It’s time-travelling chalk and cheese for Orange Thursday this week, as first we go on a dangerous mission during World War I in 1917 (2019) before we head off to the 1960s in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).
See you after the ads and the trailers.
During World War I, two British soldiers – Lance Corporal Schofield and Lance Corporal Blake – receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades – including Blake’s own brother.
It’s probably best to think of 1917 as the British, World War I version of Saving Private Ryan (1998). The plots are very similar, with a dangerous mission behind enemy lines in France by a small, plunky band of heroes. that involves trying to locate the brother of a soldier.
The production is very similar, too – just as Saving Private Ryan became famous for its opening, highly realistic depiction of the D-Day landings that actually gave some veterans PTSD, so 1917 is justifiably and Oscar-winningly famous for Roger Deakins’ deft cinematography that gives you the illusion that the whole movie is a single shot that follows Dean Charles-Chapman and George McKay from the British trenches all the way through to their intended destination. It really puts you in the middle of the action in a way most war movies can only dream of.
It’s also even more cameo-ridden than Saving Private Ryan, with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Colin Firth and Mark Strong all popping up at various points along the mission.
A disarming simplicity
But it’s actually a little hard to say more than that. This is a highly gripping, beautifully shot, highly intelligent story that’s almost so simple, it can’t address any issues.
It’s not a polemical anti-war movie; it’s not a racist or anti-racist screed. It’s merely a depiction of the sorts of things World War I soldiers had to face, and it doesn’t take sides as it depicts them. Germans fight the Brits, the Brits fight the Germans and they all do bad things, without the movie ever judging them. Because it’s war and bad things happen in war.
There’s as much horror to be had from the desolate, astonishing well designed landscapes that are reminiscent of The Terror‘s lifeless bleakness as there is from the rivers full of swollen, blue dead bodies.
The movie won’t even take sides against the usual baddies in World War I movie – the British commanding officers. Here, it’s clear everyone’s trying their best to win, but not stupidly so. These aren’t (to use a silly phrase) ‘lions led by donkeys’ so much as a pack of lions circling a tree, unable to ascend it.
All of which make it both a perfect war movie and a movie that says nothing about war, merely holds it up for you to look at and decide for yourself what to think – and maybe not even reach any conclusions at all.
The acting’s first rate, the cinematography outstanding. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, give it a watch on the big screen while you can.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Rick, a washed-out actor, and Cliff, his stunt double, struggle to recapture fame and success in 1960s Los Angeles. Meanwhile, living next door to Rick is Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably Quentin Tarantino’s dullest film of the past few decades – not so much a vibrant love letter to Hollywood in the late 60s, so much as a poignant obituary for everyone involved in that era. You can almost see Tarantino writing the script as a desperate imploring attempt to have been alive in that time and mixing with the likes of Steve McQueen and Dean Martin.
The movie has two strands. The first follows the career of Leonardo DiCaprio’s former TV star as he tries to carve out a new life in the movies, but finds himself having to do spaghetti westerns instead. His best bud is stunt double Brad Pitt.
The second follows Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate as her latest movie hits the cinemas – and the Manson family is about to cross paths with her.
Inevitably, those two strands intersect at various points, often based on real-life incidents. However, anyone who’s seen previous Tarantino movies that are purportedly based on historical events knows that he’s never been constrained by what actually happened so much as what he thinks should have happened.
There is at least a lot more going for this obituary for Hollywood than there was in Hail, Caesar!, even if it’s not as funny. Tarantino’s love of both old cinema and old TV is evident, and while the movie would have benefitted considerably from all the fake TV show footage being excised from it, I would gladly watch all of it separately.
And despite Tarantino’s normal style, there’s little violence to the movie, his fondness for its characters and that period of time meaning the movie actually comes across as rather a warm affair, despite the arrival of Charles Manson and his family.
But also in contrast to Tarantino’s normal style, the dialogue is weak and uninspiring, the plot hardly gripping, and the acting perpetually hammy and knowing.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is ultimately a movie that you’ll probably feel fondly towards after you’ve watched it, but won’t keep you on the edge of your seat while you watch it. You may not end up loving the characters or the movie itself, but you’ll probably end up feeling nostalgic for a time that’s long past, that you were never part of and that can never happen again.
Yet, maybe that was the whole point.