Monday, July 29, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: My review

Full disclosure: I’ve been waiting a year for this movie.

I love the ‘60s (even wrote a book at it which you need to buy immediately), love LA in the ‘60s, and the soundtrack of my life was KHJ radio. And other than HATEFUL 8’s I very much like Quentin Tarantino movies.

Instead of resorting to CGI, Quentin painstakingly recreated the Los Angeles of 1969 and it was fun to see all the familiar facades return along with all the authentic ads from that year. I was in Westwood when he was filming there and took lots of pictures of the vintage cars and recreated storefronts. (This weekend I will post a bunch.)

Tarantino also put together an amazing all-star cast. Leo, Brad, Al, Margot – all so big you don’t need their last names.

So it was as if Quentin made this movie specifically for me.

I had to see it opening day, and the 11 AM showing no less. I chose the Bruin Theatre in Westwood, the same theatre featured in the film. I bought my ticket in advance because I didn’t want to get shut out if there were big crowds. I arrived a half hour early. I was taking no chances.

I was the only one there.

Maybe ten people ultimately were in the theatre when the picture began.

So what did I think? B+

Tarantino is a real student of film but the one aspect he never grasped is that scenes should begin as late into the scene as possible.  In some cases scenes that should have taken three minutes took twelve.  The movie is 2 hours and 41 minutes. He could have easily cut a half hour. And this is from the guy who couldn’t wait. Ironically, the whole sequence where Sharon Tate goes to Westwood to watch her movie – the scene I was there for – could have landed on the editor’s floor.

So that knocked it down from an A. Otherwise, it was a fun Tarantino ride complete with requisite cool, great acting performances, a killer soundtrack, some tense sequences, in-your-face violence that teeters between gruesome and cartoon, twisted storytelling, some good laughs, and lots of my beloved KHJ radio in the background. The attention to detail is remarkable. This is as loving a tribute to Los Angeles as MANHATTAN was Woody Allen’s love letter to New York. The big difference is that in Tarantino’s movie the hero chooses not to sleep with the underage girl.

Certainly for me a big plus was the nostalgia of the period. Hearing a “Heaven Scent” commercial and seeing local horror movie host Seymour again was fun for me, but anyone not part of the ‘60s? All these touches will help sell the time period, but I doubt they’ll have any value beyond that. And the question becomes: how vital are those touches to the success of the film? I'm guessing very little since the hipsters came out at night and Tarantino had his best opening night ever. 

Leo & Brad gave Oscar-worthy performances.  I don't think Margot even spoke for the first hour.  There's a sequence where she's watching herself in a movie.  We see her reacting to the crowd and enjoying her performance.  It's something Margot could phone in.  But for whatever reasons some critics have singled out this sequence as one of the acting highlights of the film.  Huh???? 

Oh, and what is it with Tarantino and feet?  There are several scenes where barefoot girls have their feet up.  In another case a woman character directs Brad by pointing her foot.  Looking back, there was that scene in PULP FICTION where John Travolta and Samuel Jackson were discussing whether a foot rub was an act of adultery.  And isn't there a bare foot scene in JACKIE BROWN? 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is worth seeing, especially if you’re a Tarantino fan. There are flashes of brilliance.  This is his 9th film. He says he’s only going to make 10. I suspect 10 is the number of people in the entire world who believe him. I don’t see Quentin Tarantino retiring and playing golf with Alice Cooper.  And if he in fact is going to only make one more movie, judging by his fetish, shouldn't it be a reboot of Cinderella? 

And even though it’s too long, stay for the closing credits. Some nice little bonuses reward those who do.

I wanted to absolutely love it.   I liked it a lot.   But then KHJ airchecks are my "feet."

53 comments :

Glenn said...

The foot fetish thing has gotten too distracting in Tarantino films. We get it dude, you like feet. We don't need endless shots of them that add nothing to the story.

Andrew said...

He may not live to create a tenth movie. The number Nine carries a curse with it. At least when it comes to writing symphonies (Schubert, Beethoven, Dvorak, Bruckner, Mahler, Vaughan Williams, etc.).

Peter said...

"Maybe ten people ultimately were in the theatre when the picture began"

That's my idea of bliss at the cinema. No, wait. Five people is bliss.

I cannot stand today's audiences with their talking, checking their phones, arriving 25 minutes into the film, getting up to go to the restroom or buy more snacks. The fewer the people the better, especially for films this long. In the 80s and early 90s, I relished seeing blockbusters with a full house because of the communal experience. Seeing films like Back to the Future, True Lies, Batman (89), Indiana Jones, etc with a big audience were magical experiences because of that shared feeling of laughter or thrills. People were generally civilized and respectful. That almost never happens now, so I go when there are as few people as possible.

Can't wait to see ONCE UPON when it opens in the UK. If any readers have seen it, PLEASE refrain from posting spoilers!!!!!!!

Pat Quinn said...

Kill Bill has the most foot screen time.

repoob said...

I saw it opening day too, and it's still living in my head. Random observations: Pitt and DiCaprio are amazing. Pitt is really underrated as a comic actor, and DiCaprio can do anything. Margot didn't get a lot of "acting" to do, but my goodness, she lights up a screen. The soundtrack is delicious. Buffy St Marie! The Buchanan Brothers (and not even their one actual sort-of hit! Mark Lindsay! KHJ! Bruce Dern doing the cameo that Burt Reynolds was supposed to do. Lena Dunham, for some reason. "Kato!" (my favorite scene). No, it isn't a masterpiece, but it's a solid 9. It took me to a place and time that I truly enjoy. That was one weird year, and it deserves its own movie. Two hours and thirty-nine minutes. I never drifted once. That's saying something.

Dave H said...

I love the movie Ken. All of Tarantinos movies have scenes in them that could be trimmed but I still love most of his movies. Because you can see his love for filmmaking and his characters on the screen. Brad and Leo are great here. They should team up more often. I think Leo should be nominated for a Oscar. For the scene in the trailer alone which he totally improvised. Awesome. Loved his interaction with little girl too.

I was also touched by some scenes which you don't expect in a Tarantino film as well. I liked the scenes with Sharon tate in the theater. It helped bring her to life. She has always been looked at as nothing more than a murder victim. I also loved that Tarantino didn't glamorize the mansion family in any way. He showed them for the pathetic people they were.

Speaking of that I suggest people read up on Sharon Tate and the manson family if they are not familiar with the story or some of the movie will be lost on them. There were young people sitting behind me who didn't know who Sharon Tate was or what happened to her so they didnt understand her importance to the movie.

Scott Mumford said...

Ken, you and I are about the same age, and both grew up in L.A. at the same time. I, too, was eagerly awaiting this film for a year--having spent 3 full days on the Hollywood Blvd set last summer watching them shoot. (I was a student at Hollywood High--just down the street--in 1969.)
I, too, love Tarantino movies (I also didn't care for Hateful Eight)--but I wish I enjoyed this film as much as you did!

What a crushing disappointment!

For me, the flaws you mentioned were too serious to overlook. The pacing, the scenes that went nowhere, the scenes that went on forever (!) At one point, about 2/3rds of the way thru the film, I actually thought to myself "Man, I wonder what the 100 minute version of this film would play like...?".

That third act, though? Really, Quentin? Sure, it's a QT movie, and that's what he does--but he lost me there, completely. It was over the top, even for Quentin.

It was shocking how little of all of that extensive (and incredibly detailed) L.A. location 'regression' made it into the film. (We never DID see the Aquarius, for example.) I can't imagine how much money they spent doing all of that--to so little end. Of course, if they HAD included more of that footage, the movie would have been an even longer slog--so it was a lose-lose. (I kept thinking of how much Cimino spent on "Heaven's Gate".)

As a Tarantino fan, two expensive, self-indulgent duds in a row have me very nervous. Final grade from me, if I was being generous, would be a C-.

blinky said...

I always thought Tarentino needed an editor that would stand up to him. It was as if he had to get every word he wrote into the movie, I figured it was all ego. But your comment that he should start the scene as late as possible explains it. He had to write the whole scene to make sense in his story but the whole scene s unnecessary to movie goer. Yup, needs a strong editor.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

There's used to be a lot of "feet" of tape in a Quentin film, but none in digital.


I've always enjoyed Tarantino films even when they are overly done.


btw, does anyone outside of his friends know "Pacino" by "Al"?


There is an actress in the movie named "Harley Quinn Smith" which is the name of the character Margo Robbie played in Suicide Squad.

Rockgolf said...

You're gonna love the OUATIH soundtrack!
The Real Don Steele is all over it. Great old forgotten tracks and complete commeercials.

gottacook said...

Regarding overlength: In this case, having read about the meticulous set decoration, re-creation of storefronts, etc., I can perhaps understand Tarantino's need to spend as much time there as possible.

Sometimes the "opposite" happens: About 10 years ago I saw with my family the adaptation of Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember (we'd all read the book; naturally they'd lopped off the "The" for the movie), and the best thing about it - the incredible underground city, an amazing piece of set design and construction - was barely glimpsed here and there.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

KILL BILL has an entire sequence dedicated to feet worship, framed as an 'analogy to recovering from paralysis'.

Can't wait to see ONCE UPON A TIME.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

@The Bumble Bee Pendant: Harley Quinn Smith is actually Kevin Smith's daughter. Much like Nicolas Cage, Smith has a tendency for naming his offspring after superhero comic book characters.

Heather said...

This made me look at my feet and wonder if they were pretty enlightened to be in a Tarentino picture.
I enjoyed it more after I got home. It stuck with me...which is a good thing. I miss the characters.

Rashad Khan said...

I think QT's 10th (and perhaps final) film should be something completely unexpected. Like a romantic comedy. One with no violence or gore, and where foot fetishes don't seem too weird.

slgc said...

Margot Robbie was lovely as Sharon Tate, but IMO Margaret Qualley's performance as Pussycat was better. And Julia Butters is a name to remember - that little girl was incredible!

Agreed that this could easily have been 20-30 minutes shorter. But the payoff was worth it to me.

Anonymous said...

If he really only does 10, it would be fun to try something fairly different. Maybe a James Bond film...I assume Daniel Craig maybe only does 1-2 more after the upcoming Bond 25. It would definitely be interesting to see him launch a new Bond!
-Sammy

Tom said...

Kill Bill could be a documentary about feet.

Patrick Wahl said...

Tarantino has thrown out the idea of directing a Star Trek movie, which I really would not look forward to. Maybe that's number 10. That would be a Tarantino movie, versus being a Star Trek movie directed by some generic director, so I don't think he's the right person for that franchise.

tb said...

Well, he's talking about doing an R-rated Star Trek for his tenth film...

John Fox said...

The Spahn Ranch scenes were the strongest. That's where he built the most tension. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. The rest was pretty predictable. Loved the set and soundtrack dressing. There were a few shots with modern buildings in the background that I forgave. But the establishing shots on the modernized Hollywood freeway with big cement median and shoulder walls really shattered the illusion for me. They were part of the half hour that could have been cut. It just made me start looking for other non-period things like modern styles of road striping - painted islands, which they didn't do 50 years ago. There were plenty of better ways to prove there was less traffic and the cars looked different 50 years ago.

Unknown said...

too much smoking.
I don't live in LA, so the scenes didn't bring back big memories or anything.
But I agree, it was a little too long. Watching some scenes, I scratched my head wondering where it was going. Maybe a second viewing would clarify some of it.
I saw it early afternoon, so the theater wasn't crowded, but well behaved. I think comedies do better with more people watching. We gain laugh energy from others, takes a good laugh and with a crowd, can go to 11.
But any kid style movie, forget well behaved audience.

benson said...

I am so happy to know I wasn't the only one who loved Heaven Scent radio commercials. That song was like the girl group hit that should've been.

Haven't seen the movie yet, but is there any mention of Oxy 5 or Oxy 10, another classic radio ad campaign from that era. "Which would you rather have? A few more cents or a few less zits?"

In fact, it was so cool in the 80's, seeing the Eddie Murphy film, Trading Places. The bank manager who confiscates Dan Aykroyd's credit cards is the Oxy 10 guy, W.B. Brydon.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Possible Friday Q - inspired by this link :

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/06/should-i-watch-frasier.html?utm_source=PMNTNL&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=190729


I hope that made your day! Here’s the Q - has there been a show/movie/performer you took for granted at first and then years later you just GOT and wondered how you could have missed it?

Sean said...

Isn't QT's next (and presumably, last) film going to be an R-rated Star Trek reboot?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Thanks for the review, Ken. I've been looking forward to seeing this picture.
The one thing that surprised me the most about your review was the lack of detail about Tarantino's dialog. Q.T. is known for his dialog. As a writer I thought you'd have a lot more to say about that other than some scenes are too long.

There are many improv schools including The Second City and I.O. that stress "starting the scene in the middle." This eliminates a good deal of the exposition and questions that can bog down a scene. Unfortunately, not all improv classes teach this.

Depends on the feet. I like pretty fast and I don't like ugly feet. Bridget Fonda, nice feet. I'll refrain from criticizing the not so nice ones.

While I don't go to the movies that much any more, when I have gone it has been to matinees. I agree that there are fewer distractions in a virtually empty theater. However, comedies need a full house. They just seem funnier when everyone is laughing.

Finally, since I never saw "Hateful Eight" my clinker would be "Inglorious Bastards." There it seemed as if Q.T. was trying too hard to recapture the magic of "Pulp Fiction," but, this is just my opinion, he fell short.

Polish your toenails, ladies. I'll see you at the theater.
M.B.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Some comments (by Kyle Smith) on the film parallel Ken's:

(Hollywood )is a really good 100-minute movie rattling around inside a 160-minute space...Whole chunks of it — hell, most of the material about one of the two principal characters — are merely decorative.

Tarantino’s evocation of the era’s look and feel, aided by a bounty of forgotten songs by the likes of Paul Revere and the Raiders, is delightful bordering on hypnotic.

Tarantino stops the film regularly to linger on a montage of neon marquees fizzing to life, to cast his eye down a boulevard teeming with period cars, or to look at a 1969 television commercial. There must be scenes from close to a dozen movies and TV shows within the movie, some of them real, some fictitious, others combining forms by inserting today’s actors into vintage footage. Almost none of this drives the plot along.

At one point, he spends maybe 10 minutes having Robbie’s character Tate drive into Westwood, explore the movie theater marquees, introduce herself to the employees, pose for a picture, and watch the movie, all so we can observe that Tate played a klutz in a James Bond retread called The Wrecking Crew. Though Robbie is enchanting as Tate, all that Tarantino manages to establish about her character in several long scenes is that she was sweet and pretty.

Pitt’s character is brilliant. Every time he is on screen, the movie jumps up a couple of notches.

Harley Davidson said...

Despite this being in the QT universe there were a couple of timeline things that bothered me. The modern look of the freeway as mentioned earlier. I loved the Heaven Scent jingle, but they traditionally only ran the radio ads leading up the Christmas and not in February. It was also cool to see "Happening" on the TV. In the scene, they kept talking about wanting to watch TV later that night which was a Sunday as The FBI and Bonanza were on. "Happening" ran on ABC on Saturdays, although this may have been a tape delay. BUT...I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. The length was not an issue, I'd like to spend a little more time in 1969.

estiv said...

I generally agree with your take on lots of things, but this time it's pretty much 100%. The only point I can think to add is that in our era of superstar directors, there seems to be a tendency for those who have the strongest visions to somehow lose their way. The other two who come to mind immediately are Steven Spielberg and (although he's been dead for twenty years) Stanley Kubrick. Spielberg films like Munich and Lincoln have beautiful, enthralling moments but sometimes are kind of inert, and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut had some amazing set pieces marred by an overall glacial pace. I'd guess that the common factor (Tarantino too) is that eventually they work only with acolytes and admirers around them. Anyone who might have said "Maybe you should cut that scene" never makes it into the inner circle in the first place. Billy Wilder and John Ford never had that problem.

I don't really mean this as a diss, more a cautionary tale. There can be such a thing as too much professional success.

thevidiot said...

I don't know the answer to this so I'll throw it out: Were the big blue readable LA street signs there in 1969 or was their presence a bit of a mistake? I enjoyed it, even with the longer scenes & I'm an editor.

ventucky said...

This movie had no plot until the last 45 minutes. Can't really even say it's the third act. Only the third time in a theater in 10 years, can't pause for the bathroom. I'm 58, and most of the crowd was in their late 60's to 80's, matinee obviously. All I can say is Brad and Leo were spectacular, regardless of it mostly being a series of not closely related vignettes. I really felt the first watch is to familiarize yourself, but this clearly needs a second viewing to let the story gel in your head a little better. Someone mentioned not liking Inglorious Basterds. Watched it the other day. I liked it better than the new one. But Pulp and Jackie are easily my favorites.

Tony.T said...

In Perth, in the early Eighties, when I had just left school, I saw several movies where I was the only person in the cinema; and one, Flying High (Airplane), where me and two friends were the only ones there.

Peter said...

Scott Mumford

A quick glance at your post and I saw the words "third act" and that was enough for me to not read it.

Do you understand what "PLEASE refrain from posting spoilers" means?

I'm going to skip reading this thread till I've seen the film. It seems some people just can't help themselves.

MikeN said...

Ken, I'm shocked to see this review. Not for what it says, but for what was left out- the real reason you like this movie. Kyle Smith missed the significance, but I know you didn't.

CarolMR said...

FYI, Margaret Qualley is Andie MacDowell's daughter.

Barry Rivadue said...

The most outrageous, crazy and wild 10th movie Tarantino could do would be to make it within the confines of a G rating! Imagine the creativity needed to do that and still evoke memorable dialogue and scenes? If he wants a challenge, that would be it. I'm only kidding 40%. :)

Buttermilk Sky said...

First time I ever saw the "nine symphonies and out" rule applied to movie directors. Nobody ever mentions Shostakovich (14), Mozart (41) or Haydn (104).

MikeN said...

There were a lot of actors' kids cast in this film.
The Ringer did a roundup of which characters were real and which were fake, though they also missed the detail that Ken left out of his review.

Was Mirabella supposed to represent a specific actress?

Ed from SFV said...

My God how I love this movie!

Margot is radiant. Pitt as Cliff as Dirty Harry. The music. The ads. The constant anticipation. The Oscar-caliber Art Direction. The Great Escape! Steve McQueen. Luke Perry in a wonderful coda to his career. The ultra-cool drive along iconic streetscapes in the convertible. Soooo much communicated about the Mansons with little said, and almost no violence.

The biggest misstep was Pacino's producer/agent. I genuinely appreciate the effort behind it, though.

The biggest lingering/unanswered question? Not if Cliff was a killer. Oh no. It's...What would happen if Bruce Lee fought Cassius Clay?! Maybe that could be movie #10?

Mike Doran said...

The thought occurs to me that if the AMC chain is going to charge me $15 for a single ticket to an afternoon showing of a two-and-three-quarter hour episode of Drunk History, plus another $20 for refreshments, the very least they ought to do is provide bedpans for older patrons such as myself, to see us through the distended "climax".

QTpie says he's only going to make one more movie.
Promises, promises …

Andrew said...

@Buttermilk Sky,
Yes, but the "curse of the nine" is referring to the great composers, not the mediocrities.
Just kidding.

Todd Everett said...

I liked the dog food labels.


Picture dragged a bit for me at times, but never for long. And as Roger Ebert used to say (and still would be): No bad picture is "too short" and no good picture is "too long."

Irv said...

Somebody just sent me this link.

https://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/khj-radio-once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood/?fbclid=IwAR2002mGj8SwJg_IOUNUaM1rnnHY3u8VZtSa0MBysQFMItUbTdNSELuWKSo

I want to see this for the KHJ airchecks. My wife for Pitt and DiCaprio. Whatever it takes.

(And here's a vote for the Wind Song spots.)

thomas tucker said...

Let me just say that I don't recommend seeing this movie when you have a hangover.

blogward said...

Yeah, B+ is fair. I definitely felt 'transported' to 1969, and the movie continued to reverberate afterwards. Brad'n'Leo terrific, the whole 'Bounty Law' production subculture intriguing, and a satisfying ending; though I don't think the soundtrack was too memorable. The Charlie Manson 'cameo' brilliant, and Brad (looking very fit at 54) doing his Mike Ehrmentraut thing.

Was the Sharon Tate overcook (and it was) QT compensating for the unreconstructed MCP-oppressed 'Family' girls or something? Or just respecting her memory? Maybe a parallel with Rick's thespian aspirations.

Janet said...

Tarantino also has his STAR TREK reboot film he wants to do and even he was musing whether that should count against his 10 and done since it's not exactly an original.

If I recall, he will count it as he doesn't believe in loopholes for his own rules.

Anonymous said...

Tan-ya! says

SPOILER ALERT -- BUT HEY, THIS IS A REVIEW, SO SORRY BOO-HOO. I waited a few days to see the movie before I read Ken's post. Keen idea, huh?

+++++++++++++++++++++++ BARBED SPOILER WIRE +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Would have accepted the overlength and other indulgences until the last reel.

Then it turned into a bad TV movie, much worse than the television and '60s filmmaking he was affectionately spoofing. Could not believe it. So sad for the victims and their families to see it camped up like that.

+++++++++++++++++++++++ BARBED SPOILER WIRE +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bill in NC said...

Loved the movie and the ending. It was a fairy tale, so appropriate.
The movie is even better on the second viewing.

jfancherla said...

30 minutes - I would cut 60 and you would only notice that it played better. Yes there was lots of detail but most of it was lost in blurry shots from inside moving cars. If I were the art director I would cry at so much of my hard work being invisible.

Totally agree that Tarantino needs an editor that can stand up to him. A 4 hour version for Netflix? Maybe it will contain the scene with Tim Roth who comes up in the credits as having been cut. Also agree that Margaret Qualley is the best thing in the movie. She was hot hot hot!

My rating would be lower than Ken's and I also really wanted to like this movie. I was told by an early viewer that the 3 hours was not too long. It was. While there were a few laughs, I did not find the movie that amusing. Another scene that went nowhere was Brad taking off his shirt. My wife loved it but I kept waiting for it to move the story forward.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I wuz there with you at UCLA's KLA83 campus radio station and my FBook is full of Hey Chuck, you'll LUV this... As someone who suffers at the loud lament when I repeatedly note that I walked outta Pulp Fiction and find most QT stuff as a long unfunny joke lold by a 7-year-old...oh well. QT's interviews are even worse. Gimme Wes Anderson anytime. Look up my SoCal Radio Memories on YouTube/ChuckJPC

mike schlesinger said...

Re "Star Trek"--AFAIK, Tarantino has mainly spoken about writing it, not necessarily directing it, and thus it wouldn't count as one of The Ten.

Jahn Ghalt said...


I consumed much of the promotional interviews for Hollywood before attending the film and more after.

Recommend avoiding Kimmel, as he came too close to implying a spoiler - which Tarantino slipped very nicely with no reaction whatever.

I loved Tarantino's reaction to a post-screening Cannes panel interview question. It implied that he was not sufficiently "woke" about counting lines for Robbie as Tate:

"I reject your question's hypothesis"

It's rumored that a rough cut was over four hours long - this will provide opportunities to suppose how long certain scenes were before the final cut.

(dare we hope for some of those scenes, and deleted scenes, in a future BD/DVD package?)

Completely agree with repoob about Robbie - first shots reminded me of a long-ago statement in a long-ago shot:

"the camera makes love to her face"

Also agree that the 160-plus minutes flew by - even on the second watch in two weekend matinees.

Margaret Qualley, with her brazen vamp, hitching with Pitt to the Spahn Ranch, really stole that scene. Pitt played it very well as an experienced handsome devil who was, not exactly immune to "Pussy's" charms, but innoculated by his life, which was three times longer than hers.

Dave H said...

Something a buddy and I noticed on repeated viewings of the movie was that we think Brad Pitt's wife in the movie is supposed to be Natalie Woods sister and the storyline there may be a dig at Robert Wagner. She says that her sisters name is Natalie. And of course some have always believed Wagner had something to do with Natalie's death. And the scene with brad and his wife is even on a boat. Just thought I would mention that Ken because you are a fan of Natalie.