ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – a Tarantino Spank Bank Film

Tarantino’s actual 10th film, he calls KILL BILL 1 and 2 one movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is a film that suits my Gemini star sign. Because I loved so much about it and hated a lot more about it. I am terribly torn with this film. And like my mind it appears to be tearing apart people and critics the world over. Most of the Salty Kernels have seen it now and most of their scores are at the bottom. It is as Tarantino as Tarantino can get returning to his original form and it’s well and truly out now around the world. Please leave comments below as to what you thought of it.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is released by Sony in Australia. It is rated MA15+ and runs for a very long 161mins.

PLEASE NOTE THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton

BY JASON KING

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD SYNOPSIS:

It’s an overindulgent Tarantino fairy tale set in 1969. It’s the end of an era and Rick Dalton’s movie and TV career is waning. Along with his career slowing down it is also effecting his stunt man, best friend, driver and basically shadow’s career, that of Cliff Booth.

Rick lives next door to Sharon Tate, the woman brutally murdered by Charles Manson’s posse of cult following hippie douchebags. In the real world the Manson crew murders everyone in the Tate, actually Roman Polanski, house. But this isn’t a documentary and in a Tarantino movie he tends to weave his films into history and then re-write them. It is a fairy tale after all – just re-read that title.

Hollywood, and more so old Hollywood, is porn for Tarantino. His skill at making the old cool again is what he does. He still releases his films on actual film before he releases the digital copies. He doesn’t want to move on and is combination pop culture recreation master and so unique in his storytelling that he has become a genre unto himself.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth

DEFINITELY NOT HIS BEST BUT IT’S A POWERHOUSE OF TARANTINO FILMMAKING:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is a return to PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN form. JACKIE BROWN is the only Tarantino film I hated – I just can’t stand it – it’s been years since I saw it so should probably return to it and see if I can salvage some love. But Tarantino is returning more to what he loves, and knows, and even he describes this as his most personal movie and screenplay.

It is a Tarantino stylised love letter to the place and time he loves the most. 1969 was the time Manson decided to attempt Helter Skelter and so being the strongest Hollywood disaster that year Tarantino decided to entwine his movie through the real story with his own stylised version.

MANSON FACTS:

Charles Manson was immensely pissed off at Terry Melcher, a record producer whom Manson partly blamed for his failure to make it as a recording artist. The house that Tate and co were murdered at in real life was previously owned by Melcher. While Manson would have preferred Melcher to have lived there he settled on killing some “political piggies.” Basically he wanted to kill some rich Hollywood types, frame the Black Panther for it so he could start what he thought was an apocalypse/ race war and what he named “Helter Skelter,” named from lyrics in the Beatles’ WHITE ALBUM.

But a reminder this a Tarantino Hollywood film – he follows the real story up to a point – as the four murderers approach the house Tate and co are in Rick Dalton is drunk and pissed off at the noise their car is making. Living next door from Tate he emerges from the house, abuses the hell out of them, tells them to piss off, which they briefly do – and so history is changed.

IT LITERALLY HAS NO GENRE:

But my problems with ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD commences around this point where Dalton abused the hell out of the Manson gang and then works backwards throughout the film. Sharon Tate literally has no purpose in the film besides looking gorgeous, viewing her own film with glee in a wonderful scene, and then being the neighbour to fictional Rick Dalton. She is there to literally pinpoint a moment in time for ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

While the movie has some of the best acting of the year, some truly epic scenes it is so overly and indulgently stylised that the plot takes second seat to Tarantino’s pastiche of love to Hollywood. Pop culture references are so jam packed into the movie, from Michael Madsen’s Cadillac, the same one in RESERVOIR DOGS, to Bruce Lee, to some very cool Western scenes, to the drive-in the Manson Family live and on and on and on. Individually most of them are masterpiece scenes, together they become overwhelming. And the film seems to never end – delete 30mins of indulgence and this movie, with limited plot, would flow better.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Margot Robbie
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate

THE BRUCE LEE THING:

Outrage was sparked at Tarantino’s depiction of Bruce Lee in the film. He is kind of an arrogant douchebag (as to whom I’m referring that’s up to you). The fight scene Lee and Cliff Booth have is one of the funniest scenes in the movie made at the expense of Bruce Lee’s honour. Bruce Lee’s daughter has gotten involved, Tarantino’s response didn’t impress and Lee’s daughter has now suggested Tarantino shuts up. Everyone has an opinion on it.

Mine is basically STFU everyone – THE ENTIRE SCENE takes place in Cliff Booth’s mind, a character that is basically a cartoon character, the coolest guy on earth, a Californian stuntman who looks like Brad Pitt – OF COURSE he would think he would smash Lee in a fight. It is how a character like this would see himself fighting Bruce Lee in the film and in an egotistical fantasy he would imagine his opponent to be an arrogant douchebag. It is one of my favourite scenes in the film. If you raise issue with it you have seriously missed the point.

CAN WE GIVE BOTH BRAD AND LEO OSCARS – SO BLOODY GOOD!!

THE LEADS:

Acting wise this has two of the best performances of the the year. Both Leo and Brad not only deserve Oscars for their portrayals but they are up there as one of the best cinematic partnerships in history. Their buddy routine deserves an Oscar in itself.

Leonardo is playing an actor, an average one at best and we witness him acting in B-Grade movies in multiple scenes. It is one of the first times in a Tarantino move that an actor goes off-script. Leo is really playing an actor with a very different style to his own so Tarantino allowed him to play around to feel comfortable, what we get is a masterpiece performance of a failing drunk actor who thinks he is still a god of sorts. He is a bumbling idiot most of the time but my god it is amazing.

Brad Pitt plays the best character of his career, he is the ultimate laid back man of Hollywood, a stunt man, a legend, a comical hero everyone will love – it is just a pity you have to get through over 2hrs of the movie to see the best of Cliff Booth – the last 20mins of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is where it’s all at.

Margot Robbie is stunning as Sharon Tate – the costumes and the era truly suit her. Some of the jewellery she wears in the movie was actually Tate’s jewellery and Tate was assisted in preparing and had the full blessing of Tate’s family. But sadly the Tate character is really a side story and not hugely consequential to the film, as I previously mentioned.

THE CAMEOS AND SUPPORT:

From here there is so many cameos and side characters you will be going wow wow wow. Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Austin Butler, Emile Hirsch and one that really knocked me for a six, the dearly departed Luke Perry in his last performance.

There is even a small cameo from Michael Madsen after he complained Tarantino kills him in every movie. His role will pass as you miss it but he survives and gets his car in a Tarantino movie again!

There is one actor I have to mention – ten year old Julia Butters. She plays a co-star with both Leonardo and Leo’s character Rick Dalton. For ten years old she bloody owned the screen and nearly stole it from Leo as Hollywood child-actor Trudi. I was basically applauding her performance in the cinema. Genius.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Al Pacino
Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Al Pacino

IN CONCLUSION:

If Tarantino dialled it back a bit, gave us a flowing plot, cut the runtime and wasn’t so indulgent ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD would hold more mass appeal. But has Tarantino every given a shit about what anyone thinks? He is a force unto his own and while most won’t love the film it is a spank bank of Tarantino stylisation.

JK’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL ELIE’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL CLAIRE’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL BLAKE’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.