Posts Tagged ‘Emile Hirsch’

Acting as Artifice

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Maya Hawke, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley

Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, writer and director Quentin Tarantino returns to the big screen with his 9th feature film the brilliantly titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starring Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) and Brad Pitt as buddies actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth in a fictional tale set in Los Angeles in 1969.

1969 was the year that the real life film director Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by the followers of the Charles Manson cult which shocked the American film industry to its rotten core.

Firstly two disclaimers: this is an extremely long film and secondly it’s really only aimed at serious movie buffs and serves as Tarantino’s ode to the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age before the film making industry got taken over by corporations, sequels, digitization and streaming.

Margot Robbie as actress Sharon Tate

Tarantino artfully pays homage to the act of buying a ticket and going to the cinema in a rather poignant scene when the young actress Sharon Tate superbly played by Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) actually pays to watch a film she is starring in at a Westwood cinema.

The rest of this marvelously meandering film belongs to the two major stars, DiCaprio who is superb as the washed up TV actor Rick Dalton who is desperately trying to make a Big Screen comeback but lands up starring in a string of Spaghetti Westerns in Rome.

Oscar nominee Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys) is phenomenal as the stunt double past his prime Cliff Booth in one of his best onscreen performances yet especially the gorgeous scene when he takes his shirt off on the roof of Dalton’s Hollywood Hills mansion in the scorching Californian sun to fix the TV aerial.

Booth also inadvertently stumbles across the hippie cult followers of Charles Manson in an abandoned studio lot in Chatsworth, California featuring some great cameos by Dakota Fanning (Ocean’s 8, War of the Worlds) as Squeaky Fromme , Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska) as George Spahn and Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys) as the seductive hippie hitchhiker Pussycat.

Tarantino expertly captures the zeitgeist of Los Angeles in 1969 at the peak of the counter-culture movement with lurid production design by Barbara Ling and costumes by Oscar nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips (Walk the Line, A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals, W. E.).

With some expertly placed cameos including Oscar winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) as hot shot producer Marvin Schwarz and Damian Lewis as real life star Steve McQueen.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is slowing moving in the first two acts of the film, while the third act is phenomenal especially the hippie flame throwing sequence.

Tarantino could have quickened the film’s pace in the beginning to actively propel the narrative forward but he is a notorious auteur and not interested in packaging films to please audience expectations.

Unbelievably, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did get a standing ovation at its glittering film premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival so Tarantino did something right.

This film gets a rating of 8 out of 10 and accurately portrays acting as artifice.

This is not Tarantino’s best work but written and directed in the vein of his crime thriller Jackie Brown, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is strictly recommended for Tarantino fans and those that enjoyed Pulp Fiction, Django Unchanged and Inglourious Basterds.

Quick Reaction Force

Lone Survivor

lone_survivor

Director: Peter Berg

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Jerry Ferrara

Battleship and Hancock director Peter Berg tackles more informative and ferocious subject matter in the excellent adaptation of the non-fiction war story Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, which details the failed mission of the US Navy Seals counter-insurgency attack in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan against the Taliban. With superb sound editing and sound mixing, Lone Survivor follows in the spirit of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down and features a tightly knit muscular group of actors playing soldiers led by Mark Wahlberg (Two Guns), Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Battleship), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk) Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, The Mechanic), Eric Bana and newcomer Canadian actor Alexander Ludwig last seen in The Hunger Games.

The bravado and savagery of war is brilliantly recreated in this tightly directed account of a four man Navy Seals reconnaissance team led by Marcus Luttrell played by Wahlberg and his fraternal band of bearded soldiers which includes Michael Murphy played by Kitsch, Danny Dietz played by Emile Hirsch and Matthew Axelson played by Ben Foster. The harrowing gun battle which follows when the team are ambushed by a Taliban army who clearly know the terrain better than themselves is vividly recreated and the ordeal that Luttrell goes through makes for an outstanding war and survival movie.

black_hawk_down_ver1

Lone Survivor, like Platoon, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, does not stint on the violence and fear involved in mortal combat between two enemy forces and emphasizes the bravery and courage that these men faced in battling another American war on foreign territory against a hostile anti-American enemy.

Incidentally Lone Survivor was filmed in New Mexico at the Santa Fe National Forest standing in for the rugged and alien terrain of the Hindu Kush http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_Kush, the rugged mountain range which connects central Afghanistan and  northern Pakistan.

What makes Lone Survivor so watchable and riveting is the excellent sound quality of the mountainside battle which makes up the bulk of the film. This film received two Oscar nominations in 2014 for Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing and rightly so. With a top notch cast especially Foster and Hirsch playing against type, Lone Survivor is highly recommended viewing for fans of great war films. Supremely entertaining, action-packed and technically unrivaled, Lone Survivor is definitely one of Peter Berg’s best films so far.

 

 

Vicious Laguna Lunacy

SAVAGES

Acclaimed director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July) paints a lush, brutal and stylistically rich portrait of drug running along the Californian and Mexican border in his latest film  Savages  set between Laguna, California and Tijuana in Mexico and is almost Shakespearean in tone and plot. Savages assembles a fabulous cast including Taylor Kitsch last seen in Battleship and John Carter and Aaron Johnson, soon to be seen in the new version of Anna Karenina along with the blonde beauty Blake Lively (The Green Lantern) and a ludicrously well-cast group of veteran and independent actors including Academy Award winner Benicio del Toro, Academy Award nominees Salma Hayek, John Travolta and Demian Bechir.

Savage Shakespeare Surfer Style

While the vibrant poster for Savages suggests an intricate web of characters dealing in a Mexican-Californian trade-off, Oliver Stone imbues this complex plot of brutal treachery, violence, drug smuggling, sex and murder with an array of visual flourishes which makes Savages stand out as a unique and twisted drug running thriller making the most of the beautiful surfing paradise of Laguna, California while brilliantly contrasting that with all the devotional religious iconography so often associated with Catholic Mexico embodied in Tijuana and the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead

Oliver Stone, clearly influenced by his contemporaries Baz Luhrmann (Romeo and Juliet) and Steven Soderbergh  (Traffic) and not one to edit his narrative gives each of his main cast members enough screen time to flex their acting muscles interspersed with some exceptionally violent and brutal images of decapitation, torture and murder all adding to the central theme of beautiful savages.

Savages focuses on best friends Chon and Ben who not only share the same girlfriend Ophelia but also run a profitable and successful dope peddling operation in Southern California with the muscular Chon played by Taylor Kitsch as an aggressive Gung-Ho war veteran fresh from the horrors of Afghan conflicts and also exposed to one of the largest  opium growing region in the world. Buddhist leaning Botanist Ben comes up with a brilliant plan of producing the best cannabis in California and teams up with Chon to make sure the operation is successful with Ben as the brains and Chon as the brawn of the lucrative yet illicit narcotics operation.

Enter the Mexicans from Baja California headed by the flamboyant yet ruthless matriarch of a Tijuana drug cartel Elena played with relish by Salma Hayek with that flair which she so deftly illustrated in the remarkable film Frida. Supported by Lado,  a demonically mean killer and her trusted enforcer played with ambivalent psychopathic menace by Benicio del Toro and Demian Bichir (Che and A Better Life) as Alex the front man for the Mexicans in Laguna who are keen to infiltrate Chon and Ben’s mellow yet sophisticated dope peddling enterprise in the Surfer’s Paradise of Laguna.

What follows is an intricately plotted yet violent narrative of kidnapping, extortion, murder and vengeance which begs the question is humankind’s innate savagery endemic in a population in which survival of the species is paramount at whatever the cost? Given the right circumstances and in this film these are ruthless, every characters inner savagery is revealed in one form or another.

Savages is not for sensitive viewers and whilst Oliver Stone could have edited parts of the film one gets the visual impression that he was so caught up in the brutal Shakespearan tragedy of the entire narrative of Californian-Mexican drug running that too cut a scene would be murder. Watch out for some particularly brilliant scenes between  Lively and del Toro as captive and torturer and between Lively and the ever beautiful Salma Hayek. John Travolta’s turn as Dennis a middle income DEA officer playing both sides of the vicious Laguna turf war proves that he is still a brilliant actor.  While the ever versatile Emile Hirsch makes a small appearance as the Californian’s money launderer aptly named Spin.

As for the conclusion of Savages, its best expressed in Spanish, todo es posible – anything is possible….

Activism and Martyrdom

Milk

directed by

Gus van Sant

The article below was prepared for a film workshop and discussion of Milk held at the inaugural Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival November 2011.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you”.

 

Political Activist, Martyr and lover of Opera

These words were used at a speech Milk made on the San Francisco City Hall steps as an elected city supervisor at the Gay Freedom Day Parade on the 25th June 1978 four months before being assassinated. This scene in Gus Van Sant’s film is critical to the viewing of Milk as not just as a film about the Gay rights movement in America, but a film about civil rights and the fight for protection against bigotry and the preservation of individual freedoms which should be enshrined in any democracy.
Milk was an activist for Gay rights and for human rights and he galvanized the communities of Castro Street in the Eureka Valley and also the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the protection of civil liberties. Milk was also the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position in a major metropolitan American city. He was a south-African equivalent of an Executive councillor and not merely a ward councillor.

Historically any political movement with a strong base of supporters, martyrdom works. There are examples of martyrs in a range of socio-political movements worldwide from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to Ruth First. Milk knew of the risks he was taking as an openly gay supervisor who was ready to engage in public debate at a time when the gay rights movement was blossoming along the American West Coast.

Milk was ready to die for his beliefs and was already casting himself in the role of a martyr – he persevered in the face of constant death threats. He challenged opposing viewpoints which were mostly grounded in the form of religious bigotry and parochial conservatism crystallized in the form of Florida religion fanatic Anita Bryant and Californian Republican Senator John Briggs.

Milk stood up for what was right at a particular moment in a historical context which reflected the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and followed on from similar social political movements in America most notably the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60s and early 70s (notably about the Vietnam war). Harvey Milk was a skilled political activist and knew how to mobilise his supporters effectively.
Milk’s challenge to gay and lesbian people in America was this – We have to let them know who we are. You have to be open about your sexuality. He was the political version of the current crop of Hollywood stars and singers who are breaking through the glass closet Zachary Quinto and Ricky Martin, David Hyde Pearce, Neil Patrick Harris.

As a film, Milk was hugely successful for 3 reasons –
1) Director Gus van Sant is an openly gay director and has touched on homosexuality in his previous films, My Own Private Idaho and his award winning film Elephant.
2)  The screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay was openly gay.
3) Milk as a film was researched and had the input of surviving members of the Gay rights movement of the 1970s notably the influential Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch in the film, Milk was shot in all the actual locations in and around San Francisco, notably the City Hall and Castro Street neighbourhood. Van Sant encouraged all the actors to improvise in their characters in the authentic locations they were shooting in. Seasoned actor, Sean Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is exceptionally brilliant, notably winning him a 2nd Best Actor Award.

There is a moment in Milk when Harvey is delivering the recruitment speech at Gay Freedom Parade that this biopic transcends the boundaries of being just a film about gay rights, but a film about justifiable civil rights. Ironically the call for recruitment sounds very similar to Uncle Sam calling for new army recruits to the US military. Gay people came to San Francisco from small towns across America and the gay community swelled after the end of World War 2 when many closeted military men disembarked at San Francisco after returning from the Pacific theatre of War and remained in the city, not obviously keen to return to conservative mid-Western towns.

Viewing Milk in a South African context

South Africa is an intensely political society and as a new democracy which has enshrined the rights of every individual by having one of the most liberal constitutions, gay people are protected by the constitution but is there an adequate justice system to enforce the civil liberties of gay people in SA. This point is made in Milk in the 70s when gay men are beaten up and victimised by SF police officers in the film. Even though gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden, does the South African police force adequately uphold these rights in contemporary society? In terms of Gay Pride marches worldwide from Sao Paulo to Warsaw – the role of the police as both protector and persecutor is brilliantly explored in the documentary Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride.

Best line in the film – “I sound like a homosexual with Power” – from being marginalised to being politicized that was the legacy that Harvey Milk gave to the American and the international gay rights movement.
Harvey Milk was a quintessential Gay politician who only served in office for one year but his impact on social change and his symbol as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America and internationally is huge. Milk was 40 years old when he first came out the closet and started living as an openly gay man.
The character of Dan White played by Josh Brolin in Milk represents a complete dichotomy from Harvey Milk. White was also a fellow city supervisor from a strong Irish Catholic neighbourhood who was concerned more with supporting a family on a municipal salary than supporting any of Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone’s liberal city ordinances. Dan White viewed Harvey Milk as a threat and he acted upon that threat, whereas Milk underestimated the danger of Dan White as a potential enemy. The last quarter of the film, there is a sense that Milk had almost become cavalier with his political power despite receiving numerous death threats. Milk was willing to become a martyr and for the cause, often remarking that politics was theatre.

Politics is Theatre

Politics is theatre except the scripts are different, but there remain the stars even they become legends as martyrs.

Van Sant skilfully shows not just the extent of the Milk’s activism but also his passion for the gay rights cause at the immense cost of his personal life and safety. The film beautifully reconstructs the fateful events leading up to Milk’s assassination and the truly poignant ending of Harvey Milk being heralded as a martyr by the community he served and adored. Milk is more about Martyrdom and Activism in a socio-political movement in the 1970s and the call for equal civil rights for gays and all other minorities.

Today in San Francisco there are convention centres, streets and public institutions named after slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Corner of Castro and Market Street in Eureka Valley is now called Harvey Milk Plaza.
The immortalization of martyrs for a cause is not new in any political movement and is especially significant in the current SA political context with conference centres, highways and streets being renamed after struggle heroes against Apartheid more appropriately in cities such as Durban and Johannesburg.

Proposition 6 as put forward by Californian Senator Briggs was legislation that allowed the California state to discriminate against employees in this case teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk’s biggest triumph was getting the gay communities and the broader society to vote against the implementation of proposition 6.
Irony is that Gay Marriage in America as a federal law is still banned. Only several US states have passed legislation allowing gay marriage to date including Vermont.
Proposition 8 (ballot title: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment; called California Marriage Protection Act by proponents) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia source.
Innovative film style of Gus Van Sant –Van Sant’s visual style is unique from extreme close-ups highlighting the intimacy of the characters to showcasing the broad political activism that Milk did to galvanize and protect the gay community in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Political activism involved taking over a block then a neighbourhood and gaining support and credence for specific municipal issues.
Suggested Reading and Viewing: ~
Biography: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Documentary: Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride by Bob Christie

 

A Fine and Fabulous Portrayal

milk

The brilliant film Milk is recommended not so much for its excellent coverage of political mobilization but more for Sean Penn’s superb and heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk. Of course there are those seventies fashions, James Franco skinny dipping and the wonderfully coy Emile Hirsh. Well worth the viewing.

If viewers loved director Gus Van Sant’s earlier works including My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant, then this film is up there with Gus Van Sant’s original masterpieces.

There is a detailed analysis of Milk under the title Activism and Martyrdom http://www.davidrwalker.co.za/2011/11/milk/ in a comprehensive article praising the merits of this film as a biography and a moving portrait of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

Milk also stars James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill and a fine supporting performance by Josh Brolin as supervisor Dan White.

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