Monday, August 12, 2019


NOTE: The movie’s been out for several weeks. I won’t spoil the ending but will discuss elements within the film. If you haven’t seen it and want to know nothing other than there are great samples of KHJ radio, then see you tomorrow.

Okay, you’re still here? Then let’s move on.

One thing you can say about ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: People are talking about it. And no two people seem to agree.

Some buy the story completely. Others say it’s about a guy whose only problem is that he’s not as big a star as he was but he’s still working and in demand so boo hoo.

Many applaud Tarantino for creating a rich buddy relationship. Many others note that women hardly ever talk and when they do they don’t have anything interesting to say.

Some critics said Margot Robbie was luminous in the scenes where she was watching her movie. Others say she could have phoned it in. And others still contend that whole sequence was unnecessary.

Plotwise, some moviegoers were annoyed that Tarantino didn’t follow a typical three act structure. Others loved his alternative storytelling.

People I know LOVED the ending. Others felt it was derivative. (In any event, it helps to know the Charles Manson/Sharon Tate/Jay Sebring story beforehand. Seems that Tarantino just assumed everybody knew it, but that is not the case.)

Some felt his movie was style over substance. Others (like me) considered that a big draw. All the KHJ stuff was like porn to me. Is Quentin Tarantino cool or too cool?

One writer friend said all the vintage TV shows characters were watching during the film were more interesting than the scenes themselves and he would have preferred watching the vintage shows.

Tarantino’s trademark violence is another polarizing element. A certain percentage of viewers think it’s over-the-top while fans find it visceral and highly entertaining.

And then there is the length. I’m in the camp that thought the movie was too long. You didn’t need almost three hours to tell that story. Or if you did, you could have thrown in more KHJ. But those in sync with Tarantino loved every frame and probably can’t wait for the DVD to see the additional scenes that were left on the editor’s floor.

No matter where you fall on any of these debates, you have to love the fact that people ARE talking about it. What other movie this year has sparked this much discussion? Most movies today – you sit numbly in your seat and are bludgeoned with special effects. You walk out going “that was cool” or “that sucked” and put it out of your mind completely. With this film, people are thinking about it afterwards. They’re generating real opinions, yay or nay. So for me, that makes ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD the hit of the summer season.

NOTE:  For the next two weeks I am working on a big project and will not have as much internet access as I normally do.  So it will take longer to moderate comments.  Hang in there and continue to comment.  I will get to them eventually.   Thanks much.  Ken


Lemuel said...

I'm not a Tarantino fan but I'm really looking forward to seeing this. INHERENT VICE was the disappointment of that year.

Daniel said...

The divisive reaction you're describing to "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (full disclosure: I haven't seen it so I have no opinion of it) is exactly the same as the reaction to "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" three years ago (which I loved). I seem to recall you being very dismissive of that film and anyone who liked it. Maybe you'd like to reconsider your views on that older film now that a film that you love is proving to be just as divisive?

VincentS said...

FYI: Today is William Goldman's birthday.

Johnny Hy said...

I loved it!! You actually felt that you were in that time period with the music, clothes, cars, businesses decor, tv shows, etc... I bet it was like a time machine that day for you Ken when you visited the area during shooting. I thought Margot Robbie was great and even more so after reading her friends say that she was spot on in her depiction of Sharon Tate.

I agree with you that you will either love it or hate it but that's okay. That's why there are 64 crayons in a box! Good luck with your project.

Melinda Rose Skilondz said...

I liked the way he spins out with fantasy like the stunt man fixing the antenna then spinning out to the bruce lee fantasy and then back to the roof top he goes, "naah.."

tavm said...

It certainly beats any unnecessary Disney live-action remake of the studio's animated classics!

tb said...

I have the urge to see it again, even though I didn't think it was great. I missed a few cameos.

Anonymous said...

Tarantino can be self-indulgent, pompous, and just silly but it's undeniable he knows how to make a movie.
The Brad Pitt- Bruce Lee scene and the Brad Pitt Spahn Ranch scene are classic examples of movie making, worthy of Hitchcock.
The movie is too long by an hour, maybe even an hour and a half.
But it introduces a twist in the Manson story that few have commented on (I'm not talking about the ending0.
At heart the Tate/Manson murders were class revenge.
Sharon Tate and her friends were Hollywood royalty upper class LA.
Charles Manson and his girls were lower class living with rats.
It was lower class murdering upper class
Tarantino introduces a middle class element - Di Caprio upper middle class yearning to be Hollywood royalty.
And Pitt lower middle class with no aspirations.
The make the story richer and give it depth.

Mitchell Hundred said...

I haven't seen the movie, but in case anyone isn't familiar with the whole sordid affair, Karina Longworth did (IMO) a pretty great job of recounting it on her podcast You Must Remember This a couple of years ago.

You can probably find it in the show's back catalogue on iTunes, but if you're just looking for all the Manson episodes in one place, this looks like it has them all.

MikeN said...

Still no mention of Natalie's appearance Ken?

Todd Everett said...

I'm one of those waiting for the long version; there isn't enough in the release print.

I think that Tate/Robbie is much more effect as a Roman candle than they would have been as a forest fire.

(Not enough Anglos in Crazy Rich Asians, by the way. Or women in The Longest Yard. Or, for that matter, men in The Women)

Incidentally, I just noticed that a Rudy Ray Moore biopic is coming up on Netflix; written by the guys who wrote Ed Wood and Bright Eyes, and starring Eddie Murphy. How terrible could that be to escape theatrical release? In any event, I've already got it on my "watch" list.

Looking forward to the project. And, with luck, the progress reports.

Liggie said...

I've heard blowback over the film's portrayal of Bruce Lee, particularly from his widow, and that links to other people's criticisms of Tarantino's treatment of minority characters. For those who have seen the film (I haven't), is that warranted?

Ed from SFV said...

Almost all the negative pieces I've read came from places of ignorance of the backstory. I can't recall any criticisms from folks who lived then which led them to ultimately not recommend the movie.

I've been wracking my brain attempting to find elements which simply did not work. Perhaps the Kurt Russell sequence where the wife's outsized hatred of Cliff was, if not unearned, outsized to the point of farce. However, the point being made that Cliff was a pariah in parts of the industry was a necessary one. The guy seemed to be quite talented. He was certainly easy on the eyes.

I am sick to death (as in I go to a very few movies anymore) of being hit over the head with obviousness. The assumed intelligence of the general audience, with excellent reason, is that they can't think. Spoon-fed plot development (if there even IS a plot) is the order of the day and has been for years. OUATIH demands an audience who can grasp subtlety and irony.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Keeping with my personal policy of ignoring 'low life news' (including the wealthy low life who was found hanging by his neck in a jail this weekend) I knew very little about the "Manson murders". Just knowing that Sharon Tate was one of those killed was enough to instill dread in me at the Ranch scene and as the fateful hour approached near the end.

Mass culture was pervasive enough in 1969 Alaska that the music and "real" TV shows and 'real" ads grabbed me from the get go (along with other Alaskans who went with me.) The "fake" TV scenes that Tarantino shot helped with that too.

For my money, this was the shortest 160-minute film I've ever seen. As for an upcoming release on Blu Ray/DVD, I've heard that the rough cut was over four hours - I'll take a copy of that.

Another "controversial" topic is the treatment of the late Bruce Lee. His daughter thought the scene with was unfair and inaccurate.

It could have been worse. At one press junket, Pitt stated that he had lobbied and succeeded in keeping the sparing match an unresolved "tie" (though we all saw what was coming).

Tarantino commented that a biography (by his wife) was the source for Lee's claim that he would beat Muhammad Ali in a fight:

OTOH, another biographer told Esquire that Lee's "cripple Ali" statement is "completely inaccurate":

The opening shot of Robbie as Tate reminded me of a director's comment made long ago about another lovely actress:

"The camera makes love to her face"

Our host has occasionally registered disapproval of actors who "count their lines". Contrast with Elizabeth Moss who has said that she treasured her solo line-less scenes in Mad Men. Robbie has stated a similar sentiment - perhaps the first time was at a post-premiere press conference at Cannes. Right at the end a New York Times reporter brought up the "too few lines" "question" - Tarantino's response:

"I just reject your hypothesis"

Peter said...

I can't read this post and comments till I see Once Upon on Wednesday when it opens in the UK.

Friday Q:

Have you heard of a godawful British sitcom called Mrs Brown's Boys? It's about an Irish family and the matriarch is played by a man in drag, the show's creator and writer. The so-called comedy is supposed to come from the fact it's a man in drag and that he frequently shouts "fuck" in a strong Irish accent. Oh the hilarity.

Despite being a pile of shit, it's become incredibly popular with mainstream audiences here in the UK. Given that millions also watch Love Island, that doesn't say much.

Anyway, while channel surfing recently, I paused for a few seconds on Mrs Brown's Boys and saw the show's star, Brendan O'Carroll, shamelessly steal a joke from The Simpsons, the "press any key" computer joke in which Homer said "I don't see the anykey!" Same set-up, same punchline. Now I have even more reason to despise this pile of shit show and its no-talent creator/star.

sanford said...

I don't know if many people knew this and Ken did not mention it but Burt Reynolds was supposed to play the George Spahn role. He had a heart attack the day he was supposed to film the role. And wrote one of the funniest lines in the movie.

404 said...

I saw it and loved it, but I also agree that it was a bit too long.

As far as the Bruce Lee scene goes, I can see why his family might be upset with the portrayal, but since I don't know much about how he was in real life I can't say whether it was warranted. As far as how the fight goes, I think it's important to establish that Brad Pitt's character really knows how to fight, which helps later on.

I agree that the scene of him at the Spahn Ranch was cinema gold. Honestly, Brad Pitt is gold throughout this entire film.

Friday question, Ken: were actor/stunt double relationships like Leo's and Brad's characters common back in the day? I mean their professional relationship -- did an actor find a stunt double he liked and just stick with him throughout the rest of his career? I always assumed that would just be a casting decision made on each individual movie or TV show.

Jeff Boice said...

I haven't seen the movie. But I like the idea of someone making a major motion picture that has no comic book superheroes and is not a sequel or a part of any franchise. What a relief!

blogward said...

It's a great film, almost as if it's a rediscovered epic made in 1968, which may explain how it's so white-male heavy. Pitt and DeCaprio as the new Redford and Newman.

MikeN said...

Grrr, just saw another review that gets it wrong.
Did anyone realize Cliff's killing his wife was a direct reference to Natalie Wood?

keith brodkorb said...

The detail that Tarantino goes to in his movies makes each one an adventure. If you like his cinema makes that even better, but I enjoy the discovery and to some the re-discovery of his music selections. As he has stated before he goes to great pains to pick the exact song choices for all the scenes. And anytime Paul Revere and the Raiders get played the world is a better place. A long ignored band from the 1960's that deserve their due in music history.

Jane Morrison said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter said...

Saw it today. Only one cinema in London is screening it in 35mm and that's where I went to see it. It was great seeing a film projected in 35mm again, especially one shot so beautifully.


The first thing I can say is that I definitely need to watch it again. There's just so much to take in on a first viewing. But based on my first viewing, I enjoyed it but it felt slightly insubstantial. There's lots of stuff in there, much of it great, some of it self-indulgent, but I'm not sure it amounts to being a truly great film. Did it really need the Manson family aspect? I'd already guessed going in that it was going to be an alternate history take on Manson/Sharon Tate, much like killing off Hitler during Inglorious Basterds. The ultra violent scene in which Pitt kills the Manson family members was incredibly cathartic and fun though.

As others have said, Margaret Qualley was terrific. But no one's mentioned Dakota Fanning. I thought she totally killed it in her brief scene. Brilliant performance.

I had pangs of melancholy watching this because it's the final performance by Luke Perry, and the whole time I was watching Bruce Dern, I was trying to imagine how Burt Reynolds would have said those lines.

I would happily watch a longer cut, especially if it means seeing more of Robbie as Tate.

Far superior to The Hateful Eight, but not up there with his very best, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown.

Dave H said...

this movie has had the most online discussion that I have seen in a long time. some people hate this movie and some people love I have seen the movie a couple times and it gets better with each viewing. I love the performances by everyone.

And after the screenings I have seen people huddled talking about the movie in the lobby. some liking it and some not and people debating it. I think that's awesome that the movie is bringing out that passion in movie goers. better than people walking out of it and not giving it a second thought which happens all the time. the movie has just passed the 100 million mark which is great for a Tarantino movie and for a r rated movie. and the only non reboot, sequel, or super hero movie to make that much this summer.

but as someone else mentioned if you don't know who Sharon Tate or the manson family are you will be lost. I have been telling people to read up on them before seeing it. you will enjoy the movie that much more.

Joe Klein said...

Finally saw the film yesterday, Ken. Pretty much feel the same was as you do. But I really enjoyed it. Loved the KHJ "airchecks" that made it into the film, but.....the longest one of ROBERT W. MORGAN followed a graphic that indicated it was SUNDAY! As we both know, Morgan was NOT on Sunday "Morgans" at KHJ! LOL!

Johnny Walker said...

My experience watching it went like this:

Christ this is slow.
Seriously something happen.
Why is nothing happening.
When is something going to happen?
Oh wow, I got sucked in for a moment there.

Yes, it's an odd movie, but that really is what makes it special. I've never felt LA so clearly captured on film before. I said to my friends THAT'S what it feels like to be there! Is it slow? Yes. Is it perfect? No way. There are all kinds of faults (Tarantino can't write remotely believable crappy TV for one thing). Does it do a wonderful job capturing a time and place? You bet your ass. Does it feature the best DiCaprio performance of his career? Arguably yes. But the film has stuck with me (and I mean really stuck with me) because of the world it captures. The characters were just backdropping for the late 1960s Los Angeles, but so what? It's different.

It's truly a magical movie, and for a three hour movie where so little happens, you still HAVE to see it on the big screen.

The ending was perfect, too. I won't say why.

McTom said...

Saw it in Glorious 35mm. ...with audible 1k cue pops at every reel change, lots of fleeting film dirt, particularly on the right side of the screen, and one entire reel with two running parallel vertical scratches. Anyone know if this was deliberate Tarantino grindhouse film look, or is this one argument for digital > film, especially considering Alamo Drafthouse's brag that "Each 35mm print is treated with the utmost care and respect from our professional projectionists"?