Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Tarantino’s Ironic Nostalgic Twist

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quintin Tarantino’s latest offering…

once upon a time in Hollywood: Opinion

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering. It is a slant on a nostalgic tinseltown that no longer exists, if it ever really did in the way that Tarantino depicts it, and the film’s ironic ending leaves one wondering just what his motives truly were.  Critics have complained that the movie spends too little time on the Manson family and its tragic victims but this is the purpose of the entire film, to give a “Hollywood finish” to reality.

The film, starring Tarantino semi-regulars Leonardo DiCaprio (Django, and Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Death Proof) and Bruce Dern (in a blink and you will miss him cameo as a last minute replacement for the late Burt Reynolds) is a long, somewhat meandering affair. **It should be pointed out that along with Russell, Dern has the most credits listed under Tarantino.**

Margot Robbie is the tragic Sharon Tate and there are a number of familiar faces, some more special that others, who fill out the cast list of this odd offering. Please do not misunderstand, this is a visual treat for the viewer, it offers much in terms of interest and threatens to become a brilliant character study. Although it never really delivers in term of character but it teases in other ways and provides a few laughs along then way.

I was 11 years old when the 1960’s ended, along with the lives of Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood brought the sixties screaming back into glorious discordant life. The sounds of the radio advertisements, the television clips, the colours, the clothes and the cars all threw me right back into a pre-pubescent memory lane. This was both enthralling and somewhat, rather oddly, disturbing.

Tarantino gives us his version of ’60’s Hollywood. He also, by design, gives us the “Hollywood” ending to the entire “Helter Skelter” true story that the film is based around. (Not upon, as his tale is, to paraphrase a line from 1969’s The Wild Bunch of the event, not from it. In other words, it is the frame he hangs his work on.)

Once Upon a Time… focuses on Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth. Tate is in the periphery as a reminder of the impending tragedy. She flashes on the screen in small glimpses that are designed to show her as a sympathetic character, all the more to make the ending hit that little bit harder. This is, however, a ruse. A MacGuffin if you will. A tactic that sets us up instead for the “Hollywood ending.”

Tarantino lets fantasy intrude at the tail end of the movie and here the discussion will stop in order to keep spoilers from appearing in this review. In many ways, the ending is a disappointment until one realizes that the fantasy is what Hollywood studios would have ordered were the real life murders a movie.

Hollywood has long had a fixation with endings that allow the hero to ride off into the sunset with the girl on one arm and a fistful of money clenched in his fist. The bad guy gets his just reward, a bullet or a grave, or both, and everyone lives happily ever after.

There are enough nods are “real” Hollywood to allow this to work. Booth’s besting of Bruce Lee on the backlot is based around Lee’s time on The Green Hornet. He was also training many celebs and newcomers on martial arts for both onscreen and off. Lee trained Tate for her role in the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie The Wrecking Crew. (Coincidentally, this was the last Matt Helm picture made, despite another being touted at the end credits.)

Dalton’s foray into Spaghetti Western territory mirrors, to an extent, Clint Eastwood’s own journey into the Leonesque world of Western Opera. While the connection is tenuous as best, unlike the Bruce Lee vignette, it is there for the film fan to notice and appreciate.

Once Upon a Time looks luscious and real, except for the odd continuity issue, as the hippies all have filthy feet, legs and hair. Dakota Fanning plays stunningly against type as the “momma bear” Squeaky Fromme and Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is all scabby legs, black feet and sexual promiscuity wrapped in a teen drugged up dream. Qualley does such a convincing job as a Manson minion that one can almost smell the scent of eu de rubbish skip that must permeate her entire essence.

The violence in the film is convincing yet, strangely, funny in the way it is presented. All except the scene at the Spahn Ranch, the blood looked as real as the Korean cinema’s blood work, which is head and shoulders above the rest of the industry.

DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton is convincing and his suffering artist makes us feel for him. I will admit to being moved to tears when the child actor – Trudi (played exquisitely by Julia Butters ) leans over and tells a teary eyed Dalton that this is “the best acting I’ve ever seen.” Truth be told, Butters comes damn close to stealing the film from the entire cast. This is one young lady to keep an eye on.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is one to watch. Perhaps not at the cinema, streaming or DVD may just suffice as despite looking brilliant and providing a magnificent nostalgic treat, it left me, at the end of the film, feeling a tad disappointed.  However, it is an excellent example of Tarantino’s skill at hiding a genius move in plain sight. Like Inglourious Basterds he gives us a fictional version of an awful reality, one that equals, to a degree, a happy Hollywood ending. This then, is the ironic twist to Tarantino’s nostalgic Hollywood tale…

American Violence (2017): Anti Death Penalty Message? (Review)

Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau as Jackson Shea

Written by Al Lamanda and directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. American Violence can be seen as both a cautionary tale with more than its fair share of tragedy and an anti-death penalty message all rolled into one.

Starring a number of well-known faces, including Bruce Dern, Denise Richards,  Johnny Messner and Patrick Kilpatrick, the film features Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau as Jackson Shea. A man on death row awaiting his execution by lethal injection. 

Richards is psychologist Dr. Amanda Tyler. She has been asked to review the man’s case file to find violent flags. What follows is a journey through Shea’s life.

The entire story borders on a clichéd premise. The young Shea is sexually abused by his uncle, his mother drinks herself to death and after his first stint in prison, Jackson’s convict partner in crime is tortured to death.

American Violence is a tragedy in several acts that approaches the subject matter with an attitude that takes itself a tad too seriously. Shea’s life is interesting but the movie takes too long a look and loses something because of it.

At 107 minutes, the film drags a bit in the middle and could have benefitted from a little less imagery. There are shots in the film that indicate the criminals who inhabit this world are victims. (Pay close attention during the torture scene at the icon on the wall behind Martin Bigg.)

Regardless of the main message that the film projects – that violence begets violence – the underlying theme is that too much violence corrupts as it deadens those who are consistently exposed to it.

All the people in Shea’s life are unpleasant and, no real surprise here, violent. If they are not prone to kill other people they are, at the very least, aggressive and threatening.

Although we are led to believe that the “love of his life” Olivia (whose father is a criminal kingpin) is something special.  The killer’s story is one of a ever deepening spiral into death and revenge that ultimately destroys him even before his execution can be carried out.

Even the legal system in his world is corrupt and full of people who take advantage of their position and power to push others into doing bad things. As the film reveals the story of Shea’s life, it takes great pains to show the convict as both victim and sinner.

There are some solid performances from the actors that fill out the film. Richards may be that bit too serious but it fits the character. Bruce Dern delivers in spades, as usual, and Emma Rigby, as Olivia Rose, satisfies as the femme fatale love interest.

Despite the length of the film and the more obvious stereotypical characters and tropes American Violence is almost compelling. It is hard to be uninterested in Shea’s story as it unfolds via his session with Tyler.

The number of capable actors who interact with Lyman-Mersereau help to sell the story.  At the end of the film we may not agree with the its heavy-handed message but we can at least understand it.

American Violence is a 3 star film that strives to be much more than the sum of all its parts. There are bits that work extremely well however. The lighting, for example, tells us that the very character of Shea is a mixture of light and dark. Just as the framing, and lighting, of Dern’s character reveals that he is not evil but acting naturally given his position.

The film will premiere on February 3, 2017. Check out the trailer below and see what you think.

AMERICAN VIOLENCE – THEATRICAL TRAILER from Status Media & Entertainment on Vimeo.

Quentin Tarantino Reviving The Hateful Eight?

Quentin Tarantino Reviving The Hateful Eight?

Looks like none of those “ten other stories” that Quentin Tarantino had up his sleeve sounded as good as his Western homage The Hateful Eight and he may be reviving it from the realms of the shelf. The Pulp Fiction director threw a fit earlier when a website got hold of his draft first script of the film that he says was to be a homage to The Magnificent Seven and leaked it all over the Internet.

Quentin Tarantino: How to Tell Your Script Has Been Leaked Guide

Quentin Tarantino: How to Tell Your Script Has Been Leaked Guide

While Quentin Tarantino is writing his book version of The Hateful Eight he should think about penning a guide on how to tell your script has been leaked. It would also be a good idea, either in the footnotes, prologue or author’s note to list things not to do with your fledgling script.

 

Quentin Tarantino: What is Really Eating Him?

Quentin Tarantino: What is Really Eating Him?

Quentin Tarantino is throwing a huge fit, someone has leaked his script all over Hollywood and he is now not going to make the movie, but, what is really eating him up? Is Tarantino really that upset that a first draft script was leaked? Could the real problem be one of trust? Is it something else entirely?