Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I admit, I’m a bro. I love mansplaining, manspreading, and mantaining the system that keeps women down. And I love to get together with my fellow film bros and see movies by bro directors, like Kundun or A Serious Man. 

But for some reason, I just never got into Quentin Tarantino (can’t be his real name.) His mix of hip dialogue and hyper violence was just never my bag, as the kids say. So I wasn’t that excited about a new movie from him. But when people pointed out this could be one of the last large budget movies for adults made, I decided to see it, and hey, at three hours it’d bring me that much closer to the eternal peace that is death. And what do you know, it was actually pretty good.

I think in part this derives from its protagonists being, well, losers. I have admittedly not seen all of his oeuvre, but his characters seem as a rule to be cool guys who effortlessly kill people and shit and you people lap it up and go “wow that’s me” and say it’s good filmmaking like the fucking moronic hogs you all are (remember to like and follow.) 

I can’t relate to people like that. But Leo and Brad seem more out of a Coens movie: Ric Dalton is like one of their galoots, good natured but egoistical and not too bright. He’s not trying to get revenge by killing a bunch of people but trying to stay afloat as an actor, and has a vulnerability I don’t associate with Tarantino characters. Pitt is cool as a cucumber but that’s balanced by the fact that he’s a washed up stunt man who makes his living doing odd jobs for his employer/friend. Their friendship is really touching, affecting me more than most romantic movie relationships. 

One thing I appreciate about Tarantino is that he references things he likes without caring about whether the audience gets it. Had almost anyone else made this, doubtless theaters would be playing The Wild Bunch or 2001, but here it’s forgotten stuff like Lady in Cement. We see ads for Combat rather than Star Trek. It seems small but such things add a feel of vernistitude to things, helping us feel like this is actually Hollywood 1969 rather than a simulation. 

The main reference is to the TV Westerns of the era, with much time spent with Ric guesting as the heavy of a pilot. It’s somewhat remarkable that given their popularity, they have left no impression on our current cultural landscape. Tarantino homages this forgotten genre, turning the movie into a western at one point (it’s interesting that both he and the Coens have delved heavily into this genre this decade.)

Like everything these days, OUATIH has roused controversy. The treatment of movie, for one. I was unable to time how much women spoke in this, as a musclebound biker sitting next to me grabbed my timer and stuck it where the sun don’t shine (Seattle, Washington), but I still noted that outside of Sharon Tate and Anna Kat women don’t come off to well here (so just like real life, eh fellas? Ha I kid I kid, ladies you’re doing terrific give yourselves a hand). Wives are shrill, and the Manson girls are...difficult. I have to admit Pitt repeatedly smashing Dunham’s face into the ground did make me feel a bit uncomfortable (though given that Pitt is implied to have killed his wife, perhaps it’s intentional.)

The other controversy involves Bruce Lee, who is depicted as an arrogant mouth-off who gets a well deserved shellacking by Pitt. I am sympathetic to concerns that the biggest PoC in the film is humiliated by a white guy, but in terms of Bruce Lee in particular, #whocare? Every journalist thinks they’re hilarious for mentioning Godzooky whenever they write about Godzilla but god forbid anyone makes light of Mr. Kung Fu. 

Now, perhaps I’m crazy, but I think the situation of the main character in this movie might reflect concerns of the writer/director. Tarantino is certainly not as bad off as Ric is, still popular and acclaimed, but Hollywood is a far different town than when he made his name with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. As I mentioned, it’s now rare for big budget movies to not be counting on kids as a large segment of its audience. Even a moron like myself can see the symbolism of Anna Kat reading a book about Walt Disney. 

Hollywood is driven by franchises now, not directors or stars. Young filmmakers who make a splash with an indie debut are quickly snatched up to make a big budget adaptation of Mummies Alive. Tarantino may wonder if like Ric he’ll eventually have to slum it in Europe. He’s even about to enter franchise filmmaking himself, writing (and directing? I’m unclear) the next Star Trek, which could be good depending on how much he references DS9 (is it a coincidence that this ends with Batman and Robin talking to us?) And doing a franchise movie means more executives telling you what you can and can not do. If Tarantino is being self-indulgent, maybe it’s because this could be the last chance he’ll get to be.

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