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Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

We've seen the film, now here's our take.
We've seen the film, now here's our take. Sony Pictures Releasing
Title: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:

MR. BURNS: "It was the best of times it was the blurst of times?" You stupid monkey!

Brief Plot Synopsis: An actor and his stuntman friend confront the end of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4.5 O'Haras out of 5

Tagline: "The 9th Film from Quentin Tarantino."

Better Tagline: "Darn this counterculture! It's got me all bugaboo!"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is facing the onset of middle age with something less than dignity, taking "heavy" roles in TV shows while drinking too much and hoping for a score during pilot season. Helping him navigate these stormy seas is his best friend/gofer, intermittently employed stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton also has a couple new neighbors, director Roman Polanski and his wife, the up and coming starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Sounds like exciting things are afoot.

"Critical" Analysis:
 If Once Upon A Time in ... Hollywood really is Quentin Tarantino's penultimate film, he's entering his home stretch on a high note. After the rambling Django Unchained and the distinctly unpleasant Hateful Eight, OUATiH is an expansive, often breezy/occasionally brutal paean to bygone Tinseltown. It's also his finest film in years.

It's another period piece, continuing the trend Tarantino started with 2009's Inglourious Basterds. This time around, he concentrates on the 1960s Hollywood that so informed his love of cinema. And as in Basterds (and Django, to a lesser extent), he indulges his penchanct for historical revisionism.

And perhaps because this era is so personally significant, Tarantino provides a level of immersion unheard of even for him. Not having to construct the setting from scratch helps, sure, but the sheer tonnage of detail, from radio jingles and TV programs to QT's own trademark meticulous soundtrack curation, is overwhelming. Even the signs on Sunset Boulevard, blurry to our eyes as Booth drives by them, are probably authentic.

Yet, this time around, Tarantino is assured enough — both in himself and his audience — to eschew his usual cultural caretakers. There's no Steven Wright expounding on the super sounds of the '70s, for example, or Jackie Brown explaining the Delfonics to Max Cherry.

The experience is dizzying, sometimes veering into self-indulgence (Tarantino? Self-indulgent?). But while one could argue there's fat to trim from the 161-minute runtime ... where would you cut it? From arguably the best performance of DiCaprio's career? From Robbie's luminous Sharon Tate? From the meticulously re-created footage of Rick's past work?

click to enlarge Cliff finds strange things afoot at the Spahn Ranch. - PHOTO BY ANDREW COOPER, © 2019 CTMG, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, COURTESY OF EPK.TV
Cliff finds strange things afoot at the Spahn Ranch.
Photo by Andrew Cooper, © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved, courtesy of EPK.TV
It's QT's least confrontational movie since ... possibly ever. In fact, most of the controversy the movie is generating involves the ending*, and while that won't be spoiled here (and how have you managed to avoid spoilers this long?), it makes sense given the context of everything leading up to it. Tarantino clearly believes the murders on Cielo Drive were culturally and politically transformative (and he's not alone). Unsurprisingly, he has something to say about it.

Once Upon A Time in ... Hollywood is Tarantino at the top of his game, and shares rarefied air with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie have arguably never been better. Admittedly, Robbie isn't given a ton to do, but the contrast between Tate's burgeoning career and the twilight of Rick and Cliff's is something she captures perfectly.

The movie is actually stupid with standout performances. From Margaret Qualley (a member of Manson's "family"), to Timothy Olyphant (Dalton's fellow actor James Stacy), Julia Butters (child actor Trudi Fraser) and Nicholas Hammond (director Sam Wanamaker). And that's not counting blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos from the likes of Scoot McNairy, Brenda Vaccaro, James Remar, Clu Gulager, and Rebecca Gayheart.

It's also a film that effortlessly switches from drama to comedy (Dalton's breakdown in his trailer after flubbing lines) to suspense (Booth's visit to the Spahn Ranch is reminiscent of the basement scene in Zodiac, if nearly its opposite on the brightness scale) to violence, and finds the director as confident in his talents as he's ever been.

*Or Cliff's fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), a scene which is the very embodiment of "unreliable narrator."
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar