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ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD: The Film Babble Blog Review

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ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2019)



Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film as director contains all of the elements that moviegoers have come to expect: snappy hipster dialogue, an ultra cool soundtrack of both classic and obscure pop and soul songs, eye-popping cinematography, stylish editing, multiple shots of women’s feet, and, of course, reams of gory, in-your-face violence.


Except for a sequence in Italy, the film is mainly set in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, in which actress Sharon Tate (the pregnant wife of filmmaker Roman Polanski), and three of her friends, were murdered by members of the Manson family.

But Tarantino’s largely concerns the friendship between the fictional cowboy star Rick Dalton (a moody Leonardo DiCaprio), and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (a smug Brad Pitt). Dalton was formerly the lead of a Western television series called Bounty Law, but has been reduced to playing guest star heavies on a bunch of various TV shows.

The film also follows Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as she attends a screening of her next to last film, the Dean Martin comedy spy movie, THE WRECKING CREW, at the Bruin Theater. Meanwhile Booth picks up a hitchhiking hippy girl named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), and takes her home to the Spaun Movie Ranch, where Charlie Manson, who doesn’t appear, and his hoard of followers reside. Booth is skeptical of the set-up as he used to work on the ranch and a visit with the ranch’s blind owner, George Ranch (Bruce Dern) doesn’t quell that.

Despite his doubting hesitation, Dalton, along with Booth travels to Italy to make several Spaghetti Westerns, and ends up marrying Italian actress Francesca Capucci (Lorenza Izzo).

When they return to Hollywood, the time of the murders approaches (times appear on the screen), and the killers approach in dark silhouettes that resemble the sinister shots of the four figures in the driveway in Jordan Peele’s US from earlier this year.

The climax is thrilling and funny in turns, but it might make the folks who found the instances of the intense, bloody, brutal action in THE HATEFUL EIGHT hard to stomach. It’s also an re-writing of history that recalls Tarantino’s sixth film, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS in its concept of wish fulfillment.

As usual, Tarantino has assembled an excellent ensemble that includes Al Pacino as producer/agent Marvin Schwarzs, Emile Hirsch as Jay Sebring, one of the victims of the murders; Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy, another Western actor; Dakota Fanning as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and Kurt Russell as stunt coordinator Randy (Russell also doubles as the film’s narrator). But ultimately it’s the terrific DeCaprio and Pitt whose movie this is.

ONCE UPON A TIME…is very enjoyable in stretches, but it has too many sequences in which characters just hang out (like in JACKIE BROWN, Tarantino wants us to hang out with the characters), and it has a rambling nature in which some scenes just go on and on – like the Spahn Ranch scene, for instance.

This is far from Tarantino’s greatest work, but it’s way better than his worst (meaning that it’s way superior to DEATH PROOF). With movie posters, lobby cards, and glossies covering nearly every wall, and segments from fictitious films rendered in the grainy, gritty film stock of the 60s-70s, the auteur filmmaker’s latest shows off his love of movies. It celebrates the era in which the golden age of cinema gave way to the exploitation movies that Tarantino takes many cues from.


Its effect is mostly infectious, but it doesn’t have much to say beyond “look kids, I can still bring it as a badass basher.” That’s great and all, but it’s way too meandering to come anyway close to being a masterpiece.

More later…

THE REVENANT: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)

There are a couple of things that people are talking about pertaining to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s sixth film, the follow-up to his brilliant, Academy Award-winning BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), releasing today in the Triangle.


First, the notion that Leonardo DiCaprio will likely win a Best Actor Academy Award for his powerfully pained performance as the pelt hunting, Indian killing, bear fighting, death defying 19th-century American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Second, there’s the bear itself – an incredibly convincing CGI creation of a ginormous grizzly that attacks, mauls, and severely injures DiCaprio’s Glass. The scary scene in which this happens has some folks even crying “rape!,” but while it does look like the character is getting violated, it’s a female bear who’s protecting her cubs.

A friend joked, “I bet the bear will win the Oscar!”

But beyond the bullet points of the Leo buzz and the bear lies an epic, uncompromising tale of survival that has just earned a prominent slot on my soon to be posted top 10 films of 2015.


DiCaprio dominates as the title character (the title, THE REVENANT, means a person who has returned as if from the dead), but on the sidelines we’ve got a gruff, angry Tom Hardy as Glass’s biggest adversary besides the bear (he’s the guy who decides to leave Glass’ ailing ass behind after all), Domhnall Gleeson (EX MACHINA, BROOKLYN, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – yep, he’s been getting around lately) as the hunting party leader, Captain Andrew Henry; Will Poulter as the young mountain man Jim Bridger, and, even younger, Forrest Goodluck as Glass’ half-Native American son, Hawk.

That last bit, about Glass’s son, is fictional as the real life fur trapper/explorer didn’t have a son or the wife that we see getting killed in his tortured flashbacks throughout the film, but when a film is this riveting and driven, I’m not complaining about such embellishments.

Set in treacherous, snowy Montana and South Dakota in the early 1820s, this adaptation of Michael Punke’s “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” follows the infamous hunting expedition led by Gleeson’s Captain Henry into the uncharted post-Louisiana Purchase territory.

In the film’s stunningly shot opening sequence, the hunters and trappers get ambushed by a tribe of Arikara Indians, and the survivors along with what they could save of their pelts, escape on a boat down river. Glass voices that, to avoid further attacks, they should ditch the boat and continue on foot – a plan that Fitzgerald doesn’t favor.


This is where the bear comes in. While deep in the woods away from the others, Glass comes across the mother grizzly and her cubs and gets the mother of all maulings.

Afterwards, the crew carries him on a makeshift stretcher, but Fitzgerald, as always voicing displeasure, wants to kill or abandon him so they can complete the damn mission and get the hell home. In a struggle over Glass, Fitzgerald kills Hawk.

So Glass finds himself literally left for dead, but despite the dangerous odds he crawls, climbs, and swims through hundreds of miles of wilderness to exact revenge on Fitzgerald. 

While it doesn’t have the single take illusion that BIRDMAN beautifully built up (and that Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for), THE REVENANT does traffic in sweeping unbroken tracking shots with the same mastery. Returning cinematographer Lubezki’s camera glides through the scenery intoxicatingly, beginning many scenes at ground level and ending them trailing off into the campfire smoke in the sky.

This gets us immersed in the open spaces, making us feel like we’re right there with DiCaprio in his suffering, wounded state. The man definitely deserves to get the gold for his no holds barred commitment to the character. The guy’s patented boyish charm is nowhere to be found here; what we’ve got here in his portrayal of Glass is a weathered 41-year old who’s been through hell and back and looks it.

Hardy, who along with Gleeson has been working a lot this last year, may get a nomination for this as well. Between this and his work in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and LEGEND, it feels like Academy voters will surely take notice.

THE REVENANT may be more grueling than a good time for some moviegoers, but I found it to be more rewarding than punishing. It’s a towering testament to the emotional and physical strength that one finds in themselves when bracing the overwhelming wild of the American west.

When it comes to lengthy, brutal Westerns set in icy terrain this season, maybe this is the one that should’ve been shot in 70mm.


Postscript: Check out this post by by friends at Movies Like Movies6 Movies Like THE REVENANT – Brutal Survival Action.

More later…