Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

Tarantino’s latest visual epic is an ode to everything about classic Hollywood, set in the backdrop of the Manson murders.

In his ninth directorial outing, Quentin Tarantino expresses his nostalgic love of the 1950s and 60s alongside his typical propensity for a spell of ultra violence. Straight away its important to establish a few key points regarding how the film is framed and what it sets out to achieve.

Our protagonists are leading man Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Pitt). In what seems to be an analogue as a stand in for a Clint Eastwood type, especially with how Dalton makes his name on a 1950s Western show, Bounty Law, similarly to Eastwood’s ascent from his time on Rawhide, we see Dalton’s career rise and fall against the changing landscape of not only L.A. but the film industry as a whole.

Even if you don’t know the tragic true story of the Manson family murders and the eventual real world fate of Sharon Tate, the movie does an excellent job in giving a respectful, classy and balanced account of the time period, in a way that mixes in the fictional characters with that of real world counterparts such as Bruce Lee and Roman Polanski, giving an aura of authencity to this alternative almost fairytale take on events.

Make no mistake that this is a long movie with a lot to see and a tonne of background substance and subtle references hidden in there. If you’re going into this film expecting constant and in your face high-octane thrills and carange for the best part of three hours, then you may leave the cinema slightly disappointed. Hollywood is a movie that expects a certain level of patience out of the viewer and has no issue in slowing the pacing down to accentuate a particular moment, or in just letting the setting speak for itself with scenes such as Tarantino’s synomymous dialogue exchanges or leisurely drives around the streets of Los Angeles to give that tried and true sense of care and depth that the director is known for.

It certainly does help to have a knowledge of the time period and of the subject matter highlighted in this film but it is far from essential to enjoy the ride that the film wants to take you on. The acting in and of itself is second to none with the entire cast turning in some of their best performances of the career, DiCaprio’s Dalton is a complex and realistic vessel for in which we can experience both the glitz and glamour as well as the seedy side of Tinseltown. There are many rich callbacks to a lot of classic movies intergrated beautifully into the flick, including the likes of: James Bond, The Great Escape and Rosemary’s Baby to name a few.

There is a lot of great and gratuitous violence as well as some fun action scenes that really keep the momentum going and avert fears of boredom. Understandably though, I would not be surprised if the film was deemed sluggish or uneventful by certain viewers, despite the fact that I wholeheartedly refute that assumption and disagree, this is still a big budget  and high profile movie, releasing at the same time as The Lion King live action remake and another Fast and Furious film, Hollywood may be a bit too full on or indulgent for those kinds of people.

Ultimately what we have here is a star-studded fantastical glimpse into the golden age of Hollywood, stunningly recreated for the modern day, with its unique shine and charm giving way to the grizzly events that transpire. It may take a few more viewings to fully appreciate and it definitely is going to be one of the director’s more divisive movies, but if you have the patience and the stomach for it, then Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is undoubtedly one of the best movies that you will see all year.

The Mule – Movie Review

Clint Eastwood’s final ride. An honest confessional, gritty and hard hitting piece about the importance of family, changing times and the price of redemption.

Clint Eastwood is one of the hardest working and most well respected and influential film makers in the business, period. After many years of solely being behind the camera, directing mostly bio-pics such as; Sully, The Jersey Boys and the 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood returns to acting/directing in lead role for The Mule.

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The last time we saw Eastwood on screen was in 2013’s baseball flick Trouble With The Curve, prior to which was 2008’s renowned Gran Torino, the latter being more relevant to this new release, at least for certain story cues and overarching themes. More on how that ties in later.

This film sees Eastwood as Earl Stone who’s a respected, popular and award winning horticulturalist who always seemed to put his career before his family. Throughout the movie we see the effects and the leading double life that ends up taking on new meaning when he loses his farm and eventually gets involved in drug trafficking for a shady Mexican drug cartel.

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It’s a story of an evolving climate and how the world around our leading man has changed so much throughout the decades and this is expressed in a multitude of ways in the movie, both in subtle and nuanced ways and also in very crass, blunt and blindingly obvious statements and observations.

What we know about Earl is that he is far behind on the times, he hates the constant use of smartphones, the internet, the lack of meaningful social interaction and the climate of PC culture. All of these points are addressed through different methods and at times, whilst it can seem shocking or offensive to some, with Eastwood’s character throwing around racially insensitive slurs towards Mexicans, black people and other minorities as well as casually remarking about dykes on bikes, it fits the character well and adds to the gritty realism of the picture.

Desperation and wanting to hold onto glory are big themes throughout the film and naturally this transpires from award winning flowers to essentially becoming the most successful drug trafficker, enjoying the spoils and savouring a taste of being filthy rich and taking risks and the price of infamy, all in the cost of making a name for one’s self and being a somebody.

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A cost however, not only in a monetary sense. Earl Stone neglects his family, he misses his daughter’s wedding in the introductory moments of the movie and this sets up the fact that he wasn’t there for them when they needed him to be a father, or even a grandfather. Despite his best efforts to change and the extreme lengths he goes to throughout the picture, completing a total of over ten high risk and reward runs for the cartel, Eastwood proves that no matter what you can’t buy time, you can’t just purchase happiness and that the cost of redemption ultimately comes at the steepest price.

With all that said, It’s a beautifully directed movie as one would expect from someone with Eastwood’s extensive pedigree. This is a Malpaso/Warner Brothers production after all, behind or in-front of the camera, the man is always doing an exceptional job and has done ever since his earliest directorial efforts with 1971’s Play Misty For Me and 1973’s High Plains Drifter. Despite it’s more small scale and grounded setting, Eastwood’s typical sharp style and flair is present throughout. It feels real, we are dragged into this world, into this situation and it is at times intense which only ever adds to it.

Eastwood isn’t playing a gunslinger, he isn’t a bodyguard for the president, nor a no-nonsense San Francisco cop, but an old man doing anything and everything he can to make things right. The duality of the movie’s core themes is expanded upon with the cat and mouse chase as opposing rival DEA special agent, played by Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) is hot in pursuit. Eastwood and Cooper’s interactions for me were in my eyes some of the most standout moments throughout the picture. Every time these two were on screen together exchanging words it felt entirely sincere and genuine, especially towards the end. The chemistry on screen and the sharpness of the writing does not dull for a second, the cast here in general are truly standout throughout, especially with Eastwood’s daughter Alison, who brings a whole new dimension to the grit and realism on screen.

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The pacing of the flick moves along nicely that allows the slower moments time to breath but also glosses over the less important details. It’s the rule of show don’t tell, and this is form of visual storytelling and symbolism is explored in clever ways that will make you appreciate certain parts of the film; mostly each drug run and the way the rise and fall arc is presented here.

Some of the greatest parts of this film are the small details which Eastwood always has a genuine talent for in many of his directed pieces, from the way that Earl casually sings along to songs blasting from his Lincoln on every run, to the Korean war veteran sticker on the back of the car, subtly telling the audience that this man isn’t someone to fuck with. There is depth and subtext to a movie which is quite simple in scope and premise.

Here’s where the subtext began to bleed in whilst I was watching the movie, It’s in everything from how Earl thinks and speaks to the relationship with his family. Eastwood himself was always working and essentially put film making before his own children at certain times of their lives, he’s been married several times and even has a total of eight children himself. Through Earl I believe Eastwood echoes the sentiment of sincerity and almost uses this film as a platform to do so.

The times are changing and he’s older generation, he wasn’t there for his family and now in the twilight of his life he is making up for that lost time and doing right by them. In many ways, the violent and drug fueled story presented in The Mule feels like an allegorical way for Eastwood to say all the things he feels that were previously left unsaid and to make a change.

I really do not want to ruin this movie for anyone and there’s no accounting for personal taste, but I genuinely really loved The Mule. It’s gritty, powerful, moving and real. It tells a story of loss, pain, family and redemption and it’s masterfully acted, directed and acted by all involved. It’s a must see for any Eastwood fan or film goer in general who can handle some old world thinking. Don’t let PC culture dampen your expectations for the film, go with an open mind and come out with your own thoughts.

Avengers: Infinity War – Review (Non-Spoiler)

I Hope they Remember You

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of an entire decade’s worth of build-up and anticipation following in the wake of over 18 movies. In short, it’s all been leading up to this and whilst it delivers for the most part, it leaves you asking questions and wanting more.

Infinity War is a monolithic ensemble piece that does a lot more than serve as a bookend for the planned phases, as the prior Avengers movies did. The film heartily stands on its own and tells a streamlined yet thorough story following Thanos’ journey to collect all the infinity gems.

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Thanos is, in a strange way, the main protagonist of this story and throughout the runtime we see how all his efforts come together to attempt to achieve his goals. It’s a clever twist on convention and I believe it was the best way to set the stage in such immense fashion, given just how many leading characters appear throughout.

You would expect that with such a long movie and containing so many different main characters such as Captain America, Black Panther, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Thor to name a few, that everything would be a jumbled mess of convulsion and confusion that just would not flow properly. Well, as mentioned earlier, having Thanos be the main tentpole keeps everything connected whilst allowing every character to have their moments.

There’s little character progression here for anyone, but I would argue against its necessity as we have had whole trilogies of solo movies and set ups for these heroes with Infinity War being the climactic payoff. This film rewards you for your prior knowledge of the back catalogue.

The movie is beautifully shot, wonderfully directed and has a breakneck sense of scale and pace that lasts throughout. It’s a relentless ride that never lets the viewer catch their breath and fills its lengthy, almost three-hour runtime with memorable moments and a fair amount of shock and awe.

Whilst it is tonally inconsistent, there are reasons for this that prevents scenes causing whiplash. The Guardians, Iron Man’s group and Thor all have their own arcs and styles that suit their purpose in the narrative and play to the strengths of everyone on-screen. When the Guardians are on-screen, it feels like a GotG movie, amplified all the more with how they are introduced for example. The only other way the directors and writers could have keep a flat tone would be to water down everyone to a standard uniform cut out and not what made them unique in the first place.

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That said, the movie does fall victim to similar things to plague even the best MCU movies; the score, aside from the main theme, is largely forgettable and the reliance on yet another massive CGI army fight scene draining the run time like it did in the other Avengers movies, and other Marvel films, tended to drag on and be dis-interesting.

The main hook of the film is Thanos and I can confidently say that he delivers on everything that you would expect for five years of build-up since his after-credits scene. He is menacing, cold, calculated and fearsomely powerful and is one of the better villains in the MCU and easily the biggest threat out of any of them. We go through his story-arc and see this major conflict evolve from all sides and as such, this stops Thanos just feeling like yet another evil bad guy who wants to take over the world. He has a plan, It’s systematic and in his mind fair, and his motivation actually make sense given the background of him.

The performances here are stellar from the entire cast with no one phoning it in, the stakes are higher than they have ever been and everyone on-screen accurately portrays that sense of impending dread whilst also finding time to show off their clashing personalities with each other. The fight scenes with Thanos are all creative and get increasingly more detailed and descriptive as the might of more characters try to stop him on his quest. It’s nothing short of a visual spectacle and something I was very fortunate to see for the first time in IMAX 3D.

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But how does everything payoff? Well, again without giving any major details away, It’s the first part of duology. There’s still so much to delve into regarding how everything is going to pan out, and to digest all the major events of this movie in general. As such, any main spoiler content and speculation will be discussed at another time.

To summarise, It’s a solid movie and I will more than likely have to watch it a few more times before I catch every detail, yet it leaves me wanting more. For Part 1 however, Infinity War left me largely satisfied. I never wanted the film to end and my investment throughout the movie was always high. These are characters I have a big attachment to and when the fate of the entire universe is at stake, you want to see how everything plays out.

Ultimately, that’s why something this epic leaves me at a loss for words without wanting to delve into spoiler territory. It’s a great film truly, but I just can’t give a solid opinion of the whole story because we only got half of it. It was pay-off to build up spanning ten years, and now it ends as build up for what Marvel are promising will be a true definitive ending for the MCU as we know it. Time will tell, but one thing is for certain, I’ll remember this movie, and I can’t say that about some of the other entries in the franchise.

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