Review Catch-Up: Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Once upon a time in Hollywood” is a film about several topics blended together. Yes, it’s a film about Hollywood experiencing a tumultuous evolution in its creative output at the end of the 1960’s, but it is also a film about ageing and the perspective that comes with the passage of time. It’s also about a few dastardly dirty hippies and a multitude of references to decades-old film and television shows and the actors that appeared in them. At times “Once upon a time in Hollywood” can feel like a departure from Tarantino’s earlier work in that this period-piece rumination about Hollywood at the end of an era takes a slower, almost meditative pace at times, but ask anyone who’s seen it and they can tell you that it’s definitively still a Tarantino picture.

This one centers around film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, and part time chauffeur, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick and Cliff are a fascinating duo, as Rick often plays machismo fueled leading men in westerns and war films, yet he’s obsessed with how others perceive his acting to the point of vanity. He can be soft and vulnerable when alone, depressed and weeping over a bungling of lines on a western TV show. While Cliff on the other hand seems to exude all of the qualities that Rick’s characters represent; calmness, masculinity, and violence when the need arises. Tarantino’s ninth film is happy to let you simmer pleasantly with its two lead characters for long stretches of time. It’s content to follow Cliff as he drives Rick in his creamy yellow 1966 Cadillac Coupe de Ville to his home in the Hollywood hills only then to switch to his blue, beaten-up, 1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and traverse a sea of neon lights out to a small trailer behind a drive-in movie theater. These two characters, clearly, live and breathe different air- yet seem inseparable as partners in the world of cinema.

Eventually, the film’s story opens up a bit and some questionable characters take our attention. We get a glimpse of Charlie Manson (Damon Herriman) himself, but it is fleeting. We also see Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) a few times, but his sightings are almost as rare. However we do get a lot more footage of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as she goes about her daily life. We watch her casually going to the theater to see one of her own movies, dancing to records at home, and generally being a good-hearted person. While the film takes fairly massive liberties with how the actual real-life events of the Manson family murders took place, there are a lot of accurate details filling out the world Tarantino has crafted. For example, it isn’t just Tarantino’s oft-reported obsession with women’s feet, apparently Sharon Tate was frequently barefoot and would occasionally put rubber-bands around her ankles to make it look like she was wearing sandals so she could get into restaurants. So while shots of bare feet may not be everyone’s thing, it is accurate in this case (source linked below). Tarantino simply inserted his two leads next door to the scene of the infamous crime. In “Hollywood”, Rick Dalton is the next door neighbor to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, to which Rick plans to turn a chance meeting with the famed director into an opportunity for the, self described, washed-up actor. Beyond the residents of the Hollywood hills, this film is filled to the gills with celebrity cameos, sometimes as an influential movie mogul as with Al Pacino, other times purely as minimal side characters like Kurt Russell’s ‘Randy’ or Timothy Olyphant’s character actor side-by-side Rick Dalton’s guest appearance on the pilot episode of western show ‘Lancer‘. The dialogue here is, as always with Tarantino, very good. However it isn’t quite as punchy as say “The Hateful Eight” or “Inglorious Basterds”, but that shouldn’t turn you toward the door, it’s just a different spice added to Tarantino’s oeuvre.

By now you probably know whether or not Quentin Tarantino’s style of filmmaking is for you, but even if you don’t appreciate the filmmaker- you have to admit that his skill in the medium is ageing like a fine wine. Tarantino has been saying that he’ll put down a ten film legacy and be done with making movies, but this film itself is a great argument against that. If he doesn’t want to make more than ten films, then he has earned that and his place in Hollywood’s history, but I highly doubt someone as in love with the art of filmmaking and movies in general will ever give it up. Here’s hoping for at least a few more films from the legendary director!

Final Score: 1 Flamethrower


Review: Snowden or “Nerd becometh Spy”

Today the world knows the name Edward Snowden. I remember driving home from work and listening to the radio as broadcasters recounted the hysteria surrounding this most elusive man that fled the country for fear of federal retribution. He had told the world of our government’s dirty secrets. The American government was spying on the whole world, even ourselves. Was he a hero? Or a traitor? The debate raged as we all followed the story of the former NSA operative that had leaked evidence to London’s The Guardian news organization. Eventually he ended up in Moscow while trying to get to Ecuador for asylum when our government was seizing the Ecuadorian leader’s plane and searching for him. So it goes.

What I enjoyed about this film was that it managed to make a normal man in an extraordinary situation compelling enough for film. This is mostly due to the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the titular Snowden, and Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Don’t get me wrong though, the rest of the cast was great as well and I was pleasantly surprised to see many more recognizable faces throughout the film’s runtime. The bigger names included Rhys Ifans as Snowden’s CIA mentor, Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian alongside Tom Wilkinson as Ewen MacAskill, Timothy Olyphant as a charming- yet seedy- NSA operative, and even a restrained Nic Cage! Oh and Scott Eastwood as a manager of sorts in the NSA, at least he was more useful here than in Suicide Squad, he’s getting better.

Oliver Stone wisely begins the movie with Snowden’s initial meeting with the journalists and retreads how he came to this point beginning with his time in the military before transfering to the intelligence field after discovering his physical limitations. He starts out on the side of conservatism as he rapidly advances through the CIA’s programs. Shortly thereafter he meets Lindsay Mills, a staunch and passionate liberal. They hit it off and Stone wisely makes this relationship the emotional cornerstone of the film. From there we follow Snowden as he witnesses the government’s reach grow as does his security clearances because of his own intellect and skill. Snowden increasingly becomes unsettled by the actions of those around him as his suspiscion of our government’s intentions intensifies.

At one point Snowden prompts Lindsay to be more careful about her personal content on her computer. She retorts with “Why should I care? I have nothing to hide.” That’s just it though, people deserve the right to privacy, you don’t have to have anything to hide for that to matter. Oliver Stone does a fine job in handling this debate in my opinion, and its a very important discussion that we seem to be terrible at having, or even considering at times. The difference between how people behave and act in public spaces versus in their own privacy is important and a neccesary component to a healthy society. Stone’s film does take a side, clearly, and this may not be the most action heavy, or awe inspiring movie of the year but it certainly centers itself on a subject and event that people seem to have forgotten in as little as three years time when we really should have taken that time to consider the ramifications of what he did. Snowden is heroic because he gave up his own freedoms and life in order to be the digital canary in the coal mine, he told the world a terrifying truth-we’ve given up our own freedoms and privacy without even realizing it.

Where the film lacks for me is that while the conversation is inherently interesting the story as a whole never quite goes there, if you know what I mean. The film lacks that satisfying punch, it lends itself more to a subdued restraint. It’s similar to a good joke, the build up is fascinating, but the punchline lacks the bluster you want, while still being kinda funny. This film is a good joke, but not a great one. However I cannot state enough the importance of the content at hand. This film will probably go down in the annals of film history as being more talked about and discussed than watched and rewatched, but maybe that’s okay. Not every film needs that. Some just need to present you with a debate, or an idea. Snowden does that, and in my opinion it succeeds by doing so effectively.

Final Score: 4/5