Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood -- a review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Several things we can expect from a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino: sex, dialogue strewn with profanities, violence, drug and alcohol use, and originality.  Well, QT has some surprises in store for you, in a good way.  As always, his love of films and filmdom is palpable, so it stands to reason that his supposedly penultimate movie would take place at the end of the glitzy, tacky 1960s and on the cusp of the 1970s golden age.

We've also come to expect a huge cast (200, by one account), consisting of trendy present-day TV and film stars alongside lots of nostalgia-inducing character actors we grew up with.  In fact, that's pretty much what this film is about.  Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a TV Western star on a hit show, but that was a few years ago, and now he is on a slow mosey toward the has-been corral.  He will never be insignificant to Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), though.  Cliff has been Rick's stunt double ever since Rick's salad days, and he also doubles as Rick's handyman, bodyguard, confidant, drinking buddy, and shoulder to cry on.

On Rick's quest to remain relevant, he meets Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who puts Rick's plight in bold relief.  Making him feel worse, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margo Robbie) move in next door.  In a symbolic moment, the couple tools past Rick and Cliff toward their home, slightly higher in the Hollywood hills.  These events drive the plot--what there is of it.  In true Tarantino fashion, Once follows a series of loosely-related vignettes featuring, randomly, Rick, Cliff, and Sharon, all of which converge on the fateful night of August 8, 1969.

Part of the fun of a Tarantino movie is picking out familiar faces, and there's plenty of opportunity with a cast of around 200.  We meet real folks, like Steve McQueen (an eerily look-alike Damian Lewis), and other pop culture notables of the time, such as rising star James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant); and fictional ones, like precocious child actor Trudi (Julia Butters) who shares some humorous--and heart-rending--scenes with Rick.  Bruce Dern shows up as George Spahn, owner of the Spahn Ranch, once a spot where Westerns were shot, now the commune of the Manson (Damon Herriman) Family commune, where several members stand out:  Squeakie Fromm (Dakota Fanning), Tex Watson (Austin Butler), Flower Child (Maya Hawke), and most notably Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), an underaged Hippie who tries to seduce Cliff.  Also look for card-carrying members of the Tarantino film troupe--Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, James Remar--as well as newer and rookie members of the club: Kurt Russell, Brenda Vaccaro, Emile Hirsch, Luke Perry, Lena Dunham, Scoot McNairy, Rumer Willis, Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kate Berlant, and others.  Fun fact: QT is now even using children of alumni in Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman) and Rumer Willis (Bruce).

Once ... may or may not be Quentin Tarantino's best film--an argument can be made for almost any of them, based on individual likes.  It's certainly his most restrained.  True, Tarantino's screenplay counts over 100 f-bombs, and he continues to find interesting ways to deal out violence.  But missing here is the excessive bloodbath, like the overlong slaughter of Django.  And who would have thought that Quentin would film a scene at a Playboy Club that is as innocent as anything in Beach Blanket Bingo?  The most controversial thing to my mind is his portrayal of Bruce Lee (a perfect Mike Joh) as an arrogant phony.  But anyone who can revive the old 1950s name for a disreputable character, "owl hoot", is all right in my book.  And anyway, Tarantino movies succeed because he makes us care about colorful, flawed characters by putting them in difficult, sometimes bizarre situations.  Rick is a depressed, self-pitying diva and Cliff, for all of his affable "bro"-ness has one seemingly fatal flaw, and yet we love them--and this film.

9.0 out of 10 -- Expect Awards recognition for Picture, Director, Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), Cinematography, Editing, Original Screenplay, Production Design,

Four Movies We've Seen Lately

What We've Seen Lately -- Thumbnails by FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Writer, director, producer (along with Brad Pitt) Joe Talbot collected three Sundance awards for the film: Best Director, the Jury Award for Dramatic Film, and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Film.  It is a visual poem to the San Francisco we don't see in the travel brochures.  Jimmy Fails plays himself as a man who tries to regain a tangible piece of his broken family by reclaiming his ancestral home, a spiritually beautiful Victorian house in a gentrified neighborhood.  Along with his friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors, Hostiles) an aspiring artist and playwright, Fails decides to exert squatters rights in the abandoned house.  This move ripples through the lives of his family and assorted neighborhood folks whom Montgomery sees as characters in the play he is writing.  Also stars Danny Glover, Omar Epps, and Finn Wittrock.  You'll find this only in arthouses.
8.5 out of 10 - Could vie for awards

The Dead Don't Die

With Bill Murray as the police chief, Adam Driver as his laconic deputy, Tilda Swinton as a Samurai funeral director, Steve Buscemi as a lunatic-fringe farmer, and Tom Waits as a hermit, this film is must-see for some, including me.  But with the fact that it is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, a notoriously divisive director (Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers, Coffee and Cigarettes), comes the realization that any recommendation must be tempered by what you think of his style.  His style?: improvisational, which at times can seem like the film is an unedited run-through; a sense of humor that has its uproarious belly laughs but often is arid to the point of imperceptibly downbeat, a sketchy plot that seems more like notions slapped together and which relies on his casts to pull off.  In this case, we have an homage to George A. Romero--a zombie movie set in Western Pennsylvania.  Also stars Chloe Sevigny, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Selena Gomez, with zombie cameos by Carol Kane, Iggy Pop.  In arthouses.
7.0 out of 10 - strictly for Jarmusch, zombie, and Murray/Swinton/Driver/Buscemi fans

Men in Black: International

I see what you did there, Hollywood: You recognized the chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok and thought, now, where could we capitalize on that in a buddy film?  I know, another Men in Black.  Then, throw in Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson as MIB bosses for a touch of class, Rebecca Ferguson as a bad-girl/former love interest, Rafe Spall as a foil, and alien voice work by Kumail Nanjani.  We have to admit, it seemed like a good idea, and if you really like the cast (we do), then check it out.  This film relies on visual spectacle and the magnetism of the stars, but even the most engaging actors need a screenplay and direction.  Unlike many action spectacles, this one can wait for streaming.
6.5 out of 10

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Now, Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind  Marvel, there's a man who knows how to make an action film, even when it's set among the high school crowd, he engages superhero film lovers of all ages.  We're on a class trip to Europe with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and crush M.J. (Zendaya), best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon), and nemesis Flash (Tony Revolori).  Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and resident S.H.I.E.L.D. badass Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) hijack the holiday when dangerous "Elemental" creatures threaten the citizenry of Venice.  Luckily, Quentin Beck, AKA "Mysterio" (Jake Gyllenhaal) is around, and with the help of a disguised Spider-Man, they defeat the creature.  As you know, though, that is just the beginning, and the game is afoot--who are these "elementals" and where did they come from?  The film also makes good use of Happy (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) whose budding romance adds its own smiles and heart to an already humorous, heartening, and exciting film. And, in case you were wondering, it offers an adept explanation the five-year loss of so many characters (here called "the blip").  Not among Marvel's very best efforts, but even that is worth heading out to the theater to see.  [Stay until the very end--two teasers]
8.0 out of 10 based on entertainment.

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