Saturday Night at the Movies

It’s ok, I’m not ill or back in hospital or anything…I just decided to take a few days off from writing the usual tosh I come up with here.

But what a few days….the Ashes glory (for now)…Parliament getting itself all prorogued…and I went to the cinema.

I imagine all of the above will get further mentions at some point over the coming days (OK, I plan to mention them all), but for now I’ll focus on the latter.

On Thursday evening I had my first IMAX experience. I know, I know, about time. Truth be told, I didn’t plan on having this one; regular readers will now that I have one of those “Pay monthly, see as many films as you like” set ups, which I rarely take advantage of as much as I could because…well, it may be prepaid but that shouldn’t mean I feel obliged to go watch something with Gerard Butler in it, ta very much. (see also my other pet hates: Keifer Sutherland and Julia Roberts)

And so, on Tuesday, as there is a film out at the moment that I really wanted to see, I cranked up the movie theatre app I use, checked out the times, cursed that there wasn’t a showing starting post-work any earlier than 19:30 hours, bit the bullet and pressed “Book Seats”.

After selecting my seat of choice (aisle seat, towards the back), I was surprised to see it wanted to charge me £4.20 for the privilege of seeing the film in question.

Huh?

I cancelled the purchase, and tried a different film. No additional charge. And it was then that the penny dropped (all four hundred and twenty of them), that I was being charged extra because the film was being shown on the IMAX screen.

Ordinarily, I would have then waited until the film went over to boring old standard screenings, but I figured that I really wanted to see this one, so I’d stump up.

At work on Thursday, I mentioned to the chap who sits next to me at work – a film buff, I didn’t just collar him – that I was going to see the film in question. He pointed out the length to me (stop it!) and I told him it was just over 2 hours, which was fine. A quick check confirmatory check in iMDB clarified that it was actually 2 hours and 40 minutes.

A visit to the local supermarket to stock up on munchies was going to be required.

So, in case you haven’t worked it out yet, the film I went to see was Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (or eighth, if you count Kill Bill Parts 1 and 2 as one film, which I don’t), Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

Now, I love Tarantino films, but I had realised I hadn’t actually been to the cinema to see one since Jackie Brown back in 1997.

And I’ve still not seen his last film, The Hateful Eight, at all, despite it having been in My List on Netflix for at least a year now. Well, I’ve seen the first twenty minutes or so, before I got bored as nothing had happened, bar Jennifer Jason Leigh getting punched in the face a couple of the times, which didn’t really float my boat, if I’m honest.

I’d read nothing but good reviews of QT’s latest offering though, so I figured it was about time I reacquainted myself with his works. I read an article which ranked his other films, and I was shocked to see that on said list Reservior Dogs and Pulp Fiction weren’t #1 and #2. (I’ve searched for the article again in advance of writing this, to confirm what was, but I can’t find it and can’t remember what they chose as #1, but whatever it was, they were wrong: how can any review of Tarantino’s films not conclude that those two films are his finest (interchangeable positions, I must admit)…?

So I watched Reservoir Dogs again last weekend, and it still stands up. There were a couple of things I noticed this time around – and it’s great I can watch a film which I first saw back in the early 1990s, have watched many times since, and still notice new things about it now – is the sound. Set predominantly in a disused warehouse as it is, I loved the echoey speech, and that you can hear better what someone is saying the closer the camera gets to him (they’re all “hims”, there are no female characters in Reservoir Dogs, we’ll come on to that later); also the many scenes where several conversations are taking place and you can focus in on any one of them, dip in and out, and yet nobody is trampling on anyone else’s lines.

Recently, I’d posited to a couple of people – my brother, some people at work – that people of a certain age must be really confused by adverts for motor insurance which feature Harvey Keitel dressed only in a tuxedo, a dodgy tache and a Noo Yoik accent. To folks of my generation, it’s clear: he’s reprising his role as Mr Wolf, the Mafia fixer from Pulp Fiction, only now he sees an insurance-related issue and he fixes that. But anyone who hasn’t seen Pulp Fiction must be looking at those ads thinking: “Who’s this guy? Why is he dressed like that, and why does he like his coffee with lots of cream and lots of sugar?”

Take my parents (please!). They have never seen a Tarantino film, and that’s fine because I don’t think many of them are the sort of film they would enjoy. My brother and I discussed letting them watch one: it can’t be Reservoir Dogs, as my father can’t stand the sight of blood, and there’s a lot of it in that one. And in pretty much all of them. Except Pulp Fiction. I mean, there’s a bit in Pulp Fiction, but not lots. Not main-character-shot-in-the-stomach-in-the-second-scene-and-left-to-bleed-out-on-a-ramp-in-a-disused-warehouse-for-the-rest-of-the-film-while-somebody-else-gets-their-ear-cut-off amount of blood, but there’s a bit.

Someone else I mentioned this to said: “What about the whole Zed and the anal rape scene?” I shrugged; they may wince, but I reckon they’ll be alright with that.

Mum, Dad: our Christmas viewing is sorted.

There is very little blood split in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, and I’m not sure if it’s wrong for me to wish there was.

Ok, so avoiding any spoilers, here’s the plot: it’s 1969 (a bloody good year) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fading TV star, forever filming pilots which never get picked up, or making one-off appearances in other people’s shows, playing the baddie, and getting his ass royally whupped.

Throughout life he is accompanied by Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) – note, not Clint Boon, or that would have been a very different film – his stuntman, although it soon becomes perfectly obvious that Booth no longer gets any fall guy work, he is essentially Dalton’s driver, his go-fer, his rent-a-buddy.

This is made clear by a scene which has no purpose whatsoever, except to show that Booth will indeed climb up on to a roof to repair Dalton’s TV aerial, and in the process take his shirt off.

Dalton is approached by a new agent, Marvin Shwarz (Al Pacino), who thinks Dalton would be perfect for the burdgeoning spaghetti Western scene in Italy, and wants him to fly out and give it a try.

Dalton fears this is a sign that he is washed-up, and so takes a part in another Western, desperate to prove his acting chops. Which he does, and then takes the Itaian lira anyway.

And that takes up pretty much all of the first two hours.

Mixed up with that is the incidental news that Dalton lives in a prefab just outside the walls of director Roman Polanski’s gated apartment, where he lives with his young wife Sharon Tate.

Now, anyone of my age probably knows how this pans out. Any moment now, a character called Charles Manson will appear and this could get interesting. And sure enough, there he is, goofing up to the Polanski residence, ostensibly looking for a couple of the Wilson Beach Boys.

And that’s the last we see of Manson.

But we’ll shy away from that for a moment, and concentrate on Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. Quite simply: she’s not in it enough. She has three big scenes:

  1. She arrives at a party and dances. This scene is only there so that Steve McQueen, played by Damian Lewis… (?!?!), can explain to us/his associate/us the relationship between Tate/Polanski/Jay Sebring (Tate’s ex).

2. She visits a movie theatre which is showing a movie she is in with Dean Martin, and asks the cashier if she can come in for free as she’s in the film;

3. The end scene, which I won’t spoil for you.

Sure, she pops up in the film every now and then, generally greeting people with a hug, but Robbie is criminally underused. The scene where she watches herself on screen in the cinema (sorry, a spoiler: she gets let in) is an absolute joy; she giggles and nervously looks around to assess the audience’s reaction, before relaxing, kicking her shoes off, and putting her feet on the backs of the seat in front.

Robbie absolutely nails the few scenes she’s in, and she should have been in more. But that’s the problem with Tarantino films: he ain’t that great at writing female characters.

Those first two hours really could have been edited down and still explain the Dalton/Booth dynamic and give Robbie more to do, but hey ho, what do I know, I’m not a millionaire film director.

And that’s another issue with Tarantino: given carte blanche, nobody is reigning him in. That’s why Kill Bill is spread over two parts and that’s why Once Upon A Time… could have been cut to around the two hour mark and nobody would have complained. I hear rumours that there is a nine-hour version which I won’t be watching.

The other truly great scene is when Pitt’s character (Booth) picks up an underage hitch-hiker and gives her a lift to where she squats with her Family, on a disused film-lot where Booth used to work, and knows the guy who still owns it.

It’s a genuinely tense 20-30 or so minutes (or so it seemed) as it becomes apparant that he has wandered into the home of The Family, the group which Charles Manson assembled around him, and for a while there’s a brooding feeling that something is about to happen – and since this is a Tarantino film, it probably ain’t gonna be too pretty.

No spoilers.

If you follow Tarantino films – and if you do then you’ve probably already seen this, so I won’t be spoiling it for you – I’d place Once Upon A Time… in the same bracket as his WWII flick Inglorious Basterds in that it’s an historical film based in reality, where rather than show how things did pan out he posits an alternative reality where what we know happens doesn’t. And while the alternative is, in typical Tarantino style, quite brutal and unpleasant, I’m not sure it’s any less pleasant than what actually happened.

And then there’s the music.

I’ve written before about how songs used in films can almost become an additional character.

Nowadays, if you hear the George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag or Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You, chances are you’ll be reminded of Reservoir Dogs.

Similarly, hear Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ Misirlou or Dusty Springfield’s Son Of A Preacher Man or even Urge Overkill’s version of the Neil Diamond gem Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon or Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell and if you’ve seen Pulp Fiction then the scenes they appear in become your immediate frame of reference.

And although Once Upon A Time… has a great soundtrack the same won’t happen. It sounds kinda forced to me, like knowing the commercial possibilities of a Tarantino-soundtrack, he tries to cram as much in as possible. But none of the songs really latch on, take hold, in the film in the way that they were allowed to in his older movies. The songs are clearly a soundtrack, rather than an integral part of of the movie as they were back in the …Dogs and …Fiction days.

What I mean is this: on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack, dead-pan, existenstial one-liner comedy God Steven Wright plays the DJ, and it’s brilliant. There’s the same on the Once Upon A Time… soundtrack (and I know, I bought it before I saw the film) only now it’s not Wright it’s just a radio jock, and thus half of the appeal is broken. And in the film, not one song is given enough time or space to take hold, to really get a grip in the way that they’d been allowed to in his older films, so whilst the songs are still great, they become forgettable in the context.

In twenty years time, I won’t be hearing Deep Purple’s Hush and saying: “Oh yeh, this is the bit in the film where they drive around for a bit and then park.”

These songs are all in the film, are all brilliant, but literally blink (or whatever the not-listening equivalent is) and you’ll miss them:

Roy Head & The Traits – Treat Her Right

Deep Purple – Hush

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Hungry

Buchanan Brothers – Son of a Lovin’ Man

José Feliciano – California Dreamin’

Neil Diamond – Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

In summary: I liked, but it was a bit long and the ending (after the bloody ending) sucked.

More soon.

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