Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

I went into this movie cold. No reading of any reviews in advance. Nor will this review adhere to any kind of rigor. I don't see any great value in commenting to any deep degree on a new film that is already generating voluminous comment and which would require more time to pass to allow more thoughtful and considered assessment. First reactions are inherently suspect.

First of all, bravo to Quentin Tarantino for making a movie that got me back into an actual theater to see a new movie for the first time in 13 years. That's right, even though I once was a voracious, avid cinema-goer that has not been the case for a long time. I won't delineate why, but a zillion comic-book superhero movies that mean nothing to me have something to do with it. Also, this movie was not grey-blue-teal, like every other fucking thing is today.

Second, thanks to Tarantino for letting me go back to 1969. I lived in 1969; I remember 1969. This film looked like 1969. It sounded like 1969. At times, it moved me deeply to feel like I'd been vividly whisked back there in a time machine. It was the little details that clinched it for me: the ashtrays, the restaurant lighting, the red vinyl faux leather seats, the levered ice trays, the rust on the cars, the street lamps in the Hollywood Hills, the sounds of AM radio permeating everything, the parking lots and the dumpsters, the expressway ramps, the communal feel of everyone watching the same TV shows.

Does Tarantino's relentless indulgence in pop cultural referencing feel excessive or forced? Yes, but I appreciated the curation, and how well it integrates into the narrative even in its abundance. And yes, I pretty much knew every single thing he was referencing.

What I liked was that Tarantino lets his rather insubstantial story breathe; the lanes are left wide open for amazing acting that fills the yawning chasm of ennui, and Pitt and DiCaprio are electric to watch plying their craft. I wasn't entirely enamored or convinced of their chemistry with each other, but when playing against others they are quite fine. The long scene of DiCaprio as Rick Dalton flubbing his lines in his latest western shoot, then roaring back to give the performance of a lifetime was very satisfying, and reminded me a bit of the film shoot in David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.

It also illustrates, I think, one of the film's themes, which is not so much redemption as righting the wrongs of the universe. This film's denouement, which might be a bit of a spoiler at this point, fantasizes a better outcome than history gave us, and even though I'm rarely a fan of Tarantino's fantastical historical revisionism -- which often feels like pandering or shooting fish in a barrel -- he lets himself off the hook a bit here by telling us in the title that this is a fairy tale.

The day Tarantino can make a movie that is like the first three quarters of this one, he might become a fully adult filmmaker. He got there with Jackie Brown, but it seems deeply ingrained in his marrow to always revert back to his beloved exploitation.

And what was the deal with having the hippie dude dramatically ride the horse back to the ranch to confront stunt man Pitt only to cutaway to later in the evening after Pitt had left? When they meet later in the climax, Pitt merely acknowledges that they'd met before. Uh, OK. Seems like a weak way to fix either a rough patch in the script or an edit of the film. The necessity for documentary voice-overs to advance the story in the latter stages also seems a bit clunky, as if borne of the need to get the thing to hurry up and resolve to the climax.

Was it great? Sometimes. Not really. Or maybe time will tell. I had mixed feelings about the mixed messages Tarantino leaves in the wake of this fantasy -- and whether some of these messages are very well timed in the era of Trump -- but now that I'm done with this review I will read what the rest of you wrote.

It was very much worth getting my ass out of the house for.

KR@KY 2019

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