Theater Four’s review published on Letterboxd:
Before I get started with the review, in earnest, there are a handful of things I feel like I have to get out of the way first.
If there is one hill I'll die on, on the internet, I guess this one is as good as any. For the love of all that is good and holy, Quentin, my guy, please stop it with the foot shots. I get that feet are your thing, and that I am in no position to pass any real judgement, but I'm asking you, fella to fella, please stop putting that in your films. I felt the shots in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was particularly egregious, out the ones where feet have been shown in his work. He's the boss and can put in anything he likes in his pictures, but the feet have to stop in my opinion.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was one of the most anticipated films of the year, and Director Quentin Tarantino is one where you go back and watch his previous work, before you watch his latest film. It felt like all of the film internet people went back and did that, just like Avengers: Endgame made everyone rewatch all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. It's kind of remarkable that Tarantino, alongside several other directors, actors and film franchises, are able to have that kind of sway with people. It really tells you something of how the audience, and critics alike, view, in Tarantino's case, him as a writer and director, but also how we value and cherish his films.
I went back and rewatched Inglourious Basterds, and Pulp Fiction, and watched Jackie Brown for the first time. Tarantino has never been a favorite director of mine. I have seen his films, liked them, but they never reached the category of favorite movies, or ones that left a huge impression on me. Upon watching those three movies, I was disappointed that I had so badly misjudged Tarantino. He's a lot better than I had previously given credit for, and someone that I had not appreciated the work he had done.
Pulp Fiction, is well, Pulp Fiction. If you don't know by now, then there really isn't a lot I can do for you at this point. Inglourious Basterds may be my least favorite of his catalog. Technically it's all there, as with all of his films, but it didn't age well for me. It could because it came out when I was of a certain age, and I just look back on a lot of pop culture of that time through a certain lens. Maybe because the movie was literally everywhere, and I didn't like the fandom it created in people. Back then, I felt like it was a dumb person's idea of a smart movie. I was that guy for a time, but who wasn't a pretentious, judgmental know-it-all in their youth?
Over the course of my weekend with Quentin, it was Jackie Brown that left me wondering how I had got it so wrong with him. Maybe because it was the one film I had not seen before, but I like to think that it is up there with his best work. You could catch me on the right day, where I would put it above Pulp Fiction, I think that highly of it. All of which set me up for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I even rode my bike to the movies, which I have to say is the only way to go the movies. Never did I think that my bike, to and from the theater, would be more enjoyable and entertaining than the film. I almost got doored on my way there, which in hindsight may have been a sign from the movie gods, saying to turn around.
It wouldn't be a Tarantino film, if it wasn't a technical marvel. For all of its considerable runtime, there was always something for your eyes to look at, or ears to listen to, that would take your breath away. From the cars, streets, and sidewalks, all being era-appropriate, to the tv shows, music and production design, it was all done with extreme precision and care. It felt honest, authentic and real, which you only get that by having an incredible attention for detail. It was clear that Tarantino wasn't just concerned with getting the look right, but wanted to get the feel right as well. For a film where the audience hangs out with the characters, that is among the most crucial elements of the film.
I know the phrase, love letter, gets thrown around a lot, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the definition of a love letter. Just by looking at film, you can see the love that is put in each and every frame, and you feel it in your seat as well. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood reminds me a bit of Inherent Vice, from Paul Thomas Anderson a few years ago. Both are set in Los Angeles, and show different aspects of the same city, separated only by a few years. Both definitely capture a place in time, an energy and feeling as well. While both are slow-moving, and filled with a few subplots that may or may not be your cup of tea, you come away having spent time in a fully realized world that you enjoy being in.
So much of what makes a hangout movie work, isn't falling in love with the world of the film, and the desire to keep the feeling it gives you for as long as possible, but the characters. If I am going to spend nearly three hours with a group of people, I better like them, or it's going to be a long ride. And this is where the issues of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, begin to show up.
I can't try to write an honest review, and not be upfront with two things. One, I really like Brad Pitt as an actor. He has been a lot of films that I like, and I try to watch whatever he is in. Second, the same stuff I said about Pitt, I'll say about Leonardo DiCaprio, but with a little more fanboy fanfare. So when these two A-listers team up with someone like Tarantino, I'm excited to see what magic they conjure up. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that, I'm being upfront with my love for the two leads, and that I'm trying to not view the film, and their performances through rose-colored glasses.
That being said, wow. Tarantino set the film in the dying days of Old Hollywood, and it's easy to have the characters be glitzy and glamorous type, but instead the film is carried by a pair of regular guys. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is grounded in the day to day, the simple everyday stuff like fixing the TV antenna, feeding your dog, while eating macaroni and cheese out of the pot. While we are on the set of a TV western, we see the acting, but are mainly focused on the behind the scenes, and in between takes conversations. All of which help make the audience not see DiCaprio, or Pitt, two of the most famous faces in Hollywood today, but Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. When you cast very famous people, it can be hard for the audience to buy into the character they are playing. How many times have you seen a move with The Rock, for example, and all you see is him and not his character? Tarantino helps bridge the gap between the audience and the characters, by spending so much time with the normal problems, worries, fears, doubts and the like.
One problem that can arise, when making a movie about everyday people, their ups, downs and life in general, is that it can feel a bit boring. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the story doesn't really go anywhere. Now if you're on board with the characters and world of the film, then that isn't a problem because you just don't want the movie to end. However, for all of the beautiful things on-screen, I was bored. While I appreciated the grounded nature of the film, and the mood or vibe that Tarantino was going for, I don't think it came together in the end.
For a film that is almost three hours long, you don't want to feel bored, because then you become aware of how the film seemingly never ends. About half of the film is Pitt weaving through LA traffic, and I'm sure that's not a good thing. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels disjointed and hastily edited together. While there are only two or three stories that are weaved together, they are held together by the thinnest of threads. It can feel like there are different films warring against one another, and that none of it clicks together. We spend a long time with one character, then moving on to another, and it always feels like a hard cut.
The hardest cut is between the second to last act, and the final act. Which leads me into the Sharon Tate and Mansion family aspect of the film. I left it last because I didn't want to talk about it, to be honest. I never understood why Tarantino put it in the film. I understand their cultural significance, but it was before my time, so their impact on me is different, than if I had grown up around that time.
Their inclusion was confusing because, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is blending real life with fictional characters. You always know who is real and who is fake, when they come on screen. You either make them apart of the story, and do the leg work required to make them more than a hood ornament to the film. The poster has Margot Robbie next to DiCaprio and Pitt, making you think that Tate plays a major role in the film. However, Bruce Lee has a bigger impact on the story than Tate. Tate isn't a character in the film, she is a pair of feet for Tarantino to ogle at, and little else. It would have been interesting to see Hollywood at the time, through the eyes of Dalton, Booth and Tate, which is what I think the movie aimed for, but Tate is barely in the film to make the audience feel anything other than what you know about her going in. The final scenes with the alternate Manson family ending, would be a nice touch, if it was earned, and sadly it wasn't.
Instead of being a greatest hits collection of the numerous films that inspired him, when making this film, and recreating a handful of scenes from them, Tarantino attempts to create a film that would have inspired him. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like when someone stops playing covers of other people's music, and steps out with a few original songs of their own. However, it looks like Tarantino bit off more than he could chew. His ambition and vision for the film is commendable, but the final product isn't. For all the hype and fanfare surrounding it, as well as the reaction it has received, it felt like I watched a different movie from everyone else. I know there are folks saying that you have to rewatch it two or three times, then you really get it. I don't think that's the answer.
Film is a beautiful storytelling medium because, when you go to the movies, you get everyone. It doesn't matter where you come from, or who you are, everyone looks the same in the dark of the theater. So when a movie like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood comes out, and is a champion for the movie-going experience, as well as shooting on film, and all of the old ways Hollywood used to do things, it would have been nice to feel that included in the film. And I'm not saying that I needed to see someone like me in the movie. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood felt like you were a kid, and your parents dragged you to one of their friend's house, where you had to begrudingly talk with adults. If I was one of the fellow adults, I'm sure I would have had a good time, but since I was a kid, it was like eating my vegetables.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the hangout movie for the AARP crowd, because they get to go back to a special time for them. But since I don't have any grey hair to speak of, that connection isn't there for me, and the characters on screen aren't there to create a lasting enough connection to make the film nothing more than eye candy, with a couple of great performances.