Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood -- a review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Several things we can expect from a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino: sex, dialogue strewn with profanities, violence, drug and alcohol use, and originality.  Well, QT has some surprises in store for you, in a good way.  As always, his love of films and filmdom is palpable, so it stands to reason that his supposedly penultimate movie would take place at the end of the glitzy, tacky 1960s and on the cusp of the 1970s golden age.

We've also come to expect a huge cast (200, by one account), consisting of trendy present-day TV and film stars alongside lots of nostalgia-inducing character actors we grew up with.  In fact, that's pretty much what this film is about.  Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a TV Western star on a hit show, but that was a few years ago, and now he is on a slow mosey toward the has-been corral.  He will never be insignificant to Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), though.  Cliff has been Rick's stunt double ever since Rick's salad days, and he also doubles as Rick's handyman, bodyguard, confidant, drinking buddy, and shoulder to cry on.

On Rick's quest to remain relevant, he meets Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who puts Rick's plight in bold relief.  Making him feel worse, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margo Robbie) move in next door.  In a symbolic moment, the couple tools past Rick and Cliff toward their home, slightly higher in the Hollywood hills.  These events drive the plot--what there is of it.  In true Tarantino fashion, Once follows a series of loosely-related vignettes featuring, randomly, Rick, Cliff, and Sharon, all of which converge on the fateful night of August 8, 1969.

Part of the fun of a Tarantino movie is picking out familiar faces, and there's plenty of opportunity with a cast of around 200.  We meet real folks, like Steve McQueen (an eerily look-alike Damian Lewis), and other pop culture notables of the time, such as rising star James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant); and fictional ones, like precocious child actor Trudi (Julia Butters) who shares some humorous--and heart-rending--scenes with Rick.  Bruce Dern shows up as George Spahn, owner of the Spahn Ranch, once a spot where Westerns were shot, now the commune of the Manson (Damon Herriman) Family commune, where several members stand out:  Squeakie Fromm (Dakota Fanning), Tex Watson (Austin Butler), Flower Child (Maya Hawke), and most notably Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), an underaged Hippie who tries to seduce Cliff.  Also look for card-carrying members of the Tarantino film troupe--Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, James Remar--as well as newer and rookie members of the club: Kurt Russell, Brenda Vaccaro, Emile Hirsch, Luke Perry, Lena Dunham, Scoot McNairy, Rumer Willis, Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kate Berlant, and others.  Fun fact: QT is now even using children of alumni in Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman) and Rumer Willis (Bruce).

Once ... may or may not be Quentin Tarantino's best film--an argument can be made for almost any of them, based on individual likes.  It's certainly his most restrained.  True, Tarantino's screenplay counts over 100 f-bombs, and he continues to find interesting ways to deal out violence.  But missing here is the excessive bloodbath, like the overlong slaughter of Django.  And who would have thought that Quentin would film a scene at a Playboy Club that is as innocent as anything in Beach Blanket Bingo?  The most controversial thing to my mind is his portrayal of Bruce Lee (a perfect Mike Joh) as an arrogant phony.  But anyone who can revive the old 1950s name for a disreputable character, "owl hoot", is all right in my book.  And anyway, Tarantino movies succeed because he makes us care about colorful, flawed characters by putting them in difficult, sometimes bizarre situations.  Rick is a depressed, self-pitying diva and Cliff, for all of his affable "bro"-ness has one seemingly fatal flaw, and yet we love them--and this film.

9.0 out of 10 -- Expect Awards recognition for Picture, Director, Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), Cinematography, Editing, Original Screenplay, Production Design,


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