Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Simple Review: Does Quentin ever say “cut”?

Did you miss me? Admit it, you did and you started to lose hope that I would ever return to help you navigate your local motion picture theater so you could avoid wasting your hard-earned money. You can rest easy as I am making my triumphant return to the movie critique game with a triumphant review of Quentin Tarantino’s not so triumphant return to filmmaking. Oops, did I give away my opinion too soon, well, unlike said filmmaker I am choosing to get to the point instead of dragging it out to please my own ego. So turn on ” Stuck in the middle with you”, grab your straight razor and let’s get medieval on this review.

There is nothing as challenging as reviewing a Quentin Tarantino epic picture. It is a no-win situation as you can either write a gushing, love letter about the movie and be like everyone else or you can point out some missteps in the film and be criticized by film snobs for ” not getting it.” Fortunately for you, my reliable reader, I am not one to shy away from a challenge and, frankly, I don’t care what other people think of me which makes life much simpler. Enough of this nonsense, it is business time and this movie review needs to get reviewing!

If you are a cinephile then chances are you are a fan of Tarantino and his unique vision and storytelling. From his breakthrough film, Reservoir Dogs, all the way to his current release, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there is no doubt you are watching a Tarantino film. I admit I do love Quentin as a writer and filmmaker, as a person not so much, but he is one of the few filmmakers out there that can deliver a film worth seeing and discussing afterward. On the level, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, does deliver the Tarantino experience that you would expect. The film is beautifully and masterfully shot bringing 1969 California to life in a way that will leave you in awe. The attention to detail is incredible as this time period is brought to life and I simply do not know how he did it. If there is CGI it is the most seamless background CGI I have ever seen, but, knowing Tarantino, I have to believe all of the background signs, billboards, and famous locations were real and meticulously recreated. I could write and write and write more simply describing my amazement on how he made 1969 come to life. It truly is a masterful job of filmmaking.

It isn’t an Earth-shattering statement to say that a Tarantino film has amazing dialogue and Quentin knows how to bring the best out of every actor in the film. I said it before, but I love Quentin as a writer. It boggles my mind at how effortless he writes dialogue and how naturally it flows from the characters in the film. This film continues that trend delivering funny, sad and powerful moments that remind you that you are in the hands of one of the best in the business. The camaraderie between Leonardo DiCaprio’s declining movie star Rick Dalton and his stunt double best friend Cliff Booth played with California cool by Brad Pitt, is obvious from scene one of the film and is the core of the movie. Their scenes together sell the fact that these two men have been through a lot together and their relationship never feels fake or forced. Credit goes to both actors as they have incredible chemistry and I would love to see them work together in future films. Much love is being given to Brad Pitt for his work as Cliff, but for me, Leonardo gives a powerhouse performance as Rick, a man struggling with his place in the changing Hollywood and trying to remain relevant. The scenes involving his role as the bad guy in an epic Western are fascinating as Leonardo gives us a man giving everything he has to make this role his best. The scenes between Leonardo’s Rick and the child star of the western are some of the best in the film, with Tarantino’s sharp dialogue highlighting the two characters interacting.

It is impossible to criticize any actor in a Tarantino film because he is so damned good at drawing their best performances out of them. I mean he made Eli Roth seem like an actual actor, so the man can do no wrong with any cast he is given. This film is no different as every performance was perfect for this film. I already discussed Leonardo, and as I said Brad Pitt is charming and super cool as Cliff Booth. My only complaint about his character is that he doesn’t change at all through the Film. Cliff is exactly the same at the beginning as he is at the end. That is not Pitt’s fault as he is excellent in the role and steals the movie from his scenes with his beloved Pit Bull to the crazy end of this film. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give him much growth and it felt like a waste of a great performance.

The rest of the cast is superb, as expected, with so many great little interactions with the main characters that add to the reality of this world. Margot Robbie does a fine job giving Sharon Tate an innocence and a hopeful smile as she begins her movie career. Much has been said about her role in the film, but ultimately this film is not about Sharon Tate or the Manson family. They are just there to remind you that the end of this innocence is looming in the distance. It was nice to see Al Pacino actually acting again instead of playing “Al Pacino”. Julie Butters is a child actor that will be getting a ton of work after this film as she is delightful in her scenes with Leonardo. There are so many brief cameos it would take forever to list but it is always great to see Kurt Russell in anything and what movie isn’t better with Timothy Olyphant in it? My favorite cameo was Nicholas Hammond as Director Sam Wanamaker. Who is Nicholas Hammond you say, well he IS my Spider-Man!

I know what you are thinking,” hey Movie Psycho, all you’ve done is gush over this film I thought you said this film wasn’t so triumphant. What gives, man?!?!” Ok I hear you and I never said this is a bad film, I don’t think it would be possible for Quentin to make a bad film. However, this one does have enough weaknesses to keep it from being a masterpiece. Over the last few of his films, Quentin has developed a habit of straying off the path that is the story of the film he is making. Most of the time you don’t notice as the dialogue and performances are so engrossing that you forget you have left the plot and eventually the film finds its way back. Once Upon a time in Hollywood suffers from these excursions away from the plot as the film does drag and the nearly three-hour runtime is definitely felt. I know this is his love letter to this era in Hollywood history but there is a multitude of scenes in the film that are merely there to indulge the filmmaker. It felt like there was no one to tell Quentin to trim this out or cut this scene here so the film wouldn’t be so bloated. If you thought The Hateful Eight dragged on then Once Upon a Time might not be the film for you.

Aside from the meandering nature of the film, there are other missteps that left me scratching my head. There are heavy exposition dumps throughout the film with one character’s only purpose in the film being to tell you the relationship between a couple of other characters. Add to that Quentin’s love affair with narration and there are times when someone is telling you exactly what you are seeing on the screen which comes off as a bit lazy and demeaning to the audience. There is a great scene with Rick and Cliff on an airplane returning from Italy that is shot and acted perfectly. Everything you need to know is conveyed through the camera work and the actors’ facial expression, but for some reason, Quentin felt he needed a narrator to explain to us what we can see is going on. It was frustrating to keep being told what you are supposed to think and I really don’t know why he did it.

My last complaints stem from the two most controversial scenes: The Bruce Lee scene and the ending. I understand why the Bruce Lee scene took place as it is a clash between the new Hollywood and the old school Hollywood, but why Tarantino decided to make Bruce such a prick and buffoon is beyond me. Bruce has been a hero to a ton of people through the years and treating him that way seemed to be needlessly mean. The weird part is that every other movie star of that era is portrayed in such a glowing light that it is jarring to see Bruce treated that way.

On to the biggest conversation starter, the ending. I won’t spoil anything but I admit I didn’t care for it. No, it isn’t because of the violence and gore as I am one who enjoys such things to a worrying degree. What I didn’t like about the end was that it turned a horrific tragedy into a slapstick comedy and renders any scene involving Sharon Tate almost pointless. And before anyone says,” You don’t get what he was trying to do with the end” you would be wrong as I get it and it just didn’t work for me. Knowing the history of the act that happened that night made the ending disappointing because of the direction Quentin went with. Most people will love the end as it is a funny scene if you watch it in a vacuum, but knowing what we do it just feels off to me.

Much like Quentin Tarantino, I have rambled on for far too long and this review needs to end. Overall, I did enjoy the film as Quentin delivers his typical blend of masterful dialogue and expert technical skills to give us a look into old Hollywood stars fighting to stay relevant in the ever-evolving movie scene of the late 1960s. There are exceptional performances and enough great moments to help you make it through the parts that drag. I wouldn’t say this is one of Tarantino’s best movies, but even an 80% great Tarantino movie is better than most of the other schlock in your local multiplex.

Oh, and movie snobs spare me your wrath.

Thanks for your time and I hope you had fun reading my insanity!

The Movie Psycho

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