Tag Archives: Steve McQueen

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

25 Jul

‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’: Stardom loses some luster in dusty, bloody wilds of L.A.

 

Image result for once upon a time in hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” isn’t a rescripting of historical events the way “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) envisioned the Nazis toppled by a handful of hard-hitting Jews, but there are definitely some major ripples in time. No, “Hollywood” is more a tongue-in-check, kick-in-the-pants modern fairytale with a hefty side of cinematic homage; it rambles some, to be sure, but it’s more sincere and genuine in execution than the video store clerk-turned-auteur’s last outing, “The Hateful Eight” (2015). It may be Tarantino’s most personal and intimate film to date (tying with “Jackie Brown” on the latter) as the director talks about tapping out after 10 films – which this would be if “Four Rooms” counts, but I digress.

The setting is the late 1960s. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), something of a Clint Eastwood or Chuck Connors, came to fame in a fictional hit television western called “Bounty Law” a decade earlier and now finds it hard to get lead work – he plays mostly heavies on (real) shows such as “The F.B.I.” and “Lancer.” Front and center too is Dalton’s shadow and heyday stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a smooth, angular chap with an aw-shucks facade and a deeply dark side that gets leveraged to glorious and disturbing effect. Because the two are loyal bros, Dalton, during his downward fade, employs Booth as driver and gofer. Dalton also lives next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski – and, yes, on the eve of the Manson family murders – and in a separate silo we get Margot Robbie as an ebullient Ms. Tate looking grand and fabulous as she dances poolside at a Playboy mansion gig and taking in a screening of “The Wrecking Crew,” which she stars in with Dean Martin.(At the box office, she asks if she can get a free pass, because she’s in it.) Robbie may not say much, but she’s intoxicating in every scene she’s in. Doomed in real life as a Manson victim, Tate is held up by Tarantino as the essence of a sunsetting era.

Continue reading

Widows

17 Nov

‘Widows’: Their husbands left with a job to do, and if goes even a little wrong, it’s their funeral

film still of three characters in a sauna exchanging money

The latest from “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen could have easily been called “Bastards” and worked as well. As is, “Widows” is a sweeping heist movie that plays out in alluring shards spliced together kinetically by editor Joe Walker, who’s teamed with McQueen on several projects. Early on we get loving embraces between a soft teddy bear of a man named Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his betrothed Veronica (Viola Davis). Could a couple be any more perfect? We cut to Harry pulling off a guns-blazing armored car job. The authorities are hot on his tail, but he’s got his crackpot team he tells to “stick to the plan” as bullets rain down. But things don’t go as planned, and soon we’re left with the trio of the title.

Joining Veronica are Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), all three pretty much left high and dry by their exes, and it does’t provide any solace that local gangster Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), whom Harry ripped off, comes knocking and wants his dough back. There’s nothing left to square up with, and Jamal’s sociopathic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) lurks at every turn, so what’s a trio of ladies in mourning to do? Simple: Execute the next job detailed in Harry’s secret notebook, pay off Jamal and start anew.

Easier said than done, especially when you learn your driver can’t drive. A quick call to “Baby Driver” might have fixed that, but remember, folks, this is an all-woman affair. Add to the mix the shifting sands of Chicago politics as Jamal runs for alderman against an old-school pol by the name of Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) whose pa (Robert Duvall) held the post in the past and fancies himself something of a power broker.

If the plot and cast couldn’t get anymore crowded, why not throw in Jacki Weaver (think of her performance in “Animal Kingdom”) as Alice’s mother. She likes the good life so much, she’s willing to sign her daughter up as a high-end escort, and isn’t it a blessing that Lukas Haas (the wide-eyed kid from “Witness”) pops up as her john named David? There’s a lot of moving parts and plenty of action. Bored you will not be.

Behind the lens, McQueen, like David Fincher helming “Gone Girl,” orchestrates the noisy fray and rippling plot within a plot with artful care. It helps that he’s blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the casting. Kaluuya, so good in “Get Out,” gets squandered here, but Henry and Cynthia Erivo, seen recently in “Bad Times at the El Royale” and a scene-grabber here as a late add to the crew, score quiet knockouts. Debicki, a tall, angular blonde with a blend of gangly, goofy sensuality that calls to mind a young Laura Dern, registers the fullest character onscreen. We get knowing resignation offset by a warm smile as she accepts the next shitty hand she’s dealt. Alice can’t catch a break, and that’s how the film wants it. These women are more than survivors when their backs are against the wall, that much is clear early on, though the action often feels heavy handed. The shifting lines of race and gentrification and behind-the-scenes political jockeying and backroom deals feel like something right out of a Richard Price novel and make for the most alluring subplot of the film – made even more so by the vitriolic relationship between Farrell’s son and Duvall’s megalomaniacal father – though never fully developed. It could have been its own movie. As is, the film hangs squarely on Davis holding it all together with pursed lips, unbending posture and a laser stare. 

The story by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, whose other projects “Gone Girl” and “Sharp Objects,” were similarly steeped in webs of crime, circumstance, depraved pasts and hidden agendas, is based loosely on a British TV crime drama, and Flynn knows how to get you on the hook. She’s just yet to master the reel-in, and the wrap-up comes as something of a shrug. It’s not quite as significant or moving as you might hope, but getting there’s an electric, Windy City Slip ’N Slide full of unsavory characters in the shadows and the front office – almost all of them men.

The Magnificent Seven

28 Sep
The all-star lineup fails to shine through in Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven

Courtesy Sony Pictures

The all-star lineup fails to shine through in Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven

Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and Yul Brynner — that’s a pretty tough trio to beat in any context and just one half of the star-studded cast of the original Magnificent Seven. That Western classic directed by John Sturges was itself a rebranding of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) and while the cross-genre translation made sense back in 1960, the current redux by Antoine Fuqua (Shooter and Training Day) doesn’t offer much of a spin besides boasting a diverse crew (an African American, Asian, Native American, and Mexican among the mix). Even then, with the exception of one “his kind” comment in reference to Byong-hun Lee’s blade-wielding character of Chinese descent, there’s not one drop of racial tension. Had the septet been hot pink fuchsia, the bad guy’s wouldn’t take notice. It certainly wouldn’t flavor their dull backlot dialog, but it might improve their ability to shoot and hit anything, because as the movie has it, their blazing guns — sans a lone Gatling gun mounted outside the cow-poke town — couldn’t strike the broadside of Kim Kardashian’s famous posterior.

Fuqua’s posse, which features Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke, is a pretty well-armed lot, but as they team up and ride out it becomes clear that something’s off with thisSeven. Sure, the scenery’s panoramic and lovely, but after a long, bouncy canter across the prairie, saddle soreness sets in well before the first bullet’s chambered. What’s missing are personality and philosophical idealism let alone brooding, macho conflict — all requisite when telling a tale of morally ambiguous men walking in a lawless land. It’s as if Fuqua took Sturges’ blueprint, connected the dots, then forgot to bring his palette to the set. Continue reading