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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Rick Dalton is down in the dumps. Even though he's been a successful TV actor for some time now, he's tired of getting typecast in the same kind of role every time, the villain who gets his ass kicked. His stunt double Cliff Booth's career has fallen by the wayside as well, working with Rick but not getting any other work. While they're dealing with their personal problems the Manson cult is starting to gain traction.

This is a unique movie, even by Tarantino's standards. It harkens back to the dialogue-focused films in the vein of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, but it's quite different from those as well. While the stories are fun to watch, it's more strictly focused on character, both the people we are following and the 60's setting itself. The signs, classic posters, vintage stores, classic music and movie sets in their charming rough glory really transports you to a different time. It's not just a cute homage, he puts you right on the spot.
The main arc is populated by Rick Dalton's dreams of becoming more than just a B-grade actor, feeling insecure with himself and feeling he's lost it. Leonardo Dicaprio brings a level of sincerity and admirable dedication to the role. Dalton is a starving artist. He's clearly got a lot of talent, but never gets a chance to fully utilize it. When he eventually even struggles to remember the simplest of lines, he loses it in what is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Yelling at himself in the mirror to lay off the alcohol and do the god-damn job an actor's supposed to do is hilarious and very relatable to anyone wanting to be taken seriously as an actor. Sometimes when I'm recording lines and I just keep doing takes of the same line over and over and over again I feel like I'm going insane. Is something wrong with me? When am I going to be good enough? Thankfully in this case, this results in Rick doing the best damn acting job he's done in his whole life. The scene with him as the mustached villain holding a little girl hostage threatening to cut her throat is legitimately intimidating. He finally found the confidence he needed to be truly great.

Cliff Booth's story is less structured and mostly consists of him pissing people off and showing everyone who's in charge. But that doesn't mean it's not a helluva lot of fun to watch. Bruce Lee being shown as a cocky little kid whose mouth is bigger than his fighting skills is pure gold. Mike Moh did a great job playing him. Cliff throwing Lee so hard he creates a buckle in Janet's car got a big laugh out of me.
When Cliff drives the flirty hippie girl Pussycat to George Spahn's movie ranch, we get a very tenseful sequence. He doesn't really trust anyone there. People are staring out the windows, the "farm" looks more like a barren wasteland and Squeaky is so desperate to stop him from saying hello to George it's like she's holding him hostage. Cliff's meeting with George is short, but amusing. Bruce Dern gives a colorful portrayal of a senile and cranky old man who's been kept isolated from the world for God knows how long. He's happy someone came to visit him, even if his grouchy behavior indicates otherwise, but Cliff still leaves feeling frustrated and disappointed he's forced to live with all these weird-ass creeps. His irritation reaches its peak when a guy who looks like he hasn't showered in a year punctures one of his tires.
WARNING: spoilers below
The resulting impulse to come over and beat his face bloody over and over again is a well-placed sudden shock of violence. Since the movie has been pretty restrained up to this point, you don't expect Cliff to get so angry he will beat someone to the point where their face is disfigured. It's funny in a darkly humorous way.

The friendship between Rick and Cliff is also a huge factor into what makes the movie so enjoyable, and gives it a touch of heart. Apparently Dicaprio and Pitt became friends in real life during the production, and some of that definitely translates into many of the scenes. When they are watching Rick's part in a television show and commenting while they're doing so, it feels very natural and loose, how you'd really hear two friends converse while they're doing something together. It wouldn't surprise me if this is one of the parts that were improvised.

All right, let's talk about Sharon Tate. Margot Robbie's performance as Tate is adorable. Quentin Tarantino adored Sharon Tate, both as an actor and a person. And while I don't know her as much more than "That girl from Valley Of The Dolls!", I think he made me fall in love with her a little too. My favorite part is when she goes to a movie she's co-starring in in the theater, and finds it so exciting to watch herself and hear the audience behind her laugh. She can feel the admiration people have for her.
WARNING: spoilers below
I also love that her real-life fate was changed to something much more uplifting. Usually this would be a serious breach of historical accuracy, but is that really what you come to a Tarantino movie for? Her murder being prevented and Rick coming over for a friendly visit is the perfect conclusion you can give to her. She get to continue spreading joy and making people smile.

My favorite actor Al Pacino gets a few nice moments to shine, creating a very eccentric and funny personality in Marvin Schwarz. "Who's gonna beat the s'hit out of you next week? Mannix? The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? The girl from U.N.C.L.E.? How about Batman & Robin?" Unfortunately, and this is one of the few problems I have with the film, he's extremely underutilized. He only appears in a 3 minute long scene in the beginning, and at the halfway point or so he appears for a few more seconds. Maybe there's a lot that got cut out, but when I saw him in the trailer I thought he would be a major important character. Instead it's only just barely more than a cameo.

The pacing can be slow at times too. It never hurts the movie severely, but it feels a little directionless at points. This is only for short stretches though, most of the time I had a blast.

WARNING: spoilers below
The final act does go all-out with the violence and mayhem, and does so with a touch of black humor. Cliff is so stoned that you think he's practically defenseless and an easy target for the Manson cult members, but then he suddenly starts stabbing people left and right and brutally beats Squeaky's face to a bloody pulp, even more so than the ass-holes who damaged his left tire. His dog (which I haven't mentioned until now) gets in on the action as well and demolishes Tex's crotch to the point where it probably looks like an anorexic gerbil. Nothing is more satisfying however than when one of them disturbs Rick relaxing in his pool and he responds by bringing out the flamethrower from one of his movies. Rick's just as much of an action hero in real life as he is onscreen.

Even my friend who's not a fan of Tarantino found a lot to like in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. It's funny, it's nostalgic without ever feeling self-indulgent, and it's got one of the best acting duos I've seen this decade. I promise it'll be worth your dime.