Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

Well, I’m not exactly sure what happened this week, but this time around there was just one new movie released in theaters over the weekend.

A rarity, unless that film happens to be a Disney backed blockbuster guaranteed to break box office records.

But regardless of the reason, I certainly don’t mind getting a light week every once in awhile.

And luckily for me, it’s a movie I’ve been looking forward to. The ninth feature film from esteemed filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino.

So without further ado, let’s get to that review.

***

The only movie this week is “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.”

In Los Angeles, at the height of hippy Hollywood, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a former star of a western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore.

Meanwhile, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband have just moved into the home next door to Rick’s. Rick dreams of befriending the couple and using them to restore his leading man status.

I think just about every movie fan I know has been anticipating this film since it was first announced. And I’m right there with them.

Frankly Quentin Tarantino, the writer and director of this film, could make a movie about just about anything and film buffs would be all over it.

And for good reason too. The man’s made a career of making movies that are absolutely entrancing.

The writing in Tarantino’s films is second to none. The man has a fantastic knack for crafting scenes of nothing but pure dialogue and making them just as captivating as the best pulse-pounding fight scene in any action movie.

Tarantino also isn’t a stranger to paying homage to various genres in his movies. From grindhouse exploitation in “Death Proof” and “Kill Bill,” to the spaghetti western with “Django Unchained,” the man clearly has a love for the days of old cinema. And nowhere is that fact more apparent than this, his most recent film.

“Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” is a marvelous love letter to 1960s Los Angeles.

The effort that Tarantino poured into recreating this era of Hollywood is absolutely astounding.

The detail is incredible. The hair and costumes are spot on, as are the brands and advertisements. The entire city of Los Angeles looks like a blast from the past.

Then there’s the movies and television. Tarantino not only references numerous old school films and TV shows, he inserts his characters right in the middle of them, completely seamlessly. Heck, he even makes up his own shows.

But like all Tarantino films, it’s the dialogue and performances that really steal the show here.

DiCaprio is in top form in this movie. His character of Rick Dalton is surprisingly nuanced for an old fashioned Hollywood type.

He’s a little ego centric sure, but he’s also incredibly sensitive. The man wears his heart on his sleeve and isn’t afraid to get emotional in front of others.

That fact plays directly into my favorite part of the entire movie, where Dalton acts out a scene alongside a very well spoken, method acting 8-year-old only known as Trudi, played by Julia Butters.

The few scenes between the two of them are fantastic, and do a wonderful job of expressing who Rick Dalton is as an actor, and as a person.

Brad Pitt is also no slouch here.

His scenes are some of the funniest parts of the film. Especially during his interactions with some of Hollywood’s more famous, and infamous, real life people.

Every single performance here was top notch, but if there was a character here that got a bit of a short shrifted, it’d have to be the most notable historical character here, Sharon Tate.

That’s not to say I thought Margot Robbie’s portrayal of her was bad in any way, in fact I thought the few scenes she had were quite good. It’s just that it didn’t really feel like Sharon Tate had a place in this sprawling 161 minute narrative.

Her moments almost felt shoehorned in. If not for her real life significance, they probably could have cut her character out entirely and it wouldn’t have affected the overall story much. Which is odd considering how drastically her life was changed by prominent elements of this film in actuality.

I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted more Margot Robbie in the movie. I became a pretty big fan of hers after her performance in “I, Tonya,” and it was disappointing to see her not get much to work with here.

Regardless, a lack of Robbie didn’t hurt the narrative too much.

Speaking of, the overall story here is told in a very typical Tarantino manner.

There isn’t a strong narrative thrust propelling the film forward for a good chunk of the runtime. For a lot of it, it’s just Rick and Cliff working in Hollywood and generally going about their lives. That might seem boring for some, but personally I found it fascinating.

I am an absolute sucker for ‘making-of’ content for movies, even if it’s completely fictional.

Films like 2016’s “Hail, Caesar!,” written and directed by the Coen brothers, really scratch that behind-the-scenes itch that I just can’t get enough of.

Either way, despite a narrative that may meander a bit here and there, it does eventually lead somewhere. And much like almost every other Tarantino picture, that somewhere is a bloodbath.

Even as someone who expected the film to end in violence, as is typical of Tarantino, this movie still had my jaw on the floor when it came to a climax.

Was it as ridiculous as some of the filmmaker’s previous work? Well, maybe not. It still took me off guard though.

And I wasn’t the only one taken aback.

At my showing for the film I was seated next to this sweet looking older woman, probably someone’s grandmother. She absolutely loved all the 1960s imagery, and was ecstatic whenever a show she recognized was referenced in the movie.

She was also quite vocally distressed anytime someone got hurt, which fortunately for her, was fairly rare most of the film’s nearly three hour runtime.

But then the finale came.

Based on her reaction, I think horrified would be a pretty apt description for how she felt during the climax of the movie. Towards the very end she gave up on quietly crying out, and just placed her hands in her hair, completely aghast.

I guess what I’m trying to say, if you’re squeamish and are only interested in seeing this movie based off of 1960s nostalgia, this might not be the best movie going experience for you.

At the end of the day, this is still a Tarantino film. Which as far as I’m concerned, is a very good thing.

Sure, it’s long, and ridiculously self-indulgent, but the level of detail here really makes old Hollywood come to life in a way I’ve rarely seen in other films.

Add to that some great writing, a fair number of fantastic character moments, and a cast of talented performers giving their all, makes this a late summer flick well worth watching on the big screen.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is rated R.

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