August 24, 2019

Williston Observer 08/15/2019


WO 8/1

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

The Golden Age, Tarnished

4 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


While Quentin Tarantino has won two Oscars for his screenplays, with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” his most profound motion picture to date, he might finally gather up those statuettes for best film and best directorial effort. The provocative and quirkily philosophical work is thoroughly entertaining proof that he is one of America’s most accomplished, living directors.


Whereas many filmmakers doubtlessly come up with a novel idea for a film that, for one reason or another doesn’t make it to the silver screen with the inspired creativity of its genesis intact, Tarantino’s signature talent is in making his movie dreams come true. His unique brand of outlandishness won our initial, critically approving attention. And now, after wowing us with a couple decades of screaming fastballs and devastating curves, he pulls a humanity-laced changeup from his quiver in a robust flourish of his greater, inner depth.


Here, his film characters abandon the semi-comic, representative caricatures they inhabited and, in a variation on how stereotypes are generally depicted, are imbued with as much soul as chutzpah. As a result, in the waning, last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age that Mr. Tarantino’s photoplay cherishingly deconstructs, we truly care about fading glamor boy/leading man, Rick Dalton, and his stunt double/sidekick, Cliff Booth, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, respectively. The times, they are a changing, and the winds heralding said sociological watershed are profuse with uncomfortable presentiments.


For some it is business as usual, with all the gimcracks of opulence, swagger and devil-may-care attitude being displayed in the best golden calf tradition. But, as Bob Dylan sings in “Ballad of a Thin Man,” which isn’t included in the movie’s era-defining musical score, but would have been apt if not too obvious, “…something is happening here but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?” As Rick and Cliff cruise up and down The Strip, hustling from sound stage to set, to meetings with conniving and dilettantish movie moguls, the so-called regular world goes about its historical path.


Flower children proliferate Hollywood Boulevard, hitchhike and occasionally yell an obscenity at the cops they call pigs. And while no mention is made of the thousands of American GI’s being killed in a war to supposedly halt the communistic encroachment by governments that have since been invited to tilt our elections, memory of the perversion is thick as we imbibe with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight. But more immediately, we wince as Tarantino injects Sharon Tate into the scenario. Portrayed with a startlingly childlike innocence by the very pretty Margot Robbie, she lives right next door to Rick with husband and famed director Roman Polanski. Suddenly discomfited and set to wondering how Tarantino will play this, we are put on tenterhooks. But all in due time.


Right now, all attention is paid to the frenetic mishegoss of Rick trying to stay relevant in Tinseltown, and Cliff, who harbors a dark secret, picking up the crumbs that come of any success his pal achieves. Rick frets about maintaining an audience built mostly of a TV series and a handful of films. Psst. He’s more famous than he realizes, or that his blubbering, self-pitying hissy fits would indicate, and which Cliff is inevitably able to calm. This is the best buddy pairing since Newman and Redford in “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” (1969) and, in its idiosyncratic way, the most touching in recent memory. Alas, men usually aren’t as simpatico, either in film or real life.


Rick’s career angst doesn’t go unnoticed by movie bigwig Marvin Schwarzs, a devout fan of the actor’s rough-and-tumble shoot-em-ups whose penchant for correcting people’s mispronunciation of his name implies volumes about the assumed culture of Hollywood. Waxing enthusiastic about how he and his wife reserve one night a week to watch Rick Dalton pictures, he is a hoot. If anyone can take a typecast to another level, turn it inside out and say something socially insightful in the bargain, it’s Pacino in this little more than cameo role. Well, Mr. Schwarzs has a plan. Oh, hmm…well, that might work.


Some characters in Tarantino’s opus are real, some are fictitious and some are, well, semi-fictitious. But like most of his eccentric ruminations, whether operating just on the fringe of meditative truth or smack dab in the middle of some feverish lunacy, it cajoles your indulgence. It is a breath of fresh air, whooshed into an institution forever threatening its certain demise in a pyre of decadence. And so, in the case of  this jaded cineaste, seeing “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was like being transported to the movie house just off campus, a college kid, discovering anew the audacious, fairy tale magic of film.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” rated R, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Quentin Tarantino and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. Running time: 161 minutes








“Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love”

A Fine Sadness

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic


“Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love,” director Nick Broomfield’s studious documentary centering on the love affair between poet/songwriter/folk-rocker Leonard Cohen and his acknowledged  muse, Marianne Ihlen, is recommended here, but with cautious reservation. When my friend Benny texted just as I exited the theater, informing that he was at the iconic Frank Pepe’s pizzeria in New Haven, and wanted to know where I was, the details of my whereabouts triggered a request for my first review. Pressed into service, but kind of thinking a little about the contrasting happiness of the delicious white clam pizza that abounded where Benny sat, I blurted my first impression thusly: “Sad, but poignant and sociologically important.”


While educative and soulfully committed to a fair and respectful homage to the lovers in question, methinks Mr. Broomfield can’t help but entwine himself in the melancholia of the subject, which, by the way, is probably the best approach. Any varnishing of the truths emanating from his acknowledgedly accurate account would be to choose entertainment value over honesty. The thought is, possessing the temper and timber of something you’d expect from a seminar at a university, the amusement value is in the philosophical verities divulged, and in those ideas which may be engendered in the viewer.


Yet at the same time, there is a basic simplicity running concurrent to the headier meditations, the ability of Broomfield via Cohen to appreciate that which we can glean joy from without deep consideration: things like the beauty of a coastline or the warmth of a friendship. Still, any hope by intellectual sorts and dilettantes such as myself that “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” might attract an audience beyond its obvious niche appeal would be both Pollyanna and a tad condescending. I mean, were they alive, I could see Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe digging the fatalistic view of Leonard and Marianne’s affaire de coeur, but not so, Marilyn and Joe D.


Hence, filmgoers who aren’t poetically inclined, and have no interest in literature, folk-rock or the socio-historical impact of the 1960s, need not apply. However, I have to tell you, in absorbing the interesting facets of Mr. Cohen’s life and how his Norwegian born afflatus, Marianne, influenced him, I couldn’t help but hope that some college sophomore, stumbling into the local art house, might get an epiphanic jolt of the education this film makes available. In the current climate of racism that has grabbed way too much of the American public by the throat, works of this sort are as important as ever, to spread the gospel of good, hope, peace, love and mercy


That established, in Broomfield’s filmic monograph the desire to scrupulously contribute, to lay down for posterity the facts as best they can be ascertained, is evident. We are moved…our consternation and occasional dismay in the face of stark divulgences be damned if we are to benefit from our better explorers of the human spirit


On a more personal level, this means also delving into the bittersweet angst and joys of Leonard and Marianne’s relationship, and perhaps in the process recognizing ourselves and our lovers in their challenging experience. You know… I should have said this… I should have done that.


But before I get too maudlin, here’s some quick notes, my Classic Comic Book encapsulation. Canadian born, his mother looney, after matriculation at McGill and a brief stint at Columbia grad, Cohen celebrated the ‘60s on the Greek island of Hydra where he met the eventually feted Marianne. Whether together, apart or with other partners, a lifelong love affair ensues. He writes a novel or two, unheralded, and, starting first with songwriting, wends his way into folk rock immortality. He dabbles in Buddhism and, for a time, becomes a monk. Yeah, really.


Incongruously, while a womanizer abetted and spurred on by the era of Free Love, he puts the women of his life and songs on a pedestal. The inherent anomaly will challenge his formidable intellect and vex his poetic idealism until the end of his days. Within in it all, giving and tolerant, Marianne tries to find herself in the romantic vortex of her adoring but conflicted lover. All of which gives us pause. We mull and meditate… the root DNA of humankind’s frustration thus evidenced by someone who sure tried his darndest to find the secret of life.


Postscript: In the 1960s and early ‘70s, while most of my friends were at concerts, I was at the movies. And so, while I was enamored of the Beatles, the Stones, the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen somehow avoided my gaze. But now, with the elucidative “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love,” I am a fan late to the party, to which I must say, Hallelujah.

“Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love,” rated R, is directed by Nick Broomfield and features archived footage of Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen and Judy Collins. Running time: 102 minutes