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…

Christian Bale as Travis McGee? What the Fudge?

Christian Bale in promo shot

Okay, just when you thought that the worst casting decision in the world was Marky Mark as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted film, Hollywood chucks one out that is breathtakingly bad. Christian Bale as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Really??

What the fudge people.

After this initial sense of outrage, disbelief and shock, it turns out that the movie is in a sort of “development hell.” The movie was first touted as a vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio as long ago as 2010/11 and resurfaced again in 2013. Scheduling problems took the Wolf Of Wall Street star off the picture and the last word was that Bale was being considered for the role of “salvage consultant” beach bum McGee.

Rosamund Pike, (Gone Girl) is now attached to the project and while that may be good news, the fact that Bale’s name is still associated with the film is not. It was the news of Pike’s connection to the movie that pointed out Bales as being the new McGee. One thing to cling to, however, is that Fox do not really seem to know what they are doing with this property.

From the very start, it looks like the studios have never read any of the superb John D. MacDonald’s series, first publicity blurbs talk of a “World War II” film. Trav was a Korean War vet, although later in the series this became a sort of “open to interpretation” as to which war he had participated. The time settings of the latter stories made the Vietnam War more likely than the big WWII.

At least twice Travis McGee and his best friend Meyer (an economist) have been portrayed on film. Australian actor Rod Taylor on the big screen and laconic actor Sam Elliott on television have both played the beach bum with a penchant for women “who are broken birds.” While both actors did a good job, Taylor seemed a better fit for the role in terms of physicality.

For the audio versions of the stories, TV’s old Mike Hammer, and later Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin voiced McGee and became, for many, the perfect embodiment of MacDonald’s hero.

In the books, the author described McGee as a big man with sandy hair and “spit colored eyes.” The idea of Christian Bale, with his “tortured” air and intensity, playing the McGee is almost sacrilege. Perhaps in terms of size and delivery, Dick Van Dyke’s son Barry (Diagnosis Murder) comes closest to fitting McGee than any other actor out there.

Unfortunately with names like Bale and, now, Rosamund Pike being touted for the big screen version of The Deep Blue Goodbye, Van Dyke will never get a look in. The other downside is that at 63, Barry is far too long in the tooth to play the Florida bachelor. There may be other younger actors who would be a better fit than Bale, but in terms of box office he will be the stronger choice, as was DiCaprio initially.

Why the Batman actor is being considered for the role is mystifying. His latest film, where he depicts a tortured and intense Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, proves that he cannot escape his usual style of performance even when portraying a biblical figure. At least on that film, he did not come unglued and scream at a technician on set.

It is a shame that the Fox project, which had the talented Dennis Lehane writing the script, cannot come up with a better choice for the role of Travis. Even Leonard DiCaprio, the studio’s initial casting, was not a good fit. Too young and not physical enough. No arguments with the casting of Rosamund Pike at all at this point but, please Fox, pick someone else to play McGee.

Sadly, it seems that Hollywood will most probably not get this one right. This is not too dissimilar to Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, played for laughs by Dean Martin, where perfect casting for a more serious version of the American James Bond proved elusive. No one actor really fit the bill and it looks like Travis McGee may well suffer the same celluloid casting fate.

McGee had a quality that kept the reader coming back and wanting him to find the perfect mate. By the last book, The Lonely Silver Rain, Trav had a daughter and Meyer was delighted to see his friend become more mature. Sadly it was the last McGee adventure to be written. MacDonald, a prolific writer, was taken back by the muses and at least one reader cried tears of loss after learning that “McGee” was dead.

The author died in 1986 and was the same creative genius who wrote Cape Fear, made twice into a film, as well as The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, and a slew of other novels and short story collections on top of some works of non fiction.

The news of Christian Bale being considered for the role of McGee does tend to make one wail in disbelief and scream out “What the Fudge?” However, it is nice to think that this evergreen character, who has been around since the 1960s, is interesting enough to still be considered a good property for the big screen. All one can ask is that a better candidate than Bale be cast at the end of the day.

And of course there is still the issue of Meyer. Knowing Hollywood, they will probably make the best friend a skinny woman thus changing the entire purpose of the economist. This project still seems to be stuck in developmental hell for the time being, despite Pike’s being “cast.” Hopefully scheduling conflicts will negate the American Hustle actor becoming the latest casting mistake in Tinseltown.

Gang Related Fox Latino Version of The Departed (Recap/Review)

Gang Related Fox Latino Version of The Departed (Recap/Review)

Gang Related, which premiered on May 22 on the Fox network, appears to be the Latino version of The Departed sans Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson. There is one other variation in the plot though, there is no undercover cop threatening to spill the beans on the gang’s mole in the police department.

America Ferrera Accosted on Red Carpet Was He Looking for Ugly Betty? (Video)

America Ferrera Accosted on Red Carpet Was He Looking for Ugly Betty? (Video)

America Ferrera was accosted on the red carpet at Cannes as she stood with her How to Train Your Dragon 2 co-stars by a man who lifted her dress and tried to shove his head under it looking, perhaps, for Ugly Betty. America was standing next to the newest addition to the cast, Cate Blanchett along with other members of the animated feature’s players.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Stock Market Goodfellas (Trailer)

The Wolf of Wall Street: Stock Market Goodfellas (Trailer)

With the release tomorrow of The Wolf of Wall Street on DVD and Blue-ray it seemed a good idea to revisit this Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio stock market Goodfellas. The original Goodfellas, which was also based on a true story, was about wise-guy Henry Hill who could not be a “made man” with the mafia because of the non-Italian blood in his veins. Hill turned informant when he was caught by the same law enforcement agency – the FBI – that took down Jordan Belfort, aka the “wolf” of wall street.