‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’

It’s loud, bombastic, funny, gruesome and enormously entertaining. In other words, a true Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) feature.

An excellent Brad Pitt (Twelve Years a Slave, Moneyball) as an out-of-work stunt double to best mate, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant, Titanic), himself a washed-up TV star from 15 years earlier looking to make a career in the movies, meanders through 1969 Tinseltown in the lead up to the Manson Family murder of fledgling star, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie – I Tonya, Suicide Squad). Only Tarantino being Tarantino, he subverts that particular storyline.

It may not be his best, but an arguably overlong Once Upon a Time is Tarantino’s wistful love-letter to the 60s, Hollywood and American pop culture. And, in spite of that underlying storyline and gruesome violence, it’s remarkably tender.

Rating 83%

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‘The Keeper’

Enjoyable if slight bio of Bert Trautmann, a German POW on English soil who, against all odds, became a legendary sporting hero in England itself.

David Kross (The Reader, War Horse) is the lead as, with the help of local grocer Jack Friar (John Henshaw – Stan & Ollie, The Angels’ Share) and his daughter, Margaret (Freya Mavor – The Sense of an Ending, Sunshine on Leith), Trautmann gets time off from the post-war internment camp and becomes the goalkeeper for the local St Helens football club. Scouts soon arrive and, just three years after the end of the war, Trautmann is controversially signed by Manchester City.

It takes time to win the fans over – and Trautmann faced a great deal of abuse from opposing fans when travelling to other cities – but the famed 1956 Wembley FA Cup Final with Manchester City playing Birmingham City ensured that the German ‘keeper entered the annals of footballing history.

No risks are taken by director Marcus H Rossenmueller (Grave Decisions, The Colour of Mother-of-Pearl) in telling this straightforward story of a man who overcame public hostility to become a local hero (with more than a little help from his wife, Margaret).

Rating: 61%

‘Under the Silver Lake’

An odd, overlong, meandering thriller as Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spiderman, Hackshaw Ridge) searches LA for the woman living in the same apartment building who suddenly disappears.

It’s all a little too contrived and self-conscious to hit the neo noir bizarre button writer/director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover, It Follows) is searching for as the ordinary but likeable Garfield finds himself way out of his depth. It always looks good but even the occasional inspirational moment fails to lift Under the Silver Lake above boring.

Rating: 40%

‘Happy as Lazzaro’

Reminiscent of the Italian social realist films of the 1960s (and Pasolini in particular), Happy as Lazzaro is a beautiful yet odd allegory as the saintlike innocence of the young farmworker (debutant Adriano Tardiolo) – as with the film itself – initially charms but slowly grates.

An isolated tobacco estate (possibly in the 1970s/80s) sees the wealthy landowning family exploit its workers to levels of (illegal) feudalism, keeping them in permanent debt and ignorance of the world outside. Lazzaro forms an unlikely bond with the landowning son, Tancredi.

But a sudden shift by director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, Corpo Celeste) sees her film head in a very different and unexpected direction. Lazzaro remains essentially unchanged – but the world around him is very different (to say more would give too much away).

The first half of an overlong film is gorgeously shot and socially real (the opening scene of virtual darkness with voices negotiating the use of the only electric lightbulb followed by an extraordinarily subdued wedding ceremony is stunning) that slips sadly into mundane obscurity.

Rating: 54%

‘Parasite’

Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2019 (as well as best film at the Sydney Film Festival), Parasite is a splendidly anarchic dark comedy about social divides and love of money.

As dirt-poor Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song – Snowpiercer, The Age of Shadows) and his family struggle to survive, an opportunity for his son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi – Okja, Train to Busan), to teach English at the wealthy Parks’ home leads to a scam that goes tragically wrong.

Director Joon-ho Bong (Okja, Snowpiercer) mixes humour, slapstick, drama, gore and suspense to masterful effect in his love of sociopolitical commentaries (Snowpiercer, anyone?) ably supported by a cast that excels.

Rating: 80%

‘Never Look Away’

A rambling, occasionally insightful and thoughtful but ultimately superficial exploration of art and life, Werk Ohne Autor (Work Without Author, a much more appropriate title) follows artist Kurt Barnert (loosely based on Gerhard Richter) from his Dresden childhood at the end of World War II, the social realism of the GDR to free expression in the west via the Dusseldorf Academy.

Haunted by the loss of his beloved young aunt under the Nazis, frustrated by the artistic restrictions of the east, confused in 1960s West Germany under the tutelage of a modernist professor (a thinly veiled fictional Joseph Beuys) and a bullying, interfering father-in-law, Barnert (Tom Schilling – Oh Boy, Crazy) plods on regardless. It’s all a bit of a slog (188 minutes!) that lacks the magic of director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s superb Oscar-winning The Lives of Others. But, having said that, Never Look Away remains readily watchable.

Rating: 54%

‘Wild Rose’

A raw, uncompromising performance by Jessie Buckley (Beast, TV’s Taboo) as wannabe successful country singer Rose-Lynn is the reason to see Wild Rose. Her attitude sucks but her voice soars as, fresh out of prison, she looks to her career rather than her two kids housed with gran (Julie Waters – Mamma Mia, Harry Potter) in a Glasgow council house.

It’s a feel-good movie as Rose-Lynn ultimately finds herself via a few home truths, the wealthy home of Sophie Okonedo (The Secret Life of Bees, Hotel Rwanda) and Nashville – but director Tom Harper (War Book, The Scouting Book for Boys) offers a mostly contrived little story of tearful redemption.

Great soundtrack though!

Rating: 60%

‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

A confusingly claimed final instalment of the two-decade franchise, Dark Phoenix is something of a boring, anticlimactic mess.

The end of the prequels (set in the 1990s where the original X-Men first stepped in) sees a few changes to the storylines of future and past as Jean Grey (Sophie Turner – X-Men: Apocalypse, TV’s Game of Thrones) comes to terms with her mutation and a corrupting power that turns her into a Dark Phoenix. The rest of the team need to reach her before the alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) taps into that power and brings destruction to mankind.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult et al are all ever present as our favourite mutants – but in writer/director Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut, all have little input as Jean goes on the rampage, angered as she is by McAvoy and his blocking of her truth of the car-accident that killed her parents.

Rating: 40%

‘Red Joan’

An old-fashioned spy tale (based on a true story) as Judi Dench (Skyfall, Notes on a Scandal) is arrested for treason – some 50 years after the passing of nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

Set predominately in the 1940s (the young Dench is nicely played by Sophie Cookson – Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Huntsman: Winter’s War), solid performances and an intriguing insight into the oft-overlooked role women played in wartime fail to mask a somewhat dull, inert and dreary telling. Cambridge University was a hotbed for leftwing politics in the 30s and 40s, but a rare foray onto the silver screen by acclaimed stage director Trevor Nunn fails to bring one iota of spark to the intrigue.

Rating: 48%

‘Rocketman’

The rise of Elton John into pop superstardom is a magical, visual fantasy of a musical biopic – with a stand out performance by Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle).

Addiction (alcohol, cocaine, sex) battles are writ large in director Dexter Fletcher’s (Sunshine on Leith, Eddie the Eagle) telling of the early days of success as a shy and withdrawn Reggie Dwight evolves into the flamboyant Elton John. And whilst there’s no claim for Rocketman to be a true telling, the solid foundation to the tale is provided by the long-term friendship with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool).

Inevitable comparisons with last year’s Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody aside, a slow, family-life start in the outer London suburb of Pinner kicks into life with the screen arrival of Egerton. His look and mannerisms are uncanny, his singing excellent – and whilst Rocketman generally avoids providing any real depth to the man himself, it is entertainment with a capital E.

Rating: 65%