Saturday, August 10, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Movie Review

The Movie: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The Director: Quentin Tarantino

The Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Julia Butters, Lena Dunham, Kurt Russell, Zoë Bell

The Story: A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

The Review:
This is easily one of Tarantino's sloppiest, most random, most nonsensical, and strangest movies he has made. The story is all over the place and I feel like it is a very personal thing for Tarantino which lends to a lot of it not making any sense to the viewing audience. Yes, his movies are normally quite random but they all come together in the end in a way that is super satisfying and at times shocking. This time around he got the shocking part right but the rest of it is like several different stories patch worked together for no obvious reason.

I'm guessing that after I watch this movie a few times some light bulbs will go off and things will start to piece together and I really hope it does because I want to appreciate it more than I do after watching it once. Full disclosure here, Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director and there really is no close second. The way he crafts movies from a technical standpoint is nothing short of brilliant and his story telling is very stylized and quite often pays homage to the film makers who have influenced him over the years.

Others might say he rips them off but I can't go down that road. Basically I tell people if they don't like Tarantino for that exact reason then they are not allowed to like hip hop as both the music and the culture are predicated on taking what came before, copying it, making it new, and exposing it to a new audience in unique and entertaining ways. That's all I'm going to say about that, just know that I am a big fan of Tarantino's entire body of work.

Going back to some of the technical stuff, I absolutely love, love, love the cinematography which was masterfully handled by long time Tarantino collaborator, Robert Richardson. The way they frame every scene and the way they show you what is happening in every scene is the way I wish all movies were made. Instead of relying on constant back and forth close up cuts of people's faces during a conversation (Ah, I can't stand that!!!), they will set the camera wide and let the actors work in the full volume of space which feels so much more real and natural especially when they let the camera roll with no cuts so we get an extended take sequence that breathes and has so much life.

There is a shot of DiCaprio walking through an old Western town set where a crane is used to pull back from the character and go high up above so you see everything around him like construction people working on sets, lighting people setting up rigs, extras doing extra things, and all kinds of other stuff that would be happening during a day of filming a movie. The camera never takes its focus off the main character but you see the entire world around him, how it affects him, and how he interacts with it which provides so much information while also looking absolutely amazing on screen. I could go on and on about filming techniques, framing, and extended takes but I feel like you get the idea so let's move on.

Another thing Tarantino does very well is work with actors to get the best possible performance he can out of them and in most cases elevate or rejuvenate their careers moving forward. I would love to be in the room during the casting process as the conversations have to be the stuff of legend. Being able to bring in both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt to work side by side on the same project is an achievement in itself but then to get some of the best work of each of their respective careers is something truly special.

After watching DiCaprio chew up dialog and own every scene he has in Django Unchained, I have always held out hope that Tarantino would find a way to give him a lead role in one of his films and the result did not disappoint in any way. Seeing him as aging TV star Rick Dalton was an absolute treat and he once again proves why he is one of the most respected and talented actors working today. His performance alone makes this a great movie and a must watch, even with all of its faults, for any fan of the profession.

A lot of people have asked me what I thought of Brad Pitt's character in relation to his scene with Bruce Lee, played by Mike Moh who is an actor, stunt man, martial arts instructor, and 5th degree black belt in Taekwondo. To me, the scene exists to show how to show the audience that Pitt's character is a serious bad ass and is someone you don't want to mess with in a fight. Pitt himself does a fabulous job of this throughout the entire movie through body language and posture alone so the scene in question is completely unnecessary and I am really confused as to why Tarantino would have it in the film in the first place. It feels weird, it feels awkward, and it feels out of place in a movie that is basically a collection of things that feel weird, awkward, and out of place.

We all know that this movie loosely revolves around the time when Charles Manson was in the height of his powers and it also ties in to the murder of actress Sharon Tate who is played by Margot Robbie. Of course, Tarantino also likes to create alternate, more pleasing realities when it comes to historical events and this is definitely no exception. What he did with Nazi Germany in Inglourious Basterds was a real treat for anyone who has ever hated Nazis and what he does in this movie takes the same "what if" notion and cranks the volume up to a thousand. After sitting through all the weird and awkward and out place nature of the film for over two hours, the payoff is spectacular in its absurdity and unforgettable in it's glorious path of destruction.

The Verdict:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is as confusing as it is entertaining. Quentin Tarantino continues to put on a master class on how to make movies but gets a little too much into his own feelings and ends up with a story that I still can't quite wrap my head around. Is it his best work? Absolutely not. Is it a movie that I will keep thinking about and want to watch again and again? Absolutely yes.

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