Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Also known as: Untitled #9, #9 (working titles)
Release Date: May 21st, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: various
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Julia Butters, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Samantha Robinson, Rafal Zawierucha, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Maya Hawke, Harley Quinn Smith, Danielle Harris, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Dreama Walker, Clu Gulager, Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Toni Basil, Quentin Tarantino (voice), Vincent Laresca, Lew Temple, James Marsden (extended release), Walton Goggins (voice, extended release)

Visiona Romantica, Heyday Films, Bona Fide Group, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 161 Minutes

Review:

“When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell.” – Narrator

It’s probably no secret that I really loved Quentin Tarantino’s earlier films.

However, his more recent stuff hasn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way. I think a lot of that has to do with his reliance on his dialogue and his films coming across as a handful (or less) of long conversations with a bit of cool shit sprinkled in and an overabundance of ultraviolence that isn’t as effective as it once was and often times feels out of place and jarring.

That being said, I really fucking dug Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

It’s not a picture without its flaws but it’s well constructed, well written and perfectly paced, which isn’t something I can say for the rest of Tarantino’s more modern pictures.

I haven’t liked a Tarantino movie this much since the Kill Bill films.

I’m not sure what changed in the way that he paces and constructs his movies but this plays much more like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown and that’s a very, very good thing.

A lot of credit has to go to the massive cast, all of whom felt perfect in their roles. It was really cool to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play best buds and sort of go on this adventure together. Their characters were an homage to Burt Reynolds and his stuntman, Hal Needham, who were really close and had a tight bond for years.

DiCaprio’s character was also based off of all the television western actors who were once big stars but never seemed to be able to move on to bigger projects and sort of got typecast and brushed aside.

The third main character in the film is Margot Robbie, who plays a fictionalized version of Sharon Tate, the most famous victim in the Charles Manson murders.

However, like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this film doesn’t follow history’s path and it carves out its own unique story. But I’ve always really loved alternative history takes in fiction. Hell, The Man In the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is one of my all-time favorite novels. I still haven’t watched the television show, though.

Anyway, the film does run long but it’s not as exhausting as The Hateful Eight. We’re not trapped in one room for three hours, here. Instead, we get to explore old-timey Hollywood in an era where it was leaving its glamorous age behind and moving into the darker, grittier, post-Code era.

There are some scenes, while pretty cool, that probably didn’t need to be in the film and don’t serve much purpose other than amusing the director.

One such scene is the fight between Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it didn’t serve the story other than to show how cool and tough Booth was but by this point in the movie, we already knew that. It was also a way for Tarantino to wedge in a few more cameos, in this case: Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell, two of his faves.

The sequence that really cemented this film as being pretty solid was the one that took place at the ranch. Here, Brad Pitt’s Booth discovers that an old friend’s ranch has become infested with cultish hippies, who the audience comes to learn are associated with Charles Manson. It’s an absolutely chilling sequence that builds up suspense in a way that I haven’t seen Tarantino do since the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, a decade prior.

The climax of the film is also well constructed and pretty fucking intense. This is the part of the film where history is altered and we get to see some epic Tarantino-styled justice befall the force of evil that has been brooding over the story for over two hours.

I probably should have seen this in the theater and I believe that it’s the only Tarantino picture that I haven’t seen on the big screen. However, his two previous films exhausted me and I assumed that this would do the same. But I’m glad to say that this seems like a return to form and I hope this momentum carries over into his future projects.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other more modern Tarantino films.

Film Review: The Wild Angels (1966)

Also known as: All the Fallen Angels, The Fallen Angels (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 1966
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich (uncredited)
Music by: Mike Curb
Cast: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Buck Taylor, Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard, Frank Maxwell, Dick Miller, Peter Bogdanovich

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“We don’t want nobody telling us what to do. We don’t want nobody pushing us around.” – Heavenly Blues

While people mostly remember Easy Rider as the counterculture biker picture of its time, The Wild Angels predates it by three years, features the same star and was actually the film that kicked off a whole slew of biker and drug movies.

Directed by Roger Corman and starring two of his regulars, Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern, this picture also inspired some other counterculture films by Corman, most notably The Trip.

Overall, this is a pretty dark picture but it has some charm to it, mainly because the main players are so good. Despite the fact that they’re mostly despicable pieces of shit, there is that part of you that wants them to find the freedom and fantastical utopia they are looking for.

At it’s core, this is just a cool movie with cool stars and the film really does a superb job at manufacturing a pretty genuine feeling story about outlaw bikers and their flimsy philosophies. I think that’s the main reason as to why this picture sparked a cinematic trend that saw more films like this getting made for several years.

I wouldn’t place this among Corman’s best films but it is certainly a good one that stands on its own and showcases the director’s talent in spite of his rapid shooting style and microbudget economics.

I also wouldn’t call this the best of the counterculture pictures of its day but it is most definitely a great example of this sort of cinematic social commentary done well.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time. Especially those starring Peter Fonda or Bruce Dern.

Film Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Release Date: June 30th, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Howard Browne
Music by: Lionel Newman, Fred Steiner
Cast: Jason Robards, George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (uncredited), Jean Hale, Jan Merlin, Clint Ritchie, David Canary, Harold J. Stone, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, John Agar, Joseph Turkel, Alex Rocco, Leo Gordon, Dick Miller (uncredited), Jonathan Haze (uncredited), Paul Frees (narrator)

20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Wanna know something Jack? I like a guy who can use his head for something beside a hatrack!” – Al Capone

This is definitely in the upper echelon of Roger Corman’s motion pictures. Since I hadn’t seen it until now, it was a pleasant surprise and it actually shows how good of a filmmaker he was in spite of his rapid paced productions while doing everything on the cheap.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of Corman’s more serious films. There are no monsters, ghosts or sci-fi shenanigans, this is just a gritty, hard-nosed gangster movie that features a damn good cast with Jason Robards at the forefront, as the world’s most famous real life gangster, Al Capone.

The cast also features several Corman regulars like Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon and Jonathan Haze. Beyond that, we also get a young Alex Rocco, as well as Frank Silvera, Joe Turkel and John Agar. This is a movie full of iconic character actors who benefit greatly from the type of characters this picture needed to make it something special and authentic.

At its core, this really feels like an exploitation picture due to the level of violence in it yet it plays like more serious cinematic art. Now I can’t quite put it on the same level as the first two Godfather films but I’d say that it is actually a lot better and more impressive than the standard gangster films that existed before it. It is also somewhat surprising that this was put out by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, as opposed to being released by Corman’s regular studio at the time, American International Pictures.

Man, I enjoyed this a lot. There are a lot of characters but they’re not hard to keep track of and this moves at such a brisk pace, it’s over before you know it. Also, 100 minutes for Corman is pretty much an epic, as he tends to like that 65-85 minute mark.

I feel as if this is a flick that has been somewhat forgotten and lost to time, as it came out well after the gangster genre peaked and a few years before it made a comeback. It’s weirdly sandwiched between the two greatest eras of the genre and despite it having a hard edge, it’s groundbreaking feats were quickly overshadowed and surpassed by films of the early ’70s like The Godfather and Chinatown.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other gangster and crime films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Roger Corman’s more dramatic work like The Intruder and The Trip.

Film Review: The Trip (1967)

Also known as: A Lovely Sort of Death (working title), LSD (Denmark), Os Hippies (Portugal)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Jack Nicholson
Music by: Mike Bloomfield, The Electric Flag
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 82 Minutes, 79 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“It was a heavy trip. I slept for 36 hours, man. Blind. That was my last trip on Roybal, I’ll tell you that.” – Max

The Trip… is just that, maaan…

Written by the Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring regular Nicholson and Corman collaborators: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller and Luana Anders, this movie about a man’s actual LSD trip is much better than I thought it would be.

It’s not that I expected this to be bad, by any means, but most movies about drug trips aren’t that well done and they just rely on unreliable narrators, weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals and nothing making a whole lot of sense and being left open for any sort of interpretation.

The Trip, on the other hand, is very clearly written and directed in a way that feels pretty authentic to the LSD experience. Knowing that Jack Nicholson had some experience with the drug, as well as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, this film is able to go places that similar films can’t. I’m not sure if Corman ever partook but he had enough people around him to help steer the ship.

The film does greatly benefit from Corman’s experience on his horror films, especially his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Reason being, those Poe movies usually had some sort of trippy sequence that saw their star, usually Price, go through some sort of haunted dream or hallucination. Corman, in those films, would experiment with trippy camera angles, lighting, lenses and all sorts of other tricks and special equipment that would give the viewer a sense of uncomfortable otherworldliness. He takes those skills that he developed in the few years before this and then applies them here and ups the ante quite a bit, making this his mindfuck magnum opus.

The Trip also benefits greatly from the acting of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. All three guys commit to the bit, take this all very seriously and make a compelling and thought provoking picture that with less capable actors would’ve probably just been a throwaway druggie movie for the middle class hippies of the day.

This isn’t Corman’s best picture or the best that Jack Nicholson has worked on creatively, but it is still a lot better than most of the films like it and I honestly enjoy it more than Easy Rider, which featured a lot of the same people behind and in front of the camera, as well as a hell of a lot more mainstream recognition.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time.

Film Review: Family Plot (1976)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, Deceit, Deception, Missing Heir (working titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1976 (Filmex)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Based on: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter

Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[to Fran] We’re gonna have to kill these two ourselves.” – Arthur Adamson

Family Plot has the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s last film. It also proves that even in old age, the director was a true auteur that never lost his mojo. This is an engaging and entertaining motion picture that while it isn’t Hitchcock’s best, probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten over the years.

The plot is about one giant misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the nice duo, it becomes a big mess, as the other duo locked in this cat and mouse game aren’t nice people and in fact are pretty evil and dangerous.

Barbara Harris plays a fake psychic that swindles rich old ladies out of their money. She partners up with a crafty cab driver played by Bruce Dern. The two of them are given a job that will reward them with $10,000 upon completion. That job is to find a long lost heir to a family fortune and return him to the fold. What they don’t know is that this heir is a career criminal and conman. The conman thinks that he is being pursued by the duo because of something heinous from his past. The heir is teamed up with a often times reluctant accomplice played by Karen Black. The film becomes a chase where the mostly good guys keep finding themselves in over their heads and the bad guys are running in fear of what these do-gooders may have on them.

The plot is well structured and executed marvelously for the most part. My only real complaint about the film is that it seems a bit too drawn out. Hitchcock loved a two hour-plus running time and frankly, this could have been 100 minutes and been just as good.

I loved seeing a younger Ed Lauter in the movie and with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, this just has a really cool cast. The fact that these actors also got to work with Hitchcock is kind of impressive. Not because they aren’t capable, they certainly are, but because it’s a teaming of great talents from different generations.

Speaking of which, it was also really neat that John Williams got to score a Hitchcock picture. Two different artists that defined two different generations in very different ways came together and made something that worked to benefit both parties. Williams score here isn’t anywhere as well known as those that he’d do for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but it enhanced the overall experience of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and gave it some life it might not have had with a less capable composer.

I really enjoyed Family Plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it exceeded any expectations I could have had, even if I knew more about it before diving in.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: A lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s later work from the late ’60s into the ’70s.

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt, Billy Jacoby (voice)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

Release Date: December 7th, 2015 (Cinerama Dome premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum, Zoe Bell

Double Feature Films, FilmColony, The Weinstein Company, 187 Minutes (special roadshow version), 168 Minutes (general theatrical)

the_hateful_eightReview:

The Hateful Eight is a mixed bag of good and bad.

To start, the story is pretty well constructed and executed. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns. You are never really sure of who you can and cannot trust. In most films these days, the mystery is either destroyed by something obvious or it is a completely disappointing curveball. That isn’t the case with The Hateful Eight. It is a perfectly woven tapestry from a narrative standpoint.

The score to the film was done by Ennio Morricone, my favorite film composer. It was nice hearing Morricone provide original material, as opposed to Tarantino ripping it off from other films, as has been his modus operandi for years. The original compositions were very well done although the musical tone of the film was ruined by the inclusion of a song by The White Stripes. But that’s Tarantino; he has to constantly remind us about how hip and edgy he is – even if it feels overly contrived and redundant due to being a recycled element within his filmmaking style.

Visually, the film is stunning. The landscapes are amazing and the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the majority of the film takes place, provides a visceral feeling of inviting warmth and horrific dread. The Haberdashery, in it’s own way, becomes a character within the film – if not, the main character.

The acting is superb but the picture has a great cast. Kurt Russell, Samuel Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and the others all pull their weight and add to the narrative in a powerful way. Walton Goggins was the best part about this movie but when isn’t he a scene stealer?

As far as the negatives, the film has a few moments where it just goes too far off the rails. Tarantino likes to go over the top here or there but sometimes, it feels out of place and becomes more of a distraction than anything else. There is a scene of characters violently puking a lot of blood. It is almost Evil Dead comical in its execution, as opposed to being horrifying. Maybe Tarantino wanted it to be comedic but it is out of place, unnecessary and pulls you out of the movie.

Additionally, there is a scene where two gunshots completely blow a guy’s face off. I get it though, he wants that Kill Bill vol. 1 moment where the chick’s arm got cut off and sprayed a geyser of blood. But that worked in that film, it doesn’t work so much in this one. But Tarantino will recycle certain elements of his style even to his detriment.

A couple of years ago, we got Tarantino’s other western Django Unchained. That film dealt with racism in America after the Civil War. Well, this film, in many ways, was a rehash of those issues he just tackled two years prior. Combine that with the fact that issues of race seem to be at the center of nearly every Tarantino film and by this one, his 8th film, it has been done to death. I can’t be the only person rolling their eyes at how many times Tarantino forces “nigger” into a script.

Django Unchained was so over the top and is so fresh in people’s minds still, that the use of the n-word just becomes insanely gratuitous in The Hateful Eight. But Tarantino has to remind us that he’s edgy and he’s the white voice for black people because he’s buddies with Sam Jackson and Pam Grier.

But seriously, he uses the word “nigger” more than the old school blaxploitation films he heavily borrows from. Hell, he uses it more than an N.W.A. record. And I don’t have any problem with it whatsoever when it is part of the narrative, but when it happens so often that it doesn’t even feel organic in a conversation, it becomes cringe worthy. With the absurd frequency of its use, it makes someone have to wonder what the point is, as I am doing now. But that Tarantino, he’s so edgy. But this isn’t the 90s anymore and everything doesn’t need to be done to the extreme just because it can be.

As is also customary with Tarantino films, The Hateful Eight is really long. It is too long. But fitting to his style pattern, we are given very lengthy dialogues throughout the three hour running time. Sometimes, it becomes exhausting. But it isn’t as bad as it was in Tarantino’s Death Proof. And it isn’t as drawn out as Inglourious Basterds, which was a great movie but felt like it was only three one-hour scenes.

The Hateful Eight is worth watching for the story itself. But be prepared to sit through a beast in running time. While I don’t have a problem sitting through 180 minute films, they had better be as good as a Sergio Leone epic. This is nowhere near that level of perfection but then again, not a lot of films are. And as much as Tarantino is trying to tap into his inner Sergio Leone, he can never be Leone.

Rating: 6/10