Monday, August 19, 2019

Movie Monday: Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood

My birthday gift from my son was lunch and a movie, just the two of us, so we planned a day off last week, before he starts his senior year of college and things get hectic. Since I need to nap in the afternoon, we went to a 10 am showing at a local recliner theater. It was decadent seeing a movie right after breakfast (and having popcorn in the morning)! We saw Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood, and we both loved it, in spite of our different ages and experiences. It has been called Quentin Tarantino's love letter to old Hollywood, and it is that - and a whole lot more.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, an actor who has made his career mostly in westerns and other action thrillers, including as the star of a TV western called Bounty Law. Now, he is worried that the best years of his career are over and is upset when director Marvin Schwarz, played by Al Pacino, suggests he move to Italy to star in a "spaghetti western." Rick's best friend and stunt double is Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Their careers rise and fall together, though Rick is a well-known star, and no one knows who Cliff is, but that doesn't seem to bother the easy-going, always-grinning friend. The two hang out at Rick's house, which is next door to the home of director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. For now, Cliff is driving Rick around town, and Rick is trying to get Cliff hired as his stunt double, though Cliff's reputation gets in the way. One day while Rick is working, Cliff picks up a pretty hitchhiker named Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley, and drives her to where she lives, at the Spahn Ranch, which had been rented out for many western movie and TV sets in the past, including Rick's Bounty Law. Since Cliff knows the place, he wants to look around and say hello to the owner, George Spahn, but the ranch is now the home of Charles Manson's "family," and they are not happy about this stranger poking around. As Rick and Cliff continue with their lives, tension builds with Manson and his family in the background.

We both loved this movie, though as my son whispered to me during the first half of it, "this isn't like the usual Tarantino movie!" He was referring to the graphic violence that Tarantino is known for in films like Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and Django Unchained. And he's right...until the last scene in the movie, and then we said, "oh, yeah, this IS a Tarantino movie!" But for much of the film, the renowned director has recreated the Golden Age of Hollywood in a way that completely immerses you in the darkened theater (this is a great movie to see on the big screen) with the sights and sounds of 1969. Sure, he's got the cars and fashions, but he goes way beyond that, with classic Hollywood places, billboards, and neon, plus the sound background of 1969, not just in the music in the soundtrack, but in ads heard and the patter of the radio DJ playing songs barely remembered while Cliff drives around town in his car. It's all just so much fun. Of course, most of us remember what happened on August 9, 1969, and the presence of Charles Manson and his crew provide an ominous threat behind the scenes, but Tarantino has some unexpected and clever surprises in store for the audience.  And, of course, the all-star cast is just outstanding, especially DiCaprio and Pitt. Besides the actors I mentioned above in major roles, there are plenty of other big-time stars in minor roles, including Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, and Luke Perry in his last role. In addition, many Hollywood stars of the time are depicted, like Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen. The historical aspect was lost on my son (though I filled him in a bit), but we both still thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this engrossing, funny, gripping two-and-a-half hour immersive experience that left us with smiles on our face and still talking about the movie days later. Highly recommended. Oh, and be sure to hang around for the credits for a bonus scene.

Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood is currently showing in theaters. You can check for local showtimes and locations and buy tickets (go for those recliner seats!) through Fandango:

You can also pre-order Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood on streaming and DVD (both due out sometime in mid-fall) through Amazon.And don't forget that fabulous movie soundtrack, which includes both music and classic ads and is available now (you can listen to a sample of the album at that link).

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