Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)

once upon a time in hollywood poster

In 1969, the murder of the young, pregnant actress, Sharon Tate, by the followers of Charlie Manson, shook the world and started the crumble of the era of love, peace and hippies. This movie is sort of Quentin Tarantino’s retelling of that period and set of events.

Except, it’s not really. Tate (Margot Robbie) is pretty much a side character, as we instead follow the fortunes of her (fictitious) next door neighbour, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Rick was famous for a while, playing a cowboy in a TV show, but now he’s taking bit parts as villain of the week in new pilots. He’s accompanied everywhere by his stunt double, friend, and lackey, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s struggling even more for work, not least because of some dark rumours about his past.

In one way, the film is about the different approaches these two men have to slowly fading careers and inevitable aging. Both actors are outstanding, DiCaprio as the whiny, self-obsessed actor throwing tantrums and sobbing, compared to Pitt’s laid-back, shrug it off,¬†que sera acceptance of his lot. I’d have to say the latter is far more appealing, lighting up the screen with charisma, self-assurance, and a rather impressive not-dad bod for a man in his mid-50s. Sorry, got distracted there… ūüėČ

Mostly, though, the movie is just a homage to a period in time, and Hollywood of the late 60s – in the same kind of way that Singin’ in the Rain looked back three decades to another ‘golden era’ of Hollywood.

The plot sort of meanders, doesn’t really go anywhere much, but through it all everything just looks amazing. The real win here is how the viewer is entirely taken to a different era. It’s not just the visuals, but a slow pace quite at odds with today’s modern life, and a soundtrack that isn’t full of recognisable hits as much as just music of the time – and not just music, often the backing track is an advert playing on the radio, or the TV, and all the more ‘real’ for it.

I was a little baffled coming out as to how I was going to review this. On the one hand, I kept waiting for something to happen, and mostly it did not. There are a few ‘meh’ moments, such as Tarantino’s less than flattering portrayal of Bruce Lee. There were a lot of nods and ‘homages’ that went entirely over my head – many of the characters were real people, that I just didn’t know about, and the TV shows were also generally real. There was a huge level there that would have added more to the experience – I’m just glad I knew who ‘Charlie’ was, or I’m not sure how the film would have played at all.

And yet. It didn’t feel almost three hours long – I could have watched another hour, easily. I will happily see it again, and perhaps enjoy the atmosphere even more, without waiting for the ‘plot’ to happen. So. Yes. Worth the viewing, definitely.

Released: 14th August 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 16th August 2019
Running time: 161 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 8/10

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Crawl (2019)

crawl poster

I would never have chosen to go to see this movie, which is one of the problems with – or strengths of, depending on the film! – Cineword’s Secret Screenings. There is such an excitement to not knowing what you’re about to watch, but that was tempered with the audible grown I and many other audience members let out when the title card came up.

I spent the first ten minutes or so wondering if I’d be making a hasty exit: I do not like horror movies. The tension builds as we go from Haley (Kaya Scodelario,¬†Maze Runner)¬†competing in a swimming contest, to heading off into a hurricane to track down the semi-estranged father (Barry Pepper, Battlefield Earth) who isn’t answering his phone. Alas, the ‘crawl’ of the title doesn’t refer to her swimming stroke, but rather the storm-flooded crawl space under the house, where she finds her father’s bleeding body.

And then… well, to be honest knowing absolutely nothing about the movie really helped up to this point, so if you want to leave know I’ll understand ūüėČ

After one rather spooky moment, the revelation that this is a ‘creature feature’ was the only reason I stayed – and, I really wish I hadn’t bothered. Plus side, it’s not actually scary – well, jump-scares, rather than unsettling. There is gore a-plenty, but nothing that was going to disturb my precious sleep. Downside: everything else.

Oh, it’s daft. There is not just a huge dollop of factual ‘error’ (no, a person cannot outswim an alligator!), but a total lack of internal consistency. Sometimes it was too dangerous to venture past the piping, other times it was fine to make a run for it, or pause in the open to check for a phone signal.

This isn’t exactly¬†Jaws for a new age, much as it probably wants to be. It’s a silly man-against-invading-nature ‘thing’, and the rather moronic plot-driving elements made me regret giving it my time. If you’re a fan of the genre, your mileage may vary greatly, but I’m really really not – and this did nothing to change that.

Released: 23rd August 2019
Viewed: 29th July 2019 (advanced, secret screening)
Running time: 87 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10

Hobbs and Shaw (2019)

hobbs and shaw poster

The characters of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have been spun-out of their bit-parts in the Fast and Furious franchise to butt heads in their own movie. F&F is big, flashy, daft fun – H&S is dafter and even more fun!

They might hate each other – see previous movies – but when a genetically engineered super-virus is stolen from a¬†Mission: Impossible¬†plot – I mean, from an armoured truck (ahem!) – Hobbs and Shaw are brought together (by the most unexpected cameo role!) to recover the virus and save Shaw’s sister. It won’t be that easy, though, not with Shaw’s ex-military compatriot, Brixton (Idris Elba), aiming for the virus himself – and that’s after his bullet-riddled body (courtesy of Shaw, natch) has had some serious cybernetic upgrades…!

I went into this expecting loud and flashy and daft and fun and I can confirm I got a full house of ticks on those fronts. It’s not high art or going to trouble the awards shows, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

The biggest draw is of course seeing the two leads facing off – and that brings a lot of fun and giggles. However, the movie is probably at least half an hour too long, and when the playing-for-laughs is shoved aside for out-and-out action, laid on as thick as the ‘message(s)’ (importance of family, in keeping with the F&F franchise , old ways over tech, the power of working together, blah blah), I turned off a bit and let the generic action movie stuff roll past.

Still, you can’t really complain about an action movie having too much action! Kudos to letting the woman, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), kick just as much ass as the boys. Idris makes a delicious baddy, although (as ever!) his character peters out a bit towards the end and could have done with more… something.

For the leads – well, the Rock is the Rock, and the Stath is the Stath. Not much more to say! Oh, apart from a couple of unexpected cameos – not quite as funny as they thought, but still amusing. Although watch out: when a familiar face starts talking during the mid-credits scene, there are some big Game of Thrones (!) finale spoilers!

There’s no subtlety here: you know from the genre if you’re likely to like it a lot, or not even slightly. I’d say it’s more fun than the F&F main movies, more hamming it up for laughs – and I quite liked that.

Released:
Viewed: 3rd August 2019
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Current War (2017)

current war poster

It was the starry cast that attracted me to this, rather than another retelling of the fight between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), which I thought I knew (enough) about. But this isn’t that fight, or rather, Tesla is only a bit-player, and the real ‘war’ is between inventor Edison and industrialist, George Westerhouse (Michael Shannon).

Both men want to bring electricity to widespread use. Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, first pushes his direct current (DC). Westerhouse buys patents from others, and cannot infringe on Edison’s creations, and so uses the more powerful alternating current (AC). However, Edison soon begins a slanging match, claiming AC is deadly – and look, here’s a horse being electrocuted to prove it (!).

The crux will come with the 1983 World Fair in Chicago, with both sides vying to light up the city. Only one can win. But, at what cost?

It seems odd that electricity, so staple a part of modern life, has really only been used as it is for a little over 100 years. It is intriguing seeing the technology’s start, but the film is just as much about the personal issues. Did Westerhouse feel slighted by a socially dismissive Edison? Both men are shown to be highly affected by their wives. Both have egos and a desire to be remembered, or to change the world for the better.

While interesting and enjoyable enough, I wouldn’t say this was the most gripping piece of cinema. The cast – also including Tom Holland, Matthew MacFadyen, Tuppence Middleton, and Katherine Waterston – is indeed fantastic, and it’s nice that the characters are given time to (no pun intended) shine.

It was also interesting that they pitted Edison against an industrialist. I’m not sure Tesla’s part in this isn’t vastly underplayed, right enough, so historically I’m still debating that, but dramatically the juxtaposition was played well. The movie does become about the light and dark (okay, okay, that pun is deliberate!) of each man’s soul, each facing their own principles and each feeling driven to act against those. With the actors involved, it is all done rather well.

However, it *is* kind of slow, and you know what’s going to happen, and… yeah, it was fine. Maybe save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Released: 26th July 2019
Viewed: 26th July 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

PS: the movie was made and released at various film festivals in 2017 but due to the involvement of producer Harvey Weinstein, distangling that element saw everything  shelved until the current release schedule.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

spiderman ffh poster

Following the events of¬†Avengers: Infinity War¬†and¬†Endgame,¬†Peter Parker is unsurprisingly a little burned out and looking forward to the chance to be just a teenager, rather than a superhero, during a school science trip to Europe. However, Nick Fury has other ideas – and when a series of ‘Elementals’, creatures seemingly formed of water, air, fire, etc, start attacking, Parker is called in to the fray. Fortunately, a new hero has appeared. Mysterio will save the day – right?

It turns out that the MCU’s Phase 3 has one more movie to offer. I hadn’t really been looking for more of the story post-Endgame, but as it happens this makes a nice coda to the whole¬†Infinity Saga, giving us a glimpse of the post-snap/return (aka ‘blip’) world and a lead into Phase 4.

Spider-Man has never been my favourite of the superheroes, but this MCU take with Tom Holland has started to convert me. This is definitely an ‘Avengers’ movie, not just Spider-Man, and the teen angst is played well as a motivating factor rather than the main gist of everything. We get the usual dose of humour, plenty of nods to the rest of the series, and overall it just works.

As with¬†Homecoming, I thought the motivations of the baddy were done well, even if the tech achievements are utterly far-fetched. Visually it’s all quite stunning, and the European locations – Venice, Prague, etc – are pretty, too.

Surprised me how much I enjoyed this, but little to nothing to complain about. It was fun! It was daft. It was a decent bridge between old stories and new. It’s not the best of the MCU by any stretch, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn flick.

Released: 2nd July 2019
Viewed: 13th July 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Yesterday (2019)

yesterday poster

When the entire world suffers a mysterious power outage, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is unfortunate enough to get hit by a bus. As he recovers, he slowly starts to realise that somehow the world has forgotten various, every day things: certain brands don’t exist any more, certain ideas. But, most excitingly for a struggling musician who’d been on the brink of giving up, no one else seems to remember The Beatles.

As Jack starts to exploit his suddenly rise to the world’s best songwriter, not everything goes quite according to plan…

I’d been looking forward to seeing this since I saw the trailer. I’m a huge Beatles fan, and I love this kind of ‘what if’ concept. I was also thoroughly in the mood for something light and fun, and just¬†nice, and that’s exactly what I got.

To say the outcome is all pretty predictable is fair enough, not least with Richard Curtis involved in anything. Thankfully this is not as saccharine as¬†Love Actually or¬†Notting Hill. And actually, to my amazement, it managed to surprise me at least once…!

I’d point out that this is not in the vein of e.g.¬†Rocketman, as the music is more the character and a guitar doing cover versions. That’s perhaps a slight negative, although they are genuinely very good covers! My other negative would be Kate McKinnon, playing the less than pleasant record manager – I’ve gone from thinking she can do no wrong, to being disappointed in her roles of late, finding them not very funny at all.

Still. The rest of the cast is great, including Ed Sheeran (I’m not a fan, really) playing himself with surprising self-deprecation. The songs are of course amazing, in any version. Except perhaps ‘Hey Dude’… ūüėČ

Overall, an uplifting feel-good movie, and don’t we all need those once in a while? ūüôā

Released: 28th June 2019
Viewed: 11th July 2019
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Toy Story 4 (2019)

toy story 4 poster

When Bonnie – new owner of Woody, Buzz et al – makes herself a new toy to help with the first day of kindergarten, the gang end up spork-sitting the new guy, Forky. Traumatised with finding himself ‘alive’, he’s not so keen on sticking around which is a problem given how attached Bonnie has become. Keeping the two together becomes Woody’s new purpose, just as he’s struggling to adjust to no longer being the favourite, the toy in charge.

I neither dislike nor adore the¬†Toy Story series. They’re sweet, they’re fun, but somehow they just don’t grab me the way they seem to affect others, or the way I loved the¬†How To Train Your Dragon trilogy. As a result, I only saw¬†TS3 last week, knowing I was going to this. And I was pleasantly surprised: it was lovely. It also felt like a fitting end to a series – so quite why we needed a fourth, I wasn’t sure.

Biggest praise, then, that this doesn’t ruin the whole series. It’s tough not to get drawn into the ‘lives’ of these toys, they are just so well realised. I mean, you know things are going to work out – it’s a ‘U’ rating! – but the tension gets you, and the emotion feels oddly genuine. And no spoiler, but I think this is definitely an ending, which stops it feeling pointless, even if it wasn’t strictly necessary.

I have just one complaint, and that’s around the baddie’s story. I can’t help but think that the kind of nasty, entitled behaviour displayed, the emotional manipulation, should never, ever be shown as being rewarded. It’s a poor message to send to kids, and the whole “Oh, but I never had the advantages you did so I deserve it” isn’t improving the matter. I was thoroughly disturbed to have all of this in a kids’ flick, to be honest. I mean, it was funny in¬†Guardians of the Galaxy¬†when Rocket asked, “But what if I want it more than the person who has it?” but here it’s just not amusing.

Sadly that really did spoil the whole thing for me a bit, and points off for that – although I suppose you could argue that it’s just the pure niceness of our regular cast that helps everyone, but still – big ick for me, personally.

Aside from that, though, it’s sweet and lovely, and a decent epilogue to the original trilogy rather than an essential piece of the story. It’s nice to see the old characters again, even if most only really get cameo-level roles in a busy cast roster. Newcomers like Duke Caboom (I failed to spot the voicing was Keanu Reeves!) add humour to avoid total saccharine levels, too.

If it doesn’t quite live up to the highs of the previous movies, well – that was always going to be a tough job. Kids will undoubtedly love it, and fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy.

Released: 21st June 2019
Viewed: 21st June 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10