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…

The Hateful Eight: The Thing Meets the West (Review)

Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino and his publicity heavy film “The Hateful Eight” (It should have been billed as the movie that was almost never made) is entertaining in a “The Thing” meets the west sort of way.  Tarantino has said that he was massively influenced by John Carpenter’s film, which also had Kurt Russell in it, as well as TV westerns like “Bonanza.”  Although it still feels like this film owes more to Sergio Leone than “High Chaparral.”

Ennio Morricone, who provided the music to Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns and Carpenter’s “The Thing” scored this latest Tarantino offering and the film also uses, apparently, music never heard but intended for Carpenter’s 1982 film.

A group of strangers shelter from a blizzard in Minnie’s Haberdashery. One man, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) has a prisoner for hanging in Red Rock; Daisie Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Along the way he acquires Samuel L. Jackson, in the guise of Major Warren and Walter Goggins, who plays the new sheriff of Red Rock; Chris Mannix.

Ruth and his three traveling companions, along with O.B. the stagecoach driver, arrive at Minnie’s to find four men waiting out the storm. Minnie and Sweet Dave  are missing and they appear to have left Bob (Demián Bichir) in charge.  Amid racial tensions, post  Civil War hostilities and a sense of mutual mistrust, the two bounty hunters, Ruth and Warren, band together to ensure Domergue hangs. 

As this is a Tarantino film it is overly long and at nearly three hours it makes for a long time in one spot. However, despite the length, “The Hateful Eight” does not drag. The leisurely pace adds to the mystery of who is really up to what and allows for a claustrophobic feel to the proceedings.

There are numerous nods to “The Thing“, for example,  the scenes where the line is run to the outhouse, and later when O.B. prepares to head to the structure and later as he starts to head back are very reminiscent in terms of  framing and lighting to the original Carpenter feature.

“The Hateful Eight” has a few  other nods and winks to films that are not by John Carpenter. The poisoning scene, where Ruth (Russell) and O.B. (James Parks) forcibly vomit copious amounts of blood is highly reminiscent of Takashi Miike (in particular the poisoned coffee scene in “Fudoh: The New Generation“). It also smacks of the reaction to poisoned soup in the “light house” scene in Battle Royale (directed by Kinji Fukasaku) an event that leads to a climatic shootout between Japanese schoolgirls. 

Leaving aside the notions of homages and “nods” to other films or directors (something Tarantino is well known for) it is interesting to note that Daisy Domergue, as played by Leigh, is an oddly sexless/genderless character throughout most of the film.

Apart from the information given that Daisy is a female that will  hang for murder, the character comes across as more young pre-teen male juvenile delinquent than femme fatale.  Impish, mischievous and recalcitrant Domergue does nothing feminine. She exudes no sexuality at all.

It is interesting to note that her relationship with Ruth, when it is not dealing with obstinacy from ether side or pushing boundaries, comes over almost like a father and his naughty child. (Granted Ruth is a bit violent in his recriminations of Daisy’s offenses, but it has more of a familial feel than anything else.)

Bizarrely, Daisy only becomes feminine in death. Hair down and her shoes visible from below makes her shed the facade of genderless hooligan.

The cast list is impressive for Quentin’s eighth film.  Tim Roth, Jackson, Leigh,  Russell, Bruce Dern,  Bichir, Channing Tatum, Zoë Bell (who is becoming a regular), Walton GogginsMichael Madsen and Tarantino who gives a sort of cameo performance as the “not really needed” narrator that was, nonetheless, a nice touch. 

In terms of cameos Lee Horsley turns up as part of the stage driving team with Perry and Gene Jones (Dementia, No Country for Old Men) does a turn as “Sweet Dave.”

Sadly, watching the film via Amazon, the 70MM print does nothing for the streaming experience and while it may well have looked spectacular on today’s version of a big screen, it seems an unnecessary “gimmick.”  There are a few continuity errors here and there (mainly to do with Ms. Leigh’s teeth) but these do not detract from the film.

Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” does what he intended; it entertains. There are some splendid comic moments;  some intense, yet short, shoot-outs and he attempts to bring a bit of authenticity to the time period.

Kudos to Leigh for her performance as Daisy and a huge nod to Demián Bichir who proves he has lost none of his comedic timing with his portrayal of “Bob.”

This film is a full 5 star spectacle, even when viewed via Amazon, or whatever streaming site one uses.  A brilliant follow-on to Django: Unchanged and it leads one to wish fervently that Tarantino will make another western soon.  He has a definite knack for it.

 

Wolf Creek 2 (2013): Australian Xenophobic Madness

Still from Wolf Creek 2 of star John Jarratt

In 2005 audiences were introduced to Mick Taylor an Australian backpacker serial killer in a film based very loosely on two real life serial killers in the Outback. Titled Wolf Creek, it was a grimly scary horror film with a killer who was terrifying. In Wolf Creek 2, the Australian xenophobe is back and his madness has intensified, along with his crazy sense of humor and off kilter patriotism.

Both Wolf Creek films were written and directed by Greg McClean, who also made the taut little horror thriller Rogue in 2007. This sequel is a great follow up to the original and perhaps the only complaint about the film is its ending. McClean exceeds in the horror genre and fans of Australian horror will count him as director capable of delivering.

John Jarratt as Taylor is getting to be as iconic as Robert England is for playing Freddy Kruger. The fact that Quentin Tarantino used the actor for a cameo in Django: Unchained proves it. “You’re a funny bugger,” says Jarratt’s character to Django in the remake and it is a variation on the line his Mick Taylor says to the captive pom he is torturing in Wolf Creek 2.

In this sequel to the 2005 original, Taylor is still working on his one man crusade to “cleanse” Australia of all that “foreign scum.” Not that Mick is too good to take out the odd fellow countryman as he proves when two highway patrol types decide to railroad the pig killer into a ticket and forcing him to take his truck off the road.

Taylor dispatches the two cops with little effort and then zooms in on German backpackers, Katarina and Rutger. Mick seems to be slipping a bit as when he knifes Rutger the backpacker recovers enough to attack Taylor as he is beginning to ravage Katarina. She then escapes while he is cutting up her finally defeated boyfriend.

She runs barefooted across the outback and stumbles into British tourist Paul Hammersmith (played by Ryan Corr) who tries to help her escape. There then ensues a Duel type chase between Taylor and Hammersmith where the pig farmer trades in his pickup truck for a semi, or lorry and the two vehicles do long distance battle for quite a while. Eventually Taylor wins and Paul flees on foot.

The tourist on the run comes to a house in the middle of the outback and passes out. He wakes to find himself in the care of two older Australians who are prepared to feed him and take him back to civilization. Mick has managed to track Hammersmith down and he retrieves his prey while taking out the old couple in the house.

Fans of Australian television soaps will recognize the old man as actor Gerard Kennedy who has worked mainly on TV in shows like Skyways, A Country Practice and The Flying Doctors to name but three and has had a long prolific career. At 80, when he filmed his role in Wolf Creek 2, Kennedy still has that stamp of authenticity and ruggedness that has been such a part of his long career.

After dispatching the old couple, Taylor chases the hapless tourist down via horseback. Mick takes Hammersmith back to his lair and begins to play with him. Apart from punishing him for interfering with his backpacker fun, the killer also starts a mad question and answer game with his captive where each wrong answer gets a finger ground off.

Out of the two films, the original was more shocking than this sequel and we did not learn about Taylor to the extent that ‘2’ allows. This first sequel, a Wolf Creek 3 is already in the works, is entertaining and affords Jarratt a chance to really work on the character of Mick Taylor. Streaming on Netflix, this is a 4 out of 5 star horror film that will entertain fans of the genre.

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 Sues Gawker ANONFILES for The Hateful Eight Leak

Quentin Tarantino Sues Gawker ANONFILES for The Hateful Eight Leak

To paraphrase the 1976 film Network, Quentin Tarantino is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore; in fact, he has sued Gawker and ANONFILES.COM for The Hateful Eight leak. The Django Unchained director/producer is asking for $2 million in damages over the script’s publication by the website, which specializes in celebrity gossip and the anonymous website – ANONFILES – that Gawker led its readers to so they could read the 146 page draft screenplay.