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.

TV Review: Halt And Catch Fire (2014-2017)

Original Run: June 1st, 2014 – current
Created by: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Paul Haslinger, Trentemøller
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, Aleksa Palladino, Annette O’Toole, Graham Beckell, James Cromwell, Annabeth Gish, Matthew Lillard, Anna Chlumsky, Cooper Andrews

AMC, Lockjaw Productions, Gran Via Productions, 30 Episodes (so far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire is one hell of a show. In fact, while people are mourning over the loss of Mad Men, this show can easily fill that void and is, in some way, AMC’s spiritual successor to that great long running show. I also think AMC knows that, as despite having abysmal ratings its first season, Halt And Catch Fire was renewed to many people’s surprise.

In the beginning of their runs Mad Men and Breaking Bad weren’t ratings hits but AMC stuck with them and both shows took off to become two of the biggest shows of their generation. Halt And Catch Fire could and deserves to follow suit.

The show follows a cutthroat business man in the early 1980’s computer industry and his quest to imprint his mark on the world. He is backed by his savvy, his ruthless approach and his burning desire to usurp the evil IBM. Employing a dream team of geniuses who have either failed at greatness or who are misfits, the journey from creation to completion in the first season is pretty remarkable.

Now having just started its second season, the show has already proven that it isn’t going to just stick to one formula, as it has veered off into unseen directions due to how the first season concluded. There really is no way to know where this show is going to go, how it is going to explore this interesting industry during its most interesting time and how this will all eventually wrap up, assuming it makes a lengthy run. I hope it does.

The acting is superb, once the ball gets rolling, and the casting just seems perfect. The actors are more than comfortable in their shoes and each character plays off of one another brilliantly. There is a natural dynamic between all of the characters on this show and the scenes just flow organically.

Like Mad Men before it, this show captures the essence of the time with great music selections, whether they are songs from that specific era or more modern tunes that assist in bringing the world of Halt And Catch Fire alive. This show has a distinct vibe and the music plays a big part in that, as does the attention to detail whether it be the culture of the time, the look of the era and the knowledge of the writers in regards to such complex subject matter.

Sure, the biggest tech head could find issue with things in this show but then again, a 1960’s advertising executive probably found discrepancies with Mad Men. Hell, as realistic as Breaking Bad felt, the chemistry wasn’t always on point. This is television and the narrative is the point, as is bringing the viewer into a believable world. Halt And Catch Fire succeeds in that and then some.

There aren’t a lot of shows that I am really enthused about. Halt And Catch Fire is one of those shows, however.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Release Date: March 19th, 2016 (Auditorio Nacional premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Scoot McNairy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Patrick Wilson, Kevin Costner, Carla Gugino

DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2016.

I finally got around to seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I wasn’t in a rush to see it and I was debating if I was going to check it out in the theater at all. The trailers did nothing for me and Zack Snyder has a pretty lackluster track record. However, after seeing it today, in a nice quiet theater, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

It wasn’t as bad of an experience as I had anticipated. But then again, it is more of the same if you have already witnessed Zack Snyder’s mostly awful Man of Steel. Sure, it has new stuff added in and it is that new stuff that gives this mostly dull film some life but once the big battle with Doomsday starts, it becomes Snyder style destruction porn to the tune of mediocre special effects and overly stylized dirty shots. I don’t think Snyder will be satisfied until he destroys the universe ten times over.

Let me point out the positives before I turn into a total dick, however.

Ben Affleck IS Batman. Okay, maybe Michael Keaton still has the edge for me but Affleck represents the Caped Crusader in a way that the previous Batman, Christian Bale, just couldn’t. The growly voice is gone and replaced with a much more plausible voice changer. His facial expressions and demeanor are just on point and I feel like I am watching a angrier, more mature version of the Dark Knight from the perfect Batman: The Animated Series. There are weird and uncharacteristic things that Batman does, but I will get into that later and it still doesn’t diminish what Ben Affleck did with this character.

Gal Gadot is pretty good as Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman. She isn’t in the film enough to guarantee that she is made for the role but from what I saw, I think she’s a good choice. Although she was overly sexualized with armor that gave her bigger boobs and a few perfectly timed crotch and ass shots of glory. But Zack Snyder is kind of a “lowest common denominator” director, so tits and ass for the masses!

Henry Cavill is a fine Superman, even though he has to portray the role in these incredibly flawed films. His Clark Kent is passable but you never see very much of Clark and therefore aren’t able to get a sense of the character’s two sides. In fact, his two personas are mostly pointless in this film, other than having Clark meet Bruce at a Lex Luthor shindig and to have someone for Perry White to wonder where they ran off to again.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane is okay. I feel like we got the most we were going to get out of her in Man of Steel and she doesn’t feel like a true Lois to me. I think the director just went for the biggest name he could get at the time and she does come with critical acclaim.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is kind of intriguing. I liked the chemistry between Alfred and Bruce and it will be interesting to see him have more time to play the character when a solo Batman film comes out.

The film’s score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL was pretty damned good. Wonder Woman’s theme was especially bad ass.

Another big positive for me, is that the film starts twenty years into Batman’s legacy. He is already well established and his rogue’s gallery is out there causing havoc in Gotham City. It’s refreshing to not have to sit through another two and a half hour origin story for the umpteenth time.

Now on to the bad.

Lex Luthor is fucking shit. This isn’t a knock against Jesse Eisenberg for what he did, it is a knock against the filmmakers for casting him in the first place. And shaving him bald in the end doesn’t make up for the unpainted Nolan Joker-esque look of the character. He is whimsical, crazy and too bizarre to ever become the future President of the United States. His plot was idiotic, his execution was terrible and there was nothing even interesting about him. In fact, he reminded me of Lex Luthor’s annoying nephew Lenny from the horrendous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. You know, the character played by Ducky from Pretty In Pink as an amped up more strange version of Ducky. I’m hoping, that in a future film, it is revealed that he was just Lenny Luthor playing with his uncle’s empire until his uncle gets back from where ever he is – maybe hanging out with Darkseid.

Speaking of Darkseid, it is obvious he is coming due to Batman having visions about it. But when the hell did Batman become a psychic with special visions? Is this Batman a metahuman with special powers? It’s weird and it doesn’t fit the character unless he’s been huffing gases from Scarecrow’s evil warehouse or spending too much time around Axis Chemicals.

Also, Batman murders the fuck out of people. Zack Snyder defended this in an interview by pointing out that Batman has killed before. Well, yes, he has. However, it’s never been his intention and he’s never been so reckless and careless about it. It is kind of Batman’s code not to kill. Zack Snyder, between this, Batman’s mystic eye, Batman branding criminals with his logo – giving them a death sentence – and the fact that he has to shoot a gun every time there is one on the set just proves that Snyder doesn’t give a fuck about source material and has probably never read a Batman comic other than the Frank Miller stuff he claims he based this off of. And even then, it still doesn’t fit the Frank Miller Batman mold.

The Batman versus Superman showdown is pretty awesome when it happens but it just doesn’t get to where you hope it would. Ultimately, Batman decides not to kill Superman at the last second, because his mom is also named Martha. “You’re mom’s name is Martha?” “Yep!” “Did we just become best friends?!” “Yep!”

Doomsday is a pile of shit whose sole purpose is to destroy the entire world, which he nearly accomplishes until Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman beat him. Superman gets mortally wounded and dies. But it’s obviously an homage to his comic book encounter with Doomsday, who killed him. Superman will be back, just like in the comics and his death in the film is neither a shocking moment or anything that you feel will be permanent. It plays more like “Oh, they did that? Whatever. See you next movie, Supes.”

And why was everything so dark and depressing throughout this entire film? Where is the yin to the yang? This was just yang and yang. Superman and Batman are great in the comics together because there is a clear difference between them. There was no real difference in this film. Both are vigilantes, both take the law into their own hands and both are tortured depressing characters hellbent on destroying each other. Superman is the all-American good guy. Batman is the antihero. In this film, they’re both just angry, damaged forces of nature destined to collide and there is no real contrast between them.

I will say that the film is more refreshing than the cookie cutter Marvel-Disney shit lately. I wouldn’t call it a better film than the Marvel stuff but it is different and not trying to emulate it too much.

I don’t have much excitement for what’s next but I hope I am pleasantly surprised. There was more good than bad in this film. I just hope that Zack Snyder is never allowed to direct again but he’s attached to direct the follow-up to this picture. Ultimately, I’m more interested in the solo hero films than the big Justice League movies coming first.

Rating: 6/10