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: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

Also known as: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (working title)
Release Date: July 27th, 2010 (Canada – Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Based on: Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Music by: Nigel Godrich
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong, Nelson Franklin, Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr., Bill Hader (voice)

Universal Pictures, Marc Platt Productions, Big Talk Productions, 112 Minutes

Review:

“When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case I do them all the time. All of them.” – Scott Pilgrim

I haven’t watched this since it came out in theaters. From memory, I liked it at the time but strangely, I’ve never felt the urge to rewatch it until now, nine years later. And that was mainly just to review it, as I’m a fan of Edgar Wright’s work and Scott Pilgrim still seems to be beloved by comic book fans after all this time.

Well, I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Maybe I’m older, or since I’ve seen this, I sort of know what to expect from it so the razzle dazzle doesn’t awe me as it once did or maybe it just isn’t a good movie as far as its story, characters and purpose goes.

To start, this is an amazing looking picture on its surface. I really dig that the filmmakers committed to the bit and gave us a true live action version of the comic without trying to rework it into something more realistic. The special effects are spectacular, the musical numbers are cool and this film is really impressive in that regard. I love it for its style and how it is all conveyed on screen.

However, the whole story is focused on one of the worst romances I have ever had to sit through in a film. Scott is obsessed with Ramona, but she acts like that girl who is too cool for everyone at all the parties she feels the need to keep going to. But really, she’s just a broken person with bad hair that delivers packages for Amazon Canada like a total twentysomething normie just trying to pay for hair dye, thrift shop clothes, avocado toast and her 1/9th of the rent.

Still, her personality is off putting as fuck but then so is Scott’s, as he just acts like whatever he thinks she wants and he even treats his current girlfriend like shit and doesn’t really seem to know who he is, what he wants or where he’s going. He just knows that he’s obsessed over some hipster douche with weird hair and now has to fight a bunch of her exes in order to maybe date her. But she is so indifferent and noncommittal for almost the entire picture that Scott just comes off as a dopey puppy that needs to have his heart crushed.

Normally I wouldn’t be so harsh on something like this but it is this budding relationship that is the framework for the entire narrative. Sad pussy puts it all on the line for salty nihilist weirdo bitch that kinda maybe likes him right this minute but has no idea how she will feel in five minutes.

There is no lesson to be learned on this journey.

I’ve never read the comic because I don’t have much interest in it but I hope the relationship in the source material isn’t this shallow and stupid.

The only reason why this doesn’t get a terrible rating from me is that the visuals and the style of this film are so alluring and perfectly presented in the film medium that the picture does put me in awe in that regard. This is a really cool and fun movie to look at and I dig the music. The surface is superb, it just turns to crap when you get past the polish, bright lights and groovy tunes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, as well as the Kick Ass movies and Zombieland.

Film Review: Star Trek (2009)

Also known as: Star Trek XI, Star Trek Zero, Corporate Headquarters, The Ernest Castelhun Chronicles, Untitled Walter Lace Project, Star Trek: The Future Begins (working titles), Star Trek: The Beginning (South Korea),
Release Date: April 6th, 2009 (Austin premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Eric Bana, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Clifton Collins Jr., Rachel Nichols, Deep Roy, Tyler Perry, Victor Garber (scene cut), Brad William Henke (scenes cut)

Spyglass Entertainment, Bad Robot Productions, Paramount Pictures, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait’ll you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” – Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy

I’ve loved the Star Trek franchise as long as I can remember. However, nothing has really resonated with me since the end of Enterprise in 2005. This film was an attempt at rebooting the franchise and altering the timeline so that it wasn’t forced into having to work within the framework of already established canon. I wouldn’t call that the best idea, as Star Trek has such a rich mythos that it doesn’t need to be rebooted, there are unlimited ways to tell stories within a franchise this large. But a reboot is what we got because Hollywood is gonna Hollywood.

That being said, for what this is, Star Trek isn’t a bad motion picture. It’s an unnecessary one but I did want to give it a shot because if this was all the Trek I was going to get, I wanted to try to make the best of it.

This could have been better though. They hired the wrong guy to direct, as he just wanted to make Star Wars movies, which he would later do, and wasn’t a fan of Star Trek and didn’t really understand what it needed to be in contrast to what Star Wars is.

The director, J. J. Abrams, also made some strange stylistic choices in how he made the Enterprise look and how he went absolutely ape shit with the use of lens flares and lighting. The film is almost headache inducing at times.

As far as the story goes, the altering of the timeline really seems moot, as there are things that are different before the moment of that alteration. I’m specifically talking about the time Enterprise was already in space before Kirk showed up, as well as Spock’s previous service on the ship and Captain Pike’s role in everything.

Additionally, the story really seems to be a rehash of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which Abrams would also heavily borrow from for his first Star Wars movie, Episode VII – The Force Awakens. But this is the same guy who also borrowed heavily from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for his picture Super 8. It all kind of makes me wonder what his next Star Wars film will heavily borrow from.

In the realm of Star Trek movies, this is better than the worst films that came before it but it doesn’t come close to the greatness of Wrath of KhanThe Voyage HomeThe Undiscovered Country or First Contact. As its own film, separate from the series, it is a fun, space action movie. I will give it that. It is a good adventure and a better than average popcorn movie but we’ve seen this all before and done much better.

In retrospect, I’m pretty happy with most of the casting. I never liked the idea of anyone else ever playing the original crew but that bad idea is salvaged fairly well with most of the cast choices. I like Pine as Kirk, Quinto as Spock and Urban as Bones. However, I just don’t see how they will ever have the chemistry that Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley had. But since this series was cancelled after the third film, I guess we’ll never see what develops between the three men over the long haul.

But this film also diminishes McCoy’s importance, as the relationship they focus on is just between Kirk and Spock and not the trinity we all came to love on the original television show and the movies of the ’80s. And that’s a shame, really, as I love Karl Urban’s commitment to the McCoy character. He just nails it so well. I think he actually understands the role much more than Abrams, the man behind the camera.

I’m probably coming off as harsh but I’m just calling it like I see it. I did enjoy revisiting this, as it was a quick paced, exciting film. It did have some heart in the moments where Leonard Nimoy, as the older Spock, came into the story. But it did lack the right sort of emotion to make me feel for these characters.

do like this for the most part but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t just a framework for something that could have been richer and more intimate. A lot of the pieces to this puzzle were good and while some connected, it’s as if the filmmakers gave up about halfway through and just threw all the pieces back into the box.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond.

Film Review: The Replacement Killers (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Ken Sanzel
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jürgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Clifton Collins Jr.

Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, WCG Entertainment Productions, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Hostage etiquette: kidnapper pays the incidentals.” – Meg Coburn

I haven’t seen this since it was in theaters twenty years ago. I liked it back in the day, especially because it gave American audiences a look at the great Chow Yun-fat, a guy I loved in several Hong Kong gangster films. Plus, back in the late ’90s, I was crushing hard on Mira Sorvino. I probably still am, truth be told.

This is a pretty fast paced film with a fairly short running time. But that’s good, as it doesn’t really let up once it gets going, which is almost immediately.

The story follows John Lee, a hitman hired by a Chinese mob boss to kill the young child of a police officer who killed the boss’ criminal son. Lee has the young kid in his crosshairs but decides not to murder the child. In doing so, he is marked by the mob boss for betrayal all while replacement killers are hired to kill Lee and finish his mission. Fearing for his own family’s safety, Lee goes to Meg, a master at forging passports. All Lee wants is to get back to China to protect his loved ones. While at Meg’s place, he gets her caught up in his drama and she is then pulled along for the ride. They have to try and survive and also do everything they can to prevent the cop’s kid from being killed.

This film was made early in Antoine Fuqua’s career. He did a good job with it, as it matches the tone and intensity of a lot of those Hong Kong gangster films that Chow was in, especially the ones directed by John Woo.

In addition to Chow Yun-fat and Mira Sorvino, we are also treated to the talents of Michael Rooker, who excels in action movies. Rooker plays the cop and the father of the kid who is the mob boss’ target. While he gives the heroes some difficulty, initially, he changes his tune when he realizes their situation and sees them risk their lives for his kid.

This isn’t close to being the best Chow Yun-fat movie out there but it is still pretty damn enjoyable and a great English language vehicle to help make the guy a household name in the English speaking markets.

Rating: 7/10