unfold on screen are either truthful or shifted ever so slightly in order to benefit the drama as a whole, and whilst I can admit to barely being able to jot down the history of the British monarch on the back of a postage stamp, the story at the heart of the movie does seem to flow ever so nicely into constant backstabbing and Iago-esque devious plots of power shifting, one could argue that such extremities could indeed be fictional in their own right. However, like the saying goes, most stories are indeed stranger than fiction and with one foot previously in House of Cards franchise, Willimon’s political based writing technique and Rourke’s theatre based background does ultimately create a rather effective working partnership, one which is solidified by the mercurial talents of the rather radiant Saoirse Ronan, who in undoubtedly the leading role of the movie manages to encompass the balance between the light and the powerful as she meddles her way into assuming her “rightful” place on the throne. However, with the heavy handed focus on Ronan, it comes as a real shock therefore that Robbie is somewhat sidelined, with her Elizabeth slightly reduced to a monsterous, pale and much less developed version of the similarly mental health ridden Queen Anne in The Favourite. With the pacing of the movie really taking an extensive while to properly get going, the opening act of the movie does ultimately feel slightly weary and, dare I say it, rather dull, however, as soon as we move into the territory of foiled murder plots, rebellious undertakings and a central acting showdown which can be sorely placed in the Heat category, Mary Queen of Scots does show glances of real storytelling excellence, but in reviewing the piece as a whole, Rourke’s cinematic debut is similar to a glass of house Scotch whiskey; does the job rather nicely but fails to truly blow you away.

Overall Score: 6/10

90th Academy Awards: Best Actress

Oscars 2018: Best Actress

With Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri handing Francis McDormand her most juiciest on-screen role since Fargo, a film which of course also brought Academy Award success for the star, the category for Best Actress is seemingly over before it begins, with McDormand’s portrayal of the hateful, scenery chewing Mildred Hayes picking up awards in a similar ilk to Gary Oldman’s colossal domination of success as Winston Churchill, and whilst Saoirse Ronan’s role as the angsty, hysterically colourful titular teenager in Greta Gerwig’s masterful Lady Bird would be my own personal choice for the win, it seems my plead to the Academy will seemingly go rather unnoticed. Elsewhere, in a alternate universe, Sally Hawkins would undeniably lead the line for her outstanding performance in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water whilst Margot Robbie continues to show off her sturdy acting chops as the disgraced ice skating star, Tonya Harding in the wildly comical, I, Tonya, and with Meryl Streep capping off the nominations for The Post, it’s no surprise to say that this year’s ballot paper is one of the strongest in recent memory. As for the forgotten few, whatever anyone may think of the movie, Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely fabulous in Aronofsky’s divisive mother! in her best on-screen role to date, whilst who can forget Jessica Chastain’s performance as Molly Bloom in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, and whilst it’s a tad late to change the nominations, here are the top points for the Best Actress category…

Winner – Francis McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Personal Favourite – Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

Nomination Snub – Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)

Film Review: I, Tonya

“I Was Loved For A Minute, Then I Was Hated. Then I Was Just A Punch Line…”

Based upon the controversial and compelling career of professional ice skater, Tonya Harding, Craig Gillespie’s (The Finest Hours) Oscar nominated biographical drama, I, Tonya, featuring Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in arguably her most fleshed-out leading performance yet, takes an impressive shot at attempting to gel together a mix of Scorsese inspired storytelling with a Rocky-esque tale of sporting success, and with the aid of a rockabilly jukebox soundtrack and eye-catching performances all around, Gillespie’s latest is a rousing, crowd-pleasing success. Utilising the form of retrospective interviews with each of the key players to unravel the exposition as the narrative evolves, I, Tonya benefits from a lightning quick editing pace straight from the outset, beginning with a young Harding as she is nurtured and raised by the steely-eyed harshness of Allison Janney’s (The Girl on the Train) LaVona Fay Golden as she begins her love affair with the ice and swiftly moving to the fruition of the relationship between herself and Sebastian Stan’s (Captain America: Civil War) Jeff Gillooly, one which proves central to Harding’s journey through both successes and life-changing failures.

Whilst the interview format does make it easy for Gillespie to cross over every avenue possible in terms of storytelling gaps, the constant switch from past to present does ultimately jar the pace of the movie come the second half, one which is too not exactly helped by the decision to include the breaking of the fourth wall at times which personally never really seemed to work to the film’s advantage, yet where the movie does succeed is in Robbie’s wildly comical and full blooded performance, one which utilises the scripts attempts to balance her love for the sport with the shocking depiction of domestic issues from both Janney’s chain-smoking mother figure and Stan’s abusive and deluded on/off love, and one which through the aid of digital effects and stunt doubles means that the physicality of the skating scenes are brilliantly orchestrated. Of course, with Harding’s biggest association being that of a rather violent moment of utmost craziness, the concluding act of the movie ruffles together elements of jaw-dropping stupidity, laugh out loud comedy and heartbreaking finality, and whilst Gillespie’s movie doesn’t exactly hit the heights of Scorsese-inflicted film-making it so obviously attempts to emulate, I, Tonya is a highly satisfactory and ludicrous tale of a fundamentally interesting public figure.

Overall Score: 7/10 

Film Review: Suicide Squad

“Seriously, What The Hell Is Wrong With You People…?”

Whilst we bask in the sweltering heat of the British summer, where anything over 10 degrees celsius encourages everyone to take their tops off and bathe in layers upon layers of sun protector, there still remains the favoured few who would much rather sink into the dark, cool surroundings of the cinema and escape into the minds of filmmakers for two hours or so, away from the pain-inducing sight of the sun and away from the sweaty masses of the general public and vast displays of chest hair. Anyhow, with Batman v Superman still sitting in my mind as perhaps one of the biggest cinematic comic flops of recent years (Fantastic Four included) the DC Extended Universe rolls on and this week gives us the hotly anticipated Suicide Squad, yeah, that’s right, that film with the strange looking Joker and the one that has been plastered on every single screen for about two months continuously in some Nazi-esque propaganda fashion in order to not allow us to go without seeing some form of advertisement for at least 24 hours. With Batman v Superman still ringing through my mind like a hot poker, surely Suicide Squad is exceedingly better? Well, sort of, but not much, with Suicide Squad being a much more enjoyable experience in some sense but one that still contains a rafter of issues, some of which bear similarities to Batman v Superman and some that are brought upon itself from the latest offering of DC live-action mehness.

If you’re finely tuned into the world of comics, surely everyone is aware of the notion of the Suicide Squad in some form or the other. Although not strictly a fan of the literature form of such, I was first introduced to the team within Arrow in which we see one of the first live-action portrayals in one measly episode which gave the run-down on what the SS do and simply, how they do it. Now hitting the big time, the first major live-action display of the SS has been helmed by David Ayer, writer of the Oscar winning Training Day and director of movies such as End of Watch and Fury. So in terms of directorial choice, you would think Ayer would be the correct choice; a director attributed to dark, nihilistic action movies with a knack of not being swayed by the aspect of the twisted sense of togetherness of a team through sins of violence and crime, yet too many times through the film it felt as if we were back in the land of Zak Snyder. Limited characterisation followed by action set pieces with unbelievably cringey dialogue and a final act in which laughable CGI is meant to make the film include some sense of epic conclusion. Does it work? Not at all, yet the fault cannot be left solely at the feet of Ayer, with studio interference surely playing a part somehow. I mean a film this messy cannot be made without prodding and poking from a range of different areas, no more so than those throwing the money at it in order to see it succeed in one way or another.

So we’ve established problems with Suicide Squad that have been seen in previous DC Universe entries, yet one major problem that was extremely evident that I cannot say to have seen before is the unforgivable crass nature of the treatment of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in the movie. Although Robbie herself is one of the few saving graces of the movie, with her kooky, crazy and yet sympathetic portrayal giving the first cinematic appearance of the character some form of justice, the way in which she is portrayed and wooed upon through costume design and camera angles is downright creepy. I can understand that the fundamentals of the character within the comics is one of a femme fetale nature, but to portray her in this fashion is just wrong on so many levels. Adding to the displeasure of the film is Jared Leto’s Joker, a character in which had so much exposure over the films’ tiresome advertisement campaign and then ultimately is in the film no more than five minutes, a decision so utterly stupid giving how much anticipation there was for the character that you don’t even get a full sense of Leto’s portrayal. Because of which, the jury is out when it comes to Leto. Who knows, if we get more than 5 minutes with him next time maybe he will be the definitive Joker? Doubt it.

Overall, Suicide Squad is a slightly more enjoyable DC flick than Batman v Superman, but one that still has a wide range of problems inherent in the extended universe so far. Although Robbie is the standout, Smith also gives a good interpretation of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, yet acting talent alone cannot prevent Suicide Squad from being yet another achingly poor showing from Warner Bros. With a soundtrack so bipolar following throughout and a sense of absence when it comes to a directorial stamping, Suicide Squad may indeed do well at the box office like its’ predecessors, but it still isn’t the film I, and probably many others, were indeed looking for. Marvel, it’s your batting next. Cumberbatch is calling.

Overall Score: 4/10

Focus – 2015 Quicky Review – Will Smith’s triumphant return?

FocusIts been quite a few years since we got a Will Smith movie that is actually somewhat good. With the abomination that was After Earth, any normal human worried about Will’s health and mental stability. Upon news of Focus, the world relaxed when they were told that Jaden was left in a deep, dark hole as far away as possible from this film.

Focus is the brainchild of writers John Requa & Glenn Ficarra who masterminded one of my childhood family favourites “Cats & Dogs“. Its comical take on the relationship between animals in a house dominated by a zoo of creatures such as ours was a great addition to the experience. Although its ratings suggest otherwise, the movie holds a special place in my heart. Focus is a very different narrative with a little less dogs and a lot more crime. Con man Nicky is the head of a select group of thieves and other con men/women. His group travel vast distances to collect fortunes through identity theft, blackmailing, general theft and a host of other crimes with massive payouts. The level of crime is so vast, it feels more of a glorification of crime rather than the real reason the story pushes onward. Margot Robbie’s character, Jess is a newbie. A smallbit hustler whose experience is almost non-existent. Being caught out by Nicky, she follows him to his next destination and pesters him enough to lands a test run within his group. From the very beginning we are well aware that these two will end up together but is fraught with trouble and curveballs. Nicky pushes her away and disappears only to run into her while he is planning a huge con with her new partner.

The film describes itself as a comedy, crime drama. Comedy and drama always seem a weird mix for myself and personally, the film isn’t a comedy. Albeit funny, its not stupid or silly enough to warrant such a label. As for drama, I can see the working. Focus is a complete unknown with its story. Its cleverly disguised and blends in seamlessly only for you to suddenly find a curveball approaching your face at an alarming rate. It likes to make itself inconspicuous, make you a viewer rather than a character. Scenes happen, one such incident with a bag of money worth more than my house, its contents, my car and my left kidney left me astounded by how quickly it through it into your face as if you’re the one who has been conned. The little scenes, the quips and remarks that seem nonsensical play together to create a thoroughly well developed story and screenplay. There really isn’t much to say about the music, its good, there is plenty of variation and its rather exciting. The sound isn’t awful, in fact its quite nice and you won’t be having your ear drums peeled by excessive volume issues. As for cinematography, the world is far more beautiful than I could have imagined, colours pop and the lighting is natural, even within a club, you don’t struggle to see what is truly going on.

Nicky seems like a really clever man, also extremely obnoxious, Will Smith manages to nail Nicky’s multiple personalities and we already know of Margot’s incredible talent with her performance is another one of my favourite movies “Wolf of Wall Street”. Many of the other characters seem distant and feel more like extras rather and the ones that have more screen time really are good, Adrian Martinez stands as the best of the rest and is an enjoyable character with language worse than a sailor. Apart from these, I have few faults with the movie and they are only minor issues. All in all, you are looking at a movie well worth the watch. Its narrative is different and the plot twists keep knocking you right off your feet. It easily deserves an 8/10 for its creativity and incredible plot narratives that aren’t convoluted like many become. Go see this film, its got a bit for everyone…Except the brain dead.

 

PS – I want every single suit he wears.

 

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The Wolf of Wall Street – Review! – MINOR SPOILERS

Wolf of Wall StreetFirst post of the year and it’s only taken 3 weeks! Really sorry, once again. Essays suck and I will try my best to keep my Twitter updated and the new Facebook page! You may also like to know that I saw 12 Years a Slave, Walter Mitty and American Hustle in recent weeks but didn’t have enough time to give you my opinions but if you do want them, just let me know!

With increasing Oscar buzz, Golden Globes and DiCaprio’s blitzing performance, I’ve been anxiously waiting for the UK release. Instead of launching into a rant about why it should be a world wide release, I will simply say, it exceeded my expectations. Martin Scorsese’s ability to use small details to connote traits of a character or a drive to force the best out of his cast and the gloriously captured scenes add so many levels to the movie experience. A brief explanation describes it best –

“Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.” –  IMDB

First of all, I’d like to talk about the cinematography. With each scene, each job and each place, the mood of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is captured. Through a blend of lighting, shading and the vividness of colours can show a distinct difference between anger and happiness. Although we consider it typically easy to use colour and lighting correctly, many do not use it to the potential and do not take into fact the placement of the shot. I cannot praise the endless detail that went into setting up shots and a personal favourite is Belfort’s meeting with a banker. There’s an element of stress of DiCaprio’s face but behind him; a vast city landscape, while behind the banker sits a small fish tank sunk into the black marble wall. Representing both of these characters with this device is great to see. Belfort’s desire to be richer than ever, his open minded thinking process Wolf of Wall Street 4compared to the formal shark banker whose closed-in scene demonstrates his emotional capabilities for anyone other than himself and his closed aspect mind. I won’t ruin it, but the final scene drags, it doesn’t bore but it connotes something really hard hitting and it would be great to see what some people took from it. This level of attention to detail could really push Scorsese ahead of the other Oscar nominations for best director this year, although stiff competition from Gravity’s Alfonso Cuarón and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave realistically will be the ones to capture the Oscar.

Swiftly towards the story. Based on the true story, doesn’t insinuate the extent of what actually happened throughout the life of Belfort, however, the embellishment and development upon a story is what makes it a movie rather than a simple documentary. Beginning with a simple entrepreneur who makes it rich, to the point he has no way of spending it fast enough with a drive to keep it that way that leaves him in the shit with the FBI. Stereotypically, a film has a set point within the story, something that pushes the tale forward and keep everything moving. Yet within this, it’s not till half way through we really understand that the trail starts when the FBI become involved but in very minor ways while Jordan works his way around life. It never felt like a linear plot, nothing had to be achieved apart from avoiding governmental attention and it detailed random points throughout the years to a point that some may perceive as useless but show a desire for character development rather than a simple story. As the movie grows, Belfort breaks down the 4th wall. Like Marvels Deadpool, he begins to narrate scenes, flowing through the sets like ghost as he describes the ins and outs of the market, his criminal actions and sells the story just as well as he sells stocks.

Wolf of Wall Street 5Essentially the Charlie Sheen of the Stock Market, Belfort is a character that can be incredibly motivational but his dependency on narcotics creates a demeanour that could only be described as malicious. His wealth and power is demonstrated through his flash cars, a white Ferrari 512 TR, Jag E-Type and the infamous Lamborghini Countach (fun fact – extremely rare 25th anniversary edition was destroyed on set!), then through an assortment of houses and a 150ft yacht. We see these items and at points I felt inspired. The vast sums of money, the ability to live life fast and drive fast is something that appeals to myself and probably many others out there. The role was built for DiCarprio. No one else could have played Belfort without loosing the flow or trying to hard. Effortlessly he shines throughout alongside all of his co-stars. Jonah Hill, who plays Donnie Azoff (Belfort’s partner) also nails it. His comedy heritage is such a great addition to him as an actor and with elements of comedy throughout the movie, he can rely on his true forte to convince and knock it out of the park. The rest of the main cast were very strong. Names that ring no bells and faces that are new is refreshing in movies, without using an excess of big names, The Wolf of Wall Street has room for true talent rather than gimmicks. In their stock empire, the amount of extras needed to fill the expansive room is enormous and some were a little over zealous at points and really distracted from scenes when you lock directly on the bell-end humping a desk or looking like they’ve just bitten into a Haribo sour soaked in Red Bull… Finally we must consider Naomi Lapaglia played by Margot Robbie. Naomi is the definitive love interest that has to deal with the back lash of her husbands addictions and that is no simple task. With her past as a Miller girl, Naomi was/is a beautiful women with a feisty and blunt persona. I’ve never come across her before and this being her most serious role is a lot of stress that doesn’t seem to affect her. She plays the scenes perfectly, she looks the part for the era and holds her own on the screen opposite Leonardo. With a collection of other big names popping up for minor cameos, the casting department did a brilliant job in their selections.

Speaking of comedy, the movie isn’t all serious. The comedy is so diverse and it’s all very entertaining. You will sit there and Wolf of Wall Street 6enjoy the crudeness of some jokes and then sit in shock at the extent the comedy goes when they are under the influence of any number of drugs. From light hearted jovial playing to sudden shock tactics is what makes this film very powerful and such a contender within many award ceremonies and already stands as one of my favourite films. With a 10 minute scene exclusively about throwing ‘midgets’ and there apparent super human strength being completely improvised, both the acting and comedic talent comes into play. To hold a scene for so long about something so obscene is just incredible and unbelievably funny. Bucking the trend of many American TV shows (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and many more), there is a lot of nudity. When I say a lot, I mean enough to fill a 60 minute soft core porn. It’s something I’m growing used to but it’s vulgarity and brashness holds a certain shock value and typically ruins a story for me, however it’s held with a little more grace than simply throwing in a shag or two for those who fancy getting their rocks off.

To round it up, I’d like to point out a few little issues I had. One being continuity. When DiCaprio breaks up with his first wife, he was pulled out of a limo, every time the camera switched for a wider angle, the limo vanished and then returned. Alongside a few other errors, it was a bit of a grind not to notice them after a while. Secondly is some of the visual aspects. With some stunning set pieces, the punchy colours and lights, you wouldn’t think anything could go wrong. Yet if you look at the CGI, it can be really lacklustre and looks to have dropped out of an early 2000’s Call of Duty game. So overall, I’m extremely impressed. I can’t see it nailing many Oscars with the others about but each one it earns, it deserves. The Wolf of Wall Street is an astonishing thrill ride that grips you with brilliant gags, mind blowing acting and visually perfect. A riveting tale that you probably won’t want to see with your parents… 9/10!

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