In Brief: It’s Quentin Tarantino. He’s always interesting.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s 9th movie. There are several things I want to tell you about the movie — parts I loved and things I didn’t like — but can’t because my reasoning for both is laced with spoilers.
Spoilers will be all over the web so be careful when reading about the movie online.
By the way, Tarantino is old school and is not as enamored with digital as the rest of the industry. I saw the movie on 35mm film. In areas where that technology is still available, you, too will see it that way.
Tarantino’s casting — as always — is canny. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margo Robbie get top billing and are three of the best actors working today. They are superb. So is a huge supporting cast that includes Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Primetime Emmy nominee Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning and Bruce Dern.
As always there are lots of award-worthy performances in Tarantino’s movie and no doubt their acting — and the movie — will end up on favorite lists and will be on the award lists at the end of the year.
Like most of Tarantino’s movies, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s plot is all over the place. The film has four stories that blend into one. The main story’s focus is actor Rick Dalton and his sidekick, and stuntman Cliff Booth. Dalton is done by DiCaprio and Booth is played by Pitt. At one time a big TV star, Dalton’s career has hit the skids and Booth’s fortunes have fallen with his pal’s.
The actor keeps him around but he’s now only useful as Dalton’s driver and handyman.
How they deal with being has-beens is tangled up with mass murderer Charles Manson and his cult family. Actually, Manson is barely seen. The focus is the legion gorgeous young women followers that hung on his every word and ended up — with Tex Watson — murdering actress Sharon Tate, three of her friends and a caretaker on Cielo Drive on August 8,1969.
Tarantino casts Robbie as Tate and follows her about Hollywood imagining the last few months of Tate’s life.
DiCaprio, Pitt and their co-stars benefit from Tarantino’s tight, tongue-in-cheek script. The movie is laugh-out-loud hilarious. At the same time, it is super serious. The best example is how Tarantino bathes Robbie’s Sharon Tate in light. She has very few lines. Her job — as the film’s doomed heroine — is simply to glow.
In all that light is a death lying in wait. It’s disturbing.
The last focus of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Hollywood itself and — specifically — Hollywood at the beginning of the decline of its golden days in 1969.
Tarantino’s movies are an adventure. He takes a scattershot approach to movie making and often throws a bunch of things at the screen to see what sticks. This is why — for most of us — he’s so much fun. While you never know what to expect, you do know what you can expect is the unexpected.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” majors in the unexpected.
By the way, scattershot is a perfect adjective to describe a Tarantino plot. Ironically, in his case and that of Tarantino’s movies, scattershot is actually focused. In other words, there’s always a point to everything in his movies.
Even when there doesn’t seem to be a point, you don’t care. The extra scenes — scenes often not completely essential to the plot’s main body — just add to the fun.
This one is loaded with them. Tarantino packs Hollywood with a dozen scenes that poke fun of the entertainment culture of 1969. Jabs are taken at classic TV shows, commercials and even Spaghetti Westerns. They include landscape dotting authentic posters, sets, cars, scenery and wardrobes. He even uses the Columbia Pictures logo from that year — the one with the lady in white holding the torch — to open the movie.
While these things pad the length of the movie, they also add authenticity.
Tarantino also spends an inordinate amount of time shooting shots of feet. We won’t speculate on the why of the foot fetish. It is — however — odd. But it’s Tarantino and odd works.
The story nicely — and not so nicely — points out that once upon a time Hollywood mattered. It is still the traditional movie capital of the world but Hollywood’s days of studio rule when moguls controlled the fate of the industry, and the actors, producers, directors and others therein, are history.
That’s also part of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s charm. It’s an homage to a long gone system with Dalton as the metaphor. He’s a victim of change; an actor whose career is on the skids. A household name in the 1950s, Dalton is pushing middle age and no one cares about him anymore.
In 1969 Hollywood was about the experience a similar decline.
This — and other reasons — are why I love the movie and why I am going to give it my highest rating. However, the Manson part of the movie and Tarantino’s take on the whole thing bothers me and is disturbing.
That said, it’s Tarantino, and few writers and directors have — and ever have had — a better time playing with the art form of movie making than Quentin Tarantino. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception. It’s no wonder actors fall all over themselves to get into a Tarantino movie.
They’re fun to watch and it has to be a blast to be a part of one. In the case of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for actors and movie goers, it’s a blast times 10.
Or since this is Tarantino’s 9th movie — let’s make it nine.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Zoe Bell, Damien Lewis, Mike Moh, Rachel Redleaf, Damon Herriman, Bruce Dern, Lena Dunham, Mikey Madison, James Landry Hebert, Madisen Beaty, Lorenza Izzo, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Clu Gulager, Brenda Vaccaro
I’m not crazy about Tarantino’s climax but I am crazy about this movie. Loved his look at movies and Hollywood in 1969. Great film that gets a Friday Flicks with Gary 5 on the 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.