I mean, it's Quentin Tarantino. I am writing that it is R just to be consistent with everything else I've done. It's R for language and violence. I don't know why I want to say that there's nudity. I don't actually remember nudity. But the violence, albeit more tame than many of his films, is still very very intense. It's pretty brutal, but in really small doses. Also, his foot thing is really aggressive in this movie. R.
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
I started back at work. No teaching stuff yet, but all of the setup. The second I got there, there were all these things that I had to do. Well, I have one day between my first day of work and then (mostly) full time work. So I decided to knock this out right now. I know. I know. But it lights a fire under my butt. Also, the kids aren't bothering me for three seconds, so we'll see if this plays out. I got so excited for this movie. I don't know what it is about Quentin Tarantino movies that really get me all jazzed. They are very good movies, but very few of them ever hit my top tier. Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood is probably my least favorite Quentin Tarantino film. But that being said, it is still an absolutely fantastic movie that I'll watch again and again. Yeah, I now sound like a fanboy.
The thing that kind of irks me about Once Upon a Time is the fact that it is remarkably slow hitting its mark. If Quentin Tarantino wears his obsessions on his sleeves, this might be the most shameless example because the movie itself takes a backseat to Tarantino wrapping his obsessions around him like a warm blanket. The movie runs over two-and-a-half hours. It's a long film. But very little of the movie is plot based. If I was to be an apologist for the movie, I could chalk a lot of it up to character development. It's got a lot of that. But really, the character development almost seems like an excuse for Tarantino to indulge in meticulously recreating 1969 Hollywood. I don't even blame him. It's so good. Every single detail. Listen, we've all seen period piece movies. I did this whole presentation about the travel narrative in film. It was for a class. I don't want to talk about it. But the big idea was that the more visually appealing the setting tends to be, the more attention is drawn away from elements of fiction like character or plot. I've been impressed with a few films that have stunning settings, but I don't think I've ever been impressed on this level before. Tarantino's attention to 1969 Hollywood is just a knock out. There are scenes where people are just driving to music. This sounds actually pretty typical Tarantino, but it is different here. The driving shows how much of 1969 was actually created. I don't know why it knocked my socks off so much. I don't know if this was created digitally or Tarantino just renovated a criminal amount of real estate. But there is so much attention to detail that it is almost mesmorizing. I hate comparing it to Avatar in that way because Avatar is kind of a travesty of a movie. But when I watched Avatar, a lot of my was not enjoying the film, but just sitting there impressed at what I was looking at. Once Upon a Time is a much more entertaining movie than Avatar. But I can't deny that I was bored from time to time.
Part of that comes from the methodical way that Tarantino presents his subjects. If there's one thing that I really dig about Tarantino, despite the fact that his personality drives me up the wall, is that his cleverness is really on the next level. I've learned that cleverness can spell death to a piece of art. But when Tarantino unleashes his cleverness, it's very impressive. I never want to say "wit" when I refer to something like Once Upon a Time because it rarely gets witty. But it is funny as heck in moments. I want to look at some of the more effective moments in the film because I think they are telling about how Tarantino almost brow-beats his audience into being impressed. I kind of want to look at Leonardo DiCaprio / Rick Dalton's big performance moment. By this period in the film, I was desperately trying to figure out what the movie was actually about. Dalton breaks down in front of a child actor about his career. It seems like a much smaller movie than what I'm used to seeing in Tarantino films. But that performance moment forces the audience to engage. All of the scenes that are films within the film, when we get to see Rick act, are really long cuts. There is no moment of distance from the character. With the scene where Dalton crushes the scene, acting across from the late Luke Perry, plays also with the extreme tight closeup. We see the savagery of Dalton's character, Dakota, and we can't even ignore it. I mean, Tarantino is smart for getting DiCaprio for something like this. My wife and I had a discussion about DiCaprio's performance style in this one, but I don't think we really disagreed when it came to the stuff he performs in character. But the camera almost becomes violently intimate with DiCaprio in these moments. It becomes stress-inducing. Watching him act that hard with a minimal amount of cuts raises suspense to such a level that you almost can't help but laugh. Reading Tarantino's script probably does nothing like that. Instead, Tarantino takes the anxiety and ramps it up to a point of laughter. I think of scenes like the finale of The Blues Brothers where the sheer number of cars requests that the audience exude a belly laugh because it's so intense. That's what Tarantino kind of does.
I don't know if this movie is for a wide audience. I mean, this is me in awe of the concept, but this movie is only made for a few people. If I had to guess, only a third of the people out there are aware of the history of Sharon Tate. Probably of the people who would see Once Upon a Time probably know about Sharon Tate. But Tarantino never really spoonfeeds you anything about Sharon Tate's murder. The thing is, you kind of have to be intimate with the story. I know about it because my wife read a book about the Manson family right before we started dating, so those early dates were full of Manson family trivia. I mean, I knew I loved her before, but then I got the bonus of knowing everything about the murder of Sharon Tate. SPOILER: (It's all spoiler, but this is super-spoilery.) Tarantino loves messing with alternate histories. I adored when he pulled that card in Inglorious Basterds. Because he's doing that same trick again, it is less impressive. B ut there's still something very cool about changing how history ended. With prequels and with history, we know what way the story is supposed to go. We treat the ending as a foregone conclusion. It's why everyone teases Titanic. (Everyone: "Spoiler: The boat sinks!" Le sigh.) But the revisionist history element gives us an element of surprise in a film that should be fairly straightforward. Yes, the tale of Rick Dalton and his stunt double is fictional, but it is also based on areal people. There's some stuff about the Natalie Wood death that is loosey-goosey attached to Cliff's story. But the fact that we can still have a bombastic ending. My wife, God love her, kept getting nervous about the actual Sharon Tate killing. She knew it was coming and she was actually anxious for her. It makes sense. It's staring her in the face the entire movie. Yeah, she still cringed at Cliff's ultra-violent counterattack on the family, but that's just because it was gross. The fact that Tarantino subverted expectations for the entire film is kind of a joy and I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, even if he's pulled the same trick before.
I don't understand one of the controversies. I guess I do, but I'm going to act all close-minded and whine about it as if I don't. People are really offended by the portrayal of Bruce Lee in the movie. I get it. It does not make him look flattering. Also, I'm sure Bruce Lee was actually as talented as he's been made out to be. But there have been a ton of other historical figures that kind of have had the wind swept out of their sails. I mean, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is just goofy. The many less-than-flattering portrayals of Jesus Christ often get me offended. But Bruce Lee was an actor. He was a very talented actor. He seemed super cool. But I think that it is fun to take a little bit of the adoration out of him. Perhaps it was because he was such an influential actor in the Asian community that it seems sacrilege to portray him as an imperfect jerk. But that scene made me laugh. It's, again, playing on the unexpected. I really thought that Brad Pitt's Cliff was going to get wrecked in that scene. Watching Bruce Lee get thrown into the side of a car is more of a commentary on Hollywood and the illusion of toughness than anything else. I just think that there has been a precedent for this kind of treatment before, and I find it weird that the controversy is getting people all up in arms now. Also, I think that Tarantino himself may be a problematic figure, so it's weird to focus attention where it is right now versus what it could be. We couldn't be attacking him for the fetishization of feet that he does in this film. Because I honestly think that the does more of that stuff with Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood than any other film. Maybe it is partially due to the other cameos that appear in the movie and how cool they come across. I don't know. It's just celebrity and I kind of like the fun that was had with the scene.
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is a great film. It's a great film because it almost doesn't care about structure. It cares more about the tone and feel of the entire film. Yeah, I want some of those Italian posters for my house. It's such a loving tribute to the era that story seems to be incidental. It also is the least fun, but that's not what this movie is about compared to the others. It still has some really fun moves, especially when it comes to recreating old film styles. I'll probably watch it over and over, but no time soon.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.