CINEMA CHAT – July 25, 2019
OPENING DOWNTOWN – Two GREAT Art House Films – THE FAREWELL and ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
At the Michigan (Opens Thursday, July 25 – Only 35mm Engagement in Michigan!): Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor… Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie). The ninth film from the writer-director features a large ensemble cast and multiple storylines in a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. Also stars Burt Reynolds, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, and many more! Critics Consensus: Thrillingly unrestrained yet solidly crafted, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tempers Tarantino’s provocative impulses with the clarity of a mature filmmaker’s vision.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Is One of Quentin Tarantino’s Most Affectionate Films. It’s Also One of His Best
How you respond to Quentin Tarantino’s dazzling elegiac fairytale Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may depend on how much you like old guys, people who see how the changing of the guard is leaving them behind, who are beginning to reckon with the ways their bodies will betray them, who have seen their profession change so much that they can barely keep a toehold in it. You’ll also need some affection for Los Angeles, past and present, for the way, unlike other American cities, it keeps its ghosts around for a long, long time: They’re poured into martini glasses at Musso & Frank, or they rush like a traveling breeze alongside the mosaic tiles of LAX’s Terminal 3. You don’t have to remember every television show—Mannix, The FBI, Bonanza, The Green Hornet—from 1969, when the film is set. Just recognize that pop culture used to be a very different creature: In the old days it didn’t come to you, parceled out in personalized packets via earbuds; you had to come to it, yielding first to its time slot and then to its charms. That, or wait for the rerun.
It also helps to have some feeling for the tragedy of one fledgling movie star who was murdered almost before anyone could get to know her name: Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Roman Polanski, was stabbed to death in Benedict Canyon by members of the Manson family on August 8, 1969, along with three friends, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and coffee-fortune heiress Abigail Folger. (Polanski was in London working on a film.) Tate had done some TV and a handful of movies at the time of her death; as an actor, she was winsome and elegant at once—her beauty was delicate without being fragile, and she seemed to have a sense of humor about how unreally gorgeous she was. The career she didn’t have is itself a kind of ghost, and you can occasionally feel it rustling through Tarantino’s movie: It is, above all, a Valentine to her.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s most affectionate movie since Jackie Brown (1997), the picture that remains—the idolatry surrounding Pulp Fiction notwithstanding—his masterpiece. Tarantino is at his best when he’s motivated by affection, and for that reason, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ranks among his finest; the serrated bitterness of his last picture, The Hateful Eight, has vanished. This is a tender, rapturous film, both joyous and melancholy, a reverie for a lost past and a door that opens to myriad imagined possibilities. Like all of Tarantino’s movies, it’s filled with references you may or may not get: There are woolly, rambunctious Jack Davis caricatures from MAD magazine, nods to blond dream girls like Joey Heatherton and Anne Francis, allusions to the brutally electric spaghetti westerns of Sergio Corbucci. But what you don’t recognize, you can Google; new worlds await. This is a welcoming picture, not an alienating one, an open door into a vanished world that still feels vital.
You could also look at it as Tarantino’s own Wild Bunch, a story of outmoded gunslingers getting their last blast of glory. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, a fading TV star and his longtime stunt double, two aging guys who have practically grown up together. They were in clover when Rick was a ’50s TV star, on a western series with a jaunty horse-trot of a title, “Bounty Law.” But those days are gone, and Rick has been relegated to playing the heavy in random TV episodes. There’s not much for Cliff to do but to drive Rick around and keep him company, though if he occasionally shows glimmers of resentment toward his more famous pal, the loyalty between the two is unshakable. (Cliff, as the movie’s unseen narrator puts it, is “more than a brother and a little less than a wife” to Rick.)
Cliff is also the more well-adjusted of the two, even though he has less money and less status than his TV-star friend. Rick lives in a comfortably appointed house on Cielo Drive—his new neighbors, renting the house next door, are newlyweds Tate and Polanski. Cliff lives in a disheveled trailer with a pit bull named Brandy, a sweetie-pie with a satin-gold coat and jaws of steel. But while Rick is rattled by insecurity over no longer being a leading man—he cries in gratitude when a pint-sized but ineffably wise young actor compliments him on a brief scene—Cliff takes everything in stride. He tools around the city and its environs, wearing a Hawaiian shirt as if it were a tuxedo—all of his class comes from the inside. He keeps seeing the same hippie girl around town, an underage cutie in tiny cutoff shorts and an even tinier crocheted top, a fringed suede bag swinging around her hips. She’s always hitchhiking, and one day, he offers her a lift. This strange, zonked-out girl (her name is Pussycat, and she’s played by Margaret Qualley), is part of the new generation that’s taking over Rick and Cliff’s world like a pernicious weed. She asks him to take him to Spahn Movie Ranch, a site formerly used in the making of movie and TV westerns. Now it’s a commune headed by charismatic sicko Charles Manson. Cliff doesn’t yet know that, but he remembers the ranch from its earlier days. The old world has merged with a new, more sinister one.
Throughout Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, fiction and fact meet; sometimes they criss-cross and hurtle in opposite directions. But the setting always feels bracingly real: Tarantino’s 1969 Los Angeles is a dreamland of multi-hued bar and restaurant signs—in a lovely sequence, they blink on one by one at twilight, just as actors all around town are leaving their jobs for the day and moving toward that beckoning after-work drink. (The film, every frame of it stunning, was shot by veteran cinematographer and Tarantino regular Robert Richardson.) As the story’s mood turns dark, the recording of “California Dreamin’” you hear on the soundtrack isn’t the Mamas and the Papas’ creamy, sunset-flavored version, but a more foreboding one by José Feliciano, the sound of vultures circling. There are moments in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that are purely terrifying. The movie’s tone shifts drastically during the finale, a sequence marked by ruthless, cartoonishly orchestrated violence—somehow it doesn’t fit, almost jolting the picture out of whack. But the movie’s final moment sets everything right, gently, a grace note of serenity in the context of an all-too-mad reality.
Pitt and DiCaprio are marvelous together, and though neither are what any of us should call “old,” their faces, once as flawless as airbrushed high-school portraits, have now achieved a more weathered perfection. DiCaprio’s Rick looks mischievously boyish, though you can’t help noticing the tiny crow’s feet marking the skin around his eyes, etched there by dried-up work and dwindling bank accounts—there’s an alluring, Robert Ryan-style weariness about him. And Pitt is superb, striding through the movie with the offhanded confidence of a mountain lion who knows his turf. This is swagger freed from self-consciousness; Cliff was groovy before the word was invented.
But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood really belongs to one person, a figure who gets less screen time than either of the male leads but who fills the movie with light even so. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, and in the movie’s most stunning sequence—set sometime in February 1969—she comes upon a theater, the Bruin, that’s showing her most recent film, The Wrecking Crew, one of those absurd Matt Helm spy joints starring Dean Martin. She goes up to the box-office booth to buy a ticket—and then it occurs to her that if she explains to the ticket girl that she’s actually in the film, she might be able to get in for free.
It works! She slips on a pair of oversized, owlish eyeglasses and sits down to watch her own image flash on the screen. There’s no vanity or self-congratulation in her expression, only curiosity and an almost mystical kind of fascination, as if she were observing a deer in the forest. She waits to see if the audience laughs at one of her funnier lines—they do. She mimics the martial-arts movies her character executes on-screen, her hands slashing and dipping through the air, her muscles remembering what it was like to learn the routine. Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is watching, as we are, the real-life Sharon Tate playing a character in a movie. But for us, the two have blended into one person, a young woman, recently married—does she even yet know she’s pregnant?—who has everything to look forward to. In real life, no one could save Sharon Tate. With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino and Robbie restore life to her. The magic spell lasts only a few hours. But no one has ever brought her closer to a happily ever after.
At the State (Opens Thursday, August 1): Cinetopia 2019 Audience Award winner for Best U.S. Narrative! In The Farewell Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (played by Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken. Critics Consensus: The Farewell deftly captures complicated family dynamics with a poignant, well-acted drama that marries cultural specificity with universally relatable themes.
‘The Farewell’: Lulu Wang Made the Year’s Most Exciting Hit By Refusing to Whitewash It
Lulu Wang’s personal story of an Asian American experience is a major breakthrough — but it came together after she nearly lost all hope of making the film.
Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” is the most exciting hit movie of the summer, but its success wasn’t preordained. A24 acquired the movie out of Sundance, following raves for the complex look at an Asian American experience through the lens of a woman grappling with dueling cultural identities. When it opened in limited release July 12, it beat out “Avengers: Endgame” for the year’s biggest per-theater average. And it almost didn’t happen. For Wang, the fragmented experience facing her movie’s central character mirrored the filmmaker’s multi-year experience attempting to make “The Farewell,” and it only came together once she had all but given up on it.
There were many disheartening encounters with American financiers as she pitched the premise: a young woman’s family visits her ailing Chinese grandmother while keeping the matriarch in the dark about her illness. Many suggested that Wang introduce a prominent white character into the narrative, and punch up the nuanced drama to turn it into a broad comedy. But Wang felt her story didn’t need the token white character; it already had Billie, the young protagonist, whose experience in a large immigrant family was specific to the Asian American experience.
However, the biggest disappointment was yet to come. Fed up with the disconnect, Wang met with a Chinese financier. “I thought, if I wanted authentically in Chinese, maybe it is a foreign-language movie, and not an American movie,” she said in a recent interview at the Bowery Hotel in New York. “Maybe I’m delusional in even thinking that I’m American, and that this is an American story.” The new meeting went nowhere fast. “This Chinese producer was like, ‘You need a white guy in your movie,’” Wang said. “They’re so influenced by Hollywood.”
So she tried another route, crafting an episode of “This American Life” around her family’s experience staging a faux wedding for her cousin in China, as an excuse for her relatives to see their ailing nai nai (Mandarin for grandmother) one last time. The episode caught the attention of producer Chris Weitz, who helped secure financing for the movie in the form that Wang envisioned it — 70 percent in Mandarin, with a tone that hewed closer to what Wang experienced herself.
“The Farewell,” which won raves for Awkwafina’s dramatic turn and Wang’s direction, scored a $6 million distribution deal with A24 at the festival. It opened in limited release exactly a year after production began in China; Wang’s next project, an ambitious sci-fi story, is in advanced pre-production, and murmurs of an awards campaign for “The Farewell” are well underway.
A Hard Day’s Night plays Sunday, July 28 at 1:30 PM and Wednesday, July 31 at 7:00 PM at Michigan Theater as a part of The SavCo Hospitality Summer Classic Film Series, presented by the University of Michigan Credit Union with media support from MLive. All summer long, we will be celebrating generations of filmmakers and their nostalgic treasures! The Beatles in their feature film debut, one of the greatest rock-and-roll comedy adventures ever. The film has a fully restored negative and digitally restored soundtrack. The film takes on the just-left-of-reality style of mock-documentary, following “a day in the life” of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as fame takes them by storm.
5B plays Thursday, August 1 at 7:00 PM at the State Theatre. 5B is the inspirational story of everyday heroes, nurses and caregivers who took extraordinary action to comfort, protect and care for the patients of the first AIDS ward unit in the United States. 5B is stirringly told through first-person testimony of these nurses and caregivers who built Ward 5B in 1983 at San Francisco General Hospital, their patients, loved ones, and staff who volunteered to create care practices based in humanity and holistic well-being during a time of great uncertainty. The result is an uplifting yet candid and bittersweet monument to a pivotal moment in American history and a celebration of quiet heroes, nurses and caregivers worthy of renewed recognition. Community partners Ann Arbor Pride, Jim Toy Community Center, and Unified HIV Health and Beyond.
Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies plays Thursday, August 1 at 7:00 PM at the Michigan Theater. Join Dead Heads in your neighborhood and around the world to celebrate the 9th Annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies. This can’t-miss event -the first to go global -features the previously unreleased complete June 17, 1991 concert from Giants Stadium. Widely considered one of the greatest shows of the band’s final decade of performing, 6/17/91 also sounds unlike any Dead show you’ve ever heard as it was one of only two recorded on 48-track. Mixed by Jeffrey Norman in glorious surround sound with video from the multi-camera live edit, this will be the first time the Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick line-up has ever appeared on the big screen.
At the Michigan: Cinetopia 2019 Audience Award winner! Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am offers an artful and intimate meditation on the life and works of the acclaimed novelist. From her childhood in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio to ‘70s-era book tours with Muhammad Ali, from the front lines with Angela Davis to her own riverfront writing room, Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, America, history and the human condition as seen through the prism of her own literature.
In Yesterday, Jack Malik (played by Himesh Patel, BBC’s Eastenders) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed… and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed. Also stars Ed Sheeran and Kate McKinnon.
The Cinetopia Secretopia hit returns! From the filmmaking team behind the highly-acclaimed documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years, Pavarotti is a riveting film that lifts the curtain on the icon who brought opera to the people. Academy Award® winner Ron Howard puts audiences front row center for an exploration of The Voice…The Man…The Legend. Luciano Pavarotti gave his life to the music and a voice to the world. This cinematic event features history-making performances and intimate interviews, including never-before-seen footage and cutting-edge Dolby Atmos technology.
At the State: Echo in the Canyon celebrates the explosion of popular music that came out of LA’s Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s as folk went electric and The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas gave birth to the California Sound. It was a moment (1965 to 1967) when bands came to LA to emulate The Beatles and Laurel Canyon emerged as a hotbed of creativity and collaboration for a new generation of musicians who would soon put an indelible stamp on the history of American popular music. Featuring Jakob Dylan, the film explores the beginnings of the Laurel Canyon music scene. Dylan uncovers never-before-heard personal details behind the bands and their songs and how that music continues to inspire today.
An official selection of Cinetopia 2019! In Wild Rose Jessie Buckley delivers an unforgettable, star-making performance as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a rebellious country singer who dreams of trading the working-class streets of Glasgow for the Grand Ole Opry of Nashville. Fresh out of prison, Rose-Lynn juggles her menial job, two children, and committed mother, expertly portrayed by Oscar-nominee Julie Walters, as she pursues her bold ambition of a one-way ticket to musical stardom. With the support of her boss (played by Sophie Okonedo), Rose-Lynn embarks on a life-changing journey that challenges her sense of self and helps her discover her true voice.
From the visionary mind of Ari Aster comes a dread-soaked cinematic fairytale where a world of darkness unfolds in broad daylight called Midsommar. Dani and Christian are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing.
Peter Parker returns in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the next chapter of the Spider-Man: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter’s plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!
In Late Night, a legendary late-night talk show host’s (played by Emma Thompson) world is turned upside down when she hires her first and only female staff writer (played by Mindy Kaling). Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision brings about unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women who are separated by culture and generation become united by their love of a biting punchline.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a poignant and sweeping story of hometowns and how they’re made—and kept alive—by the people who love them. Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. As he struggles to reconnect with his family and reconstruct the community he longs for, his hopes blind him to the reality of his situation.
That’s all for this week. See you at the movies!
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