Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

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Quentin Tarantino delivers one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen in a long time with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Speaking of long times, the film runs 2:45 but is worth almost every minute of it.

SPOILER ALERT! There are NO SPOILERS in this review. But beware of social media content, word-of-mouth and even unscrupulous reviewers who might tell too much about this buzzworthy movie.

Los Angeles, 1969. Or, as iconic radio station 93/KHJ calls it, Boss Angeles. The city looks great as classic cars tuned to AM radios playing classic pop tunes drive down boulevards with theater marquees touting late-60s movies.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a TV/movie star whose career is at a turning point. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his stuntman and buddy. Leo is terrific. Brad is also at his charming best. Both actors benefit from being gifted with great roles and story lines from QT.

Dalton has a gorgeous home in the hills above Benedict Canyon. Booth lives in a trailer in the valley. The home just above Dalton’s is rented by Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).

In February 1969, Hollywood dealmaker Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) suggests to Dalton that he go to Italy and make movies there that could reignite his fading star. He does. The film then skips ahead to August 1969 when Dalton returns to LA for the film’s climax.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood contains scene after scene that bring true movie fan pleasure. Cliff’s fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Rick’s conversation with child actor Trudi (Julia Butters). Sharon’s watching herself on screen with a movie house audience. The clips from Rick’s TV show Bounty Law and his movies. A party at the Playboy Mansion where Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) explains the relationship between Tate, Polanski and Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).

Other performances in the film that merit mention: Kurt Russell as stuntman Randy (he’s also the film’s narrator), Margaret Qualley as hippie chick and Manson family member Pussycat, Nicholas Hammond as Sam Wanamaker and Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme.

Gotta love the soundtrack! Treat Her Right by Roy Head, Good Thing by Paul Revere and the Raiders, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show by Neil Diamond, Snoopy Versus The Red Baron by the Royal Guardsmen, Hush by Deep Purple, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man by Bob Seger, among many others.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is an absolute treat that should not be missed. Thank you, QT. Thank you, Leo.

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The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight is not among his best. It has QT trademarks including over-the-top violence, a quirky mix of characters and the great Samuel L. Jackson. The Hateful Eight has an excellent original soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The film even has an overture and an intermission! But the pacing is off.

Have you ever had someone tell you a joke that has a long set up before you finally get to the punchline? And then the joketeller repeats the punchline for emphasis? That’s what The Hateful Eight reminds me of.

Let’s meet the eight who end up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a roadhouse in a desolate area of Wyoming, during a blizzard. The time is a few years after the Civil War. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is bringing in murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a reward. (Ruth, with his overgrown moustache and boisterous manner reminds one of a taller Yosemite Sam.)

The stagecoach he’s chartered picks up bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Civil War veteran (Union side) who hears the N-word many times during TH8. Another passenger who begs a ride is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims he’s to be the new sheriff of nearby Red Rock.

Already at the roadhouse are four more individuals: British dandy Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsden), “The Mexican” Bob (Demian Bichir) and former Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern).

The Hateful Eight meanders a full hour and 45-minutes before intermission. The long-awaited plot resolution after the break is violent but often funny in that QT way.

Tarantino has said that TH8’s story was modeled after certain plots on old TV westerns with episodes that took their time in revealing whether a stranger was a good or bad guy. Maybe QT just wanted his audience to become more familiar with the eight, but the first chapters of TH8 slog along at turtle speed. Don’t nod off.

The Hateful Eight is being shown screened in selects theaters (including Ronnie’s in St. Louis) in a 70mm wide-screen format using film instead of a digital system. (The digital version I saw showcased the film in a wider-than-usual aspect ratio.)

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have a Tarantino film back on movie house screens. But after his successes with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, TH8 falls short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Django Unchained

Everything you’ve heard about Django Unchained is true. Quentin Tarentino is a fearless filmmaker. And one of the things he does not fear is excess. Django Unchained is a big movie (2:45 or so) with lots going on.

Set in the antebellum South when slavery was legal, DU will touch some nerves. Is this film racially charged? Yes. Will this film generate controversy? Yes. Does this film entertain? Yes. Is it violent? Oh, yes. Is it funny? You betcha! Django Unchained is the must-see film of the Christmas season.

Christoph Waltz as King Schultz, a German dentist turned US bounty hunter, gives one of the year’s best acting performances. His character is smart, funny and, at times, sensitive. He can also ruthlessly violent. He tries to purchase Django, played by Jamie Foxx, from among a group of slaves after Django tells him he can identify the wanted killers that Schultz is seeking.

Django ends up riding alongside Schultz, who promises to help Django find his wife from whom he was separated. The two enter a small village where townsfolk are stunned to see a black man riding a horse next to a white man. They visit a plantation owned by “Big Daddy,” played by Don Johnson, where Django discovers the wanted men.

The journey to find Django’s wife takes them to Candyland, the Mississippi plantation of Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Candie is a fan of “mandingo fighting,” which pits two slaves in a bloody, bare knuckles hand-to-hand battle. At the plantation, Django and Schultz scheme to secure Djanglo’s wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from Candie. It’s not an easy mission to accomplish, thanks to interference from Candie’s loyal house slave Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Foxx handles the title role with effective, appropriate restraint. DiCaprio, who’ll have that baby face throughout his life, is hard to buy as a nasty bad guy. Jackson gives a killer performance as the 70-ish senior slave.

Tarantino’s over-the-top script is filled with humor and surprises but also reveals a horrifying look at American slavery. One particularly memorable shot, lasting only a second or two, shows blood splattering on cotton bolls in a field. Other depictions of brutality are more direct.

As we’ve come to expect from Tarantino, the soundtrack is a knockout, with tunes ranging from recycled Italian Spaghetti Western songs to Jim Croce’s 70’s hit “I Got a Name.”

Django Unchained will likely generate polarizing media commentary and new devotees of Quentin Tarantino and his distinctive, highly entertaining film making. Not to mention a few awards nominations, as well.