Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
BONUS BLOGGY! — Yeah yeah yeah, I keep saying I’m going to cut back on bloggys. I can’t help myself, I guess. I’m stuck on keeping my two per week record. I’m sure I will fail at this sooner or later. But for now, let’s watch a movie.
I’ve got a couple hours to myself today and I am spending them by eating lunch and going to see the new Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. The moon and the stars have aligned and I am able to see my first movie out in ages and ages. I’ll even do you one better than that! The last time I saw a movie on opening day weekend was… well, maybe it’s never happened before. Not in my recent adult life anyway. And by recent I mean the last decade or so.
Let’s not get into how I am actually here, but rather, how excited I am to see this movie! I know virtually nothing about it other than Tarantino, DiCaprio, and Pitt. Is there something else I should know going in? I hate spoilers and avoid them at all costs. So, just to be responsible with you, I’ll tell you that when I come back and give my review (oh yes, this is a movie review bloggy), I intend to have two sections below. The first being a spoiler free exploration into my thoughts and feelings on the film overall as well as maybe some themes. The second section will be filled with spoilers. I’m not sure what that will look like as I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I heard somewhere that Tarantino said this was his best movie (which is kind of like, ok, did you see Pulp Fiction, Quentin?) and he wishes no one would spoil the ending for anyone else. So maybe I’ll leave that part out. At any rate, here comes my food. Cali burger baby! Avocado, pico de gallo, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo. Treat yo self! I’ll see you after the movie…
Spoiler Free Review
I should have known something would be funky when I took that first big bite of my lunch. The Cali burger I ordered was average at best. It was quite disappointing, especially considering that the restaurant I was eating in was touted as a “Burger Bar!” I’d eaten there before too, and I remember a much better dining experience in the past. I don’t know if they were having an off day or what but the meat itself was barely better than a thawed patty. This did not put me in a good mood to watch the movie. But still, food is food and my belly was full.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood was, like my burger, sadly a disappointment. It wasn’t a raging disappointment. I didn’t walk out of there wishing I’d not seen it. The acting was outstanding. The scenes and the retro visuals of Hollywood during the late 1960s were pretty to look at. But the story itself was wanting and womp womp. And if the story isn’t there, in my humble opinion, everything else is going to fall flat. And that’s what happened here.
Brad Pitt, as always, captivated every scene he was in, despite his questionable character. Leonardo DiCaprio was a tour de force, playing several different characters (as an actor on different movie and TV sets). In the first minute or so of the film, we learn that he plays an iconic cowboy on a TV western. His character’s name is Jake Cahill! That amused me, seeing as Cahill is my last name. I looked around the mostly empty theater and made eye contact with no one, trying to convey to one of the few that the name coincidence was a gas. But they didn’t get it. What? Do I gotta tattoo my own name to my forehead for you to understand my happy surprise/dumb look? Guess so. Lamebrains.
About an hour into the movie, I stopped trying to figure out where it was going. Because I figured it wasn’t really going anywhere. It’s a character study, mainly. And just when I decided to give up on the non-existent plot, Tarantino reintroduced (for a second time — that’s three separate scenes) a character who we finally are allowed to understand, through our knowledge of actual history. And at this very moment, I figured out the ending of the movie, with about 90 minutes still left to go.
And with that said, I shall bing you into the spoiler section. Please turn away now if you don’t want to know.
ALL SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
It’s impossible not to talk about the ending of this movie because, even though it is arguably the shortest segment, it is probably the entire reason the film was made. So here we go…
But not yet…
I changed my mind…
First some of the rest…
I haven’t really said anything about plot yet in the spoiler free section, just that it was mainly tedious. DiCaprio plays an actor in late 1960’s Hollywood. Pitt plays his dutiful stunt man, sidekick, chauffeur, handyman, and best friend. The chemistry the two of them have on screen is excellent and there are times when DiCaprio’s selfish though unknowing bad treatment of Pitt are hard to watch. While at other times, their manly friendship gives you goosebumps. There is a great line where the narrator (Kurt Russell FTW), says, “He was a little more than a friend and a little less than a wife.” Or maybe I’ve got the first part of that wrong but the second part is spot on.
They plod along with their ordinary Hollywood lives for most of the movie. There’s really no story at all. And I say ordinary because there isn’t much glamour about them. There are scenes, long ones, where DiCaprio is on set of a new Western. He plays the “heavy,” a villain. And his acting chops are unparalleled with much else in modern day and days-gone-by cinema. One of his co-stars, a young girl of 8 tells him, “That was the best acting I’ve seen in all my life.” And indeed, it is damn close to that.
The most interesting (really the only) plotline comes about when Pitt goes to the Spahn ranch with that character I told you about earlier who was introduced three times. She is a young girl (Margaret Qualley) hitchhiking her way around Hollywood. Her performance is also top notch. As soon as she starts talking about how she lives on this ranch, I put it together. How the movie would end: in a blood bath that could go either one of two ways, though likely (hopefully) the least historically accurate. Actually, I think I tapped the end even earlier. When DiCaprio and Pitt arrive at the former’s home one evening, they see his neighbor and DiCaprio says, “That’s Roland Polanski. He’s been my neighbor for a long time but I’ve never actually seen him. Can you believe it?” I’m paraphrasing but come on. That’s a blaring, glaring red and white disco ball screaming, “This movie is going to end with the Manson killings!” Got it QT. Thanks for the tip.
Drama ensues back at the Spahn ranch, when Pitt arrives with Qualley. Pitt’s character used to work on movies at the ranch and he wants to check in on the owner. There is a long, Tarantino-esque scene where Pitt demands to see Spahn himself (played by Bruce Dern). Is he in mortal danger? Is he dead? What have all these hippies done with him? Are they going to act out and kill Pitt? What will happen?
Here is some of the best work Tarantino does. Because of Inglourious Basterds, we know he is no stranger to mucking up historical events and putting his own spin on them. And he is certainly no stranger to killing off his main characters in gruesome ways. So the tension is super real. Up until the moment when nothing happens and the movie goes on, light as a feather from here. But the promise of the terrible ending is always looming, always threatening. Especially because of poor, beautiful, helpless, Sharon Tate.
Played by the always luminous Margot Robbie, the Sharon Tate character comes off as nothing but sweet, innocent, naive, and lovely. I think she is smiling in every scene, and she’s in a lot of them. Sporadically throughout the film, she walks around Hollywood, just happy as a clam to be alive and a working actress. She even goes up to a theater to buy a ticket of a movie she is starring in. She gives the ticket taker and the doorman a story to tell, just by being there, and then gets a free pass to see her own film. Every scene Robbie/Tate is in gives fresh breath to this otherwise questionable tale. And every time you see her, you fear for her life, because, if you know anything about her story (and really, how could you not?), you know how horrible it all turns out for her. So with all that said, Tarantino does use her wisely, though probably too much.
Am I going to discuss the end? I don’t know. Should I? I’ve gone back and forth on this since walking out of the theater yesterday. I knew I was going to bloggy the movie (and hopefully expense it on my taxes — this is a job, people! Even if I’m not great at reviews, that shouldn’t, and doesn’t matter in Uncle Sam’s eyes!), and I’ve been agonizing over how much to divulge (if anything) about how it ends. And since I haven’t really said anything yet, I guess I’m still tiptoeing.
I am going to respect the director’s wishes and NOT give away the ending. Though like I have mentioned, it is pretty obvious where all this is going. And, also aforementioned, if you have seen Inglourious Basterds, you can kind of breathe easy in a way where you probably will realize you won’t have to be subject to watching the true true history of the Manson murders. Although I do have to admit that I was chomping at the bit through most of this movie, hoping and praying it wouldn’t reverse Inglourious and give us those unimaginable, horrific scenes.
“There’s no way he’s going to show us that, right?” I asked no one. It was nauseating just thinking about it, always is.
Dear friend, I will tell you this, there is some truly heinous stuff to sit through at the end of this movie, but it is alternate history, and in effect, a revenge film for the killings.
Did I just give away the ending? I think I did. I told you I wasn’t good at movie reviews. But in all fairness, I did also say this would be spoiler-filled. So you have come here of your own free will, and for that, I thank you.
So no, I don’t know how I feel about the ending, except to reiterate that I was disappointed in the film overall. It didn’t have the Tarantino crispness of its predecessors. The dialogue was never drawn out and intense, save for that one scene at the Spahn Ranch, perhaps. The only dread I felt throughout was based purely on my own knowledge of the historical, horrific, Helter Skelter events. And that knowledge was difficult to parse into the lives of the characters played by DiCaprio and Pitt. Why should I care about them? Just because DiCaprio is Polanski’s neighbor? OK, I guess.
Oh yeah, and one other thing, Pitt’s character may or may not have killed his wife. We get that info somewhere in the middle of the movie. Why? Beats me. I don’t understand what purpose it serves at all, except to give you a reason to hate him. And it’s very hard to hate him so you would hope that the rumors about him being a wife murderer are unfounded. But we never get any clarity on that. So do with it what you will, I guess.
Perhaps I am being unfair but I was expecting so much more form this movie. Going in not knowing it was centered around the Manson murders, or anything at all for that matter, perhaps left my mind open to unlimited possibilities. And that, maybe pre-tainted my enjoyment when those possibilities narrowed to one.
Are there subtle moments of beauty and great storytelling that catch you at random times? Well, beauty for sure, not so much expert storytelling, unfortunately. But it is, at its core, a film about acting in Hollywood, and every actor in this film is spot on. So at least in that, it succeeds.