Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

"Don't cry in front of the Mexicans." ~ Cliff Booth

As we all know, Quentin Tarantino loves everything about movies -- writing them, filming them, directing them, producing them and watching them. So it stands to reason that his film called "One Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" must put that love on bold display, and boy-oh-boy does it ever.

1. There are scenes about making movies, acting in movies, screening movies, hair, make-up, costumes, stunts, set design, movie posters, movie trailers, movie excerpts, box office, audiences, celebrity endorsements... the whole enchilada.

2. Just look at the cast list and you'll see half of the Screen Actors Guild represented. Leonardo DiCaprio plays fading star Rick Dalton with the same tour de force talent he displayed in "The Revenant" (2015). Brad Pitt is his stunt double of nine years, Cliff Booth, who is also his driver and best friend, showing us more acting skill than I've seen from him since "Moneyball" (2011). Then there is Margot Robbie giving a picture perfect performance as ill-fated actress Sharon Tate. But the supporting cast is not at all shabby, with Al Pacino as casting agent Marvin Schwarz, Bruce Dern as movie ranch owner George Spahn, Kurt Russell as a gaffer named Randy and, making his last appearance, the late Luke Perry as TV actor Wayne Maunder.

3. The other characters are a virtual Who's Who of 1960's Hollywood celebrities, from martial arts expert Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) and actor Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) to coffee heiress Abigail Folger, singers Mama Cass Elliot (Rachel Redleaf) and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse), and singer/actress Connie Stevens (Dreama Walker). Look for Playboy bunnies, barefoot hippies, and dozens of members of the Manson family, including Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), Charles "Tex" Watson (Austin Butler), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Dakota Fanning), Susan "Sadie" Atkins (Mikey Madison), Patricia "Katie" Krenwinkel (Madisen Beaty), Catherine "Gypsy" Shareand (Lena Dunham), Linda "Flower Child" Kasabian (Maya Hawke) and the underage sexy waif known only as "Pussycat" (Margaret Qualley), among others.

4. For those in a 1969 nostalgia mood, there are radio commercials for products like Heaven Sent by Helena Rubinstein; placements like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner; fake Mad Magazine covers; real Pan Am airline footage; vintage Cadillac and Ferrari automobiles; TV shows like "Mannix" and "The F.B.I."; and ...

5. "Music, sweet music." Tarantino gives us samplings of the very best the decade had to offer, including songs by Simon & Garfunkel, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Chad & Jeremy, The Box Tops, Neil Diamond, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Rolling Stones, The Mamas and the Papas, Vanilla Fudge... Wow!

The audience I was with really got into the fight scenes, of which there are several. We all fell in love with Booth's dog Brandy and the precocious child actor Trudi Fraser aka "Maribella" (Julia Butters). Two viewers walked out after only thirty minutes for reasons unknown. A couple of others had to exit temporarily for bathroom breaks, too, and I really wish Tarantino had thought to grace us with an intermission, just like "road show" films used to have in the 60s.

But the pacing was good, and anyone like me who is familiar with the gruesome events of August 8-9, 1969 at Polanki's home on Cielo Drive will be happily surprised by Tarantino's take, staying true to reality but marrying it with pure Hollywood fantasy in a dazzlingly creative way. The director has called this "his love letter to L.A." It might also be his love letter to us, his fellow movie fans. He's currently my fourth favorite director, and this really is his best effort in a long, long while.

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