Review: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are established stars of the Tarantino empire and have made another corker with his 9th film. Is it his 9th? You have to count Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2 as one long epic, and remember that even though the Hateful Eight felt like it was 19 hours long, it was still only the one film. The director has repeatedly said that he only ever planned to make 10, so the pressure’s building to go out with a bang.

It’s 1969, Charles Manson is on the loose, Roman Polanski’s still a welcome neighbour and the Hollywood bubble is thriving in Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor fading out of his 30s and his cinematic heyday, with Brad Pitt as his put-upon sidekick/stuntman/driver/dogsbody Cliff Booth.

Rick is known for a 50’s cowboy TV show and as the film starts the series has come to an end so Rick is on the hunt for his next job. His flavour of dashing leading man is no longer in vogue and increasingly typecast as the villain in one-off shows and movies, Rick looks to Europe and the booming spaghetti western scene. Cliff’s career follows Rick’s, albeit in a less fortunate way. Cliff does as he’s told, travels in economy class and patiently tags along, accompanied by his faithful hound Brandy. Cliff and Brandy live in an out-of-the-way trailer, which is a far cry from Rick’s gated community mansion in the Hollywood hills where Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate are new neighbours Rick hopes to befriend to help boost his fading stardom.

There are snippets of life on set and their past filmmaking experiences, including an on-set brawl between Cliff and Bruce Lee and Rick’s encounter with a wise-before-her-time child star. We’re given some wonderful flashbacks to films he’s auditioned for and starred in, including an alternative version of a 60’s classic and one where he tackles Nazis with a flame-thrower. Like the Machete trailer in the Grindhouse double-feature, part of me hopes that we could one day see the rest of the film, although I’m afraid Tarantino might just have shown us the ending.

Once Upon A Time… skips between the big story and the small and inconsequential in a familiar way if you’ve seen any of Tarantino’s previous 8 films. Rick and Cliff chew the fat when they’re driving in a way that has a very similar feel to the ‘royale with cheese’ conversation in Pulp Fiction and the bursts of violence at the ranch and in the climactic scenes yell Tarantino’s name. He clearly isn’t squeamish about subjecting younger, female characters to the same kind of nastiness we’ve more often seen his leading men dole out to each other. He might not be squeamish about it, but I found the dynamic of those fight scenes quite difficult to watch.

If you don’t know what happened when the Manson family met Sharon Tate, you can probably ignore the departure from reality, but I’m torn about it being an alternative history when the real things that happened were so terrible. Injecting new characters on the edges of a real-life story is one thing, but then changing how that story plays out made me uneasy. I’ve read that it could be seen as a way of paying homage to Tate, a way of wishing away the truth, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s a bit of a self-indulgent fantasy on Tarantino’s part.

Misgivings aside, I enjoyed the Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. It’s long, but checking back I’m surprised it’s as long as 160 minutes. Hollywood glamour on the cusp of the 70s, the flash cars and constant sunshine set the backdrop for an immersive ride. If it’s really to be Tarantino’s penultimate film, it lives up to his catalogue so far and sets an exciting tone for a blow-out number 10.

Hannah Bingle

Pain and Glory (Spain, 2019)

Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo and Asier Etxeandia as Alberto

Pedro Almodóvar is a man of many stories. I find his vivid blend of heroism, tragedy and flashes of utter absurdity a heady combination. His films have spanned grand themes and domestic oddities, drugged gazpacho and heroin dealing, tiger owning nuns, but this time the spotlight shines back at the director himself. Or rather, it shines at the idea of ‘the Director’; Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker whose ill health, the significant anniversary of one of his early movies and an encounter with a former friend cause him to review his life and works. Mallo’s life unfolds for the audience, encompassing a childhood with his mother (played by Penelope Cruz), his early career and first loves, through a series of flashbacks and reflections.

It seems almost unavoidable to consider this film as something of a self portrait; Banderas’ appearance is grizzled with a dandelion clock of hair similar to Almodóvar’s own, he reportedly wore the director’s clothes during filming – parts of which even took place in his own Madrid apartment. We have more than a few hints then that Mallo might be a version of the director himself. Almodóvar has shrugged off comparisons at interview, saying he wouldn’t write or direct an autobiographical work, but it feels unlikely that the similarities are entirely coincidental.

There’s a lot to look forward to here. At Cannes this year, Banderas won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Mallo and Alberto Iglesias (another frequent Almodóvar collaborator, having worked on Volver (2006) and Julieta (2016) amongst others) won the award for Best Soundtrack. Cruz and Banderas are giants of Spanish cinema who’ve made the leap into Hollywood and both keep one foot squarely in Europe. While the pair feature in different timelines in this film, it’ll be a treat to see them on screen together – something that hasn’t happened since their brief cameos in 2013’s Los Amantes Pasajeros (I’m So Excited!). I hope that the actors’ transatlantic popularity can help to bring a wider audience than existing fans to the intense visual feast of an Almodóvar picture. If you’ve not seen any of his work to date, hunt out Volver (2006) featuring Penelope Cruz returning from the dead, try Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (1989), a dark domestic comedy with Carmen Maura and The Skin I Live In (2011) where Banderas is a sinister Dr Frankenstein-esque character haunted by his past.

On top of the Cannes gongs, there are rumours of other nominations for Pain and Glory, with reviewers describing Banderas’ performance as ‘career defining’ and the role he was ‘born to play’. I’m convinced and can’t wait to see it.

Pain and Glory will be showing at the Picture House from Friday.


Hannah Bingle

Notorious (UK 1946)

 

Alicia Huberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) behaviour is NOTORIOUS.

Has she had enough to drink? “The important drinking hasn’t started yet.”

“You can add Sebastian’s name to my list of playmates”

And personally I wouldn’t trust her as my chauffeuse!

So what’s on the menu of this excellent melodrama? For a start it includes some dodgy fare … burnt chicken, indigestible wine and adulterated coffee. And you’ll find a heady stew of manipulation and blackmail, disappointment  and murder, all seasoned with occasional expressions of trust and openness to love.

T.R. Devlin(Cary Grant) is a government agent aiming to infiltrate a group of Nazis who fled Germany for Brazil after World War 2. The setting is Rio de Janeiro in 1946. Essentially, Notorious is a Hitchcockian romance highlighting tensions between feelings of love and duty, which rivals Michael Curtiz’s film Casablanca (1942) for style and entertainment. The script, acting, screenplay and photography all showcase director Alfred Hitchcock at his best. If you are quick you can even see Hitchcock quaffing a glass of champagne just over an hour into the film.

Alicia: This is a very strange love affair.
Devlin: Why?
Alicia: Maybe the fact that you don’t love me.
Despite this, there is an extended kiss, the longest on screen at the time. In the 1930s Hollywood had introduced the Hays Motion Picture Production Code which dictated strict rules to writers and directors about permissible limits to lovemaking, immorality and vulgarity in their films. For example, in love scenes women had to have at least one foot on the ground at all times, and kisses could only last three seconds. Hitchcock got around the last one by having the lovers kiss for three seconds, stop, say a few words, kiss again, walk for a little bit and then kiss again, for a total of two and a half minutes. See the results for yourself!

Another psychological element is Alex Sebastian’s (Claude Rains) intriguing relationship with his mother, Anna Sebastain (Leopoldine Konstantin).

Madame Sebastian to her son: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity … for a time”.

Maybe I should have mentioned that Alex is also in love with Alicia …

So get along to the Picture House to see this iconic film at 2pm this August Bank Holiday Monday.


Bill Walton

Yorkshire Day: Sculpture On Screen

Thursday 1st August 6:15pm

Yorkshire Day

Our Yorkshire Day screening this year is a special programme of films, showing as part of Yorkshire Sculpture International, celebrating some of the regions most famous sculptors.

Tickets are free for all members/friends.

Damien Hirst: Thoughts, Work, Life (2012) was directed and edited by BAFTA award winner Chris King (Senna) and features an exclusive interview with the artist, and rare early archive footage and stills.

Figures in Landscape (1953) is a poetic portrait of sculptor Barbara Hepworth and the otherworldly Cornish landscapes which inspired her.

Henry Moore Recollections of A Yorkshire Childhood (1981) is a documentary, taken from the Yorkshire Film Archive, of Moore looking back at his childhood, aged 83. And a previously unseen clip from Henry Moore on Film (1971) shows the sculptor at work – made available to screen thanks to the Frank & John Farnham Archive and the Henry Moore Foundation.

Too Late To Die Young/Tarde Para Morir Joven (Chile*, 2018)

Tuesday Wonder 30th July 6:30pm.Children on bikes

The second feature film from Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, it was released with great acclaim at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival in August 2018 where Sotomayor Castillo was recognised as the  first female winner of the festival’s Best Direction Award.

It’s December 1989, the Pinochet government has recently fallen and Chile is holding its breath through a tinder-box summer. Sofía (Demian Hernández) is a teenager working out her place in her close-knit and newly-established agricultural community that is finding its feet on the cusp of the new year. The heat of the summer and the boil of teenage frustration is tangible as Sofía, her siblings and the adults who surround them attempt to settle into their new lives and prepare for the village’s new year celebrations. We see the families building their homes, raising their animals and testing the political dynamics of their new settlement while their children explore the forest (which holds a spectacular tree house), and their relationships with each other. Village life is largely unhurried and inward-looking and it becomes clear that the adults have as little clue as the teenagers when it comes to making new lives in the countryside. The events following the party force the community to confront their place in nature and face the reality of summer in the wilderness.

In casting, Sotomayor Castillo included a handful of professional actors but sourced the larger part of the cast – including Sofía and all of the children’s roles – from the community where the film was shot. Portions of the dialogue are improvised, giving an authentic tone to the domestic scenes.

Like the Italian summer in Call Me By Your Name (2017), Too Late to Die Young has a definite date but there’s a hazy, languid quality to the piece that means it could be placed in any year of a decade. The director herself has pointed out in interviews that the soundtrack features music audible to the characters that wasn’t released until years after the film is set. The themes of finding one’s place in the world, the unsettling changes of teenager-hood and the contrast of local politics with national turmoil have played out over and again in film, but Too Late To Die Young explores these organically and sensitively, keeping a distance between the viewer and the characters that means we don’t learn their every thought.

This film has to be seen at the cinema for the enormity of the landscape alone. You might think you’ve had enough of the hot weather after the last week, but there’s a certain magic to flooding your senses with a summer viewed from the cool, dark safety of the picture house that you won’t want to miss.

Too Late to Die Young screens at the Picture House at 6:30 on Tuesday, 30th of July.
*Chile/Brazil/Argentina/Netherlands, 2018, 110mins, Cert.15


Hannah Bingle

One Giant Leap

Screenings celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landingApollo 11

With the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings this year, filmmakers across the world have been endeavoring to tell their interpretation of the events that led the human race to make one small step for [a] man. First, Damien Chazelle brought us the underwhelming First Man towards the end of 2018. Despite a career defining score from Justin Hurwitz and breathtaking Apollo sequences, the focus on flat character drama drew away from the best elements of the film – the awe, wonder and danger of the missions themselves. For a more gripping take, it may be worth checking out documentary: Armstrong, coming to the picture house this weekend (Sat 3pm, Sun 1:15pm). It’s a must-see film for anyone who wants to look behind the curtain to see the true story of a quiet man’s journey from rural Ohio to taking the first steps on the moon.

There’s one more screening at the Picture House of the unmissable Apollo 11 (Wed 24th 1:20pm) . It’s clear from the start that this is the definitive moon landing film. Using stunning remastered footage from 1969 alongside a score rendered only using techniques from the same decade; Apollo 11 fully transports you back in time. For those familiar with the rhythms and beats of the famous journey already you can rest assured that this film will bring you something new. The film is so effective in its storytelling power that you feel tension and mystery at every moment. Will the eagle make its landing? Of course, it will, we know that. But somehow, I found myself questioning the facts I knew to be true every step of the way. The film is by no means perfect – sometimes overdramatic while at other points slowing down to focus on what feels like trivialities. But by the time that Mother Country starts playing on Buzz Aldrin’s tape deck none of that matters. The USS Hornet comes into view and we know that despite absurd odds, an American dream came true.

Keep a look out for Apollo 11 in the documentary category in awards season. It’s currently the frontrunner in the category with Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona just behind.


Callum Isaac

Bill's Films of 2019 (So far)

Five films that stick in my mind, in no particular order:

Loro (Them)

A very stylish Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Toni Servillo as Silvio Berlusconi. This is the ultimate cinema-goer’s guide to bunga-bunga parties, ostentation and (alleged … to protect me from the mafia 😎 ) corruption in Italian politics. It’s surely no coincidence that l’oro is Italian for gold.

Foxtrot

Director Samuel Moaz. A powerful anti war film set in a remote military outpost where four soldiers are spending their military service in the Israeli Defence Forces. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos. Great fun with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in C18 England. I doubt that Queen Anne would approve. A positive F-rating (highlighting what women contribute to film) for lead characters, and writer Deborah Davis (co-writer with Tony McNamara).

RBG

A documentary about American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What a woman! What a career! Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen also score highly on the F-rating.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on the James Baldwin novel, directed by Barry Jenkins. A well told struggle for life and a struggle for justice in 1970’s New York.

 

So once again the Picture House has offered us a great variety of films from around the world. And I didn’t even mention Burning (South Korea), or Happy as Lazzaro (Italy).


Bill Walton

Come to the AGM

We’d really like to see more of you at the AGM on Sunday 16th June. Not only is it a great chance to find out what’s been happening at the cinema over the last year, there’s also free food and a screening of Let The Right One In in memory of our former Chair Peter Chandley who passed away late last year.

Our constitution requires 10% of the membership (around 70) to be present in order to vote on anything. We may not have any big decisions to make this year but if we don’t have a quorum another meeting will have to be arranged and we’d rather spend our time working towards our charitable aims.

Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)

Showing in memory of Peter Chandley as part of our 2019 AGM
Sunday 16th June: AGM 1pm,  Film 3:30pm
Let The Right One In

This work of art is a romance … a love story, but with vampires. The clue is in the title. Vampires must be invited in before they can safely enter someone’s home. But Let the Right One In is not simply a story of vampires, or a fresh take on serial killing. The film opens with Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) exclaiming : “Squeal like a pig. So, squeal.” Our film tells a story of loneliness, of being picked on, of seeking revenge; and also of acceptance, loyalty and friendship.

Our backdrop is a snowy suburb of Stockholm in 1982. The locals cope with the desolation, freezing temperatures and the absence of sunshine through companionship, shots of alcohol, and Swedish humour. Lacke (Peter Carlberg): Thank you again for another evening steeped in merriment and friendship. Let the Right One In is a story told in pictures rather than words. You will discover that not everything is as it seems in the suburb of Blackeberg. Our film is also a story about identity, mortality, and sacrifice. The title’s English translation from the Swedish original is taken from lyrics to the song “Let the Right One Slip In” by Morrissey. And this sentiment applies to both love and dreams. While the film has a wintry backdrop a little red or orange colour creeps into most scenes. Expect surprises!

The central characters are Oskar and Eli (Lina Leandersson). Theirs is a beautifully acted, poignant relationship that seems to raise more questions than answers. We see humour and sensitivity. But underneath, is that a dark and dysfunctional friendship or a demonstration of love and interdependence? Are Oskar and Eli two sides of the same coin? Is there a barrier between them?

The end of Let the Right One In leaves us to ponder the future. Is anything resolved? Have we seen a happy ending? The film gives food for thought. Let the Right One In has won many awards for direction (director Tomas Alfredson), cinematography, acting and screenplay. John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote the screenplay which is adapted from his novel.

The Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House are screening this film in memory of Peter Chandley. Until his death late last year Peter was the Chair of the Friends, and we are indebted to him for the part he played in saving the cinema from closure in the 1980’s. Peter was an enthusiast for films like Let the Right One In. We hope you can join us.

The film forms part of the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House on Sunday 16th June and both are free for members. It’s really important that we get at least 70 people to attend in order to be quorate so please try and make it along if you can.


Bill Walton