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REVIEW CRUISING THROUGH 'ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD'

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Rating: ****

Make an important note while experiencing Quentin Tarantino's entirely different kind of revisionist-history revenge picture: It not only centers around real life counter-culture figures Sharon Tate; Charles Manson and Family (including main slayer Tex Watson and skanky moll Squeaky Fromme); a love-lorn Steve McQueen; a rich, contented Roman Polanski; and pixie hairstylist Jay Sebring...

There's also the last of the victims, Donald "Shorty" Shea, a would-be stuntman who thought the hippie horde was taking advantage of his friend/employer George Spahn at the formerly-active Spahn Movie Ranch: the infamous location where Manson and his followers made their very own drug-fueled, Beatles-blaring, conspiracy-plotting, paranoiac playground, ultimately setting stage for the "Helter Skelter Murders" that infamously included an eight-month pregnant Tate...

Brad Pitt in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

For anyone expecting ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD to be the kind of bloodfest Tarantino's known for, the dark stuff begins halfway through in a pivotal scene where Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth, a world-weary stuntman concerned about Spahn, just like the slain Shorty Shea, checks up on the old-timer (a subtly hilarious Bruce Dern replacing Burt Reynolds, who died a month before filming) to inquire about the hippie residents...

But Pitt plays anything but a victim, built into such an indestructible bad ass he lives in a grungy LETHAL WEAPON style trailer, owns a pitbull and even gets the best of none other than actual bad ass Bruce Lee, who, surprisingly since Tarantino worships Asian Kung Fu flicks, is portrayed as a pretentious blowhard boob. Not only that but the scene is intrusive, plodding, and involves the horrendously awful actress (yet obviously good stuntwoman ) Zoƫ Bell. And yet, concerning Booth's necessary teflon countenance, it almost makes sense by the end...

Cruising through ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Which shouldn't be spoiled; even if you've already heard "how" things go down, the "why" is wonderfully violent, unique and original despite initially seeming tacked-on (following a random six-month time-lapse)...

It might be from having spent so much deliberately frivolous meantime with the stunt-double and the "has-been" actor he doubles for, runs errands for, and hangs out with in a hangout movie where Tarantino hasn't seemed as loose and relaxed since JACKIE BROWN... while his usual string of pop culture references don't feel as contrived since HOLLYWOOD takes place where most of them originated. And in that, 1969 Los Angeles comes to life in predictably nostalgic, groovy grandeur...

Quentin Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

But with all the prolonged (and sometimes overlong) literal driving around town and acting under television studio lights, it's really more about the characters than the time period they exist in...

That alone puts HOLLYWOOD miles past INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED and HATEFUL EIGHT, which all had stronger plots but overdosed on their own genre-laden style over substance. For this is a much simpler tale, and a buddy flick to boot. Tarantino even compared his handsome duo to Paul Newman and Robert Redford... 

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

And yet, unlike BUTCH CASSIDY and more like THE STING, these particular buddies are hardly together at all. While Booth takes his aforementioned stroll through the bad-vibey Spahn Ranch, faded star Rick Dalton struggles through the transition from playing the hero on his own bygone Cowboy series to becoming typecast as a villain in everyone else's — a possible career downfall forewarned by an Al Pacino (as Rick's would-be agent) monologue; and on set, Rick bonds with child starlet Julia Butters playing child starlet Trudi Fraser: Giving DiCaprio a chance to naturally revel in a Tarantino role, unlike the overboard miscast villain turn from DJANGO...

What really works about Leo's Rick Dalton is that he's an actor, and in that, kind of a wuss. Unlike his macho double, Rick only wins or loses fights based on whatever script he's working really hard trying to be convincing in. Providing a comfortably suited, down-to-earth niche for the A-list DiCaprio, who often chooses roles far too big for his britches. In other words, he doesn't seem to be striving for an Oscar or trying to become the next Anthony Hopkins...

Margot Robbie in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

As for fellow success story Quentin Tarantino, his signature directorial presence is surely felt, especially with the random (albeit less frequent than usual) flashbacks, ultra violence (later rather than sooner), and expository dialogue along with visual tricks to remind the audience why this and that is important right now since it's happened before, but in a different fashion: plus the fact no one else in the industry would or could make such a deliberately pulsating jukebox of a film about the film industry...

But there's also a feeling he's holding back so to, for the first time in over a decade, let his characters fill in more subtle moments that make RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN and KILL BILL so fun to watch and rewatch: In striving for a perfectly capable ride, Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD doesn't suffer from trying too hard for epic greatness — sometimes pretty darn good can turn out pretty damn great.

Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth enters at LAX in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Wolf't Tooth Dog Food has Bird, Racoon and Rat Flavor ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt juxtaposed in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Along with the obvious is a marquee for The Sergeant w/ Rod Steiger Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Clu Gulager and Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Leonardo DiCarpio and child starlet Julia Butters in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Tex Watson rides into Spahn Ranch
Brad Pitt as Cliff "John Wilkes?" Booth with Bruce Dern in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Julia Butters as Trudi Fraser in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
"In about fifteen years you'll be living it." to Julia Butters, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
"I usually don't like names... Like Pumpin Puss" Julia Butters as Trudi Frazier
"In about fifteen years you'll be living it." Rick Dalton to Trudi Fraser, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Al Pacino watching FBI in Once Upon A Time in the West
Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Butters in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
The bad guy dancing with Robbie is annoying but this is a Pan Am redo in QT's Hollywood
Pan Am taking off in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
Pan Am cruising in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
Coach seated Cliff Booth toasts First Class Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Perla Haney-Jardine who was B.B. from Kill Bill in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Perla Haney-Jardine with David Carradine and Uma Thurman in KILL BILL Vol 2
The Master starlet Madisen Beaty as Katie w/ James Dean in Once Upon A Time in the West
Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy on Lance in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Margaret Qualley as Pussycat in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Iconic heavy William Smith in C.C. & Company in Once Upon a Time in the West
Vic Morrow makes an appearance in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate getting a free ride for The Wrecking Crew... IN HOLLYWOOD
Hell even the suitcases are great in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
The uncredited due of a Hollywood stuntman in Italy
A posthumous Luke Perry as Lancer actor Wayne Maunder in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino Mexican Standoff w/ Austin Butler & Brad Pitt Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Victoria Pedretti as LuLu with Austin Butler as Tex Watson in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Danielle Harris as Angel with Austin Butler as Tex Watson in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Rick Dalton/Leo DiCaprio burning bright for ONCE UPON A TIME
Tarantino's Manson gilrs Victoria Pedretti and Sydney Sweeney stalking HOLLYWOOD
Groovy cover for the rather weak present-tense Once Upon A Time Novelization
Primary novelization cover with pictures better than the rambling writing
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio watch Rick Dalton's FBI episode from HOLLYWOOD
The Tony Rome sequel LADY IN CEMENT playing in Cliff's backyard
The real Sharon Tate in The Wrecking Crew, which is shown (with Tate) in this movie
Don't Make Waves lobby with the real life Sharon Tate
Don't Make Waves lobby with the real life Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate in EYE OF THE DEVIL
"You must be a big Lee Marvin fan?" Mr. White, Reservoir Dogs
Steve McQueen in LE MANS a year after the Manson Murders
Tarantino's 2nd book is far superior by the auteur who loves loving movies for Cinema Speculation
Bottom of the Rick Dalton poster based on The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian
Rick Dalton on FBI (Leonardo DiCaprio) from Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Burt Reynolds is who Rick Dalton replaced from the FBI episode All The Streets Are Silent
Burt Reynolds is who Rick Dalton replaced from the FBI episode All The Streets Are Silent
Rick calls Rex Holman who Rick calls a f--king prick in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Title Card for the series THE FBI

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