Kurt Russell

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

15/09/19

We’re deep into our annual scramble at the Edinburgh Fringe, but there’s a problem. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has opened and I need to see it. Not, I should hasten to add, because I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Quite the opposite. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that – in my opinion – he’s the most overrated film director in history. But, The Cameo is screening the film in 35 mm, using a projector that was made some time in the 1940s and that’s something that the geek in me needs to see. So, a two-hour-and-forty-one minute slot is located in our schedule, and here I sit as the lights dim and the screen kicks into life.

The first thing to say is that the film looks incredible. Light projected through celluloid will always be superior to a digital print. That’s a fact. And I will also add that the film’s musical score is also pretty fantastic, featuring a plethora of sparkling 60s pop classics. But I’m afraid that’s the last good thing I have to say about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The plot: actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a big name in Hollywood, due to regular starring roles in Western TV shows, but now his star is beginning to wane. He lives in a big house on Cielo Drive and is driven around by his gofer, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who lives in a lowly caravan a short distance away. Booth too is on his uppers. Once a respected stuntman, he is now reduced to fetching and carrying for Rick. Oh, and the rumour is that back in the day, he murdered his wife. Next door lives the director du jour, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), fresh off the hit film Rosemary’s Baby, and his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). And meanwhile, up at Spahn’s Ranch, the Manson family are gearing up for some very dark deeds…

Look, the truth is, I really should like this film. The era fascinates me and so does the central story around which this is based. But what I see onscreen is an interminable trudge through a series of over-extended background stories, with Tarantino spending far too long on telling them and being far too pleased with his evocations of 60s cinema and television. Margot Robbie barely gets any lines of dialogue (which sadly enforces Tarantino’s reputation as a misogynist), the great Bruce Lee is depicted as an absolute dick, and a whole troupe of respected actors – Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Al Pacino – are brought onscreen to perform five minutes of pointless ‘acting,’ before being summarily dismissed.

And then there’s that fairytale ending, applauded by many film critics as ‘audacious,’ but which to me seems merely dumb and kind of borderline offensive. Tarantino has previous form here as anyone who saw Inglourious Basterds will know.

Look, the man has many fans and this film has already been widely praised by other critics, so maybe I just need to accept that his style of filmmaking is not for me. But nobody is ever going to convince me that he is a director in control of his own process. Two hours and forty one minutes? Really?

But that 35mm print. Now that is class.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

17/05/17

Amidst the plethora of movies featuring characters in spandex and capes, the original Guardians of the Galaxy stood out from the competition. Funny, self-deprecating and soundtracked by a collection of 80s classics, it was an enjoyable space romp. It was, however, hampered by a couple of not-so-positive notes – a needlessly complicated plot and an evil villain who seemed to have wandered in from Casting Central. But the film was a huge hit and it was never in doubt that there would be a sequel. Director James Gunn is clearly on a roll – Volume 3 has just been announced.

It’s clear from the get-go that Volume 2 is going to be fun. The prologue is set in 1980 and features a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell (how the thump do that do that?) as an extra-terrestrial canoodling with an earthling woman. Then we jump twenty-eight years into the future and see the Guardians, battling a hideous space beast, which is trying to get its sneaky tentacles on some very powerful batteries. This film has a secret weapon, which its not afraid to deploy with lethal effect – and that weapon is Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, in what must have been the easiest voiceover  job in film history). This tiny offshoot of the original Groot is so downright adorable only the flintiest hearted viewers will be able to resist him. (Even the most heinous villains in the universe find themselves unable to dispose of him, which generally proves to be their undoing.)

Next up, the Guardians are visited by Ego (Kurt Russell, his real age now), who, in the best Star Wars tradition, announces that he is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father and he’s been trying to reconnect with him for years. He whisks Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) off to his home planet, which he has modestly named after himself and tells Peter that he is willing to share his super powers with his long lost son. He also introduces the team to Mantis (Pom Klimentieff), an empath, who can tell things about people simply by touching them – and who is clearly destined to be a member of the Guardians herself. But Gamora isn’t happy. She senses that something isn’t quite right about this set up. Meanwhile, back at the spaceship, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is being pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who has a few Volume 1 scores to settle…

Okay, once again, this isn’t a perfect film. The central message – the importance of family love – is as unremittingly cheesy as any of Disney’s most cloying output – but, once again, it’s saved by the deliciously snarky dialogue and some genuinely funny jokes.  I particularly enjoy Drax’s spectacularly clumsy conversations with Mantis. There’s another classic rock soundtrack, and any film that has the good taste to use Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in a key scene is sure to earn some brownie points from me. If the movie’s final confrontation becomes too much of a pixel-fest, well, it’s probably to be expected of the genre, but for my money, this once again works best when it concentrates on the engaging interplay between the characters. Overall, I feel Volume 2 works better than the original.

Make sure you stay in your seats throughout the closing credits. There are not one, not two, but five short clips to whet your appetite for Guardians 3 – plus, the by now obligatory cameo for Stan Lee.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Bone Tomahawk

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20/02/16

Some films acquire a cult status almost by accident. Others, come galloping over the horizon, waving flags and blowing trumpets to announce that this is their greatest ambition. Much of the advance talk about Bone Tomahawk suggests that this is surely the latter kind of beast. And what a curious beast it is, an 18 certificate mash-up of John Ford’s The Searchers and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Let me warn those of a nervous disposition that this is an extremely visceral movie with unflinching scenes of bodily carnage.

Of course, like many other films these days, it hasn’t made it to the multiplexes, but interested parties will find it at the independent cinemas – we caught it at Home, Manchester. Set in the Wild West at an unspecified time, it tells the story of the abduction of a white woman by ‘troglodytes.’ Yes, you read that right. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler clearly thinks he’s neatly sidestepped the issue of showing native Americans in a bad light by making his baddies inbred mutants, who no local tribe wants to claim as their own. The trouble is, he’s not really fooling anyone with this approach. Presenting his villains in this dehumanised way is actually a bit of a cop-out, a way to avoid dealing with the very important issues of identity and representation.

The abducted woman is local medic Samantha (Lili Simmons) whose husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is currently laid up with a badly injured leg. He insists on going after his wife along with grizzled Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) his likeable old deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and a local dandy, Brooder (Matthew Fox, finally finding a decent post-Lost role). The four men set out on their quest and the film’s most telling moments are concerned with the interplay between them. But as they draw nearer to the hidden valley where the troglodytes dwell, things take a particularly nasty turn…

Bone Tomahawk is by no means perfect – there are some clunky moments in there and I thought the ending was decidedly unimpressive. What’s more, Samantha seems to survive her terrible ordeal without smudging her makeup. But despite its shortcomings, I rather enjoyed the journey. Clearly shot at a fraction of the budget of a big Hollywood movie, the sheer weirdness of the film does tend to exert a hold on the viewer, even if some of the violence is of the ‘look away quickly’ variety. I can honestly say I’ve never seen another Western quite like it – and for that alone, it’s worth seeking out.

4 stars

Philip Caveney