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"Once Upon A Time in Hollywood" by, and for, Quentin Tarantino Cannoli Send a noteboard - 02/08/2019 08:02:32 PM

I think Quentin Tarantino is good at making movies. My problem is his judgement about what to show in those movies. He had a couple of his own ideas, but mostly, he's a big movie nerd to the extent that it's the only thing he can talk about. In this case "talk" meaning the monologues at the viewing public which consist of his films. Winston Churchill said a bore is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject, and that's Tarantino, because he is of the opinion that movies are utterly fascinating and everyone wants to know about them, but he has critics who more or less agree, which is why they became critics in the first place, so he gets the acclaim and then he tosses out some general violence porn and humor to get people to watch while he cinematically rambles on and on about the sorts of movies he likes, and lately, indulges in wish fulfilment. It's kind of funny that his last movie, "Hateful 8" ended with two dying characters coming to an unspoken agreement to ignore the truths they have confronted over the course of the story in favor of fixating on a made-up tale that they prefer, because it's prettier or nicer, and they are dying so what does it matter? Better to spend their last moments pretending one of them was an acknowledged hero and the other one died fighting at a hero's side, rather than the ugly reality of what has just transpired. Of Tarantino's last four movies, that was more or less the plot in the three that were not "Hateful 8". Hitler didn't die like that, Django's lifespan would be measured in days and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" also did not happen. On the other hand, it was set in 1969, and it's nice to see at least one reference to that year in this one which does NOT act like the moon landing was the Second Coming, instead of an impressive, if ultimately pointless, feat of engineering.

So, anyway, Brad Pitt is Cliff Boothe, an aging stuntman who is basically unhirable due to his insouciance in a business as status conscious as the film industry, and some ambiguity concerning the circumstances of his widowhood. It's made clear he's physically capable, such as when he parkours to a rooftop to make repairs rather than use a ladder, or holding his own for a moment in a not-really-friendly sparring match with Bruce Lee. Lee, BTW, is portrayed by someone I don't remember as even more effeminate, pretentious and bragging than "Birth of the Dragon", a recent, rather critical biopic I saw. I suspect Tarantino, with his obvious affinity for old martial arts movies, probably sees Lee as some sort of sell-out show-off whom the ignorant general public admires because they don't KNOW the genre inside and out the way REAL fans like Tarantino do. He can't go so far as to have a middle aged white man actually beat Bruce Lee in a fight, but you get the impression he'd have done that if he could get away with it.

Anyhow, Booth's meal ticket is Leonardo Dicaprio's Rick Dalton, a somewhat clueless, stereotypical actor. Booth was his stunt double on Dalton's Western show in the 1950s, and has since kept working Rick's films, due to a vague resemblance and also Dalton's patronage. Following the show, Dalton has starred in some action films, and is both insecure about his success and status, and hopeful of bigger things to come. He lives in the Hollywood Hills, next door to Roman Polanski (or, the gates to Polanski's driveway are next to Dalton's house). Dalton's home appears to be a fairly modest suburban home (covered, of course, with Rick Dalton movie posters) rather than a mansion, but Dalton is taken with the fact that he has a house in Hollywood, which means he's a for-real movie star and that he could conceivably become acquainted with Polanski and appear in one of his films.

Dalton is just being made aware of the fact that rather than a bright future in the film industry, his career is already on a downward slope, as an industry executive explains what recent Dalton casting patterns mean from his side of the game. The Rick's fading star is bad for Cliff as well, because with no one willing to hire him, his job has been reduced to being Rick's chauffer and handyman, and Rick coming to terms with the reality of his career means he'll have to accept he can't support Cliff as well. While Rick copes with his newfound awareness making it clear that he is no longer being cast for his face or name but his craft, and that he is going to have to perform instead of posture, the at-loose-ends Cliff has an encounter with the Manson Family, which will clearly be significant, as his life largely revolves around Rick, next-door neighbor of the Family's most famous victim.

The Manson gang is largely a group of anonymous women, with Damon Herriman of "Justified" briefly appearing as their titular head, and a scene with Dakota Fanning playing future would-be presidential assassin, Squeaky Fromme, and Bruce Dern as the elderly invalid whose home the gang occupied. There is also a minor plotline intended to humanize Sharon Tate, to up the stakes for the tragedy around which the film is built, but it's kind of hit-or-miss. Margot Robbie, condescending for once these days to play an attractive women with her mostly-normal appearance, plays her as a sweet and fresh starlet, still taken with the novelty of her success, and mostly interested in having a good time with her friends, including fellow murder victim, Jay Sebring. Damien Lewis, in a cameo as Steve McQueen, narrates an unflattering version of her relationship with Sebring and Polanski, which comes across as both unnecessary and unkind to the dead. The only thing I can think of, is another case of Tarantino showing off his knowledge of the history of Hollywood. We're talking about a character who, on the spur of the moment, decides to go into a theater to catch a matinee of her latest film, and proceeds to ask the staff to get in free, because she's in the movie. The occasion during which she decides to do this, is a shopping trip to buy a first edition copy of Tess of the D'urbervilles. So you can buy a first edition of a classic novel as a trophy for a rich (future statutory rapist) filmmaker, but you'll chisel a small business out of the 75 cent ticket price? Are we supposed to sympathize with the murderers?

We get a lot of that with the tedious behind-the-scenes story of Rick filming his Western pilot, playing the villain to Timothy Olyphant's up and coming gunslinger star. The scenes of them filming the show are shot in such a way that the movie's audience is more or less shown the story the TV audience would see, if not the actual show, with cameras and crew and whatnot actually ever intruding themselves and a director yells "cut" or an actor says "line?". And the show isn't great. It's a fifty year old TV show, so it's a cliche-ridden mess, but it's filmed in such a way that we are supposed to watch the story, instead of the meta-story about the actors and whatnot. The obvious retort you can hear coming from the Emperor's new clothes' Tarantino's defenders is that we are supposed to be seeing stuff about Dalton's acting and how his personal life is affecting it and blah blah blah. I think maybe Tarantino shot those scenes to show off his mastery of the old Western genre to his cinemaphile buddies.

Anyway, it builds to the predictable denouement, predictable because the Manson family and Sharon Tate are highlighted in the film and the two main characters are often at a house near the future crime scene and it's a Tarantino flick and we have not had any violence yet. And that's the only actually good part of the film, with the cathartic release of the excruciating tension being built up. The amazing thing is that Tarantino took the effort to film a long movie without (until the conclusion) much violence or incipient violence or tension from potential violence, and seems to have done it fairly competently. The problem is, it's not very interesting or much fun, or unpleasant in a way that's supposed to be. Or at the very least, "tedium" isn't a very thematic thing to be experiencing for most of it. The best possibility for which I can give Tarantino credit, is that he is trying to draw out the suspense and build up to that violent climax. But it's just not engaging or necessary. I think it's supposed to be the point that this sort of homicide thing popping up isn't ever what people expect to happen in their lives, but Rick and Cliff are not ordinary enough to empathize with, their problems are largely of their own making to the point that normal people wouldn't be very sympathetic to them, and the main/real-life murder victims just don't click with the viewer. Towards the end, the movie suddenly wants us to be invested in Rick's and Cliff's friendship, when it's not really a thing in the rest of it. They're friends because Rick is in a performer's bubble and doesn't have many people really in his life, and Cliff is easy-going enough that he's not bothered by Rick's bullshit, no matter how torqued-up he can get with other people.

I just feel like Tarantino could be a lot better at filming other people's stories. Or even acting. I certainly like his version of Richie Gecko better than the recent TV show. His obsessions with old movie genres just don't work out that well when he's in charge of the story. That he's making homages to these genres is not even a good excuse, since George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg did the same thing and got Star Wars and Indiana Jones out of it.

If you're into the whole Tarantino of it all, this is probably a fine movie, and somewhat different than his usual style, but it's a lot of the problems with his other movies (or the problems unrelated to gore and violence) in full bloom.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
This message last edited by Cannoli on 10/08/2019 at 06:26:28 AM
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"Once Upon A Time in Hollywood" by, and for, Quentin Tarantino - 02/08/2019 08:02:32 PM 284 Views

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