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Update September, 2019


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Film Review: In Tarantino’s latest, a radiant Hollywood fable

This image shows Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” (Andrew Cooper/Sony-Columbia Pictures via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - Quentin Tarantino has, for a while now, been reminding us what’s so great about movies — or at least, what he thinks is so great about them.

He’s made an old-fashioned double-feature (“Death Proof,” of “Grindhouse”), resurrected the wide-screen format of 70mm Ultra Panavision (“The Hateful Eight”) and generally presided as the pre-eminent B-movie evangelist for a generation. The power and thrill of exploitation movies, he has earnestly espoused, can conquer all evils — or at least slavery (“Django Unchained”) and the Nazis (“Inglourious Basterds”).

But “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” set in 1969 Los Angeles, is Tarantino’s most affectionate and poignant ode yet to the movie business. It’s a breezy, woozy Hollywood fable that luxuriates in the simple pleasures of the movies and the colorful swirl of the Dream Factory’s backlot. Some pleasures are nostalgic, and some — like driving down Sunset Boulevard or martinis at Musso & Frank — are everlasting.

Here, movie love feels contagious, like something in the air. In one of the film’s best scenes, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate explains at a theater’s ticket office that she’s in the movie, the newly released caper “The Wrecking Crew,” (“I’m the klutz!” she says cheerfully). Inside, she giggles with delight at seeing herself on the big screen, giddily mimicking her character’s martial-arts moves and watching to see if the audience laughs at one of her lines. (They do.)

The pleasures in “Once Upon a Time” are also ours. Tarantino has lowered his typically feverish temperature to a warming simmer, bathing us in the golden California light and the movie-star glow of his leading men, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. They spend copious amounts of time driving through the Hollywood Hills in a creamy Coupe de Ville, riding along like Butch and Sundance and just as nice to look at.

DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, a Burt Reynolds-type actor of TV Westerns (his claim to fame is the ’50s hit “Bounty Law”) whose career is stalling. Pitt is Cliff Booth, his stunt double and best friend, a war veteran with a bad reputation but a friendly, relaxed manner. They have a natural, easy rapport, with Booth doubling as a drinking buddy and support system for Dalton, who’s increasingly anxious about his typecast future. (Al Pacino, as his agent, urges him to head to Italy for a spaghetti Western.)

In DiCaprio’s finest sequence, he chats between takes on a Western called “Lancer” with a frightfully serious Method Acting 8-year-old co-star (Julia Butters) before forgetting his lines. After a bout of self-loathing in his trailer, he returns and nails the scene. DiCaprio, a preternaturally self-possessed actor himself, captures the whole arc beautifully.

When word got out that Tarantino’s latest film would take place around the Manson murders, it was easy to wonder what genre mayhem the director would bring to this epochal moment. We know what carnage resulted when Zed was dead, so what did Tarantino have in store for the demise of the ’60s?

It’s not that “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” doesn’t revolve around that grisly tragedy. It looms always in the background, and eventually in the foreground, too, after Booth picks up a hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) who leads him to the Manson compound at Spahn Ranch, the former production site of TV and film Westerns where Manson’s mostly female acolytes emerge and Booth goes to check on the owner, an old friend, George Spahn (Bruce Dern). Dalton and Booth are fictional concoctions surrounded by real people, including their neighbors: Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).

By the film’s climax, blood will spill and movie-made historical revisionism will have its day. But I suspect a lot of Tarantino fans will be taken by surprise at the film’s leisurely pace, set more to a (and this a good thing) “Jackie Brown” speed. As in that film, Tarantino isn’t purely living in an over-the-top movie fantasy world, but one teetering intriguingly between dream and reality. The dialogue and action has slowed down enough to allow a little wistfulness and melancholy to creep in.

At times, his path is a little wayward and prone to digressions. Tarantino feels perilously close to simply turning his movie into several of Dalton’s, so eager is he (like the Coens were in “Hail, Caesar!”) to lovingly adopt those period styles. But usually, the detours are hard to resist. In one, Booth ends up in a fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of “The Green Hornet.”

And if you’re going to make a movie that celebrates what’s grand about Hollywood, it helps to have Brad Pitt in it. The chemistry between him and DiCaprio, together for the first time, is a delight; I would gladly watch them drive around lacquered, golden-hour Los Angeles, with cinematographer Robert Richardson trailing them, for longer than the already lengthy running time of “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”

Pitt, in particular, appears so utterly self-possessed. It’s a swaggering grade-A movie star performance in a movie that celebrates all that movie stars can accomplish — which, for Tarantino, is anything. That the youthful, exuberant Tate was robbed of that potential is one of the wrongs Tarantino is righting here. But his fairy tale also swells with an even larger and optimistic vision. For today’s doomsayers of movies, which are seen by some as a less potent art form, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” imagines an apocalypse denied. Tate, and the movies, will live forever.

“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references. Running time: 161 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.


Justin Bieber opens up about his steep fall from grace

Justin Bieber is shown in this Nov. 22, 2015 file photo. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

New York (AP) — Justin Bieber is opening up about a string of “bad decisions” that led him to go from being a beloved teen performer to “the most ridiculed, judged and hated person in the world.”

In a very personal and introspective Instagram post, the pop star examines how childhood fame led to depression, lack of responsibility, “doing pretty heavy drugs” and becoming disrespectful to women. At age 18, he had “millions in the bank” but “no skills in the real world.”

Now 25, Bieber credited the support of friends, his Christian faith and his marriage with helping turn his life around.

He wrote: “It’s taken me years to bounce back from all of these terrible decisions, fix broken relationships, and change relationship habits.”


Department of Fine Arts to display China’s terracotta warriors

 

China’s Terracotta Warriors will be on display in Bangkok from Sept. 15 – Dec. 15. (Photo Peter Morgan/Wikipedia)

The Department of Fine Arts putting China’s Terracotta Warriors on display at the Sivamok Phiman Throne Hall in the Bangkok National Museum for the next three months.

The exhibition, titled “Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor of China and the Terracotta Warriors”, also features a collection of 133 relics that are over 2,200 years old. Visitors will see four life-sized terracotta warriors, one chariot and 86 relics found in a mausoleum in China. The exhibition is divided into zones, such as the period before the unification of China in 221 BC; the Qin dynasty and the Han dynasty. Furthermore, visitors will learn more about China’s ancient engineering skills and technology.

The exhibition is open 9am – 4pm, Wednesday through Sunday from September 15 to December 15. Admission tickets are priced at THB30 for Thai nationals and THB200 for foreigners. For more information, call 02-224-1402 or 02-224-1333.


Film Review : ‘Angel Has Fallen’ and so has the franchise

This image shows Gerard Butler (left) and Morgan Freeman in a scene from the film “Angel Has Fallen”. (Jack English/Lionsgate via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) - There is a certain mindless pleasure in the “Fallen” movies. Watching Gerard Butler muscle his way through increasingly preposterous obstacles as a Secret Service agent can be amusing and oddly transfixing at the same time. It’s mass entertainment that makes a courtesy stop in theaters before ascending to its true calling: Endless cable reruns.

But whatever this franchise got away with in “Olympus Has Fallen” and then, miraculously, in the totally unnecessary and very unintentionally silly sequel “London Has Fallen,” it’s clear that the well has run dry on this idea and character. Butler and the filmmakers sleepwalk their way through “Angel Has Fallen,” the third, and hopefully last, visit with agent Mike Banning. This time, the powers that be have decided to make Banning a fugitive. He’s on the run after being falsely accused of orchestrating an assassination attempt on U.S. President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) that kills 18 Secret Service Agents and leaves the commander in chief in a coma.

There is a dizzying amount of plot thrown at “Angel Has Fallen.” Banning has a toddler daughter with wife Leah (Piper Perabo, subbing in for Radha Mitchell in the thankless “worried wife” role) and he’s considering scaling back from dangerous field work for the sake of his family and his own health after too many concussions on the job. The Oval Office is having issues with someone leaking false information to the press, not to mention the looming threat of Russia who we’re told meddled in a recent election in the “Fallen” world. And then there’s the private contractors, like Banning’s old military friend Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), who are longing for the good old days of lucrative wars and government contracts. Oh and Nick Nolte, playing Banning’s estranged father Clay, is living off the grid in the woods and having some regrets about leaving his wife and young child some years ago.

These threads are all thrown together in this kitchen sink of a movie that is unforgivably dull for having so much going on at all times — and I haven’t even had the opportunity or reason to mention that this film also has Tim Blake Nelson playing the vice president and Jada Pinkett Smith as the FBI agent who is leading the hunt for Banning. It’s too much and too little at the same time and neither absurd nor exciting enough to maintain an audience’s interest for two hours.

Nolte is the only real saving grace as the wild-eyed and paranoid Vietnam veteran living in his little bunker in the West Virginia woods. He’s the only one having fun with this material, but even so gets unceremoniously demoted for the final set-piece (although he does pop up again in a bizarre and kind of funny post-credits scene that has more spirit in two minutes than the entirety of “Angel Has Fallen”). Everyone else is either too serious or too bored or some joy-killing combination of the two.

Directing this time is Ric Roman Waugh, a stuntman and actor turned director whose most high-profile outing in that capacity was the 2013 Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Snitch.” He also shares script credit with Matt Cook (“Patriots Day”) and veteran Robert Mark Kamen (“Taps,” ‘’The Karate Kid”). But this movie has none of the personality that you would expect from those filmmakers. The action itself feels oddly low budget and claustrophobic. Quick shots of a semi truck’s headlights and a gloved finger pulling a trigger are ineffectively used to create suspense too many times. And for all its hot topics, “Angel Has Fallen” doesn’t have much to say about military veterans, Russian interference or the lifetime effects of brain trauma. It just plops those buzz word concepts into the movie and moves on to the next shootout.

It might still be passable for cable, but this series has sadly fallen into unwatchable territory.

“Angel Has Fallen,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “violence and language throughout.” Running time: 120 minutes. One star out of four.


India’s ‘patriotism pop’ songs urge Hindus to claim Kashmir

A screenshot shows a patriotic music video on YouTube that appeared after India’s Hindu-led nationalist government revoked the statehood of Kashmir on Aug. 5. (YouTube via AP)

Sheikh Saaliq

New Delhi (AP) — The music videos began appearing on social media within hours of the announcement by India’s Hindu nationalist-led government that it was stripping statehood from the disputed region of Kashmir that had been in place for decades.

The songs delivered a message to India’s 250 million YouTube users about moving to the Muslim-majority region, buying land there and marrying Kashmiri women.

It’s the latest example of a growing genre in India known as “patriotism pop” — songs flooding social media about nationalism and the country’s burgeoning right-wing ideology.

Earlier songs were limited to the rise of Hindus in India, defeating regional rival Pakistan and hoisting the Indian flag in every household. Now, they include settling in Kashmir — a rugged and beautiful Himalayan region claimed by both Pakistan and India, although both countries control only a portion of it.

On Aug. 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Kashmir’s decades-old special status that was guaranteed under Article 370 of India’s Constitution and sent thousands of troops to the region. The move has touched off anger in the Indian-controlled region, which has been under a security lockdown that has seen thousands detained to prevent protests there.

One of Modi’s revisions allows anyone to buy land in the territory, which some Kashmiris fear could mean an influx of Hindus who would change the region’s culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

The patriotic songs are mostly shared on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the fast-growing app TikTok, which in June had about 120 million active users in India. Despite their low production values, poorly matched lip-synching and repetitive techno beat, many of these soundtracks have gotten millions of hits on YouTube.

The songs are a hit among youthful followers in northern and eastern parts of India, and their creators don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Nitesh Singh Nirmal identifies himself as a producer, songwriter and composer for his Rang Music studios in the eastern state of Bihar. A Modi admirer, Nirmal claims to be the first to produce a soundtrack on the revocation of Kashmir’s statehood, completing it in three hours.

The song, “Dhara 370,” or “Article 370,” starts with visuals of an Indian flag fluttering atop New Delhi’s famous Red Fort, followed by old footage of Modi from a previous Independence Day ceremony. The singer thanks Modi and his government for keeping his promise to remove Article 370 from the constitution. The video then cuts to the map of Kashmir, along with words that roughly translate to how Pakistan has lost to India.

The song has gotten more than 1.6 million hits on YouTube since it was posted there by Nirmal, who has no musical background. He said he only found his calling when Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party resoundingly won the 2014 election.

That’s when Nirmal thought he could write songs about nationalism.

“I am doing service for the nation. People dance to these songs,” he says.

The rising appeal for songs that promote nationalism and talk about reclaiming Kashmir have paved the way for lesser-known artists to join in.

Salman Siddiqui, who is in his 20s and studies science in the state of Uttar Pradesh, wanted to showcase his musical writing prowess and contacted Nirmal. They collaborated on a song about a man who is seeking a Kashmiri bride and wants to be the first to have a wedding procession that travels from India to the region.

Nirmal and Siddiqui insist the songs are not sexist.

“It’s the desire of a young man’s heart to marry a Kashmiri woman,” Siddiqui says.

The idea was boosted Aug. 6 by lawmaker Vikram Saini, who told members of his Bharatiya Janata Party “eager to get married” to go to Kashmir, adding that his party has “no problem with it.”

Critics say the idea of marrying Kashmiri women to “reclaim” the region is rooted in a patriarchy that objectifies and dehumanizes Kashmiris.

Political anthropologist Ather Zia calls this a “fetishization in the Indian imagination.”

Such songs are a “culmination of a toxic misogynistic nationalist thinking that draws validation from humiliating Kashmiri women,” Zia said.
 


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

In Tarantino’s latest, a radiant Hollywood fable

Justin Bieber opens up about his steep fall from grace

Department of Fine Arts to display China’s terracotta warriors


‘Angel Has Fallen’ and so has the franchise

India’s ‘patriotism pop’ songs urge Hindus to claim Kashmir