ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD***** Masterpiece


Without any doubt, this has got to be seen as Tarantino’s masterpiece (aided and abetted by a barnstorming performance by Leonardo Di Caprio). It’s his loving homage to the Hollywood when TV hits such as Rawhide evolved into the Spaghetti Westerns, when Bruce Lee was Kato in the Green Hornet, and Steve McQueen mesmerised the world in The Great Escape.

Tarantino decorates his story with every neon-flashing icon of that past era to give the film an almost documentary feel. These are the touches of reality, there to coax our suspension of disbelief; to suggest that what we’re seeing is a bio pic of a famous – and real- star, while at the same time reminding us that it’s just a story; just a piece of fiction that all happened ”once upon a time…”

The story – a buddy movie at its heart – centres around the symbiotic relationship between Rick Dalton (Di Caprio as a famous TV star on the verge of a nervous breakdown) and his stunt double and alter ego, Cliff (a laconic Brad Pitt), a man who, as he admits, carries Dalton’s “[emotional] load”. It’s a juxtaposition of calm reserve (Pitt) and burning emotion (Di Caprio).

It’s a relationship that, on its most obvious level, allows Tarantino the freedom to explore the tension between pretence (Di Caprio is pretending to be Rick Dalton who pretends to be the typical Hollywood tough guy) and reality (Chris is an actual tough guy; tough enough to beat Bruce Lee).

The reality that is facing Rick is that his star is dimming, his confidence rapidly ebbing away and he’s drinking too much. As is pointed out to him by a sleazy producer (Al Pacino), Rick Dalton, the hero, is being replaced by Rick Dalton the bad guy; not the guy who wins the fights, but the one who loses them. Soon, he’s told, the good guy Rick turned bad guy Rick will become the has been Rick. Just who then is the real Rick Dalton?

The movie’s emotional high point comes as Rick, tutored about authenticity in performance by an innocent child actor (a wonderful Julia Butters, of whom I’m sure we’ll be hearing more), suffers a breakdown and confronts himself in his trailer. The confrontation yields the movie’s central truth: in the same way that art shapes its own reality, Rick must shape his. The actor needs to define himself and be defined by the integrity of his performance and not by the characters he’s pretending to be.

This, in Tarantino’s telling, is the real tragedy of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), here seen as an almost unreal person. She’s a glassy-eyed, ever happy, ditsy blonde who exists, even in her own eyes, only as a projection of a character in a B movie. “Stand next to the poster of your movie” she’s requested by a fan with a camera, “That way people will know who you are”

And the Rick Dalton people will come to remember blossoms in the typical bloody Tarantino catharsis at the end, when Dalton the man channels his tough guy performances in an exorcism of flaming savagery.

Pretence, reality, truth, fiction…Tarantino knits them all together cleverly, delightfully. The themes are serious and ‘heavy’ but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, fun movie. There is genuine chemistry between Pitt and Di Caprio; there are moments of real tension and menace and the director clearly had great fun ‘gossiping’ about the Hollywood of his invention. Cool guy Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) is seen as a bitchy, spurned (by Tate) lover. Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) is positioned as just another self obsessed, faux tough guy. Dalton’s break out moment comes in a movie being directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond), the director whose drive gave London its Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. And the story niftily splices in Di Caprio as McQueen into The Great Escape and Robbie into a scene with Dean Martin (in The Wrecking Ball).

It could have been shorter. Some of the scenes of Rick Dalton’s movies drag on unnecessarily long; and the first fifteen minutes seem to drift.

But if anyone has earned to right to a bit of movie magic self indulgence, its Quentin Tarantino. So, for this masterpiece, he certainly deserves to be indulged.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Dir/Writer: Quentin Tarantino. With: Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley (Novitiate) Julia Butters (Transparent) Mike Moh (Inhumans). Cinematographer: Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight, World War Z, Django Unchanged), Production designer: Barbara Ling (Batman and Robin)

 

FAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAW*** Faster, Furiouser, Foolisher


Count them well. Not simply your blessings (if you’ve been lucky enough to have avoided squandering multiple hours viewing this movie), but the number of heavy thudded blows given and received. I counted just over 2 billion, or the same number of £ our impoverished government will squander on preparing for October’s Brexit self harm.

This count is important as the F&F gang (Stratham, Johnson, Diesel et al) all have contracts that stipulate just how many blows they’re contractually allowed to give and receive No kidding! You see, none of these big bad men are allowed to be seen to have lost a fight to any of the other big bad men (even to Iris Elba who’s a cyborg).

They are after all mega-brands, like Coke. And brands never lose. So while Coke promises its unique kind of burpy happiness, the Diesel/Johnson/Stratham brand promise uber tough guyness. You’ll never be allowed to ever see any of them out for the count. On that you can count.
Just don’t count on this sub brand version of mega brand F&F to be anything less loud and awesomely dumb.

That said, it takes a lot of gutsy coordination (all those big trucks in one place), daredevil stunt-work and really pretty damn never-stopping kinetic directing (from David Leitch) to deliver this much firepower. That has to be admired.

The plot centres on the…do you really care?

If you do, go see it, you’ll love it. Let me count the ways.

If you don’t, then at least it also has Vanessa Kirby, who, once she stopped being Princess Margaret (from The Crown) has whupped Ethan Hunt and who’s emerged as the sexiest badass since Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel and Gabriel Union (the feisty mom from Breaking In) and Daisy Ridley and of so many others.

But who’s counting?

 

FAST 7 FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAW. Dir: David Leitch (Deadpool 2; Atomic Blonde). With: Jason Stratham, Dwayne Johnson, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Helen Mirren, Eddie Marsden, Ryan Reynolds (uncredited). Writers (really? It took two of them?): Chris Morgan (Fast and Furious. The whole lot of them), Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3). Cinematographer: Jonathan Sela (Transformers: the Last Knight). Production designer: David Scheunemann (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde)

 

Stockholm Syndrome****


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In a world blighted by walls, at last a city blessed with bridges. Copenhagen is a city of fourteen islands, threaded together by a network of bridges

So the water (part lake, part sea) that links them is a very active place. Small craft, large yachts, tourist clippers, dinghies, canoes. You name it. (A long way away from ferocious Viking craft!)

Here’s one beautifully recovered ruin: the Vasa, an early 17th century vessel that sank on its maiden voyage (because they crammed more guns on it than it could balance. Tells you something either about guns or balance)

But marine engines use some of the dirtiest oils. Hmm. Not so eco-Sweden as we’d expect. At least cars are as rare as traffic jams. Instead, you’ll find buses, trams, bicycles…

and these weird electric scooters

Each island (based on our visit of about three!) seems to have its own national character, from the government and historic centre of Gamla Stan to the boring town centre (Norrmalm) to Djurgarden which is one huge museum

And Fjaderholmarna (easily accessible after a 25 minute boat ride) where the Swedes all flock to on a sunny day to inhale their annual limit of vitamin D (and where others can enjoy good food with great views). Swedes seem to come in two sizes: the too many beers for too many years. And goddesses fed on Absolut ambrosia

Even on the mainland you can bump into little beaches like this one. We were in search of lunch and a drink. On a Monday. Spectacular failure.

Easy cruising past the houses that grace the banks of the lake. The Swedish version of social housing. Not.

Copenhagen has a very distinct colour palette. The buildings are pretty much all yellow ochre, with red wooden panels and black roofs. It makes for very easy paint stocking in the shops. It’s indoors where they go wild. Light yellow ochre. Sometimes even white walls. These crazy Swedes

And art is everywhere. Every corner has something that’ll make you stop and wonder just what has this place done to seem to have gotten “it” (the safety, the cleanliness, the nice bars and good food, the social services) so right.

No wonder we’ve got Stockholm syndrome