Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Movie Review

***There are light spoilers contained in this review. Nothing here should adversely affect your viewing experience, but if you wish to go in totally clean, you may wish wait until watching it.

fairy tale

noun

  • something resembling a fairy tale in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is this writer/director’s version on that definition. It’s certainly hinted at in the title. There’s little doubt that this is his idealized view of a Hollywood that was indeed magical in his eyes. The picture takes place over a period of six months in 1969 as the movie business is undergoing a seismic shift in attitude befitting the era. Films like Easy Rider with their independent and counter culture spirit have overtaken big budget musicals and other weary genre exercises. Young hotshot directors like Roman Polanski are hot off acclaimed stateside debuts like Rosemary’s Baby.

Mid level TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself at a crossroads. He had a hit western in the 1950s called “Bounty Law”. Years later, he’s primarily cast as the heavy in weekly episodic serials. He doesn’t find it particularly rewarding and he hates the idea of hippies populating his industry. His schmaltzy agent (Al Pacino) wants him to go Italy to shoot low budget spaghetti westerns. Rick sees it as a career death knell.

There is one constant in Rick’s life besides an endless supply of booze. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his trusty stunt double who’s been with him for years. In this fairy tale, Cliff represents the extremely happy. While Rick often hilariously and sometimes touchingly fusses and frets over his standing in the business, Cliff is happy go lucky. This seems, in part, to stem from the fact that he may have gotten away with offing his nagging wife. Guilty or not so, he’s just as happy performing menial household tasks for Rick as he is falling off horses or doing dangerous car stunts.

Another example of the extremely happy is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Her and her aforementioned virtuoso hubby Roman Polanski have just moved next door to Rick. She seems to walk on air in her new world of Tinsel Town bliss and is a stunning breeze of fresh air to any room she enters. While Rick is floundering, Sharon is perpetually adorned with a glass slipper.

Of course, we the audience know the real life happenings that ended Sharon’s life in the Hollywood hills. While Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) is giving little screen time himself, notable members of his cult are. They make the acquaintance of Cliff, who ends up at the Spahn ranch in a deliciously climactic and anticlimactic sequence. The primary cult member is Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley in a standout performance that is both unnerving and charming.

The events of the Manson murders are handled in a manner in which perhaps only this filmmaker could get away with. Inglourious Basterds lovers take note. The Manson aspect is not the main focus at all. Yet when it’s time for that fateful night, it’s handled in an audacious manner that is right in Tarantino’s violent wheelhouse.

That said, as it pertains to screen time, this is probably the director’s least bloody offering to date. Hollywood is more about spending leisurely time with these characters. You get the feeling that Tarantino would have killed to hang out with them fifty years ago, particularly Rick and Cliff. The actors playing them are terrific. DiCaprio has the more complex role as he battles his demons and his battered ego. Pitt’s Cliff is a simpler man, but his work here is every bit equal to DiCaprio’s. Robbie is a ray of sunshine. Her scene where she visits a movie theater playing one of her pics is joyful to witness (and kudos to Tarantino for using the real footage of Tate). Supporting players are too numerous to mention, but it’s always great to see frequent collaborator Kurt Russell in anything. And Mike Moh warrants mention for an uncanny impression of Bruce Lee.

An argument could be made that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin’s “slowest” picture. Due to his intense interest in the late 1960s era where he came of age in Southern California, it could also be said that it’s his most personal. Sometimes personal is code for self indulgent. My take? Getting to indulge in his words and creations is a luxury. Taking the time to savor his characters and the situations he puts them in is endlessly entertaining. This could be called a dark fairy tale when considering its maker. I’d say it’s more melancholy upon completion as this visionary artist contemplates what could have been in his most treasured model of Hollywood.

**** (out of four)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Box Office Prediction

Director Quentin Tarantino and star Leonardo DiCaprio both return to the silver screen for the first time in three and a half years with the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood next weekend. Set in the late 1960s, Mr. Tarantino’s latest casts DiCaprio as a washed up TV actor with Brad Pitt as his longtime stunt double. The sprawling supporting players include Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis, the late Luke Perry, Damon Herriman, Mike Moh, Zoe Bell, and Al Pacino.

When Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it did so to reviews expected of its director. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 92% and it could attract Oscar attention. The teaming of DiCaprio (in his first role since his Oscar winning turn in The Revenant) and Pitt and the many Tarantino followers certainly have given this a high profile.

In order to achieve its maker’s largest all-time three day start, Hollywood would need to top the $38 million made by Inglourious Basterds ten years ago. However, that’s a bit of a misnomer. 2012’s Django Unchained opened over Christmas and took in $30 million from Friday to Sunday. Yet it made $63 million over its expanded holiday rollout.

The range here is pretty wide. It’s feasible that Hollywood doesn’t quite reach that high 30s threshold. I think it gets there with a just a few hundred thousand to spare.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opening weekend prediction: $38.7 million

Oscar Watch: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

25 years ago today, Quentin Tarantino’s second feature Pulp Fiction held its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Today saw the Riviera unveiling of his ninth – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The black comedy casts Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a movie star and his stunt double, respectively. Set in 1969, Hollywood also focuses on the Manson murders with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. The sprawling supporting cast includes Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, the late Luke Perry, Margaret Qualley, Damian Lewis, Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, and Al Pacino.

Slated to hit screens stateside on July 26, it’s fair to say this is the most eagerly anticipated Cannes debut of 2019. Some reviews from the festival are glowing and that’s not unexpected when it comes to Mr. Tarantino. Others, while positive, indicate it’s not quite the masterpiece that Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds are. Both of those pics (and 2012’s Django Unchained) nabbed Best Picture nods.

Based on early buzz, I expect Hollywood to do the same with a strong possibility that its director gets a nomination as well. He will almost certainly be honored for his Original Screenplay. As for performances, both DiCaprio and Pitt are being lauded. I’m not certain at this point whether both will be campaigned for in lead Actor. A split (meaning Pitt in Supporting Actor) could increase the chances of both getting in. Margot Robbie is also getting raves and could certainly factor into Supporting Actress.

Bottom line: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been looked at as a contender since it was announced. Today’s happenings in France confirm it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Throwback Review: Poseidon

We’re gonna need a more interesting boat. That was basically the constant thought running through my mind while watching 2006’s Poseidon, the big-budget loose remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. I never saw it when it was released a dozen years ago. Neither did plenty of other moviegoers as this proved to be a costly flop for Warner Bros. I understand why.

The remake comes from Wolfgang Petersen, maker of far more successful action entries like Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, and Troy. With Storm and his 1981 acclaimed feature Das Boot, he’s a filmmaker who’s charted unstable waters before. Poseidon takes place on a luxury cruise liner on New Years Eve. The singing of “Auld Lang Syne” and midnight smooching is a short-lived celebration because a nasty wave capsizes the ship.

Sadly, there’s not many interesting characters around the disaster. Pro poker player Dylan (Josh Lucas) is a former Navy man who assumes the action hero role. He’s overshadowed by former New York City Mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell). This is because Russell is a far more engaging performer and we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him in these precarious situations. He escapes relatively unscathed. Ramsey has his daughter (Emmy Rossum) and boyfriend (Mike Vogel) with him. They have a perfunctory subplot about getting engaged with Rossum essentially in the same role she played in The Day After Tomorrow. Jacinda Barrett is a single mom with a young son among the survivors. Kevin Dillon is a sleazy gambler whose fate seems certain upon meeting him. And there’s Richard Dreyfuss, whose character apparently has suicidal tendencies that are rapidly forgotten within the first fifteen minutes. His character is indicative of the script’s laziness. It begins to give him a back story and then develops amnesia.

None of this would matter as much if the special effects carried the day. And Poseidon has its moments of visual splendor, but not enough to lift its quality above water. Even the 98 minute running time suggests its team might’ve known they didn’t have much to work with. This is one hour of an uninteresting group trying to get off the sinking boat. You’re better off never boarding.

 

Overboard Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Update II (05/03/18): On the eve of its premiere, I am returning back to original estimate at $11.8 million. Been a whirlwind with this one…

**Blogger’s Update (04/26/18): I have soured considerably on my Overboard estimate. I’m revising my prediction from $11.8 million to just $7.8 million.

Eugenio Derbez and Anna Faris headline the remake Overboard, premiering next weekend. The comedy is based on a 1987 romantic comedy directed by Garry Marshall that starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. It was considered a moderate success (grossing $27 million at the time). A co-production of Lionsgate and Pantelion, the latter is the same studio that turned Derbez’s How to be a Latin Lover into an unexpected success around the same time last year. That pic opened to $12.2 million and made $32 million domestically.

Rob Greenberg directs with a supporting cast that includes Eva Longoria, John Hannah, and Swoosie Kurtz. The film was originally slated for an April 20th release before being pushed back two weeks (the shift of Avengers: Infinity War likely had something to do with that). Faris has been largely absent from the big screen as she’s concentrated mostly on her CBS sitcom “Mom”. Her last headlining role came with 2012’s What’s Your Number? (which was a disappointment) and we’re a decade from her last hit The House Bunny. 

Current theater counts put this at a rather low 1500 screens (it could certainly rise and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does). That’s roughly the number that Latin Lover had. I foresee Overboard posting a similar opening weekend, which should be good enough to come in second to the sophomore frame of the Marvel superheroes.

Overboard opening weekend prediction: $11.8 million

For my Tully prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/26/tully-box-office-prediction/

For my Bad Samaritan prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/28/bad-samaritan-box-office-prediction/

The Hitman’s Bodyguard Movie Review

Had The Hitman’s Bodyguard been made in the mid to late 1990s, it may well have involved three of the performers present. We have Samuel L. Jackson as one of the co-leads. There’s Gary Oldman overacting his tail off as the main baddie. And Salma Hayek adds a sassy flavor as a love interest. There would be no Ryan Reynolds, who would have been in his late teens or early 20s at the time. Instead, maybe Bruce Willis or Kurt Russell could have filled his role.

As such, the three actors mentioned are a bit older and filling parts we’ve seen them cast in before. Bodyguard is joyfully R rated, filled with action genre familiarities, and (to use a reviewer’s cliche) it hits the mark sporadically. Reynolds is Michael Bryce, former CIA officer and triple A rated executive protection officer. What is exactly gives one the distinction of being triple A rated in this particular field? None of the other character seem to know, but he seems supremely confident in the designation. Essentially, he’s good at not letting the people he protects (some of whom are nefarious types) die.

His unblemished record is thwarted early here and his career goes down the tubes. Bryce gets back in the game a couple years later when notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) needs a protector. He’s been imprisoned for some time and he’s a key government witness against a foreign dictator (Oldman) for his many crimes. There’s a whole army of the dictator’s henchmen who wish to keep Kincaid from the witness stand.

Much of the action here takes place in Amsterdam as Bryce tries to get his subject to The Hague to testify. Our two leads have a checkered history together and getting them to work together doesn’t come easily. Bryce believes his protection methods work best (don’t kill anyone) while Kincaid feels differently (kill everyone). The comedic banter between Reynolds and Jackson works well much of the time as they try to one up each other in their work.

Both principal’s have ladies in their lives. Elodie Yung is Bryce’s ex who he still can’t let go of. Hayek is Kincaid’s wife, apparently jailed simply due to her association with her hubby. Her character rivals his in their extreme use of the word mother****er, which had basically become Jackson’s catchphrase in countless pictures.

Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes keeps Bodyguard charging along with action set pieces that are competent and pretty much instantly forgettable. We get some backstory of the pair and how they met their women. This is done so in flashback sequences that are a bit superfluous and complete with ironically cliched song choices. For someone who’s played some very memorable villains, Oldman’s screen time is too limited to make much impact.

 

The stars of The Hitman’s Bodyguard certainly keep it watchable and there’s a select few genuinely funny moments splattered around the cartoonish mayhem. On the other hand, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Jackson have appeared in violent flicks before that you’ll remember in the morning. That doesn’t quite hold true here.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious is our eighth – yes, eighth – installment of a franchise that it would have been ridiculous to imagine there being that many entries. We’re a long way from the original 16 years ago that was sort of a drag racing rip-off of Point Break, or Point Brake as I deemed it in my review. That said, a common thread among the series is its willingness to be knowingly ridiculous while weaving in endless monologues about the importance of family.

The formula took on a different tone in predecessor Furious 7, which admirably managed to deal with the death of franchise stalwart Paul Walker in its conclusion. In that sense, Fate ushers in a new chapter. New characters are introduced, old ones are rehashed, and the level of silliness is brought to a level not quite seen before. Yes, cars go fast here. However, part 8 owes more to James Bond flicks when they were less grim (think Roger Moore era with a quarter billion dollar budget).

As I’ve written in previous Furious critiques, plot is secondary but here’s what you need to know: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has turned on his team. Sort of. He’s being forced to team up with criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), who evades authorities in the air on an invisible plane. See what I mean? Isn’t that the kind of villain 007 might battle in the late seventies? Now on the wrong side of justice, Dominic and Cipher must go against Dom’s “family”, including wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the familiar players played by Dwayne Johnson (whose goofy character is still good for some funny and bizarre moments), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, and more. Part 7’s main villain Jason Statham is more of a team player this time around and even Oscar winner Helen Mirren turns up as his mum. Statham is granted a fight scene towards the end where he has to be delicate with some cargo he’s carrying (you’ll see what I mean). The scene is genuinely humorous and quite well choreographed.

The plot is all an excuse for the massive action spectacles and globe trotting we’ve become accustomed to and we have it here in Cuba, New York City, and Russia. The climactic sequence set on Russian frozen tundra employs the usual expensive vehicles, but we also are treated to tanks and submarines. Remember the ice action in Pierce Brosnan’s Bond flick Die Another Day? Think that, but it’s not embarrassingly awful.

Our Furious sagas rise and fall on the ability for us to check our brains at the Universal logo. By the third act, I’d succumbed once again to its cheesy charms. Maybe one day this series will truly stall like it briefly did in 2006’s Tokyo Drift. Not yet though and that’s some kind of testament to its durability.

*** (out of four)