By Marc S. Sanders

Director Damien Chazelle has come a long way since his first major motion picture, Whiplash, a small film about a young, tortured drummer.  Since that accomplishment, he seems to get more and more elaborate with each project.  Babylon certainly exceeds ambition in any select 3–5-minute scene it offers within its grand opus.  The main title card doesn’t appear on screen until after the first thirty minutes and by then you are exhausted, yet completely awakened.

Babylon begins in the mid-1920s, during the pioneering times of Hollywood filmmaking where silent films were fresh and were regarded outlets for escapism and entertainment.  Big studios like MGM were not quite on the scene just yet and movie makers experimented with their films having no regard for rule and caution while constructing them.  On a busy day of shooting at around 3:15pm, an open field sword and sandal battle might turn up an extra in an accidental death with an impaled spear.  No matter.  Must keep shooting before daylight is lost and everything runs off schedule. 

It was at this time that a star like Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), rugged with a square jaw and dashing with a pencil thin mustache, offered greatness in movie houses that showed silent pictures.  A new discovery like Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) who seemingly came in off the street captured producers and patrons alike with her wide-eyed expressions and lanky, yet appealing posture.  These were the first celebrities of the advancing twentieth century.  They were starlets that brought people back and back again to the cinemas to witness battles of roman conquest or dancing on top of a bar while batting their long eyelashes for a mug at the camera.  The filmmakers loved to work with them. 

These performers ruled Hollywood until the Talkies appeared on the scene.  Movies with sound revolutionized the industry, but these famed individuals couldn’t keep up with the evolution.  Audiences and filmmakers couldn’t accept a compatibility.  Try to imagine a Jack Conrad listen to a packed movie house chuckle at one of his romantic speaking scenes.  It’s heartbreaking to watch.  He was admired, but now he’s a joke.

When the sun would set, the parties soaked–make that drenched–in orgy and debauchery would begin and nothing was off limits.  Naked women would happily get high and drunk and tossed over a large crowd.  Prop penises would be inserted into one partygoer and then another and then another.  Fat ugly men would happily accept getting urinated on.  Endless amounts of liquor and especially cocaine would be gulped and snorted and the greatest dares imaginable would always try to top themselves.  Have you ever heard of a party getting so out of control that someone would go so far as to wrestle a rattlesnake in the middle of the desert?  Jack happily watched all this decadence go down.  Nellie joyfully became the outrageously intoxicated and fearless ringleader. 

I have offered only a sliver of description for Chazelle’s over three-hour film.  To sum up, Babylon offers a hard-edged response to the family friendly interpretation found in Singin’ In The Rain.  Both films delve heavily into the transition of silent filmmaking to talking pictures and those who were left behind.  Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s G rated picture will have you giggle at their Lina Lamont with the squeaky voice and pratfalls who’s all wrong for the next phase.  The heavy R rated dramatic interpretation is offered in Chazelle’s script with Margot Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy and her Jersey accent, accompanied by unrefined posture and behavior.  Her drug binges are no help either.  Margot Robbie is fearless in her performance.  She is messy, sloppy, harsh and frenzied with her character.  One thing that came to mind as she is snorting line after line of coke is that at that time, there was no such thing as a means for rehabilitation like today.  No one was even looking out for the harm that drugs and alcoholic binging could have on people.  People were left to their vices to just drown in their poison of choice.  For silent pictures, you could plaster them in makeup and costume and let them mug and bat their eyes for the camera.  It didn’t matter if their speech was slurred.  Talkies required much more concentration of their performers.

The main player of the film is newcomer, Diego Calva, as Manny Torres.  A Mexican who inadvertently finds himself in the Hollywood nightlife while pushing an elephant up a steep hill only to get shit on.  (The elephant serves no purpose except to make an appearance at one of these crazy parties.)  Manny has an instinct for what’s to come in the movies and builds himself up into a studio executive.  While he’s dangerously falling in love with Nellie, he’s also discovering next big things like a Negro entertainer who’s magnificent with a trumpet, Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo).  Manny is a good man who swims above the dangerous life of Hollywood partying and decadence.  He’s an innovator that’ll never receive credit for what he uncovers.  That’s for the white executives to profit from.

A minor but welcoming story is Sidney’s.  He’s soon hung on posters outside movie houses, and performing with big bands.  Hollywood awards him with riches he could never imagine and never asked for.  However, ironically, his complexion comes off too white against some of his other band players and the idea of caking himself in charcoal makeup is insisted.  How will Sidney respond to this humiliating request? The wealthy also have a particular regard for him.  His status as an entertainer.  Do they see him as a showboat clown or the artist he values himself to be?  How does Sidney want to be considered?

With all of the parties and drinking and drug use to go around, Babylon goes off in a hundred different directions before it finds an even keel outline that switches storylines from Jack to Nellie to Manny and Sidney.  Chazelle strives to one up what other filmmakers before have attempted.  I could not help but think about Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights which follows the porn industry in the late 70s and early 80s.  Happiness abounds until time and technology and constant self-abuse cause everything to unravel.  Babylon follows a very similar trajectory.

A friend of mine found Babylon too be overly gratuitous.  She’s not wrong, but while she took it as a complaint with the film.  I take how superfluous the movie is as a major compliment.  There are long scenes where Chazelle will not surrender for the audience.  He shows how drug raged Nellie is when no one will fight that rattlesnake by having her violently pick it up, swing it around and thus it will eventually latch on to her neck while she’s running around amid a gang of naked partygoers.  Then we get to see another starlet cut the snake off below it’s head, rip its fangs out of Nelly’s skin and proceed to suck the venom out.  Oh, you’ll squint and squirm through the whole scene.  What do we learn from this?  Drugs are bad.  Really bad, and they will delude you into acting with no vices or boundaries.  So, let’s be completely honest about it.

When Nellie is recruited for a talking film, we see take after take after take of her trying to make her mark while it is shouted over and over again to the crew to shut the fuck up.  There can be absolutely no noise from anywhere that the mikes can pick up and it doesn’t matter if a crewman is getting dangerously overheated in a soundbox.  (No air conditioning could be allowed because the hum would be picked up by the microphones.)  It’s a brilliantly, well edited, long and tortuous scene of flaring tempers, sweat, heavy light and stress.

I remember reading an interview with Henry Hill, the mobster who was the focus of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.  Hill said with no uncertainty that the characters portrayed by Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro were not even close to how frightening and violent their real-life counterparts were.  So maybe even Scorsese glossed over how harsh that world ever was.  Damien Chazelle is a relentless filmmaker with Babylon.  Nothing is whitewashed.  Most of what you see is shock value, but that’s the message he’s conveying and per his research he must be convinced the life of this era was actually this outrageous and way over the top. He’s certainly not forgiving with how manic these people lived, particularly with Margot Robbie’s character.

At the same time, he calms the film down to offer a harsh truth to a quickly becoming has been like Jack Conrad, Brad Pitt’s character, no longer in his prime.  Jean Smart portrays a gossip columnist reminding Jack that the height of his career is long gone, but fifty years from now, new generations will be rediscovering his achievements.  He will be a legend for all eternity.  Chazelle is speaking to us, those that appreciate what Turner Classic Films and other formats like videotape and DVD offer to see the first of these kinds of pictures where it all began with legends like Jack and maybe Nellie and especially Chaplin. Chazelle was an important student of this later generation.  This is the best scene of the picture with a magnificently written monologue, and I won’t be surprised if Jean Smart gets an Oscar nomination that no one ever saw coming.  I’m inclined to declare she should just get the award.  It’s such a telling moment for all kinds of movies.

Chazelle loves to make films.  The epilogue to Babylon demonstrates his affection as his story jumps to twenty years later, and an older Manny watches Singin’ In The Rain in a theatre. From what he inadvertently brought to the fold all those years ago, movies have evolved and continue to develop into bigger scales of what we could never have thought possible.  Chazzelle edits in a sequence where it started with silent films like A Trip To The Moon and Keystone Kops over to grand musical ensembles and adventures like Ben-Hur and then on to special effects with quick cuts of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Terminator 2, and Avatar.  Flashes of color appear on the screen and then quickly cut back to these captions in celebrated films and film stock.  I don’t believe any of this spoils anything of the film, but I like to recognize how Chazzelle takes inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s bewildering conclusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Movies are going on and on and on.  Whoever is hot now and presently significant will have to adjust to an ever-changing industry.  Once celebrated puppeteers working for guys like George Lucas have no value in an age of computer graphic engineering.  Big box office stars might not be able to uphold their careers during a time of streaming films that come to us by means of our flat screen TVs we can affordably buy at Walmart.  Kardashian girls are more widely recognized than maybe a Jack Nicholson or a Meryl Streep.  (Someone I know had no idea who Carol Burnette is.)

It’s hard to sum up everything captured in a film this big and ambitious and yes, gratuitous.  Perhaps, the best I can tell you is simply that a hard truth to accept is that casualties come from discovery in a film like Babylon


By Marc S. Sanders

When a person carries on with his/her life knowing full well that practically every action is illegal, immoral and harmful, it’s a story that must be told. Jordan Belfort, The Wolf Of Wall Street is such a person.

Leonardo DiCaprio explodes with rages of drug use, drinking, more drug use, banging prostitutes, even more drug use and pink slip stock trading along with some drug use. To get this manic, this wild, and this crazy requires a certain kind of energy to perform. The real Jordan Belfort must have had a massive amount of stamina to live this life. After all, he’s still alive today. DiCaprio, portraying the on-screen persona, throws himself into it. There’s no way he got to this pinnacle of hyperactivity on cue, with director Martin Scorsese’s call for action. DiCaprio had to thrust himself into this debauchery. It takes a certain skill to not let up on this. Pay attention to a hilarious scene where his quaaludes have paralyzed him to the point where he can’t even crawl to, much less open the door to his car. It’s a hilarious display of crippling physicality. DiCaprio maxed out on his Belfort portrayal, thereby earning his Oscar nomination. I thought he should have won that year. He lost to his cameo co-star, an excellent Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

DiCaprio is so good that he yanks the entire cast into comparable craziness as well. Jonah Hill plays Jordan’s sidekick Donny: a buffoon of a guy who’ll whip out his member at inopportune times for attention and display. Hill doesn’t hold back either in his earned second nomination as well.

Scorsese, with a script by Terrance Winter based on Belfort’s book, is not concerned with necessarily showing a story arc where characters question their actions. Instead, he focuses on the hubris of all of this. Crashed helicopters, crashed cars, crashed planes and crashed luxury yachts not to mention endless office orgies, including one in first class on a commercial flight to Switzerland. It’s filmed very well, and while it is one over the top thing after another, it is nonetheless very funny and very entertaining.

The nerve of this guy, right? Yet that’s the thing about The Wolf Of Wall Street. Right from the get-go, Belfort is strongly urged to let up as the FBI easily closes in, and he doesn’t. It’s kinda crazy, really. Belfort put himself in an unwinnable situation and his addiction to money, drugs, ridiculous sex, and the ease by which he does it all calls to him to stay in the game until the lights just turn off.

This film marked the highly visible introduction of Margot Robbie as Jordan’s wife. She’s excellent with a New York accent (Robbie’s Australian) who loves the money and glamour but is not so stupid. Following up with a nominated role in I, Tonya (which she should have won against an aggravating Frances McDormand in Three Billboards…) and offering the best moments of Suicide Squad, it is easy to believe that she could go toe to toe with DiCaprio here. They have great arguments on screen together; funny but true.

Scorsese offers up his signature narrative voiceover from DiCaprio just as he did before in Goodfellas and Casino. His editor Thelma Schoonmaker is great at keeping the energy alive by taking advantage of the legendary director’s quick cuts and great music samplings.

The cast is just right with memorable moments from Jon Bernthal as Jordan’s tough guy friend and errand boy, Brad. (Bernthal is a great character actor all together. Check him out in Baby Driver, too.). Kyle Chandler is the modest element as the FBI agent who brings it all down. He knows he doesn’t have to exert himself too much. Belfort is doing all the work for him. Still, he spells it out harshly and honestly. No bullshit. He just cuts to the chase.

Other great appearances include Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley and I have to recognize Stephanie Kurtzuba. She offers a scene not widely recognized, as a disciple of Belfort’s team who is full of pomp, and confidence that far exceeds any of the guys alongside her. It occurs midway through and it’s an important moment because it really shows the power of influence Belfort had with his stockbrokers. He made them criminal millionaires overnight and to them he’s a Messiah. When Kurtzuba’s moment occurs, she solidifies the power of Belfort’s misdeeds.

It’s very easy to succumb to this lifestyle. Scorsese and Winter show how easily and quickly lots of unclaimed cash can be made at the expense of innocent people. It’s really fascinating. There’s no dimension to Belfort and his cronies of losers who would follow him anywhere despite the cost and the damage. That’s okay for me here. Simply because it fascinates me that he had the chutzpah to continue on with this immoral trajectory.

The Wolf Of Wall Street is a no holds barred, great film.


By Marc S. Sanders

Ever since Adam McKay’s The Big Short was released in 2015, it has remained a favorite film of mine. I watch it at least once every year. McKay’s script with Charles Randolph, adapted from the book by Michael Lewis, is enormously funny but also realistically frightening.

The film shows how America’s housing market crashed in the first decade of the 21st Century. Mortgage backed securities never failed in history until now, and no one anywhere, especially the banks, ever believed a crash would occur, but it did. Only a select few people like Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling) foresaw what no one else could imagine, and thus they took advantage of it by making enormous betting transactions against the housing market. To say you need a strong stomach for this kind of investment is a serious understatement.

Burry is the first one to realize that the country as a whole will default on their mortgages once their interest rates go up in 2007. He represents Scion Capital and invests billions of dollars against the mortgage backed investments. Now he watches for the next two years while the capital at Scion declines into negative digits and drowns out the frustration with death metal music. Bale is fascinating as Burry who has a brilliant mind, but he lacks social skills.

Vennet gets wind of Burry’s discovery and sells the idea to Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team of representatives. Vennett narrates how it all played out in the market; how ratings agencies gave triple A rankings to bonds made up of worthless backed securities. McKay wisely has Vennett introduce celebrities like Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez to break down the vast complexities of everything. Robbie in a bathtub. Gomez playing black jack. It’s hilarious and relatable. Gosling is great. A great scene is his selling presentation which includes a metaphoric prop of a Jenga tower. Vennet has no qualms about collecting premiums as the rest of the country is going down. He’s profiting, and why not? Big banks have been doing it for years.

Carell is spectacular as well as Mark Baum. He has a heart, but he’s an angry individual. It sickens him to make money off this short buy, but it’s the responsible action to take for the benefit of his own clients. Mark also suffers from his brother’s suicide. McKay allows just enough time for this to draw out the misery of this character. Carell should have gotten an Oscar nomination at least. Baum is a guy with no filter as he confronts authoritarian parties throughout the film. He’s a hero really, but he’s not a guy I’d ever want to be left in a room with either.

An additional story arc comes from two young guys (Finn Wittrock & John Magaro) who also uncover this opportunity. They enlist Brad Pitt as a recluse who get them into the arena of big traders. These kids who started their investment company in a garage are great as well. Another party who came out of nowhere to uncover what no one else saw.

McKay assembled a magnificent blend of actors for these unusual characters who always hid behind their computer monitors. He directs with a lighthearted approach having his characters breaking the 4th wall at times to explain what all of this means in the simplest terms.

As simple as McKay makes it with his humor, this was a terrible, terrible tragedy putting millions of people out of work and owners losing their homes. Even renters lost their homes. Pay your rent but it means nothing if your landlord isn’t paying his mortgage. McKay tragically shows this outcome.

It’s terrible to imagine, but it’s a major downfall of the American economy. When the country, is doing well, while paying short term low interest rates, no one concerns themselves with what could all go away in an instant. It’s a vicious cycle, and the only funny thing about it all is that the supposedly most brilliant investors will naively allow this to happen over and over again.

The Big Short is one of the best films made in the last 20 years.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 84% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A fading television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s first Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is a little bit like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  It’s big, bombastic, and goes the long way around the barn to get to the finale, but in the end it all makes sense and is a transcendent experience.

Let’s see, where do I start?

First of all, the film’s evocation of 1969 Los Angeles is like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way.  I’m no fashion scholar or visual historian, but every exterior shot of the city was pretty convincing to my layman’s eyes.  The movie theatres, the movie posters, the restaurants (anyone else remember “Der Weinerschnitzel”?), the cars, those HUGE sedans sharing the road with VW Bugs and M/G’s…it’s clear they did their homework.

There’s the performances by the two leads.  Tarantino once said he considered himself the luckiest director in modern history because he was able to get DiCaprio and Pitt to work on the same film.  Can’t argue with him on that score.  They carry the film in a way that few other tandems could have.  (Newman and Redford come to mind.) Mind you, DiCaprio and Putt don’t look much like each other, considering one has to be the other’s stuntman, but you get the idea.

Above all, there’s the story.  DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a former leading man from ‘50s TV westerns who is now playing colorful bad guys in ‘60s TV westerns.  Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, the stuntman who’s been taking the dangerous falls for Dalton for years.  Dalton happens to live next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

All the trailers, and all the industry buzz, reveal that the Manson family and Sharon Tate play a part in the film.  That’s no spoiler.  Given what we know about those events, the movie plays like Gimme Shelter, the landmark documentary about the ill-fated concert at Altamont that was actually due to take place a few months after the events of this film.  It’s all very suspenseful, in the sense that we know what’s coming, but we’re just not sure how the movie is going to approach it.  So every scene with poor Sharon Tate in it is overshadowed by the fact that we know her ultimate fate in history.

It’s like the famous Hitchcock analogy of suspense.  Two people are eating at a restaurant when a bomb suddenly goes off under their table…that’s surprise.  Put those same two people at the restaurant, where the audience knows there’s a bomb under the table, but it doesn’t go off right away as the two people eat and converse and have dessert, and we’re wondering will they leave BEFORE the bomb goes off or not…?  That’s suspense.

And that’s the genius of this movie, with Tarantino’s sprawling, winding screenplay.  We get to know Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth intimately, we get the rhythms of their relationship, of Dalton’s mood on set, of Booth’s quiet acceptance of his role as Dalton’s sole support system.  We are treated to lengthy scenes showing Dalton at work on the set of a TV western, so we can appreciate the vast differences between an actor and their characters.  There’s a brilliant backstage scene between Dalton and a child actor who is impossibly, hilariously advanced for her age, and who winds up giving Dalton some goodhearted advice.

And interspersed through it all is Sharon Tate.  Sharon Tate bopping to music at home.  Sharon Tate picking up a female hitchhiker on her way into town.  Sharon Tate almost passing, then backing up to admire with youthful excitement, her name on the marquee of a movie theatre, right next to (gasp) Dean Martin’s name!  Sharon Tate dancing, walking, smiling, drinking…living.  She’s the diner at the restaurant, and the Manson family is the bomb we know will eventually go off.  It casts a pall over the proceedings, but not in a bad way.  It’s an interesting way to bring the reality of the situation into focus from time to time.

And now I have to end this review before I inadvertently give away certain, ah, plot elements that elevate Tarantino’s film from a mere character study or period piece into the heady heights of cinematic transcendence.  I have not myself read any reviews of the film, so I can only guess that whatever negative reviews are out there probably center on the film’s finale, or perhaps on its meandering script.  All I can say, or will say, is that I am firmly on Tarantino’s side on this one.  The way the conclusion was written and filmed is the kind of thing that people will still be talking about years from now.

So just take it from me.  If you’re a movie fan, and ESPECIALLY if you’re a Tarantino fan, this is right up your alley.  It’s easily his most slowly paced movie since Jackie Brown, but that just gives you time to e-e-e-ease into the characters, like putting on a tailored suit piece by piece.  This film, like Beethoven’s Ninth, is a masterpiece.

QUICK TAKE: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Josie Rourke
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce
My Rating: 6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 60%

PLOT: Mary Stuart attempts to unite England and Scotland, but her cousin, Elizabeth I, refuses to acknowledge her sovereignty, resulting in years of treachery and political maneuvering.

I came into Mary Queen of Scots with only movie knowledge to guide me, mostly from Elizabeth, the 1998 film starring Cate Blanchett.  After watching this movie, I can honestly say that, in terms of knowledge, not much has changed.  All I learned was that Mary Stuart would stop at nothing to keep the throne, which she believed was her birthright, and her cousin, Elizabeth I, refused to acknowledge that birthright because of her religion.  I think.  And much heartbreak and backstabbing ensued, resulting in Mary Stuart’s beheading.  (That’s not a spoiler, we see it happening at the very beginning.)

This isn’t so much a BAD movie, as it is a DENSE movie.  It assumes the audience knows much more about Elizabethan intrigues than I obviously do.  It becomes clearer as the movie progresses, but for the first 20 or 30 minutes, I was a little lost.  There is some excitement during a military attack, not to mention the unexpected exhibition of cunning linguistics, but for the most part the movie is content to sit back and simply regard the drama without getting invested in the story.  It was rather bland.  Not boring, just lacking in flavor.

The biggest draws here are the performances from the two female leads.  Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are riveting, Robbie in particular as Elizabeth I.  She disappears into the role, without any trace of her previous screen personas.  Ronan’s Scottish brogue is on point, and she brings Mary Stuart to fiery, red-headed life.  But the surrounding story density never seems to let the actors swing for the fences.  It was a muted experience.

Fans of this historical period will likely enjoy Mary Queen of Scots more than I, much as Queen fans adored Bohemian Rhapsody more than non-fans.  I wouldn’t necessarily run to theaters, though.  Maybe wait for cable or Netflix.  Yeah.


By Marc S. Sanders

There’s no question the most different of Quentin Tarantino’s directorial efforts is his latest film, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood. Already described as his “love letter to cinema of the late 60s,” his 9th effort also implies the end of the Hippie Era by devoting a portion of time to B movie actress Sharon Tate, infamously murdered by Charles Manson’s followers when she was 8 months pregnant with Roman Polanski’s child.

Margot Robbie plays a near, gorgeous exact replica of Tate. She’s deliberately short on dialogue and I like to believe it’s because Tarantino treasures her as an innocent angel who was loving the atmosphere of Hollywood. She’s preserved of being nothing but likable. She dances with glee in her bedroom in the Hills or in public at the Playboy Mansion. One day she visits the local cinema to see her performance in “The Wrecking Crew” with Dean Martin. Tarantino shoots close ups of Robbie loving her footage as a pratfall klutz while listening to the audience reaction. She’s loving every second of the experience. People love her and she sees the love she has for people. Critics took issue with Robbie’s lack of dialogue. Not me. The performance is all there. Robbie is wonderful to look at with responses of pure happiness and celebration.

The main focus of the film is on Rick Dalton played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a huge range of drama, comedy and well intentioned over acting when Tarantino is wanting to spoof the TV western for fun. We see a collection of Dalton’s work, most especially on the fictional black and white TV western that airs Sundays at 8:30 on NBC (cue Dalton’s cowboy hat close up accompanied with “BONG, BONG, BONG!).

Rick is realizing he’s becoming past his prime. Marty Schwarz, his agent and a producer, played by Al Pacino warns Rick that he’s at a point where he’s only going to be the villain of the week on The Green Hornet and Batman. Rick does not take this well. Using his stunt double pal, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to talk to, Rick is consumed with insecurity and alcoholism.

Tarantino wants to depict an era in Hollywood on its way out. A fictional character like Rick and the well known fate of Sharon Tate symbolize this turning point.

A third example is with Cliff. Rumored to have killed his wife, Cliff has trouble finding stunt work on a set. So he’s happy enough to just drive Rick around in his Cadillac, and fix his antenna. A great moment occurs when Cliff antagonizes a cocksure fist of fury Bruce Lee to a fight. Bruce doesn’t do so well against Cliff. Bruce Lee maybe not be what he once was, or what audiences ever perceived. Times they a changin’.

This is not the aggressive film that Tarantino is mostly known for. It’s primarily calm as we see these characters navigate around Hollywood locals, listening to The Rolling Stones and the Mamas & The Papas, and various product advertisements. Rick and Cliff are suffering a little. Suffering at the loss of what they were and the world they are forced to enter, nor what they are accustomed to. Sharon is ready for what’s next. Yet, will she get the opportunity to carry on?

The ending is bound to leave people divided. It’s different and very, very unexpected. It makes no difference how you feel about it. What matters is if it generates a response, and based on the theatre where I saw the film, yes! Yes, there is a massive response to what occurs.

Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is not his best film. There were moments where I thought it was a little slow and the film lacks the dialogue punch that many know Tarantino for. There’s really not one memorable line that stayed with me. I guess that’s what the trade off is when you finally are served multi dimensional characters that Tarantino has hardly offered before.

It’s the best non Tarantino film that Quentin Tarantino has ever directed.


By Marc S. Sanders

Margot Robbie is a champion actress. Just look at Bombshell (I thought she was more memorable than Oscar winner Laura Dern.). Look at I, Tonya. (I thought she should have won the Oscar that year.) Harley Quinn? She’s perfect in the role as a ditzed out, mallet carrying party gal villain turned anti hero from the Batman universe. Only problem is that as good as she is in the role, I can’t stand Harley Quinn. This is a child who just won’t sit still.

Robbie takes on her second turn in the role following the abysmal Suicide Squad. This time she produces Birds Of Prey (and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). It’s an improvement from Squad but it still seems to be all over the place. It happily acknowledges that it time jumps and corrects itself. It is happy to drop F bombs because the producers wanted a R rated female driven equivalent to Deadpool. (It never had to be Deadpool.) It even goes in rewind mode (you know, with the cassette tape sound) because the viewer or the fans of Harley need to experience the lunacy of Harley. She talks looney so we need to feel looney while she voiceovers the story that’s going on here.

The Gotham gangster Black Mask (Ewan McGregor – the next candidate in line trying to replicate Jack Nicholson’s Joker, just like Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones and Arnold Schwarzenegger and on and on), wants to find a diamond that was swallowed by a kid named Cassandra Cain. Harley recruits herself to protect Cassandra, while waiting for her to shit it out. Hilarious material here. Side stuff tells us that Harley has split from the Joker.

The problem with Birds of Prey is that it does the work for the audience. I was constantly reminded that Harley is cuckoo, that I didn’t get the chance to discover it for myself. Robbie’s delivery is perfectly on point. The issue is the writing by screenwriter Christina Hodson is hackneyed. The character’s antics are too in your face. Look at Heath Ledger. The Nolans only revealed so much about the Joker. When their film ended, I wanted to learn more. Where did that guy actually stem from? He was a Joker like no other before him. The character wasn’t shoved in my face like Harley is. I had to think about him during and after the film.

The supporting cast is nothing of interest either. Rosie Perez, a great actress, plays third or fourth fiddle here as a Gotham cop who doesn’t get the credit she deserves from a department of mostly men. Mary Elizabeth Winstead just carries a crossbow that people mistake for a bow and arrow, and she gets frustrated with that. Yeah that’s ironic, I’m sure.

Still, despite the title, Harley is the main protagonist. Warner/DC got the right actor for the part. So why couldn’t they write her with more depth than this? The film starts out fun with a silly Looney Tunes animated update but then it gets all scattered with Harley breaking a thug’s legs and blowing up a chemical factory. She also shoves cheese whiz in her mouth. You go, girl!!!

Think about it. Harley used to be a renowned psychiatrist who is dropped in a vat of acid and abused terribly by Joker, only to break free of him and find her own way. This film really only TELLS us this. A better film would have SHOWN that to me. A better film would have made this the story from beginning to end. I’d love to have seen Harley before she went nuts.

You know what? I might’ve then become Harley Quinn’s biggest fan.


By Marc S. Sanders

The will to commit wrongdoing must stem from somewhere; an outside influence or perhaps a genetic makeup, or both.  I think I, Tonya suggests it’s central character suffered under the former possibility. Outsiders put former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding where she is today with a reputation forever scrutinized and forever tarnished.

Margot Robbie was unjustly denied of the 2017 Academy Award that went to a been there, done that Frances McDormand for the horrible Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Margot Robbie is one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today. This film puts her into the stratosphere.  Robbie is unrecognizable beneath the punishing white trash persona of the infamous Tonya Harding.  She is unrecognizable in caked on makeup,  awful periodic perm haircuts, chain smoking, excess drinking and terrible dietary habits that include a shameless plug for Dove chocolate bars.  

Harding is forever notoriously linked to the knee bash heard round the world victimizing her Olympic competition, Nancy Kerrigan.  Margot Robbie does not hold back in displaying Harding’s lack of class and elegance expected in the sport of women’s figure skating.  It’s what Tonya Harding lacks that blocks her from the fame and success expected to come with being a champion athlete. Robbie is fantastic about surrendering her character’s talents for short tempered flare ups, crass behavior and a filthy mouth.  Her facial expressions are shocking.  Stretched fake, Cheshire Cat grins with bulging eyes pull at the pressure Tonya suffered under a hateful mother’s thumb, and an equally abhorrent, stupid husband.  She is forever naïve to how the judges never put her above the competition in points.  I mean this is the only woman to ever successfully accomplish the triple axle!!! 

Equally astonishing is Allison Janey as Tonya’s mother LaVona Harding, an incredibly cruel woman hell bent on making sure Tonya skates for the sole opportunity to endlessly torment her only daughter physically and, even worse, mentally.  Janey joins the exclusive club of cinematic great villains.  This is an unsympathetic woman with no drive to be better at anything except increasing her abuse upon Tonya.  It’s a shocking performance.  Janey appears so comfortable in the cruel insults, offensive language, and non stop smoking all the while her pet parrot sits atop her shoulder.  LaVona is uncompromising in how she punches, throws plates or even tosses a steak knife at her hated daughter.  What a horrible person, and what an amazing performance. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better antagonist in a film these days.

Sebastian Stan chose wisely to accept the role of Jeff Galooley.  It’s a great departure from the Marvel superhero films.  Jeff is a dumb, needy, abusive husband to Tonya; the man who admitted to being the orchestrator of the knee bash (though the movie will tell you it’s not that simply explained).  Stan should have been nominated at least.  It’s not easy to play such a dumb, real life moron, and he excels in the role. What an asshole Jeff Galooley was; what a dumb asshole actually.   He, along with his conspirators, have great chemistry in idiotic planning.  Stan really shows his best moments when he’s being reckless with his rag doll wife, Tonya.   The physical domestic fights are so well edited amid rock ballads from Fleetwood Mac, Laura Brannigan, ZZ Top, and Supertramp. 

Director Craig Gillespie follows the breakneck formula of Martin Scorsese with character interviews, racing steady cams that convinced me that Robbie is as talented a skater herself as Harding was.  She has so many levels of erratic fear, insecurity and tempers.  The method of filmmaking here seems like a slight nod to Raging Bull.  Gillespie takes advantage of all that Robbie brings to the camera.  It’s a perfect marriage of director and actor; as perfect as DeNiro & Scorsese or DiCaprio & Scorsese.  I hope Robbie & Gillespie will be teaming up again soon.

Once again, I have to ask.  How in the hell does that piece of celluloid waste called Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri get a Best Picture nomination when as far as I’m concerned, I, Tonya clearly stands much higher above it in terms of craft, writing, performance and filmmaking?????  It astounds me.

I, Tonya is without a doubt one of the ten best films of 2017.  I can’t wait to see it again.  It’s unbelievably good.  

Footnote: Do I think any differently or sympathize with Tonya Harding now that I’ve seen this depiction? I don’t think so.  She is clearly a woman who was never given a fair chance at a happy life. She was destructive to herself as much as those that surrounded her.  Yet, she had to also accept responsibility for her actions and behavior.  Any of this could have gone differently.  If only these people were not so stupid or irresponsible.  These people, Tonya Harding included, all had choices to make.  They could have chosen a different option time and again.  Despite some of the positions Craig Gillispie’s film takes, I truly believe Tonya Harding could have opted for a different path while combating her inner and outer demons.