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

2019 Midyear Oscar Report

We are officially at the midpoint of this thing called 2019 and that means a midyear Oscar report is before you today on the blog. First things first: as awards watchers already know, the bulk of the eventual nominees will come your way in the second half of the year. It will likely be festivals such as Toronto and Venice that produce their initial screenings.

We have, however, already had Cannes and Sundance producing first looks at some contenders. The most high profile is Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is out July 26 but debuted in the French Riviera. The celebrated auteur’s ninth feature immediately became a player in Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor), Brad Pitt (probably Supporting Actor), and Margot Robbie (Supporting Actress), as well as down the line tech races.

Cannes also served as the launching point for two contenders in the newly termed Best International Feature Film. They are Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which won the Palme d’Or. With Glory, expect lots of chatter for its star Antonio Banderas to receive his first nod in Actor.

As for other possibilities in the lead Actor derby, we have Taron Egerton’s portrayal of Elton John in Rocketman. If Rami Malek could take home the gold last year for Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s certainly feasible that Egerton will have his supporters. Cannes also debuted  the horror pic The Lighthouse with raves for Willem Dafoe. And though it’s a reach, there could be a push for Robert Downey Jr. to garner recognition for his decade plus embodiment of Tony Stark/Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame.

When it comes to Endgame, I would anticipate talk for a Picture nod, especially after Black Panther became the first comic book pic to get one last year. At this juncture, I’ll say it gets plenty of chatter and no nomination. Yet that paradigm could shift.

Sundance gave us the true life political drama The Report. That pic features both Adam Driver and Annette Bening in roles that drew acclaim. It’s out stateside in late September and is one to keep an eye on.

2019 has produced numerous female lead performances that could all be classified as dark horse contenders. The list includes Lupita Nyong’o (Us), Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell), Awkwafina (The Farewell), Elisabeth Moss (Her Smell), Elle Fanning (Teen Spirit), Florence Pugh (Midsommar), and Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose).

Despite its disappointing box office grosses, Olivia Wilde’s coming of age comedy Booksmart might be considered in Original Screenplay. Same goes for The Farewell ahead of its release in a couple weeks.

For Best Animated Feature, Toy Story 4 looks to be a slam dunk for a nomination and that also holds true for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Already released titles such as Missing Link and The Secret Life of Pets 2 are likely on the outside looking in.

As for documentaries, keep an eye on Apollo 11, The Biggest Little Farm, and Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese. I would say Apollo is a strong contender for inclusion.

And that’s your report, ladies and gentlemen! Get ready for a whole bunch of Oscar speculation in the second half of the year…

Oscar Watch: Pain and Glory

It’s been over three decades since Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar was first on the radar screen of Oscar voters. In 1988, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown nabbed a nod for Foreign Language Film. Eleven years later, All About My Mother won the award. In 2002, Almodóvar won for his original screenplay for Talk to Her.

This year’s Cannes Film Festival has provided further chances for the auteur to garner favor from the Academy. Pain and Glory casts Antonio Banderas as an aging director focused on his past. The drama has earned praise from critics as it stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. If the pic turns out to be Spain’s selection for the newly termed Best International Feature Film, it could definitely get in. An inclusion for Almodóvar’s script is also possible.

Another opportunity lies with Banderas. The veteran actor has never been nominated and he’s earning kudos here (he won Best Actor at Cannes). The French festival has given us three other contenders in the lead actor space: Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman and Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Bottom line: it’s been some time since Almodóvar has been a factor come Oscar time, but Pain and Glory could change that. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

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…

McConaughey: Everything’s Not Alright Alright

When this blog started in the fall of 2012, Matthew McConaughey was coming off a solid two-year period which saw him headline the surprise legal drama hit The Lincoln Lawyer and attract rave reviews for his supporting role in Magic Mike.

Yet 2013 elevated the actor to a whole new stratosphere. His work in the acclaimed indie pic Mud garnered Oscar chatter. He had a memorable cameo alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It ironically turned out that McConaughey’s scene partner in that film was his biggest competition for an Oscar. Dallas Buyers Club would see the Texan playing Ron Woodruff, a real life AIDS patient in the 1980s. McConaughey’s work was praised and he took home the gold statue. His luck streak continued into the following year starring in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which stands as his largest grossing live-action feature.

Since then? Well, let’s just say the McConaissance has been interrupted. Or borrowing his most famous catchphrase from 1993’s Dazed and Confused – it’s not Alright Alright.

This weekend, his stoner comedy The Beach Bum tanked at the box office. Its approximate $1.8 million opening is the worst release of the actor’s career. And it follows a pattern of now seven live-action duds (he did provide voice work in the animated pics Sing and Kubo and the Two Strings). And to give a modicum of credit, he did skip the subpar sequel Magic Mike XXL.

At least Nicolas Cage had a string of action hits after his Oscar before delving into VOD territory. McConaughey hasn’t been so fortunate and he quickly needs a critical or commercial success to redeem things. His list of recent material is an unsuccessful and largely forgettable one. In three years, we’ve had:

  • Free State of Jones, his summer 2016 Civil War drama that took in $20 million domestically against a $50 million budget. Its Rotten Tomatoes score was 46%.
  • The Sea of Trees from later that summer. The drama wasn’t even released wide and didn’t make a million dollars (13% RT score).
  • True life crime drama Gold in January 2017. 42% RT. $14 million gross stateside.
  • The Dark Tower in summer 2017. The critically maligned Stephen King adaptation had a 16% RT rating and immediately ended the possibility of a franchise with earnings of $50 million.
  • Another based on actual events crime drama from last fall – White Boy Rick. 58% RT and $24 million gross.
  • Noir thriller Serenity from earlier this year. Barely promoted, it made an embarrassing $8 million total with a 23% RT score.

And now The Beach Bum, which won’t reach $10 million domestically either. It’s time for McConaughey’s people to find him some better stuff. His most memorable appearances lately have been in car commercials. If they can’t manage to do so, there’s always 2013.

Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…