Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Review: Here's why "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" is the summer's best film

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

We've been told for a few years now that Quentin Tarantino is planning on retiring from filmmaking after he makes his tenth film. "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" is his ninth film. The thought of so little Tarantino coming to my screen is incredibly sad to me. This is one of the guys that really got me to love movies. This is a guy that led me on a crash course through genres and films and actors and filmmakers that have definitely shaped me into the movie nerd I am today. He's a filmmaker I feel like I know inside in out. I've noticed he's a consistent filmmaker, perhaps the most consistent I've ever seen. He seems to get better with age, and his style has aged like wine, which makes me doubly sad that he's thinking of turning in after ten films. 

"Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" gave me something I didn't expect from Tarantino though. On one level, its another great Tarantino movie. All of his favorite fetishes, homages and likenesses are all on full display. The movie is a celebration of everything Tarantino has ever enjoyed. There might not be a bigger movie nerd working in the business right now other than Tarantino, and he seems to cram everything he's loved most into this movie. On another level, Tarantino has pretty much summed up his own career with his movie. He fetishes Westerns like he did in "Django Unchained" and "The Hateful Eight." He pays homage to the old World War Two movies like "Inglorious Basterds." There is a fight that will remind you of "Kill Bill." The movie breaks into old fashioned horror-show like "Death Proof." There is a round-table dialogue exchange a la "Reservoir Dogs." There is a moment in a car that will remind you of the best scenes with John Travolta and Uma Thurman from "Pulp Fiction."

If anybody could pay homage to their own career without making themselves look conceited, its Quentin Tarantino.

Despite everything on display, Tarantino's new movie hit me on even another level. Do you guys think its crazy that despite his usual style, despite the fun bits of monologues and dialogue, despite the moments of great intensity coupled with the moments of hilarity, that Tarantino made a movie we need right now? It may seem weird, but its absolutely true.

The main gist of "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" revolves around Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) who down on his luck. He was a big star on TV in the 1950's. Its now 1969, and television is fading, and its starting to look like movies will be the medium if you really want to make a career in acting. That probably looks weird in 2019, because we are still living in a Golden Age of television, and that medium is no longer seen as second class. All sorts of actors will show up on TV these days, and that simply wasn't the case in the 1960's and for a few decades after. Dalton believes his life to be over, he laments about all of this with his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), an interesting guy in his own right. He may or may not have fought Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of "The Green Hornet." He may or may not have killed his own wife. 

Dalton sees the Western as a dying breed, and he's seeing the business changing all around him. Does any of this sound familiar? Anybody who really understands trends in movies may be able to figure it out. Quentin Tarantino was an indie filmmaker who came out of the 1990's indie scene. He came from the same group as Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater (among others). There was a time indie filmmakers could make it big, if they had the right movie. These days, the studios are chasing the big tentpoles, the massive franchises. So much so, that those types of movies seem to be the only things playing. A-list actors aren't used as special effects anymore. All the big entertainment conglomerates are buying everything up, putting smaller studios out of business. Our culture has also allowed this to thrive. While you may be loving all the nostalgia and all your favorite things becoming film franchises, its destroying creativity in the business. Hopefully, it will all come back around again. But right now, the business is changing, much like it is for Dalton. As an older actor, its hard getting his foot back in.

All the while this is all happening, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move in next door to Dalton, and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) is already scouting them out. These two stories will eventually collide at the film's climax, but not in ways people will expect. I had to laugh pretty hard when people thought Tarantino was going to glorify a serial killer. Nope, not even close. Tarantino lives in his own little world, and honestly, its a world I wished I lived in too. I think people will be blown away where this movie leads.

Its interesting seeing Tarantino not working in the revenge fantasy outlet. This movie lets loose in a much different way and we are seeing a very different Tarantino with this movie. This is a movie that is made by a more mature Tarantino, and the end results is just as powerful as ever. He's still got a great ear for music, and the films soundtrack is addicting. His movie feels like an authentic time machine, making you feel like you are living in the late 1960's. He's once again put together a stellar cast, and I love how he uses his actors to such effect. Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qually, Emile Hirsch, Damien Lewis, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, the late Luke Perry, Michael Madsen, James Remar. All names, new and old to Tarantino become total characters. I think actors know that they are in for a unique experience in a Tarantino movie, that's why so many have been eager to work with him. Everyone, little or small is memorable.

If you've never enjoyed Tarantino's style, this isn't going to win you over. This is a Tarantino movie, through and through. It just seems he's exploring his voice and his beliefs and his ideas in a different way this time. "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" isn't just the best of the summer and possibly the best of the year. I didn't expect this, but its a movie we need right now, and I movie I didn't know I needed right now.

FINAL GRADE: A+ 

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