Thursday 9 January 2020

Thoughts on "Dracula" (2020)

Move over Howard Stern because besides being the King of Vampires, Count Dracula may very well be the true King of all Media. The vampire has appeared in more films than nearly every other fictional character (second only to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes) and has gained mythic status which goes far beyond the original 1897 novel written by Bram Stoker. The name Dracula has become synonymous with nearly all vampires and every fictional bloodsucker is held up against his blood-red-lined cape in comparison.

The latest iteration of the vampire count to take the world by storm and breathe new life into his undead being is the BBC miniseries; the brainchild of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the head-writers and creative team behind that other juggernaut which sought to reinvent a beloved figure of Victorian literature, Sherlock. That series, which started life as an homage to the original stories, sadly devolved into self-congratulatory mini-movies which highlighted not the works of Doyle, but the cleverness of the Moffat and Gatiss writing duo. Those same characteristics are spread across the three episodes of their Dracula miniseries and are its ultimate undoing.

I admit that my reverence for the Dracula story and characters may have initially colored by impression of this series, but I hoped for the best, championing Moffat and Gatiss to deliver like they did with those early episodes of Sherlock. Instead, Dracula emerges as a series which cannot make up its mind whether it wishes to be an honest-to-goodness horror series or a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the character. One minute, the crew of a doomed ship are prepared to lynch a helpless nun, and the next Claes Bang’s Count is spewing ill-time quips (and blood). The result is a jarringly uneven tone across the series’ three episodes and do nothing but elicit the most uncomfortable of reactions from the audience.

The writing also undoes the plot throughout. In their effort to portray Count Dracula as a witty bon vivant from beyond the grave, they craft a characterization that is nearly identical to that of their modern-day Moriarty in Sherlock. Like Andrew Scott in the earlier show, Claes Bang delivers the lines with relish and is constantly watchable, but it feels oh so wrong for the character and simply screams of the writers’ knowing looks and winks to the audience. The quips are hardly the weakest element of the script, however. Plot lines that originated in Moffat’s earlier Doctor Who scripts are recycled in their entirety, and even the third episode’s narrative conceit of (literally) bringing Dracula into the modern world feels like it was nabbed from the writers’ earlier works.

Despite the weaknesses of the scripts, the cast and crew of Dracula acquit themselves admirably. Though you could never accuse Claes Bang’s Dracula of being a faithful representation of the Stoker original, as mentioned above, he is constantly watchable in this series and it is clear that he, at least, is having a blast. The real highlight, however, is Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha, the nun who commits herself to destroying Dracula. The revelation that she is, in fact, the series’ own iteration of the Van Helsing character was a genuine surprise, and Wells’ performance never made the gender-swap feel like a gimmick and got this most ornery of Dracula enthusiasts on board with the change immediately.

As usual for a BBC series, production values were stellar; the recreation of nineteenth-century Romania, in particular, was beautifully executed and nicely mixed a modern sensibility with a visual aesthetic clearly culled from the Hammer Gothic Horror tradition. Visuals effects were also quite good – especially for a series of TV films – and the level of gore was surprisingly high, achieved in what one must assume were practical effects. Dracula’s metamorphosis from wolf to human being was startlingly effective and put one in mind of the kind of stunning visual trickery on display in a seminal horror classic like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

In total, clocking in at four and a half hours, this is certainly the most epic version of Dracula that has ever been done, yet the great potential was never reached. Undercut by its writing that is certainly too clever for its own good, Dracula is as a well-acted and well-produced series of half-baked ideas, jumbled tones, and attempts to reinvent Stoker which ultimately fall flat. Total fidelity to the novel is not and never has been a hallmark of an excellent piece of Dracula media, but throughout this series, I could not help but think that Moffat and Gatiss simply missed the point of the original. And certainly, you meddle with the King of Vampires at your own risk.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

The Power and the Glory of "The Irishman"

Image result for the irishman poster

To my mind it is a fact, a cold, clinical and inarguable fact, that Martin Scorsese is one of the finest filmmakers of our generation. Any generation for that matter. The man’s body of work is second-to-none. Even if his gangster epics aren’t your bag, he’s a master of historical epics. If you crave something a little more modern, then his character studies founded upon the parasitic relationship between man and society are right up your alley. And, if those sound a little too heavy, Scorsese revels in creating moments and films that can put a smile on your face and the twinkle of true wonder in your eyes. The man is a master of film and, beyond his time spent in the director’s chair with his oversized spectacles pressed to the viewfinder of the camera, he is committed to honoring the legacy of film if not in the physical preservation of filmstock than in the deliberate homage to past masters in his own movies.

All of this is to say that when Scorsese emerged as the villain in the public consciousness, I was dejected to say the very least. To my mind, Martin Scorsese’s opinion on the hugely successful Marvel franchise is irrelevant. What does it matter if the 77-year old Scorsese finds little to connect with in the wham-bang shenanigans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The man’s opinion will do nothing to the detriment of the media juggernaut; audiences will still flock to support their favorite on-screen heroes and their favorite studio, even if that studio is founded upon the mining of nostalgia instead of the telling of original stories. If anything, it is the fact that Disney, Marvel’s parent company, is hesitant to deviate from their tried-and-true formula that fosters Scorsese’s temper. The Marvel movies and the seemingly infinite number of live-action remakes of Disney animated classics do not push the envelope one millimeter; they are passive entertainment to be enjoyed from the sunken seat of your recliner, experiences that the viewer knows will end in the very same place they started. In other words, Scorsese’s suggestion that these movies were amusement park rides could not be more apt.

The vitriol that was seemingly lobbed at Scorsese from all corners of the acid-bathed Internet could not be ill-timed as Scorsese was making the rounds publicizing the release of his latest film, The Irishman. A return to the gangster film genre which had in 2006 reaped Scorsese and co. a Best Picture Academy Award for The Departed, The Irishman was – personally speaking – one of the most anticipated films of the year; certainly, of the past few years. It was a perfect storm on screen: Scorsese reteaming with Robert De Niro for the first time since Casino (1995); Joe Pesci, formally retired from film acting returning the big screen in nearly a decade; Al Pacino debuting under Scorsese’s direction; a script penned by Steven Zaillian, the man who penned the screenplays to Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to name a but a few successes from his filmography; and a gestation period of nearly ten years allowing Scorsese to age the film as if it were a fine wine. In other words, the film seemed too good, and prior to release I was utterly convinced that if Scorsese – known for his love of the Rolling Stones and a particular fondness for “Gimme Shelter” – dropped that first song from Let it Bleed into the film’s soundtrack then it would have been perfect.

“Gimme Shelter” may not have turned up in The Irishman, but there really was no place for it in the bleak and uncompromising film. Nevertheless, The Irishman came pretty darn close to being perfect, as close to a religious experience as I have seen film fans come in a long while.

The Netflix-produced film (for those who have skipped over it when it pops up in their list of trending titles) tells the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a small-time crook who rises through the ranks of the Philadelphia mob and eventually gains status in the Teamsters union alongside Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), finding his allegiance torn between the two men who call themselves his best friend (among them a prominent gangster played with nuance and quiet intimacy by Pesci), and losing his identity in the process.

The synopsis should speak for itself: The Irishman is not the typical Scorsese gangster movie. If GoodFellas (still surely his most famous and most beloved gangster epic) is a rock n’ roll gangster film, and The Departed is an angry grunge experience, then The Irishman is all blues; slow, mellow, and unrelenting with the same sadness of an isolated acoustic guitar. The film’s epic runtime exceeding three hours feels entirely justified as we watch Frank age before our very eyes and by the end, Frank is the only one left alive. The ravages of time are deadlier than any single gangster in this film, and unlike Scorsese’s earlier crime epics, there is little to no glorification of the mob. The Irishman is the product of a director who is no longer seduced by the mob and presented with total objectivity, never dwelling upon the extravagances of the gangster lifestyle. Instead, perhaps more so than in any other film charting the rise and fall of the mob, Scorsese focuses on the disintegration of Frank’s family and few sequences in any one of his films has been as devastating as the elderly Frank futilely attempting reconciliation with his daughter, Peggy, whose icy silence is imbued with a multiplicity of layers by Anna Paquin.   

This internal struggle is at the heart of the film, a theme which surges through the seventy years of story which the movie seeks to put on screen. That, in itself, is a feat, and the election to use the same pool of actors for the same characters across the decades was a bold choice. Much was made of the visual effects extravaganza that The Irishman would become with De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci all being the subjects of digital de-aging technology. Nothing new to cinema screens, the novelty of seeing actors restored to their more youthful countenances had been employed in both the Star Wars franchise and the Marvel superhero movies, but the results in The Irishman feel extra special. All three men highlighted above shine through their digital masks; De Niro, in particular, delivers a stellar performance which has garnered much-deserved Oscar buzz. In only a few sequences is one reminded of the star’s true age when the 76-year old actor walks like a man his own age and not one half it.

I could go on and on about The Irishman: it’s a powerful, resonant film that doesn’t so much linger in the memory as it does haunt and stay in the periphery of the mind. Even if one has not committed its entire three hours to memory (see all those who know the clown monologue from GoodFellas inside and out), images and moments remain engrained in my mind and yearn to be revisited. However, beyond the merits of the movie on its own, it is a massive achievement of filmmaking in these turbulent times for the industry of film. In the current media landscape, The Irishman shouldn’t work: It’s not based on a preexisting, market-tested property; it is populated by septuagenarians; and it’s over three hours long!

And that is disheartening.

If anything, one could make a very strong argument that The Irishman is Scorsese’s reaction to the changing landscape of the realm which he once knew so well. In just the same way that this year’s earlier success Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino) was a metatextual comment upon the proliferation of new faces and new attitudes in the world of moviemaking in today’s industry, The Irishman is Scorsese’s own statement. And, good old Marty seems to be saying that he will not change his colors just because that’s what everyone wants from him. In a world that is obsessed with all the things that Scorsese does not understand as a filmmaker, he is content to put all of his efforts into a passion project that will deliver on the goods that he still holds near and dear.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of The Irishman’s place in today’s media market is its financing from that other media juggernaut Netflix. It is downright sad that Netflix was the only studio that had enough confidence in the potential of another Scorsese epic and the only one who was willing to invest sufficient capital into the venture. Is this really the world that we live in now: a world where the movies will constantly be saturated by the latest installments of audiences’ favorite franchises and little else; a world where original thought – the original building block of film itself – is regarded as a risk that much be navigated with care?

If we can take anything away from the attacks on Scorsese, perhaps this is the world that so many audiences want. As long as they receive what they want, then any deviation from the norm can be regarded as unwanted and unnecessary. If film is a reflection of the world in which it is created, then it is no wonder that The Irishman is oh so bleak.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Thoughts on "Joker" (2019)

One week out from the opening of Joker, the Todd Philips-directed film depicting the origin of the infamous comic book villain, the United States army was put on high alert over concerns that the film’s opening could prompt violence.

It was the culmination of several months of controversies that surrounded the film, and it was the deciding factor that prompted me to wait nearly three weeks before finally seeing the film.

But what guarantee was this of my safety? Even as I watched the movie, was I not also watching my audience?

Joker obviously pushed buttons for critics and audiences alike. Some viewers lauded the film’s boundary-pushing narrative and conventions, and rightfully praised Joaquin Phoenix’s central performance as the troubled Arthur Fleck who becomes the titular Clown Prince of Crime.

Other viewers were quick to label the movie nothing short of a public menace; a movie which justified the mindset of countless loners who saw in the Joker a kindred spirit and whose own warped actions could led to copycat crimes.

And, for a lot of Joker I was willing to give the movie the benefit of doubt.

The acting was phenomenal and Phoenix is, understandably, an Oscar front-running for his evocative and nuanced performance.

The cinematography was breathtaking, rendering the film’s version of Gotham City more modern hellscape than bustling metropolis.

The score was riveting; each chord of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting string score felt as if it were born from the same pit of despair out of which Phoenix’s Joker crawled, and it was complimented by some truly stunning needle drops that ran the gambit from Frank Sinatra to Garry Glitter.

On a visual and aural level, Joker succeeded brilliantly, but its script – penned by Philips and Scott Silver – was shallow and unfocused, practically copying and pasting some of its most visceral moments and images from the films that Philips insisted Joker was paying homage to.

It is clear that Joker owes much to the early works of Martin Scorsese; this supervillain epic feeling like the outrageous result of combining Taxi Driver (1976) with The King of Comedy (1983), both of which starred Robert De Niro who, in Joker, plays the late-night comedian with whom Fleck is obsessed.

In doing so, Joker tries to lift the mirror to the audience watching it and show us the murderous clown reflected in it, but did nothing to comment upon that image.

Joker does nothing to invalidate the Joker’s reign of terror – if anything it justifies the warped worldview perpetuated by lone wolf terrorists who insist that they were somehow hurt by society at large.

Joker wants to be a tale of moral ambiguity like its gritty predecessors, but Philips cannot handle the volatile material that he has crafted with the same skill and steady hand that Scorsese displayed over 40 years ago, and the film is painted in stark blacks and white with not a single shade of grey in sight.

On a narrative level too, the film is not sure what it wants to be; its moments of cold-blooded drama vying for attention with plot threads which attempt to attach the movie to the larger, extended universe of the Batman comics and though the Caped Crusader is nowhere to be seen in this particular origin story, anyone with a passing familiarity with the Batman mythos is liable to feel just as pulled out of the film as I was.

Joker does not fail entirely, but its merits are overshadowed by its obvious drawbacks. Joaquin Phoenix’s excellent performance is unfortunately lost amidst the film’s patently dangerous rhetoric and any film that does not take care to explore controversies like these with careful baby steps, but instead elects to dance down the whole staircase is highly suspect.

Friday 4 October 2019

Cynicism and Film

For consumers of media, it is undeniable that we stand in the threshold of great change. The way in which we view media has fundamentally changed in the past few years; the world of even just 10 years again feels distant and antiquated.

Never before have there been so many streaming platforms catering up movies and TV to viewers than there are today.

Never before has technology allowed us to watch a blockbuster film from the comfort of our own homes and on the screens of our smartphone.

Never before has the amount of content been so diverse and so individually catered. The major motion picture is now the realm of action blockbusters and our favorite franchises; our need for character development, original storylines, and original storytelling now accessible at the press of a button on the smallest of screens.

All of these factors have changed the landscape of media consumption in the twenty-first century and their contributions to those changes cannot be underestimated. There is, however, another factor that has changed our view of media drastically and yet imperceptibly:


To illustrate: early this week I opened Twitter and saw a tweet promoting the cast of the upcoming mystery thriller, Death on the Nile. The film, an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel, is the follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express (2017), another Christie adaptation, starring Kenneth Branagh as Christie’s celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Branagh was in the director’s chair for Orient Express and he returns to both rules for Poirot’s sojourn down the River Nile.

The accomplished cast includes Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright, Armie Hammer, and Annette Benning to name but a few of the film’s stars.

Needless to say, I was excited with the news and hit that Retweet button to both spread the word and flummox my followers.

But then I scrolled down and began to read the replies. Amidst the spattering of fellow fans excited to see the Queen of Crime’s novel adapted to the big screen, there were numerous others that were already putting the film down, mocking the film’s cast, and letting it be known that they would be skipping the film’s release.

I was shocked by the near-vitriolic level of criticism that the film already received when it should be noted that not one frame of film has been shot yet and the movie is not slated for release until October of 2020.

A whole year from now.

Some might say that there is no such thing as bad publicity and by actively tweeting their reservations, a host of twitter users are in their own way promoting the film; inciting at least one fan to use the upcoming release as evidence in his article for a college newspaper.

And it is certainly short-sighted to suggest that pre-production word-of-mouth does not touch most major film releases today. Did we not do the same thing when Marvel released the titles for their upcoming Phase Four releases? Were we not taking to the Twitterverse and posting our thoughts, feelings, and opinions on a series of movies that none of us have seen yet?

Pre-release discussion can be good. Todd Phillips’ Joker (released October 4, 2019) has generated much buzz ahead of its wide release, many commentators fearful of the film’s potentially harmful underlying message and presentation in today’s society. These informed discussions can be beneficial to not only devoted filmgoers but the public en masse.

Yet, we cannot forget that these discussions are occurring before most people have even been able to rule on the subject with evidence to support them.

In the case of Death on the Nile filmgoers dissatisfied by the Murder on the Orient Express film are already writing off this forthcoming effort.

Are we really so hesitant to stray from what we know as media consumers nowadays?

Unless something has been recommended to us on our favorite streaming service, are we unwilling to give a movie or television show the benefit of the doubt?

Do we lean so heavily on the accessibility of our favorite media that it is an arduous task to go out and experience something new?

These are all questions which buzz through my head as I contemplate the media landscape in which we live and I cannot help but feel like the answer to all of the questions posed above is yes.

That answers why films have morphed into literal events – three-hour epics depicting our favorite franchise characters and built upon cast lists that are a mile long – moving away from the kind of totally original storytelling that is now consigned to the realms of Netflix Originals and HBO series.

The cynicism is all too rampant, the justification all too familiar:

Why go through the trouble of getting out of bed and putting on pants and driving all the way to the movie theater and paying for popcorn and soda?

The movie will probably be disappointing anyway.

Saturday 14 September 2019

Thoughts on "IT: Chapter Two" (2019)

There is a running joke in IT: Chapter Two that writer Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) cannot write a satisfactory ending to his books. Horror writer Bill is, of course, a stand-in for Stephen King whose mammoth 1,138-page novel serves as the basis for IT: Chapter Two, and the criticism is often applied to King’s books; IT in particular.

Stephen King needn’t be upset though, because the task of writing a worthwhile conclusion eluded the writers of this film too.

IT: Chapter Two is the highly-anticipated sequel to IT (2017) and finds the grown-up versions of the Losers Club, a group of social outcasts who vanquished the fear-mongering entity that often takes the form of Pennywise, the demonic clown in the ‘80s, being drawn back to their hometown of Derry, Maine when it becomes apparent that the creature has returned.

IT was a monster success upon its release, usurping The Exorcist as the highest-grossing horror film of all time, but it only adapted the first half of King’s tome. The promise of a sequel was a tantalizing one, and with the creative team back behind the camera and a distinguished cast including Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader in front of it, IT: Chapter Two seemed poised to keep the spirit of the first movie – which still permeates our culture, perverting our vision of storm sewers and red balloons – alive and vibrant.

IT: Chapter Two makes a valiant effort as it hurtles towards the finish of its nearly three-hour runtime, however more often than not in the race to get there, it trips and falls over its big, floppy clown shoes.

Part of what made the first IT movie a success was the freedom it felt in distancing itself from King’s prose. The corporeal monsters of the novel were replaced with demons of the mind, each chasing after, and tormenting the kids of the Losers Club in several well-staged scenes of horror.

IT: Chapter Two, while retaining the psychological edge which marked the first movie, elects to reinstate the monsters; lots of screen-time devoted to the adult Losers coming up against ghastly CGI creations that are liable to elicit titters of bemusement rather than cold shivers down the spine.

In fact, laughter may be one of the film’s great downfalls. IT: Chapter Two is a much funnier movie than it has any right to be; most of the jokes issuing from the Losers’ joker, Richie, played to perfection by Bill Hader, but the film’s humor manifests itself at the most inopportune moments, undercutting the tension which the movie works so hard to create. And while the juxtaposition of comedy can actually strengthen the scares of many horror movies, in IT: Chapter Two, Hader’s juvenile quips do nothing but dilute a potentially unnerving moment.

However, Hader still delivers a stellar performance, matching – if not surpassing – those given by the other performers. James McAvoy is excellent as the still grieving and self-loathing Bill, still blaming himself for the death of his brother, Georgie, and Jessica Chastain adds nuance to the role of Beverly whose abusive relationship we see is part of a viscous pattern which began in her childhood. There is real emotional weight to all of the characters and, as was the case with the child actors in the first film, there is a real sense of comradery among the adults.

It is such a shame, then, that the film gives us so few opportunities to see them all together.

The middle section of the movie feels bogged down by repetitive scenes of the Losers encountering Pennywise on their own which is liable to make one feel as though this stretch is much longer than it actually is. And when the characters’ stories converge once more in the final act, the action feels drawn-out and tedious.

More than once I felt while watching the Losers standoff with Pennywise that I was watching the final battle of an Avengers movie and this odd amalgamation of genres sat uneasily with me.

It is telling too that there is little to say of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise who made such an impact in the first movie by remaining a shadowy presence throughout. Here, Pennywise is brought front-and-center diminishing the horror of the creature’s elusive presence and damagingly rendering him as a campy figure of fun.

IT: Chapter Two is not a bad movie. It simply bears all of the hallmarks of a Stephen King story – schlocky and confused – which the first movie worked so hard to correct. For an entertaining romp, IT: Chapter Two fits the bill but leaves one feeling that the film left a great deal of untapped potential to be mined.

Friday 2 August 2019

300 Words on "The Call" (2013)

How do you define a dumb movie? Perhaps, better yet, I can elucidate by way of an example. Take The Call, for instance - the 2013 thriller directed by Brad Anderson and starring Halle Berry as a 911 dispatcher who must save the life of a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has been abducted and thrown in the trunk of his car.

It should be noted from the start that dumb movies are not necessarily bad movies. Indeed, The Call is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and its central premise is wrung of all its dramatic potential. I would be lying if I said that I was not on the edge of my seat as Berry instructed Breslin on how to attract other driver’s attention on the highway from within the trunk, and in moments like these I – like the film – reveled in all its suspenseful splendor. Ultimately, however, The Call is a hollow piece of work, best enjoyed if one’s brain is checked at the door and the pesky nuisance of logical reasoning is not brought into it.

Like so many movies predicated upon such dramatic elevator pitch ideas like The Call’s, its central premise is not enough to sustain it and the film’s final act feels like a cheap rip-off of The Silence of the Lambs leading to a thoroughly underwhelming finale which only cements the film’s status as a dumb but harmless way to spend two hours. The Call is the type of film that is seemingly designed to be relegated to the bargain bin, but remains sufficiently entertaining enough for at least one viewing. 

Sunday 28 July 2019

Thoughts on "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" (2019)

We like to think that we know our favorite directors. The simple fact is that we do not, and the best of them are always capable of surprising us. Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, delivered outright horror in Psycho (1960); Steven Spielberg proved that he was just as adroit when handling the special effects extravaganza of Jurassic Park as the hard-hitting and grounded Schindler’s List; and now Quentin Tarantino shows us that he has a soft side with his nostalgic look back on old Hollywood in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

Of course, any film that Tarantino directs will still feature his greatest hallmarks, but Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is another matter entirely. Indeed, one could look at the director’s previous movie, the bleak and nihilistic Hateful Eight, and this film and be hard-pressed to suggest that they were the work of the same director. Not since Jackie Brown (1997) has Tarantino delivered a film quite as laid-back and relaxed, a film that is happy to take its time in meandering through its story, and whose characters are brought to the forefront, deconstructed, analyzed, and presented for the audience’s enjoyment.

Those characters in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood are embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as Rick Dalton, a struggling former western TV star, and his stuntman Cliff Booth respectively. DiCaprio and Pitt are front-and-center in this film. This is their story as both struggle to find their place in a changing film industry, and both men are pitch perfect in their parts. DiCaprio in particular is enthralling in every scene he’s in. Whether he’s chastising himself for forgetting his lines, or drunkenly accosting hippies in his pajamas, it is no exaggeration to agree with little 8-year-old Trudi Fraser who Rick shares the screen with when she whispers in his ear that “that was the best acting I have ever seen in my whole life.”

DiCaprio and Pitt almost never leave center stage in the film, and so they are complimented by a number of glorified cameos from Margot Robbie as Rick’s neighbor, Sharon Tate, Mike Moh as Bruce Lee with whom Booth spars on set, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, and Al Pacino as Rick’s agent. But perhaps the most important character in the film is Los Angeles of 1969, meticulously recreated by Tarantino and his team. Hollywood is evocatively brought back to life not only through the beautiful set dressing, but a massive soundscape of late ‘60s radio hits, nearly all of which seem to be blaring from the speakers of Rick and Cliff’s cars.

Though Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is atypical Tarantino, when he does serve up his standard profanity-laced, razor-sharp dialogue and excessive violence, it does not disappoint. But, for any audience member expecting this film to be a retread of the director’s earlier work, they shall be disappointed. I, however, was thrilled to watch Tarantino spread his wings and am of the opinion that he has done some of his finest work here. Indeed, the film’s last thirty minutes may be some of Tarantino’s very best as a storyteller; stretching tension at every turn and then wrongfooting the audience at nearly every opportunity.

If film fans can learn nothing else from Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood it is not to pigeonhole their favorite filmmakers. The best of the bunch have always got a surprise up their sleeves.


In my ongoing ranking of Tarantino films, I have discovered the list to be a much more fluid entity than I once thought. This revised list has changed since my last Tarantino review (Death Proof) and perhaps it is time to properly revisit this list. In the meantime, here is my ranking as it currently stands updated to include Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood from favorite to least favorite:

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)
Jackie Brown (1997)
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Django Unchained (2012)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Kill Bill (2003,2004)
Death Proof (2007)