'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood' (2019) A Groovy Movie Review

Updated on August 2, 2019
John Plocar profile image

Never been to Hollywood. Usually I make a cute joke about how I'm experienced in whatever field. I got nothing. Never been to Hollywood.

My Thoughts on Tarantino

Tarantino... Tarantino-ing?
Tarantino... Tarantino-ing?

Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite writers/directors working today and has been crafting phenomenal works of art for the last thirty years now. Not everything the man touches I would say is pure gold, but he has made a few of what I would consider to be high up in my absolute favorite films; such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and the one I love the most being Jackie Brown. His work was something that my father introduced me to at a very early age and, at first, I didn’t quite understand it. To me, Tarantino’s movies were different from what I was used to ever seeing before. Stories told in non-linear fashion with dialog that felt oddly more natural than the average movie. Topics discussed between characters that I had no idea could even be written into a scene. The dude’s style of filmmaking was hypnotic for me. Me and my dad would watch his pictures several times over because we always enjoyed being in these colorful worlds that Tarantino created. Even though the runtimes would normally extend well over two hours long, we could probably sit there for another three hours with gigantic smiles on our faces as we watched because we loved his writing and direction. Something that I have admittedly not felt all that much from Tarantino’s work for a number of years now. Not since Django Unchained back in 2012.

While I certainly didn’t hate The Hateful Eight, there was definitely a lot to enjoy about the flick, it lacked the magic touch and precision writing of story that I particularly know Tarantino to be capable of. Before that point though I was very fond of Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. My least favorite movie of Quentin Tarantino’s though is, hands down, Death Proof. That to me was the man’s low point and I frankly will never bother watching it ever again. Prior to Death Proof though, he’s had a pretty damn solid filmography. Even scripts that he didn’t personally direct I’ve loved; Four Rooms, From Dusk Till Dawn, and True Romance are all freaking awesome. I’ve been yearning for the day I witnessed Tarantino’s next triumph in movie making that would truly reignite my love for his writing again.

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Possibly the very first Tarantino flick I ever saw on VHS. Either this or Pulp Fiction. Thanks to my dad, I grew to adore it.A totally underrated Tony Scott movie that really deserve more love and attention. A crime drama masterpiece. No argument.Debatable as to how much of the script is actually Tarantino's work since he has disowned the film. Still a great film where I can definitely see hints of his handiwork all around.Underrated anthology with one of Tim Roth's best comedic performance.Easily one of my favorite getaway/vampire films ever.Another crime drama masterpiece. No question.I really dig the first volume and think it has one of the best anti-heroes of all time with an amazing backstory for revenge.Overall enjoyable, but way too long with unnecessary flashbacks to pad out the runtime.Tarantino's worst film. Although Kurt Russell is amazing.Tarantino having fun paying homage to the nazi-sploitation films of the past.A love letter to Spaghetti Westerns with a terrific cast to round out a really cool story.The dialog has its moments, but loses momentum fast once entering the second half. Gorgeously shot, however extremely confined into one small space the whole movie.
Possibly the very first Tarantino flick I ever saw on VHS. Either this or Pulp Fiction. Thanks to my dad, I grew to adore it.
Possibly the very first Tarantino flick I ever saw on VHS. Either this or Pulp Fiction. Thanks to my dad, I grew to adore it.
A totally underrated Tony Scott movie that really deserve more love and attention.
A totally underrated Tony Scott movie that really deserve more love and attention.
A crime drama masterpiece. No argument.
A crime drama masterpiece. No argument.
Debatable as to how much of the script is actually Tarantino's work since he has disowned the film. Still a great film where I can definitely see hints of his handiwork all around.
Debatable as to how much of the script is actually Tarantino's work since he has disowned the film. Still a great film where I can definitely see hints of his handiwork all around.
Underrated anthology with one of Tim Roth's best comedic performance.
Underrated anthology with one of Tim Roth's best comedic performance.
Easily one of my favorite getaway/vampire films ever.
Easily one of my favorite getaway/vampire films ever.
Another crime drama masterpiece. No question.
Another crime drama masterpiece. No question.
I really dig the first volume and think it has one of the best anti-heroes of all time with an amazing backstory for revenge.
I really dig the first volume and think it has one of the best anti-heroes of all time with an amazing backstory for revenge.
Overall enjoyable, but way too long with unnecessary flashbacks to pad out the runtime.
Overall enjoyable, but way too long with unnecessary flashbacks to pad out the runtime.
Tarantino's worst film. Although Kurt Russell is amazing.
Tarantino's worst film. Although Kurt Russell is amazing.
Tarantino having fun paying homage to the nazi-sploitation films of the past.
Tarantino having fun paying homage to the nazi-sploitation films of the past.
A love letter to Spaghetti Westerns with a terrific cast to round out a really cool story.
A love letter to Spaghetti Westerns with a terrific cast to round out a really cool story.
The dialog has its moments, but loses momentum fast once entering the second half. Gorgeously shot, however extremely confined into one small space the whole movie.
The dialog has its moments, but loses momentum fast once entering the second half. Gorgeously shot, however extremely confined into one small space the whole movie.

Once Upon a Movie Screening… Two Days Ago

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a movie that I’ve been looking forward to since the very moment I saw a trailer for it. Swinging 1960s setting, Quentin Tarantino touching on a historically tragic period involving the Manson family, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt looking like they’re having a total blast, the movie undoubtedly appeared to be my cup of tea. So, the 9th film from the great Quentin Tarantino, did it live up to expectations? You’re God damn right it did.

I could have beat around the bush and teased my opinion on the topic at hand further along, but no. Let’s get things nice and sparkling clear here, I loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. This was a return to that feeling that I’ve missed for a number of years, where Tarantino is transporting me into this unbelievable world full of life and personality. The narrative we follow is completely unconventional to gain a feeling of history with all these characters. This isn’t some movie that tries being easily digestible for the average movie-goer, this is a film in the epic sense that would have been seen back in the “New Hollywood” era of the 1970s. Centering entirely on the lives of these characters with masterful attention to detail to create something more grand. All this while interjecting that Tarantino flare that keeps things at a brisk pace, yet takes its time with establishing this world and building up to terrific payoffs.

The Plot

The year is 1969, a time where the Hollywood platform is changing. Resulting in television star, Rick F*cking Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double/best friend/chauffeur Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) realizing that their careers are on a quick path of fading into obscurity. Striving to figure out where their new place is in the world as Hollywood’s Golden Age comes to a close and they begin to enter what was known as the New Hollywood Era. During that duo’s struggle, up-and-coming new actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) begins a promising career with a delightful, yet eccentrically exciting lifestyle as she lives right next door to Rick Dalton with her beloved husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and close friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).

The Story

The brilliant thing about this film is that it essentially takes place over the course of three separate days in these characters’ lives. Two consecutive days taking place in early 1969 and then a third day set approximately six months later. As disjointed as that may sound, for me, it worked. With this story, there is honestly no clear direction in which these characters are following. However, that seems to be the point. This is a film that isn’t focused on telling a normal three act tale, the focus of this film is on sucking the audience into the colorful world of 1969. Providing a feel for where these specific characters are in their lives right now with extremely different points in their current careers, as well as the events that led them to where they wound up by the summer of 1969.

Do not confuse Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for being a thoroughly factual bio picture, that is not this movie. While obviously taking real events that actually happened in our very own history, this is mainly a work of fiction that is inspired from said events and crafts an alternate timeline of its own. A fantasy, if you will. One that I found to be extraordinarily satisfying. While Sharon Tate was very much so a real, young actress from the 1960s; the characters of Dalton and Booth were solely created for this movie. Although both were based on actual working people of the period and famous career paths that really did occur back at the time of Hollywood’s shifting directions.

Despite the elements of fiction, these people we follow throughout the film feel alive. They feel like real people that I’m hanging out with for simply a few days out of their daily lives. A matter of a few days that incorporates the little things that may not mean much to most, yet with this comes across as potent and bittersweet. Especially if one is familiar with the real life events that happened to Sharon Tate and her friends in the summer of 1969 at the hands of members from the Manson family. There is a lot of material here that uses subtlety to achieve its tone which balances a gleeful occasion with utter sadness in realization of one’s impending doom.

Sharon Tate

If anyone reading this is unaware of the actress Sharon Tate, go onto her Imdb and check out some of her movies. She was a remarkably talented young woman that succumbed to a truly terribly demise. In case anyone would like to avoid spoilers about the specifics of what really happened to this woman, stop reading now. For anyone curious and does not know, Sharon Tate was eight months pregnant when cult members of the Manson family broke into her home and murdered her along with a couple of her friends in the summer of 1969. What happened to them, the horrors that were committed onto them, is easily one of the most despicable things I have ever heard of in my entire life and it pains me to think about as I type this. All because they unfortunately lived at the wrong address, as the murderers were actually seeking someone else who was a former associate of Charles Manson that previously lived at Tate’s current residence. I apologize for this review becoming particularly somber, but this is a subject not to be taken lightly. The people that perpetrated these atrocities were monsters that deserved a fate far worse than death in my opinion.

Admittedly, the role of Sharon Tate here is not an extensive one, yet still a major one. Difficult to explain exactly what I mean by this, but I will say that the scenes pertaining to Tate as the focus are somewhat minimal. At the same time though, every second packs a punch when the viewer knows who this woman is and what she is destined to endure. All while never forcing these themes in our face with on-the-nose dialog or eye-rolling irony, this just lets the audience see this woman in her average daily life. There are a couple of scenes where Sharon Tate finds herself going to the theater and seeing a film that she co-starred in entitled The Wrecking Crew, showing the actual footage with no stand-ins or alterations made to the original footage. To most, that likely sounds pretty boring. To me, it felt like one of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking scenes to pay respects to a wonderful talent such as Tate. The scene didn’t chime in with a melodramatic musical score or any sort of lazy foreshadowing, it let the moment play out as a woman taking pride in bringing joy and laughter to others that viewed her work. It was beautiful to witness. To many viewers, it may be a scene that does no more than have a character sit around and do nothing as a waste of screen time. I would disagree and claim that it is so much more than that.

Admittedly, the role of Sharon Tate here is not an extensive one, yet still a major one. Difficult to explain exactly what I mean by this, but I will say that the scenes pertaining to Tate as the focus are somewhat minimal. At the same time though, every second packs a punch when the viewer knows who this woman is and what she is destined to endure. All while never forcing these themes in our face with on-the-nose dialog or eye-rolling irony, this just lets the audience see this woman in her average daily life. There are a couple of scenes where Sharon Tate finds herself going to the theater and seeing a film that she co-starred in entitled The Wrecking Crew, showing the actual footage with no stand-ins or alterations made to the original footage. To most, that likely sounds pretty boring. To me, it felt like one of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking scenes to pay respects to a wonderful talent such as Tate. The scene didn’t chime in with a melodramatic musical score or any sort of lazy foreshadowing, it let the moment play out as a woman taking pride in bringing joy and laughter to others that viewed her work. It was beautiful to witness. To many viewers, it may be a scene that does no more than have a character sit around and do nothing as a waste of screen time. I would disagree and claim that it is so much more than that.

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The Ending

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood evokes the understanding that it is fully aware of what happened to Sharon Tate and forms an alternate reality of “what could have been”. Majority of the changes to historical fact occur in the third act and I won’t spoil exactly what happens in the film, however I will say that the ending will likely be divisive for most. Tarantino is one to play around with history to develop a rather more extreme and crowd pleasing payoff, he does that once again here and I can appreciate whether someone would like or dislike this approach. Personally, it made me happy to see what could have been and wish that it could have been the history that really went down.

The reason why the ending didn’t bother me with its alterations is because Tarantino has a way with his writing and his direction that goes all the way with its ideas, rather than half-assing them where it leaves no impact. When Tarantino wants to make a change to history, he doesn’t hold back and he makes sure that it is one hell of a memorable moment to behold. To me, this came across as the justice that anyone who knows of the crimes committed would want to see happen. The film pays respects to the victims of the real-life event and it takes a risk to almost try rectifying the wrongs of the past. That and it was f*cking hilarious and so damn satisfying to see what should have been, all within the climax juggling the perfect blend of suspense and comedy.

Dalton & Booth

DiCaprio plays what one would describe as a self-absorbed ass-hat, but in the best way. Seriously, the wrong actor in this role and this could have been terribly obnoxious to have dealt with for one of our leads. Thankfully, DiCaprio is kind of a genius with his acting skills and effortlessly makes the character of Rick Dalton equal parts humorous and tragic. Dalton is a famed television action star that seems to be on the decline with his popularity, resulting in his temperament being less than contempt at times. Whether it be the man breaking down in a stuttering mess or drinking himself half to death, either way he is amazingly entertaining to watch.

Being able to figure out where this guy’s head is at in his stressful predicament of losing a grasp on his acting career and finding possible refuge with starring in spaghetti westerns was pretty cool to see. Covering a general stretch of the entirety of Dalton’s career from being a genuine success to becoming what the Hollywood film/television industry seem to be using him as a tool in order to hand down the torch to younger newcomers breaking into the mainstream. A tactic that was fairly common to do at the time and proceeded for quite a while, paving the road for seasoned talents to move onto Italy where they can basically be superstars again. It was a cool way of delving a little into those subjects with a three-dimensional character that we began really sympathizing with as the story unfolded.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Click thumbnail to view full-size

Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, how do I put this? He is the complete polar opposite of DiCaprio’s character and a total badass at that. Truth be told, I have always loved Pitt as an actor. Even in bit roles that he played back in the early 1990s, the dude has always had a fantastic screen presence that he brings every time he’s in front of the camera. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception in that department and he clearly seems to be having a ball on set here. Cliff Booth approaches every situation with a “give no sh*ts” type of attitude, yet fully optimistic in his perspective on most matters; creating the perfect counterbalance to Rick Dalton, which is a major factor as to why their chemistry is so good. Any scene that they share amounts to sheer greatness and the time they spend apart still manages to engage me in everything going on with them individually. I couldn’t get enough of these two; they simply had some of the best comradery and banters that I’ve been privileged to witness in a long time.

The Look

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There wasn’t a single solitary second of this film where I wasn’t fully in belief that apparently time travel was possible. I was convinced that I were living inside this world of 1969. Every frame was flawlessly shot, it’s a gorgeous film with borderline obsessive and meticulous attention to detail; from its wardrobe design, set dressing, the cars, the movie poster artwork, the hair styles, cinematography, color palette, even the music was perfect as I tapped my foot and nodded my head for probably 80% of the runtime. All of it superbly replicated that beautifully distinct look of the era. Honestly, I can’t think of any scene or what have you that stood out as aesthetically inept at all. From start to finish, this was a film wholeheartedly dedicated to getting the look and feel of the lush 1960s down without a hitch. Mission accomplished!

The Signature Feet

Rest assured, Quentin Tarantino’s signature camera shot that he has practically in his entire filmography makes a return in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. There are feet plastered right up to the camera and takes up the whole screen. Hell, there’s a shot about halfway through the movie where a bunch of people are sitting in a room watching TV and all we can really register is about seven pairs of bare feet just chilling right out in the open. It’s fine, but… dude, you’ve gotta move onto another body part to focus on. Maybe try checking out hands for once? Noses are cool. Try an ear… wait, I remember Reservoir Dogs. Don’t do that.

Minor Gripe

While I would state that this is Tarantino’s best film in twenty years, there is unfortunately one small criticism that I do have with it. Before I say what my complaint is, let it be known that this is totally a nitpick. Even during my screening, this didn’t bother me too drastically. However, it was noticeable and distracted me from my immersion into this world. At a couple of random points in the film there is narration by Kurt Russell that shows up out of nowhere and provides absolutely nothing to the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kurt Russell and I am cool with any excuse I can get to have more Kurt Russell in any movie I see. The narration was so pointless though that I couldn’t help being slightly taken out of my enjoyment a little bit. Not terribly so, but enough to make note of it. It barged its way into the narrative and then dropped out like it didn’t even matter at all. Which it didn’t. Not the worst thing in the world, just a choice that should have been left out of the end product.

Overall

See it. F*ck my in-depth analysis. See the film. Support this film. Will it be for everyone? Hell no. That comes with the territory of something like this. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood goes against convention and doesn’t deliver anything typical of a summertime blockbuster type flick. Especially in our modern releases. It’s not that type of movie. This is a God damn film that transports its audience to another time, another world with terrific characters that keeps the eyes glued to the screen. No, this isn’t the action picture spectacle with all the flashy superheroes or explosions or big CGI cats; it’s a different kind of spectacle that shows a deep love and respect for the period that it is representing, while also crafting an original tale. Feeling that love, that spirit, is rare to experience and is pure magic to find every so often. I loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, every minute. If this sounds like it might be up your alley, give it a shot because I believe it to be worth checking out.

Best Tarantino Picture?

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That’s All Folks!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… see it. What did you think though? See it. Like or dislike? See it. Agree or disagree? See it. Comment down below and let me know! See it. Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. See it. Thank you all so much for reading and… See it.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 John Plocar

    Comments

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      • John Plocar profile imageAUTHOR

        John Plocar 

        2 weeks ago from Weatherford

        @Sam

        Well I do hope that you enjoy it as much as I did! I really did love it and the DiCaprio/Pitt duo was pretty great!

      • Sam Shepards profile image

        Sam Shepards 

        2 weeks ago from Europe

        Will be released in 10 days in my country, look forward to it. Looking forward to the atmosphere, dialogue and seeing Dicaprio and Pitt together.

      • profile image

        Michael115 

        2 weeks ago

        Good review! Wish Sharon was given more to do in the film but I guess that's what Tarantino wanted. I am glad there's a fast forward button to skip past her boring scene in the theater.

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