Written by / 7/26/2019 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , , , ,

QUENTIN TARANTINO'S 'ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD'

Film poster within a film for Leo DiCaprio's Rick Dalton YEAR: 2019
Make an important note while watching Quentin Tarantino's entirely different kind of revenge revisionist-history picture...

It not only centers around real life counter-culture figures Sharon Tate (a kindhearted and childlike yet superfluous Barbie Doll here), Charles Manson &amp Family (including main slayer Tex Watson and scummy moll Squeaky Fromme), Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and hairstylist Jay Sebring (Tate's former lover): but there's also the last of The Family's victims, Donald "Shorty" Shea, an experienced tough-guy stuntman who thought the hippie horde was taking advantage of employer George Spahn at his formerly active Spahn Movie Ranch, where Manson and company made their very own playground, ultimately setting stage for the "Helter Skelter Murders" that infamously included an 8-month pregnant Tate...

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Hollywood
For people expecting ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD to be the kind of bloody thriller Tarantino's known for, the dark and forbidding suspenseful stuff begins halfway through in a pivotal, eerie scene where Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth, a world-weary stunt man like Shea, checks up on old friend/acquaintance Spahn (Bruce Dern adequately replacing Burt Reynolds) to find out what the deal is with the hippie freeloaders...

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 genuine bad ass Bruce Lee, who, surprisingly since Tarantino worships Asian Kung Fu flicks, is portrayed as a pretentious blowhard boob, and not even a decent fighter! Which is blasphemy from a filmmaker to his core-fans that both worship the legendary karate icon. But like everything else, it all makes its own bizarre/offbeat sense by the end...

Once Upon a Score: ****1/2
Which shouldn't be spoiled except to say that even if you did know "how" things go down, the "why" is hilariously violent, unique and original despite initially seeming tacked on and rushed (following a sudden six-month time-lapse)...

It might be because spending so much deliberately frivolous meantime with stunt-double Cliff Booth and the "has-been" actor he doubles for, runs errands for, and hangs out with, is the best thing going in a film where Tarantino hasn't seemed as loose and relaxed with since KILL BILL. Also, the usual endless string of pop culture references don't feel as contrived since the movie takes place where most of them originated. And in that, 1969 Los Angeles comes to life in predictably nostalgic, groovy grandeur...

Sharon Tate in 12 + 1 her last film
But with all the prolonged (and sometimes overlong) existential driving around town and hanging around movie sets, it's really more about characters than the time period they exist in...

That alone puts HOLLYWOOD miles past INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED and THE HATEFUL EIGHT...

Which all had stronger plots but overdosed on their own genre-driven style over substance. For this is a much simpler tale, and a buddy flick to boot. Tarantino even compared his handsome duo to Robert Redford and Paul Newman... and yet, 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 of playing the hero on his own bygone Cowboy TV series to becoming typecast (warned by an Al Pacino cameo) as a villain in everyone else's: Giving Leonardo DiCaprio a chance to truly enjoy himself in a Tarantino role and making up for the fact he was painfully miscast in DJANGO...

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate
And what really works about Leo's Dalton is that he's an actor, and in that, kind of a pussy. Unlike his macho double, he 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 (many leading men yearn to be character-actors but very few are both at the same time)...

Sharon Tate in 12 + 1
As for fellow Oscar-winning 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 filler dialogue to remind the audience why this and that is important right now since it's happened before, in a different fashion — plus the fact no one else would/could make such a deliberately pulsating jukebox of a film about the film industry...

But there's also a feeling he's somewhat holding back so to, for the first time in decades, let his characters fill in the more subtle moments that make RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and his last truly classic vehicle JACKIE BROWN so fun to watch, again and again: In striving for a perfectly good ride, Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD doesn't suffer from trying too-hard for epic greatness... Sometimes pretty good can turn out pretty great.
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
Sharon Tate in DON'T MAKE WAVES... if only art was more like art
Sharon Tate in EYE OF THE DEVIL
"You must be a big Lee Marvin fan?" Mr. White, Reservoir Dogs (Lee freaked about Manson killings, 1970, Esquire)
Steve McQueen in LE MANS a year after the Manson Murders
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