Friday, July 26, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019) - Review

Quentin Tarantino's ninth movie is a love letter to Hollywood and filmmaking. Tarantino the director is at his very best in constructing beautiful long shots and getting the best performance from his actors. Tarantino the writer, however, has written a fan fiction with inconsistencies, non-organic tonal changes, and unearned subversion of expectations.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the character of Rick Dalton, a former A-list TV actor who is past his prime and has been relegated to guest appearances as the villain in other TV shows. His loyal stunt double, Cliff Booth - played by Brad Pitt, has his destiny tied to Dalton's star power. Besides these two fictional character, the rest are real people acting or residing in Hollywood in 1969.

The first 90 minutes out of the 161-minute runtime of the movie is very much about how movies and TV shows were (and still are) made, rise and fall of fame, and the struggles of show business. As a life-long fan of movies, I very much enjoyed this part and I simply couldn't get enough! Not tonally, but spiritually, it was similar to Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar from 2016. DiCaprio was phenomenal acting as an actor on a production (very meta!), and how he dealt with an identity crisis. Brad Pitt also made me believe he had been a stunt performer all his life! As the trailers have shows, there are short appearances by other prominent Hollywood figures from 1969 (including Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, and James Stacey).

The latter hour of the movie transforms from a character study to a horror film when Brad Pitt's character visits the Spahn Movie Ranch after giving a ride to a member of the Manson family. The horror and thriller aspects reach their peak with Manson's disciples trip to Hollywood. This section is where the tone changes unexpectedly with a rather long narration by Kurt Russell.  What was disorienting most about this narration was the fact that Kurt Russell had appeared earlier as a stuntman, and really had no reason to be the omniscient narrator 90 minutes into the movie!

We also spend a few minutes looking at Margot Robbie (acting as Sharon Tate), watching a Sharon Tate movie! It's bordering on spoilers territory, but inclusion of Sharon Tate in "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" did not contribute to the plot one iota other than subverting an expectation near the end!

Tarantino has expressed in interviews that he was a huge fan of Sharon Tate in his childhood, and this gives the impression that he simply wanted to write a fan fiction to appease his teenage self. I'm sure almost everyone has created scenarios about their childhood celebrity crushes in their minds. Of course, only an infinitesimal portion of us have the power and resources to make a movie based on the fan fiction. Quentin Tarantino is among that select few...

The movie's high points are its actors' performances as well as the beautiful shots of Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is still a pretty good film, but I'd rank it seventh out of the nine that Tarantino has made (above Hateful Eight and Death Proof), and give it a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) - Review

Calling the last five years a Spider-Man renaissance would be an understatement! Tom Holland's rendition stole the show in Captain America: Civil War in 2016. We saw his solo movie - Spider-Man: Homecoming - in 2017.  It was followed by Spider-Man's major role in Avengers Infinity Stone and Endgame, and now we have the character again in Far from Home. In addition, alternative versions of the character starred in the magnificent PS4 game and also the spectacular genre-bending Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018... In this particular (and rare) situation, too much of a good thing is still good!

Far from Home picks up a few months after Avengers: Endgame and shows the world in the aftermath of that event. Considering the huge personal toll of those events on Peter Parker, our hero needs a vacation more than ever, and luckily, his school is going to take the class on a tour around European. Keeping up with the spirit of the comic books and every prior portrayal, Spider-Man can never have an easy time and something needs to go wrong... The emergence of the "Elementals" in Europe makes Nick Fury draft Spider-Man into action to assist Quentin Beck - the stranger from another Earth! Beck or "Mysterio" is indeed a mysterious character with mind-bending powers. His full set of abilities manifest after the 75-minute mark, and in my opinion, this film's portrayal of those powers blows everything that comics and cartoons had done in the past right out of the water - this by itself is a truly commendable feat to make live-action more fantastical than animation!

Since this review is intended to be spoiler-free, I'll avoid discussing the plot twists, which may not be too surprising to those familiar with the lore, but even for them, there are still quite a few pleasant surprises! Once the twists were fully revealed, I saw parallels with Iron-Man 3 and Batman Forever, but as always, Marvel and Kevin Feige take escapism to its highest level and give the audience a truly fun and pleasant experience. There are also two after-credit scenes that give you a different perspective about the film and somewhat warrant a second viewing...

Taking a step back from this particular movie, I never saw any part of myself in Spider-Man (even as an idealized fantasy); hence I never wanted to be him. But he is a great character that I always enjoyed; whether it was the cartoons or the video games. Going back to something I had written in the past, a good protagonist is someone that you either want to be, or be with (not necessarily in a sexual way) - better say spend time with... Tom Holland gives the best live-action portrayal of that character, and the fact that we can still enjoy that many appearances of the Spider-Man within the last four years is a testament to how great his interpretation is!

Going back to this particular movie though, it was a solid a 9/10!