Hollywood Fairytale Goes Dark!

Quentin Tarantino’s filmography includes eleven movies that he has written and directed. His plan is to only make one more two more and then move on to other pursuits leaving his directorial filmography complete. Those movies are Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Volume One, Kill Bill Volume Two, Grind House Death Proof, Inglorious Bastards, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and now Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino likes to make films that look at a genre of film and highlight great film makers. He plays homage to the greats while creating something original, which is just one of the reasons why he is so respected as a film maker. Yet to do this successfully you must still have characters people care about, or want to watch and a well developed story. Another score for Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Etc. His work is critically acclaimed and he deserved the awards he has won. I grew up loving, quoting and re-watching Reservoir dogs, Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction. Inglorious Bastards, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are two of my favorite westerns. True Romance and Four Rooms, though not complete directing credits are writing credits and I love those movies too, so I have been looking forward to this fantasy twist of the Manson story of Hollywood for a while. How would Tarantino play it? What part would the Tate murders play in the story? What was his interest in the sixties?

Tarantino it turns out was interest in the friction between the two cultures that existed during the end of the sixties. The rising hippy culture and existing culture Hollywood. As always he was very aware of the zeitgeist of the times he was portraying and he was exploring the tension it created at the time and its affect on the put together, uptight culture that preceded it. Rick Dalton, played so beautifully by Leonardo DiCaprio is just one such aging actor of the sixties who is not on the hippie train. He is watching his world crumble and change as his flame is either extinguished or can go to ittaly and make spaghetti westerns to try and salvage his dying carrer (sound like anyone you know). While the film makes references to Steve McQueen going so far as to show you the Great Escape, Clint Eastwood kept poping up in my mind with Rawhide and then all of his westerns. Will Rick be able to adapt to the new world he is living in or will the “Fucking Hippies” get him? He is emotionally vulnerable, often stuttering, dim witted, and breaks down into tears several times.

Brad pit plays his long time friend, Cliff Booth, a man’s man and though slightly in touch with the changing times more aware of his surrounding as well. I am less aware of stunt men from the time, but there is a story to his character that reminded me of the actor Robert Wagner. He is of the times though often saying horrifically crass things like “Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans” when Dalton breaks down outside of a restaurant. But he is definitely more grounded.

The story is essentially a buddy flick about these two characters decide what they will do next with there lives and I wanted to know what would happen next. I cared! Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski are side characters. Margot Robbie does an excellent job, but she is unessential for most of the movie. And of course, as with all Tarantino movies, history is unimportant because this is a fairy tale and the ending is what he wants it to be. As with Inglorious Bastards where he killed Hitler, do not expect the evening on August 8, 1969 to go the way you expect.

As to the end of the film. The only other thing I will reveal, because I do not believe in revealing spoilers. I will warn you it is horrifically brutal. I am somewhat desensitized to violence. I watch a lot of violent stuff because of what I do and I have done some internships for school so many times film violence does not bother me. This did. At first I was laughing along with everyone else and then I cheered. And then I just sat there appalled. It is graphic and a little much. It’s not even that there is a lot of gore, it’s more the absolute brutality of it, and perhaps slightly the reaction of my audience mixed in. I’m not sure, but it disturbed me.

As to the rest of the movie, there are a few pacing issues. A bout half way through the movie I was ready for it to get moing a little faster. Pitt and DiCaprio are fantastic together, I will go see them in any other collaboration. The use of music was brilliant. Not just as foreshadowing cues like Mrs Robinson’s when Pitt Meets Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley, but also “Out of Touch” as the airport arrival song but also the use of commercials on the radio and the fact that we got song snippets as they characters were driving instead of full songs, showing they were actually traveling!

Another brilliant scene worth seeing and one of my favorites is the Cliff, Lee fight scene. From the dialogue to the fight scene the entire thing was hilarious. DiCaprio’s break out scene was his meltdown in the trailer and his comeback lines with Luke Perry. He actually does such a good job the whole movie its hard to pick just one scene because as I write this I want to point out more but I don’t want to start giving away anything.

I would love to say I loved this movie, but it’s more I loved the performances in it. I was bored at times, their was once again FEET (WHY, JUST WHY, three times no less?), and a pit bull is used to attack and maul someone. As if the dogs don’t have enough PR problems. This is not a Tarantino great film. Its OK and does not have to be seen on the big screen at all. If you can’t wait to go see it I won’t discourage you, but really at an average of $9.00 a ticket, I should never have a desire to check my phone in the middle of a movie. I liked his last two more, but this is definitely above Kill Bill which I did not like.

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (US Release Date 7/26/2019)
Writer, Director Quentin Tarantino
Cast Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Luke Perry, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Maya Hawke, Margret Qualley, Dakota Fanning
Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EleMaP8EPAA

Rocketman: A Theater Must See!

While I love Elton Johns music, I have never known much about his life. I am not one of those people who follows the lives of stars and knows everything about them. Their is nothing wrong with those people, its just not my thing. It’s kind of like going out to dinner, I just want to eat my food, I don’t want to meet the chef. Only that has changed a lot since current events, and now if the chef turns out to be a major ass hat, I go to another restaurant. Anyway, so I never knew much about Elton John and went to this movie blind.

So apparently did a few of the other people in my audience. The movies opens with the line “My name is Elton Hercules John and I am an alcoholic and cocaine addict and…” So you see this is about the sex, drug and Rock and roll years. Not the good times, but the times that make the music great!

Everyone loved the movie. You can’t help it, the music is infectious and the acting is amazing. Taron Egerton looks so much like Elton John that at the end of the movie as they transition from the actor to an actual EJ video its hard to tell. Richard Madden is a complete and believable hateful bastard as Reid Johns abusive boyfriend/personal manager and Jamie Bell is fantastic as Bernie the one who wrote the lyrics for all of those songs we love so much. The performance I absolutely loved the most though was of Elton Johns mother by Bryce Dallas Howard. She projected such longing and disappointment in his younger years and such apathy and disapproval in his later years. The mother is always blamed they say, but sometimes there is a reason.

As with his concerts, this movie is a visual spectacale stimulating our eyes as well as our ears. Beyond the costumes, the sets, clothes and dances all help to tell us the story of Elton’s life. For example if you watch the dance they do while Reggie is singing “Saturday Night’s Alright” while he is a teenager. You will see him moving through different cultures enjoying music and dances, but never participating. Always hanging back. Always on the outside. Everything in this movie is a deliberate and a part of the story. It a beautiful way to share a life worth telling. Thank you Elton John for sharing your story with us. If you want to see this movie go see this movie in the theater where you pick up on everything, the small screen and sound system will not do it justice!

Rocketman (US release Date 5/31/2019)
Director Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Lee Hall
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Gemma Jones, Bryce Dallas Howard
Production Company: New Republic Pictures, Maru Films, Rocket Pictures, Paramount Pictures
Preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

Tolkien: Fantasy meets Biopic

Tolkien is a fascinating look at one of the greatest writers of the 19th century. His use of language is eloquent, incredibly descriptive, and detailed. I remember reading the Hobbit as a young teen and being amazed at how completely Tolkien brought me into his world. One of my friends even said Tolkien studied the star placement of different time periods so he could describe the sky accurately. I totally believed this, because his writing is descriptive to a fault in places. I have read all five of the ring series books and they definitely contributed to my love of the scifi/fantasy genre. So, was I excited to see this movie, Yes, Fan-girl Maybe not, but Giddy!

What I loved about this movie was the way they let us see Tolkien writing process. The glimpses into his history was interesting, but glimpsing his imagination made real, and his interest in language and hearing his thinking process was so fascinating. As a writer myself I just ate it up. I know it was artistic license, but I found it beautiful and fascinating. My favorite scene in the whole movie was his diner with Edith when they were discussing language. He brings up the word Cellar Door and he tells her how beautiful it sounds. She in turn argues that words are not beautiful just because of the way that they sound but because of the meaning we give them. She then ask him to make up a story about Cellar Door. We then get to listen to him create a story using just a word and it is amazing.

The little touches through out the movie are so great. Use of color and cinematography are fantastic. Creating grand fantasy scope and reminding you of scenes that will take place in his books like the dark riders, the trolls and Smaug. You see everything that he wrote as he saw it during his quest in the trenches. Beautifully filmed and played for any fan of his books to suss out. His four friends are the characters of his fellowship and the solider taking him through the trenches is on of the most important characters of the books. Also played by Kallum Tolkien himself. This movie is well done and worth seeing. The trench warfare scenes are worth seeing on the big screen while the intimate scenes Tolkien’s past can be watched on the small screen of you living room. Nicholas Holt does an excellent job as usual but it is Anthony Boyle’s performance that I loved the most. His friendship and unrequited love shown through on the screen. Making Holt’s grief more poignant in the end. Lily Collins was a fair Edith and I could have taken or left it. Dome Karukoski gives us a sweeping epic and a heart felt drama in a single film, much like Tolkien himself a well done translation of bluring the line between the writer and his work.

Tolkien (US release date 5/10/2019)
Directed by: Dome Karukoski
Written by: David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford
Staring: Nicholas Holt, Craig Roberts, Laura Donnelly, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, and Kallum Tolkien, and Colm Meaney
Production Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Chernin Entertainment
Preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Girzu81oS8Q

Brigthburn: Nature vs Nurture – what if Superman were bad?

Biologically speaking life is driven by the acquisition of resources with the least expenditure of energy and passing our DNA on to the next generation. We see this the most in parasitic creatures. They use others to do the work for them, even having other creatures parent for them while expending zero energy to get the resources their young will need to survive. It is a fantastic if harsh system for them if you are simply looking at the numbers. Cow birds sneak their eggs into the nest of other birds. Then their young are fostered, usually at the expense of their own children. This is because they usually hatch first and grow larger faster demanding more food and time earlier than the foster birds own children. Sucks, but at least mom didn’t out right kill anyone right.

Then there is the of world of the parasitic wasp. One parasitic wasp , H. argyraphaga, lays its eggs in a spiders abdomen where it will have lots to eat when it hatches. But not before controlling the spider from inside and forcing it to build a web of protection from the torrential monsoon rains it will sleep trough during its metamorphosis. When done with the web, the larva finish its meal, chucks out the spiders husk and spins its own pupa. Thanks mom!

Some parasitoids go inside ant nest and attach their eggs to the ant larva. Then they chemically disguise their eggs so they are accepted as ants. Even when it becomes an adult wasp the ants still treat it as an ant, feeding and grooming it until the chemical wears off and the adult leaves the nest to mate. Talk about lazy deadbeat.

Oh but It gets worse, There are even hyperparasitoids that parasitize the parasitic wasp! One wasp tracks the chemicals emitted by caterpillars infected by wasp larva and then lay their eggs on the larva already eating the caterpillar. These parasites are not the heroes however. They simply eat the existing parasites and leave then eat their way out of the caterpillar, emerging covered in viscera in their full adult glory! You see it is not just in their nature to kill, it is in their nature to take everything they need to survive and then destroy what raise them. Their life cycle cannot be completed with out the death of what raised them. It is with this glorious knowledge in mind that I watched Brightburn last night. (Yes I Studied bugs in college and I am complete nerd).

What does all this have to do with a superhero/horror movie you ask? Well slight spoilers follow:

The writers of Bright burn asked the question what if Superman was not a beneficial relationship with humanity (a symbiote) but instead a parasite? What if he did not start out with his powers, but instead was bullied in school? What if instead of getting advice from loving alien parents, his pod whispered dark thoughts? What if superman was a 12 year old kid? we’d be totally fucked right, or would loving foster parents be enough to save us in the end? The only hint we get to Brandon’s actual origin is a scene in school where the kids are asked about the difference between bees and wasp. Brandon offers that bees are pollinators and wasp are predators. Some are even parasites. This and some strange chanting are the only insights into what may be driving Brandon’s behavior. Is this nature, because nurture was very normal.

I loved the details put into the costuming, Brigthburn (he is called this because this is the town in which he first emerges) does not have a perfect costume like superman, but instead has manipulated his own blanket. What I like about it is the insect like face. It elongated his head and over time, because it was knit, stretched so the eye holes became rounder (like a bugs or wasp) and the shoe lace mouth he used to sew the front becomes very mandible like completing the look. They also furthered his otherworldlyness by altering Superman’s smooth flying movements and speeding up the framework. This made him harder to follow, he seemed to zip around and jerk from place to place much like and insect. They also added insect sounds to the foley work adding to his alien nature. All in all Brightburn is creepy as fuck

There is gore to his kills leaving no doubt that he is no superhero. Jackson A. Dunn does a fantastic job flipping from a smiling sweet young child to a disturbed boy with a major superiority complex. His coldness borders on the spectrum and I loved it. Matt L. Jones confrontation scene with Brandon was hands down my favorite in the whole movie, just the right amount of humor. David Denman did an amazing job playing a conflicted father with a horrible discussion to make and I felt awful for Jenifer Holland. Script choices aside, I believed her performance. I felt there could have been some tweaks to make the script better, but overall my audience was pleased. A few people even cheered and guffawed out right at the end. This movie balanced out the horror well with some great comedic moments and the general audience will have fun. Billy Eilish comes in strong at the end with “Bad Guy” giving the movie the perfect send off. Overall director David Yarovesky did an excellent job and I would go see this in the theater.

Brightburn (US release Date 5/23/2019)
Director: David Yarovesky
Writers Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Starring:Jacks A Dunn, Jennifer Holland, David Denmar, Matt A Jones, Meredith Hagner, Becky Wahlstrom, Gergory Alan Williams
Distribution Company: Sony Pictures
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0391pRUFIY

Best of Enemies: This Movie Can Teach Us All a Thing Or Two!

Some movies come out at the perfect time. There is so much division in this country right now. Republicans and Democrats will not even date each other much less take the time to listen to each other. Hate and intolerance has become the acceptable trade on social media, in public and in most media forms. In such a time a movie where two people of such different and insurmountable backgrounds who come together and overcome that obstacle to become lifelong friends is a message we all should be required to watch.

The movie opens with interviews from both CP Ellis and Ann Atwater. CP Ellis talks about how it felt to be inducted into the “invisible empire” and what it meant to him. Ann Atwatter discusses how she believed it was important to fight what you believe in, “whatever you believe in stand on it.” We are then introduced to CP Ellis at a clan meeting. We gain incite into his world, we see what drives him, how he thinks and how the clan prays on those who feel isolated. “We’re n endangered species you understand.” says CP, once you join “you will no longer be an outsider.” The picture painted in benign and inclusive, to white men, until the next scene when CP, Ford and two others shoot up the downstairs of a young woman’s house who is sleeping with a black man.

Ann Atwater is introduced in a councilman’s office as she argues with him about a absentee landlord who is neglecting and evicting his black tenets . Bernadette, the woman he is representing, does not even have a toilet in her house. When the councilman is flippant to their issue, she smacks him upside the head and begins to berate him. The head of the council comes in and tells her they will allow her to speak the town council meeting. This appeases her and the women leave the office.

In this way we are introduced to the two leaders of this small community in Durham, NC. Ann Atwater takes care of the black constituents and CP Ellis watches out for the white community. The two know of each other and are at odds when asked to. At the town meeting CP is asked to bring “his people” to show support for the landlord, even though even he agrees the man is a “Piece of shit.”Councilman Carvie Oldham needs to make sure he shows public support for both sides while making sure he does not let the paying constituents down. They town council is as prejudice as you’d expect a council of white men in the south in 1971 to be.

When a fire breaks out in the black school the town council responds by sending the children back to the same school! The NAACP sues to integrate all schools in Durham immediately and the judge rather than make a ruling decides to hold a Charrette. A charrette here refers to an intense period of meetings by a group of people to collaborate prior to a deadline. It was originally conceptualized in France in the 1900’s for architectural students to tackle design problems. The Charrette is when the real movie begins. It is when people really begin to listen to each other and struggle with the idea of integration and who the real enemy is. The more they work together to organize the meetings, to work on just understanding what integration of the school system would even mean, the more they understand where each side is coming from. As the vote nears tensions rise as the those in power try to ensure they will have enough votes to win.

Even knowing history and the outcome of this story I cried when CP cast his vote. I was moved by the ending of this movie. The performances were fantastic! Taraji P Henson is transformed as Ann Atwater and became the activist. The looks and glances she gives in each shot were glimpses into Atwaters state of mind. Simply withering! Sam Rockwell gave a riveting performance and I believed his struggles as he fought to be a good man for his family and “his people.” This is the writer and directorial debut of Robin Bissell and he came out with a strong piece of work. He got all of his actors to give subtle and believable performances. I urge everyone to go see this movie right away!

Best of Enemies: US Release Date 4/5/2019
Director Robin Bissell
Starring: Taraji P Hensen, Sam Rocwell, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, Gillbert Glenn and Bruce McGill
Distributed by: STX Films

Cold Pursuit: Dark Comedy about Fathers and Sons

For starters I almost did not go see this movie. I heard the news about Liam Neeson’s comments and I considered seeing Prodigy instead. But I did my research first, Neeson told a story where he previous held a racist value. Where he was angry after a loved one was raped and wanted revenge.  For a week he wanted to hurt someone based solely on the color of their skin and then he realized the incredible stupidity of his actions and stopped. When you hear the whole story, a very nuanced conversation about a thirty year old incident and the bigotry and racism present in Northern Ireland in the past and today. He discuss the horror of thinking the way he did. By taking a part of the statement out of context you lose the point of the statement and the chance to have a true conversation about racial bias. In this case I don’t believe boycotting Liam Neeson’s films will do any good or serve any purpose but to stop anyone from discussing their thoughts about race for fear of becoming a sound bite that is misunderstood.

Now for my review of Cold Pursuit:

This is a movie about fathers and sons. Liam Neeson plays a Father who looses his son to an apparent heroin over dose. His wife, played by Laura Dern, so readily believes this lie I have to wonder what kind of relationship this family had to begin with. At the begining of the movie Liam Neeson is given the Man of the Year award (or equivalent) for the town of KeHo outside of Denver, Colorado. We see the Husband and wife having dinner and getting ready. They seem like a loving happy couple. The son stopps by and uses the bathroom, but doesn’t stay for dinner, he is just saying hello. Things seem normal and happy. There is no evidence of a strained relationship, so why is the mother so quick to believe her son is a junky and get angry with her husband for not recognizing the signs? Grief may make people do crazy things, but to just immediately accept everyone in you life has let you down, has lied to you? I didn’t get it.

I did however completely understand Liam Neeson’s character! Here is not a slick killer with skills, but just a really angry father who quietly kills his way to the top. In every chapter after the sons death we have another death, though we do not see them all, we begin to wait for each so we can understand how it will lead us to our two main fathers finally meeting in their ultimate confrontation.

Liam’s foil in this fight, played by Tom Bateman, is Trevor “Viking” Calcote. A vicious, controlling drug dealer who cares only about himself and his son. How does he show how he cares about his son? By controlling him. We are introduced to father and son on their way to school. Ryan does not want to go because he is being bullied. Viking tells him “Know what a bully is, it’s a chance to prove your metal.”

Ryan answers, “You think I should hit him? That’s not a good idea.” Viking, “Why” Ryan “Because then I’ll be as stupid as he is.” Just shows the smartest character in the movie is going to be the youngest. Will his father figure out who is killing of his dealers and put a stop the killing before it gets to him or will he become the final victim? Man you really hope so!

A third party, a native American drug gang is brought into the mix, headed by White Bull, our third father. White bull is played by Tom Jackson. He brings into the mix an angry and tired drug lord with nothing to lose. He has made his fortune and now lost his only son. Now only vengeance will satisfy. Will the final confrontation give him justice or death?

The violence in the movie is balanced with wonderfully dark comedic moments that don’t over power it. Though there is nothing ground breaking or new here the movie is good. I cared about the characters, except the mother, and wanted to know what would happen next. I was never surprised but Cold pursuit is worth checking out. It is one of Liam Neeson’s better movies as of late.

Cold Pursuit US Release Date 2/8/2019
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Staring: Liam Neeson, lAura Dern, Micheal Richardson, Tom Bateman, Domienick Lombardozzi and Tom Jackson
Production Company: StudioCanal

Glass, An M. Night Sleeper.

M. Night Shyamalan is a writer and director who became most famous for the move The Sixth Sense (1999). His highly stylized sensibility, slow building dramatic style and ever present twist are for some a crutch used to make his movies seem better than they are. I however like the fact that he takes the time to develop true characters in his films. Most of his films, not everyone, are great (we will forget the last air-bender ever existed), have kept me engaged and made we want to keep watching the screen. They never rely heavily on special effects or gross out scares but instead engage my brain and ask me to care about the characters themselves. How refreshing.

This trend continues with Glass. We are reintroduced to the characters we met in Unbreakable and Split. Mr. Dunn and his son, from unbreakable are hunting the Horde from split. Dunn and his son have formed a team, working together to hunt small time thugs and muggers on the streets after the death of Davids wife. When news of The Hordes killings hit the news Dunn, known  in the News as The Overseer, he began hunting him. Meanwhile The Horde has kidnapped another group of girls, this time four cheerleaders.

Eventually Dunn finds him just as the Horde unleashes the Beast and a fight between these two adversaries ensues. During this seemingly evenly matched battle, they are caught by the police and a mysterious doctor with a strange strobe light machine takes The Beast down. Our two battling super-humans end up in a psychiatric hospital (filmed in Allentown State Hospital, Pennsylvania) under the care of Dr. Elle Staple. Also returning to the cast are Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the Hordes only surviving victim from Split, Mr Glass’s Mother (Mrs. Price)  played by Charlayne Woodward and of course the esteemed Elijah Price, Mr. Glass played by Samuel L. Jackson who has been in the hospital for the past nineteen years awaiting this very moment. McAvoy displays an amazing range as he brings out glimpses of all twenty four personalities The Horde is purported to have while interacting with both the staff at the Hospital and during sessions with Dr. Staple. Willis gives another understated performance as he begins to doubt himself and question his reality. Sadly Jackson remains comatose for most of the film.

As the final confrontation comes to a head it is not flashy but tense. The end has an inevitable twist that leaves you with more questions than answers. I will admit to a slight drag in the middle of the film and a disconnect in the message. The mysterious society is ill defined, are they government, uber rich, a secret group of highly placed individuals? We are never given answers. Are super-humans bad or good, we must decide ourselves I guess. We, like those at the end of the movie, are just left with the evidence of their existence.

So the true question is, should you see this movie in the theaters? Well? There are some excellent performances and the film is styled to perfection. Each character has a color scheme and is blocked out beautifully. If you love film than yes shell out the money and go enjoy. If you are looking for something that will transport you out of your world for a few hours, than no, pick something else. Do not get me wrong I loved this movie! But many patrons walked out of this theater to take calls. They were distracted, not transported. They were bored in the middle, waiting for something to happen.  This is a movie you can cozy up with in the digital media format. Wait for cable!

Glass US release date 1/8/2019
Director: M.Night Shyamalan
Staring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat
Production Company: Universal Studios