Once Upon A Time In Hollywood -Tarantino’s Fairy Tale Triumph

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Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, is his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it.

It almost feels glib to make such a bald, bland statement about this often breathtakingly complex work, but if this is to be his penultimate movie (and his tenth and final film will be “epilogue-y” as the director recently stated), then he has left us with something that not only stands as a brilliant expansion and culmination of his cinematic style and obsessions but also as arguably the most intricate and layered film in his body of work.

It’s a beautiful and elegiac love letter to not only Hollywood but also international filmmaking, it uses a potentially troublesome real-life tragedy and gives it catharsis in the most surprisingly touching and tender way, and it presents a simple bromance that eventually reveals itself as something deeper.

Set across two brief moments six months apart, Tarantino shows us a Hollywood in transition, beset by television, the dying embers of the studio system giving way to the bright flames of New Hollywood, the encroachment of international films and indeed, of the death of the 1960s as an ideal, we’re introduced to fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman-cum-personal driver-cum-gopher, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

As the two weave their way through dwindling career opportunities, we meet their mirror opposite, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whose star is on the ascendant and ready to burn brightly. As Al Pacino’s Hollywood producer offers Dalton a lifeline in Italy to feature in Spaghetti Westerns and Euro-spy movies, Tate glimpses the wonder of her craft and the two threads play out with some of Tarantino’s most perfectly measured storytelling since Jackie Brown (now my second favourite film from the director), all the while magnificently slowly building towards the tension and violence of the era-ending and personal tragedy we know is about to unfold.

DiCaprio continues his run as a driven, fearless performer, handling every level of Dalton’s movie star bragadoccio and insecurities with ease, never failing to find the most human of reactions, while Pitt further reveals himself to be the character actor in a movie star’s body those of us with more attuned tastes have always known him to be. His role could easily have played as unlikable or even offensive, but he strides across this with his easy going charm, leaving us with an arresting and enjoyable ambiguity.

Pitt and DiCaprio make for such an impeccable screen teaming that if it wasn’t so all-fired perfect here already, I’d be begging to see more. But their transition from employer and employee to deep friendship is so beautifully bittersweet that I can’t see any other, future pairing as anything more than anti-climatic.

There has been much criticism of Tarantino’s handling of Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, with many saying she is underused. This is, of course, complete nonsense (as is the storm in a tea cup over Bruce Lee’s role in the story, which willfully misunderstands the nature of the film). Tate is the joyful glue that binds the film, an even more impressive feat of both writing and acting considering many of her scenes see the character playing not off others, but reveling in her life, by and for herself, in the moment before her Hollywood stardom explodes.

Robbie, the writing and direction of her, gives us a wonderful character and a heartfelt tribute to the real life actress. The scene of her watching herself on a Westwood cinema screen, delighting in not only her own performance (made even more multi-faceted by the fact we see the real Tate) but also in the reactions of the audience around her, has instantly become one of my favourite Tarantino sequences from all of his films. Rather than marginalize the actor, Tarantino has the confidence in his star to let her carry this all out wordlessly.

It’s a scene which also stands as one of two moments in particular (though I suspect further viewings will reveal more) which startlingly play with perceptions of how, and perhaps even why, we watch films in ways I’m still trying to unravel, but this and DiCaprio’s incredible address to himself in his mirror where he instead makes perfect eye contact with the audience were genuinely spine-chilling.

The playful blending and juxtaposition of films in our real world and films in Tarantino’s reel world is also sure to leave film lovers with examination and critique that will no doubt reward, infuriate and entrance for decades to come.

Tarantino’s films all pay off with multiple viewing, but this is a genuine treasure chest which unfolds to reveal multiple levels of jewels which will catch the light to reveal themselves the more we look into it.

Standing as a love letter to Hollywood and an ode to that town’s ever-changing tides of filmmaking, as an ode to the end of an era, as the reclamation of a terrible real-life crime and celebration of the life of the woman involved in that event, as a charming buddy movie examination of the changing dynamics of friendship and as an investigation of cinema and our relationship to it, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood really is Tarantino’s most emotionally mature and singularly impressive work.

It’s also the first Tarantino film to bring a tear to my eye, with a quite beautiful, and delicate closing scene which perfectly encapsulates what the film is: a Hollywood fairy tale, with all the romance and darkness of the very best fairy tales.

In fact, it’s his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it again.

*You can read more about the cinematic legacy of Charles Manson here.

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – The Manson Legacy

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Out Of Dave’s Head is proud to publish our first article by another writer; welcome aboard Jon Harman, celebrating the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood with a look at the cinematic legacy of the real-life horror haunting the movie.

Charles Manson has been a defining Hollywood story for 50 years, ever since the fateful and brutal killings in August 1969. With Tarantino returning to this arena in his latest offering Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we look at the impact and legacy of the Manson Murders in cinema.

The Manson Murders took place in the summer of 1969 and were the culmination of activities by a hippy cult lead by Charles Manson, an unemployed ex-convict who had spent more than half of his life in correctional institutions. Manson’s dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter had been snubbed by Beach Boys record producer Terry Melcher and he was suffering delusions of grandeur that he was the new messiah. He was also obsessed with the Beatles, particularly their 1968 self-titled album, and was allegedly guided by his interpretation of the band’s lyrics. He adopted their song, Helter Skelter, as the text to describe an impending apocalyptic race war.

On August 8th of that year, Manson instructed his followers, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel to go to Melcher’s house in Cielo Drive in LA and murder the inhabitants, who were film director Roman Polanski’s pregnant actress wife, Sharon Tate, her hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski. The following night he instructed them and Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan to perform a copycat killing of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca at their residence.

Manson occurred at a defining moment for counter-culture and Hollywood, starting a transition to a post studio system, as Peter Fonda’s Wyatt uttered the immortal words “we blew it” in Easy Rider, the love affair with hippiedom was over, but the kinetic, youthful and independent style of Easy Rider was opening a door to a new cinema. Then on August 8th-9th the brutal slaying of the Tate party in Cielo Drive ensured Hollywood and violence were fused together in a thematic way that has permeated US cinema for decades, with constant reference to the perfect boogeyman in Manson. 

There are the biopic, literal tellings of the Manson story over the years, but there are also countless films that channel a Manson theme within. Very early on, numerous exploitation films captured the salacious nature of the crimes like Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969) which was retitled as Cult of The Damned (1971) to feed off the ever growing notoriety of the case, not to mention the bizarre attempt to add two minutes of footage to Sign of Aquarius (1970) to suddenly make a Mansonesque blaxploitation flick, Ghetto Freaks (1970) which was a fusion of too many themes to comprehend).

As the investigation played out in 69 and 70, aspects were already fusing into the lexicon of cinema, such as John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970), which had Divine running a circus freak show as a front for robbery and murder and convincing her husband that he killed Sharon Tate in a drug induced haze. Waters was obsessed with the case and wrote references into his film as the case unfolded, later dedicating Pink Flamingos (1972) to “Sadie, Katie & Les” (Manson’s nicknames for Susan Atkins, Linda Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, the main perpetrators of the murders). Waters has spent years advocating the release of  Van Houten, describing her as his friend.

The first attempt to bring the actual Manson story into cinema was The Other Side of Madness (1971) which itself was later retitled as The Helter Skelter Murders, a strange curational mix of documentary and re-enactment footage filmed in some of the actual locations whilst never actually using any of the names from the crime. The hippie noir depiction of the crime scene is both brutal and exploitative for a film of its time with strong mondo undertones leaving it a curio in the Manson legacy. At the same time, exploitation duo Michael and Roberta Findlay jetted down to Argentina to make The Slaughter (1971) about a Mansonesque death cult resulting in a film with either very limited or no distribution until independent low-budget distributor and sometime producer, Allan Shackleton picked it up and added a notorious murder scene as the finale and calling it Snuff (1976), spawning an entire urban myth strand of modern cinema about the existence of underground snuff films in its own right (which is another whole article by itself). 

Likewise in 1971, fledgling writer/ director Wes Craven was typing out his script for what would become The Last House on The Left (1972). Whilst being an American retelling of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), it had a Manson Family undertone in its brutalism and striking similarities of character with it’s female villain “Sadie,” played by Jeramie Rain, cast just after playing Manson family member Sadie Mae Glutz in the off Broadway Manson musical 22 Years the same year. 

The zeitgeist of the Manson Murders was permeating new cinema as much as the raging Vietnam war at the time, which conflated in a later movie. Writer Peter Biskind, in his 1998 book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls saw Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in his compound in Apocalypse Now (1980) as: 

“another incarnation of Charlie Manson, the scourge figure who had gone native and now, unchallenged, ruled over his family. The compound was his Spahn Ranch” 

The sense of crime family, hippies, war and brutality also infused the zeitgeist of Tobe Hooper’s film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), in particular the opening prologue directly cites Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s description of the crimes as “the most bizarre mass murder case in the annals of American crime” to add weight to the false claim the film is a true story. 

1976 saw the release of CBS made for television film Helter Skelter, which depicted both the crimes and the trial in detail, based on Bugliosi’s book of the same name. Steve Railsback defined the persona of Manson for the viewing public (though retrospectively, this comes across as being quite histrionic and the film comes off as a weird episode of Perry Mason tonally), to the point he never really escaped its impact and stunting his fledgling acting career. The film reached an estimated 50 million Americans on release and thus defined much of the Manson story. CBS later remade Helter Skelter (2004) with Jeremy Davies playing a more subtle and realistic Manson, though not as eerie, this time the film focused more on the persuasive nature of Manson as guru and the lead up to the crime. 

Always lurking in the exploitative realms of cinema, Manson re-emerged in an early found footage piece that built on the earlier legacy of Snuff (1976) and ran with an assertion from Ed Sanders book The Family (1971) that they stole an NBC film crew truck and used the equipment to make snuff films. The imagined output is surreal. Manson Family Movies (1984) which is all filmed from the perspective of the family on super 8mm film and dwells on mondo-style, exploitative gore once again to entice the salacious viewer disturbed by the ever winding myths around Manson.

In the same vein, Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family (2003) takes a transgressive view on the subject matter and relishes in the hyperbole of cult and barbaric murder. Famously taking 15 years to produce and finish, for many murder groupies, this is seen as the definitive film of Manson. Van Bebber firmly asserts that if you cover this story, you have to cover it warts and all in an NC-17 way. The film does successfully channel a late sixties, early 70’s aesthetic in its tone and thus has a further authenticity of Manson as cinema, rather than cinema about Manson. Van Bebber has a certain connection with the Manson psyche as a film-maker, and is somewhat reminiscent when ranting to distributors about film to DVD transfers of his work too.

From this moment on, Manson as myth and cultural icon becomes a touchstone to regurgitate in direct to DVD movies or sleight of hand references in TV series. Manson, My Name is Evil (2009), House of Manson (2014), The Wolves at the Door (2016) and The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) all carbon copy the salacious aspects of the case, water down the nuance and add to the myth-making of Manson, whilst never really tackling anything new and can be largely dismissed for wrapping themselves in Manson iconography with little substance. It is also  difficult not to see the Family fingerprints all over most home invasion horror films of recent memory, invoking the horror of being disrupted, held hostage and murdered by some counter culture creepy crawlers, they set the narrative template for this modern American horror fable. 

Manson has also continued to guest star in such shows as American Horror Story: Cult (2017) Aquarius (2015)  or Mindhunter (2019) illustrating he is still a strong cultural bogeyman in the American psyche that people want to explore and visit. Films like Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene (2011) nicely explore the phenomenon and psychology of cult radicalisation with strong nods to Manson, without getting caught up in all the salacious aspects of the case. Equally, Charlie Says (2018) explores the indoctrination psychology and less salacious aspects through the eyes of Manson’s disciples and here we see (former Doctor Who) Matt Smith play Manson in a more subtle and believable incarnation as oppressive seductor rather than histrionic mad man.

There will of course always be room for such oddities as Live Freaky, Die Freaky (2006) – a stop motion musical comedy about the Manson crimes, or Troma’s Honky Apocalypse (2014) – that imagines an alternate universe where Manson’s proclamation of a Helter Skelter race war comes true in typical Troma, independent trash cinema style. 

It is inferred in the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) that we may actually only be getting more the guest star in cultural context of Manson this time around and possibly revisionist takes on the myth whilst delving into the transitioning movie business in 1969, illustrating how much Manson has become synonymous with Hollywood either as protagonist or background player. The film opens here next week, so we’ll know more then.

We’ve even seen one of the stars of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Brad Pitt, do his own modern day interpretation of Manson in Tyler Durden, of course. Rewatch Fight Club through the lense of cult radicalisation and guru instructed mayhem, compare Tyler’s speeches in the film to Charlie’s real-life speeches and you see much synchronicity.

Charlie changed Hollywood, Manson is a Hollywood story, myth and bogeyman that perpetuates to this day in so many aspects of our popular culture.

It was only natural for Tarantino as the pop culture maestro to visit and explore, having ditched other Hollywood arch manipulator Harvey Weinstein. Tarantino’s obsession with killers in his work, with numerous nods like having written Daisy Domergue in Hateful Eight (2015) as “a Manson girl out west, like Susan Atkins or something” was leading him here. Indeed what was Charlie if not the ultimate director manipulating and coercing players to act out his Hollywood scene like a doting Hollywood entourage, whilst he laps up all the attention? And we’re still talking about it 50 years on.

Jon Harman is a film producer, director and lecturer. Producing work from web series to feature films, documentaries and mind numbing live pop fare for Disney. Jon has the media bite mark scars on the leg that Quint and Hooper would drunkenly argue over. Jon also contributes to Cinema Under The Stairs podcast on Spotify. His trailer homage to Lucio Fulci and Man Bites Dog “Cool Clyde” (made when 16) is hidden on Youtube somewhere as a special easter egg.

Stop Everything! It’s The Brilliant New Trailer For Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

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First of all, stop what you’re doing and watch this wonderful new trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s new movie (debuting ahead of its premiere at Cannes)…

Regular followers of this site will already know I’m full-blown down for anything that comes from the mind of Tarantino, and that I’m super vibed for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (as we’ve been following its production here from those initial casting announcements).

And this features one heckuva cast, including  Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry, Margaret Qualley, Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, Lena Dunham, Damian Lewis and Al Pacino (HOO-HAH!). I mean, come on…! Who doesn’t want to watch, well… anything… that stars this bunch!?

The teaser trailer was great, but this first full trailer, in all its Neil Diamond-glory, literally makes me want to wish away the days until July 26th (but that would mean missing Godzilla: King of the Monsters, so I’ll have to curb my enthusiasm).

Featuring the first proper reveal of Charles Manson (as played by Damon Herriman) and his family on the Spahn Ranch, and the first sense of how this story might play out, it certainly seems that this will be as thrilling (and probably divisive) a ride as we might expect from one of my favourite cinematic provocateurs!

Let’s not even get started on the flame-grilled Nazis…

Want To See The Trailer For Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood…?

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…sure you do! And since I hate to disappoint, here it is! Let’s come back and rap some after…

Well, doesn’t that look like a whole bunch of fun!?

Tarantino and co. have been doing a remarkable job of keeping plot specifics on this one under wraps, but here’s what we do know (via the official synopsis):

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), former star of a western TV series, and his long-time stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognise anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbour… Sharon Tate.

Mixed into this will be a lot of famous faces of the period, including Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee and yep, Charles Manson.

The film stars… well, actually, it’s easier to ask who isn’t in it. But, sorry everyone, this won’t be Pauly Shore’s big chance at a comeback.

Look, it’s Tarantino’s 9th film. What else do you need to know!?

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood opens 26 July 2019 in the USA.

Robbie Reveals Tarantino’s Tate

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Margot Robbie took to her Instagram account today to give us the first look at her in character as actress Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.

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The cast features Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio – along with a virtual who’s who of acting talent (see previous posts here and here) – and sees Robbie taking the role of the American actress and model, and the wife of director Roman Polanski,  who was murdered at age 26 by the Manson Family on August 9, 1969.

The film dodged one controversial bullet recently by announcing it will no longer open on the 50th anniversary of Tate’s death, but instead be released by Sony on July 26, 2019.

As always, I’ll bring you more news on Once Upon A Time In Hollywood as it hits. Because if you’re anything like me, next July can’t come soon enough (and not just because it’s vacation time).

Tarantino Clears Out Hollywood with Pacino!

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Another day, another casting announcement for what’s beginning to sound like Quentin Tarantino’s single-handed effort to clear out Hollywood of unemployed actors!

Just yesterday we found that Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Keith Jefferson, Clifton Collins Jr. and Nicholas Hammond (yes, erstwhile von Trapp child from The Sound of Music and TV’s Spider-Man) would join the already announced powerhouse cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Burt Reynolds, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Timothy Olyphant.

Now, hold on to your hats and yell “HOOAH!” as Al Pacino joins Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. According to Variety, Pacino will play Marvin Shwarz, agent to DiCaprio’s TV actor Rick Dalton, who lives uncomfortably close to the Manson Family, right around the time they go on their infamous murder spree!

…Hollywood has quickly become one of the most anticipated films of 2019, with it’s intriguing subject and astonishing cast (and of course, its writer/director).

Stay tuned for more news as we get it!

Source: Variety

Tarantino Casts Everybody In …Hollywood

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News just in via Birth.Movies.Death reveals that the cast for Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood just keeps getting more and more delicious!

Joining the already-announced trio of Leonard DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell (with or without moustache has yet to be announced, Kurtache watchers). Even more exciting is the announcement that this stellar line-up will be joined by Hollywood legend, Burt Reynolds!

The new Tarantino film is set (in Hollywood, as per the title) in the summer of 1969, and the few story details released so far tell us the story will revolve around the former star of a western TV series and his longtime stunt double (DiCaprio and Pitt, respectively). DiCaprio’s neighbour in the film is Robbie, portraying actress Sharon Tate (then wife of film director, Roman Polanski), who was, of course, brutally murdered by cult leader Charles Manson’s followers. The ranch at which the cult resided was run by George Spahn, now to be played by Reynolds.

Frankly, this project just keeps sounding more and more exciting. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood will be released on August 9, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Expect no small amount of controversy nearer the release.

Suicide Squad – the two hour trailer.

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So let’s just get this out of the way: Suicide Squad is a complete and utter mess, it’s one of the most incoherently put together mainstream Hollywood movies I’ve ever seen, to the point where it feels like a two hour long trailer.

The plot is simple: Superman is dead (at least until the last ten minutes of next year’s first Justice League movie) and U.S. government official Amanda Waller comes up with a plan to put together a team of super powered bad guys in order to combat other super powered bad guys. One of the team, The Enchantress, a witch with a bad complexion but great dance moves (of which, more later) goes rogue, throws a lot of big, glowing CGI around and threatens to take over the world. Fighting ensues.

The real life plot of Suicide Squad goes (allegedly) like this: Warner Bros/DC hire screenwriter/director David Ayer (Training Day/Fury) to make what they touted as one of their “filmmaker driven” projects. During production of Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is released to okay-ish box office but – and here lies what I suspect is the nub of this film’s (many) problems – a quite horrendous critical backlash.

Snyder’s film was labelled too dark, too grim, just too damn serious! According to industry scuttlebutt reshoots are ordered for Suicide Squad but, say the producers, these were always scheduled and weren’t done as a result of the drubbing meted out to BvS. Then things get stickier with the rumours that the film was given over to the guys who had cut Suicide Squad’s well received trailer with the remit to lighten it up, put in more jokes, make it more like… well, a Marvel film. Further, it seems that two cuts of the film existed – Ayer’s darker version and the trailer guys’ lighter version – and the decision was made to merge them.

What amount of this is true? Does it matter anyway? The short answer of course, is that none of the above would be of any interest if Suicide Squad had turned out well. But, dear reader, Suicide Squad has not turned out well.

The film seems to have been edited with a pair of blunt scissors by someone wearing thick rubber gloves and a blindfold. Cara Delevingne’s badder bad guy The Enchantress stands around doing interpretive dance moves to create… I still don’t know, a magic something or other… for almost an hour of the movie. Really, her character stands in one spot and (literally and figuratively) doesn’t go anywhere. Characters are introduced multiple times – the squad are introduced solidly three times in three concurrent scenes – each character is even given text-filled info screens and then we’re still treated to more introductory sequences!

After being introduced three times to Will Smith’s sharpshooter, Deadshot, we’re then given a scene, where Smith is handed a whole bunch of guns to fire at targets, that exists only to show us that… um, Deadshot is a sharpshooter. Just in case you didn’t get that before. Or before. Or before that.

In case all of this isn’t enough to hammer your poor eyes and brain into submission as to who you’re watching, each character gets a needle drop so painfully obvious it’s a wonder they don’t flash the lyrics onscreen just to really underline things. Incidentally, there should be an immediate ban on any filmmaker using The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil to underscore how bad a character is, punishable by exile to making wedding videos for the rest of their life.

Whole sequences are muddily constructed (wait… the Enchantress did what to her human alter ego in order to escape her earthly shell!? Who shot down that helicopter!?). One scene has Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn wave goodbye to the rest of her team as she heads up into a building in a glass elevator, get into a fight with some monsters between floors and then enjoy a supposed comedy beat as the elevator doors open high up in the building to reveal the team she’d left behind on the ground floor pointing guns at her. But there’s no explanation for how they got there before her – it’s not even laughed off as a joke, it’s just left hanging in a kind of awkward “Huh? What?” moment. This is a first day at film school level mistake, it’s unforgivable in a multi-million dollar movie.

Whatever went on in the background of the making of this film we may never know, but you should be under no misapprehension that this film has somehow completely lost its way in post-production. The astonishing thing is that no one at DC or Warner Bros was able to see what a mess had been created and that the film was allowed to go into release in this sorry state.

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What makes all this so frustrating is that somewhere in this mess is a good film. It’s really enjoyable that so much weird shit is just thrown headlong into the film without anyone batting an eyelid… superhumans, witches, swords possessed by souls, mutated crocodile men! This is fun stuff and the film’s willingness to embrace it all almost gives it a strong worldview.

Also, whatever the producers paid Will Smith and Margot Robbie, it wasn’t enough. These two scorch their way across the screen with good, old fashioned star power and share great chemistry. Both actors were obviously having a blast with their parts and it shows. Really, I could have watched two hours of just these two and they almost (…almost) make the film worth the price of admission.

Viola Davis and Jai Courtney (as Amanda Waller and villain Captain Boomerang, respectively) do their best with the little they’re given, and Jay Hernandez (as fire summoner, El Diablo) impresses by bringing heart to an underwritten role. Joel Kinnerman (as Rick Flagg), unfortunately, feels miscast and Karen Fukuhara (as swordswoman, Katana) is a blank slate who drifts in and out of the film leaving no impression whatsoever.

In case you were wondering, Heath Ledger’s legacy remains completely undamaged by Jared Leto’s Joker, the character is horrible (and not in the way he should be) – blindingly obvious, grating, underwritten (again) and pretty redundant for much of the film. It’s such a gross misunderstanding of the character that I am now really hoping he doesn’t show up in Ben Affleck’s forthcoming Batman movie.

And despite all this I found myself enjoying parts of the film. But I’d no sooner find myself hitting a groove than some bizarre edit or incomprehensible plot point would just pull me out of the story all over again. It’s a shame. These actors are really working hard to give life to their characters and so much is undone by terrible committee meddling.

Warner Bros and DC really need to get their act together. This is a two for two strike out which shows a basic lack of faith in the core material and a lack of cohesive direction for their shared universe. Instead we’re left with an aimless mess that simply makes a lot of noise for two hours.

So, that was Suicide Squad the trailer. Now when do we get the movie…?

* With thanks to Ante Lundberg for the review title.

The Legend of Tarzan – Me Tarzan, You Entertained

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The Legend of Tarzan is the latest screen version of the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. With a cast headed up by Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz, and directed by David Yates (who will forever be in my good books for helming the classic BBC serial, State of Play, and more famously headed up the final four Harry Potter films), this take on Tarzan has a lot of production wattage.

It also feels like a genuine attempt to transfer Burroughs’ Tarzan to the screen, complete with (thankfully) a cultured, sophisticated lead character (as opposed to the more frequently featured noble savage) and much of the background material from the books, while updating things slightly for a modern sensibility (including some far too contemporary sounding dialogue, unfortunately).

The story sees Tarzan, Lord John Clayton III, having left Africa behind almost a decade previously, now living in Victorian England with his wife, Jane. The two become involved in a plot set in motion by Leon Rom, a treacherous envoy for King Leopold of Belgium, to lure the jungle lord back to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds which will pay for an army to take over the continent.

Skarsgård makes a fine John Clayton/Tarzan, gifting him with a quiet intelligence and a restrained fierceness, Robbie continues to impress, giving us a feisty, admirable Jane Porter Clayton, while Samuel L. Jackson tones down many of his usual Samuel L. Jackson-isms for a character that always stays just the right side of comic relief. Christoph Waltz, as Rom, is far too talented to be anything other than entertaining, but his character lacks some truly defining dialogue and moments to make him rise above the actor’s increasingly familiar toolbox of tricks.

Yates strives for a Tarzan film that falls between the mythic grandeur of 1984’s Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (phew) and the gung ho nature of the 1930s-40s MGM Johnny Weissmuller films, and mostly succeeds. Unfortunately, the script, while perfectly serviceable, feels two or three polish drafts away from anything truly memorable – dialogue works but never sparkles or shines.

The film is also highly inconsistent in some of its production values. Many edits are inelegant, with some clumsy transitions. Sometimes the CGI work is wonderful – such as a small but sweet moment where Tarzan bonds with some lions, and sometimes it’s almost wilfully bad – the wildebeests seen in the trailer or a shot near the climax of a rowboat approaching the camera, which has it practically floating through nothing.

Despite these caveats, The Legend of Tarzan moves at an admirably classical pace, it treads around issues of colonialism with broad but well defined strokes (even if, in real life the Belgians ruled the Congo for another 70 years), is well cast and handsomely mounted, and it mostly looks wonderful, with sweeping vistas of plains and deep, emerald forests. It deserves plaudits for not insulting the audience with yet another origin story (though Tarzan’s backstory is present in the form of flashbacks), and there’s good chemistry between the two leads. It gave me a genuine chill of delight to hear an updated version of the classic Weissmuller Tarzan yell (though it would have been nice to actually see him do it, rather than just hear it – a result of post-production tweaks, perhaps) and definitely left me wanting to spend more time with these versions of the characters for further adventures.

While somewhat frustrating, this is still an entertaining and enjoyable Tarzan film for a modern blockbuster audience, proving the one hundred and twelve year old character is still the one, true king of the swingers. Next time he just needs to swing a little higher.