Dog’s Movie House: “Once Upon A Time. . .In Hollywood” Rambles Through 1960’s Tinseltown!
“Once Upon A Time. . .In Hollywood” is about many things with several plotlines interwoven into a long, rambling story that reimagines the Manson Family murders along the same lines Tarantino did with Hitler in “Inglorious Basterds.” But what this film is really about is the golden age of late 1960’s Hollywood. The production team is the true star of this film, recreating 1969 Los Angeles with pinpoint precision, accuracy, and atmosphere. Thanks to Tarantino and his crew, Hollywood is very much a character in this film.
As for the human protagonists, “Once Upon A Time” is primarily about the relationship between Hollywood actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double/gofer/best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton, once a Western television star in the 1950s, finds his star on the decline during the next decade, forced to play heavies on other shows all while nursing a fairly serious drinking problem to boot. By his side is Booth, a stuntman who has a somewhat unsavory personal reputation that prevents him from getting steady stunt work. As a result Booth drives Dalton around, does chores around Rick’s house, and generally waits for work to come his way
Dalton just happens to live right next to hot shot director Roman Polanski and lovely wife, up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (a radiant Margot Robbie). The film vacillates back and forth between Dalton and Booth’s stories and Tate’s story, but you know they will eventually intersect in due time. Throw in the hippie counterculture, a lot of great music, and the eventual appearance of the Manson Family at Sharon Tate’s doorstep and you’ve got yourself a movie that’s chock full of great stuff.
Word of warning: this movie is over two-and-a-half hours long! Tarantino is not the least bit interested in getting on with the story as he is with examining a day in the life of these characters and by the time we come to the finale, there is something of a tonal shift that might put off some viewers. I dug it, of course, but some folks might not.
As usual the performances are sparkling, just as they are in any Tarantino film. The man has some flaws when it comes to filmmaking, but the dude can flat out write for and direct actors. DiCaprio is fantastic as the emotionally insecure yet talented Dalton. There are a couple of scenes in the middle of the film where he just tears the roof of the joint. His comic timing is very underrated. He’s matched by Pitt’s Booth, a chill dude reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey, who just takes things, including his career, in stride until he’s pushed too far. It takes a lot to get Booth there, but once that line is crossed, watch out! By the way, his fight scene on the set of “The Green Hornet” with Bruce Lee (an amazing Mike Moh) is one of the film’s highlights. . .even though Lee comes off as kind of an arrogant dick.
Robbie shines as Tate, but she doesn’t get as much to do as I would have liked. She does have a few scenes, like the one in the movie theater where she watches herself in a Dean Martin Matt Helm film, that allow her to show the emotional side of Tate, but for the most part she seems to be ethereal window dressing. Tarantino gets great supporting work from great performers like Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, the late Luke Perry, the aforementioned Moh, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning (playing a delightfully of-the-wall Squeaky Fromme) and, of course, the legendary Bruce Dern as an old time friend of Booth’s who’s letting the Manson Family rent his property.
“Once Upon A Time. . .In Hollywood” is just chock filled with great stuff, but it isn’t perfect. For starters, Tarantino needs an editor. You can tell that his films miss the tight editing style of the late, great Sally Menke. Most of the rambling is cool, but you could have cut fifteen to twenty minutes out of establishing shots and scenes of characters driving their cars around Hollywood and the result would have been a tighter movie.
My main nitpick, however, is Tarantino’s goddamn foot fetish. I get it: you like feet and they turn you on. I however, take no erotic joy in said feet and don’t want to see those dirty bare suckers on the screen every five damn minutes! And when I say dirty I’m talking literally folks. There are at least seven to eight scenes where Tarantino focuses on a woman’s dirty bare feet either walking across an equally dirty floor or hiked up on either a dashboard or a theater set for all to see! Enough Quentin! It was novel at first but now it’s just gettin’ a bit creepy.
Those minor nitpicks aside “Once Upon A Time. . .In Hollywood” is great fun and quite different (aside from the damn feet, that is) than Tarantino’s every done before. It’s also a refreshing tonic from the usual summer fare and is a prime example of what Pat Walsh and others want in their movies. 4 1/2 Out Of Five On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!