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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – A Movie Review


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MV5BOTg4ZTNkZmUtMzNlZi00YmFjLTk1MmUtNWQwNTM0YjcyNTNkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_I cannot think of a movie I have recently seen that left me with one immediate impression upon leaving the theater that morphed into a different impression within a few days. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of the strangest, weirdest most self-indulgent movies I have ever seen. I defy anyone who has seen it to describe the plot of the movie in one sentence. 

First, let me state that I understand having a discernible and clear plot is not the point of the movie. I do get that. There were, however, multiple times – especially during the first two acts of the movie – where I wondered just what in the hell was going on. And, upon reflection, I understand, too, that that is part of Quentin Tarantino’s point.

I am not a Tarantino aficionado. No expert in his movies (I’ve not seen his classics), I came to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood not knowing what to expect but excited by the story (I am interested in the Manson story), by the director’s renown for brilliant use of music (and the soundtrack is so very well composed and evocative) and by actors assembled for the movie. What a shockingly stocked set of performers Tarantino had with which to play. 

The cast does not let one done. Leonardo DiCaprio has been labeled the last real movie star in America for all kinds of reasons – from his acting choices to his image to his talent. He is a towering presence in the movie in a role that requires far more bravery from him than one might gather watching the previews. Paired with Brad Pitt, whose Cliff Booth is just as an indelible creation as the actor’s Rick Dalton, DiCaprio shines even as his character is supposed to be fading into the background. His friendship with Pitt’s Booth – the character I loved best in the film – is the through line of the picture, and it’s a good one. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is at its best when the two are on screen together, although Pitt’s solo scenes – especially as tension mounts as he tours the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch – is commanding.

Rounding out the trio of mega stars is the ubiquitous Margot Robbie. Playing the ill-fated actress Sharon Tate with a light, comedic and blissful air, Robbie is captivating. As pressures mount towards the end of the movie, the mind juxtaposes this beautiful creation of Robbie’s with the end that is coming. Robbie’s work here is a love letter not only to the actress, but to a time in Hollywood that has passed by and will never return.

And this, clearly, is one of the themes on which Tarantino built the movie. In 1969, Hollywood was being blown apart by forces within and without and actors like Rick Dalton were discovering they no longer had a clear role to play. One wonders if Tarantino in this age of CGI and superhero franchises and re-cycled concept after sequel films wonders if his time is almost up.

I believed this was on his mind right up until the last act of the movie. In that last act, Tarantino through his 3 lead characters issues a most visual and visceral middle finger to the idea that his time is up. And the last act is simply stunning. 

The more time that passes the more I want to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood again. It is a lyrical sledgehammer that remains with the viewer far after the brilliant closing credits wrap.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD receives THREE AND A HALF SPAGHETTI WESTERNS out of a possible FIVE

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Allied – A Movie Review


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alliedposterBrad Pitt can stare. He can stare with very steely eyes.

He’s so good at it, in fact, he seems to think that staring out of steely eyes is the only acting he needs to do throughout the movie Allied. So it’s all the acting he does.

Marion Cotillard’s performance is far better and far more nuanced than Pitt’s but it cannot save the movie. She’s very good. The movie is very bad.

It’s fairly shocking, actually, that the movie is as bad as it is. Pitt is normally very good. The teaming of him and Cotillard seems a match made in movie heaven. Robert Zemeckis is a great director. The story ought to be involving.

It’s not.

If I was a guy that walked out of movies, I would have left Allied during the first reel. The story was muddled, did not engage me as a viewer and felt far too movie-of-the-week-y for a motion picture like this. And, while the second act was better, the bar was set so low by the first, that this comment should be read with damning as faint praise.

Allied is supposed to be a thriller with twists and turns that keep the audience guessing. Is Cotillard a spy? Is she not? Will Pitt follow through on his order to kill her if she is revealed as a German operative? How will the setting of World War II – and inherently compelling setting, influence the proceedings? How will all of this resolve itself?

Unsatisfyingly, as it turns out. That’s how this movie resolves.

Truly happy the film was over when the credits rolled, I found myself saying “that was it?”

I was very much looking forward to Allied. I cannot recall a recent movie that let me down as much as this one. If not for Cotillard, this is a one star review. She pulls it up to two.

There are a lot better ways to spend your time and money at the movies. Skip Allied. 

ALLIED receives TWO STEELY PITT STARES out of a possible FIVE. 

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World War Z – A Year’s Reflection And A Sequel?

The Cinnamon Girl and I have been on a bit of a home video kick with HR, jr, Stretch and Sous Chef over the last few days. One of the first films we watched was last summer’s modest hit World War Z. I reviewed the film last year and you can read that blog HERE, but the version we watched was the unrated, Blu Ray edition.

World-War-Z-Poster-2013

Unrated is RIGHT. It’s not that it was much more frightening or startling. It’s that there was a lot more blood. A lot. And, not to sound prudish, the extra gore didn’t add that much to the overall experience of watching the film.

That remained a pretty good experience. It’s a pretty good movie. Paramount is moving forward with a sequel and there was information just today about it. You can read it HERE. The update is from kpop.com.

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Adventures and Misadventures in Customer Service – The Customer is Right… Sometimes

It’s been a really odd week in customer service for the And There Came A Day Family. At the conclusion of all these experiences, I am left with a very clear – almost indelible – impression concerning customer service: I will cross any business off my list that doesn’t seem to give a damn about it. They will get not one more dime from me.

customer-is-always-right

Experience One:

At Golden Spoon Monday night, the customer service was so bad as to be incomprehensible. On Monday nights,  Golden Spoon frozen yogurt purveyor has a deal: 4 small frozen yogurts for $10.00. $10.00 for 4 frozen yogurts seems like a lot of money, but the idea of getting a deal offsets that concern. We came, we saw, we ordered 3 smalls and 1 mini – a size smaller than a small. The price? $15.04. We asked: “what happened?” They responded “You didn’t order 4 smalls.” We were incredulous.

“So the deal is not good if we don’t have exactly 4 smalls. If we order a smaller size for 1 of the smalls, that’s not okay?” That’s not okay.  “What if we order 4 smalls, but we only ask for a mini amount in one of the small containers.” That’s not okay. “Why not?” We’d have to do it for other customers. “But we’d be ordering less yogurt than the deal grants us.” That’s not okay. “What if we order 4 smalls and throw away the extra.”  That’s okay. No, it’s not.  Instead, we won’t throw away our money here anymore. Bye, now.

Experience Two:

At Sports Authority Tuesday night (which, by-the-way, The Cinnamon Girl adorably calls “Dick’s Sports Authority” mixing together “Dick’s Sporting Goods” and “Sports Authority” as a function of her proper-noun aphasia), we came in to purchase Stretch a new pair of sneaks. I won’t mention that his shoes developed a massive tear in them after only a few months of ownership and normal use… that’s a different customer service issue.

We went with a coupon that we weren’t sure would work. We picked shoes that we suspected were not included in the coupon’s offer. We decided to buy another item that would, surely, not be included.

The Cinnamon Girl approached the register to inquire and the checker said: “Just bring up the shoes. We’ll see.”

We’ll see, I thought.

We brought the shoes. The coupon didn’t work. He overrode the problem. Then he handed the coupon back to me and asked if I wanted to buy my item (a fanny pack, actually, but that’s a story for another blog entry) on a separate transaction. So I could use the coupon, too. It was 25% off.

That’s customer service. We’ll be back to Sports Authority for all our Denver Bronco and athletic wear needs.

Experience Three:

The And There Came A Day Family has been eating calzones at a place called Wholly Cannoli for month. Every Friday. Few exceptions. We love these calzones. When they opened a dine-in area, we were excited and went a few times – though their service was not terrific (like half our entrees coming out 20 minutes before the other half on a recent occasion) Following experiences we decided to only order in from them. Every Friday.

We’ve got teenage boys. We’re talking $50.00 a pop.

Three weeks ago, The Cinnamon Girl went to pick up our usual order which included calzones made with ricotta cheese. One problem: the place had run out of ricotta. The Cinnamon Girlwhile waiting for our order, went to the grocery store about 300 feet away from Wholly Cannoli. She bought ricotta to complete the calzones herself. She asked why the restaurant simply couldn’t purchase the cheese themselves. “Can’t. We’d need too much. They can’t sell it to us in bulk.” Okay… I guess. I don’t know the business.

Turns out, they don’t illustrate that they know it very well, either. When The Cinnamon Girl opened the box to check on the calzones (there were supposed to be four), she found only three. Apologies were issued and, 20 minutes later, another calzone was ready to go (this one, amazingly with ricotta). Our dinner was a half hour later than we intended.

This past Friday, we tried again. We sent HJ jr to pick up the order The Cinnamon Girl placed over the phone and had the woman taking the call read back to her. Four calzones. Check. Got it. Ah, no… they didn’t get it. When HJ jr arrived to pick up the order and looked in the box, there were… you guessed it, three calzones and he had to wait for them to make the fourth (and this was after we called, with HJ jr standing there to be sure they got it right). A half an hour later than we planned, HJ jr arrived and we opened the box, ready to eat our calzones, one for me, one for The Cinnamon Girlone for HJ jr and one for StretchSous Chef was spending the night elsewhere. We opened the box, hungrier than we needed to be from our extra half hour wait.

What’s in the box? (Thanks, Brad Pitt)

Three. Calzones.

Oh, and two of them we didn’t order. Clearly they gave HJ jr someone else’s calzones.

We called. We said we were coming back, that two of the calzones were not at all what we’d ordered and paid for. We asked if they wanted us to bring the calzones back. They said “no.” They were going to make it right.

Indignant and incredulous, The Cinnamon Girl and I headed back to the restaurant.

How did the manager choose to make it right? What were we offered when we arrived?

A 20% discount on 3 more calzones. What a deal! Six calzones (two of which we didn’t order and wouldn’t eat) for the price of five when you only wanted four!

Suffice to say, we got a full refund and will not be frequenting Wholly Cannoli again.

Experience Four

HJ jr ordered a shirt online a few days back from zazzle.com. The interface was easy. The shipping quick.

When the shirt arrived, he didn’t love the color red he’d selected and wondered if he could send the shirt back for a different shade. Sure, we said, knowing that kids don’t really wear clothes they don’t like. What’s another few dollars shipping? The Cinnamon Girl emailed the company and explained the problem.

Ship the shirt back, they said, no, go ahead and keep it. We’ll send the color he wants free of charge.

Ah, zazzle.com, we’ll be back.

What do I make from all of this? I don’t know… The Golden Spoon had exactly one other patron in the night we were there. Maybe the word is out… However, Wholly Cannoli does a tremendous business. Maybe what happened to us (once, twice, three times incompetent – sing it with me), was an aberration for them. I am sure folks have had bad service at Sports Authority and zazzle.com has stuck it to someone…

But, here’s the deal. I don’t have to go back to places that I believe have done me wrong. I don’t have to spend my money there. I’ll vote with my dollars… and they are pretty hard-earned.

I will also remember, however, that I am in a service profession. I am a teacher. I deal with personalities in students, who really can’t vote with their dollars. And we’re not always going to agree.

But I hope that, when we disagree and when I disagree with their parents, that I can do so in a way that makes them  know that I am still trying to serve them.

Not making them consider throwing their yogurt away.

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World War Z – A Movie Review

World-War-Z-Poster-2013

First things first: I have read Max Brook’s World War Z.  

While enjoyable, it was not the greatest book I’ve ever held in my hand.

It ain’t Hamlet or A Prayer for Owen Meany or The Prince of Tides or Les Miserables. I don’t even rate the novel World War Z as highly as I do the Harry Potter series or Stephen King’s The Stand.

So, when there is talk of how much the film is different from the book I can say Brooks – a very rich man if only thanks to the bidding war between Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s production companies over the film rights to his book – is no Shakespeare or Irving or Rowling.

I just don’t care that the plot and characters were changed from Brooks’ text (and, busy taking money-baths, I don’t know that he does, either).

I do care that I get to see a good movie and World War Z was certainly that.

Marc Foster, whose Finding Neverland is really one of my all-time favorite movies (who we shouldn’t really blame for the bad script for Quantum of Solace and whose Stranger than Fiction remains, in my opinion, Wil Ferrell’s best film), understands that the stars of a movie called “World War Z” are the zombies and he makes a good choice to get right to them within moments of the conclusion of the opening credits.

Actually, the real star here is Brad Pitt and he is as watchable as always is. Think about it: when is the last time you saw Brad Pitt in a movie and said “he wasn’t that good”? Even in movies I really didn’t enjoy (step right up Babel and don’t lag too far behind Inglorious Basterds), I always find Pitt’s choices interesting and his performances solid.

Here, Pitt is perfectly suited as a family man thrust back into the sort action he thought he’d left behind. A UN operative who has had a falling out with his employers, Pitt’s Gerry Lane is one part philosopher, one part man of action and all parts dad. At one point, when asked by one of his daughters what his job is, Pitt replies “making pancakes.” We know it’s only a matter of time before the batter for those pancakes will be zombies and we’re looking forward to it.

The zombies are very cool and, as opponents for Pitt and the rest of the human race, they are menacing. They are not, as anyone whose seen a preview for the movie knows, the hulking, slow-moving zombies of 1001 previous zombie stories (The Walking Dead included), but a breed that moves quickly, sometimes acts in concert and scares audiences mightily. The question of whether the zombies are actual undead creatures or if they are simply victims of some kind of plague is an issue left ambiguous by the screenplay (cobbled together on-the-fly by a collection of writers), but that doesn’t really hamper the fun.

As Pitt’s Lane travels (super-quickly) around the world to try to find an answer to the zombie plague, the audience is treated to some pretty spectacular set pieces: a walled country of Israel, not one but two airplane escapes, helicopters-and-more-helicopters and a Blue Light Special gone crazy. Some of the action is truly inventive and all of it is appropriately gripping.

It does seem that the bulk of the money was spread between Pitt’s salary and the special effects as the rest of the cast is B-List and below in terms of reputation, if not of performance. Mireille Enos (who I only know from AMC’s The Killing) is very good as Pitt’s wife who has to take care of the family as he saves the world. She turns a typically thankless role into a fully realized one and it was a pleasure to see her smile here after slogging through one-and-a-half seasons of The Killing (we couldn’t finish the second and haven’t come back for the third).

David Morse (of St. Elsewhere [Boomer] and John Adams [George Washington] fame), one of my favorite character actors, steals a brief scene that he shares with Pitt and James Badge Dale is having a pretty good summer between this and Iron Man 3. I know that Matthew Fox (Lost’s Jack) was in the movie because I saw his name in the credits, but I don’t remember him at all. I couldn’t help but think as I watched that the movie would have benefited from a more recognizable supporting cast.

But, in the end, that’s okay. Pitt and the zombies and the action carry the day. That the screenplay was re-written with an entirely new third act was the talk of Hollywood last summer. That same third act had to be re-shot after production had wrapped. These sorts of events typically spell disaster (and not the good kind) for a movie. Coming out of World War Z, I didn’t feel that the film was choppy or confusing. I felt the whole thing held together pretty well.  I was entertained by the action, by a different vision of zombies and, yes, by Brad Pitt’s performance. It does anchor the movie and anchor it well.

Perhaps he was worth all the money after all.

World War Z gets four Incurable Diseases out of a possible five!

 

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