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

Interview with the Vampire (1994): A Lot of Good Ideas But no Focus

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   Anne Rice wrote the screenplay for this film and part of me curious if her books are any better because there were some great ideas in here along the lines of living a cursed life or what it would be like to be immortal…but that is all lost on the focus on bringing characters back, even if their arcs are done. Because of this there was no focus in the theme, characters and story which kept it from being a good film…though I admit I did enjoy this film.

     “Interview with the Vampire” was directed by Neil Jordan, written by Anne Rice, who also wrote the book of the same name and produced by David Geffen and Stephen Woolley.

     The story involves Louis (Brad Pitt) telling the story of his transformation and life as a vampire to the reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) and his relationship to his creator Lestat (Tom Cruise) and the daughter Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) they create while facing the curse of their existence.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the Gothic vampire theme extremely well. I enjoyed watching scenes that went nowhere because of how visually great they were, and the great acting by the main characters.

The Action – The action in this was also great. It was gory and captured the horror and sexuality of having blood sucked away really well. It captured being a traditional vampire really well in that way as well as the mystery and terror of what you cannot see or understand.

Claudia – Kirsten Dunst is great as the woman trapped as a child who is reckless and selfish but in the end just wants her mother and to be loved. In the end she finds it but is destroyed for attempting to kill Lestat.

Lestat – Tom Cruise does a wonderful job as this insane vampire who turns Louis and is the perfect example of privilege and no boundaries. He is always trying to manipulate Louis into him and his disregard for his is that of predator and prey. It is only when is vulnerable that he opens up truly and is shows how grateful he is that Louis doesn’t seem as trapped as him. Sadly this is erased when he somehow manages to get blood again through unexplained reasons.

Armand – Antonio Banderas is an awesome vampire who is ancient and craves to adapt and change but is still just as selfish as all the other as the he lets Claudia and her mom die so he can only have Louis. He is just much an immortal child as the rest of them, though with him it feels tragic as he distant and is isn’t as explicitly bad.

Louis – Brad Pitt is wonderful and works with what he has, which making Louis a white slave owner who is admired by his slaves. Anne Rice’s twisted idealism here was really bad and the best part was the slaves burning down his house. He gets beyond that and I’m glad he carries his guilt, he just never does anything to help others which sadly limits the talent of Pitt and what he can do. He does a good job though.

Okay: Daniel Molloy – The reporter misses all the horrible things that are done and disregards life just as must as Lestat…in that way him being turned seemed inevitable. Really wanted more complexity with this character. He is more Lestat without the crazy which makes him interesting but not a good character.

The Cons: The Vampires – They are all hedonists or insane which was just bad…there has got to be immortality and how people choose to live than that, even if cursed. They felt wasted…no diversity of characters or interactions beyond Armand.

Lestat never Dies – This character is nearly killed twice but he always lives. This was never explained and made no sense at all. It felt gratuitous.

The Slave Owner – His slaves respect him…really, Anne Rice seemed to miss what it actually means like to be a slave and losing agency. Slaves and ex-slaves are the constant victims of vampires (Lestat and Louis specifically) and it is never addressed. Instead Claudia is saved showed there was never a point Louis saw his slaves as human beings.

Character Arcs – The characters don’t go anywhere. Claudia turns her mother but that goes nowhere as they are killed by he vampires, Lestat is vulnerable but still disregards life and his same shtick of maiming a person to near death and offering them immortality and brooding Louis stays brooding Louis. What was the point of sharing his story anyway?

   This was a film that had great characters but went nowhere with any of them. Louis is still the cursed vampire who kills people, he never grows. Lestat is still crazy and hasn’t been changed from being vulnerable and Armand just disappears. What was the point of these characters if they never change? To me this was the biggest problem and kept it from being good. Not even good acting can save a script that doesn’t know where it was going and what it wants and I did not know what Anne Rice wanted from this film or story.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

World War Z (2013): An Alright Action Film

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We continue Apocalypse Week with “World War Z.” World War Z is one of my favorite books, and I’m going to say off the back, there is not much related to the books in how this film was executed at all. It doesn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable film mind you, it just doesn’t reach it’s full potential and takes the simple route for storytelling and entertainment value.

The novel World War Z written by Max Brooks is told as a historical narrative of life under a zombie apocalypse, with journalistic reports of the outbreak as it happens from the initial spread, to the end and how humanity fought back against it. It takes place in locations all over the world and has a diverse cast of interesting characters. There really isn’t a traditional main protagonist. These are some of the reasons, beyond the social justice commentary that make it such a miraculous book. There isn’t any of that in “World War Z” the film.

“World War Z” was directed by Marc Forster and went through a lot of writers to actually be completed. There are five names attached to the screenplay. Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof and came from a screen story by Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. From the look of it, they did not know what they were doing, so it is a miracle it even managed to come together as much as it did. Everything was going against this film being any kind of good.

The story itself is simple in the end. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a United Nations Employee is called out of retirement to help find out how the outbreak occurred and finding some way to stop it. The narrative is entirely around him and the survivors and people he meets as he tries to survive the initial outbreak and trace the source of the contagion and find a cure.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Action – The action is really good. The zombies are like fire ants and having rage type zombies is great for action since people turn quickly and it creates tension when a zombie gets close since you don’t know if one of the survivors that Lane is with are going to turn. There is also a great scene of the outbreak occurring on a plane in flight.

The Cinematography – You see Israel, London and New York City as some of the locations destroyed by the outbreak. The sheer destruction…most of which we cause in trying to stop the spread of the zombies is powerful and the shots of fear and creating tension with simple things like people singing is masterful. Most of the times hope occurs it is squashed…until the third act.

The Music – I really liked the score for this film. Marco Beltrami created a great score that adds tension and drama when it needs too and can be reflective on the scenes that demand it. I plan to use music from this score to write sometime.

Gerry Lane – Brad Pitt is a solid actor, and he pretty much needs to carry the plot since they kill off all the interesting characters, like the doctor who thinks he knows what might be causing it dies when they land in South Korea, they go to Israel and the government agent who built the wall to protect from the outbreak dies too before we get the chance to know him, the only two who survive are people who are interesting characters who I’ll list below.

The Scientists – The final area is the pharmaceutical company in the UK where some of the scientists have a theory that the infected only target the strong to spread the contagion so they need to infect themselves with a deadly virus and cure it in order to be safe from the zombies. This is done and is one of the best parts of the film. Peter Capaldi (The 12th Doctor) plays one of the scientists and he is great as the distrustful guy. We also see one of the scientists go with him and the Israeli soldier to get the viruses. This scene is great and everyone survives!

The Ending – The ending is when we finally see people other than Brad Pitt and the military fighting back. We get references to things in the book too like the the fight in the north where people went to in order to escape the zombies and to get their bodies to freeze and destroy them that way. We also see some folks in an apartment creating a makeshift flamethrower to fight against the zombies. Honestly, I wish this had been the film. Seeing different groups from all over the world fighting against the outbreak is what made it interesting.

Cons: Lane’s Family – He has two daughters and a wife and they don’t feel so much like characters as props. Which is a shame since a lot could have been done. They are there to motivate Lane to do his job and to be protected. They are motivation and nothing more.

Most Minority Characters are Killed or Turned – If you are a minority in this film, chances are you will be turned. We see this in the Hispanic family who decides to stay in the apartment during the initial outbreak, the doctor who slips in South Korea and accidentally shoots himself and in the Palestinians and Israelis who die when the zombies climb over the wall. Only ones who survive are the U.N. Deputy-Secretary General and one of the Israeli military folks who is working with Pitt and almost gets infected.

The Pepsi Moment – Lane after he is infected grabs a Pepsi from a machine and looks relieved as he drinks it. He later uses it to get the zombies away from the door so he can get back to the science team. It is pretty blatant product endorsement and I laughed during it because it was so against everything going on before. I’m sure Pepsi was on this survivor’s mind…Wow, in the final score taking away a point just for this scene.

I honestly was expecting worse from this film. Most of the problems with how minority characters and the family were handled was just bad writing, which I think wasn’t the intent. Since Lane works for the U.N. and the whole feel of the film is global, it should have had more of it’s global characters survive. Since every group has people turned. In that way I recognize those issues but also that they were larger issues…like the blatant product endorsement thrown in at the end. The movie still manages to have a pretty strong narrative for it’s protagonist Lane and the music and cinematography are fantastic. I thought those would suffer too because of all the different writers and time in development hell.

Would I recommend this movie? Yes, just know the problems going in…and know that it is pretty much nothing like the book. Where the book was a deep story that had a larger point socially and politically, this is just a fun apocalyptic survival action film.

Final score for this is 8 / 10