The Way of the Samurai – 4: Great and Small

Perhaps the most profound lesson.  A rebuke to that trite expression “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Film Brief: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

One scary story to tell in the dark would be pure awesomeness, more even better. But there’s nothing particularly scary here. In other words, yawn.  I understand this may be directed towards yungin’s, but that doesn’t mean it has to be such a boring rehash.

What is with no starting titles?  Are you so ashamed of your lead actors?  Of the movie title? 2/10

Comparison Notes: Creepshow, all haunted house movies, Pet Sematary, ItPan’s Labyrinth

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood …Take 2

So…

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. I stick by my original post… most of it. Reflecting on it a bit more: it’s still a wasted opportunity, even assuming Tarantino’s general approach.  So much latent material that was left unexposed…  that was my frustration as the end credits rolled.

But I’m also a big believer in judging a movie for what it is, not what it is not. And it’s really a quite entertaining film, despite some glitches. I especially liked Cliff’s interactions with the Manson clan, headed by “Pussycat”/”Cat,” and Rick attempting to deal with a precocious young actress. An encounter with Bruce Lee is another highlight.

So… there’s a lot of fun to be had. More than I let on at first. It’s in no way a masterpiece, and it rests solidly a couple pegs below Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, or Hail, Caesar!. But you need to lighten up people.  7/10

Those ellipsis still drive me nuts.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino drifted south [u]

First a note on the film’s title.  Wikipedia incorrectly lists it without the ellipsis, the marketing materials have the ellipsis after the “in” and the film itself displays the title as I have above — ultimately, the correct version. I think. The New York Times briefly addressed this issue, but one thing not mentioned is the space before the ellipsis, a grammatical error. But the space and the placement as I’ve shown seems to be the consensus.

That title is not shown until the end of the movie, though the rest of the standard intro titles are included in the correct location. Followers of my blog know that omitting for no good reason a film’s intro titles annoys the heck out of me — so a partial titles MIA annoyance here. Especially given how much Tarantino loves titles.

All these title issues serve as a signpost which hearkens the weakest Tarantino feature since Reservoir Dogs.  It is quite clear that Tarantino had a clear vision in mind for this film, and executed that vision. The problem is it’s not a very good vision. An elongated story about an aging actor looking at the demise of his career is not exactly groundbreaking, especially not the way it’s portrayed here. The whole ode-to-Hollywood component, ever-present in Time … in, only half-works. And then there’s the Manson story.

Tarantino proved himself an absolute master with fictionalized history in the brilliant Inglourious Basterds; Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight showed he knows how to optimize a period setting. Others have written more about this (e.g. this other Times article), so I’ll just agree that it only half-works here. The grand vision that Tarantino had feels a lot smaller on screen. And, as with Lincoln, there’s an opportunity that was missed. Tarantino didn’t want to make a movie about the Manson murders, but rather a semi washed-up actor and the Hollywood scene of 1969. That’s fine, but a missed opportunity and something very diminutive, even petty compared to the scale I was expecting.

And … the Manson murders still have not had their proper due on film.

* * *

I’ve always said that I welcome filmmakers to take their own, original directions. But this wasn’t that original, or particularly great. There are parts of it that are borderline cheeseville. The scene where he’s kicking himself for missing a line is real amateur-hour, even as the whole acting sequence that precedes it flows with art. On the other-other hand, the movie-within-a-movie has no connection to anything else. So not exactly Hamlet, despite the references to it.

There’s enough genuinely entertaining parts of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, including the mild arc of story presented, that I still offer a recommendation full of the normal caveats.  A missed opportunity, yes.  But there’s fun to be had — probably all Tarantino is going for, and it didn’t drag too much even with the nearly 3-hour running time.  Unlike Lincoln, Good Times in Hollywood earns a pass.  I just hope this doesn’t mark the beginning of a latter Oliver Stone era in which Tarantino can no longer figure out how to make good movies.

6/10

Comparison Notes: Hail, Caesar! (a much better take on Hollywood’s past, and a vastly more entertaining film), Lincoln, Café Society

UPDATE: It took one more night’s sleep to crank it up a notch; now 7/10.

== TRAILER: PRIOR POST ==

The new Leonard Cohen documentary…

…is a disaster.

For those unfamiliar with Leonard Cohen, it fails, seemingly making the assumption that you are familiar to some degree with his life’s work.

For those who are familiar — like me, the substance and storytelling contained within Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is abysmal.  A real letdown for fans of Cohen. Admittedly, the filmmaker takes his own, different tack, focusing on a key relationship of Cohen — but he failed at really conveying that too.

There are a couple nice little biographical tidbits, like a dry shave to reinvigorate a stage performance.  But these show that the filmmaker is not intending Words of Love to be some sort of un-biography. There’s a very strong sense that there was a lot more biography left out, or i.e. never found by the filmmaker. That there’s a lot more to Leonard Cohen’s life, big and small, that we never get to see.

Kate McKinnon’s performance of “Hallelujah” right after the election, and right after his death, was more profound and substantial than this entire movie. One of the most incredible things ever done on SNL, a deeply emotional and powerful tribute to Leonard Cohen while simultaneously mourning the death of a nation that happened on that horrible Tuesday night.

 * * *

Speaking of music.  Where’s the music for Christ’s sake? I mean, you’re handed that on a tee. There were snips here and there of Cohen on stage, as if to say, ‘by the way, here’s Leonard Cohen doing what he does best, doing what made him famous, the only reason we’re now making a documentary.’  But there was way too little of it — so disappointing. It’s not like there are a hundred other Leonard Cohen films out there. Swap out about half the interview time for music and this thing would have been much improved.

Sometimes I get frustrated or even angry at filmmakers screwing up the goose that laid the golden egg. I’m in no way angry here, because I recognize it as pure incompetence. It shows that making a documentary is no gimme. It’s not that easy. You have to know what you’re doing.

I mean generally, if you have strong content for a documentary, often you just let that stand on its own. So maybe it is easy. This filmmaker seemingly did everything he could to block the extraordinary work of Leonard Cohen. The couple aforementioned tidbits raise this one to 3/10.

Comparison Notes: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Citizenfour, Room 237, Rocketman, Love & Mercy, Searching for Sugar Man, Walk the Line

iFixed it!

I found that my 6-year-old MacBook Air was dying on me — or that the battery was dead. The obvious solution: time for a new Mac laptop. After all, 6 years is getting my money’s worth — that’s just plain old for any computer, if not exactly ancient. But I looked into it at iFixit.com — a very impressive website — and found that replacing the battery would be, or should be, straightforward and easy.

I’ve always approached Apple tech products as a modern-day Lost Ark of the Covenant: just don’t open them — except in the case of minor surgery: Apple-sanctioned addition of RAM in a couple older iMacs. But my mid-2013 MacBook Air has been an absolute workhorse, as snappy and functional for my portable computing needs as any new machine. A stalwart companion on all my travels near and far. So why chuck it?

So I put faith in buying the kit directly from iFixit (approx $100 including shipping and tools) and followed the repair guide — and all seems, a couple days later, to be perfect. There were no unforeseen snags, and now I’ve breathed new life into the old machine. I don’t see any reason that I can’t get another 5 or 6 years out of it. And I’m amused at the idea of continuing to use it and use it and use it, instead of leaping to the next, newest machine as I normally advocate.

And besides, I like the traditional, non-butterfly keyboard, the Mag Safe charger, and the glowing apple on the lid that for some reason Apple abandoned.

Not exactly a Herculean effort like rebuilding a 57 Cadillac, but I’m happy about it.

Oh — and for those wondering why I’m posting this on my movie blog, 2 reasons: 1) Almost all of my blog posting is done on this machine, and 2) It’s my blog and I’ll post what I want to.

P.S. I LOVE the spirit of iFixit.com, and the careful engineering approach they take.  And the box is so cool! — I want more of these boxes!