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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The ninth movie from Quentin Tarantino is a dreamy doozy—his most unapologetically Tarantinian film yet. History and conventionality be damned: QT is behind the camera, and he favors mayhem and artistic license over conventionality and facts.

Set in 1969, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood captures the 1960s film scene and culture as it is dying—and dying hard. Through the Tarantino storytelling lens, they die in mysterious and hallucinogenic ways.

We get Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as insecure, has-been actor Rick Dalton, and his trusty stuntman, Cliff Booth. Dalton’s career has devolved into playing bad guys on weekly installments of TV’s F.B.I.—past his prime and blackballed. Booth is delegated to driving him around and being his confidante.

The setup allows Tarantino to go hog wild with ’60s visuals and songs. Hollywood is a monumental achievement on art- and sound-direction fronts. Some of Tarantino’s soon-to-be most-famous shots are in this movie, including a crane shot over a drive-in screen that dropped my jaw. The soundtrack pops with the likes of Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, Jose Feliciano, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. The looks and sounds are so authentic that you might find yourself wondering if Dalton and Booth were real people. They were not, but they are based on folks like Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Hal Needham.

The most notable real-person character would be Manson family murder victim Sharon Tate, played beautifully by Margot Robbie. She’s the luminous center of the movie, with Tarantino and Robbie taking the opportunity to show Tate as the beautiful, promising person and star Tate was rather than the footnote she’s become in the annals of Charles Manson’s bloody history. This is the first movie since her death that honestly pays homage to her rather than simply making her part of the Manson family rampage.

The Manson family plays a big part in Tarantino’s twisted fairy tale. The fictional Dalton happens to live next to Sharon Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski, while Booth pays a visit to the Spahn Ranch. The Spahn Ranch is where the Manson family squatted, and Booth has a sit-down with Spahn himself (played by super-craggy Bruce Dern). Unlike recent movies that depict the Manson family as having some strange level of grace (Charlie Says), Tarantino shows them as bumbling, idiotic and pathetic. It’s a solid choice.

DiCaprio, in his first role since taking home his much-deserved Oscar for The Revenant (and his second role with Tarantino after Django Unchained), will probably find himself in the running for an Oscar again. He’s a nervous, hilarious mess as Dalton, a man prone to crying in public over his career, yet still capable of blowing up a TV set with tremendous acting fireworks. He has a trailer rant and a hostage-taking-bad-guy speech that now stand as two of his finest acting moments.

In what is also his second teaming with Tarantino (after Inglourious Basterds), Pitt is fantastically funny as a man coasting through life with little care in the world. He’ll face off with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on a set he’s working just to shush his big mouth, or he’ll buy an acid-dipped cigarette for kicks. And when he smokes that cigarette, very strange things happen, and the wonderful Pitt laugh is put to its best use since he played Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

The end of the 1960s was bona fide nutty, and this is a nutty movie. It’s also quite heartfelt and moving.

Tarantino says he might only have one more movie in him after this one. I’m curious to see if he can top himself one more time, or if he just does that rumored Star Trek movie. Either way, Tarantino has left a distinctive mark on American cinema, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood adds to his perfect track record: He’s made nine movies, and all of them are at least good. This one is one of his best.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Quentin Tarantino returns to form after the just-OK Django Unchained with yet another masterpiece in The Hateful Eight, a grandiose Western that boasts his best dialogue in years—and an Oscar-caliber performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh.

I didn’t dislike Django, but the film was a little sluggish and not quite up to Tarantino’s usual standards. I thought he had a better, grittier Western in him—and this film proves he did.

Many Tarantino regulars return, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell. Russell, who delivered his career-best work in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Stuntman Mike, gets another chance to go to town with a Tarantino script, and he embraces it with much enthusiasm. Russell plays John “The Hangman” Ruth, a bounty hunter renowned for bringing in prisoners alive so that their necks can meet the noose. Riding in a stagecoach to Red Hook—with the notorious Daisy Domergue (Leigh), his latest bounty, chained to his arm—he comes across another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson). This is where the fun begins.

The party rescues future Red Hook Sheriff Chris Mannix (an outstanding Walton Goggins) from an oncoming blizzard. The stagecoach heads for Minnie’s Haberdashery as a means of shelter, where they meet the rest of the cast—and tensions soar. Ruth deduces that one or more persons in the party aim to stop him from reaching Red Hook with Daisy Domergue and her huge bounty.

Russell is doing his best John Wayne here, and he’s scrappy fun, still sporting his mustache and chops from his other 2015 Western effort, Bone Tomahawk. Jackson hasn’t gotten a chance to be this devilish since Pulp Fiction, and he goes off.

However, the performance likely to make the most waves is that of Leigh as Daisy. John Ruth elbows and punches Daisy in the face throughout the movie, and the looks Leigh gives him are proof that this lady is not to be messed with. Leigh’s Daisy is definitely full-bore crazy, but she also gives us something to sympathize with in her plight. She’s a marvel in a role that almost went to Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a great actress, but Leigh proves she was the right woman for the role.

The film is being offered in a 70-millimeter Roadshow version, complete with an intermission, for those of you willing to take a drive to see it in the old-school format. The impact and beauty of the film will not be lost in the digital projection, I assure you.

After expressing some anger with how Tarantino used his music in Django Unchained, composer Ennio Morricone re-teams with the auteur for a soundtrack that will more than likely put him into Oscar contention. The film is drawing some comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which also contained snow, group paranoia, Kurt Russell and a Morricone score. That score, along with the camerawork of Tarantino mainstay Robert Richardson, makes this perhaps Tarantino’s best-looking and best-sounding movie.

With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino finds his rhythm with editor Fred Raskin, who replaced the late Sally Menke on Django. Menke had edited all of the previous Tarantino films, and her presence was sorely missed on Django. As things turned out, Django was a decent warm-up for Tarantino and Raskin, because every beat is on the mark in The Hateful Eight. There’s a beautiful sense of tension from the first frame through the three-plus-hours running time.

Tarantino has been saying he will retire from filmmaking in the classic sense after 10 movies. If you count the Kill Bill movies as one (as he does), The Hateful Eight is his eighth movie. That would mean that there are only two left, which means modern cinema could take a serious hit two Tarantino films from now.

The Hateful Eight is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Blue Hawaiians—a surf-rock band that came together in the ‘90s—will be playing at Purple Room on Tuesday, Feb. 18, as part of Modernism Week’s “Modernism After Dark.”

The surf-rock genre of the 1960s—with bands such as The Ventures, The Challengers, Link Wray and, of course, the legendary Dick Dale—was the inspiration for the Los Angeles-based band.

“It all starts with my friend Michelle, who owned the Lava Lounge in Los Angeles,” said bassist/front man Mark Fontana. “I was playing in a band in Laguna Beach at the time with the guitar-player and drummer of what would become the Blue Hawaiians. We had a band called the El Caminos, and Michelle was a huge fan of the El Caminos. She wanted us to play the Lava Lounge on New Year’s Eve. Joey—the singer we had (in the El Caminos)—would always say stuff to piss people off, and Michelle called me and asked, ‘Could you put a band together to play the club without Joey?’”

Fontana seized the opportunity and put together a surf-rock sound for the show.

“My favorite guitar-playing is a lot of the old, obscure surf tracks from the early ‘60s. It has such a great tone with that reverb and stuff, so I thought it was the perfect blend to do at the Lava Lounge,” he explained.

The Blue Hawaiians went on to make their mark and play many of the legendary venues in L.A., such as the Viper Room and the Hollywood Palladium; their music was also part of a successful ad campaign for GUESS? Jeans. Because of their affiliation with the late, lamented Lava Lounge, they made a fan out of Quentin Tarantino, who was working on From Dusk Till Dawn at the time.

“He used to hang out at the Lava Lounge,” Fontana said. “This is before Pulp Fiction. He dug what we were doing, and I think it somehow influenced the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but I don’t know. It had the surf thing. He hired us to play for a set party on From Dusk Till Dawn with all the zombies or whatever the heck they were. Then he got so big that the last time I saw him at the Lava Lounge, I said, ‘That bastard! I’m going to get him for not putting us on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack!’

“But he left before I could beat him up.”

Being in a surf-rock band, Fontana is appropriately a surfer himself.

“The steel guitar-player and I surf on a more-regular basis than any of the other members,” he said. “I started surfing when I was 11, and I still surf today. I surf as much as I can. I love to get away from the cement, the people, the cars and technology. Sitting on the ocean and riding waves is a great form of meditation.”

As far as the dangers of surfing go, Fontana tries not to think too much about them. 

“If you throw sharks or big waves into the mix, it’s dangerous,” he said. “Anytime you deal with nature, there’s going to be some element of danger involved. Certainly with surfing, your surfboard can hit you in the head and knock you out, and you can drown. So, yeah, there’s definitely an element of danger. … Occasionally, I hear the theme song to Jaws playing in my head, and I start looking around for fins in the water, but you don’t see them too often.”

The Blue Hawaiians are one of the many bands that have contributed music to SpongeBob SquarePants. Fontana said he found the experience enjoyable—and it helped him become a hit with his own children.

“I think it was back in 1999. We were brought on in the early first season of the show,” he said. “It was really cool, and the thing that was cool about it: At the time, my son was about 4 years old. They sent me a VHS copy with some episodes for inspiration, and my son was literally falling off the sofa laughing so hard—and I was doing the same. I thought, ‘Man, they’ve really got something here when you have a 4-year-old falling off the sofa and an adult doing the same thing.’ It was really cool to be a part of that in the early day, and we still make money every quarter from BMI because of SpongeBob all these years later.”

Not long ago, the Blue Hawaiians took a two-year hiatus after their drummer Maxwell (Maxwellvision) moved to Colorado. While the Blue Hawaiians used to play three times a week, they now usually play a couple of times per month, on average.

The Blue Hawaiians’ show should fit in nicely at the Purple Room, due to the throwback nature of the band’s music.

“We have this unique ability to play for an audience and have a 15-year-old kid tell us, ‘Dude, you guys rock!’ and have someone in their late 50s say, ‘Wow, that was really cool!’” Fontana said. “We have this really unique thing that we do that can satisfy all these different age groups, which is actually hard to do.”

The Blue Hawaiians will perform at the Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Dinner begins at 7 p.m., with the show taking place at 8:30 p.m.; tickets for dinner and the show are $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-4422, or visit purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews

Django Unchained, out today (Tuesday, April 16) on Blu-Ray, is still my least-favorite Tarantino movie—but it’s growing on me. I liked it the first time I saw it, but I wanted to love it. When watching it on Blu-ray, I was more relaxed, and it went up a notch in my book.

This is the first Tarantino film not to be edited by the great Sally Menke, who recently passed away. The first time I watched it, I really felt her absence in the beat of the film. However, on the second go-round, I allowed myself to take in the movie on its own terms. It’s a little clunky in spots, and a little long, but with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson propelling the story, some lags are forgivable.

Waltz got an Oscar for his portrayal of the bounty hunter with a heart of gold. His performance was great work, but if anybody in this movie deserved an Oscar, it was DiCaprio, as he went well beyond his safety zone, playing one of last year’s greatest scumbags. Tarantino got a screenplay Oscar; he won the same award for Pulp Fiction.

The plot involving a revisionist history/fantasy of pre-Civil War America has a similar vibe to the revisionist history of Inglourious Basterds. It feels a little bit like Tarantino is repeating himself. But Tarantino makes good movies, repeating himself or not. Still, I’m hoping his next film is a change of pace like Kill Bill was.

Tarantino has never made a movie I haven’t liked; he’s a master. Django is his weakest, but it’s still good.

I would love it if somebody gave him a superhero franchise. He would do some amazing things with something like the Fantastic Four.

Special Features: A few short behind-the-scenes docs. Tarantino doesn’t do commentaries (although I do remember that he did one for From Dusk Till Dawn with Robert Rodriguez). The supplements are underwhelming. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Quentin Tarantino is repeating himself a bit when it comes to his latest, Django Unchained.

Tarantino got off on revisionist history with Inglourious Basterds, changing the events of World War II for entertainment’s sake. He got away with it, because the movie was stylistically awesome, and Eli Roth wowed with his baseball bat.

This time, Tarantino has taken his crazy pen to the subject of slavery, and the result is an uncomfortable yet somewhat entertaining mixed bag.

The movie has all of the Tarantino-isms (super violence, awesome music choices, cutesy monologues), but it gave me that “been there, done that” feeling. For the first time ever during a Tarantino movie, I found myself a little bored at times.

Christoph Waltz, who played the evil Jew-hunter Nazi in Basterds, returns to Tarantino Land as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter wandering around the South two years before the Civil War. He has the same ingenuity and flare for words that the Jew-hunter had, but he’s a much nicer human being. That is, unless you are one of his targets—then he will shoot you down like a dog in a spray of brains and intestine.

His character despises slavery, but purchases a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx), because he heard Django has seen some men he needs to shoot. As it turns out, Django is a crack shot; the two become partners; and lots of evil crackers are going to die violent deaths.

Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), has been sold to an evil slave owner named Calvin Candie (a slithery Leonardo DiCaprio), and Schultz agrees to accompany Django on a mission to rescue her.

When DiCaprio enters the fray, the movie hits its highest heights. Tarantino allows the usually virtuous actor a chance to be truly disgusting, and DiCaprio jumps at the opportunity.

The movie is long (two hours and 45 minutes), as are some other Tarantino films. However, this is the first Tarantino film that felt long. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that this is the first Tarantino film not to be edited by the late Sally Menke. Menke was a big part of the Tarantino universe, and her cuts were magical. Perhaps Menke would’ve made this gun-and-pony show fly by effortlessly, as she did with all of her other Tarantino projects.

Django Unchained is a sporadically entertaining film that feels a little off. It is also Tarantino’s most-sadistic film to date, and I say this while remembering the “Bring out the gimp!” scene from Pulp Fiction. Again, maybe Menke had a way of presenting Tarantino’s crazed visions that his current editor can’t summon up. The sort of stuff that is just plain nauseating here was actually kind of funny in past Tarantino efforts.

Waltz is terrific, and it’s refreshing to see him playing a crazy guy with a big heart. He’s usually such a prick in his movies, so it’s nice to see him in a heroic role. DiCaprio gives his part of the film a funny and sinister edge, although his monologue about the inner workings of a slave’s skull is a bit much. Foxx makes for a decent-enough hero.

Django Unchained is mediocre Tarantino at best, and I can only give the slightest of recommendations. See it for Waltz and DiCaprio.

I’m hoping this signifies the end of Tarantino’s revisionist-history and exploitation/grindhouse phase. Unfortunately, I just read a story where he teased an idea for a sequel to Basterds—so new and innovative ideas from Tarantino might be far away.

Django Unchained is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It's the holidays, a time for giving people movies, because you love movies, and you want them to love movies, too.

You are bullish and pushy by nature, and this needs to stop.

This guide assembles some of the best releases from the past year. Let it assist you in the art of handing over a film to a friend to cherish and enjoy, rather than having him use it as a coaster or squirrel-decapitator.

And if you have a friend who would indeed ferociously fling a Blu-ray at a squirrel with the intent of taking the poor thing's head off ... perhaps you should reconsider this friendship.

The prices listed are for Blu-ray, unless otherwise noted. These were <Amazon.com prices at press time, and they change frequently. There are bargains all over right now, so shop carefully.

SPIELBERG!!!

Oh ... the Spielberg fans had a good Blu-ray year. Oh, yes, they did. If I have a movie-lover on my list, and that movie-lover isn't one of those lousy snobs who think Spielberg is a hack, I'll just buy him two or three of these selections, and call it a day.

Jaws (Blu-ray)

Universal, $19.96

The greatest movie of all time is on Blu-ray, and it's a winner. The transfer will bring tears to the eyes of those who were fortunate enough to see the film on the big screen in its heyday. It has some great documentaries on it, including The Shark Is Still Working.

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray)

Paramount, $64.96

This has all of the Indiana Jones movies on Blu-ray for the first time in one affordable package. It's a perfect gift for that friend you sort of like, but not so much that you would fork over more than $100 for them. Not recommended for Secret Santa office parties. Way too extravagant.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

Universal, $19.96

This is the old-school version of the movie, without the damned walkie-talkies replacing the shotguns.

AMAZING DIRECTORS, AMAZING PACKAGES!

Tarantino XX 8-Film Collection (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate/Miramax, $89.98

This contains all of the films directed by Tarantino these past 20 years, plus True Romance, which he wrote. For less than $100, you can give that Tarantino fan every movie he has made, or piss off the Tarantino-hater for that same amount. You can't lose!

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Limited Edition) (Blu-ray)

Universal, $207.99

This has 15 discs loaded with 15 Hitchcock movies and special features. You get Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, North by Northwest and many others. This was my holiday present to myself.

TELEVISION: RETRO AND NEW

Steve Martin: The Television Stuff (DVD)

Shout! Factory, $34.93

This gathers many of Steve's TV specials from the early days, along with music videos and more-recent awards-show appearances. This is bliss for any Steve Martin fan. It also includes new interviews, with the man addressing each special and appearance. This is one of my favorite DVDs of the year.

Get a Life: The Complete Series (DVD)

Shout! Factory, $30.49

The great Chris Elliott TV show features him as a grown-up paperboy living in his dad's house and putting huge toy submarines in his bathtub. This show was really weird and always funny.

Louie: Season 2 (Blu-ray)

20th Century Fox, $21.99

Louis C.K.'s creation is the best thing on television, and the second season was as good as the first. The third season has aired, but doesn't have a DVD or Blu-ray version yet (although you can watch it on iTunes). Give the gift of laughing so hard that socks go through one's nose.

Metalocalypse: Season 4 (Blu-ray)

Cartoon Network, $21.83

You don't have to be a fan of death metal to like this hilarious animated series (although the music is actually quite good). One of the year's greatest special features has Dethklok's lead singer reading Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors for 90 minutes or so. This continues the Metalocalypse home video tradition of Nathan sharing the Bard.

SUPERHEROES

Marvel's The Avengers (Blu-ray)

Walt Disney, $24.96

The Dark Knight Rises (Blu-ray)

Warner, $18.99

The Amazing Spider-Man (Blu-ray)

Sony, $18.96

For my money, The Avengers offered the best superhero ride this year, with The Dark Knight Rises coming in a distant but solid second. The Amazing Spider-Man was stupid, but I'm in the minority on that one, so I'm sure lots of folks would appreciate seeing it under the tree.

THE BEATLES!!!

Yellow Submarine (Blu-ray)

Capitol, $22.78

Magical Mystery Tour (Blu-ray)

Capitol, $24.99

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Blu-ray)

UMe, $17.99

Chances are, you have a Beatles-lover on your list who would find great value in the titles listed above. Chances are, you also have a Beatles-hater on your list. If, deep down, you actually hate that person, give her these discs, and enjoy her "WTF?" face. Beatles-haters suck, so make them really angry.

<h/2>SHIPS DON'T SINK

Titanic (Blu-ray)

Paramount, $21.49

A Night to Remember (Blu-ray)

Criterion, $17.81

Here are two awesome films about the same thing, coming to Blu-ray for the first time. One has Leonardo DiCaprio getting really cold in glorious color, while the other has a bunch of English actors going down with the ship. Both are pieces of incredible moviemaking, and worthy of your average stocking.

THE SINGLE COOLEST BLU-RAY THIS YEAR

Little Shop of Horrors: Director's Cut (Blu-ray)

Warner, $17.99

For the real collector, this Blu-ray has the best special feature of any disc this year: You get the original ending of this twisted musical, in color—a huge change. Instead of Rick Moranis triumphing over his evil plant, he is devoured by Audrey II, who then proceeds to eat New York City and hump the Brooklyn Bridge.

GREAT NEW MOVIES THEY PROBABLY HAVEN'T SEEN

Safety Not Guaranteed (Blu-ray)

Sony, $24.99

Ruby Sparks (Blu-ray)

20th Century Fox, $11.93

These two gems didn't light up the box office, but they have the capacity of lighting up the various holiday things people put gifts under or around. Lovers of independent, intelligent cinema will see two of the year's best performances by actresses (Zoe Kazan in Ruby and Aubrey Plaza in Safety).

COMPLETE THEIR ALIEN COLLECTION

Prometheus (Blu-ray 3-D/Blu-ray)

20th Century Fox, $29.49

Ridley Scott's return to his Alien universe was a stunner, and the Blu-ray is packed. Make sure to get 3-D Blu-ray, even if you don't have 3-D capacity yet. That's because there are many more bonus features on this disc, and they don't require the glasses.

A REMINDER THAT LIAM NEESON ACTUALLY MADE A GOOD MOVIE THIS YEAR

The Grey (Blu-ray)

Open Road, $26.99

This one came out early in the year, and I'm afraid the great Liam Neeson performance will get ignored come awards time. Oh well ... it does have lots of snow, which is sort of holiday-like. It also has lots of wolves eating people, which might put a damper on somebody's holiday joy. Give this one to the person who doesn't mind seeing people getting eaten by wolves while drinking his eggnog.

WES ANDERSON RULES

Moonrise Kingdom (Blu-ray)

Universal, $19.99

While the Blu-ray itself doesn't have nearly enough supplements, the movie is one of the year's best, and is currently at the top of my list. It's gift-worthy.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing