Lee, or El Duderino, if, you're not into the whole brevity thing’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Take a bite, and feel alright. Take a bite...of a Red Apple. Tell em' Jake sent ya."
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood...Brad Pitt drove around in Leonardo DiCaprio's Cadillac Deville, listening to an endless stream of 60s era appropriate music. And that's all she wrote. Take that cruising sentiment and stretch out into 2 hours, then throw in some jumbled little scenes (many of no value) of characters hanging out, reminiscing of the good ol days, inflating their egos, attending parties, and having a jolly Hollywood celebrity time. Now voila, you have Quentin Tarantino's latest golden age Hollywood film. Not only rounding out towards the bottom half of his filmography, but possibly being nothing more than a top tier ensemble cast that was underutilised at an unprecedented level for Mr. Tarantino's career. If you are entering this film with any other reason/hype than just to see Brad Pitt & Leonardo DiCaprio chew up their far too minimal screentime as the best buddies since Newman & Redford, well, you've got another thing coming. This is at best a Jackie Brown/Pulp Fiction lite...very diet 0-sugar/cal lite. But I still get excited everytime I see that "(#)th film by Quentin Tarantino" title card. Oh, and I do think the same pitbull from Stuber, plays Brad Pitt's magnificent dog here. Quick sidebar here, but I Cannot Wait For the Apocalypse Space that BrAd Astra is Going to Be! Most hyped film for the rest of the year.
Having Tarantino as one of my all-time favourite filmmakers, top 10 for sure, this unfortunately felt slightly disappointing. Aside from the aforementioned bromance duo that don't even get enough time together, I struggle to find anything else of worth. And by worth, I mean by QT standards, which to me are rather high. Once Upon just feels far too loose and disconnected from the usual tight script, pacing, and Tarantinoverse many of us love and enjoy living in. I don't know if it's because this time he is trying to ground his usual wit and throbbing homage erection to an nonfictional event. He's certainly exploring new territory, and I'd almost think that he left some elements unfinished. You can certainly admire the isolated depiction of 60s Hollywood he and the brilliant ser deisngers and wardrobe manufactured. There are scenes I really enjoyed, but as a whole, I felt very stoic and neutral on exit. I'd rather be watching, The 14 Fists of McClusky or Kill me Quick, Ringo, Said the Gringo. I will say that I loved the scenes with the Julia Butters from American Housewife, and she is undoubtedly going to have a bigger career when she gets older. Her, Pitt, and DiCaprio are the only names worth mentioning in terms of acting. But the latter two have had more memorable roles with QT. But even with that said, I absolutely loved both of them in every scene they are in, especially Pitt as his second stuntman outing, post-Gorlami. I wouldn't be surprised with a nom for at least one of them, but I doubt it. Pitt playing himself, the king of cool, when Steve McQueen (Lewis) is in the film is terrific. But with all that flawless and effortless cool under the bitchin' Hawaiian shirt, I don't believe for a second he or Cassius Clay could defeat Bruce Lee...okay maybe a little from Cliff. But in all seriousness, I wasn't the biggest fan of QT's slightly mocking portrayal of the legend I was named after. Nothing against Mike Moh, but it did feel as if Lee was being played as a slight joke. Or I'm not sure if QT was trying to refer to how Lee refused to lose to Robin, when Green Hornet and Kato were supposed to face-off against the DC duo. But alas, this film in terms of characters is solely about the central platonic bromance. The two men who are a little more than brothers, but a little less than wives. The film very much runs on their comedic and perfectly delivered bromance, and I can wholeheartedly say this film would play out much better seen with your best friend or during a hangout sesh. The small tidbits of Leo's has-been western icon, Rick Dalton, struggling with his deterioration in Hollywood are all gold. But the worthy scenes are few and very far in between.
It's quite shocking to see how Sally Menke's (RIP) missing editing collaboration truly is felt, especially with this very Grand Theft Auto V airial map bouncing around. There are maybe a literal handful of lines that actually worked, but for a genius and oh so effortless screenwriter that QT is, this is one of his worst. I am not kidding when I mean it's like holding the d-pad and switching characters in GTAV. Let's go see what Cliff is up to, how about Rick, oh now let's see Mr. Shwarzs, and now Sharon, etc. I do admire the small yet sometimes comical deconstruction of these big time stars, who in all actuality have quite the normalcy to them. They're just sitting around watching the tele, drinking with their friends, listening to music in the pool, talking to their dog, driving around, complaining about neighborhood noise after curfew, etc. Cutting a few characters or trading some of the already plentiful driving sequences to spend more time with Cliff, Rick, or Sharon would have been nice. Allowing for more development or Tarantino expected long dialogue scenes would have made the bouncing around much less noticeable. Some might say Menke untimely departure was noticeable since Django Unchained, but I personally hold that to be my second fave from QT. Not only is it a masterful love letter to the Western genre, but it now reflects how underwhelming Once Upon was as being just a regular joint, instead of the acid-dipped cigarette I wanted it to be. It could and should have been the equivalent at least, in terms of being a homage fueled letter to the always so popular golden age Hollywood "mirror mirror" ego boosting films. In that same regard, the entire film felt far too masturbatory in how it's showcasing a specific era surrounding a real crime, with little to no actual build-up, sense of pleasure, nor release. Unless deliberate from QT, there's just a whole lot of meandering without any intristic charm. It's missing that little QT panache, and I strongly believe it to be because he's bouncing too many characters that have little to no connection to more than one character. Then again, maybe that's exactly what he wanted, an encapsulation of a bygone era, a simpler, funner time.
Once Upon, is unlike his prior films with non-linear plots that blend so smoothly with the tight tight tight script to amplify the endlessly quotable narrative. Like those same characters, the film is busy looking at itself and it's golden age coming to a close, that they both forget to actually come up with any sensible plot for the great music to accompany. Then again, maybe it's deliberate via QT's rendition of a direct portal directly into 60s Hollywood; the film providing a nostalgic canvas into a world we cherish, yet a given narrative we feel some misfortune towards. It's a film not necessarily concerned with providing a story, rather so to gloriously present a well lived in time period we all must want to visit at least once.
Aside from the Lancer set scenes, the standout scene takes place in the final 10min, and if I told you the moment by moment breakdown, you wouldn't believe me. It's absolutely mental and hilarious how it all plays out! The fact that everyone was breaking out into laughter in my screening, and possibly missing the moments prior set-up line regarding television and "a city full of kill-people", is only self-reflecting of what I can only imagine QT was going for (unsubtlety). With all that said, I can't say that I didn't have a fun time at this drive-in, and had no wish to leave this incomplete entry of Tarantino's world. At the end of the reel, it's just another day in Hollywood. And hell, it might be slow and hot summer of love, but it's certainly never dull.
PS - I apologise for the shorter write-up, but I'm currently traveling with the fam, and as I'm sure some have noticed, have not been on the internet much. Not only have two of my hotels have completely shite wifi, but I guess that extended Twitter suspension has come into play at the right time? On the plus side, I got to see Once Upon! And I get to avoid the endless waves of people making foot fetish jokes and reviews surrounding this.
*edit: I forgot to mention that there is a MID CREDIT scene, and an END CREDIT audio.