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ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at an vintage cinema palace near you:


ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2019)



Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film as director contains all of the elements that moviegoers have come to expect: snappy hipster dialogue, an ultra cool soundtrack of both classic and obscure pop and soul songs, eye-popping cinematography, stylish editing, multiple shots of women’s feet, and, of course, reams of gory, in-your-face violence.


Except for a sequence in Italy, the film is mainly set in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, in which actress Sharon Tate (the pregnant wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski), and three of her friends, were murdered by members of the Manson family.

But Tarantino’s largely concerns the friendship between the fictional cowboy star Rick Dalton (a moody Leonardo DiCaprio), and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (a smug Brad Pitt). Dalton was formerly the lead of a Western television series called Bounty Law, but has been reduced to playing guest star heavies on a bunch of various TV shows.

The film also follows Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as she attends a screening of her next to last film, the Dean Martin comedy spy movie, THE WRECKING CREW, at the Bruin Theater. Meanwhile Booth picks up a hitchhiking hippy girl named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), and takes her home to the Spaun Movie Ranch, where Charlie Manson, who doesn’t appear, and his hoard of followers reside. Booth is skeptical of the set-up as he used to work on the ranch and a visit with the ranch’s blind owner, George Ranch (Bruce Dern) doesn’t quell that.

Despite his doubting hesitation, Dalton, along with Booth travels to Italy to make several Spaghetti Westerns, and ends up marrying Italian actress Francesca Capucci (Lorenza Izzo).

When they return to Hollywood, the time of the murders approaches (times appear on the screen), and the killers approach in dark silhouettes that resemble the sinister shots of the four figures in the driveway in Jordan Peele’s US from earlier this year.

The climax is thrilling and funny in turns, but it might make the folks who found the instances of the intense, bloody, brutal action in THE HATEFUL EIGHT hard to stomach. It’s also an re-writing of history that recalls Tarantino’s sixth film, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS in its concept of wish fulfillment.

As usual, Tarantino has assembled an excellent ensemble that includes Al Pacino as producer/agent Marvin Schwarzs, Emile Hirsch as Jay Sebring, one of the victims of the murders; Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy, another Western actor; Dakota Fanning as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and Kurt Russell as stunt coordinator Randy (Russell also doubles as the film’s narrator). But ultimately it’s the terrific DeCaprio and Pitt whose movie this is.

ONCE UPON A TIME…is very enjoyable in stretches, but it has too many sequences in which characters just hang out (like in JACKIE BROWN, Tarantino wants us to hang out with the characters), and it has a rambling nature in which some scenes just go on and on – like the Spahn Ranch scene, for instance.

This is far from Tarantino’s greatest work, but it’s way better than his worst (meaning that it’s way superior to DEATH PROOF). With movie posters, lobby cards, and glossies covering nearly every wall, and segments from fictitious films rendered in the grainy, gritty film stock of the 60s-70s, the auteur filmmaker’s latest shows off his love of movies. It celebrates the era in which the golden age of cinema gave way to the exploitation movies that Tarantino takes many cues from.


Its effect is mostly infectious, but it doesn’t have much to say beyond “look kids, I can still bring it as a badass basher.” That’s great and all, but it’s way too meandering to come anyway close to being a masterpiece.

More later…

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2015 (With Spillover)



As the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced tomorrow, I thought it was finally time to unveil my top 10 movies of the last year. I saw over a hundred movies on the big screen in 2015, and I found it to be a good, not great, year for film. 


There are a number of notable films I haven’t seen yet, but, of course, you can never see ‘em all. So let’s get right to my favorite motion picture picks of ’15, in descending order:



10. ROOM (Dir. 

Lenny Abrahamson)




Like I said in my review last fall, if Brie Larson doesn’t get a Oscar nomination for her harrowing role as a woman who’s been held captive in a backyard shed for five years taking care of her five-year old son (the result of a rape by her abductor), I’ll be very offended. The kid (Jason Tremblay) was pretty 
“on” too.


9. THE MARTIAN (Dir. Ridley Scott) Astronaut and can-do acheiver Matt Damon sciences the shit out of his predicament of being stuck on Mars, and it makes for an inspirational epic of cerebral sci-fi. Read my review here.

8. INSIDE OUT (Dirs. Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)


It’s been five years since a Pixar film made my top 10, and this one definitely wins a placing because, as I wrote last summer, it pulls every heartstring there is.

7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)



The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino, as it’s identified in its opening credits (who else does that?), is his most divisive work for sure, but its bloody Western mix of THE THING with RESERVOIR DOGS, with a splash of Agatha Christie, really entertained the bejesus out of me. Here’s why.

6. ANOMALISA (Dir. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman)



A stop-motion emotional masterpiece from the guy who brought you BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. And it’s the second film on my top 10 that has Jennifer Jason Leigh in it! My review of this delightful yet unnerving piece of high art will be posted when it opens in my area later this month.


5. CAROL (Dir. Todd Haynes)



Todd Haynes’ film follow-up to one of my favorites of 2007 (I’M NOT THERE) is a sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful look at a lesbian love affair in the oppressive era of 1950s New York City. The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are as pitch perfect as their setting. Read my review.

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
(Dir. George Miller)



As I wrote in my review last May, George Miller’s fourth entry in the MAD MAX series is a “brutally brilliant blast”; “an orgy of fire-breathing cars, pole-swingers, chainsaws, steampunk thugs, and gas fire explosions all given a heavy metal soundtrack by a masked musician with a flame-throwing electric guitar atop a vehicle piled with amplifiers.” And it’s even more awesome than that sounds.
3. SICARIO (Dir. 

Denis Villeneuve)




As modern action movies go, as much as I loved MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, this superbly dark cartel counterinsurgency thriller got to me more. The terrifically intense turns by Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro have a lot to do with that. My review.

2. THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)



Leonardo DiCaprio deserves (and will probably get) the Oscar for what he went through in the punishing wild here, but I predictTom Hardy will at least get a nomination too for his supporting part. The film itself, as well as Iñárritu, may also get nods, but coming after last year’s win for BIRDMAN, I wouldn’t bet on it. My review.


1. SPOTLIGHT (Dir. Tom McCarthy)



Tom McCarthy’s fifth film, his follow-up to last year’s infamous Adam Sandler flop THE COBBLER (WTF?), which focuses on the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team into the scandal of child molestation and systematic cover-up within the Catholic Church, is a clean, precise procedural about a extremely messy, and unsettling subject. 


The perfect storm of an excellent cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber; a sharp, involving screenplay, along with its top notch editing, score, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography all collide together to make this my #1 movie of 2015. I’ll be shocked if the Academy doesn’t reward multiple categories for this one. My review.

Spillover: In no particular order, here’s a bunch of other 2015 favorites:

LOVE & MERCY (Dir. Bill Pohlad)


THE BIG SHORT (Dir. Adam McKay)



STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (F. Gary Gray)



AMY (Dir. Asif Kapadia)



THE END OF THE TOUR (Dir. James Ponsoldt)


Legacyquel Tie: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Dir. J.J. Abrams) / CREED (Dir. Ryan Coogler)

STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle)

THE WALK (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)


EX MACHINA (Dir. Alex Garland)


THE SALT OF THE EARTH
(Dirs. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders)

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
(Dir. Noah Baumbach)



MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) – Hey, it’s a lot better than SPECTRE!


So, those are my picks for 2015. Let’s see what Oscar has to say about it tomorrow morning.


More later…

F*** The Haters, Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT Is F***-in’ Great

THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2015)

Before “The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino,” as it’s identified in the opening credits (what other filmmaker does that?) properly begins, there’s a title card reading “Overture” accompanying an image of a silhouette of a stagecoach pulled by a team of horses, with snow-covered mountains in the background.

As composer Ennio Morricone’s intense minor melody slowly built, I found myself staring into the graphic until the shadows on the mountains became more and more ominous. One even started to resemble a lurching figure with a knife drawn, others looked like pools of blood, winding snakes, etc. This perfectly set the sinister tone for the three hour film following.

Tarantino’s Western opus, which is now playing exclusively in a limited Super CinemaScope 70mm Roadshow release (it begins a regular theatrical release in digital on January 8th, 2016), also features a 12-minute intermission, so it’s obvious that the filmmaker is reveling in giving us an old school cinema experience.

But, being Tarantino, it’s still sprinkled with his distinctive post-modernist stylings, meaning that it’s profane as f***, ultra gorey, and brimming with racially-fueled attitude.

Set in Wyoming, several years after the Civil War, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is broken up into a handful of chapters, recalling PULP FICTION except that there’s no prologue or epilogue.

In the first chapter, “Last Stage to Red Rock,” we are introduced to Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren aka “The Bounty Hunter,” Kurt Russell, who previously starred in Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE half DEATH PROOF, as John Ruth, who is another bounty hunter dubbed “The Hangman” because he doesn’t kill his captures (he prefers to watch them get hanged after handing them over), and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue aka “The Prisoner,” a wanted fugitive in Ruth’s custody.

Jackson’s Major Warren, who’s transporting the bodies of three of his bounties, hitches a ride with Russell’s Ruth on his stagecoach as it turns out that the two men had met before. Ruth recalls that Warren has a letter from President Lincoln in his possession, and asks to read it again, but Leigh’s uncouth, rednecky Domergue spits on it, causing Warren to slug her and she and Ruth tumble out of the stagecoach as they are handcuffed together.

Chapter Two, “Son of a Gun,” introduces Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified, DJANGO UNCHAINED) as Chris Mannix of the infamous Mannix Marauders as Ruth tells us, who also hitches a ride with the crew, who claims, to Ruth’s disbelief, that he’s travelling to Red Rock to be appointed the town’s new sheriff. We get more inklings of back stories as the slickly racist Mannix tells Ruth a tale about how, after the war ended, Warren burned down a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in a prison escape (Warren: “The whole place was made of kindling…so I burnt it down”) killing 47 men which caused the South to put a reward on his head.

So there, we have half of the eight, and what Tarantino deems relevant info about their reputations, and Chapter Three, “Minnie’s Haberdashery,” rounds out the rest – Demián Bichir as Bob (“The Mexican”), Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers (“The Confederate”), and a couple of RESERVOIR DOGS, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, as Oswald Mobray (“The Little Man”), and Joe Gage (“The Cow Puncher”), respectively. 


Ruth, Warren, Domerque, and Mannix arrive at the chapter’s title stagecoach stop to find that Bichir’s Bob is looking after the place while Minnie is visiting her mother – or so he says.

The rest of the movie takes place in the log cabin interior of Minnie’s with the most elaborate Mexican standoff that Tarantino has ever mounted. When we come back from the intermission, there’s suddenly a narrator (an uncredited Tarantino) who tells us that during the last scene, somebody seen only by Domergue poisons the coffee (Chapter title: “Domergue Has a Secret”), so we’ve got that mystery to chew on (along with the puzzle of who’s in secret cahoots with who), and we get one of the writer/director’s patented time juggling so we get to see what was happening during the same time as the setup.

In a flashback chapter, “The Four Passengers,” that would be too spoilery to describe, we have a few moments with the only other women in this brutal boy’s club: Tarantino’s trusty stuntwoman Zoë Bell, the motherly Dana Gourrier (as Minnie), and the lovely Belinda Owino. This segment also prominently features Channing Tatum, but damn if I’m gonna tell you how his character factors in.

I won’t go into the particulars of the big ass finale, “Black Man, White Hell,” but will say that it sure packs a bloody wallop.

Leigh’s Domergue, who gets her face bashed in so much throughout the film by Russell’s Ruth that she’s a disgusting, blood-soaked mess (with convincingly broken teeth too) way before the end, can be difficult to look at in ginormous, 70mm close-ups, but the actress owns the role with such intensity that I could never look away.

It’s cool that this is the second ultra violent Western that Russell has starred in this year – the great BONE TOMAHAWK being the other. The guy seems at confident ease with this sort of material (having the classic ‘90s Western TOMBSTONE in his background surely helps) and really rocks the thick, gray handlebar mustache. 


And, in his 6th Tarantino film, Jackson stands out yet again. With his sharp, smart delivery, Jackson’s Major Warren has many of the film’s most amusing lines and moments, and was one of the only characters I cared about getting out of the cabin alive.

It’s fitting that Madsen and Roth are on hand as the Tarantino joint this most echoes is RESERVOIR DOGS with its one-setting, and aforementioned Mexican standoff scenario. I wouldn’t put this in the same class with that outstanding debut or its classic follow-up PULP FICTION, but I enjoyed it more than his last few films, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED, and I liked those films quite a bit.

It already appears that THE HATEFUL EIGHT may be Tarantino’s most divisive movie yet. I’ve seen critic friends post that they thought it was a cinematic masterpiece, and seen others declare that it’s one of the year’s worst movies.

But I was intensely entertained throughout its three hour running time – I can understand folks thinking that it’s way too long and talky, but I found the dialogue, deliciously laced with evil undercurrent, to be consistently involving (as well as funny as f***), and I devoured how Tarantino through the sharp lens of cinematographer Robert Richardson made the spare scenery so immersive.

I also don’t agree about the charges of misogyny that have been leveled at it. Like almost all the men here, Leigh’s Daisy Domergue is a scary, murderous outlaw, and the actress nailed it in a recent Q & A when she said “She’s a killer. She’s gutsy and her whole identity is, ‘Yeah, give me what you’ve got, it doesn’t mean anything to me. Hit me again, I don’t give a f**king sh*t.’”

So in that spirit, I’ll sum up by saying f*** the haters, Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT is f***-in’ great. See it in 70mm if you can.


More later…