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Wed06032020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The ninth movie from Quentin Tarantino is a dreamy doozy—his most unapologetically Tarantinian film yet. History and conventionality be damned: QT is behind the camera, and he favors mayhem and artistic license over conventionality and facts.

Set in 1969, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood captures the 1960s film scene and culture as it is dying—and dying hard. Through the Tarantino storytelling lens, they die in mysterious and hallucinogenic ways.

We get Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as insecure, has-been actor Rick Dalton, and his trusty stuntman, Cliff Booth. Dalton’s career has devolved into playing bad guys on weekly installments of TV’s F.B.I.—past his prime and blackballed. Booth is delegated to driving him around and being his confidante.

The setup allows Tarantino to go hog wild with ’60s visuals and songs. Hollywood is a monumental achievement on art- and sound-direction fronts. Some of Tarantino’s soon-to-be most-famous shots are in this movie, including a crane shot over a drive-in screen that dropped my jaw. The soundtrack pops with the likes of Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, Jose Feliciano, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. The looks and sounds are so authentic that you might find yourself wondering if Dalton and Booth were real people. They were not, but they are based on folks like Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Hal Needham.

The most notable real-person character would be Manson family murder victim Sharon Tate, played beautifully by Margot Robbie. She’s the luminous center of the movie, with Tarantino and Robbie taking the opportunity to show Tate as the beautiful, promising person and star Tate was rather than the footnote she’s become in the annals of Charles Manson’s bloody history. This is the first movie since her death that honestly pays homage to her rather than simply making her part of the Manson family rampage.

The Manson family plays a big part in Tarantino’s twisted fairy tale. The fictional Dalton happens to live next to Sharon Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski, while Booth pays a visit to the Spahn Ranch. The Spahn Ranch is where the Manson family squatted, and Booth has a sit-down with Spahn himself (played by super-craggy Bruce Dern). Unlike recent movies that depict the Manson family as having some strange level of grace (Charlie Says), Tarantino shows them as bumbling, idiotic and pathetic. It’s a solid choice.

DiCaprio, in his first role since taking home his much-deserved Oscar for The Revenant (and his second role with Tarantino after Django Unchained), will probably find himself in the running for an Oscar again. He’s a nervous, hilarious mess as Dalton, a man prone to crying in public over his career, yet still capable of blowing up a TV set with tremendous acting fireworks. He has a trailer rant and a hostage-taking-bad-guy speech that now stand as two of his finest acting moments.

In what is also his second teaming with Tarantino (after Inglourious Basterds), Pitt is fantastically funny as a man coasting through life with little care in the world. He’ll face off with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on a set he’s working just to shush his big mouth, or he’ll buy an acid-dipped cigarette for kicks. And when he smokes that cigarette, very strange things happen, and the wonderful Pitt laugh is put to its best use since he played Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

The end of the 1960s was bona fide nutty, and this is a nutty movie. It’s also quite heartfelt and moving.

Tarantino says he might only have one more movie in him after this one. I’m curious to see if he can top himself one more time, or if he just does that rumored Star Trek movie. Either way, Tarantino has left a distinctive mark on American cinema, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood adds to his perfect track record: He’s made nine movies, and all of them are at least good. This one is one of his best.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Quentin Tarantino returns to form after the just-OK Django Unchained with yet another masterpiece in The Hateful Eight, a grandiose Western that boasts his best dialogue in years—and an Oscar-caliber performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh.

I didn’t dislike Django, but the film was a little sluggish and not quite up to Tarantino’s usual standards. I thought he had a better, grittier Western in him—and this film proves he did.

Many Tarantino regulars return, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell. Russell, who delivered his career-best work in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Stuntman Mike, gets another chance to go to town with a Tarantino script, and he embraces it with much enthusiasm. Russell plays John “The Hangman” Ruth, a bounty hunter renowned for bringing in prisoners alive so that their necks can meet the noose. Riding in a stagecoach to Red Hook—with the notorious Daisy Domergue (Leigh), his latest bounty, chained to his arm—he comes across another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson). This is where the fun begins.

The party rescues future Red Hook Sheriff Chris Mannix (an outstanding Walton Goggins) from an oncoming blizzard. The stagecoach heads for Minnie’s Haberdashery as a means of shelter, where they meet the rest of the cast—and tensions soar. Ruth deduces that one or more persons in the party aim to stop him from reaching Red Hook with Daisy Domergue and her huge bounty.

Russell is doing his best John Wayne here, and he’s scrappy fun, still sporting his mustache and chops from his other 2015 Western effort, Bone Tomahawk. Jackson hasn’t gotten a chance to be this devilish since Pulp Fiction, and he goes off.

However, the performance likely to make the most waves is that of Leigh as Daisy. John Ruth elbows and punches Daisy in the face throughout the movie, and the looks Leigh gives him are proof that this lady is not to be messed with. Leigh’s Daisy is definitely full-bore crazy, but she also gives us something to sympathize with in her plight. She’s a marvel in a role that almost went to Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a great actress, but Leigh proves she was the right woman for the role.

The film is being offered in a 70-millimeter Roadshow version, complete with an intermission, for those of you willing to take a drive to see it in the old-school format. The impact and beauty of the film will not be lost in the digital projection, I assure you.

After expressing some anger with how Tarantino used his music in Django Unchained, composer Ennio Morricone re-teams with the auteur for a soundtrack that will more than likely put him into Oscar contention. The film is drawing some comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which also contained snow, group paranoia, Kurt Russell and a Morricone score. That score, along with the camerawork of Tarantino mainstay Robert Richardson, makes this perhaps Tarantino’s best-looking and best-sounding movie.

With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino finds his rhythm with editor Fred Raskin, who replaced the late Sally Menke on Django. Menke had edited all of the previous Tarantino films, and her presence was sorely missed on Django. As things turned out, Django was a decent warm-up for Tarantino and Raskin, because every beat is on the mark in The Hateful Eight. There’s a beautiful sense of tension from the first frame through the three-plus-hours running time.

Tarantino has been saying he will retire from filmmaking in the classic sense after 10 movies. If you count the Kill Bill movies as one (as he does), The Hateful Eight is his eighth movie. That would mean that there are only two left, which means modern cinema could take a serious hit two Tarantino films from now.

The Hateful Eight is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I can’t deny the amazing acting work in this Best Picture nominee from the likes of Bruce Dern (an Oscar nominee), Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb (also an Oscar nominee). These performances are all wonderful.

What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story that propels that acting. Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine subscription letter saying he’s a winner. So he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile.

It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks his part out of the park. The film nabbed six Oscar nominations, and Squibb was the most deserving for her work as Dern’s droll wife. (The black-and-white cinematography is also quite nice.)

As for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Payne) and Best Actor nominations … I don’t think so. The movie is good in a peculiar way, but far from great. While Dern gave a strong performance, it doesn’t stand up when compared to the work of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. (They all lost to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club anyway.)

Special Features: There’s just one, a making-of doc, that’s a decent-enough watch.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I can’t deny the wonderful acting work by the likes of Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb in Nebraska; they are all wonderful in this movie.

What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story propelling that acting.

Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine-subscription letter saying he’s a winner. Therefore, he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile.

It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks the part out of the park.

Of the six Oscar nominations this film earned, I would call Squibb the most deserving for her work as Dern’s droll wife; the black-and-white cinematography is also quite nice. As for Best Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actor (Dern) and Best Director (Alexander Payne), I wouldn’t go there. The movie is good in a peculiar way, but far from great. The premise annoyed me a bit the whole time I watched Nebraska.

Nebraska is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430); and the UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100).

Published in Reviews

The Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off over the weekend with some of the fest's biggest events.

On Friday, Jan. 3, the Opening Night Gala Screening, featuring the film Belle, took place at Palm Springs High School. And on Saturday was the biggest event of all: The Black Tie Awards Gala, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the awards affair:

The Palm Springs International Film Festival gala or, as Tom Hanks called it, "This little, intimate, Sonny Bono rec-room chicken dinner get-together for two-and-a-half-thousand people," took place Saturday night. Meryl Streep picked up an award. So did Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey, among others.

And though they were all seated within a few feet of one another in the airport-hangar-sized Palm Springs Convention Center, these Hollywood stars were more or less allowed to eat their pot-roast dinner in peace.

That's because Bono was in the house.

That's Bono, the singer from the Irish rock band U2, not Mary Bono, the widow of another singer named Bono—Sonny, the man who started the film festival 25 years ago when he was mayor of Palm Springs.

The Independent was there; here are just a few pictures from the events. And watch CVIndependent.com all week for more coverage of the festival. Enjoy!

Published in Snapshot