Musings on ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD & Tarantino’s treatments of women + minorities

It’s nearly a week ago that I saw the movie, and though there are parts that I did enjoy, there are more scenes that did not sit well with me. In fact, I didn’t even feel like writing about the movie, but posted my friend Ted’s review on it this weekend. The movie has received a high praise since its premiered in Cannes, which reportedly received a standing ovation, but the one bit I remembered most about its Cannes’ premiere was how Quentin Tarantino snapped at a reporter during the film’s press junket. NY Times’ reporter Farah Nayeri, asked Tarantino about Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue in the film in which she played Sharon Tate. QT’s terse response was “I reject your hypothesis,” which in and of itself shows the kind of arrogance that he only plays by his own rules and doesn’t care how others perceive his movies.

After days ruminating on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, I feel compelled to write about my reaction on the movie. So this post isn’t so much a film criticism per se, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further. Consider yourself warned.

Now, after seeing the movie, I totally understood where Nayeri was coming from. Given that the movie’s plot (if you can even call it that) is practically a build-up to her and her friends’ gruesome murders by members of Charles Manson’s cult, Tate herself didn’t really have much to do here. Most of the 161-minute running time is spent on luxuriating on the two white male leads… they’re talking to each other, in a group, even talking to themselves, while we merely see Tate but rarely hear what she has to say. The writer of this Jezebel article says it best, “The audience learns about as much about Tate from these male characters as we do from Tate herself.” whether it’s via a male friend (secret admirer?) or via a narrator who suddenly shows up midway through explaining exactly what is happening on screen [shrug]. Thankfully, Robbie still manages to turn in a memorable performance as Tate, but her character (and the Manson family) are nothing more than a macguffin.

I suppose when you’ve got two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in one movie, you better make the most of it. Well, QT sure did, perhaps over-indulgently so. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a faded TV star navigating the changing landscape of Hollywood, while Pitt’s Cliff Booth is his loyal stunt double/lackey who’s ‘more than a brother, and a little less than a wife.’

Let’s start with Pitt’s character, which has more problematic scenes than DiCaprio’s, though both are basically antiheroes. There are countless scenes of Cliff driving recklessly through the Hollywood hills, up and down the LA streets day and night (apparently there’s no traffic in 1969??), but the scenes play up like a retro music video as they don’t seem to serve any purpose. Cliff is portrayed as a dashing, cool guy, apparently way too cool to go to jail for murder. QT’s flashback-within-a-flashback scene shows Cliff holding a harpoon gun pointing at his wife who was berating him. We never see him actually firing the gun, but to me, the scene is more than a mere suggestion that he did kill her, and somehow he got away with it. The fact that Kurt Russell‘s stunt coordinator character Randy and his wife Janet (Zoë Bell) are reluctant about hiring him speak volumes about Cliff’s reputation. Beneath the nice guy persona there’s something really dark lurking beneath. But yet QT seemingly puts the blame on the woman. The boat scene is made to look as if Cliff’s wife is an annoying, nagging wife and therefore she’s ‘asking for it’ and we’re supposed to be okay with a man getting rid of his wife because of that, in a violent manner no less.

Another scene that didn’t sit well with me is the Bruce Lee scene. Lee is played brilliantly by Mike Moh, and initially I was excited about the scene featuring the legendary martial artist who’s also a Hollywood icon. But here his depiction made me cringe. As I was watching it, I wondered how his family would’ve thought of the scene of him being insulted AND beaten by Pitt’s character, and sure enough I saw this article came through today from The Wrap. Lee’s daughter Sharon Lee was quoted as saying, “It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father,” The article mentioned her saying that ‘…her father was often challenged, and tried to avoid fights’ which is NOT how he was depicted in the film, which was all puffery and arrogance. Lee was the only prominent non-white character in the film, yet he only serves to make the white guy appear even more heroic and invincible. Even if Lee was reported as a braggart in the media, there are SO many different sides of him that are positive and admirable. Another quote from Sharon Lee in the article states that “…as an Asian-American in 1960s Hollywood, he had to work much harder to succeed than Booth and Rick Dalton, the fictional, white protagonists of the film.” As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, as I did more reading on Sharon Tate, I found several articles about how Roman Polanski once thought Bruce Lee was the perpetrator of Sharon Tate and her friends’ murders, oh my!

Speaking of Polanski, lest we forget that Tarantino once defended him for having sex with a minor in an interview with Howard Stern (an excerpt is available here) to which QT has apologized for. After reading that, I was even more disturbed by the scene between Pitt and Margaret Qualley‘s Pussycat, who’s 31 years his junior in real life, where she propositioned Cliff oral sex while he’s driving. Qualley’s presence here seems to represent the gullible, morally-loose hippies and just like Tate (and also Dakota Fanning as another Manson family member), she’s also hyper-sexualized, the quintessential male gaze. But yet again, Pitt’s Cliff is seen as a chivalrous hero who refuses this pretty young thing’s offer, hence his heroic status.

This happens to be Tarantino’s first film without Harvey Weinstein’s involvement (all his previous films were produced by Weinstein). He admitted to NY Times back in 2017 that “I knew enough to do more than I did,” about Weinstein’s sexual misconducts. This fact warrants a mention here given the topic is about his treatment of women. In a similar way, Rick is largely tolerant of his friend/confidant Cliff’s dark, violent past, as many in the biz have been with Weinstein until the allegations finally came to light.

Cliff’s ‘heroism’ culminates in the brutal finale where I had to avert my eyes several times. Just like Inglourious Basterds where we see Hitler being riddled with bullets, we’ve come to expect revisionist history once again in QT’s latest, that is in regards to the Manson murders. The gruesome crime on Cielo Drive has been reimagined to happen at Rick Dalton’s house, where the young members of Manson’s cult encountered Cliff who’s high on acid-dipped cigarette [just what the heck is that exactly?]. The whole scene is extremely violent… I opened my eyes right at the time Cliff threw a can of dog food that smashed a girl’s face. The camera lingers on her bloody, smashed-up face and it just kept getting more and more vicious.

As if the gratuitous violence weren’t enough, they’re played for laughs. It seems that in QT’s mind, if he deemed that the people on the receiving end ‘deserve it,’ we can laugh at their misery and even revel in it. People in the theater were laughing when Leo’s Dalton grabs a flamethrower, apparently a prop from one of his movies, and burns one of the Manson girls to a crisp in his own pool. You couldn’t help but giggle at the utter preposterousness of what unfolds before you, but I also couldn’t help but shudder at the gratuitous violence. Yes, the Manson cult members are criminals and should be punished for their crime, but they aren’t in the same vein as someone like Hitler. In many ways, these young hippies were also victims, of Charles Manson’s deceptions and of the era itself. Perhaps QT thinks he’s doing Sharon Tate’s legacy a favor by ‘saving her’ in his reimagined Hollywood, but yet she barely even has any involvement in her own story. This is ultimately Rick’s story, even more so than Cliff ‘s even though Leo and Brad have a pretty equal screen time. When the violent commotion came to an end, Tate’s never even seen again, we only heard her through the intercom inviting her neighbor Rick for drinks as he chats with her friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). So her only purpose seems only to fulfill the protagonist’s dream that he revealed early in the movie (that one day he’d be cast in a Roman Polanski movie).

I wouldn’t call myself a Tarantino fan, given I’ve only seen a handful of his films–Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds–the last one being my favorite of his. But from reading about his work lately, there seems to be a disturbing pattern that is often seen in his film. In this THR’s article, writer Joelle Monique said ‘Even more distressing is the fact that violence against women is generally played for laughs in a Tarantino picture’ and she listed several movies where brutality against women are done so overtly. There is always a danger that brutal scenes in movies would normalize real life violence. It’s all the more disturbing when it comes to violence against women considering the statistics of how many goes unreported. So I simply cannot ignore, or worse, enjoy films where women are depicted as if they somehow ‘earned’ the violence done to them.

It’s been reported that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, QT’s ninth movie, is his most personal. It’s apparent that the movie is full of tributes to everything QT hold dear, the spaghetti Westerns, the foot fetish, and a plethora of other classic Hollywood obsessions that his fans would no doubt notice with glee. The painstaking detail to production design is no doubt astounding, transforming LA into what it would’ve looked like in the 60s. What is definitely apparent to me, who might not be too astute in pointing out the ‘easter eggs’ in QT’s movies, is how nostalgic he is to the bygone era. As the New Yorker article points out, ‘Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else.’

QT compared Leo and Brad as the dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman. But in an era where the #MeToo and #DiversityMatters movements are gaining more and more momentum, this indulgent, nostalgic movie about the Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 60s seems, well, old fashioned. Now, I’m not saying that filmmakers can’t pay homage to a certain era, but it does bear the risk of going ‘backward’ if it isn’t done with care. It seems to be the case here with the protagonist’s constant gripe that the ‘good ol’ days’ are behind him and his reluctance to change. Perhaps it’s QT’s way of lamenting that ‘times are changing’ (with new, diverse filmmakers offering new voices and storytelling) and his fear of being viewed as a ‘has been.’

Lastly, putting all of the women/minorities discussion aside, is Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood a good movie? Visually speaking, it’s a gorgeous film shot by DP Robert Richardson. I’ve mentioned the amazing production design by Barbara Ling and I’ll say it again, it was astounding. But overall, this movie is way too long at 2 hours 40 minutes. It doesn’t help that the pacing is pretty sluggish, meandering and even disjointed at times. The ‘six months later’ jump when Cliff and Rick were in Italy seems pointless, just like many elongated scenes in this movie that go nowhere. Most of the movie’s running time is spent lingering on the outer beauty of the leads, but there’s not much depth beneath.

The one scene I did enjoy was the scene between Leo’s Rick and his 8-year-old co-star Trudi (scene stealer Julia Butters) on the set of the TV show Lancer. The young girl is the ‘mature’ one of the two and in the end, she ends up being a huge boost of encouragement the disillusioned Rick desperately needs. That’s perhaps the only meaningful male/female scene where the woman isn’t sexualized, mocked or brutalized. Acting wise, I think both Leo and Brad did an excellent job in their roles. I especially enjoyed Leo’s performance here, who’s charming and often hilarious while wallowing in self pity. I think the scene of Rick going berserk in his trailer would likely nab Leo another Oscar nomination.

In the end, it’s a stunning production to be sure, full of clever lines, gorgeous visuals and terrific performances. But it’s a soulless movie… I couldn’t really relate to the main characters and there’s barely any moment that truly moved me. Yes the film ends in a fantastical ‘happy ending,’ but it’s tough to feel joyful after such a barbaric gore-fest. Neither Cliff nor Rick were remotely changed by such a traumatizing incident, both of them pretty much stay the same from beginning to end. It’s as if it’s a commentary on QT himself. At 56, it seems he hasn’t evolved much as a filmmaker. I think the title ‘once upon a time’ is fitting here for a filmmaker who revels in the past. Reportedly QT is retiring soon? I doubt it, but I certainly don’t mind if he did.


So what are your thoughts on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood? Let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

Quentin Tarantino’s last two films were westerns, both were a tribute to his favorite genre, the spaghetti western. He’s now back with another tribute, this time to his favorite film decade and town, the 60s in Hollywood. Specifically 1969, the year that many people have said changed the Hollywood movie industry.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a popular leading man starring in a hit western show in the 50s. But when his show got cancelled, his star power went with it. He’s only able to land villainous role but still had hopes that some director will hire him as the leading man in their film or TV show. On a night out with his best friend/body double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), they ran into a film producer named Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino).

Schwarzs made a proposition to Dalton, go to Italy and be a leading man in their Western films. Dalton was of course offended; he thinks he’s above that kind of films and doesn’t want to work outside of Hollywood. Obviously, QT is using Clint Eastwood’s real-life career as a model for Dalton’s in this film. Dalton decided to accept another villainous role in a western show starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant). He also tried to get his buddy Cliff some stunt work on the new show.

But Cliff’s reputation around town isn’t good, so when Dalton’s at work, he drives around Hollywood and one day meets a hippie named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley). Pussycat belongs to Charles Manson’s cult. Any fans of QT knows that his films don’t really have a plot, it just random things happening to the characters on the screen. And this film is no different. He introduced a bunch of famous people at that period of time including Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) who happens to be a neighbor of Dalton’s. The entire film is kind of a build-up to the murder of Tate’s and her friends by the Manson cult members.

Performances by DiCaprio and Pitt were great. DiCaprio really embraced the has-been actor role and he’s hilarious in every scene he’s in. Pretty sure he’ll get another Oscar nomination. Pitt’s character on the hand is more reserved. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any funny lines, some of the scenes with Cliff were quite funny. Including a scene where he has a tussle with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Robbie’s Tate on the hand, was more like a fantasy role. It’s hard to explain but maybe because Tate’s career was cut short because she was murdered and we don’t know much about her, and it’s the reason why QT wrote the character this way.

Visually, this is another stunning film shot by Tarantino’s regular cinematographer Robert Richardson. QT is one of the few filmmakers left in Hollywood that still prefer shooting in film, so this picture has that old school film look to it. With a reported budget of close to $100mil, QT’s largest production budget, he’s able to create the look and feel of the late 60s that I assume anyone who’s alive around that time would appreciate.

I don’t consider this to be one of QT’s best film, I think it’s middle of the road. At close to 3 hours longs, the film needed some further editing. There were several scenes that should’ve been cut or shorten. I think this is where QT’s longtime late editor Sally Menke would’ve helped and probably would’ve made the film a bit tighter. Also, the music selection and themes were quite forgettable. Many of his previous films contained great music but not this one.

It may not be one of his best work but it’s still better than many of the films currently playing in theaters right now. If you’re a fan of the actors or QT, then I would recommend you see this one at your local theater.

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So have you seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD? Well, what did you think?

Advanced Screening Giveaway to ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD

Happy Monday, folks!! Guess what, we have another passes giveaway!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you and a guest are invited to an advance screening of ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD on:

Wednesday, July 24
Showplace ICON (West End) at 7pm.

RSVP using the link below for your chance to attend (while supplies last)

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first served.
It is recommended to arrive early.  The film hits theaters on July 26.

“In this town, it can all change…like that.”

Some interesting trivia of the movie courtesy of IMDb:

This is Quentin Tarantino‘s ninth film and according to IMDb, he said he worked on the screenplay for five years and it’s also his most personal one yet. Apparently he started writing the story as a novel before realizing a film script would better suit the material.

Per THR, Tarantino describes it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a Western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor … Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).” But QT has maintained that the movie is more about the era it’s set in and not about the Manson murders.

#OnceUponATimeInHollywood


Once Upon A Time in Hollywood opens in theaters this Friday 7/26. Are you excited to see this film?

Trailers Spotlight: Dumbo | Hotel Mumbai | Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Hi everyone! Happy First Day of Spring! Stay tuned for our reviews of Jordan Peele’s Us movie and Shazam! coming later this week.

For now, I thought I’d post some trailers for a couple of upcoming movies (I’m seeing the press screenings next week) … and one that just dropped today!

DUMBO

I actually don’t remember much about the Disney cartoon version of Dumbo, I was more affected by Bambi as a kid. But when the first trailer dropped last year I was so moved by it that I teared up! In fact, I couldn’t stop my tears from falling every time I heard the ‘Baby Mine’ rendition by Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes.

I don’t usually get super excited over Tim Burton movies, but this one looks really good! It’ll certainly be a darker take than the animated version, which is usually the case with the live-action remake. I do love the cast, Michael Keaton, Colin Farrell, Danny Devito and Eva Green who’s perfect as a circus aerialist. The young actress Nico Parker looks so much like Zoe Saldana I thought she’s the one playing her younger version in Avengers: Infinity War.

Can’t wait for the screening next Tuesday, I’ll be sure to pack tissues!


HOTEL MUMBAI

Dev Patel is on a roll. He’s got two films I’m looking forward to, this one and Wedding Guest. I can’t recall much about the events in 2008 this film is based on, where the famed Taj Hotel was under siege by terrorists in Mumbai. This film is a dramatization of the real life events, which is also the subject of the 2009 Emmy-nominated documentary feature Surviving Mumbai (now renamed Mumbai Massacre).

The trailer looks quite gripping and it’s got a pretty good score so far on Rotten Tomatoes. Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs and one of my fave Indian character actors Anupam Kher. Per IMDb, a significant amount of actual dialogue in the film was repeated verbatim being taken from original transcripts of actual intercepted mobile phone calls during the 2008 siege.


ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Well, well, well,  the Summer of ’69 just dropped on the first day of Spring! [somehow now I’ve got that Bryan Adams song stuck in my head!]

Surely you’ve seen the rather ho-hum official poster that dropped a couple of days ago. Well the memes have been hilarious, but as a huge fan of Eileen Steinbach’s amazing poster designs, I thought I’d include her version instead…

In any case, two of Hollywood’s biggest stars Brad Pitt & Leonardo DiCaprio collide in Tarantino’s ninth feature film, which QT himself has dubbed “the most exciting star dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman.”

Well I dunno about you but the one thing that had me do a double take in the teaser is the Bruce Lee scene! Wow, I thought they did some serious special effects to get the real martial arts legend to fight Brad Pitt here…

I had to check out WHO that actor is who played Bruce Lee, he’s uncanny! Well, his name is Mike Moh and guess what, he grew up in St Paul Minnesota and according to IMDb he now runs a martial arts school in Madison, Wisconsin?? 🤯

In any case, well the teaser looked intriguing. I love historical fiction, especially involving the movie industry. It reminds me a bit of the Coens’ Hail, Caesar! though given the Charles Manson connection, it’ll certainly have some dark stuff despite the lighthearted tone of the trailer. It is a Tarantino movie after all. Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is spot-on casting right there. Oh and apparently Tom Cruise was supposed to play the Brad Pitt’s role of stuntman Cliff Booth but had scheduling conflict filming Top Gun: Maverick. Hmmm, that would’ve been interesting to see Cruise playing Leo’s stuntman!


What do you think of these trailers? Which ones are you most looking forward to?

The Flix List: 10+ year-old films that deserve a second look

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Have you ever seen a film and question why it’s not as well known or gets the respect it deserves? I consider myself a film geek and have seen several films throughout the years, while some I saw deserves all the accolades it received and many deserves to be forgotten. But I thought these films on the list deserves to be seen by more people and shouldn’t have been forgotten.

In no particular order, below are some films that I believe should be given second look:

Year of the Dragon (1985)

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After the disastrous Heaven’s Gate, it’s a miracle that Michael Cimino was able to make this film. A story about a NYC cop taking on the Triad Chinese mob has everything you need in this kind of genre, great cinematography, strong performances and enough action to satisfy the 80s action hungry audiences. It starred the young upcoming and coming actor named Mickey Rourke as the cop who’s trying to take down the mob in NYC’s Chinatown. John Lone was excellent as the ambitious mobster who’s trying to become the Godfather of Chinatown.

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The film’s not perfect but I think it’s one of the best in that decade. Even though he’s very good in the role, Rourke’s character was written as someone in his late 40s or early 50s and Rourke was only 33 at the time. So in order to make him appear older, they applied really bad makeup and dyed his hair gray; I have to admit I found it to be distracting at times while watching the film. Apparently, the leading role was offered to both Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman, but they turned it down because they didn’t want to be anywhere near Cimino.

When the film came out, the Chinese community started calling the film racist because they didn’t think it depicts Chinatown in a good light. According to Cimino, the studio folks loved the film and planned to release it in the Holiday season but with the controversy, they decided to dump it in late summer. The film is available on Amazon video and DVD, it has yet to be released on Bluray here in the States. I’m hoping Criterion will release it some day.

Dead Presidents (1995)

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The Hughes Brothers second film is maybe the most under-appreciated film of the 90s. It’s a combination of different genres, heist, action and war drama. Larenz Tate stars as a young man who served in the Vietnam War and tried to adjust to normal life after he’s back in the States. It’s one of the few films in Hollywood that addresses the issues of African Americans who has to deal with harsh reality of living in the society after the war. It’s well written, directed and the performances were great by the actors. It’s not available on Bluray yet but you can find it on DVD, please seek it out.

Scarecrow (1973)

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I can guarantee that a lot of people have never heard of this film starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. A story about two men who’s trying to correct their lives, Hackman played an ex-con who’s trying to start a new life after being released from prison and Pacino played a sailor who’s trying to get home to see his child. It’s kind of a road movie but I thought it’s a great character study of these two men. The film was an indie produced and when it failed critically and financially, Hackman refuses to work on future indie projects; he’d only worked on studios financed films after this one. It’s one of the rare gems from the 70s and you should see it for the great performances by the two legendary actors. I think maybe the film failed is because the title suggests it’s some sort of a super natural thriller or horror. But despite its failure, both actors have said it’s one of their favorite films that they starred in.

Carlito’s Way (1993)

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Another film starring Al Pacino that I thought should’ve been well received when it came out. Pacino stars as a Puerto Rican gangster named Carlito who’s trying to go straight after being released from prison. It also stars Sean Penn as his lawyer and best friend; I think it’s Penn’s best performance. Unlike most films on the list, this one received full support from the studio and released in the prime Holidays season. But for whatever reason, it failed to click with audiences and were dismissed by most critics. Of course the film’s not perfect, I think the love story didn’t work and the lead actress Penelope Ann Miller was a miscast. According to director Brian De Palma, he auditioned several young actresses at that time and wanted to cast a then unknown actress named Sandra Bullock. But the role requires that she must be willing to do a topless scene because the character is a ballet dancer and stripper. Bullock refused to take her tops off and De Palma went with Miller since she has no problem taking her clothes off.

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It’s available on DVD and Bluray for a very cheap price, I highly recommend people to see this one ASAP. Personally, I thought it’s one of the best films of the 90s. Several years after the film came out, De Palma did an interview and said he knew the film was going to fail. He’d just made Bonfire of Vanity; one of the biggest box office bombs of the 90s and people were still hated him for it. Also, Pacino had just won an Oscar for his performance in Scent of A Woman in the previous year and many people thought he didn’t deserve it. So a lot of people were against Pacino at that time too.

Extreme Prejudice (1987)  

A modern day western that’s full of action and great performances yet somehow it failed miserably. It’s quite surprising since the film came out in the 80s and this was the kind of film that would bring in huge box office numbers in that era. My fellow FlixChatter contributor Jack gave an in depth review here so I won’t go into why you need to see this hidden gem.

Sorcerer (1977)

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After back-to-back success with The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin was on top of the food chain in Hollywood. In what he thought was going to be another box office hit, he decided to make an adventure film set in the jungle. It’s remake of a French film called Wages of Fear and I think this one is even better than the original version. Released in the summer of 1977, the studio thought it’s going to be another hit for Friedkin but it failed and has been forgotten for years. Just a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino mentioned that it’s one of his favorite films ever and that gave the film some well deserve recognition. The film was finally available on Bluray last spring and it’s one of the best discs of a classic film. It’s available for a very cheap price, so you should buy it and see this excellent action/adventure film.

The Vanishing (original 1988 version)

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If this Danish film came out in our current time of online social media sharing, I believe it would’ve been much more well known and many people would consider it one of the best thrillers ever made. But it came out in the late 80s, several years before the internet and it’s sort of been forgotten since then. This is one of the few films that I would consider a masterpiece. The story about a couple who decided to take a road trip, while stopping to get food at a local gas station somewhere in the French country side, the girlfriend was abducted. For three years, the boyfriend is obsessed with finding out what happened to her. Unlike most suspense thriller, this film didn’t rely on violence or cheap scares to keep the audience engage, with the exception of a small fight scene, there were no violence depicted in the film.

The film’s brilliantly written and directed by the late George Sluizer and beautifully shot. You need to know as little as possible if you’ve never seen it. But be prepare for a gut punch of an ending that will likely haunts you for a long time. Unfortunately, Sluizer got talked into directing a remake for American audiences a few years later and it’s inferior to his original version in so many ways. Avoid the remake at all cost.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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For a long time this film was considered the black sheep of the Bond franchise. Many of the Bond film fans called it the worst in the series but then a few years ago, Christopher Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film and since then, it has gotten more attention and now some say it’s one of the best Bond films ever made. It’s not widely known but Sean Connery said that he regret not coming back to reprise his role as 007, because he thought the script for this film was great.

I’ve gotten into some heated discussion with some people about how this is great Bond picture and that it’s the only film in the series that’s faithful to the original Fleming’s source novel. This was before Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film, of course those people have switched gear and said it’s a great Bond film. Now I understand why the film didn’t click with audiences when it first came out, a new actor is playing 007 and it’s quite dark in tone comparing to the previous Bond films at the time. Of course the shocking ending probably turned off a lot of Bond fanatics and paved way for the Roger Moore’s silly Bond pictures throughout the 70s and most of the 80s.

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But I thought what made the film great was that the filmmakers decided to make Bond more of a human rather than some sort of superhero. For example, a scene in which Blofeld’s henchmen were chasing Bond and he realized he might not get away and they showed fear in his face. That’s never been done in any of the Bond films and we didn’t see fear in Bond’s face again until Casino Royale where he’s being tortured. Then there’s Diana Rigg as the cool Bond girl, I would’ve liked to see more of her in the film but she’s definitely one of the best Bond girls in the franchise. Of course she’s one of the few women whom Bond did fall in love with and he finally married her.

The film was such a big box office failure that the producers considered hiring an American actor to play 007 in the next one. They thought this one failed because it’s too European and that American audiences didn’t “get” it.

Judgment Night (1993)

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The early 90s were full of cheesy action pictures and when I saw a trailer for this film, I thought it’s just another silly action thriller that would be forgotten once it hits local movie theaters. Sure enough that’s what happened, it barely made a dent at the box office but when I saw it on home video, I thought it’s great. The premise of the film is pretty simple; a group of friends are attending a box match somewhere in downtown Chicago. On the way there, they got stuck in traffic and decided to take an alternate route through a rough neighborhood. Unfortunately for them once they’re in the hood, they got lost and witnessed a murder by a ruthless drug dealer and his men. With no weapons to defend themselves, they have to use their wits to survive the night.

What I really like about this film is that they cast actors who actually look like regular people. Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven aren’t the kind of actors you think of in an action picture. But here they fit what the story requires, regular guys with no special skills trying to stay alive. Denis Learly, who at the time is better known for his comedic role, plays the main villain here. He totally surprised me and I thought he’s excellent as the relentless killer who won’t stop until his pray are all dead.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

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Almost ten years since the release of this film and it’s pretty much forgotten by many people. But to me it’s one of the best westerns ever made and should be in discussion as one of the best in that decade. Since the film wasn’t an action picture, the studio didn’t know how to promote it and pretty much just released it with little marketing. Now 2007 was a very good year for films, it came out around the same time as the other two more memorable films, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Even though Brad Pitt played the title role, he’s pretty much a supporting actor. The film belongs to Casey Affleck who I thought was excellent and should’ve won the Oscar for his performance. It’s beautifully shot by the great Roger Deakins and the soundtrack is one of my favorites ever. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this film’s soundtrack. If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend you see it.

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So those are some older films I thought deserves to be seen my more people. Did you see any of them and do you agree with me?

FlixChatter Review: ALLIED (2016)

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So this is a film that has quite a pedigree. Starting w/ the director Robert Zemeckis, who have made some of the best films like Back To The Future, Romancing The Stone, Forrest Gump, Contact, etc. plus the two A-listers, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. I have to admit my main draw was Zemeckis and Cotillard, as I’ve never been a Pitt fan. Well, my instinct is right the first time around as Cotillard is certainly the more interesting to watch out of the two.

The film is set in 1942, with Pitt as an intelligence officer Max in North Africa where he encounters a female French Resistance fighter, Marianne, in Morocco. The opening shot is striking, with an aerial shot of the desert and a wide shot of Pitt walking under the hot Sahara sun. Then he gets picked up in a car à la James Bond (the scene is reminiscent to when Bond and his girl get picked up by a Rolls-Royce in the middle of the Moroccan desert in Spectre). It plays out like some kind of retro GQ commercial with Pitt looking clean-cut and debonair, as he’s dropped off at a party to meet his pretend wife. Again it’s as if he’s playing Bond to his Bond girl, complete with the him speaking in French in front of Marianne’s friends.

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I love spy romances, it’s a sub-genre I wish Hollywood would make more of. Well, Allied certainly has all the ingredients for a great WWII romance drama. It’s definitely more drama than thrillers as you can count with one hand the amount of action in this film, which suits me just fine. What I do expect is a compelling story, great suspense and a sweeping romance worth rooting for. Unfortunately, the film falls short on all counts. The main thing for me is that it feels so insincere. Yes I know the actors are pretending to play pretends in the film, and it was rather amusing to watch at first. I especially enjoyed the scenes of them at the roof with Cotillard playing up her flirtatious side. But after a while it becomes kind of repetitive.


There’s not much espionage stuff going on in this film, but the first part was definitely much more engaging than the second. After an action-heavy scene at a top-ranking Nazi officer’s swanky party, the film then transitions from North Africa to the UK, where pretty much all the intrigue and flair fizzles almost instantly. Max and Marianne are now happily married with couple. When suspicion arises that Marianne is perhaps not who she says she is, the dramatic tension just isn’t there. I feel that Pitt is sort of sleepwalking his way through the film. Perhaps he aims to look poised and unruffled, but he comes across looking bored. Cotillard fares much better though she overacted a bit in parts, but her immense screen charisma is always a treat to watch. Then there’s the lack of chemistry between the two. Even the sex scenes lack any real heat, heck I was paying attention more to how they do that dust storm effects whilst they’re in the car! Overall I just don’t feel invested in their love affair. It’s really too bad as the story certainly has potential for a real heart-wrenching wartime romance.

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The supporting cast don’t really get much to do. Even the great Jared Harris, who was simply astonishing in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, was perhaps the most memorable one here as Pitt’s boss. Matthew Goode is barely recognizable and his cameo appearance seems like a waste of his talent. Lizzy Caplan is grossly-underutilized as her character doesn’t seem to serve much purpose at all.

Now, the Mr & Mrs. Smith comparison is inevitable given both leads are spies (not to mention the recent commotion of Brangelina), but the Morocco setting also instantly conjures up memories of the much, much more compelling WWII romance drama Casablanca. Watching this actually made me want to rewatch it and so I did. I convinced my hubby, who hadn’t seen it before, to rent it on Thanksgiving eve. Well, Allied could barely hold a candle to that masterful classic, no matter how visually dazzling it looks. Which brings me to the stunning cinematography by Zemeckis’ regular Don Burgess. The visuals, costumes and set pieces are definitely a plus here, they’re more authentic than the performances of the leads.

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Overall, this is quite a disappointing effort from Zemeckis. The film is more style over substance… an elegant, sleek but utterly superficial affair. I’d think this type of film would make me cry buckets, but my eyes were dry the entire time. What’s more, for a film about espionage, the utter lack of edge and suspense is indefensible.

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Have you seen ALLIED? I’d love to hear what you think!

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Genre Grandeur – Heist Movies: Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Thirteen

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This post is part of MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur (or Guesstimation) series. Thanks to my pal Ted S. for his review of one of his favorite films of the genre.


I lost count on how many times I’ve watched these two Ocean’s films; I’m going to pretend that Ocean’s 12 never existed; the self-indulgent film was an embarrassing to everyone who’s involved in making it. Don’t get me started on the whole Julia Roberts pretended to be Julia Roberts sequence. I wanted to punch the writers and director Steven Soderbergh for thinking that we the audience would be that stupid and thought it would be a fun scene to watch.

Well speaking of Soderbergh, in the early 2000s, he’s the director every actor wanted to work with. If I remember correctly, two of his films in 2000, Traffic and Erin Brockovich were box office hits and got nominated for best picture at the Oscars. He received the golden statue for directing Traffic. So of course there were big expectations for his next picture. Opened during the holiday season of 2001, Ocean’s Eleven was one of that year’s biggest hits and spawned two sequels. Of course the cast was probably the big draw, packed with three A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts; veterans Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould and young up and coming actors such as Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.
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Recently paroled Danny Ocean (Clooney) decides to get in touch with some of his old buddies including black jack dealer named Frank Catton (the late great Bernie Mac) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt). They hatched a plan to steal money from two Las Vegas casinos during a big boxing match that could be worth more than $130mil. The casinos are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). In order to get their plan rolling, they need some funding from Benedict’s rival Reuben (Elliot Gould). With backing from Reuben, Danny and Rusty went and recruit the rest of the team.

What I love about this film was the chemistry with each of the actors; they were all believable to me as a team on a mission. I especially love the bickering between the Mormon twins (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan). The script was well written and the actual heist was very clever and fun to watch. Unlike some other heist genre film, there were no twists or backstabbing from someone in the team. They finished their mission and everyone got paid.

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After the disastrous Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh decided to fix his mistake from the second sequel and brought the team back for another heist in Vegas. In Ocean’s Thirteen, the team’s mission this time is revenge. After Reuben was left for dead by his former partner Willy Bank (Al Pacino), Danny and Rusty wanted to break Bank’s brand new casino. Unlike the second sequel where I felt the actors and filmmakers were having fun but we the audience were left out. In this film, Soderbergh brought back the fun and I had a great time with it; heck I think I liked it better than the first film. The heist itself was quite clever, instead of stealing the money from the casino for themselves, Ocean’s team decided to let everyone win big. Speaking as someone who goes to Vegas regularly and gambles there, I would have loved to be involved in this heist.

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Pacino w/ Ellen Barkin who’s quite the scene stealer in the movie

These two Ocean films aren’t the best in the heist genre but they sure are fun to watch. Maybe because it’s set in one of my favorite cities to visit Las Vegas, it’s the reason why I can’t get enough of these films.

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Well, what do YOU think of these two Ocean’s films? Which of the trilogy is your favorite?