Once Upon a Time in…Tarantino-land

Quentin Tarantino has a recognizable filmmaking style. A Tarantino film is sure to feature certain actors that he works with regularly like Kirk Douglas or Michael Madsen, quirky conversations in cars, a cool retro setting and violence…lots of graphic violence. Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood has all of that and a talented cast. The story centers around a well-known television actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who’s career in Westerns is coming to an end and his sidekick and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The setting is 1969 Hollywood in the months leading up to the Manson Family Murders and the scenario is the interactions the two have with each other and with the people they come in contact with — day-to-day life for a television actor and his aide-de-camp.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have a wonderful chemistry. Watching DiCaprio struggling to give an honest performance that impresses his young co-star walks the line between exaggerated and comical to genuinely moving. Brad Pitt is the straight man to DiCaprio’s emotional artist. This is the first film that I’ve seen that lets the actor look his age with close-ups of the lines on his face. He still looks fantastic with his shirt off and Pitt exudes an easy charm and warmth that’s sexy.

In his ninth film, Tarantino has finally let his foot fetish out to dance. Each character is introduced through their footwear. Rick Dalton confident in cowboy boots, Cliff Booth in moccasins, our young starlet Sharon Tate skips into the scene in white gogo boots and there are lots of bare feet for our hippy girls. It’s a quick way to establish the characters. Of course the actress would wear fashionable footwear and Pitt’s stunt double, who’s so chill and secure in his masculinity, can rock moccasins…but it seems out of character for Margot Robbie’s character to take off her boots and have bare feet in a movie theater. And maybe the young hippy chick, played by the luminous Margaret Qualley, would remove her sandals and prop her feet up on the dashboard of the car but it looks awkward and lasts too long in the shot.

There is a tension to the story as the characters go about their lives when the audience anticipates the horrific murders that will shatter their world. Tarantino plays with this tension having Kirk Douglas narrate the timeline on the night of the killings. But first there’s a lots of conversations and driving in cars and a trip to Italy and a new wife…some of it interesting, much of it feels like an excuse for Tarantino to get to create fake movie posters. Having established Sharon Tate as this lovely young woman, now pregnant, and her hip friends hanging out at their home, the tragedy of lost lives will be even greater. Tarantino plays with expectations and then delivers on the graphic violence he’s known for.

You can almost feel Tarantino’s glee at shooting an extended scene of young people being killed in such gruesome manner: close-ups of a dog crunching down on an arm, the dog dragging a body across the floor, a young woman getting her face smashed repeatedly into multiple surfaces and the grand finale of the flame thrower used to torch a still twitching murderous woman. For Tarantino fans, I think the violence is so over-the-top and gratuitous that it becomes comical. As someone who finds violence, especially against women and children, very upsetting — this was torture for me to watch.

If you’re a Tarantino fan, the two-hour running time will be just perfect. You can enjoy his imaginative camera moves and recreation of that time period with cameos by some talented actors. There are brilliant bits of dialogue and lots of cool cars to enjoy. If you’re squeamish over the violence, may I suggest you leave in the long set-up for the killers to make it up the driveway? You’ll have plenty of time to wander the lobby and return for a brief touching moment between Pitt and DiCaprio…and you won’t have to endure the brain scar from the violence.

Drinks with Films Rating: 2 blended margaritas served in retro margarita glasses (out of 5)

And Now For Something Completely…similar to the previous remake…

Did we need a remake of Aladdin?

I get it. You have little ones at home. Summer Camp is out. You’ve made so many trips to the ice cream place that you’re hoping you don’t have to put on a swimsuit again till next year. There are many families that will look forward to going to see the NEW Aladdin; a family film that can be enjoyed together. This might replace the worn out DVD at home and give someone in the family ideas for a Halloween costume. Dad and Mom might appreciate that the casting is more ethnically-appropriate and the animation is lovely. Everyone can enjoy the songs that are now so well-known. Directed by Guy Ritchie, I expected a more updated version of this tale from 1001 Arabian Nights. The story sticks pretty close to the 1992 version featuring Robin William’s Genie. Will Smith is a good replacement, there’s a Bollywood number and beautiful sets and Aladdin is a good end of summer film to enjoy.

If however, you’re itchin’ for Fall Films and something that’s a little more challenging or unique than this summer’s spat of sequels, superhero films and remakes…there’s hope for you. Director and Writer, Lulu Wang has already been winning accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the film won Audience Favorite. This delightful film, based on a true story, presents a Chinese family hiding the truth about the grandmother’s diagnosis. One of the most popular Indie Films of the summer and I’ll review it next week.

There are lots of great films released this summer that fit the bill as entertaining but also breaking the mold of the typical summer fare.  For a twist on the high school party film, see the female-centric comedy, Booksmart. The young stars are self-assured in their nerdiness and it’s a great portrait of true friendship even if it’s for mature teens with fumbling teen sex and crass language. If you’re an action film lover, I’d suggest Stuber, the fight scenes are funny, the actors, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista have great chemistry and though the plot is ludicrous the concept of an Uber driver fighting crime is original.

Looking for an unusual and lyrical take on San Francisco’s gentrification? A great cast was assembled to tell this tale of two men trying to find home and family. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is artfully-shot and directed. Local childhood friends, Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails wrote this paean to SF and to male friendship. It’s a quiet film with an insider’s look at some thorny issues and I’m betting that it’ll win some awards. The NY Times published a “The Best Movies of 2019 So Far” list as have many other publications. Look for lists that don’t consist of blockbusters and Disney films and you’ll find many great films you may have missed. Many of these films are now available to stream and there are some new films and series for Fall Season on television now.

I’m looking forward to the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day Weekend. I often see some of my new favorite films of the year…that likely won’t be released till NEXT year. Oh Hollywood…

And Then the Credits Roll…

Do you sit through all the credits? Most fans of Fantasy/SciFi films do. This is particularly true of the films in the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU). Most of the films have a teaser, a cliffhanger, or introduce a character that will star in the next film. I like a little heads up from reviewers and friends if there’s a good reason to sit through a credit sequence. My particular favorite was a quick flash of the Avengers hanging out eating sandwiches; not a plot twist, just a fun moment of the Super Heroes relaxing. I have friends who won’t go see Spiderman: Far From Home because they haven’t seen Avengers Endgame. This newest, Jon Watts-directed Spiderman film happens AFTER the sequence of events in the Endgame film. So can you see this film if you missed the other film and should you wait for the last credit to roll?

First, you CAN see Spiderman: Far From Home if you haven’t seen Avengers Endgame but only if you at least know the general plot line of that film. If you’ve stayed away from reviews, don’t ever listen to teenagers talking and/or you live remotely with no WiFi–okay, maybe wait to see the re-release of that last film. It’s just eclipsed Avatar in dollars made at the box office (not counting Gone With The Wind). So you have your chance…

Second, stay for the mid-credit sequence if you’re a big fan of Spiderman films and for the second reveal at the very end if you like plot-twists and surprises. If you’re like me, wondering why the studio needs to keep reinventing this character…you can skip the wait. I enjoyed this version and find Tom Holland charming and Zendaya’s sarcastic take on Mary Jane refreshing. I’m also a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Favreau, and Marisa Tomei, so I enjoyed seeing them on screen. The young actors who play the sweethearts of the film are a delight. And any film that wants to portray the Dutch as lovely people is A-OK in my book.

Was the plot silly? The action sequences too long? Did the characters act in ways that made little sense save to advance the plot? Well, of course! It’s a 2-hour film crammed with visits to other countries so that the “heroes” can wreak havoc to some recognizable landmarks. The excuses for there being no other Avengers available to help this teenage boy fight an International-World-Threatening-Villain are as lame as the chaperones sent on this high school trip. Yet if you endured the 3-hour Avengers Endgame and the dark, dark plots of that film and the one before it…this will be a relief. A light comic romp with some well-drawn characters. Not as enjoyable as the animated Into the Spiderverse, or half as clever…but a good bet that the MCU is back to having a little fun.

Drinks with Films Review: 3 cups of tea (out of 5), a tip of the hat to the London Bridge

Summer Films with a Great British Actor

Summer time. BBQs, watermelon, family reunions and hot summer nights. The perfect time to escape to the movies! This is not a time for a Czech drama or a brooding intellectual film about politics. This is a time for fun, for explosions, for comedy.

For Emma Thompson?!

British actress, Dame Emma Thompson is a two-time Oscar Winner. Thompson Is the only person to have won Academy awards for both acting and writing. She won Best Actress for Howards End (1992), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995).

In the past, Thompson was known for her work with Kenneth Branagh. In the 90’s, they were the “It Couple” for brilliant Shakespeare films and intellectual relationship dramas. As Sir Kenneth’s star rose, he stepped out on Thompson and their marriage, and their films together ended. Emma Thompson went on to write the adaption of Sense and Sensibilities and starred in it with Kate Winslet. She also stars in two of my favorite films, Stranger Than Fiction and Howard’s End.

Recently she’s starred in two Nanny McPhee films and has written the TV adaptation of Margaret Edson‘s acclaimed play Wit (2001). She also starred in the movie and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Her awards page on IMDB takes an entire page!

So how did this acclaimed actress noted in Wikipedia as “often portrays enigmatic and matronly characters with a sense of wit, frequently in period dramas and literary adaptations” wind up featured in both the films opening this weekend at the Nugget Theater in Telluride, Colorado…kicking off the summer movie season?

Her role in MIB International is a bit part but a crucial role. She’s the much-admired Agent O, leader of the Men in Black London Division. She’s portrayed as a smart leader in a smart suit and Tessa Thompson (no relation), is the new agent that tells her, she wants IN. They both allude to how The Men in Black needs an update–Men and Women in Black? Sadly this franchise seems to have run out of steam. There are some fun moments but the banter between our two leads, Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth was better in Thor Ragnarok.

Mindy Kaling wrote the starring role in Late Night specifically for Emma Thompson. We get to see two comedic actors/writers at the top of their game have fun in a summer dramedy. Mindy Kaling gets top billing but without the gravitas that Emma Thompson brings to the role, the comedy wouldn’t elicit the chuckles that it does. They make a great duo and film comes alive when they share the screen. Late Night could lose one of the subplots and been improved by a shorter run time. It’s witty and political and takes on sexism, ageism, nepotism and wraps it in a summer comedy package. That it stars two women, one of color and one of a “certain age” proves yet again…people will pay to see quality entertainment. We need more women starring (and writing and producing and directing) films!

Drinks with Films Rating:

2 Super Size Soft Drinks (out of 5), MIB International is bright and fast-paced and lacking any depth…but there are a few roles for women! Tessa Thompson and Rebecca Ferguson are nice additions. Emma Thompson’s wardrobe is brilliant.

3 glasses of fine wine (out of 5), Late Night runs a little long and tries to tackle one too many “isms”. The writing crackles and Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson give performances that seem like heightened versions of themselves. Real and nuanced.

Is it a Marvel? Women on the Big Screen

Yet another Blockbuster featuring a Woman in the Central Role and what a surprise–it’s making headlines! Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson had Opening Weekend Box Office of $455 Million worldwide. $153 million domestic is the second biggest solo superhero debut in history, behind Black Panther ($202 million). The real WIN in my book is that Rotten Tomatoes changed it’s review policy. Due to the advance bad reviews that punsters tried to post to the site BEFORE Captain Marvel was released, Rotten Tomatoes took a stand. It may seem logical to have prevented this in advance but the review-aggregating site was responding to public criticism that women-lead movies were being singled out for negative criticism (see
Ghostbusters).

Films with women in lead roles and/or directed by women have been few and far between but it feels like the tide is turning. Look at our current slate of films in theaters: Jordan Peele’s horror film Us features another remarkable performance by Lupita Nyong’o, Sebastián Lelio remade his own film, Gloria Bell, featuring the luminous
Julianne Moore, and if you’re lucky to be in a major film market, Diane, The Chaperone, Sunset or Ash is Purest White might be playing. Women are front and center; and not just White Young Starlets, there are a few older women and other nationalities sneaking thru the cracks in the Hollywood Wall created by #MeToo and #TimesUp.

drinkswithfilms —Captain Marvel Review

🍺🍺🍺1/2 beers out of 5 for @captainmarvelofficial
I really enjoyed the origin story and @brielarson performance. I liked the humor and the girl power. It could’ve used a little more fun and character development.

Fun films to finish off the Winter Blahs

I like to compare film reviews to discussions about wine. Your enjoyment of either is often determined by far more that what’s in your glass or on the screen. To appreciate a fine wine or have a great cinematic experience, you must take into account your present state of mind, your affinity for certain things (notes of cherry say or affection for pratfalls), what you’re pairing it with (salmon, a matinee with your ex-boyfriend) and your previous experiences (extensive wine tasting, several cinema appreciation classes). I can’t tell you what’s going to make your heart go pitter patter…but I can give you an idea about what might be in store for you.

My film blog (and Instagram Feed), Drinks With Films gives a one to five rating for a film based on what drinks seem appropriate for the characters in the film. One shot of tequila for a bad Western for instance, five glasses of Champagne for an excellent Romance. I believe that the best way to give someone a recommendation on a film, is to understand their taste in films!

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 (PG • 104 mins.)

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/KhMlZeKx0BKhW00aT7R16zJv5dBJdnMFRBTC-0NOYHrpffZkNHq5vSQo-spbTpGAaJnM49gxd4eDRKdzfol-ZUz_A3Y9c9ignQhptsgGnD-fY466CC9Rf7ZNuQnPmPxxegUwXPcM

How to Train Your Dragon 3 The Hidden World, directed by Dean DeBlois: rare is the series that maintains this high of entertainment value. Not only is the story fresh and the animation charming, the message of being true to yourself and the importance of family remain strong across all three films. Funny characters, dragons both scary and sweet, and the final resolution that if you love someone or something–sometimes you have to let it go. It’s all packaged in an action-packed tale that stays true to the characters. A great film for the whole family, though a few scary moments for the very young or easily frightened.

4 mugs of glog (out of 5)

WHAT MEN WANT (R • 1 h 57 mins.)

What Men Want, directed by Adam Shankman and starring Taraji P. HensonAldis HodgeRichard Roundtree, and Tracy Morgan. A loose remake of the 2000 film What Women Want, the plot follows a woman who, after drinking a potent concoction offered by a psychic, hilariously portrayed by Erykah Badu, gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts. Ali is a successful sports agent who can’t seem to make partner in her male-dominated field. Will she use her new power to hear the random, mostly crass thoughts of her colleagues to advance her career? Will it ruin her friendships and her new love interest? This over-long adaptation features a few chuckles and lots of reinforced stereotypes. Taraji P Henson has some great outfits and brings a warmth and wit to this portrayal of Ali, yet the only interesting character is the assistant played by Josh Brener.

1 cup of disgusting tea out of 5

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, directed by Mike Mitchell featuring the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Tiffany Haddish is the fourth Lego film and predictably, not the best in the series. The kids at the screening I attended were laughing and seemed to enjoy the animation but the soundtrack is not as catchy, the plot–not as inventive, and the animation isn’t anything new. Instead of the Father and Son, this edition features Maya Rudolph as the Mom threatening to put the Legos in a storage bin. An amusing, if modest effort for the franchise.

2 super sweet Slurpies out of 5

Isn’t It Romantic,directed byTodd Strauss-Schulson. A delightful parody of Hollywood Romantic Fillms. Rebel Wilson is hilarious and real.Liam Hemsworth and Adam Devine have fun parodying the romantic lead and the guy stuck in the “friend zone”. Just like the actress, the film pretends to be all snarky till you get to the soft gooey, lovable ending. A fun date movie.

3 fruity, overly sweet drinks out of 5

Captain Marvel, directed by Anna BodenRyan Fleck. I really enjoyed the origin story and Brie Larson gives a refreshing performance as the Super Hero. There was wit and humor and girl power. It could’ve used some more character development and more fun…why so dark? A few odd bits, like why is her nose bleeding green in the flashback? Overall, a good time at the movies.

3 1/2 All American Beers out of 5

Based on a true story–Films at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

43 films screened over 4 days for the 45th Telluride Film Festival. 10 of those 43 were excellent documentaries, but another 12 were films based on true stories. The most Hollywood of these, First Man is the star-spangled story of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by the talented Damien Chazelle (La La Land). It was very well-received. Trail by Fire, directed by Ed Zwick  and driven by amazing performances by Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, was absolutely riveting. I’m so glad I saw it before it starts being dismissively described as the anti-death-penalty film. It deserves a wide audience.

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, directed and shot most of his autobiographical film, Roma. Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as “writing his personal story with a camera”, which seems quite apt. It’s a lovely black & white period piece revealing an upper-middle class family’s daily struggles through the eyes of their caring maid. Each scene is populated with so many details of their lives — we get to visit a turbulent time in Mexico City and in this young woman’s life. There’s so much drama and tension that the 2 1/2 hours flies by. I’m thankful that it’s a Netflix film and I’ll be able to watch it again.

Standing in the rain for an hour sharing an umbrella with a stranger was worth it to see The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery). It was a treat to see Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in person. They have delightful chemistry in this sweet film about a bank robber and escape artist who can’t retire from the thrill of the chase. Redford stated that this is indeed his last acting role, though he’ll still produce and maybe direct. That gave the film a lovely sentimental feel as there are photos of a younger Redford used to illustrate his character’s past. Casey Affleck is particularly good as the detective trying to catch the bank robbers who develops a rapport with the gentleman criminal.

If you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll to get a kick out of The Favourite. Queen Anne rules the 18th Century English Court but it’s her consort who’s making the real decisions. Played with petulance, emotional neediness and disdain, Olivia Colman is a powerful and fickle Queen. Vying for a place in her bed and in her court are the penniless lady, Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin to the powerful Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Great roles for three powerful performers and I enjoyed the wicked banter and court intrigue. There are many extended close-ups of Olivia Colman’s face and it’s amazing to watch the emotional storms sinking her sanity. I could’ve done without the showy camera flourishes as it took me out of the story but the costumes (Sandy Powell) are sumptuous.

My final film of the festival was Boy Erased. This family drama is based on Garrard Conley‘s memoir brought to the screen by another multi-hyphenate talent, Joel Edgerton. He directs the screenplay he wrote; he also has a starring role as the director of a religious gay conversion center.  Lucas Hedges, portraying another damaged young man (Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) gives another emotionally revealing performance. When he’s forcibly outed at college after a traumatic incident, his Baptist preacher father (a solid Russell Crowe) convinces his mother (Nicole Kidman) to admit him to the conversion center. The loving relationship between mother and son is sorely tested when she learns what’s happening as staff try to sublimate the sexual urges of the clients. It’s an emotional journey with another great Nicole Kidman performance as she reconciles her love for her son with her love and duty as a Baptist wife. I’m looking forward to seeing The Miseducation of Cameron Post for the female viewpoint (directed by Desiree Akhavan) on conversion therapy set in an earlier time but still dealing with this shameful practice.

More Telluride reviews coming soon…