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…

SNL: Season 42 Premiere – Margot Robbie Blasting Out of the Gate (Review)

 Saturday Night Live - Season 42

Welcome back Saturday Night Live. All is forgiven. After a previous season that had more misses than hits the premiere of SNL season 42 was an epic win. Guest host Margot Robbie, who clearly has arrived,  did a fine job with her monologue and was hysterically funny in “The Librarian” (a pre-recorded bit of ’80s nostalgia.)

The  show blasted out of the gate with special guest Alec Baldwin doing his Donald Trump impression.  Alongside Emmy winning  performer Kate McKinnon (who showed just why she earned that award in the “Actress Round Table” skit) Baldwin and Kate killed  it in the show’s open.

(The Willy Wonka gag got less laughs than it should have for some reason…)

Robbie, still red-hot after her Harley Quinn performance in Suicide Squad,  appeared in a number of skits. She even got to portray Darlene in the Mr. Robot parody at the end.

The highpoint for Margot had to be The Librarian. The ’80’s pastiche  that combined the “Oh Yeah” song from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with a brilliant dose of bizarre science fiction.

After the monologue, where Margot “fact checked” everything she said, the show started off with a “live news report” where a sinkhole had just swallowed up seven cars.

Robbie, who is an incredible 11 out of 10 marks for stunning, and her bespectacled husband (played by Neil McNabb) are the eyewitness couple that Kenan Thompson’s reporter speaks to.  The gag in the skit is how on earth this mild mannered chap wound up with such a beautiful wife. This was brilliantly funny and it felt like SNL had gotten their mojo back.

Saturday Night Live - Season 42

Other skits included the Family Feud political lineup with Thompson once again donning his Steve Harvey persona.  Robbie played Ivanka  Trump, Larry David reprised his Bernie Sanders and new kid on the block Melissa Villaseñor did a pretty decent Sarah Silverman.

(The Silverman inclusion had to be an in-joke since the performer was briefly part of the the SNL stable.)

There was a “homage” skit called “The Hunch Bunch” that was a parody of Scooby-Doo without the animated mutt.  Kudos, by the way to Kyle Mooney for doing a very funny “Shaggy.”

Saturday Night Live - Season 42

The Hunch Bunch featured a mystery solving gang who are all pretty PC.  Robbie, channeling her inner Harley Quinn is the odd one out and her boyfriend Tad is mortified at her verbal gaffes.

As the gang come in contact with the old man haunting the place, Becca Ashley (Robbie) shoots him in the back.  One of the group tells the rest that the old chap is still alive and Becca Ashley cocks her pistol and aims down at the prone figure.

“Oh no, I’m not going back to jail…”

While not hysterically funny the skit was amusing and, once again, was more like SNL used to be. A bit silly overall but it allowed a vague Harley Quinn reference in.

The clear winner, in terms of skits (versus pre-recorded sequences like The Librarian) was the Actress Round Table discussion. McKinnon ruled this one. Her anciently old performer was truly hysterical and had guest host Margot Robbie corpsing throughout the skit.

One other notable thing about the roundtable skit was that it featured Sasheer Zamata, the more silent cast member of SNL. The performer actually got more than the usual one line spot.

The Weekend Update was a staggering 14 minutes long, easily taking up the lions-share of the episode.  It was the usual Jost and Che double-act treat. Topics covered were the Colin Kaepernick national anthem issue and of course politics.

Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson gave performances and musical guest The Weeknd did a cameo spot.

Saturday Night Live - Season 42
The Weeknd

The Mr. Robot sketch (with Pete Davidson as Elliot Alderson) did a riff on the Leslie Jones computer hack that was funny. It was also a sign that the Sam Esmail series has “arrived.”

Saturday Night Live - Season 42
Mr Robot – Elliot and Leslie

This was a brilliant start to season 42.  Robbie did very well for her first time. And there were moments where the comedy was so spot on that tears of laughter were spilled.

SNL airs Saturdays on NBC. May the comedy seen thus far continue. Stop by and check this newest season out and keep an eye on Melissa Villaseñor.