The Cameo Cinema

White Noise

13/12/22

The Cameo, Edinburgh

Noah Baumbach’s latest film – based on the 1985 novel by Dom Delillo – is mostly about death: humanity’s fear of it, the inevitability of it and the final irrefutable truth that one day it comes to us all. If this makes White Noise sound about as much fun as a car crash at a funeral, don’t be misled. It’s a fascinating film, by turns absurdly funny, deeply puzzling and profoundly worrying. If, ultimately, it attempts to bite off a little more than it can chew, it’s nonetheless an ambitious and bravely experimental slice of filmmaking.

We’re somewhere in the American midwest where Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is ‘Professor of Hitler Studies’ at the prestigious ‘College on the Hill’, where he’s fond of waxing lyrical about the rise of the Nazis without, it seems, any inkling of how distressing a subject it actually is. He’s also hiding the embarrassing fact that he can’t speak a word of German. Jack enjoys an adversarial friendship with another lecturer, Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle), who specialises in two main subjects, Elvis and er… car crashes. A scene where the two men attempt to engage in a kind of intellectual battle of wits in front of a spellbound class is a particular highlight.

Jack lives with his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), and their extended family. Both have had previous marriages and the gaggle of kids who live with them are all better informed than either of their parents. The family lives in a bubble of domestic bliss, interspersed with regular trips to a gigantic, day-glo supermarket, which seems to hold for them the importance of a church. But not everything is quite as cosy as it seems. What are those pills that Babette is secretly taking? And why, when challenged, does she deny their very existence?

Matters take a dramatic turn for the worse when a freight train laden with dangerous chemicals collides with an articulated lorry, carrying something equally nasty. The result in an ‘airborne toxic event’ which sends clouds of deadly fumes into the sky. The Gladney family – and just about everybody else in the vicinity – vacate their home in a desperate attempt to escape. But what exactly are they fleeing from? And what’s the prognosis if you’re exposed to those ‘deadly’ clouds? Nobody seems to know.

White Noise offers as many questions as it does answers. If not everything we’re offered here quite comes off, much of it works brilliantly. Baumbach’s vision of suburban America is packed full of surprises, from doctors who clearly don’t care about the welfare of their patients to a Mother Superior who rubbishes the idea of heaven and angels. There are perfectly judged performances from Driver and Gerwig (particularly the latter who plays her role as if in a permanent drug daze) and Lol Crawley’s cinematography gives everything an unearthly sheen.

In the film’s final third, Jack finds himself driven to seek out the person responsible for Babette’s addiction, but even that doesn’t follow the lines you’d generally expect to encounter in such a narrative. It’s here that the film begins to feel a little too unhinged, though the enterprise is rescued by a delightful end-credit sequence.

It’s an ingenious device that keeps me glued to my seat until the screen finally fades to black.  

3. 8 stars

Philip Caveney

Decision to Leave

26/10/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

A new release from Park Chan-wook is always a cause for celebration, but anyone expecting the unbridled sexuality of The Handmaiden may be surprised to learn that Decision to Leave is a much more chaste affair. Yes, there’s passion here, but it’s portrayed almost entirely in words (in some cases via a Chinese-Korean translation app) and in discreet sidelong glances.

Workaholic Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is summoned to investigate the death of a mountain climber who has fallen from a great height. But did the man jump or was he pushed? Suspicion soon falls on his Chinese wife, Seo-rei (Tang Wei), and Hae-jun, who is already suffering from chronic insomnia, starts to spend his nights surveilling her. He follows her around Busan, studies her routines and chronicles her every move. And then he begins to realise that he is falling in love with her and that what began as professional interest is turning into something much more compelling…

This is one of those films where it would be criminal to give too much of the plot away – and besides, the ensuing story is so labyrinthine, so full of unexpected twists and turns, it would be pretty much impossible to do that even if I wanted to. Armchair detectives will have a field day trying to figure out the mysteries wrapped up in this story and I’m fairly certain that very few are likely to guess at the baffling solution to this strange, enigmatic puzzle of a film.

Park Chan-wook’s distinctive visual style – aided and abetted by cinematographer Kin Je-yong – is to the fore throughout and, as ever, he relishes playing tricks on the viewer, constantly tinkering with our perceptions and expectations. Both the leads dazzle in their roles, and are ably supported by a fine cast, particularly by Lee Jung-hyun as Hae-jun’s statistic-obsessed wife, Jung-an – but this is essentially a two-hander.

With a running time of two hours and nineteen minutes, I do occasionally find myself wishing that the pace wasn’t quite so glacial, but the great director has never been one to hurry himself over anything and, despite my reservations, Decision to Leave manages to hold me in a powerful grip right up to its chilling final frame.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Jack Absolute Flies Again

18/10/22

NT Live: The Cameo, Edinburgh

Daytime cinema always feels like playing hooky. A sign that – for today – fun has priority. And NT Live screenings have the same ‘getting away with something’ vibe. I’m watching a play in London, but – shhh, whisper it – I haven’t left Edinburgh. So this afternoon’s indulgence, Jack Absolute Flies Again, is the double whammy: a National Theatre production at lunch time on a Tuesday! And in our favourite picture house too…

Based on Sheridan’s The Rivals, Richard Bean and Oliver Chris’s production exemplifies ‘rollicking’. It’s a silly, frothy, feelgood piece of theatre – and I absolutely love it.

The action has moved from the late 18th century to the early 20th – specifically to World War 2 – and Malaprop Mansion has been requisitioned by the RAF. The titular Jack (Laurie Davidson) is a pilot, stationed in the grounds. He’s in love with fellow pilot, Lydia Languish (Natalie Simpson), who just happens to live in the mansion with her aunt, Mrs Malaprop (Caroline Quentin). Lydia, however, is infatuated with northern mechanic, Dudley Scunthorpe (Kelvin Fletcher), who, in turn, has a thing for Lydia’s maid, Lucy (Kerry Howard). Throw in a couple of other pilots vying for Lydia’s attention, a jealous fiancé and the ever-present spectre of death (these are military people, after all), not to mention Mrs Malaprop’s attraction to Jack’s father, Sir Anthony Absolute (Peter Forbes), and you’ve got quite the heady mix…

This comedy of errors is beautifully handled, all knowing nods to the audience, and perfectly executed groan-out-loud jokes. Sure, we can see the punchlines coming from cruising height, but that’s the point: the laughs are garnered in the gap, the moment when we know what’s coming before it lands. Quentin is particularly funny, clearly relishing the Malapropisms that litter her speech. They are so plentiful they make Sheridan look positively restrained, but their abundance works, again prompting us to pre-empt what she might say (Chekhov’s clematis, if you will). Howard also proves to have that comic edge, and I like her character’s frequent references to the theatricality of the piece, reminding the audience of the genre and what they ought to expect.

The set is delightful: all bucolic beauty and architectural elegance. Its chocolate box design suits the tone of the piece, and I especially like the doll’s house effect, when the mansion opens to reveal the rooms within. Ironically, the only things that don’t translate well to the cinema are, well, the cinematic sequences. I’m sure they’re impactful in the vast Olivier auditorium, but they are diminished by the live-screening process.

The ending is something of a shock, deliberately jarring. I won’t go into any detail (no spoilers here), but – on reflection – I think it works. It’s a brave choice, but probably the only one that makes sense, given the context. It feels tonally different from the rest of the piece, but I guess that’s the point. We all plod along, don’t we, dealing with the minutiae while the big stuff happens around us. Until…

There are a few more ‘encore’ screenings of Jack Absolute over the next month or so. If you’re in need of a laugh, take advantage of NT Live and give your local cinema a much-needed boost at the same time. You won’t regret it.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

Prima Facie

21/07/22

NT Live, The Cameo, Edinburgh

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jodie Comer is a formidable talent, and I am more than happy to add my voice to the fangirl choir. Not only is she a chameleon, she’s also bristling with charisma, and she’s perfectly cast to play this complex, demanding role. The only difficulty is in believing this is her stage debut – because she seems born to it. She is a theatrical tour de force.

Prima Facie is, essentially, a feminist polemic, and a much-needed one. Art, as Aristotle sort of said, is multi-purpose, and can be used to educate as well as simply entertain. And boy, do we need educating. In the UK, a shocking 99% of reported rapes don’t even make it to court, and – of those that do – fewer than a third lead to a guilty verdict. When we take into consideration the enormous number of sexual assaults that are never reported at all (an estimated 83%), there’s only one conclusion to draw: the system isn’t working. Rape is a horrendous crime, but it’s one you’re likely to get away with.

Australian playwright Suzie Miller is on a mission to address this. She used to be a criminal defence lawyer, specialising in human rights, and she realised then that something was amiss. The law, she says, is built on assumptions that don’t acknowledge the realities of rape, without any real understanding of what consent looks like in practice, nor of how a victim might present. And so Prima Facie, directed by Justin Martin, comes howling into the void, forcing us to consider the urgency of change. The sold-out run at London’s Harold Pinter theatre, and the packed live-streamings at cinemas across the land, suggest there’s a lot of support for the idea (as well as a lot of Killing Eve fans, of course).

Comer plays Tessa, a brilliant young woman, who’s made it against the odds. Her first battle – as a state-educated Scouser – was getting into Cambridge law school; her second was graduating; her third becoming a barrister. She’s on the up, winning, sniggering at a young wannabe who asks of a rapist, ‘But is he guilty?” – because objective truth isn’t what she seeks. It’s “legal truth” that matters, which lawyer is best at playing the game. And she’s a fine player, one of the best. Lots of accusees are walking free because of her.

Until, one day, Tessa is raped. It’s a messy, complicated case, the type she knows she’ll never win. She was drunk; she’d had sex with the perpetrator before; she hasn’t any evidence. The whole legal edifice – the thing she’s dedicated her life to – comes crumbling down; the scales fall from her eyes. Her rapist will get off scot-free, thanks to someone like her, just doing their job. And the change in her is utterly and devastatingly believable. She’s always been determined. This might be a losing battle, but she’ll go down fighting.

The staging (by Miriam Buether) is an interesting blend: the piece opens in the naturalistic confines of a stuffy, traditional chambers, but the tables are soon being utilised as a courtroom, the chair as a toilet; costume changes happen slickly, on stage: Comer is her own dresser, as well as her own stage hand. Out on the street, after the assault, rain falls almost literally on her parade, washing away her former swagger. The lights change, the stage becomes a suffocating black box, and a projected calendar reveals the shocking truth of just how many days it takes to get your case to court. Years are lost.

The score, composed by the ever-fabulous Self-Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor) perfectly complements the piece – it’s an intelligent marriage of art forms.

I won’t reveal whether Tessa wins; you can consider the statistics and place your bets. What she does do is deliver a final speech that, while it isn’t necessarily believable, is a perfect piece of wish-fulfilment. It’s all the conversations she’s had in her head during the three years she’s been waiting; it’s her fantasy moment, raising her voice and finally being heard.

This is a call to action that walks the walk, directly supporting The Schools Consent Project, “educating and empowering young people to understand and engage with the issues surrounding consent and sexual assault”. It’s also a powerful, tear-inducing play.

More, please.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

All My Friends Hate Me

10/16/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

What do you do when a joke goes too far? When does humour turn to cruelty? And at what point do you need to speak out when your friends are making you unhappy? These questions are cleverly addressed in All My Friends Hate Me. Written by Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer, and directed by Andrew Gaynord, this dark comedy is a slippery exercise in steadily-mounting paranoia.

Pete (Stourton) is about to turn thirty-one and is proud of the work he’s been doing at an overseas refugee camp – and which he’s prone to mention at every opportunity. He’s also considering proposing to his partner, Sonia (Charlie Clive), but first there’s the little matter of an invitation he’s had from his old university chum, George (Joshua McGuire), to go to his swanky house in the country for a long weekend of celebration with the rest of the old uni crew. Sonia is tied up with work, but promises to follow him down later, so Pete gets into his car and sets off with high hopes for a memorable birthday.

Well, it’s certainly that, but for all the wrong reasons.

From the very beginning, things go wrong for him. He gets lost near to his destination and asks for directions from the creepy Norman (Christopher Fairbank, looking suitably sepulchral); he has a misadventure with a man sleeping rough in a car; and, when he finally reaches George’s house, he’s dismayed by what he finds.

His friends have invited a mysterious stranger along. Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) is somebody they’ve ‘met in the pub,’ and he turns out to be quite obnoxious. As the weekend proceeds, Pete – who is socially anxious at the best of times – is subjected to a barrage of practical jokes, hurtful comments and mysterious encounters. Somebody seems to have stolen the herbal pills he takes to keep himself calm – and why does Harry keep writing down things in a little book?

Everything that happens is seen from Pete’s point of view – we share his discomfort every step of the way. One of the guests is Claire (Antonia Clarke), his old flame from college days, and people can’t seem to stop mentioning the fact. Pete hopes things will improve when Sonia finally shows up, but she dutifully arrives – and they don’t.

The ensuing misadventures are by turns toe-curling, darkly funny, deeply embarrassing and occasionally genuinely frightening. I love that the creators of this film steadfastly refuse to take things into the realms of the unbelievable. A Hollywood version of the same story would likely have ventured into bloodshed, mayhem and revenge, but this is all the stronger for avoiding that.

Astute, credible and – at times – even horribly familiar, All My Friends Hate Me keeps me hooked right up to its final unsettling moment. Those planning a birthday celebration away from home may want to wait until after they’ve returned before watching this. Because, well… just because people say they’re your friends, it doesn’t mean they really are.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

A-ha: The Movie

20/05/22

The Cameo, Edinburgh

I was never a big A-ha fan, but I was a teenager in the 80s, so I couldn’t miss them – and there was never any denying that Take on Me was a banging tune with a mightily impressive video. And yes, a few plaited leather bands might have made their way onto my wrists and, okay, I might have covered my French book with a Smash Hits centrefold of Morten Harket – I mean, I had to cover it in something, right? But I didn’t know much about them, apart from their names and that they were Norwegian. I wasn’t interested.

But now, I discover, there’s more to them than met the eye.

Until now, I’ve never realised that they had real musical ambition. I’ve filed them under ‘pretty boy band’ in my mind, and paid them little heed. This fortieth anniversary documentary reveals my ignorance: there’s some serious musical ability here, obscured by the way they were marketed back in the day.

I hadn’t known they were still going – have been going all along, albeit with breaks. They seem tethered to one another, despite some pretty serious tension.

Magne Furuholmen (or ‘Mags’) emerges as the most compelling character. He’s in thrall to songwriter/guitarist Pål Waaktaar, who’s been his friend and bandmate since they were twelve. He’s resentful of him too: Pål insisted Mags should relinquish his beloved guitar in order to play keyboards, and then refused to give him a writing credit for Take on Me, despite the fact that the catchy synth riff was indisputably Mags’ creation. The rancour has clearly been festering for years, but there’s respect and nostalgia and maybe even love in the mix; they’re like brothers, I suppose, bound together by something bigger than any grievance. Still, Mags’ broken heart is more than just a metaphor.

Morten is the glamorous outsider, with a beautiful face and the voice of an angel. Pål knows exactly how to write for his voice, to showcase his skill. Harket seems more content than the others, despite his self-avowed perfectionism and constant self-criticism. He knows where to draw the line – when to remove himself from the fray; how to remain level-headed, even in the presence of two-hundred-thousand adoring fans.

Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s film provides a fascinating insight, not just into the band themselves, but also into the industry around them: I’ve never seen a producer’s impact so clearly depicted. Nor have I ever been so aware of a PR machine shaping the way celebs are seen: at the height of their fame, there was a huge chasm between A-ha’s projected image and how they saw themselves.

In the end, I’m left feeling sad for these three seemingly lovely men, none of whom seems to be enjoying life, despite their indisputable success in a field they all profess to love. Maybe this is why they keep returning: hoping against hope that the next tour, the next album, will finally be the one to bring them that elusive happiness.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

In the Earth

24/06/21

The Cameo Cinema

Ben Wheatley is an enigma. Undeniably prolific, he’s also versatile. Unlike most directors, who find an approach they’re happy with and stick pretty closely to it, Wheatley flits happily from genre to genre with no apparent game plan. Indeed, recent rumours that he’s signed on to helm the sequel to Jason Statham’s big budget creature-feature, The Meg, sound implausible enough to be true. But of all his releases, only a couple of them (Sightseers and High-Rise) stand up as true successes. The rest feel like missed opportunities and his much-lauded shoot-’em-up, Free Fire, is one of the few times I’ve been in a cinema and longed for a fast-forward button.

In the Earth sees him returning to the kind of folk-horror elements he mined so effectively in A Field in England, although this time he’s opted for a contemporary setting. The cities of the world are suffering through a crippling pandemic (sound familiar?) and scientist Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) arrives at a remote research facility in a forest on the outskirts of Bristol. He’s looking for his former colleague, Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), and is informed that she is conducting some ‘crop research’ in deep forest, several days’ walk from there. He’s assigned forest ranger, Alma (Ellora Torchia), as his guide and the two of them set off into the woods.

But one night, they are attacked by unknown assailants and robbed of their footwear. Shortly thereafter, Martin gashes his foot badly, something we’ve been kind of expecting because of a pointed pre-credits sequence. Then the two of them bump into mysterious loner, Zach (Reece Shearsmith), who takes them to his encampment and performs a bit of impromptu – and extremely grisly – surgery on the damaged foot. Martin is soon to discover that Zach is not the man to entrust his foot – or indeed, any other part of his anatomy – to. Zach is, to put it mildly, bananas, a man who believes that there are ancient spirits in this part of the forest, ones that are taking advantage of the pandemic to exert their power and influence over humanity… and then things start to get really weird.

In the Earth sets out its stall effectively enough and, though it takes a while to build up a head of steam, it boasts performances – especially Shearsmith’s – that are accomplished enough to make me suspend my disbelief over the various loopy shenanigans unfolding under the ancient oaks. Mind you, Martin is so hapless he may as well have the word VICTIM tattooed on his forehead. And why exactly is he there in the first place? A full day after viewing the film, I’m still not sure. And herein lies the main problem with this film. It’s nebulous to the point of being infuriating.

A local legend about a woodland deity called Parnag Fegg is introduced early on, but is never effectively followed up and, instead, we are offered fleeting glimpses of earlier happenings, often flung at us in the midst of psychedelic sequences, when a bunch of fungi start throwing out hallucinatory spores. The first of these passages is impressive, but I could have done without the second one, which just feels like more of the same and, once again, has me thinking wistfully about a fast-forward function. More damningly, for a horror film, apart from a couple of wince-inducing injury details, this doesn’t feel remotely scary.

In the end, I realise that I don’t really care what happens to any of the characters, mostly because I haven’t learned anything about them. File this one under ‘Y’ for ‘Yet another missed opportunity.’

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Muppet Christmas Carol

18/12/19

Most film fans have those puzzling gaps in their backlists – movies they’ve always meant to watch but, somehow, have never gotten around to. Over the years, I’ve gone to considerable lengths in my attempts to rectify such situations. (I’m the guy who sat doggedly through the six hour silent version of Abel Gance’s Napolean, just so I could say I’d seen it.) But, until yesterday, I had never seen The Muppet Christmas Carol. And neither had Susan. Admitting to it on social media unleashed a stream of comments from people who have long cherished it as a yearly festive treat. What were we thinking of? Were we crazy?

It’s not that I have an aversion to the Muppets. Far from it. I loved their TV series back in the day, I’ve seen most of Jim Henson’s cinematic offerings (including The Dark Crystal) and, as a former drummer, whenever I see Animal’s leering countenance, I find myself smiling in something like recognition. But, nevertheless, I missed the film on its initial release in 1992 and, after that, never cared to watch it on the small screen. So, when I see it listed as one of the Cameo’s Christmas offerings, I resolve to finally put the matter to rest.

And of course, my friends are right. It’s an absolute charmer, a retelling of Dickens’ classic tale that sticks very closely to the original, even incorporating many of the great writer’s own words. It simply swaps some of the key characters for cuddly puppets and throws in several jaunty songs by Paul Williams. What’s not to like?

There’s something so right about Kermit playing Bob Cratchit that it’s hard not to cheer – while turning Fezziwig into Fozziewig and having him played by Fozzie Bear is little short of genius. Dickens himself makes an appearance, played by The Great Gonzo and aided by his friend, Rizzo the Rat. It’s always been a wonder to me how Henson’s simple creations seem to come alive in front of the cameras, but they absolutely do. I even shed genuine tears over the scene where Bob and his wife, Emily (Miss Piggy), mourn the passing of their son, Tiny Tim. And yes, I realise I’m crying over a few scraps of green felt, but I can’t help myself.

It’s more than just the puppetry, of course. The delightful production design by Val Strazovec gives the film an enchanting visual flair, and I love the supernatural elements, particularly the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, who looks like he’s crept out of a movie by Guillermo del Toro.

Best of all is Michael Caine’s accomplished performance as Scrooge, resolutely refusing to tip a wink or give a nudge to the audience, playing the role with absolute gravitas. It’s this serious element at the heart of the story which makes all the buffoonery around him resonate. Caine has made many movies over the years, but this surely ranks as one his finest achievements.

So yes, I’m glad I finally ticked that box. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a heartwarming delight. And it’s only taken me twenty-seven years to come to that opinion.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Empire Podcast

19/09/19

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Can we review a podcast? Well, we reviewed No Such Thing As a Fish, didn’t we? And, nobody complained about that. Besides, me and Empire, we have some history…

The first issue of Empire came out in July 1989 and I purchased a copy. It wasn’t a particularly auspicious month to launch a movie magazine. The featured film was, if memory serves correctly, Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder. This isn’t a film that lingers long in the memory, nor one that’s likely to feature in The Criterion Collection, but nonetheless, I liked what I read in the magazine and, being the absolute obsessive that I am, I’ve purchased every single copy published since then. I’ve been reading it for more than thirty years, Indeed, anyone who possesses a copy of  issue 100 will find a picture of yours truly, grinning like an idiot, dressed in my grey Empire T-shirt (which I still own) and proudly showing off my collection of one hundred pristine magazines.

Somewhere back down the years (probably around the time when a copy started taking a bit less than three hours to download), I switched to a digital edition and I now read Empire from cover-to-cover on my iPad. The podcast, a relatively recent development, is something I listen to on my daily visits to the gym. Consequently, I know things about these people. I know, for instance, that Chris Hewitt’s greatest shame is giving a 5 star review to Attack of the Clones

So imagine my delight when I hear that the regular team of Chris (resident clown-prince), Helen O’ Hara (resident sage), James Dyer (resident grumpy-git) and Terri White (resident snappy dresser and editor-in-chief) are coming to Edinburgh – and, moreover, that they will be hosting their podcast at our beloved Cameo Cinema, less than a ten minute stroll from Caveney-Singfield Towers. Are we going to buy tickets? Are bears Catholics? Does the pope shit in the woods?

And sure enough, here we are. The Cameo is completely sold out, Chris is performing his rendition of Call Me By Your Name (as requested by yours truly via Twitter) and Scottish actor Jack Lowden is explaining why his greatest ambition is to play a character a foot shorter than his actual height. I even get to ask the team a question (“Which film would you nominate as the biggest ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ contender of recent years?”). Chris goes for Suspiria (agreed!), Terri chooses Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (agreed!), Helen opts for La La Land (Susan definitely agrees!) and James chooses… The Shape of Water (really don’t agree, but I did warn you he can be a curmudgeon).

Afterwards, there’s time to score a Bangily Bang! T-shirt and get a photograph with the team in the bar. And I reflect that podcasts really are weird things because, when you hear those familiar voices over and over, you start to feel that you are friends with these people, that you know them intimately – and, of course you don’t, and surely never will.

But I enjoyed their visit to Edinburgh and I’m already looking forward to getting on the old crosstrainer and listening back to that recording…

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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