Once upon a time in Hollywood: a true story

When I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest blockbuster, Once up a time in Hollywood, I was completely oblivious to its original story. My confusion led me to believe that this was just another one of those movies which made absolutely no sense but was a hit due to the big names involved. I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the movie was based off a true Hollywood story, the Tate murders. 

The film is introduced to us through the fictional characters of the actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton struggles to find any work other than westerns, meanwhile his stuntman spends his days driving around Hollywood in his bosses expensive car.

The film is as much about the late 1960s Hollywood than it is about the murders. The story follows 2 days of the life of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who at first is documented going to the cinema to watch her own movie. Robbie portrays her character as gloriously dreamy and almost ‘not with it’. One of Sharon Tate’s final films was ‘The wrecking crew’, in which Tarantino places brilliant homage to the actor by not digitally replacing her with Robbie. August 8th, the second day and the real date of which Sharon Tate was murdered; but Tarantino changes this legacy. The real events occurred as the Charles Manson family snuck into the Tate family home and murdered the now 8 month old pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends .  

Tarantino’s version of events spared the lives of everyone but the murderers themselves. I was fascinated when Tex Watson (Austin Butler) comes up with preposterous in the middle of the night to ‘kill the ones that taught us to kill’. Tate and Dalton were neighbours on the Hollywood hills and this time, the killers approached the home of Rick Dalton. After a drunk night together, Dalton had set off on a walk encountering the murderers on his way and Booth had taken his long saved acid type cigarette whilst trying to do the mundane task of feeding his dog. This ridiculous yet chaotic scene involved the killers bursting through the front door and immediately attacking the residents. It was a bloody fight, with gruesome scenarios and the last killer to be burnt alive in the swimming pool by Dalton with his flamethrower. Tarantino humorously gave the alternative version of events of what could have happened on the night of August 8th 1969, but with underlying references of the true story such as blood filled rooms and a pregnant wife.

The film ends with a calm after the storm, Booth is taken to hospital whilst Dalton finally interacts with his neighbours. Sharon Tate’s dreamy voice is heard over the intercom, this being Tarantino’s way to show continuing legacies even when one is not present in a physical form

Mary Poppins returns (2018)

Disney’s new venture to modernise and reintroduce famous characters to younger audiences and bring nostalgia to everyone else is certainly a great money making scheme. With the likes of Beauty and the beast and Maleficent; Mary Poppins (directed by Rob Marshall) is also one to undergo a transformation as this iconic magical nanny comes floating back onto our screens. 

Julie Andrews’ career defining character was now replaced by Emily Blunt, who was accompanied by Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter who was said to have apprenticed Bert in his younger years. Screenwriter David Magee had big shoes to fill, but only really half did the job. The storyline was fairly weak and unoriginal, with the Banks’ children grown up and not even shining a glimpse of their exhilarating childhood left inside of them. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), a widow and father to three independent children now face being evicted from their homes unless they find lost documents. Along the way, Mary Poppins appears, Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) falls in love whilst the bank’s corrupt chairman, William Wilkins (Colin Firth), sabotages the plot. 

Despite the feeble script, Blunt did an exceptional task at putting herself aside from Julie Andrews. Her accent was now more received and much sterner. All in all, the magic of Mary Poppins remained the same with the numerous times she looked into the mirror, the magic of tidying up as well as pulling ridiculously large items out of her doctors bag. That’s not to say that Blunt didn’t add her own touches. With her ever pointed out toes, conversations becoming more sarcastic and cheekier, Blunt really showed how versatile of an actress she can really be. Miranda’s performance as Jack was also delivered very well. His experience in theatre and complicated choreography paid off well as he used the stage to the fullest of his abilities, using Dick Van Dyke’s original as inspiration. The film, as always, broke away from traditional separations between class as the fate of the working class lamplighter was to fall in love with Jane Banks. Although Miranda’s take on a cockney accent was interesting, it can be argued that his performance was certainly a touch more friendly than Van Dyke’s original. 

The music in the original 1964 film was certainly memorable, with ‘step in time’, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, ‘a spoon full of sugar’ and ‘chimchim cher-ee’, written and composed by the Sherman brothers and all being nominated or winning academy awards. Unfortunately, there weren’t any of those in the remake and its fair to say that although the songs were catchy, they were certainly forgettable. The 2018 soundtrack consisted of ‘A Conversation’, ‘Can you imagine that’, ‘ The royal Doulton music hall’, ‘A cover is not a book’, ‘Turning Turtle’ and  ‘Trip a little light fantastic’. With some of them containing euphemisms and dramatic choreography, they could have been just as unique and wonderful as the original. Although the performance of each song was visually entertaining, composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman failed to take a risk and capture the weirdness and originality of the Sherman brothers. From Michael Banks’ melancholy solo in ‘A Conversation’ to the theatre scene in ‘A cover is not a book’, the detail in the set and costumes was practically perfect in every way. Like the original, there were collaborative scenes between animation and real life such as the ceramic pot where costumes designed by Sandy Powell were made to look hand painted with extreme precision.

The use of CGI was done very effectively as there was more magic in the bathtub scene than in the entirety of the film itself. It consists of Blunt performing her own stunts by falling backwards into a bathtub which leads to a sea of creatures. Another song with brilliant stunts and choreography was ‘Trip a little light fantastic’, equivalent to ‘Step in time’. With the same simulatenous choreography, with all the lamplighters standing on a ledge, dancing under the moonlight. 

There were many cameos from actors from the 1964 edition. With Karen Dotrice (old Jane Banks), making a short appearance where she plays an elderly lady asking for directions. Another cameo we see is Dick Van Dyke himself who plays Mr Dawes senior, the uncle of the corrupt bank chairman. Both acts were not necessary to the story and did not add any depth, however, seeing old familiar faces gave a definite sense of nostalgia. There was also an appearance from Meryl Streep, who played Mary Poppins’ eccentric cousin. Streep is not a novice for playing unusual characters and her role as cousin Topsy did not disappoint. 

Although many people were sceptical of the remake of Mary Poppins, it’s fair to say that Marshall made a good attempt in providing magic for the younger generation. It did not live up to the 1964 version and certainly did not require villains. However, the emotional depth that lacked in the first film was added here, with subjects such as struggles with money and grieving that were touched upon. As always, Mary Poppins provided hope and made sure to teach the lesson to put family before anything. Now its time to wait half a century for Poppins’ next venture. 

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

**SPOILERS**

Retelling novels on a cinema screen proves doable but difficult, with some being more successful than others. Kenneth Branagh’s reboot of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ took perhaps one too many liberties when narrating Agatha Christie’s original novel. The story begins with our famous protagonist, Hercule Poirot, (Branagh) who is immediately called to leave his holiday and take the first train back to Calais to investigate another case.

The cast had many big names playing the likes of Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), Ratchett (Johnny Depp), Princess Dragimirrof (Judi Dench), Hildegarde Schmitde (Olivia Coleman), Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridly), Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Bouc (Tom Bateman), Hardman (Willem Dafoe), Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton). With such an impressive list, it seemed that the movie would not disappoint, yet none of the actors were given the chance to live or breathe. Not only was the train journey confined, Branagh failed to characterise or create drama between the actors. Instead, with minimal lines between them, random characters were merely sitting emotionless around the dining car, waiting for their turn to be picked for interrogation.

The decision to use an overhead shot of Ratchett’s murder had no effect on the revelation of the murder. The entire scene was rushed. The shot showed no indication to the audience about the clues left in the victims berth (an embroidered silk handkerchief, pipe cleaner and pocket watch). Instead we get the top of Poirot’s head and a bloody corpse. The interviewing scenes also consisted of numerous Dutch angles and uncontrollable panning in and out of the carriage window. The main portion of Christie’s novel involved the interviewing suspects but Branagh managed to squeeze it into about 3 minutes. By reducing the length of the murder scene, Branagh left plenty of time for Poirot to tackle the complicated case.

What was an old, Belgian, charming detective was now a short tempered man with a good punch and moustache that travelled the width of his face. Poirot’s new salt and pepper look suggested perhaps to ‘use your little black and grey cells’ instead of the just the ‘grey cells’. What was left of the original Poirot, the walking stick (which was now a weapon of defence) and his sweet tooth. Branagh created an entirely new portfolio for the old detective in attempts to modernise the character and step away from the ‘typical’ Poirot. 

Despite Branagh weak attempts to rejuvenate the original 1974 version, the actors did a brilliant job with their individual performances when it had been discovered that they had all committed the murder. Many of the characters had different personalities to which the novel envisioned. Mrs Hubbard, once a loud mouthed American was now a seducing man-hunter. Accompanied by some hauntingly eerie music, Pfeiffer gave a heart wrenching performance in the interrogation scene where she was willing to point the gun to her direction to reward peace to her daughter. Meanwhile, Dench had managed to get into the depths of her character, sharing most of her scenes with Coleman who had the challenge of undertaking a new accent. Johnny Depp was certainly not a stranger to taking up unusual roles. His scenes may have been short but he did not underperform. 

It would be unfair to say that Branagh had got it completely wrong. The period costumes, attention to detail on the wooden train carriages, dining carts with specially arranged flowers. 

‘I liked the sense that I could let the audience escape into that world,’ said Branagh, ‘where the details of what the characters are touching, seeing, eating, drinking, wearing are a significant part of the pleasure. Branagh allowed his audience to experience post war life amongst aristocrats as well as involve conversations of Stalinism and Prohibition. 

The film was created to merge the modest past to modern day. Branagh’s unnecessary gag on prostitutes and gun violence relates to the problems faced in todays world. The directors decision to step away from David Suchet’s television Poirot was an unsuccessful one. Perhaps Branagh can learn his lessons for his next venture, Death on the Nile.