“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” A DeaconsDen Reaction

Director Quentin Tarantino has entertained audiences as well as polarized them since bursting onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992. His work has mixed and matched a range of genres that show the man’s love for movies and movie history. So how does he fare when he jumps in a time machine and recreate 1969 Hollywood? It is here that Tarantino crafts a historical fairy tale with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” stars Academy Award winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth respectively. Rick is an aging television who starred on the series “Bounty Law” and Cliff is his longtime friend and stunt double. The film focuses on the two men as they navigate the changing landscape of the entertainment industry. Simultaneously, a young actress whose career is on the rise arrives named Sharon Tate, played by Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie. Lastly, in the background creeping its way to the forefront is a cult with a powerful following that may play an integral role in shaping events to come.

My initial reaction to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is that it felt like the nexus of Tarantino’s career. Everything that made the man who he is cinematically, from the dialogue to the references, the music choices and yes even the violence seemed to meld to a perfection where no one of these elements overtook the others. It feels like Tarantino’s most humane and mature film. 1997’s Jackie Brown would also fit into those categories, but part of that I attribute to it being an adaptation. There is a thoughtfulness and dare I say, sweetness that permeates the film. This is due to the strength of the three lead performers and their characters. First let’s look at Rick and Cliff.

The crux of the story is Rick’s path to recapturing his former stardom. He senses his entertainment mortality where he wants an opportunity but isn’t keen on just any opportunity. Once he finally takes on a job, we witness his struggles and insecurities and take joy in once things begin to turn up for him. DiCaprio’s performance is outstanding as a man who is uncertain of his future. Then there is Cliff. Cliff’s present and future are tied to Rick as he is Rick’s gofer and driver. He is a character I’m sure folks will deep dive into in subsequent writings. Cliff also has issue with getting work, but that could be due to the possibility that he may or may not be a criminal who got away with something with nary a consequence. There is an ambiguity that Tarantino plays with Cliff’s character that leaves it up to you. Pitt is so charismatic in the role and presents Cliff where you might or might not actually be able to trust what he says. I love when the interpretation is left to us. As far as Rick and Cliff’s relationship, it is described in the film as more than a brother, but less than a wife. Tarantino presents a very mature friendship between two men where they speak on their highs and lows and there is a level of openness that I don’t believe we are used to in a Tarantino film.

Then there is the third part of this trifecta, Sharon Tate. The story of Sharon Tate is well known as she was tragically murdered by members of the Manson Family in 1969. This has made Sharon a tragic character and at times it takes away from the potential she possessed and would never get to share with the world.

The moment the film was announced along with its subject matter, there was concern over how Tarantino would handle the events on screen. Another issue arose when the question of Margot Robbie’s screen time was brought up. I won’t speak on the handling of the historical events due to spoiler potential, however even though Robbie may not get the screen time as equal to DiCaprio and Pitt, her impact might be the strongest in the entire film. It was one of the most expressive and physical cases of acting I’ve seen. There is a scene about halfway through where we basically spend the day with Sharon while she is out. She spends the day surrounded by people and you know what? It worked. We know what the history is, but I felt Tarantino did something special with Margot Robbie and that was to give Sharon her story back. For the duration of the film, I felt close to Sharon. I felt I got to know her dreams and ambitions and not see her through the lens of infamy. It’s a touching performance. If Rick and Cliff are the fading past, Sharon is the light leading the way for the new generation of superstar.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” instantly made a spot in the top 3 of Quentin Tarantino films for me. It’s a patient and reflective piece. You do not have to be an actor to relate to its themes. Time passes, and things will change for us all, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the end. There is still an opportunity, there is always still time.

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Us – DeaconsDen Reaction

“Us” is the second film from director Jordan Peele. After a very successful career in comedy, Peele dropped the mic on his debut film, “Get Out.” That film won Peele his first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was also nominated for Best Picture. Now will he continue his fantastic directorial start with “Us,” or does he hit a sophomore slump?

“Us” is the story of the Wilson family who is terrorized throughout one night by what appears to be their doppelgängers. The family is led by matriarch Adelaide, portrayed by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Her husband Gabe is played by Winston Duke, giving us a reunion of two actors from 2018’s “Black Panther.” Their two children, daughter Zora and son Jason are played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex respectively. All four actors give great performances, with Nyong’o in particular showing all emotional ranges with some of the best work of her career.

Peele’s direction continues to amaze with some great shots and keeping things very well paced. I was asked, “will it scare me?” I don’t think it’s a jump scare sort of movie, but with a movie like this it’s all about the atmosphere for me. It’s the situation that’s terrifying. To help highlight the horror is the score by Michael Abels, returning from scoring “Get Out.” Abels operatic orchestral sounds permeate the film with a haunted vibe that really underscores the beauty and horror of the people and their twins.

One question you will ask about “Us” is if Jordan Peele creates another “Get Out?” This film is different animal from its predecessor. With “Get Out,” Peele was making a specific point within the bounds of the horror genre. “Us” can be interpreted multiple ways. I will not speculate so as not to spoil anything, but the end of the film really brings home (at least for me) what sets in motion the events of the film. I’m not one for calling an up and coming filmmaker “the next” anyone because I find it unfair. However, as a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, “Us” really reminds me of his film “The Birds.” In that film birds attack the people with no explanation at all and it’s a masterclass in suspense while offering the viewer to make their own choice on what the events represent. “Us” works in that same regard.

Jordan Peele definitely continues this hot streak with the mind bending “Us.” It’s just as layered as his prior film while allowing us (pun not intended) the opportunity to see how we view it and view ourselves as well. I look forward to getting this on blu-ray for back to back views with “Get Out” and breakdown more of Peele’s commentary on society.

Happy Death Day 2U – DeaconsDen Reaction

It’s Monday the 18th again and again and again. Happy Death Day 2U is the sequel to the 2017 hit about a young woman trapped in a time loop. Jessica Rothe returns as Tree Gelbman in this follow up that throws in new ways to keep the concept fresh.

I loved the original film because of its playing around with the familiar slasher movie while having the sci-fi twist of a time loop (See my prior review). In the middle of it all, you had the story of the growth of a woman who had taken on a cynical approach to life. The sequel continues with that concept while providing some explanation for what’s happening to Tree, while allowing her continual growth as well.

I’m sure when it was announced there would be a sequel to Happy Death Day, people might have considered it to be a case of Die Hard 2 (How can the same thing happen to the same girl twice)? Director-writer Christopher Landon decides that rather than repeating what came prior (pun intended), why not do that and expand on the concept and how we got to this point? You learn at the start of the film why Tree is caught in the loop and what got her there in the prior film. Yet it’s not just to simply tell more story, it’s also used as a part of Tree’s continuing development as one of modern movies coolest heroines. Once we reach the final act, you see Tree take another leap forward in characterization. Jessica Rothe just keeps showing her chops as a lead actress with charm and snark and charisma. Just like I said in 2017, I want to see more of her, she deserves that chance.

I’m happy the supporting cast gets to play around this time. The prior film has Tree mostly with Israel Broussard’s Carter Davis, but we get to see Phi Vu as Carter’s friend Ryan who plays a more essential role. Also, Rachel Matthews as Danielle is the perfect foil to Tree.

The sci-fi concepts are expanded here and that may or may not work for you. I know for myself, I love stories that play with time, and I feel the move here worked in the film’s favor. You still have the slasher aspect, but there’s more comedic aspects this time around. There certainly was comedy in the original, but it’s a little more obvious here. A highlight is a funny montage of deaths for Tree that also gets a little macabre as well. Yet I felt it juggled thrills, humor and sci-fi pretty equally.

Happy Death Day 2U is not a leaps and bound type of sequel, yet like its predecessor, it merges genres in a way that’s fun to watch. Now that this is a series, it really becoming a favorite of mine. Also there is a scene during the end credits that point to where things can go from here. I want to see that happen because I’m loving everything about these movies.

Escape Room – DeaconsDen Quick Reaction

I know we’re into February now and I hadn’t posted any reactions this year at all. I’ve been deep in a new job and back in school as well so I’m finally getting back in the swing of writing so right now I’m playing catch up with some quick pieces.

Escape Room is a psychological thriller directed by Adam Robitel. The film follows a group of people who all receive invitations to participate in a high tech escape room for a pretty hefty reward. Yet as events unfold it turns out there’s more to this than expected and the participants must really work together to not only escape but to survive.

With escape rooms now being a popular outing for people (I myself have never done one), taking this idea into the film world was an interesting concept that intrigued me enough to see this. The first thing you’ll notice about Escape Room is it appears to clearly be inspired by the “Saw” franchise. However this is a PG-13 film so you don’t have the violence and gore that goes along with it. There is another horror franchise I noticed in its DNA as well, but to mention it here might would spoil a later development in the story. Even with its toned down content, Escape Room was still a mostly enjoyable thriller. There are some decent thrills and some of the ways the creators play with the concept are fun. There’s one room in particular that is probably the highlight of the entire film.

Escape Room does not break new ground for thrillers at all. It’s pretty derivative, but it does elicit some suspenseful moments and plays with a current concept, even if it’s final package is something we’ve all seen before.

Revealing The Inaugural Deacon Awards – Nominations

I was planning to write a top 10 movies of 2018 post. I felt very comfortable in my choices of my favorites of the films released this year. Then I thought, “try something different.” So I decided to create the Deacon Awards which will cover my whole year cinematically. This isn’t an original idea by any stretch, I follow many other writers who are much better at this thing than me who have done this. So this is a project purely inspired by others.

Considering that we are now full into awards season, it’s time to get my own show started

According to my Letterboxd profile, I’ve watched over 200 films this year and only about 30 of them were released in 2018. With the Deacon Awards, I get to have some fun and hopefully you all will too. Just like real awards, some movies will have multiple nominations. There will be 8 categories and they are:

  1. Favorite Current Picture
  2. Favorite Older Picture
  3. Favorite Director
  4. Favorite Acting Performance
  5. Favorite First Time Watch
  6. Favorite Rewatch
  7. Favorite Movie I had no Idea about how to React
  8. Favorite Music in Movies
  9. Favorite Movie I Feel Made Me Smarter
  10. Favorite Movie I Gave More Credit Than I probably should but I’m gonna give it anyway.

Let’s reveal our nominees!


Favorite Current Picture (2018 Releases)

A Simple Favor

Mission: Impossible Fallout

Tomb Raider

Teen Titans Go to the Movies

Black Panther

Favorite Older Picture

Vampyr

The Third Man

His Girl Friday

The Hidden Fortress

Favorite Director

Christopher McQuarrie (M:I Fallout and Jack Reacher)

Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby)

Andy Sidaris (Malibu Express, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Savage Beach, Picasso Trigger)

Favorite Acting Performance

Blake Lively & Anna Kendrick (A Simple Favor)

Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday)

Katherine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby)

Cary Grant (My Favorite Wife & Bringing Up Baby)

Greta Garbo (Ninotchka)

Favorite First Time Watch

His Girl Friday

Jack Reacher

Hard Ticket To Hawaii

The Evil Dead

Vampyr

Favorite Rewatch

Apocalypto

The Man from UNCLE

Minority Report

The Dark Knight Rises

Favorite Movie I Had No Idea About How to React

I really have no idea how to think about these which is why I have nothing on them at the moment.

…And God Created Woman

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Favorite Movie Music

Black Panther- Score by Ludwig Goransson

Bohemian Rhapsody- Songs by Queen

Aquaman – Score by Rupert Gregson-Williams

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Score by John Powell

These next two category are akin to Lifetime Achievement Awards so there’s just 1 winner so they will be announced right now before revealing the rest of the winners later on.

Favorite Movie So Dumb I Felt It Made Me Smarter

Twister (1989)Not the tornado. It’s amazing what the power of the live tweet can do. You will expend brain power watching this thing. It makes no sense. It’s a movie version of Shameless, and you don’t know why anyone does anything. It has Harry Dean Stanton playing a patriarch who wonders where did he go wrong. It has music by Has Zimmer so there’s a point. How am I smarter? I can comment on this film now, which I couldn’t say before.

Favorite Movie I’m Gonna Die on the Hill Defending

Jurassic Park III – Sorry, but 2 Jurassic World films later and you’ll never convince me that either Jurassic World or Fallen Kingdom do anything better or are no less silly that this entry. Everything else chases Spielberg’s ghost. Joe Johnston made a B-movie monster flick that knows it’s place.

Aquaman – DeaconsDen Reactions

The King of the Seven Seas arrives in his first full fledged motion picture. Aquaman is the sixth film in DC’s cinematic universe, taking place after 2017’s Justice League. Jason Momoa reprises his role as Arthur Curry and what we receive as viewers is a visually ambitious story of a man simply wanting to understand his place amongst his people.

From the jump, Aquaman, probably more than any recent comic book film I’ve seen (at the of this writing, I have not seen Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse) embraces the overall feel of a comic book. To me it felt like a silver age story. Really basic, easy to follow. I did not see that as a negative. I know people are familiar with Aquaman, but he is not a character on the level of popularity as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or even The Flash. I think director James Wan made a smart choice in the way he chose to adapt the character.

Visually, as I mentioned earlier, Aquaman is very much ambitious. I don’t know how else to imagine Atlantis looking like, but I did not expect it to look like that. Atlantis is vibrant and bold yet detailed. It reminds me of the digital world in Tron: Legacy. To me it’s the most visually impressive film since James Cameron’s Avatar. This is further highlighted by Rupert Gregson-Williams score that really gives the feeing if both being underwater and techno driven.

One of the biggest questions about Aquaman might be, how are the performances? Momoa in particular?I felt everyone involved do their best to bring this world to life. Amber Heard bring steely determination to Mera as she knows what she wants for her home, as does swollen Dafoe as Vulko, who trains Arthur as a child and teen. Also we get to see a screen legend in Nicole Kidman get her badass moment and it is certainly badass. The best overall acting I believe belong to Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Arthur’s brother Orm and Black Manta respectively. Two of Aquaman’s greatest adversaries and I believe both actors channel different forms of rage that define their characters. I hope there is a sequel and I want both to return.

This bring me to Momoa himself. He’s not a particularly good actor, but more of a strong presence. This works strongly in his favor as some of the material can be a little hammy at times, it works for him because hammy appears to be a strong area for him. However, I feel this works in the context of the film as well. We get multiple flashbacks of young Arthur with Vulko and he asks about his mother and Atlantis. He’s constantly told to be patient and the years pass with no resolution. This makes his attitude and the beginning of Aquaman even in Justice League more understandable. James Wan knows his lead actor doesn’t quite have the chops as his supporting cast, so he simply lets Momoa be Momoa. This isn’t his take on a particular iteration of the character, this is if Jason Momoa has superpowers. For this reason, it works for me.

Aquaman plays like a mashup of 80s sword/sorcery/adventure films. From its plotting, to its style and music. I had a blast from start to finish and I can not wait to go back to Atlantis with Arthur and Mera.

Getting on the Same Page: His Girl Friday and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comedy

Getting on the Same Page: His Girl Friday and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comedy

https://cinemashame.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/getting-on-the-same-page-his-girl-friday-and-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-comedy/
— Read on cinemashame.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/getting-on-the-same-page-his-girl-friday-and-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-comedy/

This is my piece on His Girl Friday for the November 2018 prompt for Cinema Shame.