Movie Review – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Grab your time travel machine, 3.5 readers.  It’s time to go back all the way to 1969.

BQB here with a review of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film.

I’ve been a longtime Tarantino fan, 3.5 readers.  I suppose most Gen Xers are.  His films have always been known for 1) time jumps, i.e. starting at the end and working back to the beginning, so that the end of the movie becomes essentially how the whole mess started 2) long pieces of expository dialogue where characters drop key plot points by word of mouth in passing and 3) 1960s and 1970s pop culture references galore.

Remember Inglourious Bastards?  This film is another alternate history project.  Just as Tarantino rewrote WWII, so too does he give the infamously terrifying Manson family murder of actress Sharon Tate a rewrite.  The tale centers around down on his luck actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusty stuntman/errand boy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt.)  Together, they are a pair of old Hollywood legends who once put out a popular 1950s cowboy show, only to fizzle in the middle of their lives.  Rick is having a tough time finding work, and if he can’t work then Cliff can stunt.

Long story short, Sharon Tate and her husband, director (later turned on the run pervert) Roman Polanski, are Rick’s neighbors, and I could tell you more but suffice to say, during their quest to restart their careers, Rick and Cliff get sucked into the Manson family madness in a big way.

Having studied Tarantino’s movies for a long time, I have to say this one is far different.  His 1960s pop culture references are there, but there a but more subtle, with the occasional hint toward what is being referred to for the millennial generation.  Tarantino’s adoration of the 1960s and 1970s was already a bit stale in the 1990s when he got his start, and I remember as a teenager, watching his films was the first time I learned of some of the 60s/70s references to which he was referring.  So, his work is cut out for him in trying to stay afloat in a sea that is now dominated by young adults who were in short pants at the turn of the century.

Somehow, he pulls it off.  And he also, much to my surprise, refrains from the heavy, heady dialogue that is his trademark.  True, his dialogues were often a joy to behold, but here, he focuses more on showing rather than telling.  Ironically, it’s almost like this grandmaster blew up all the writing rules in his youth, only to begin grabbing hold of them in his old age.

It’s in the showing where this movie excels.  We see Leo as Dalton sitting on a float in his backyard pool, reviewing his lines for a part in a movie that he needs to remain relevant in the acting game.  This shows us that Dalton is desperate.  He’s old but he isn’t ready to quit just yet, and wants to give it his all before his final curtain call.

We see Cliff Booth sitting alone in a dingy trailer, his only friend a big dumb dog.  His house is a mess, looking as though he never cleans.  He cooks a pot of mac and cheese, then sits down before the TV to eat it straight out of the pot.  He is a consummate bachelor.  Unlike Dalton, he is used to a shit life.  Aspirations of anything else don’t compute with him.

And finally, we see Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate.  So proud of herself for making it in the movie business is she that she goes to a cinema and takes in one of her films, in awe of her accomplishment.  It’s a sweet moment.

Overall, this is Tarantino’s love letter to his favorite flicks, genres, actors, directors…really, his kiss for that period of time in Hollywood history that formed the foundation of his work.

Ultimately, Rick and Cliff have to take everything they thought they knew about the movie business and turn it up on its ear to keep going in a world that’s changing, and Tarantino does that here as well.

After all, this is a movie that starts at the beginning and ends at the end.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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