Onward (2020): Pixar’s exploration of Brothers and Family

Onward (2020) - IMDb

    “Onward” is Pixar that is on the level of “Monsters Inc.” and “Monsters University” as it primarily a relationship between two guys that drives the story. This story once again has the depth I’ve come to expect in Pixar in the relationships between the characters that are explored. I really wish we’d gotten more of that exploration as it would have pushed the film to great. Suffice to say, if you are a fan of Pixar, definitely check this film out. I rented it off Amazon.

The film was directed by Dan Scanlon who co-wrote the screenplay along with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday he and his brother Barley (Chris Pratt) receive a wizard staff that belonged to their father. From here they must find the Phoenix Gem to restore their father fully as on Ian’s initial attempt at summoning he only manages to summon his father’s legs. They have 24 hours before the spell ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Modern Fantasy World – I’ve always been a fan of urban fantasy. Modern fantasy creatures put into the modern world leads to fun and interesting situations. In this this is best expressed in The Manticore who was an adventurer who ran a tavern but  turned it into a more Chuck E. Cheese type joint in order to survive. We also see how Unicorns dig through the trash and you have a Pixie motorcycle gang. This world is so much fun and I’m glad Pixar made this film, simply for the world alone.

The Manticore – The Manticore is the one who gives into the quest and is reborn in the brother’s quest for the Phoenix Gem to bring back their dad. She ends up raging and burning down her restaurant and teaming up with Laurel Lightfoot to get her sword back as we learn that the Phoenix Gem is tied to a curse and only the sword can destroy it. Octavia Spencer is absolutely fantastic in this role. By the end of the film her Tavern is more traditional and she is once again the storyteller recounting her past adventures.

Laurel Lightfoot – Julia Louis-Dreyfus does an amazing job as the mother of the brothers. Her quest to get to them is the B-plot and I really enjoy how we see her taking more control of the situation over time. In her we see both the improvisation to solve problems that Barley has and also her nervous and overthinking nature that her son Ian inherited. She is key to the final battle and I really liked how she plays off her sons and the Manticore.

The Lightfoot Brothers – The core relationship is that between Ian and Barley. Their arcs involve Ian developing courage and confidence in himself, and Barley taking responsibility and opening up about how he ran away from his dad on his death bed because he was so afraid. This arc ends with Barley finally getting to say good-bye to his dad and Ian getting his confidence and realizing it was from how his older brother Barley raised him that he found it. After this magic is back in the world and Ian is now a wizard as we see him use all the spells from Barley’s game…that are real life spells and not just cards.

Death and Saying Good-bye – Barley’s relationship to his dad is the heart of the story in that it is his trouble letting go that I think feeds off how he always trying to escape into games and getting into trouble. In the end he does get to say good-bye and we see how each of the family members are connected to their father in the final shots of the film. All the characters get to say good-bye in their own way as Ian is able to accept his dad’s death because his brother raised him in the ways he’d always wanted his dad to and like his dad he inherited his magic so part of him will always be carried on in Ian.

The Cons:

Action Over Character Moments – This is very action heavy film. This is largely due to it taking inspiration from a Dungeons and Dragons style quest. For this reason it never stops being fun but it also means that we don’t get to see the relationship between the brothers develop as much as it should. They have moments of conflict and opening up to one another, but the film needed more of that. This was a script where the action of the quest took precedent over the character moments at different points.

The Minor Characters – Besides the Manticore most of the minor characters aren’t very memorable. I didn’t care about the Pixie gang beyond them being antagonists. The cop characters are just kind of there, even though the Centaur is set-up to become the Lightfoot’s step-dad. This was a shame as we don’t really get any motivations of these characters. Another draft could have changed this and in turn brought the film to great.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year, and I’m glad it rentable from home given all that is going on with Corvid-19. Please stay safe everyone. This film is about family and the relationships that define us. Hold those relationships close and know just how important you are to so many others both friends and family. If you get the chance definitely check out this film. I hope we see more original projects like this from Pixar in the future.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10 Really good due to the core Lightfoot Drama.

Superman: Red Son (2020) – A Great Adaptation That Captures the Heart of the Comic

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     Superman: Red Son is one of my favorite comics from back in college. I’ve always liked the Elseworld alternate world ideas where the characters we know are put in situations that shape them along different paths. “Red Son” is in both the comics and film, a great example of this for the heroes and villains within the DC Universe. This adaptation is great. It isn’t exactly like the comics, but I overall was a fan of the choices they made.

The film was directed by Sam Liu and written by J. M. DeMatteis based off the comic of the same name by Mark Millar.

The story follows Superman if he crashed within the Soviet Union. From here he must face his power versus the responsibility he feels to others, the State and himself while facing off against Luthor and the United States.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – DC Animation has once again crafted a beautiful film. The colors and details in the scenes and faces bring the story to life. We also have Soviet Style Propaganda in the opening credits that are wonderfully crafted and brought me into the film really well.

Lex Luthor’s United States – Lex Luthor rises in power in the United States as he is the only one who has plans and inventions to deal with the threat of Superman. Like in the comics, most of the challenges he sends to Superman are ones he made…with the exception of Brainiac, who is his own power in this and not ever in an alliance with Luthor, unlike the comics. The United States that is presented isn’t stable and is true to the historical United States. The oppression through the 40s and 60s is talked about on screen which is where you can see overall where Superman’s perspective is to fix things. Luthor doesn’t see anyone outside of himself until the end, which is meant to mirror the United States as it grow’s in it’s relationship to the world.

Diana  / Wonder Woman – Diana in the comic goes from admiring Superman to having their friendship end in them as enemies. Over the course of the film we see her lose faith in man’s world and agrees with her mother as their nation once more goes into hiding. This is the first turning point for Superman in the film, where he begins to question his actions. It isn’t enough at this point but her arc of losing faith in Superman is powerful as she saves his life but Batman’s killing himself and the breaking her Lasso of Truth helps her realize the dictator Superman has become.

Superman’s Corruption Arc – Superman’s arc of power corrupting is realistic. We see him go from a tool of Stalin, find the Gulagz and his childhood friend dying and this leads him taking control of the Soviet Union. From here expands Soviet Power to end oppression of workers around the world. As Lex Luthor sends Superior Man, and Brianiac attacks we see Superman lose his ability to trust others. He uses Brainiac to mind control dissenters (he does in the comics as well) and each attack against him makes him more certain in his revolution. It is very well done and I like how the film captures those key turning point, and with it his disconnect from humanity.

The Freedom to Choose and Superman’s Return – The turning point for Superman, when he realizes people should be able to choose their own future is after Wonder Woman leaves and First Lady Lois Lane brings him Stalingrad, the city that Brainiac had shrunk into a bottle in his initial attack. It is after this Brainiac reveals his true intentions to conquer and it is only through Luthor and Superman working together that he is finally stopped for good. It is after Superman’s “death” that we see him return in the classic Clark Kent gear to watch Luthor’s resignation as Luthor also realizes his own obsession has hurt others as Superman’s did.

Okay:

Brainiac -In the comics he uses both Lex and Superman and I think it is stronger having him use both of them at different points. He just shows up in the film, which is fine but we never really see what the overall goal of Brainiac is. He is still a good threat but his presentation and arc is only okay.

Lex’s Arc With Lois – Lex’s arc with Lois is how his obsession with destroying Superman feeds his ambition and leads to him not being aware in his relationship at all. We can see hints of how he’s changing, such as when he kills Superior Man and Lois is disgusted by him…but we don’t see the next steps. It is only when he shows up to save Lois at the end and ally with Superman that we see a changed man. There needed to be another step inbetween for this to be a pro. It wasn’t badly done, but it needed more.

The Cons:

Svetlana – Svetlana shows up at the beginning as Superman’s childhood friend and is the one who tells him he should give his power to the State. She is later dies in the Gulag because she knew who Superman was before he was Superman, so had to die. She could have been a Lois Lane type character but the relationship between her childhood and death didn’t exist and that is really the only con. She is important but isn’t given enough scenes for how much she inspires Superman in her life and death.

This was a great DC Animated film of one of my favorite comics. If you are a fan of DC, animation or the original comic…this is a film well worth your time. The biggest comic has a huge twist that I will not spoil here, really you should read the comic, it is amazing.  This is a film that could have been longer and it would have worked and that in the end is the only real con against it. There were certain characters and plots that deserved more development. I highly recommend this film and the comic.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Guns Akimbo (2020): Great Action That Needed a Better Plot

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      “Guns Akimbo” is a fun movie. I wouldn’t call it good or great but there is a fair amount that worked. During this time of quarantine with the Coronavirus I’ll be only reviewing films that can be rented until it is over. Please, stay safe and stay in everyone if it is at all possible. I hope this review and blog can bring some enjoyment through all of this. Thanks for reading and the conversations the reviews have sparked. Now without further ado, here is the rest of the review.

The film was directed and written by Jason Lei Howden.

The story follows Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) trolls an underground fight club organization called Skizm and is kidnapped and forced to take part in their game.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Fight Sequences – How the fight sequences are filmed are like a video-game or the fights in “Scott Pilgrim.” They are really entertaining and very kinetic. You feel the tension of whomever is being followed in the fight to the death and the stakes always feel high…until the final fight.

The Loser Protagonist – Miles is an interesting character. I can see inspirations of Neo from the Matrix in that he lives so much of his life online and sees himself as a rebel while at the same time is working for a pay-to-play mobile game job that he hates. His arc involves standing up to his job after Skizm has bolted guns to his hands and the one they sent after him (Nix) shows up. His arc of developing courage is handled well, it just sucks that the world around him wasn’t developed further.

Nix – Nix is the most famous killer in Skizm and we soon learn that it was setup by the owner of Skizm when he killed her mother and brother. She is drug addicted and has no human connection besides Miles. When Miles tells her the truth about Skizm and all they have done she works with him to take them down. Samara Weaving was fantastic in the role. She played the broken anti-hero turned hero really well and was more compelling than Miles.

Okay:

Nova – Nova is Miles’s girlfriend? This is ambiguous at first and is never fully explained. They have a history together and he ends up saving her but she isn’t given enough to do on her own besides protect Miles briefly at one point and after be saved. This character could have had so much potential if we learned more about who she was.

The Cons:

Miles’s Job – The pay-to-play game for kids who have cell phones is never explored more than a joke. We don’t see the details of Miles or his co-workers’ work. This was a shame as it felt like this game could have made a point about these types of games beyond a joke.

Skizm – Skizm goes worldwide by the end after Nix and Miles take out their leader. This made no sense to me. They owned the cops…how? How did everyone have an app of illegal fights going on? None of this explained. They were an interesting idea that was not explored well at all.

This movie was solidly fun. Nix and Miles were fun characters and the action sequences draw you in. The film needed to develop Nova, Skizm and the world more but it wasn’t bad. This movie had stakes and that is what made it work. If you are looking for an enjoyable film to check-out, this one is worth your time.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Enjoyable action with ideas and characters that should have been more.

Star Trek VIII: First Contact (1996) – Of Facing Trauma and the Quest for Betterment

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“Star Trek: First Contact” is the best of “The Next Generation” films. For me this isn’t initially doesn’t sound like much as I don’t think the others are good. They range from okay to awful for me where this was legitimately a great film. It isn’t perfect by any means, the ending kind of falls apart for one but this feels like an ensemble show. All the crew of Enterprise has a moment and many of them get the chance to grow and change over the course of the film. I’ll get into more of what I mean deeper into the review. As a kid this film freaked me out as this film presented how truly terrifying it would be to be assimilated by the Borg, and why they are one of the greatest threats in “Star Trek.”

The film was written by Brannon Bragga and Ronald D. Moore and directed by Jonathan Frakes.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise-E when the Borg attack Earth. In order stop the Borg from winning they must go back in time to stop them and make sure that “First Contact” between the Vulcans and Humans still happens at the right time.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Enterprise-E – The Enterprise-E is a beautiful ship. It has the torpedo look of Voyager while still having the curving appearance that most models of the Enterprise have. It is a powerful ship and you can see why it is the flagship as it barely takes any damage from the Borg Cube and does enough damage to the Cube that the Sphere has to be shot out and a time travel plan initiated. The bridge is much more military, reflecting a Dominion era ship, and the different rooms feel more mechanical and less like a lounge like on the Enterprise-D. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite ships to come out of Trek.

Guest Appearances – Robert Picardo, the Doctor on “Voyager” appears as the Enterprise-E to stall the Borg and Ethan Phillips who plays Neelix on “Voyager” appears as a hologram who greets Lily and Picard. It was pretty neat seeing them. Picardo’s Doctor is one of the best parts of Voyager and Ethan Phillips is a good actor.

Lily and Cochrane – Lily and Cochrane are the two people from the past who know about those who visited from the future and for both it is a different experience. Lily passes out after trying to kill Data and finds herself on the Enterprise-E, eventually meeting up with Picard and helping him find a way past his obsession to destroy the Borg for how they hurt him…and Cochrane is running from his destiny and being a major part of the future as Troi, Riker and Geordi eventually help him come to terms with the man he will become. Both offer a different view of time travel that I appreciated. I do wish we could have got more of Cochrane’s motivation beyond selfishness though. The Zefram Cochrane of this series is acted amazingly by James Cromwell, but he is a scummy dude who is only out for himself. This is a man who doesn’t see the big picture until first contact with the Vulcans. Lily, is someone who does get it and Alfre Woodard does a great job.

The Crew – The crew are given a lot of exploration in this film. The only one who really doesn’t have as many scenes is Dr. Crusher, but she is still active and protecting people when the Borg begin taking over the ship. She is also the only who saves Lily who ends up being the person who helps Picard come back to himself again. So I’m mentioning what she did here before I go into detail on the events surrounding the rest of the crew.

Troi – Troi is the one who first finds Zefram Cochrane. She ends up getting drunk with him before he finally admits who he is and has to sadly keep him away. Zefram is a scummy guy in this whose arc is really about becoming a better person. Troi is the one interacting among the people and who can see how much fear there is (this is Post World War 3). I wish we got to see more scenes like this as she is the one outside of Dr. Crusher who really sees the human element best.

Worf – Worf is fantastic in this film. We get to see him fight with The Defiant against the Borg and later face them on the Enterprise-E. It is the fact that the numbers of Borg seem to be endless that leads to Worf realizing they need to blow up the ship as the Borg are adapting more quickly than they can destroy them. Picard calls him a coward at this point before apologizing. I love that Worf isn’t played a joke as he is in the later films. He’s a Starfleet officer and one of their best.

Geordi – Geordi is the first to tell Zefram about the future and is in charge of repairing the Phoenix. It is Geordi’s admiration and descriptions of the future that end up freaking Cochrane out the most as he doesn’t see himself as a genius. In the end he comes through and Geordi and Riker get to make warp speed on the day it is supposed to happen in the timeline.

Riker – Riker is the one who hold Zefram accountable and makes it so he can’t run away from the future. He ends up stunning him, which finally helps him get his act together so they can get the Phoenix ready and first contact with the Vulcans be made. He’s in charge of the team on Earth and you once again see why he’s the First Officer as he pulls everything together and in the end, Zefram and Lily are the only ones who ever knew there were time travelers present.

Data – This film is really Data and Picard’s story and continues the theme of the show with Data’s quest for humanity. In this we have moments where his androidness comes in handy as when they he feels fear, he can just shut it off by turning off his emotion chip. In this the Borg, specifically the Queen offer Data a choice once he is captured. If he joins them he can have the organic and feel physical sensation as humans do. He goes along with it and ends up tricking the Queen and destroying their base. He does mention to Picard that for a near second he was tempted, which is long for an android. The Picard, Data dynamic is wonderful and you can see a friendship has grown between them over the years on the show and the loss of the Enterprise-D.

Picard – This film involves Picard facing what was done to him by the Borg when they made him Locutus. We see this at first when Starfleet doesn’t want him to face them because they don’t trust his judgement and later when after helping easily defeat the Borg we find they are around, and in his ship. This is powerful as Picard is trying to hold onto himself and his ego and in the process doesn’t notice when he loses people or how his obsession is consuming him. It isn’t until Data is captured and Lily calls him out that he calls for a retreat and realizes that losing another Enterprise is the only way to win. After this he goes to the Borg to save Data and comes open and ready to face himself and the memories of his trauma.

Ship Under Siege – What make the narrative work is that when the Borg beam onto the Enterprise it is a slow takeover, but by the time they’re discovered they are permanently entrenched. Our heroes are fighting to hold ground and to prevent more Borg being called so the stakes are high the entire time. This claustrophobia lends itself to the narrative and constant push of the Borg push into Picard’s obsession to destroy them and fight back.

The Trauma of the Borg – When Borg assimilate someone they are made part of the Collective. Their body is mutilated and machine is installed within them. This is what was done to Picard in “Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 and 2. Certain episodes explore how that hurt him, from killing Federation officers in the Battle of Wolf 359, to his loss of self and identity and being a part of the machine. This film explores this beautifully as it begins with Picard having a nightmare about his assimilation and his scene facing the Queen involves him facing that nightmare. It is a good narrative book-end.

The Quest for Betterment – Another major theme of the film is the quest for betterment. Whether it is how the Borg seek perfection through assimilation, Cochrane’s first contact and how it lead to humanity rising up to the Stars and the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets and Data’s quest to become human and more than his programming. All these elements run as the narrative through line and make the film great.

The Cons:

The Borg Queen and Ego in the Collective – The Borg are a Collective and to me that is what makes them the most terrifying. When the Queen is introduced she uses “I” and also is seeking a mate. My guess is they wanted to go for a bee hive for the Borg when they are much scarier as a one mind lovecraftian horror. The Queen’s ego, which a collective doesn’t have, is what leads to her losing as after Data sleeps with her, she fully trusts him and he betrays her and saves first contact and the Enterprise-E goes to waste. If she hadn’t had Data do be the one to fire the shot (which was just to rub in Picard’s face) she would have won. This issue of ego becomes an even bigger problem when she is back again in “Voyager.” The actress does a good job with what she’s given but the moment the Queen showed up, the threat of the Borg no longer felt as great, and the final act simply cemented that.

Picard Wasn’t Needed in the Final Act – Narratively I get Picard going to save Data, as Data saved him in “Best of Both Worlds.” The thing is, how the script was written the Queen would have lost whether he was there or not. She believed she had Data and Data knew what to destroy to stop her. He also isn’t killed or mortally injured after he does this. Picard showing up is just for the sake of narrative and to complete his emotional journey. I wish they’d re-written this whole act so that Data did need rescuing and wouldn’t have been able to stop the Queen on his own. Instead, Data stops the Queen, stops the Borg and makes first contact possible. If Picard wasn’t in the scene it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” than you will probably like “First Contact.” It isn’t as strong as some of “The Original Series” films but it is greater than most “Star Trek” films that are out there. Overall it works and even though the ending didn’t need Picard and the Queen, kind of ruins the threat of the Borg for me, it is still a very well told story. This was a film tacking big ideas and major themes and I think Bragga and Moore accomplished that. The Borg are Picard’s Khan and this is one of the best explorations of that trauma that currently exists in the stories of “The Next Generation.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This is a wonderfully great and flawed film.

 

Color Out of Space (2020): Empty Performances in a Compelling Story

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   “Color Out of Space” is the first film from 2020 that I’m reviewing. I hope to catch more of the films that are out but lately it has been fun catching up with “Star Trek” and following “Picard” and the latest season of “Doctor Who.” There is so much to talk about in those stories so I haven’t regretted my stay away from films. “Color Out of Space” is okay but I wouldn’t call it great. It looks beautiful, the story is compelling and soundtrack is fantastic but the acting is just empty. I’ll get more into what I mean later in the review. I’ll need to read the book it is based off to see if it suffers from the same problems as I really like the premise.

The film was directed Richard Stanley who co-wrote the film with Scarlett Amaris.

The story follows the Gardner family as strange things begin happening in their isolated home after a strange meteor slams into their yard.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – This is a beautiful looking film. I love the use of pink to show the alien influence upon the house and town and the film does a great job of adding fear and claustrophobia to the environments the characters find themselves in. Steve Annis did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very 80’s and that helped keep me interested in the film, as the characters are all really flat. Colin Stetson’s score helps elevate things though and gives the film major John Carpenter vibes.

The Plot – A strange meteor crashes to Earth and makes people go crazy and twists the environment around it. This is such a cool premise and there is a recipe there for a great film. How does the alien event change our characters? What trauma existed among them before? These questions are answered but sadly the performances don’t help.

The Cons:

Character Performances – Nicolas Cage has some good performances, this is not one of them. I didn’t know who his character was or his motivations, and that applied to all of the family. This can be blamed on both writing, direction and performances. Nothing here is elevated and I was left with more questions. We don’t see why the daughter is into the occult, we don’t see why Nicolas Cage escaped off the grid or why his wife is some unknown version of traumatized. These are all open questions so when characters do things it feels hollow. This is a shame because the story we are given is compelling it just so poorly executed.

I wish I could rate this movie higher. It is potential and I think would have been good or even great with better writing and a better cast. I’d only recommend it if you enjoy Lovecraft films as if you like Nicolas Cage, this is not a good performance by him. Hopefully the rest of the films I see this year will be better than this. Still, points for originality and not being part of a franchise or sequel.

Final Score: 6 / 10

The Irishman (2019): A Good Reflective Crime Drama

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      “The Irishman” is a film that would have worked better as a show or focusing in on one story. Scorsese is a master of his craft and the film is beautiful, but I also ended up watching this film over 2 days. This film has some really strong stories within the narrative but at times drags and almost spends a little too much time in a time and place. Without getting into spoilers this is a film I’d recommend though, especially to any Scorsese fan.

The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian.

The story follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he recounts his time in the mafia.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Scorsese has an eye for scenes and this film is beautiful. At times it feels like a documentary capturing snapshots in history, while other scenes become a drama and the tension is palatable and the scenes are personal. Rodrigo Prieto did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Robbie Robertson composed a fantastic soundtrack. It is kinetic when it needs to be and slow when it fits the narrative too. I loved his work in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and he is once again collaborating with Scorsese to wonderful results. I felt in among the characters because of how involved the music was and I definitely plan to use it for writing in the future.

The Core Character Relationships – The core relationships are what make the film work. Frank and Russell (Joe Pesci) have a mentor relationship that turns into a partnership after Russell brings him into the mob and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Frank have a best friendship that the mob ends when Hoffa becomes a threat.

The Exploration of Time – The film begins in the 50’s when Frank is a truck driver but spends most of the time with Jimmy Hoffa in the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The strongest part of the narrative is our time with Hoffa and I wish that was the story that they had chosen to tell. It is where we see Frank face a dilemma and his choices really change him, besides that he is an enforcer and later leader within the mob and that just isn’t as interesting as his complex relationship with Hoffa.

The Cons:

The Third Act and Pacing – The Third Act and really anytime we are with an old Frank really drag. I didn’t really see the point of it beyond it showing that he in the end he died alone. Whenever we are in the present the film goes really slow and at it was already dragging at points prior. As said above I wish they just could have chosen Frank’s time with Hoffa as everything else doesn’t feel as compelling and is more flavor rather than story. This film is over 3 hours and even with me taking an intermission before finishing it the next day felt like nothing was missed in the interim. That really is what brings it down the most.

I thought this was a really good film. It isn’t as strong as Scorsese’s other work but I loved that he got to work with many actors who he had worked with before. De Niro, Pacino, Pesce are all in their A game and in roles that play to their strengths. The film is also beautifully filmed and the soundtrack is breathtaking. If you are a Scorsese fan, I highly recommend this film. It could have been more but I was still happy with what I got.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): A Great Exploration of Insecurity

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      “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a great film. This is a film that stays on the theme of exploring insecurity, while giving us a glimpse into the lives in Hollywood right before the 70’s hit. You can clearly see how passionate Tarantino is about his work and the performances and cinematography are amazing. For my non-spoiler thoughts, I think if you are a Tarantino fan you will probably enjoy this film but there are some areas that I wish had been explored further, which was why this film didn’t make my Top 5 this year.

The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The story follows Rich Dalton (Leanardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt) as Rich’s career is coming to an end and he struggles with what to make of his life. The story follows the rising star of Sharon Tate (Margo Robbie) and the actions of the Mansons in the surrounding area.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Tarantino has such a good eye for scenes and this film is a great example of this. Robert Richardson the cinematographer does a beautiful job capturing this as Hollywood feels alive, grimy and fully realized in an era of time.

The World – The world of late 60’s going into the 70’s Hollywood is fascinating. You have the Manson cult running around, you’ve got spaghetti westerns in their hayday and the rise of Italian Cinema and of course the mixture of poverty and excess. Tarantino is clearly passionate about this time period and you can see it in the set designs and characters as well as the catchy soundtrack. This film made me want to check out some more of the films from this era to see more of what Tarantino pulled inspiration from.

The Characters – The characters in this world are complicated and it makes them compelling. Rich is a falling star making sense of himself in a world that doesn’t need him anymore, Cliff is trying to survive in a world where he blacklisted (there is a belief he killed his wife in the film from the Hollywood community), and Sharon Tate is making sense of her own rising star and the world of Hollywood. Robbie, DiCaprio and Pitt are all fantastic in their roles and I’d watch a show of this film to see more of these characters.

The Action and Alternate History – This is one of Tarantino’s alternate history takes as in this the Manson followers who killed Sharon Tate instead go to Rich and Cliff’s house and end up getting killed in the process. The action is brutal in true Tarantino action and getting revenge against terrible people is a Tarantino trope I enjoy. This alternate history leads to Rich possibly getting a second boost in his career too as at the end he gets to meet Sharon Tate and with it becomes part of the new Hollywood that she is a part of.

An Exploration of Insecurity – The common theme of the film is that of insecurity. You see it in Rich’s monologues and breakdowns, in Cliff’s interactions with others where he always has to win, in Bruce Lee starting a fight with Cliff, Sharon Tate in her self-discovery as an upcoming star and in Hollywood itself, always chasing the next big dream. Tarantino explores this through all these characters. Character actions are driven by how people view them and by their own doubts about themselves. It is wrestling with this that characters find balance and some semblance of peace by the end.

The Cons:

Motivation of the Murders – We don’t get to see how the Manson girls got brainwashed and how he kept control and that was something that would have added another layer to the film. The Mansons were cult and we only really get glimpses of how that cult worked. Exploring this further would have strengthened the film and could have been worked into the theme of insecurity as well.

One of the rightful issues with the film was the treatment of Bruce Lee. I can appreciate that perspective but in this case I disagree as it fit the theme of the story. Lee like every person in the story is dealing with insecurity and it is that theme that keeps the story so strong. He isn’t in any lesser light than the other characters who aren’t evil like the Mansons. This film was a joy to watch and I can’t wait to see what Tarantino does next. This was a great film and a huge improvement over Tarantino’s last film “The Hateful Eight.” Seriously, if you are a Tarantino fan, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10