Thursday, January 21, 2021

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

I had mixed feelings about seeing Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 magnum opus “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.” Set in 1969, it weaves the semi-fictional account of an actor in a downward career slump (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend/stuntman (Brad Pitt) into the true story of the Manson murders, specifically of Sharon Tate and her friends. Knowing how brutal the murders were, I was not anxious to see those splashed on the big screen; however, Tarantino’s conversion of current Hollywood back into the 1969 version was intriguing to me, especially since I saw some of the façades that Barbara Ling and the production team so carefully recreated during a few visits of mine to Hollywood. Let me get my comments out of the way on that topic first.

Much attention was obviously spent on putting the façades back to 1969, recreating period wardrobe, picking the correct vintage autos, and choosing just the right film stock, lighting, and angles to put the viewer back into that era. For the most part it works and the team should be credited. Interviews I have seen show them patting themselves on the back for doing it all “old school” and not using CGI. While this is commendable, it really doesn’t matter to the majority of viewers who just want to be immersed into a well-made film. Nit-picky me was thrown out of that 1960’s world when I saw street signs and freeway signs that had not been changed; why go to the trouble of putting vintage brochures in a shop window (that probably can’t be seen) and then let street signs stay in the present era? I don’t think the viewer would have held a CGI effect against Tarrantino. That’s the end of my little rant. 

The first time I saw the movie, I found myself getting increasingly bored and restless as the plot continued on. I thought Brad Pitt was masterful in his restrained portrayal of a badass stuntman; Leonardo DiCaprio was a little bit more messy in his characterization of an actor who was on the verge of becoming a has-been; there was too much time spent on showing this rather than moving the plot along. That would be my major complaint; too many unnecessary subplots and too much time driving points home that could easily have been understood by an audience with less waste of film stock. 

It seemed like Tarantino had a difficult time letting go of the extraneous parts that had special meaning to him, but not necessarily important to the storyline. One somewhat uncomfortable sequence shows a fight between Pitt’s character and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Lee is portrayed as an egotistical jerk, and Tarantino included a long sequence to explain why stuntman Cliff Booth (Pitt) wasn’t having an easy time getting hired for a particular film because of the director (Kurt Russell) and his wife. Flashbacks of Booth’s stormy relationship with his own wife and the fight sequence with Lee are purely extraneous, and for fans of Bruce Lee, probably offensive.

Margot Robbie does an excellent job of channeling the luminous Sharon Tate. I enjoyed watching her scenes, which were obviously designed to give a sense of what a kind and caring person she was. This knowledge makes her senseless death even more tragic.

The actors playing the Manson gang members were chilling. I cannot give enough kudos to all of them. When Pitt’s character visited Spahn Ranch, I was on the edge of my seat during that entire sequence.

By the time the plot arrives at the point that I knew the Tate murder would be occurring, I was extremely uncomfortable. I even had my finger on the fast forward button. Without giving the plot of the movie away, all I can say is that this is where Tarantino shows his brilliance. It is one of the very few times that I could say the violence shown was cathartic. The last 15 or 20 minutes of the movie found me praising the film and actually wanting to watch it again, which I did. The second viewing was more enjoyable, as I was able to catch more production details and character nuances. The choices of what was shown made much more sense., too I still stand by my earlier comments about this film needing a good edit job to make it more compelling and less rambling. Overall, I’d give it a B+.

Seeing this film made me want to go back to LA/Hollywood and re-shoot some of these iconic locations:

See more Daveland vintage and contemporary Hollywood photos at my main website.


Fifthrider said...

Wow. Great review. I've only barely heard of the film in passing. I may have to check it out. Agreed that some of his violence scenes have gone over the top. It's rare that I walk out of a theater but I've left a Tarantino movie twice in the last 20 years. Never looked back. You're probably right about CGI, in that second pic I see a modern vehicle passing in the background.

Irene said...

I make it a practice to seldom see R rated movies (movies like Kings Speech being the exception)let alone a Tarantino movie. But I was aware of the time setting and seeing photos popping up on how they were dressing it. Also the fact that they featured KHJ, my favorite radio station growing up, I decided to brace myself and see it. I was a teen/young adult in the 60's and boy did this bring back the look and feel of that time. I remember the murders like it was yesterday. I was in no way a "flower child", if anything I probably could have fit in with The Young Americans" LOL I really liked this movie and have seen it twice. I will probably watch it again sometime in the future. Yes, I agree the ending was very cathartic and it made me wish that is the way things went down. Also, those scenes at the ranch were very creepy.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Dave.

I enjoyed the film (unexpectedly), which is unusual for me, since I avoid Tarantino like the plague.

I have watched it a couple of times, I guess I don't find the side plots or minor set decoration issues to be as jarring. I was pleased to see the attention paid to classic Hollywood otherwise.

I was tickled to see the actors sitting in the same seat I occupied at Musso and Frank. And the time the director spent on the DiCaprio character backstory (if true) was impressive obsession.

The film doesn't change my overall impression of Tarantino, but shows that even a blind hog can find an acorn if they hunt long enough.


Daveland said...

Irene - The more I learn about Sharon Tate the sadder it makes me feel about what happened to her. The pain her family must go through every time the "gang" comes up for parole…

JG - Tarantino is usually just too violent for me. I enjoy his movies, but the amount of spurting blood makes me turn my head a lot. I'm not sure what his obsession with that has to do with. I actually saw him one night at the Chateau. He's a character in real life, too!