Hollywood….One Big Fairytale According To Tarantino

“Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood” is the latest Quentin Tarantino film in which he both wrote and directed, as usual.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are at the center of this unique reintroduction to 1969, Sharon Tate, and the Manson Family.  Margot Robbie plays the late Sharon Tate.  Al Pacino is in this one with Kurt Russell along serving in a minor role as a stunt coordinator and narrator.  Dakota Fanning plays Squeaky Fromme. All kinds of occasionally surprising talent shows up here, which is a staple of a Tarantino flick.

DiCaprio plays an aging actor of mostly western television who is concerned that his Hollywood career is winding down.  He is usually in the company of best pal and stunt double, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt.  Rick Dalton is the name of this rather amusingly temperamental actor.  I have to say, I love the names of these two guys.  Dalton lives next door to the Tate and Polanski residence in 1969.  Booth has an encounter with members of the Manson Family.

This is Tarantino, so his depiction here isn’t historically accurate.  In fact he ignores the history almost entirely, although there are some interesting tidbits of Hollywood history that do make its way in this piece.  I would encourage readers to take a gander of the Wikipedia page about this film to get a better idea of what I am referring to.

There’s a quite a bit of traditional Tarantino trappings;  lots of swearing, copious amounts of blood splattering, and jarring time jumps at times.  If it sounds like I am being critical of this film, here’s my twist.  I think this is one of his better releases.  I struggled a little bit with getting hooked in at the beginning, however it does get better.  I am not a rabid Tarantino fan, but I do find myself interested when I learn he has something new coming out, and I do find him to be one of more unique and creative filmmakers out there.  There wasn’t much in the way of cliché predictability here in spite of it being based on real events and real people at the time.  I ended up getting very invested in the main characters played by DiCaprio and Pitt.  Pitt’s portrayal of Booth had just the right amount of swagger that kept me hooked, especially when he is at Spahn Ranch, where Charles Manson and his family were staying at one time.  Bruce Dern is also there with his portrayal of George Spahn, who I had just read was initially going to be played by the late Burt Reynolds.

The performances were all quite good.  The recently deceased Luke Perry was there which brought a tinge of sorrow to see one of his final performances.

The film isn’t for the more sensitive of viewers, but it captures the setting of 1969 Hollywood quite convincingly.  The characters ended up being quite engaging even if the movie has a few slow moments.  The soundtrack was great as well.  Sometimes, the flashbacks and time jumps could have been handled better, but overall the movie was more enjoyable than I expected.

 

The Ravenous Has A Taste For Time Lords

“Ravenous 2” is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions and stars Paul McGann alongside Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan, with Mark Bonnar returning as the extra crazy Time Lords known as the Eleven.  There are four episodes which propels the Doctor into further encounters with legendary creatures and old adversaries.  This is also first time the Doctor actually confronts the Ravenous for the first time.  The Ravenous lives up to its or their name by always needing a snack.  The favorite item on the menu is a Time Lord, of course.

Matt Fitton starts off this collection with “Escape From Kaldor” in which the Doctor brings his companions to Kaldor City where Nicola Walker’s Liv Chenka has a reunion with an estranged sister.  Also, some very familiar automatons are on hand.  The Robots of Death are back at it with their defying their programming and causing all kinds of mayhem.  Hattie Morahan has rejoined the TARDIS crew as Helen Sinclair after she was rescued from the Eleven.  Claire Rushbrook has a guest role as Liv’s sister, Tula Chenka and does well.  It’s a pretty strong start for this set, but it gets better.

John Dorney writes a two part adventure starting with “Better Watch Out” where the Doctor brings his friends to Salzburg to celebrate Christmas, however as expected with the Doctor being on site, something else has other plans.  People are suffering in spite of the holiday season, and the legendary Krampus has been unleashed.  The Doctor and his companions get separated which leads into Dorney’s “Fairytale of Salzburg” where another legendary figure is found to oppose the will of the Krampus.  This one has some great performances, however I was once again not all that clear as to what was going on during some of the action sequences.  There are some interesting twists and revelations at the end though.  McGann puts in his usual compelling performance.  It was pretty fun to explore the Christmas legends and traditions of another culture as only Doctor Who can.

“Seizure” by Guy Adams concludes this particular piece of the audio journey.  The Doctor and his two friends answer a distress call from everyone’s favorite psychotic and schizophrenic Time Lord known as the Eleven.  The Eleven has the unique affliction  of coping with all of his previous incarnations’ personalities at once.  The Doctor find him aboard a crippled TARDIS on the verge of death.  A ghostly presence is also lurking in the shadows.  A much more corporeal and Ravenous presence also is there to greet the travelers.  This is one of my favorite types of Who takes with the crew trapped in an isolated claustrophobic setting with a ruthlessly insatiable creature stalking our heroes.  Although all four of the episodes got the job done, I think this final one for this set is my favorite.

I enjoyed this set well enough, but I expect that I will be anticipating the next volume more now that the Ravenous has been properly confronted.

The King Of The Jungle Takes Back His Rock

“The Lion King” has been remade as a more live action CGI-laden film by Disney.  Jon Favreau is the director with Jeff Nathanson the credited writer. It is based on the script originally penned  by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. The voice talent includes Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. James Earl Jones returns to voice Mustafa, which he performed in the 1994 animated film by well…Disney.

Glover voices the adult Simba, the lion prince who wandered off after his father’s demise which allowed his cruel uncle Scar, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, to take over the pride and decimates the land.

The visual effects and scenery were quite spectacular as expected.  No one really put in a bad performance, which is good.  The comic relief between Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, as Pumbaa and Timon, worked well enough.  Pumbaa is a warthog while Timon is a meerkat, in case anyone forgot.

There was not much wrong with the movie, however it was basically an almost complete retread of the 1994 animated version.  There are some elements to marvel at, however it falls short in the originality department.  The whole thing just feels unnecessary. although it’s still a reasonably entertaining unnecessity.

The Chimes Of Notre Dame Make It To Texas Panhandle

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was originally written by Victor Hugo and first published in 1831. It has undergone countless adaptations on both stage, screen, and radio.  The cast of Amarillo Little Theater Academy went with the musical adaptation by Peter Parnell with music and lyrics provided by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

I don’t usually attend plays, although I have aspirations of doing better with that.  I reside in Amarillo, Texas which is actually home to a pretty impressive theater community.  The production I saw last night featured the cast from the ALT Academy under the direction of Jason Crespin.  It was a very young cast, but that’s no reason to underestimate the formidability of their commitment to their performance.  Although there were a couple of moments where I was pulled out of setting of 15th Century Paris by some problematic choreography of the fight scenes, I was able to sit back and go with the flow.  As far as the fight scenes go though, I get it.  No one needs to see a high school kid get whacked accidentally even with a fake sword.  I think one can chalk that up to just trying to find the right balance between safety and art as well. Even the most dedicated performer should balk at losing an eye over a community theater production.

A young actor named Bradley Hurt was cast as the deformed bell-ringer, Quasimodo, and I found myself really enjoying his take on it once I got used to how he shifted his performance from the moments when he was by himself and talking to the statues that kept him company in the bell tower of Notre Tower and to when he had to interact with the other characters.  It’s a musical, so Hurt turned out to have a pretty solid singing voice, at least to my amateur estimation.  When he was out of his own imagination and talking to those in the real world, he had a pretty effective rasp and cadence that was quite convincing.  I also had little trouble understanding him, and I was sitting near the back.  He had hair that kept flopping his face when he put on a more pronounced hunch and shuffle, so that was mildly distracting.  Hurt still manages to be engaging in his performance in both his singing and acting.

Quasimodo’s guardian is Dom Claude Frollo, played by Kayden Burns. Frollo is the power-hungry Archdeacon of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and uses scripture and other people’s faith and desperation to his own advantages.  A villain who is a bit cliche’ but that’s not the fault of the actor.  Burns does give Frollo a pretty nasty edge that is convincing.  Burns does appear to be one of the older cast members here. By older, I mean he is probably a bit further along in his twenties than the others. As mentioned, the other main actors were probably in high school.  I hope I’m not wrong about my estimation of Burns’ more mature look.  Anyway, he’s appropriately loathsome in his role which would probably earn him an appropriate “Great job!” from his director.

The spirited and gorgeous gypsy at the center of the discord with Quasimodo, Frollo, and a smitten guard captain played by Ethan Worsham, is Esmeralda, being performed by Alexis Bodkin.  I could buy into Bodkin being an exotic gypsy, at least from my seat in the back of the venue.  She also put forth a strong performance in both her acting and singing.

The costumes were quite good.  I thought the gypsies, in particular looked great. Tre Butcher plays the gypsy leader, Clopin, and does quite well himself.

I have no real issue with the performances.  The songs were quite well performed by the extras, but that is not surprising for ALT production. I have been to a few of their performances and have yet to catch anything that bothered me unforgivably.

I was more amused than really annoyed, but the a couple of more intimate or romantic moments did not quite look all that natural.  I suspect that was because of the perfectly understandable reluctance to encourage overly amorous behavior among the cast members.  It was one of those moments I noticed it, but I also got why it was there.  Truth be told, I probably would have been blushing considerably if those moments looked more authentic since the players are so young.

Anyway, I wish I could encourage people to see this particular production, but there is only one more performance scheduled on the day I am writing this blog.  What I can do though is encourage those in the Texas Panhandle to keep an eye on what ALT and the Academy are doing in the upcoming seasons and catch some shows.  I was really glad I took the time to have a fairly unique evening out for me and support an important piece of local performing arts at the same time.

Who Killed The Woman With The Tattoo? It’s Hard To Care This Time.

“The Tattooed Stranger” is a crime film released in 1950 about New York police detectives trying to solve a series of murders that begins with an unidentified woman with a distinctive tattoo.  Edward Montagne directed this not so much of a masterpiece written by Philip H. Reisman Jr.  The cast includes John Miles, Patricia Barry, and Walter Kinsella.  Jack Lord, who later starred in “Dragnet”, also has a minor role here.

There are a few interesting facts about this film that make it more interesting than the actual plot.  During that time, it was one of the few films shot on location in New York City.  There is a heavy emphasis on the forensics angle.  The detective played by Miles is actually a forensics expert.  Kinsella plays the mentor cop.  There’s a pretty girl whose knowledge of botany becomes important.

It’s unfortunate to say, but I had a hard time with getting interested in this one.  The acting seemed pretty stilted, which isn’t unusual for this era of cinema, however I noticed it a bit more this time.

The effort to depict some authentic seeming police work is appreciated, but the film just dragged at times. The film doesn’t have a long running time, but I couldn’t wait to reach the end of this thing.  I get where the filmmakers wanted to go with this, but it just couldn’t keep my interest in spite of my affection for this genre of film.

The Elusive Corpse

“Spider’s Web” was originally a play written by Agatha Christie and was adapted into a novel by Charles Osborne in 2000.  I don’t think this is one of Christie’s better known plays until I saw the novel on the shelves years ago.  I finally got to read it after all these years.

The wife of foreign office diplomat has a habit of teasing and messing with people’s heads a little and finds herself in a predicament when a man who was trying to blackmail her for the custody of her step-daughter ends up dead in her home.  She enlists the aid of her three dapper British gentlemen friends to help hide the inconvenient murder.  However, the police come calling much sooner than she anticipated, and her beloved husband is going to return with a very important visitor to their shores.  It does not help that the body is not where it not where it was left.

It was fun to read a Christie novel that was essentially new to me, but I wouldn’t call this one of her more noticeable contributions.  It could be that Osborne’s prose style just failed to pop for me.   None of the characters felt all that fresh.  I sort of liked the Inspector who turned up after a mysterious phone call was made to the police.  He seemed surprisingly astute at times.  I probably would have enjoyed the stage presentation more.  It’s not without some charm and hits some of the right notes of literary nostalgia for a Christie fan, but I can’t count this as one of the better presentations from the Queen of Crime.  She probably shouldn’t the shoulder the blame alone since Osborne’s prose is not that compelling.

And so coming up next to the reading lamp is James Lee Burke’s “Wayfaring Stranger”.

It’s Not So Bad To Be Lost With The Robinsons

“Lost in Space” was released in 2018 as a remake of the science fiction series from 1965 about a family that end being….well, lost in space.  The series was first created by Irwin Allen.  This version was developed by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.

The Robinson family are part of a group sent to Alpha Centauri to colonize a new world, however an attack on the spacecraft forces them and many of the colonists onto another planet where they face many dangers, or it would be a pretty boring series.  This version of the family is a little more dysfunctional than their 1960’s counterparts, however the main cast of characters all end up being likeable and important to the story. Yes, even the robot gets an upgrade and is there to lend a hand sometimes.  Of course, the dastardly Dr. Smith is around to cause confusion and mayhem.

The parents are played by Toby Stephens and Molly Parker, whose marriage is a bit on the ropes.  Parker’s version of Maureen Robinson is quite the engineering marvel and is head of the family mission.  Stephens’ version of Jonathan Robinson is a tough dude but is trying to be a better father.  It seems that his frequent military deployments has brought some tension and distance among his family, but he has the chance to salvage his relationship with his three children.

About the children, they are also quite nicely cast.  Taylor Russell plays the 18 year old mission doctor, Judy Robinson.  It was not clear as to what kind of medical program allowed her to have a degree at such a young age, but I was able to end up going with it. Also, Judy is the offspring of Maureen and a prior relationship which of course makes the biracial step-daughter of Jonathan.  However, Jonathan certainly loves her as if she was his own biological child, and that unquestionably is something to cheer on.  Judy has a traumatic episode near the beginning of the series, but she shows plenty of grit regardless when the family needs her.  Russell does it make it fairly easy to not sweat the business of her being an 18 year old kid with a medical degree.

Mina Sundwell plays the 15 year old mechanical whiz, Penny Robinson, who has quite the sardonic, cynical streak but is still likeable.  She also has good chemistry with Russell so that they have a pretty believable sisterly relationship that fluctuates between exasperation and genuine affection.

Then, we get to young Will Robinson, who is frequently in danger, as the Robot likes to warns us. Maxwell Jenkins has that role and carries it well.  Even though Will was at times the cause of some of the troubles that plague the Robinsons, one can’t help but have sympathy for his insecurities and anxiety.  Will has also had his moments where he was of help.  There is a pretty cool development in the relationship between Will and his father that was well played and kind of touching.

Ignacio Serrichio plays the roguish and charming Don West.  Don West is a gifted mechanic with a side business as a smuggler.  He is a little cliché in his unreliability at times, but he comes through in a pinch.  He also kind of bonds with young Judy but in a pretty platonic manner so it manages to not come off as creepy.  Judy sort of ends up being the one to stir West’s conscience at times, and their chemistry also works.

Finally, we get to the mysterious and psychopathic Dr. Smith, who is played by Parker Posey.  In this version, Smith is revealed to have stolen her sister’s identity and stowed away aboard the spaceship.  This version of Smith is a bit more subtle in her wickedness at times. She also has a clever and uncanny knack for convincing others to act against their better instincts.  Posey is quite good and seems to relish her role as the bad guy.

The producers of this particular iteration of the series managed to find a pretty compelling blend between introducing something new to the concept and paying proper homage to the preceding series.  The cast was well chosen.  The special effects were pretty good.  The Robot was well constructed and performed quite effectively by Brian Steele.

This turned out to be a pretty compelling and fun series.  Although I tend to be a bit leery of remakes of this sort, I don’t swear then off, and I am looking forward to the promised second season from Netflix.

No Five Star Rating For “Stuber”

“Stuber” is the action comedy film written by Tripper Clancy and directed by Michael Dowse.  Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani are paired up as the leads.  Mira Sorvino and Karen Gillan are also part of the cast with Natalie Morales, and Iko Uwairs rounding out as the lead villain.

Bautista plays the most intense cinematic cop ever after his partner is murdered by a super drug trafficker or something.  He has a strained relationship with his artistic daughter, bad eyesight, which explains all the squinting, and a generally poor disposition.  Bautista’s Vic Manning as a hot lead six months after his partner’s death and is recovering from Lasik surgery, hampering his ability to take his dastardly drug dealer into custody.  He ends up with an insecure, over-sensitive Uber driver as his reluctant sidekick in this one.  Nanjiani plays a part-time Uber driver who has been friend zoned by his supposedly true love.  His name is Stu, which explains the unfortunate title. Anyway, it’s toxic masculinity versus the new sensitive man of today as the chase ensues through the Los Angeles highways and alleys.

There are a few laughs to be found in this one, but not enough to make this one more than mildly entertaining.  Neither of the leads are particularly bad, but the writing could use some fine tuning.  Some of the fight scenes were pretty good in spite of the suspension of disbelief required.  The movie is pretty stupid overall but somehow has a few charming and amusing scenes that make it acceptable has a diverting matinee, but only barely so.

Bosch Has A Box To Find

“The Black Box” is a crime novel from the prolific Michael Connelly and features LAPD Homicide Detective Harry Bosch.  This particular installment was first published in 2012.

The novel starts off in 1992 as Harry Bosch is on patrol doing initial investigations of the homicides which occurred during the Los Angeles riots that had broken out after the acquittal of police officers who were tried for excessive force. Of course, this is referring to the whole Rodney King saga, although Connelly avoids that specific name in this story.

Bosch is haunted by the discovery of a young reporter from Denmark who was there on an unknown assignment and killed in the midst of the chaos.  He is not able to give the attention the victim deserved during that time, however twenty year later, he gets another shot at it as he works in the Open/Unsolved Unit.

A “black box” is a term referring to a piece of evidence discovered in an investigation that pulls a case together.  Twenty years later, Bosch finds the black box that will lead to a long-delayed justice for Anneke Jesperson, a reporter whose assignment was far more personal than chronicling a riot.

Bosch, as usual, finds himself at odds with the brass where his own career is threatened…as usual.  Of course, a mere kerfuffle with an ambitious superior isn’t going to keep Bosch from doing what he does best when he is hunting for justice.

Some of the leads and directions Bosch finds himself tracking in this case don’t seem all that believable sometimes, but the story still holds together quite well.  Bosch himself remains a compelling character, so I find it quite easy to suspend my disbelief to enjoy this novel.  Connelly has a talent for often not going down an obvious path in his stories, and some twists I didn’t predict as easily as I often do.  This novel also touches on a fascinating and tumultuous time in our country’s history and culture without it turning into the main plot.

“The Black Box” is a solid and at times profound entry into the Bosch canon.  Even if the main plot is just a little hard to buy into, Bosch as a character is still admirable and compelling enough to make that irrelevant.  And he also makes it where the reader wants to stick with him regardless of a few implausible scenes.  Bosch is flawed and compassionate enough to make it easy to root for him.  It is also easy to see why Connelly has become so popular in crime fiction for the past several years.

Next up on the journey of literary indulgences is an Agatha Christie play that was adapted into a novel several years ago by Charles Osborne, “Spider’s Web”.

The Mad Monk Of Siberia

“The Wanderer” is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is written by Richard Dinnick. This episode is one of the Companions Chronicles in which one of the actors from the early days of Doctor Who presents a story where there is usually another character played by a guest performer.  This time, William Russell returns to the mic reprising his role as Ian Chesterton and delivering dialogue that would have been spoken by the late William Hartnell. Mr. Russell is joined by Tim Chipping who plays a character named Grigory, who is revealed to be one Grigori Rasputin, a Russian mystic who would gain some influence during the era of Tsar Nicholas II.  Rasputin has made numerous appearances in various films over the years.  He was dubbed the “Mad Monk:, and Chipping certainly goes all out in this one.

The Doctor, Ian, Susan, and Barbara arrive in Siberia somewhere toward the end of the nineteenth century where they soon feel the effects of an alien influence.  With the Doctor taken ill and Susan and Barbara missing, Ian Chesterton is the one left able to start the efforts to reunite the crew.  He also has a chance to win the way home for himself and Barbara if he can find the source of potential cataclysm.  Of course, he has who will be later known as the Mad Monk to pitch in to assist.  Nothing can go wrong there, right?

This turned out to be a pretty good one.  Russell still sounds clear and in command of the story in spite of his age.  He does a pretty decent impression of the First Doctor.  Chipping also is quite convincing as the wildly unpredictable Grigory.  There is a great moment where he is able to see the future and the Doctor’s role in what’s to come for Earth.  Chipping basically goes a bit nuts and does it brilliantly.

I doubt I would call the episode as a whole brilliant, but I do find it to be a better than average contribution to the range in many ways.