The Primary Reason I Love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood So Much (Warning: Major Spoilers)

I saw Once Upon a Time In Hollywood last Thursday night, and I loved it. In fact, I love it more today than I did last Thursday. Now, I love it for lots of different reasons. Brad Pitt is at his ultimate level of charm, Leonardo DiCaprio puts on perhaps his best performance ever, Margot Robbie makes Sharon Tate incredibly likable, and Quentin Tarantino delivers a magnificent story, script, and production. Really, I don’t see how it can get much better than Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

But, even with all of that being said, none of those are the primary reason I love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. The real reason I love the movie so much pretty much spoils the entire thing, so I’d like to offer a warning: If you want to see the movie and haven’t yet, please stop reading now. If there’s any chance you might see the movie … stop reading now. You want to be totally fresh for Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, trust me.

Spoilers coming in …

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The film goes to great lengths to intermittently depict Sharon Tate as an affable, kind, identifiable person with little snippets of her simply enjoying life in Hollywood. Tarantino also weaves Charles Manson’s cult in and out of the main story line. However, neither of these two things comprise the majority of the movie. Most of the film is about Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, trying to work his way back to the top of Hollywood stardom.

As one would expect, though, Manson plays a role. At one point, Manson himself visits the home that Tate shares with Roman Polanski. It’s a harmless scene, yet it fills the viewers with dread because, while none of us know exactly what this film is even about, we all understand it will culminate with Tate’s grisly murder. Furthermore, DiCaprio’s character is neighbors with Tate and Polanski, which makes us believe he will somehow bear witness to the awful slaughter. Manson’s cult continues to contaminate the movie throughout as Brad Pitt’s character eventually befriends one of Manson’s followers. However, it’s not long until Booth realizes his new friend’s friends are up to no good and leaves her behind, but the threat they pose is clearly established.

In other words, the entire movie functions as something of a countdown. No matter what occurs, no matter how much the movie seems to be about Rick Dalton’s quest to renew his fame, we all know it’s really about the impending death of Sharon Tate.

But here’s what I failed to realize before seeing the movie. It’s not called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a history lesson. It’s called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a fairy tale. And what good is a fairy tale without a happy ending?

Tarantino is not known for happy endings, but Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is about as happy of an ending as you will get from the man.

In this fairy tale, or alternate universe, or revised history, or whatever you want to call it, Manson’s goons decide to kill Rick Dalton before they kill Sharon Tate. When they enter Dalton’s home, though, they encounter Cliff Booth. Cliff is about as tough as they come, and he literally beats them to death. I won’t go into too much detail, but trust me when I say it’s pretty gory.

Consequently, once the audience realizes that Cliff is going to win this battle, the scene, as violent as it is, becomes almost a celebration. The audience begins to understand that the Manson monsters will never make it to Sharon Tate’s home–Sharon will survive!

In this world we currently live in, where it seems like the bad guys are winning at every turn, it proves incredibly cathartic to watch the would-be killers suffer poetic justice.

The last shot of the film, a moment featuring a concerned, amenable Sharon Tate inviting Rick Dalton into her home, left me almost giddy. The movie ends implying that Cliff and Rick’s friendship will never end, Sharon Tate will go on to live a wonderful life, and Rick’s career might just get a jumpstart from Roman Polanski himself.

Even though the putrid odor of burned flesh probably still lingered in the air, in  a Tarantino fairy tale, this is the happiest of endings.

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Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio proved the biggest draw for me in regards to Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I can’t remember ever seeing them on screen together even though they are two of Hollywood’s biggest names. I generally like what Quentin Tarantino does with these two men as well, so I figured this movie would be right up my alley.

I honestly didn’t know much about Once Upon a Time In Hollywood going in. Like you, I heard it involved DiCaprio playing an actor with Brad Pitt playing his stunt double. I also saw from the trailers that Margot Robbie played Sharon Tate and that Charles Manson’s cult would be a factor as well.

Now that I’ve seen it, I really don’t want to tell you any more than that. Even the slightest bit of revelation could ruin the whole experience for you, so I’m going to abstain.

I will say this, though. Both Pitt and DiCaprio are fantastic. I love their performances, I love their chemistry, and I love their characters. Margot Robbie didn’t get quite as much screen time as I expected, but she portrays Sharon Tate as the lovely, kind, charismatic person, which, by most accounts, seems true to reality.

The story is sprawling even if, at times, plodding. My friend and I joked that Tarantino could have gotten the running time down to ninety minutes if he cut out all of the driving scenes! However, the truth is, by story’s end, every single moment of the movie is worth it. I feel that this could be Tarantino’s strongest story yet. The plot is strong, the pacing is appropriate, the dialogue is perfect, the characterization is rich, and the climax is astonishing.

Furthermore, I think this is also among Tarantino’s strongest directing efforts. This movie takes place in 1969, and it looks like 1969. It feels like 1969. It sounds like 1969. I felt like I stepped into a time machine. Once I realized just how authentic everything appeared, I started looking for anachronisms. I didn’t see one. Not one, which is amazing. That attention to detail made the movie a blast.

Also, for the most part, this is not a violent movie, nor is it an explicit one. By Tarantino standards, I found it rather tame, even funny at times. Of course, as you would expect, there is some violence at the end, but other than that, there’s not that much blood or language.

About that ending–I promise, no spoilers–I found it deeply moving. It touched me in a way I hadn’t expected.

If you are a Tarantino fan, I would consider this a must view. If you love Brad Pitt and/or Leonardo DiCaprio, this could be their best work yet. If you simply feel like hopping into a time machine and reliving the 1960s, this will be a thrill ride for you as well. In other words, I believe Once Upon a Time In Hollywood has something for everyone.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Burn After Reading – A Movie Review

I have to be honest, as I watched Burn After Reading, I found it more than a little dull and plodding.  While touted as a “dark comedy,” I didn’t find much funny about it at all, and actually suffered more apathy in regards to the film than anything.

However, and here’s the sign of good moviemaking, once it ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

And then, as I kept thinking about it, I started connecting all these little nuanced dots that didn’t reveal themselves until the end of the film.  The movie kept creeping into my thoughts, and I suddenly found much of it very funny.  Then I realized what a complexly simple, well-written movie had been made, and I appreciated it all the more so.

Burn After Reading is a series of interrelated events of absolutely no relevance that have dastardly (and mercilessly funny) consequences.  Frances McDormand and George Clooney steal the show in this Coen Brothers project, but Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, and Tilda Swinton more than hold their own.  This is a fine cast of fairly likable actors who successfully made their characters unlikable yet charismatic at the same time-especially Tilda Swinton.

 Burn After Reading is a “slow burn” of a movie, but one that will demand your consideration even after you’ve finished watching it.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk – A Book Review

I don’t really know why I picked up the book Fight Club a few weeks ago.  I pretty much knew the major shocker of the story through word of mouth (it’s been out since 1996, after all).  I guess I just wanted to see what all the talk was about.  Gratuitous violence doesn’t do a whole lot for me anymore.  Most people would have thought a book called Fight Club would be the last on my list of books to read.  I’m going to be brutally honest, I figured that if Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were willing to do a film based off the book, the book must be decent.  I was not disappointed.

The book’s style was utterly devoid of any unnecessary components, which, of course, sticks to the majority of the book’s theme.  Very direct narrative, very short and simple dialogue.  The story is told to us through the first person perspective of the main character, but his name is never revealed.  This gives the book a sense of “everyman” that I believe forces, especially, male readers to identify.

Our main character is tired of life, tired of his job, tired of wanting to own things only to have those things own him.  It’s only after he meets Tyler Durden that he experiences life the way he’s always wanted to.  It begins with “Hit me as hard as you can,” and it ends with mayhem and destruction.  We have men drawn to Tyler and his Fight Clubs because they have no sense of worth without their fights.  It is only when they fight that they feel alive, and it is only through Tyler that they feel loved.  Indeed, Tyler gains quite a cult following waiting on his every command, and our narrator is no different.  Of course, the climax is when men start dying and our narrator decides enough is enough.  He steps in to stop the very thing he’d created with Tyler, and that’s when things go downhill.

Although the story seems rather unsophisticated, it is anything but.  It is the underlying message within this book that is fascinating.  We do have an entire generation of men out there (perhaps several) who don’t know how to be men because they’ve had no father figure in their lives.  They think to be a man means to fight and to destroy; they’ve never had someone show them a man doesn’t have to do these things to be “manly.”  We have a whole generation of people who don’t know why they do what they do.  Why do they work?  Why do they buy?  Why do they live?

This story is tragic, funny, and captivating.  I was instantly engrossed with the characters and the plot.  I highly recommend this book if, for no other reason, than to see an author write in an unconventional manner and prove highly successful.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – A Movie Review

Quiet, subtle, and nuanced, this movie is a work of art for those interested in cinematography, story, and acting.  Anyone hoping for a “popcorn” movie will be sorely bored and disappointed.

The title says it all, for it focuses more on the motivations of Casey Affleck as Robert Ford than it does on the exploits of Brad Pitt as Jesse James.  In fact, the film is a classic character study, moving us from Robert Ford’s infatuation with James to his utter resentment of the man, despite their becoming partners (of sorts).

Clocking in at two and a half hours, the story takes its time peeling away layer after layer of Ford’s insecurities and James’ paranoia as it offers beautiful shots, lovely scenery, and props and costumes that are seemingly spot-on. 

The acting is magnificent, by the way.  Don’t look for any robust chest-thumping-this is the stuff of delicacy.  Affleck’s character is a coward, as the title reminds, and Affleck does a wonderful job through body language, facial expression, and voice inflection of seriously creeping the audience out.  He makes his character so uncomfortable to watch, so truly awkward, that he really won me over as a skilled actor.

In fact, James’ gang was terrified of him, and each actor in the gang seemed genuinely fearful.  Affleck was by far the best, but they all squirmed in such understated mannerisms around Pitt that I found myself on edge.  Perhaps Pitt was given the least amount to work with because James is something of a legend, but his acting really paled in comparison to Affleck.  I have to give Pitt credit, though, because while he may not be the strongest actor, he certainly chooses to take part in excellent movies.

The title tells exactly what happens near the end of the movie, but they (including Pitt) offer a very interesting interpretation as to why James put himself in the position he did.  Pitt’s dialogue, if you read between the lines … Well, I don’t want to spoil anything for you.  Let’s just say there is ample material for a character study of James’ psychology.

If you’re looking for a Wild West shoot-out with daring robberies and nefarious misadventure, look elsewhere.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a low-key movie driven by the evolution (or perhaps devolution) of character.  It is fascinating, but it is meant for those with patience and an appreciation of story and art.