Review – Tarantino’s Tinsel Town (“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”)

When it comes to Quentin Tarantino, you can expect the unexpected… and many of the same things that made him a Hollywood icon. His propensity for ultra-violence, profanity, Sorkin-level of mastering the English language, and quirky film making is legendary. And now he takes on Hollywood itself!

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This is Tarantino’s love-letter to 1969 Hollywood, complete with the AM radio blasting 93KHJ, Musso & Frank’s Grill, the infamous Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, and so much more. It also is a ping-ponging cornucopia of sights, sounds, and the lives of three individuals that live and work in Tinsel Town. First up is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a once famous actor of TV Westerns of the early 60’s whose star has fallen on hard times, and is now reduced to doing bit parts on other TV shows. He really needs a break and wants to be on top again, but his crippling anxiety (not to mention his drinking) gets in the way.

Then there’s Rick’s faithful BFF and personal stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). He’s all buffed & ripped, can kick Bruce Lee’s (an uncanny Mike Moh) butt, and may (or may not) have killed his own wife. Cliff stumbles into the hive of villainy & scum that is Spahn Ranch, run by Charlie Manson (Damon Herriman) and his lethal hippie “family”, including Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Tex Watson (Austin Butler). Cliff is perfectly happy riding (and enabling) the coat-tails of his boss, but something tells him that Rick’s glory days at an end.

And finally there’s beautiful Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), wife of director Roman Polanski, who is just about to hit it big in the movies, right after she has her first baby. She lives next door to Rick and (so the history books tell us) was savagely murdered, along with her friends, by Watson and his posse. BUT, since this is Tarantino’s history we’re talking about, all bets are off. In the course of 2 1/2 hours we see Rick struggle to get his big chance at stardom with several Westerns, both here and in Italy with “spaghetti Westerns”, but will his BIG chance ever come? Will he ever be that “A”-lister again?

And what about Cliff? How long can he stand being the flunky to Rick? Written & directed by Tarantino, this film has no chapters this time around and has SO many flashbacks and cut-aways that it reminded me of all those Family Guy episodes that do the same thing. If you’re as old as me (yes, I’m dating myself here), you’ll really enjoy all the homages to 1969 L.A. with all the cool architecture, landmarks, old TV shows, cars, and music. *sigh* It’s a fantastic trip down memory lane.

DiCaprio as a washed-up has-been is excellent and sells this otherwise disjointed, puzzle-piece movie. Unlike Quentin’s previous films (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds), this one isn’t as linear in it’s storytelling. Instead of watching the plot unfold in a timely way, this movie is more scattershot and all over the map showing Rick, Cliff, and Sharon. At least with the multiple characters in Inglorious Basterds, it all made sense, but here, you’re wondering (and waiting) for the punch line. And then when it comes, it doesn’t quite work.

Still, the acting saves it. DiCaprio is at his best here and savors the role. My favorite part is the entire second act where he is filming his ‘come back’ Western; it’s pure DiCaprio. Watch the scene with Julia Butters (from TV’s American Housewife) as his 8-year-old co-star; it’s electric. Pitt is in rare form as well, looking like a tough piece of young Robert-Redford-leather. The movie is also chockful of Tarantino family cameos like Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, and others (sorry, no Samuel L. Jackson!).

Tarantino directs this like he always does, with his deft hand, attention to detail, and that jaw-dropping, outrageous finale that, shall we say, puts things right? Yeah, it’s got his usual flair for the dramatic, F-bombs, and an absolute passion for the cinema. One thing is for certain, he takes his time in telling his tale, even at the expense of the audience. At over 2 1/2 hours, it does get a bit long in the tooth: there’s an entire scene of buying a book and one later on of talking to an old man that has zero payoff, so why include it? It serves no purpose other to pad out the film, and at 161 minutes, believe me, you don’t need it!

S.O.B. (1981)
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There have been countless movies about the glitz, glamour, and grief of Hollywood and Hollywood film making. This one particular movie is about as crazy as they come as writer/director Blake Edwards (the original Pink Panther movie franchise) turns his lens straight at the people that influenced his own wacky life.

Based on somewhat actual experiences, Blake (who wrote & directed this) gives us the satirical (and scathing) story of super Hollywood producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan), whose incredibly successful career has just come to a crashing end: his last movie, Night Wind, a G-rated family film starring everyone’s favorite actress, Sally Miles (Julie Andrews), flopped and flopped BIG time! Thoroughly dejected, Felix tries (rather unsuccessfully) to kill himself several times, but can’t seem to get it right. While sedated for his own good, his beach house becomes a party-orgy with all his best friends who are there for support.

Tim Cully (William Holden), the director of Night Wind, born-Playboy Dr. Irving Finegarten (Robert Preston), nervous press agent Ben Coogan (Robert Webber), and studio exec Dick Benson (Larry Hagman) try to cheer up the dismal man until Felix suddenly has a startling revelation. SEX! He’ll re-shoot his movie into a soft-porn movie and have squeaky-clean Sally go topless! While everyone thinks he’s gone insane, Felix liquidates most of assets to buy the existing footage and shoot the rest… but if he fails, both he and Sally will be broke!

Meanwhile Sally, having invested all her money into the movie, has no choice. As Felix starts to make his semi-porn film, the studio gets scared, but not because it’ll fail, but because it might just be a smash hit and THEY sold all their rights away to Felix. Uh-oh! Pretty soon, a war ensues with Felix trying to hold onto what’s his and the studio leveraging every legal angle they can find to get that film back into their pockets. Felix, under unbelievable pressure, attempts to steal his property back, but his shot dead in the process.

His death and body abduction by his buddies (based on a true incident, btw) means only one thing: his finished movie skyrockets to #1 in the box office. This movie is loaded with celebrity after celebrity that I can’t name them all, but it’s amazing! The movie is also one of Edwards’ more personal, as his wife at the time was Andrews and yes, she DID go topless in the film; the first time in movie history. It’s hilarious, irreverent, and takes some seriously funny jabs at the very industry he is employed by. That takes guts! Oh, and that S.O.B. moniker? It means Standard Operating Bull***t, in case you were wondering.

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