Revisiting Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

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I make a point of never rewatching movies that I’ve already reviewed for this blog. I ain’t got time for that–too many other movies I still need to see! But as a part of my master’s thesis project, I’m doing a paper on the power of storytelling (and cinematic storytelling specifically) and one movie that came to mind as a good one to study was Quentin Tarantino’s latest that came out earlier this year, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. After a second, more intentional watch I somehow came away both with a greater appreciation for the film as well as a greater disgust for it (the infamous climax in particular) and found myself in the unique situation of no longer feeling satisfied with one of my earlier reviews (from only a few months ago at that!). Perhaps once my paper comes together I’ll elaborate more on some of the positive and critical insights I think I gained, but in the meantime, feel free to check out my revised review below (or click here to see my original post updated to include both the old and new reviews):
On first blush it’s nicely crafted but its one compelling arc (Rick’s disillusionment/friendship with Cliff) is squashed by a bevy of boring referential scenes disconnected from the shocking but empty climax. Upon closer inspection, many delightful details emerge to reveal a fascinating web of narratives meta-commenting on storytelling and identity–yet they also make plain the film’s ugly misogyny, misguided revisionism, and gross glorification of cowboy violence, especially in the climax.
7/10 (Good)

 

Ad Astra (2019)

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Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe. (IMDb)
The at times brooding, at times exciting, but always compelling premise of space/self-exploration, combined with the appreciably contemplative pace, breathtaking atmosphere/visuals (heh), and solid central performance could’ve made this a mesmerizing experience if it wasn’t for the ultimately underwhelming and sometimes cliche voice-over ruminations, climactic encounter, and main character arc (the initially reserved and enigmatic Roy feels more like the typical generic leading man by the end).
7/10 (Good)

 

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

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A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. (IMDb)
Keep it about Rick’s friendship with Cliff and him battling insecurity while trying to recharge his career and this would’ve been great; the leading men are excellent and the movie set scenes are engaging. Unfortunately this compelling arc is smothered by endless drawn-out scenes that do nothing but unload historical references (the pointless narration near the end is painful) and show off impressive production design. And so even the wild climax felt empty because nothing built up to it.
6.5/10 (Alright)
SECOND WATCH (12/02/19):
On first blush it’s nicely crafted but its one compelling arc (Rick’s disillusionment/friendship with Cliff) is squashed by a bevy of boring referential scenes disconnected from the shocking but empty climax. Upon closer inspection, many delightful details emerge to reveal a fascinating web of narratives meta-commenting on storytelling and identity–yet they also make plain the film’s ugly misogyny, misguided revisionism, and gross glorification of cowboy violence, especially in the climax.
7/10 (Good)

 

Megamind (2010)

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The supervillain Megamind finally defeats his nemesis, the superhero Metro Man. But without a hero, he loses all purpose and must find new meaning to his life. (IMDb)
The script’s dialogue-based humour is inconsistent at best (the opening voiceover intro is kinda lame; Megamind and Metro Man’s cliche convo was funny: “Revenge is best served cold!” “But it can be easily reheated in the microwave of evil!”) but it’s helped by a great voice cast (Cross as earnest Minion tops the list), and the overarching premise offers both some quirky satire of the typical good guy vs. villain dynamic as well as, of course, a refreshingly nuanced look at the villain itself.
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Moneyball (2011)

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Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. (IMDb)
It’s got the surface stuff for dramatic greatness–an intriguing premise, a solid cast, entertaining dialogue (see Billy’s flurry of calls at the trade deadline), and slick editing that smoothly incorporates lots of flashbacks and archival footage–but the story holds it back in a couple ways: Billy’s personal life often feels like an unnecessary inclusion, and the intellectualism of the sports narrative seems to get replaced in the third act with a more typical underdog/pep-talk type feel.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. (IMDb)
The significance of the mid-narrative opening scene still isn’t clear as it’s returned to later on, but it’s the only thing that doesn’t connect in this affecting and well-acted (Fassbender is a highlight) period piece. McQueen’s direction is laudably and fittingly unrelenting and inaccessible, with achingly long takes (see Solomon’s tiptoe hanging) and unflinching scenes of violence (see Patsy’s whipping). Bursts of tense music also add emotional nuance to the typical sentimental soundtrack.
8/10 (Great)

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

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In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet. (IMDb)
Aided by dizzying camerawork, brutal and bizarre visuals, a spine-chilling theme, and terrific turns from Willis (the troubled James) and Pitt (the manic Jeffrey), this thrilling concoction of psychological probing, surreal time-travel and future dystopia, and terrifying apocalypticism keeps you constantly on edge, never sure what’s real and what isn’t. Loaded with both red herrings and brilliant reveals (see the final rendition of the airport scene), this sci-fi would relish repeat viewings.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

The Big Short (2015)

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Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed. (IMDb)
The financial jargon and drama is thick and constant, but phenomenally and entertainingly packaged: The editing sizzles with both comedic and dramatic potency (lots of abrupt scene cuts and charming pop culture potpourri), the script is both serious and snicker-worthy (4th-wall breaks and snarky narration lie alongside tense moral exploration), and the big three put their acting chops on full display through some fantastic characters (the eccentric Michael, fiery Mark, and douche-y Jared).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

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Danny Ocean rounds up the boys for a third heist, after casino owner Willy Bank double-crosses one of the original eleven, Reuben Tishkoff. (IMDb)
Convoluted intro aside, the con job here is arguably–despite its unconvincing foundation–the crew’s most memorable: A delightful many-layered sabotage that pushes the boys outside their box to Mexico and even back to an old foe, sees the other 10 (minus Rusty) get a true chance at the spotlight, and moves them into a more satisfying and refreshing Robin Hood/anarchistic mindset. The dialogue and editing here aren’t on the same level as 11 and 12, but the caper might just be the best.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Daniel Ocean recruits one more team member so he can pull off three major European heists in this sequel to Ocean’s 11. (IMDb)
The great style from the first film is still present here in the artsy titles, delicious dialogue, and rambunctious soundtrack, but the substance is different: There’s more comedy and humbling mishaps (the Julia Roberts scene is great), but there are also more characters (an overload), and a disappointing lack of actual heists considering the wealth of other plot material that’s jammed in. It’s a bit of a messy story, with a weak climax to boot, but the film still doesn’t fail to entertain.
7/10 (Good)