Friday, November 15, 2019

Worth Mentioning - I'm as Real as a Donut

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

The past, the present, and the future. Plus a possession.


After making two Westerns in a row (Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight), writer/director Quentin Tarantino moved on to a different era with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - but there's still a whole lot of Western to this movie, even though it's set in 1969. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, star of the popular Western series Bounty Law, and also the person responsible for the end of Bounty Law, since he wanted to transition into becoming a movie star. That didn't work out for him as well as he hoped, and now Rick is making guest spots on various other TV shows, usually as the villain who gets bested by the show's younger, hotter star. Not only do we get to see scenes from Bounty Law, but a good portion of the film also follows Rick through a day of filming on a Western series called Lancer, so Tarantino continues to show off his love for the Western style.

Rick's career is drying up, but his next door neighbors are rising stars: actress Sharon Tate and her husband, Rosemary's Baby director Roman Polanski. Rick is happy with his new neighbors, as he likes the idea that he could be one pool party away from starring in a Polanski movie.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows Rick through two days in February of 1969 as he grapples with the current state of his career and tries to impress on the set of Lancer. It also checks in on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who has some fun partying and watching herself on the big screen. But the secondary lead in the film is Brad Pitt as Rick's stunt double Cliff Booth, who also does odd jobs for Rick and works as his chauffeur - Rick had his license revoked due to drunk driving incidents.

The characters are fascinating and DiCaprio and Pitt turn in great performances, but the film can feel like it's just meandering along at times. Tarantino has even openly admitted that it could take some viewers until a sequence that comes along more than 90 minutes into the film's 161 minute running time before they realize there's a complete story being told here. It's fun to watch Rick act in Lancer, it's fun to watch Cliff reminisce about a run-in with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet (even if Lee is portrayed in a questionable, unflattering way), it's fun to watch Sharon cross paths with Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) and watch The Wrecking Crew, but is there anything more to it? Tarantino was clearly enjoying spending time in '69 Hollywood... judging by the scenes where we're just watching people drive around while listening to classic songs and vintage radio ads, he might have enjoyed it too much... but he is building up to something.

One of my favorite things about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is how well everything is wrapped up in the end. This has been described as a "hang out movie", we're just hanging out with the characters, and it can seem like that's all there is to it. But then it jumps ahead to a night in August of 1969, and we find that all the information that was needed for the final scenes were perfectly set up within the first 30 minutes.

Among the things set up in those first 30 minutes is the fact that there is a group of hippies roaming around the area, with a hitchhiker called Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) being the most prominent one. Cliff gives Pussycat a ride back to the ranch where these hippies live, and that's the event that comes along 90+ minutes in when some viewers might realize there's a story here. A story that does involve the followers of Charles Manson. Tarantino has said that this is not "a Manson movie", and it's really not. But Manson does make an appearance (played by Damon Herriman), and his followers - played by the likes of Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, Danielle Harris, Madisen Beaty, Maya Hawke, Harley Quinn Smith, Mikey Madison, and Lena Dunham, among others - are featured in some of the most memorable moments.

I thoroughly enjoyed sitting through Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I liked spending time with Rick and Cliff. And I was left wishing these guys really had existed. The real 1969 Hollywood needed their presence.

Pitt has suggested that Tarantino could end up cutting together an extended version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a mini-series, as he recently did for The Hateful Eight. Although the movie is already 161 minutes, I did see some character interaction moments that felt like they had been cut down - a dialogue scene plays out in jump cuts, there's a reference to some dancing we didn't see - and I would be interested in seeing the uncut versions of those. If this becomes a mini-series, I'll be watching it for sure.


Thirty-seven years ago, director Ridley Scott brought us a vision of the future that included flying cars, the colonization of other planets, otherworldly architecture, and robots called Replicants that are virtually identical to humans. That vision was the film Blade Runner, and the future is now. The movie is set in November of 2019, so I couldn't let the month go by without taking in another viewing.

Directed by Scott from a screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is a movie I respect more than I actually enjoy watching it. As has been covered countless times over the decades since its release, the film is an incredible blend of sci-fi and noir styles, with the stunning imagery captured by Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth perfectly complimented by an awesome score from composer Vangelis. I'm just not captivated for the entire running time. Although there are moments that I love.

In this version of 2019, the Replicants - who are superior in strength and agility and at least as intelligent as the people who created them - have been banned from Earth after the slave labor robots pulled off a bloody mutiny "off-world". Blade Runners are police officers who have been tasked with hunting down the Replicants, who are able to pass as human so well that sometimes the only way to deduce that someone is a Replicant is to ask them a series of questions designed to provoke an emotional response, questions about things like boiled dogs and flipped-over turtles.

Harrison Ford plays the titular Blade Runner, Rick Deckard. He has been assigned to track down four Replicants who stole a shuttle off-world and used it to come to Earth, which was a strange decision on their part. We'll come to find out that these Replicants are seeking to meet with their creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) of the Tyrell Corporation, to ask him to extend their lifespan. Replicants only live four years to make sure they won't have much time to develop emotions; these ones understandably want to live longer than that.

The Replicants that Deckard tracks over the course of the film are Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who is trained in combat since he was created to defend colonies; Leon (Brion James), also trained in combat; Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), who was trained for a "kick murder squad", whatever that is, but puts on a strip show with an artificial snake once she's on Earth; and Pris (Daryl Hannah), a "basic pleasure model". While he's dealing with this, he also finds himself falling for Tyrell's assistant Rachael (Sean Young), despite knowing she's a Replicant. Rachael wasn't aware she wasn't human, as she's a type of experimental Replicant that's so advanced she has even been implanted with false memories culled from the real life of Tyrell's niece.

Most of the moments I love in this film are ones even movie fans who haven't watched the whole thing are probably aware of. The sequence in which Deckard chases Zhora down a rainy street, which involves her smashing through multiple panes of glass. His confrontation with Pris, during which she shows off some gymnastics skills. And of course, Roy Batty's monologue, ad libbed by Hauer, about how fleeting life is. It's relevant whether you're a four-year-old Replicant who has traveled through space or a human being on Earth. Facing death, he reminisces about some of the amazing experiences he has had, then says, "All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain."

Which brings us to the sad fact that Hauer passed away back in July of this year. It's a bummer that we lost him regardless, but the idea that he died just three and a half months before reaching the setting of one of his most popular films adds an extra shame into the mix.

Blade Runner isn't a movie I watch very often, the tone and pace don't keep me coming back frequently, but it is a great achievement and it's easy to understand why many viewers love it. It is a classic.


The Exorcism of Clarita (also known as simply Clarita) draws inspiration from true events that took place in Manila in 1953, when the Philippines was still working on recovering from the horrors of World War II. It was a high profile case of alleged possession in which a woman in police custody, a woman named Clarita, was believed to be under siege by demonic forces. She seemed to be receiving bites from an invisible attacker, and the mayor of Manila got pulled into the situation when he witnessed bite marks appearing on Clarita's body. It's an interesting story that received press coverage around the world at the time, and got more attention when evangelist Lester Sumrall took credit for exorcising the evil from Clarita. Sumrall even produced a short film dramatization of the events. Sixty-six years down the line, director Roderick Cabrido and screenwriter Cenon Palomares have crafted a feature film out of the story of Clarita... but even though their movie tells of something that took place in '53, there are things in The Exorcism of Clarita that are only in there because of a very popular exorcism horror movie that was released in '73.

We all have our own rankings of the various sub-genres of horror, and for me exorcism movies rank very low. Beyond The Exorcist, I get little out of movies about priests standing around a possessed person, reading scripture and splashing holy water on them. But while watching The Exorcism of Clarita, I began to realize that my view of this type of movie is somewhat hypocritical. Why roll my eyes when Clarita performs the Exorcist crab walk or does the back bend from The Last Exorcism, believing those movies have ownership of those things, when I would probably just smile if a slasher I was watching paid clear homage to Friday the 13th or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Each sub-genre has its clichés that get trotted out ad nauseam, so I can't take points away from one for playing into its sub-genre's "greatest hits" when I would appreciate the same sort of thing in another sub-genre. With that epiphany in mind, I got more enjoyment out of watching The Exorcism of Clarita than I might have otherwise.

It also helped my enjoyment that there aren't a ton of scenes in which priests stand around the possessed in here. There are a few, but when that's not happening (and in some scenes where that is happening) Cabrido and Palomares were showing interest in digging into their characters. There are three main people involved in the titular exorcism, aside from Clarita herself, and I found each one was worth the time that was dedicated to them. This exorcism proves to be a life-changing event for these characters. There's Father Salvador (Ricky Davao), the experienced exorcist who has been doing this sort of thing for decades, to the point where he is kind of overconfident. There's the young priest, Father Benedicto (Arron Villaflor), a man of science despite being a man of the cloth, who doesn't believe in demonic possession when we first meet him - even though there's a possibility that his own mother might have been possessed. Villaflor delivers a great emotional performance in the scene where he tells Salvador about his past. And finally there's journalist Emilia Henson (Alyssa Muhlach), haunted by the memory something she witnessed during the war, who is determined to cover the Clarita story because she's undervalued as a newspaper's only female reporter. I liked all three of these characters, and the actors did fine work bringing them to life.

Of course, the exorcists and the reporter would have little to do if it weren't for Clarita, and actress Jodi Sta. Maria puts her all into convincing the viewer that there's something supernaturally wrong with Clarita. Sometimes Clarita is withdrawn, sometimes she's frightened, sometimes she's a bloody maniac, and Maria plays each stage very well. As with the other characters, the film digs deeper into the character of Clarita, she isn't just a possessed girl in a jail cell. Benedicto and Emilia are able to learn information about her past, and her back story plays out on screen through flashbacks that show us how she became the target of evil forces.

Despite all this, I'd have to say my favorite character in the movie was one of the least noble people around, Doctor Teresa (played by Che Ramos). Teresa isn't around for a long time, but I found her demeanor entertaining as she frequently lapsed in and out of English in the midst of sentences and openly admitted that Clarita was only a means to an end for her, a way to gain recognition so she could move on to something bigger.

In addition to appreciating Clarita for having interesting characters, I also appreciated that it moves through its 86 minutes at a rather breakneck pace. The first 20 minutes are particularly impressive, as it's basically a series of crazy, creepy, and/or violent things happening one after another, with a little talking in between.

I went into The Exorcism of Clarita somewhat hesitant to sit through another movie about priests standing around a possessed person, but as it turns out the film gave me more than I was expecting. When it did bring out the clichés, I was able to just go along with it. I would prefer if the back bend and crab walk weren't in there, but the movie that happens around those moments was interesting enough to make up for it.

The review of The Exorcism of Clarita originally appeared on

COHEN & TATE (1988)

After writing the screenplay for Robert Harmon's The Hitcher and co-writing Near Dark with director Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red made his feature directorial debut with the thriller Cohen & Tate - and for large portions of the running time this does feel like a very sensible choice for a first feature, because much of the film is made up of scenes featuring three people riding in a car, having conversations. And these three people are living out an extremely twisted situation. 

Sitting up front are the hitmen the film is named after, Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin). Stuck in the back is a preteen boy named Travis Knight (Harley Cross). Travis and his parents were in protective custody in Oklahoma until Cohen and Tate showed up... and just like you'd expect from the writer of The Hitcher and Near Dark, they made a bloody mess of Travis's parents and the government agents who were protecting them.

Now Cohen and Tate are taking Travis on a 350+ mile ride to Houston, Texas, where their mobster employers want to have a chat with the kid, who had witnessed some of their illegal activities. Watching Cohen and Tate interact, Travis learns that Cohen is a 30 year veteran in the murder profession and has always worked alone. Now his bosses have stuck him with this newbie Tate, a "sloppy hothead" who performs overkill because he likes the sight of blood. Cohen is a murderer, but he treats it like a job. Tate is a maniac who enjoys hurting things; he even gets excited when bugs splatter on the windshield, and purposely runs over animals when he's driving.

It's clear that Cohen and Tate do not like each other, so Travis uses their long ride as an opportunity to gradually turn the men against each other more and more.

But this movie isn't just about conversations and mind games. Red peppers some good action scenes throughout, more than one of them featuring some of the dumbest, most incompetent police officers ever put on film. It was tough to buy that the police would actually do some of the things they do in this movie, but I can let it slide when their bad decisions result in car chases and explosions.

There's only so much you can do with three people in a car, but Red does manage to capture some memorable visuals along the way, including a shot of a shotgun-wielding Tate standing in front of two burning vehicles, and another where a character launches themselves out of the trunk of a car as soon as it opens.

You might occasionally question the logic of Cohen & Tate, but I found it to be a solid thriller. Fans of The Hitcher and Near Dark who haven't seen this one yet should definitely seek it out.

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