Reel Reviews: ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’

By on July 31, 2019

Fictionalized facts via Tarantino

I managed to avoid box office champ “The Lion King” — I just can’t stomach all the “live action” remakes being committed on Disney classics — by catching the latest flick by writer/director Quentin Tarantino: “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”

In his ninth (if you count “Kill Bill” as one movie), and supposedly second-to-last feature film, the artist takes a long look at his true love, Hollywood. Tinseltown is the setting for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” which teeters on reality but is a true reflection of Tarantino’s obsessed love with all things motion picture — from cult stardom to spaghetti westerns.

This is ultimately the story of the murder of Sharon Tate and friends on the evening of Aug. 8, 1969, revisioned in a Tarantino world. But the tale starts with Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fade-away actor who is struggling to regain a career that had once made him a household name. Alongside Dalton as stunt-double and personal driver is the “man’s man” Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Oscar-winning* — I’m calling it now), who is also Dalton’s BFF.

The two jump from set to set as our tale unfolds in a slow and deliberate pace, gently rocking the viewer into complacency until it is too late to suspect the heavy handed shock effects of Tarantino violence, but it happens.

On the way, we meet Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), real life characters who move in next to our fictional Dalton. Booth keeps running into a young hippie-vixen going by the name of Pussycat (Margaret Qualley, “The Nice Guys”) who is holed up in an old film location — Spahn Ranch — with her gang of hotties, all under the trance of Charles Manson (Damon Herriman).

Here, we also run into other real-life characters, incidental as they are: Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme; Austin Butler (“The Dead Don’t Die”) as Tex Watson; and Bruce Dern as George Spahn. Outside of Manson’s influence, Hollywood is represented by Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), and Wayne Maunder (Luke Perry in his final role).

The credits can go on and on and include people we haven’t gotten to yet, like Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and Timothy Olyphant. Then there’s the mystery of who isn’t in this film. Like, why is Tim Roth in the credits, but not in the film?

I can’t wait to see this movie again and hopefully pick up more I might have missed. Everything about this movie is meticulously set up by Tarantino — from the overtly obvious Cielo Drive street sign (scene of the Tate murders) to the slogan on the canned dog food (“Good food for mean dogs”) for Booth’s pit bull, Brandy. (By the way, PETA, you got it wrong, Tarantino’s making of this hero dog is a nod to the hardworking animals of showbiz who gave us Lassie and Benji, not a justification of animal abuse.)

“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is like three or four movies going on at the same time, but it’s not overwhelming. While it wrapped up perfectly, I can’t help but want more. It’s definitely a movie to watch more than once.

*We may be hearing a lot more about this film in February 2020. It has everything the Academy of Arts and Sciences likes about an Oscar-award winning film: homage to Hollywood itself, critical cameos by heralded former winners, strong acting reinforced by similarly strong supporting acting, and a director long-withheld from winning Best Picture or Best Director! The writing is on the wall.

Agree or disagree? Reel Reviews works like this: 1) Watch a movie; 2) Send suggestions, comments and criticism to Michael at SomeProMCU@gmail.com.

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