Saturday, August 31, 2019


Writer/Producer/Director John Hughes 
on the set of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Chicago, IL 1985

August 6, 2009.

How I remember the day vividly as I returned home from work to be met with the devastating news that Writer/Producer/Director John Hughes had unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack which occurred during a morning stroll in Manhattan while he was visiting family. Even more sadly to me is of how young he was as he was merely 59 years old. Yes, he was, by that time, a Grandparent. But even so, age is relative and some truly believe that it is indeed nothing more than a number. All I felt then and what I think now that I am existing within the beginning of my own fifth decade is that he was too young, he left the world too soon and now ten years later, I still miss his creative voice to this day.

In many ways, the existence of Savage Cinema, and even further, the existence of its sister blogsite Synesthesia as well as my own creative writing (which has been dormant for longer than I had anticipated or would wish for), has all been realized because of the art and artistry of John Hughes. How I wish that I had been able to have had the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to me during my 1980's Chicago adolescence when his landmark, and now iconic, films chronicling the lives and times of his Midwestern American characters in the fictional Chicago based northern suburb of Shermer, IL. filled and enhanced my life, inspiring me to try writing for myself.

Most often and celebrated were his sextet of films devoted to teenagers. "Sixteen Candles" (1984), "The Breakfast Club" (1985), "Weird Science" (1985), "Pretty In Pink" (1986), "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) and "Some Kind Of Wonderful" (1987), all of which were originally released theatrically throughout the entirety of my high school years, existed as my personal guide map to adolescence right at the time I would ever have needed it.

These were films that allowed me to get learn about myself as I watched these stories reflect my teenage experience back to me. No, my family never forgot my birthday. I was never in detention, skipped school to joyride around Chicago, and never found myself caught within any social class warfare that played out its climax at my high school prom. But, what John Hughes achieved with such creative style, agility, inventiveness, and an enormous amount of empathy and sensitivity was to make films that spoke to the core of what it means to be human.

Hughes spoke directly to issues of peer pressure, conformity and individuality, self-esteem and social status, as well as class warfare, depression, isolation, arrested development, abuse, friendship, families, sex, and dizzying, delirious romance. He spoke earnestly about themes concerning the true meanings of failures and success. Of either maintaining or even discovering integrity.  The heavy, hard steps to admitting when one is wrong. And yes, the validation and uplift that arrives when, at long last, you are proven right and are accepted whole cloth by someone who truly sees you for the entirety of the content of your character, and the ascension of self-acceptance that follows.

And they were comedies.

Now I am certain that some of you may feel that this praise might be tainted with nostalgia. Let me please disagree with you gently yet emphatically as this is how I saw those films back in the 1980's. I concede that it may seem to be a bit hyperbolic to those of you out there who still feel his work to be too simplistic for such praise. But trust me, what John Hughes achieved, at his very best, was universal. He created work that truly transcended geographical locale as well as race, despite the overwhelming Whiteness of his casts and canvas (and besides, hey, he's writing about the Northern suburbs of Chicago--if you go looking for ethnic diversity there, you are looking in the wrong place).

He created a body of work that is indeed a direct product of the times in which they were created, as Actress/Writer/Hughes alum Molly Ringwald has eloquently written and questioned about herself now that she has children of her own who are seeing these films for the first time within a 21st century context. But despite any now controversial elements that may exist within those films, the purity of the work, which I choose to believe represented Hughes as the very best of himself, has withstood the test of time, has been embraced by generations after my own and are now timeless. 

John Hughes was a poet and clown. A prized teacher or older brother figure with an impeccable taste in music who could also mine the art of the slapstick pratfall. He created stories and films that were as personal as they were populist, as we were witnessing Hughes' own emotional road map of his past and wish fulfillment fantasies, therefore encouraging us to embrace our own as we headed out into the world.

I honestly wonder that if John Hughes happened to be gaining his start in the movie industry now, could a figure like him exist today, especially in a world where the new norm consists of the tentpole franchises with all manner of sequels, prequels, remakes, re-imaginings and so on and personal cinematic visions are becoming less and less. If cinematic figures such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam and Cameron Crowe, just to name four, are having difficulties having their visions rendered upon the silver screen how would someone like John Hughes had survived?

Maybe we have already found our answer as his own output became less personal and more mechanical in the 1990's after his final directorial effort with the 1930's Depression era styled heartwarmer "Curly Sue" (1991) and his greatest box office success with the surprising, gargantuan "Home Alone" (1990), which he wrote and produced while Chris Columbus directed.

But John Hughes certainly was clever and crafty and it seems that if he were to be here today making movies, he would have devised of some scheme, hatched some plot that could have possibly achieved what had been perceived to be impossible.

Let's think of what he did achieve when he was with us. Just the idea of making films about teenagers for teenagers and ensuring the work treated its target audience with respect and not as commodities, by devising films that were as artful as they were entertaining what a bold move in and of itself. But, with his background in advertising, he charted a map in which he would create and build his own brand while also building his own cinematic universe. While one film was being edited, another was filming and another was being written, so often by Hughes himself. When one film would hit theaters, you often saw a trailer for the next film before it. When one hit the home video market, another would be released to theaters. And he trained his target audience to stick out the end credits for a little bonus bit afterwards. Hmmm...sounds like the whole Marvel Comics strategy doesn't it? And John Hughes did this back in the 1980's!

John Hughes possessed a writing and directorial voice unlike anyone else for no other movies looked or sounded like his. He elicited career best and beloved performances for a host of actors and comedians certainly. Has Judd Nelson ever been as committed as he was as John Bender in "The Breakfast Club"? Did you ever imagine that the late John Candy would be as graceful and as heartbreaking as he was funny in both "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987) and "Uncle Buck" (1989)? And again, the work has been generated to last and so it has and beautifully so.

Yes, I can quote his work to this day and when I watch them even now, I feel them more powerfully. Not due to nostalgia but of having lived life over these years and feeling the truth in the stories and characters that much more deeply. John Hughes' finest work, from beginning to end, was superbly thoughtful and most importantly, humane.

Every so often these days, I still have hope that I could somehow find an unproduced script to read just to "hear" his voice again. I think of the films that were once announced but were never filmed and what his career might have been like if say, "She's Having A Baby" (1988), his most personal and decidedly underappreciated film, was as much of a hit as so many of his other works.

Would he ever have made that film about five women approaching the age of 40? Would he ever have made that film about a teenager who spends his days riding Chicago commuter trains? What of "Black Cat Bone: The Return Of Huckleberry Finn," his modern day Chicago re-telling of Mark Twain? How about "Oil and Vinegar," a story that has now taken almost a mythic status as reportedly being one of Hughes' finest scripts and would have starred Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald on a cross country road trip, most of the film taking place solely in the car? There are just so many and how seismic his work remains in my heart as I wish those Hughes vaults to be opened by his family for fans to peruse and take in a greater appreciation at the wealth of creativity he amassed during his lifetime. I know this is highly unlikely so I will just remain grateful for the work that has so enriched my life.

Over the course of Savage Cinema, I have paid tribute to John Hughes time and again, taking greater looks at his films and exploring them through re-visiting favorite scenes to even the films' music as well as the unproduced material I have been able to discover. Having missed writing a tribute for the ninth year since his passing due to life responsibilities, I needed to make sure that for this tenth year, I paid my respects once again.

The pain surrounding his loss for me has lessened in its intensity for certain, but when I think of what he accomplished and how it hit my life at the perfect time and space and the course my life took afterwards being introduced to him (most notably, discovering myself as a writer), the missing of him is as profound as ever as I know that we will never see the likes of him ever again.

It is inexplicable to think of how art and artists touch your heart and capture your spirit in a way that feels so simultaneously random yet fully engineered to reach you. John Hughes reached me in ways I could have never imagined. He inspired me in ways I could have never imagined. And I am filled with a gratefulness that I still wish I could have shared with him, just so he knew that what he did mattered.

And it matters still...

Monday, August 19, 2019

A LIE FOR A TRUTH: a review of "The Farewell"

Written and Directed by Lulu Wang
**** (four stars)

My Dad passed away on December 9, 2018 at 9:40 a.m. The time of his transition was one of a quiet, peaceful sadness that is essentially impossible to fully explain but I would gather is instantly recognizable for some of those who have gone through the experience of being directly at a loved one's side at the moment of death. It is rare to be attune to such silence, where even the sound of one's own breath might feel loud enough to disturb the phenomenon occurring--at least, this is how the final moments of my Dad felt to me as I sat right at his bedside in hospice care, a period which followed an extended stay in the ICU at a nearby hospital and where I essentially resided next to my Dad continuously for days and nights on end.

The night before he passed away, and two flights downstairs, I shared a take out meal alongside my cousins (a brother and sister who have always felt like my own older brother and sister as we all grew up together) and my Mom. Additionally, a close family friend and her family remained with my Dad so we could remove ourselves to eat. I mention this moment because of the juxtapositions that existed between the vivacious life that was profoundly evident during our dinner and the somber intensity of my Dad's final hours just floors above us. How we enjoyed our food, a meal my Dad would have been thrilled to consume and even moreso, to hold court once again at the center of our conversations, which often grew boisterous in its they always tended to be when we were all together. And yet, how the mood changed from light to dark within mere seconds as we finished, cleaned up our garbage, entered the elevator and exited onto the hospice care floor where my Dad was only hours away from receiving an injection of morphine, which then allowed his body to calm into the restfulness, which then allowed him to pass away gently.

The clash of emotions, all of which were engulfing with the stark realities happening in front of me and the lifetime of memories flowing through me, were undeniably palpable and have remained so through is passing, the funeral and even now, eight months afterwards and a mere two weeks before what would have been his 78th birthday.

While taking in a screening of Writer/Director Lulu Wang's absolutely beautiful new film "The Farewell," I could not help but be transported to this transformative period in the life of my family, and not solely with the passing of my Dad, but of the recent passings of my Grandparents, the figureheads of my family, and as a result, the fracturing of the family. Lulu Wang has created a film experience that is superbly individualistic to the Chinese/Chinese-American experience and yet universal to the heart and soul that exists within ALL of our families, especially during times when life and death are held precariously in the balance. While it could be argued that there is no such thing as a "perfect" film, I would emphatically contend that Wang has achieved the impossible as "The Farewell" is exquisitely perfect.

Just as described within the film's own epigraph, Lula Wang's "The Farewell" is "based on an actual lie," and stars Awkwafina in a grounded, tenderly melancholic performance as Billi, an aspiring Chinese-American writer based in New York City yet maintains a richly close relationship with her Grandmother, Nai Nai (a luminous Zhao Shuzen), who still resides in Changchun, China.

When Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and is given a prognosis of only a few remaining months to live, Billi's family, via some manipulation of the medical results plus outright deception, shield Nai Nai from the devastating news entirely...and much to Billi's incredulous consternation as she feels Nai Nai should know the truth.

Utilizing the impending marriage of Billi's cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han) as a ploy, the family plans a wedding banquet which is essentially disguised as a means for the family to visit Nai Nai for what is presumably the final time. Although implored by her family to not make the voyage to Changchun for fear that she will reveal the truth to Nai Nai, Billi defies her family and makes the trip anyway as she is consumed with love and impending grief for the one who has clearly existed as her greatest friend throughout her entire life. Yet, will she be able to reconcile herself with the family lie?

In some respects, I would imagine that "The Farewell" sounds like it could exist as a screwball comedy, albeit a morbid one, as the set up does feel to lend itself to a certain tonality of film that is propelled by a plot one could consider as being "wacky." Yet, Lulu Wang never descends into cheap laughs or anything juvenile. Additionally, the film contains not even one moment of prefabricated melodrama, histrionics, or any forced emotions whatsoever. Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" is a slice-of-life film of the finest, highest order and with Wang, we are in the directorial hands of a MASTER.

Wang's executes her film with a crisp, clear, clean directness and with the precision of a surgeon, she has written and directed her film to deliver only precisely what her story needs to achieve maximum effectiveness--nothing more and nothing less. As I think about all it takes to conceive, to write, to cast, film, and edit, to go through all of the steps it takes to even make a movie of any genre at all, I was consistently amazed with Wang's sense of economy which is matched with her brevity. "The Farewell" is not an epic in terms of its running time, which is a tad over 90 minutes. It is, however, unquestionably an epic due to its thematic and emotional scope.

Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" is beautifully evocative of its representation of the Chinese and Chinese-American experience, while also being instantly recognizable to anyone who possesses a family regardless of ethnicity and background. Again, Wang never forces her dynamics between the family members. She allows every moment to breathe and communicate as if we were regarding a documentary.

Furthermore, "The Farewell" is almost entirely subtitled and yet, for those who do possess an aversion to subtitled films, Wang's tone is deeply inviting due to the enveloping warmth and intimacy of the entire proceedings. And through the character of Billi, we have our conduit for the audience while Wang also assures that her film is specific, realistic and remarkably interior, so that we never feel that she is ever pandering to the non Chinese and Chinese-American people in the theater audience.

For me, watching "The Farewell" reminded me greatly of both Sofia Coppola's "Lost In Translation" (2003) as well as Cameron Crowe's unfairly misrepresented "Elizabethtown" (2005), as those comparisons both arrived via the central character of Billi, a young woman who was born in Changcun, moved to the United States with her parents as a small child and has therefore become so Americanized that her birth home and the customs of her Chinese heritage feel more foreign than the world in which she grew up...even her native Mandarin, which arrives through Awkwafina raspy voice, is a tad rusty to the ears of her family.

Through Billi, and a storytelling style that is essentially a series of minutely observed familial vignettes, "The Farewell" gives us a story of physical and emotional displacement. With her excellent collaboration with Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano and augmented by Composer Alex Weston's elegant film score, Wang allows us to view Changchun through Billi's eyes, crisp, clear and yet askew, allowing us to regard the visual differences in the Chinese society in which she was born and the American society in which she grew up and remains.

These juxtapositions continue through the film as vibrancy of life contained within the events of the wedding banquet rub directly against the palpable sense of mourning that Nai Nai's family is shouldering. Exceedingly more profound is Wang's presentation of Chinese collectivism as contrasted by American individualism regarding the nature of family responsibilities when confronted with the impending death of a loved one, a juxtaposition Wang presents without a shred of judgement and completely with a matter-of-fact empathy. Celebratory and funereal, with Billie's grief and the lie binding the family together, all congeal into the emotional wellspring of "The Farewell" which Lulu Wang handles deftly, delicately and for every moment, honestly.

From the larger conceit of the film, we delve directly into its richly presented soul, which is the relationship between Billi and Nai Nai.  Yes, we have Billi, young, mournful, and already feeling confused, conflicted and disillusioned with life due to the family lie unquestionably, but also due to a professional failure presented at the start of the film which upends her.  By contrast, Nai Nai is vivacious, energetic, mischievous (as her frequent, loving admonitions of "stupid child" towards Billi display) and determined to keep placing one foot in front of the other to continue moving onwards with the business of living life.

No, Lulu Wang has not created an updated version of Hal Ashby's "Harold And Maude" (1971) and for that matter, her depictions of youth and especially, old age never fall into well worn cliches. of essentially Nai Nai being an overgrown child. Through the effortless, excellent chemistry between Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzen, we are gifted with the full history of a family love at its purest, deepest affection and through these two actors, that same affection flows to the entire cast. In doing so, Lulu Wang gives us a collective of foreign and familiar individuals and encourages all of us to simply meet these people where they exist and follow them from this point onwards. Whatever lessons learned or insights gained are all are own...and that goes for all of the film's characters as well.     

Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" is a bouquet of a film. A story of grief, failure, love, and family that is simultaneously specific to the culture depicted and also boundless when regarding race, ethnicity, geographical location, and even history. The events of this film are bound to conjure powerful emotions and memories in any viewer, I would think, as we will all experience similar events in one way or another within our own families. That is indeed what makes this film so unique, so splendidly special as it is a film that gracefully elicits the shared experience that occurs as we live and die together.

Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" is one of 2019's finest achievements.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

LOST IN A CALIFORNIA DREAM: a review of "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood"

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

"All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin' 
On such a winter's day..."
"California Dreamin'"
music and lyrics by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips

I am perplexed. Truly perplexed.

For nearly three decades, Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino has cemented himself as one of American cinema's most thrilling, exciting, controversial and enormously unpredictable filmmakers. With his first eight films, Tarantino has amassed a level of quality control that is uncommonly high for any filmmaker to scale with his peerless dialogue, characters and storytelling and an A level cinematic approach to what are all essentially exploitation films.

As far as I am concerned, over his career, Tarantino has helmed not one but four veritable masterpieces with the game changing "Pulp Fiction" (1994), the orgiastic samurai/western hybrid "Kill Bill" (2003/2004), the World War II revenge fantasy of "Inglourious Basterds" (2009) and the titanic, grueling slavery opera of "Django Unchained" (2012). Quentin Tarantino has forged a glowing career of basically inventing a completely idiosyncratic film genre unto himself making each new entry an event simply because it has arrived.

With his ninth film, "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood," the event status has arrived once again but the end result for me was one of admiration but decidedly muted and in some cases, underwhelmed. A completely surprising and unexpected reaction to be sure as even the Tarantino films I have been slightly softer with are more inventive and well written and conceived than most other motion pictures being released at the same time.

With his new film, many of the standard Tarantino qualities are in place, from his stellar direction, conception and the top to bottom performances he elicited from his cast. Additionally, there is exceedingly much to dissect, discuss and debate and I would not necessarily call it a disappointment either. Truth be told, I have not been able to get this film out of my mind since seeing it and I am indeed anxious to view it again. But something was possibly missing with its cumulative effect or something was off with my reaction to it. Yet for all of Quentin Tarantino's excellence, and quite possibly arriving with his most personal film to date, "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" is no masterpiece. Not even close. But that being said, it is undeniable to me that Quentin Tarantino, at this stage in his career, has surprised me by releasing a work that is demonstrably unlike anything he has previously accomplished. 

Set during the sunset of Hollywood's Golden Age during 1969, "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, a once legendary television star of the Western series "Bounty Law" who is now a falling star, as his classic good looks have fallen out of favor, his hopeful leap to feature films have failed, and he is now relegated to playing villainous guest spots on other people's television programs. Adding insult to injury are the emphatic recommendations of Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), Hollywood producer as well as Dalton's agent, for Dalton to go to Italy and partake in the burgeoning "Spaghetti Western" film boom. And finally, Dalton's rampant alcoholism and increasing sense of insecurity are not aiding him in the least.

Brad Pitt stars as Dalton's longtime stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth. A war veteran with a dark past yet armed with a laconic cool, confidence and even wisdom lives in a dilapidated trailer next to a drive in theater with his faithful pit bull Brandy yet serves as Dalton's unofficial chauffeur and often live-in confidant/sidekick.

The luminous Margot Robbie is featured as Sharon Tate, who with her husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), plus celebrity hair-stylist Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), have rented the home next door to Rick Dalton in the gated community of Cielo Drive. Upon learning of their arrival to the neighborhood, Rick dreams of one day being able to meet Polanski with the hopes of resurrecting his career and status as a leading man. 

Yet running underneath or better yet alongside the sunshine days pf Hollywood fame and glory is the darkness of the rising counter culture, in which Charles Manson (Damon Herrian) and his "family" cult lurks.

Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" is resplendent filmmaking. Meticulously designed with all manner of period details and visualized lusciously by legendary Cinematographer Robert Richardson, Tarantino has crafted what is easily his most romantic film to date, a poetically nostalgic ode to a time long gone and one that Tarantino barely knew, as he was a mere 6 years old in 1969. And possibly, this is the point of Tarantino's approach as he is working both as a film historian and dream weaver, presenting a Hollywood that may not quite have been like this in reality but it is indeed what it looked and felt like to Tarantino as a child.

Quentin Tarantino gives us a world where the Hollywood backlots are a playground, a world where we can see the professional dream weavers at their crafts making visual magic for the silver and television screens. It is a world and a time where boys can regard MEN being MEN, surrounded by money, foul language and clouds of cigarette smoke while playing the same dress up adventures as children. It is a fairy tale where one could challenge none other than Bruce Lee (Waunakee, WI'S very own Mike Moh) to a fight on the backlot of "The Green Hornet" and (improbably) win!

And this is where and how I believe we should be reading the portrayal of Sharon Tate by Margot Robbie, something that has given the film its share of (frankly) needless to the point of being ridiculous controversy. Yes indeed Robbie does not possess much screen time or actual dialogue but that is because this film is not a biopic about Sharon Tate or anything resembling an expose about her.

In "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood," Tarantino is presenting Tate as an archetype, a symbol, a representation of the vision of the Hollywood dream--and therefore, the California fantasy itself. Radiant in its beauty and breathtaking in its sense of freewheeling glamour, hope and possibility. As Tate twirls and dances at the Playboy Mansion or takes in an afternoon screening of herself in her latest film, Director Phil Karlson's "The Wrecking Crew" (1969) starring Dean Martin, adorned with the same giant glasses as she wears in the film and a glowing smile as bright as the sun itself, Margot Robbie evokes the enormous purity of guileless anticipation and ambition.

Delving deeper, we are witnessing what is essentially a personalized road map into Tarantino's cinematic proclivities and passions as "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" just may be the one film in his complete oeuvre that is informing all of us in the audience as to why he wanted to become a filmmaker in the first place. With this film, what we have is essentially Quentin Tarantino's version of George Lucas' "American Graffiti" (1973), an unapologetically swooning ode to the nostalgic dream of his childhood, complete with a wall-to-wall visual and sound collage starring a brilliantly methodical collection of sunshine pop songs, commercials, billboards, films and television programs, movie one-sheet posters, vehicles, cigarettes and fashion, all filtered through his explicitly unique cinematic vision.

As lush and as surprisingly tender as much of this film is, this is indeed Quentin Tarantino we are dealing with and he is wise to not ignore the dark undercurrent of the 1969 counter culture as well as the political and societal shifts due to the turbulent changing of the times that fully brought the season of peace and love to its crushing end. To that end "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" can also be seen as Tarantino's version of Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men" (2007), as we have our main characters aging most uncomfortably with the times and emerging into a world they are unable to comprehend let alone navigate.

Leonardo DiCaprio has once again demonstrated just why he is indeed one of the finest actors of his generation, as the fullness of his commitment and dedication shines through every solitary moment of his portrayal of Rick Dalton, which I am curious is somewhat of a representation of Tarantino's fears of possibly becoming creatively irrelevant--perhaps a reason as to why he has continued to pledge that his 10th film with be his last.

For as much as the film is also about white male bonding, friendships and patriarchy, both within Hollywood as well as the Charles Manson cult, it is also a film about white male fragility. With Rick Dalton, we have a figure who is so desperately clinging onto his persona, mythology and legacy in a time period that is moving beyond him and the threat of complete irrelevancy terrifies him, leading him into alcoholism, crying fits and hanging onto every complimentary word from a precocious child co-star (Julia Butters) on his latest villainous television guest spot. 

On one hand, I was curious if this character was slightly modeled upon Clint Eastwood, or better yet, an Eastwood type figure if he had not navigated the Hollywood system as brilliantly and as artfully. Unlike Eastwood, who moved from television Westerns to the Sergio Leone "spaghetti Westerns" to becoming an filmmaking auteur, Rick Dalton is falling star rapidly becoming a man out of time, one who possesses conservative values and has bought into his own mythology to the degree that he is unable to figure out how to remain afloat in Hollywood...that is, unless he can finally meet his neighbor Sharon Tate and therefore her husband, Roman Polanski.

By contrast, Brad Pitt's characterization of Cliff Booth is one of still waters running deeply. Considerably lower on the Hollywood food chain than Rick Dalton, and essentially having Dalton as his meal ticket as well as best friend, Booth is considerably more grounded, streetwise, and accepting of his existence. Yes, he houses his laments but they are private and buried where Dalton's are out  in the open. The juxtaposition of the steadfast (Booth) and fragility (Dalton) of the late 1960's white male ego regarding these two figures is compelling, as each of them are becoming relics and therefore obsolete. 

Time waits for no one within Tarantino's film, and he is very clever with detailing the people and places that are not what once was, especially the location of Spahn Ranch, formerly the home of location shoots for B movie Western but by 1969 was the home of Charles Manson and his "family." This crucial element is indeed what leads the film and its characters to its climax where darkness falls and Tarantino finds himself in more familiar territory as the Manson family arrives to unleash their specialized brand of helter skelter.

As with both "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained," we also deal with some revisionist history as to how the Manson attacks play out. Yet, Tarantino's unique remixing of events and the merging of characters both real and from his imagination serve the entire, almost fairy tale quality of the film as we witness past and then-present collide fueled by Tarantino's urgent wishes that the Hollywood of his dreams can remain untainted and unscathed.   

Yes indeed, there is a tremendous amount to unpack within "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" as Quentin Tarantino has clearly given this project his all and then some. And yet, I felt that something was absent. Now, truth be told, this is the first Tarantino film that essentially does not contain a story or a plot as it is essentially a portrait of a time and the figures that existed within that time. I appreciate him tremendously for challenging himself conceptually and taking this storytelling risk as he has always been a filmmaker devoted to the art of storytelling. While he has often delivered exceedingly lyrical imagery, there is no mistaking him for a filmmaker like Terrence Malick, so to speak, and I think the tone poem aspect of this film was slightly out of his directorial grasp.

Frankly, the film could used some serious editing! Aside from "Reservoir Dogs," Quentin Tarantino has made epic films, nearly all of them running over two hours and just shy of three hours and every time, he has held me riveted. With "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood," the mood was purposefully languid, the pacing deliberate, the tone meandering and at times, it was a bit...well...boring, something I have never felt in any Tarantino film thus far and the need for tightening felt necessary.

I look back to "Inglourious Basterds" and the character of Nazi Private First Class Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), his starring role in the movie within the movie, the Nazi propaganda film "Nation's Pride" and the blurring of the lines between his on-screen persona as the Nazi who killed 250 opponents in a single battle and the real life solider. For that character, Tarantino gave us all that we really needed to know regarding the imagined film and the character while continuing to keep his narrative moving swiftly.

Yet, with "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood," we are subjected to extremely long sequences of Rick Dalton acting out scenes from his latest television performance (also blurring the lines within his head of his persona and who he is in reality as a fading celebrity), and therefore, also watching Sharon Tate watching herself in a movie theater and Rick and Cliff watching Rick's performances on television. A little of that goes a long way, as well as repetitive scenes of Cliff driving around Los Angeles and as I felt that Tarantino may have been purposefully attempting to lull us into the old Hollywood spell, it also felt as if he just did not know when to turn his attention away from those moments and just keep the film moving along with purpose.   

Additionally, the ending of the film threw me as it is one that tonally runs completely in the opposite direction from all of his ending moments in his previous eight films. In fact, as the end credits began to appear, I thought to myself, in that Peggy Lee "Is That All There Is" fashion, "'s over?" And I just sat there n my theater seat, scratching my head.

Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" is a work that decidedly less orgiastic and more grounded and realistic, more like "Jackie Brown" (1997) and not as theatrical as the bulk of his output. Languid to a fault, it confused me, puzzled me, and did not quite entrance me as I think Tarantino may have intended. And yet, it has retained its grip upon me, quietly imploring me to return to it and revisit this time and place that contains so much importance and meaning to him.

While not his best film, it is absolutely essential to his ongoing filmography, and if it is indeed his penultimate motion picture, it makes me more than curious to see how Quentin Tarantino's story in the movies will come to a close.

Friday, August 2, 2019


The dog days of Summer just may provide me with more strong films for this cinematic year.

It is jointly interesting and troubling to me about the current state of our cinematic landscape. On the one hand, essentially everything that I have been able to see this year are films of high quality. On the other, whats troubling me is the fact that less and less films are even being released theatrically or are purely unable to try and build "legs" or word of mouth, allowing them to co-exist alongside all of the sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and re-imaginings.

It is a time that is hurtful for the movies and audiences for not every film we can or should see should involved superheroes and special effects. Films that are not mythologies but portraits of what it means to be a human being are crucial to the passing of stories as well as allowing us to build empathy for those different than ourselves while also being entertained in a darkened room alongside a group of strangers. 

With August, I am hoping to view three films to feel to be tailor made for accomplishing the feat of viewing the world via eyes different from our own vantage points and perceptions.
1. Director Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" starring Awkwafina has seemingly become an independent film success and as of this writing, has at last arrived in my city. Unfortunately, I won't be able to screen it this week but I am hoping it hangs on tightly until next weekend.
2. Director Gurinder Chadha's Bruce Springsteen themed coming of age film "Blinded By The Light" is one I have been itching to see since I saw the trailer. And based upon my hugely negative reaction to Danny Boyle's "Yesterday," I wonder if this film will actually exist as a movie with a story or as yet another jukebox flick that exists only for audiences to sing along with. We'll see...
3. When Director Richard Linklater makes a film, I pay attention and now, with his adaptation of the best selling Maria Semple novel starring Cate Blanchett in the titular role, I am more than ready!

With my review of Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" still being composed, that posting plus these three films will definitely keep me more than busy this month and here's hoping that life doesn't insert itself terribly much. Please send me your well wishes and I'll see you when the house lights go down!!!