I’m torn by “Quentin Tarantino’s Ninth Film”, the beautifully realised Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. Set in LA in 1969 and crammed with references to every cultural thing that existed then – TV ads, celebrity, TV westerns, spaghetti westerns, pop music, grocery branding, karate, macho men, ad infinitum, Tarantino dares to reimagine one of the most shocking crimes of that year, and many more, the Manson Family’s “pig killing” murders. The film’s references will be mysteries to most but folks who remember that insane year will be right back there, shuddering. And if QT has his way, exultant. Leonardo DiCaprio is TV series villain Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt his faithful, swaggering stuntman Cliff Booth (“not John Wilkes”) at a crucial point in their joint careers. Dalton, who happens to live next to Sharon Tate on Cielo Drive is on a downward slope but Booth’s understanding heart saves him from self-doubt. One sultry night in August, history and fiction slam into one another with gore, relieving tensions around Dalton’s hopelessness and that simmering evil out at the Spahn Ranch. Tarantino brilliantly represents true horror in the ranch sequence that foreshadows the horror felt by Angelinos in the weeks after the murders. Tarantino continues to recycle culture and history on a superficial pop level, recycling his own firebombing of Nazis at the top, then giving an unspeakable real-life tragedy the pop treatment towards the end. He gets away with it because after the first forty minutes the film is so darned entertaining with cinematic attention paid to every detail so that it’s packed with more references and a superficial hilarity. Margot Robbie is Tate, with Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, James Marsden, Bruce Dern, Lena Dunham, Damian Lewis, Tim Roth, Luke Perry and Zoë Bell.
Richard Dreyfuss stars with iconic Canadian actors Graham Greene, Colm Feore, Lyriq Bent and Art Hindle in a little gem about age and longing. Astronaut concerns an ailing grandfather and retired aerospace engineer who dreamed all his life of going to the moon. His chance arrives when an Elon Musk type billionaire space freak opens a contest to send one civilian – under 65 – into space. Everyone tells grandpa no, “and you’re too old” and he’s tossed into an old age home. Still the dream lives. Shelagh McLeod’s absorbing character study of a marginalised man who’s not done yet. Dreyfuss is unusually restrained in this gentle, but insistent tale, beautifully shot with a longing eye to the night sky.
Mindy Kaling’s ensemble comedy series Four Weddings and a Funeral for Hulu offers a new twist on an old chestnut, the London-based romcom. Kaling, executive producer and writer, offers a deeply diverse cast, with representation from several ethnicities and cultures with enough Americans to allow for the timeless and accurate line “American talking is English shouting”. A group of friends meets every Saturday for Game Night, and know each other so well they can act as a Greek chorus to any given Gamer. Manhattan-based Maya ditches her slimy married politician boyfriend when he has an affair with his dog walker, and heads to London where she’ll act as a bridesmaid to another Yank, Aisling. She’s marrying an investment banker who still shares a bunk bed with his little brothers at home. A charming American guy living with an English control freak discovers an affair he had five years prior resulted in a daughter. A warm and fuzzy American is in love with Maya, but she’s fallen for Aisling’s intended. It’s cute, nice to look at with relatable characters, it’s easily digestible but you’re hungry again an hour later. A little of Kaling’s signature comic bite would be most welcome. More lines like this “Really, Facebook? What are you, sixty?”.
HBO July 31st releases an excellent if unsettling documentary on the British citizen who changed the face of terrorism. Richard Kerbaj’s Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of A Terrorist examines Mohammed Emwazi’s London roots, his struggles with self-esteem, infatuation with the fundamentalist Islamic movement and transformation into the merciless ISIS beheader of men known as Jihadi John. He was inspired by 7th and 8th-century philosophies as he struggled with a strong sense of persecution and soon became a leader. High ranking intelligence operatives from British and American intelligence including former US General Petraeus, speak for the first time about the campaign to eliminate him, alongside those who survived capture and the families of Westerners he murdered. Jihadi John’s recruitment and propaganda videos horrified the world, in which his victims were forced to deliver extremist warnings before being beheaded. The beheading videos provided clues as to his identity especially his London accent, which helped unearth him in a timely fashion. This is a superior doc, just know when to briefly look away.
Britbox offers an extraordinary BBC drama series that takes us inside international war zones and hot spots with a British military unit. Season three of Our Girl starring Coronation Street’s Michelle Keegan as army medic Georgie finds the team in Nigeria, heading to missions in Belize and Bangladesh. But Nigeria proves to be a powder keg as the unit falls under attack by white thugs who may be human traffickers and armed child soldiers functioning as part of the terrorist Islamic group Boko Haram. A villager indicates to Georgie that kidnapped female students working as sex slaves and baby machines for Boko Haram are nearby but runs in fear before she can say more. The village is under siege on all sides, and Georgie must do what she can to fulfil their medical work. While the soldiers play football with local children, she ventures out to finds the kidnapped girls and is taken prisoner by heavily armed seven-year-olds. And the appears an unexpected source of assistance. It’s a remarkable concept, showing the lives of British soldiers on location, male and female, and offering glimpses inside the realities of people behind the news headlines.
Crave has picked up Hulu’s highly anticipated Veronica Mars revival, with Kristen Bell reprising her role as the appealing investigator. She returns to Neptune after a ten-year absence, and it’s all very jolly. Its spring break and the beaches are buzzing with college kids newly sprung from the drudgery of learning, making up for lost party time. And then the murders begin, the kids are being systemically wiped out. Could it be the beginnings of a class war? The rich want to ban spring frolics but the less wealthy depend on tourism for income. New cast members include J.K. Simmons, Patton Oswalt, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Clifton Collins Jr., and Izabela Vidovic. Fan faves are back – Ken Marino, Jason Dohring, Percy Daggs III, Daran Norris, Enrico Colantoni, Ryan Hansen, Francis Capra, and Max Greenfield.
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