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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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

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

Men in Black: International (2019)

MiB international poster

On the night that she meets a cute little alien, Molly (Tessa Thompson) also witnesses her parents being ‘neuralised’ – a fate she avoids, leading to a life obsessed with little green men and Men in Black. Determined to join their ranks, it’s no spoiler to say that she eventually manages to infiltrate and is given a chance to prove herself.

Not a reboot at all, this is rather a sequel of sorts to the Will Smith trilogy without said Fresh Prince. Instead, we travel to the London office and another star MiB: Agent H, played in full Thor-like mode by Chris Hemsworth (who is sadly not quite as funny as he thinks, at least not here). His laid-back charmer of a character, more interested in partying it up with the aliens, is juxtaposed well against the studious new Agent M.

And it seems that not all is well in the MiB ranks. Missions go wrong, colleagues are suspicious and hostile, and strange new aliens stalk the planet.

I was very surprised to see the shade thrown on this movie on IMDb. It’s not high art, but it’s a lot of daft fun. I didn’t miss Smith and Jones, rather liking Hemsworth and Thompson – the latter sitting far better here than in¬†Ragnarok, where I didn’t warm to her interpretation at all. Nor am I impressed with any of the ‘Mary Sue’ comments thrown at her Agent M: this is a smart, driven woman, who shows intelligence¬†AND flaws, and is often out of her depth.

The story isn’t all that strong, but the effects are top notch, and over all it was a nicely mindless bit of enjoyable entertainment. I’d watch it again, or a sequel…?!

Released: 14th June 2019
Viewed: 16th June 2019
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

dark phoenix poster

It’s been almost a decade (movie time) since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and the mutants appear to be in a new phase of peace and understanding. Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has set up a sort of hippy commune for those who, like him, want to get away from the world, while Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) X-Men have new matching uniforms, a hotline to/from the President, and are ‘winning hearts and minds’ with risky rescue missions.

It’s interesting to see the trend of every other X-Men movie bucked, with the human world seemingly accepting of the super-powered. But to juxtapose that, we see increasing tensions within the group. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in particular is questioning Xavier’s MO, turning into quite the mother hen for the gang while he seems more obsessed with opinions.

When Charles pushes the group to risk themselves to save an astronaut, the ‘solar flare’ that obviously isn’t ends up being absorbed by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). The already powerful psychic and telekinetic power she possesses is turned up way past 11, and the results are devastating.

So… the last outing for the newest group to play the X-Men, and we’re back with the story that got butchered at the end of the last lot’s run. Surely to goodness the filmmakers have lots of lessons learned?!

Ah… not so much. The ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline is handled a bit better, yes, but overall the movie is just a bit too meh. The rift between Xavier and the others, the need to prove themselves again and again versus a wish to just live – all is touched on, but not really brought to much. Peace turns to rage in a heartbeat, not without reason, but just without the backdrop to wholly care.

Worst element is probably the new alien threat, led by Jessica Chastain, egging Jean Grey to embrace her worst side. I feel like we’ve missed a movie, or at least a huge chuck of backstory, as they just appear and do stuff to further the plot. And worse is the whole “They aren’t mutants” – urm, pretty sure they’d be lumped in with the rest, rather than humankind instantly recognising alien v mutant. Hmm.

Everything (except Mystique’s makeup, for some reason?) looks pretty cool, it’s not a¬†bad movie, but to be honest it was just a bit disappointingly meh, story-wise. Not the triumphant bow-out that anyone would have wished for, by any means.

Released: 5th June 2019
Viewed: 15th June 2019
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

john wick 3 poster

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Against all expectations, a dark little movie of revenge and ultra-violence threw Keanu Reeves to the top of the movie charts, and spawned two sequels. I was late to the party, and still somewhat unsure what exactly had captured so much public imagination here. Fun? Sure. Brutal? Oh, indeed. Beloved? Wow.

There are indeed a few things done very very well here. The stories are un-convoluted, by which I don’t mean braindead, just unburdened with superfluous crud. There’s exactly enough motivation, without straining audience patience with another missing girlfriend/child/car or whatever. As the series has progressed, we are being given glimpses of something less straightforward, something apparently quite huge under the surface, but the filmmakers don’t waste time explaining everything. No, they go with shots of some marvellously retro telephone exchange where the underworld is kept in check by a series of Amy Winehouse-esque, tattooed gals and guys. Do I understand it? Not so much, but I don’t care – it’s just part of the fun!

Secondly, the action. It’s brutal but almost cartoonish, without being comedic (although often funny, in a dark way) and (more or less) believable. Anything is a weapon, if you know how to use it. And the set design plays so well to that – I won’t spoil it, but one scene just cracked me up, so perfectly positioned and played, even as I had to look away from bursting eyeballs. Ew. Kudos for the huge glass office, too: that looked amazing.

Following directly from the events of John Wick 2, this one is a bit more fun and a lot more batshit crazy. The backstory starts to expand again, and the series has done well enough to attract famous faces such as Anjelica Houston, Halle Berry, and randomly, Jerome Flynn. The humour – my fellow audience in the cinema was laughing out loud fairly frequently – does that rare job of straddling the line between ridiculous (I’m looking at you, Mark Dacascos!) but not parody, and balances the extreme violence somewhat.

Keanu Reeves has gotten more than his fair share of stick over the years, but he is genuinely excellent (urm, no pun intended!) here. Overwhelmed by grief, turned on by former associates, and very very good at doing something he doesn’t really care for any more. Things have progressed quite naturally in this story, and boy are they getting out of hand…!

Released: 15th May 2019
Viewed: 17th May 2019
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8.5/10

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Endgame poster

So… here we are. Twenty-two movies over eleven years, and one way or another we are in the Endgame. The Infinity Saga ends here.

Last year’s¬†Infinity War ended on something of a cliffhanger, and we pick up with the aftermath of those devastating events.¬†The 3-hour run time allows the story to flow at a less than break-neck event, such as the previous movie, which is essential for this finale. As well as tying up the plot lines, we need to have an emotional connection with all of these characters, and to watch their emotional journeys – and that takes a little time.

As well as finding out what happens, and how, what I loved about this was the way it pays homage to all 11 years that have gone before. There are so many little nods back to the characters’ previous top moments, without becoming overly saccharine or just about patting themselves (ie the filmmakers) on the back. Sure, a few characters could have done with a little more screen time, but overall the fierce pride and joy at the whole series is brought to the screen.

IW was dark, and this is also pretty bleak at times especially – and appropriately – as it opens, but there is a large amount of humour sprinkled throughout. America’s ass might be my favourite… (or at least the least spoilery one!)! ūüėČ Given how joyful the series has been, it makes a lot of sense to remind everyone of the humour, especially as the series’ tone has darkened, plot-wise.

There’s not a lot to talk about while avoiding any spoilers at all, but I do think it’s worth going in ‘blind’. There are so many bits – major and very minor – that work perfectly for not seeing them coming. Indeed, the whole movie managed to be less predictable than I might have assumed, which is quite a feat after 21 movies of build up. Are there flaws – logically, in particular? Sure, but the action is high, the fan-nods are amazing, and overall it’s so, so easy to just let the imperfections go in favour of just how well they’ve pulled the nigh-on impossible together.

Is it perfect? No. But as a culmination of over a decade of genre-busting success, I don’t think they could have wrapped up this first chapter any better, with any more love to or from the fans on both sides of the camera. And so, my first 10/10 movie review on sheer satisfaction factor.

Released: 25th April 2019
Viewed: 25th April 2019 (in a Captain America t-shirt, natch ;))
Running time: 181 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 10/10 – no, it’s not ‘perfect’, but near as dammit and can’t imagine they could have done much better!