Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Also known as: Untitled #9, #9 (working titles)
Release Date: May 21st, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: various
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Julia Butters, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Samantha Robinson, Rafal Zawierucha, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Maya Hawke, Harley Quinn Smith, Danielle Harris, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Dreama Walker, Clu Gulager, Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Toni Basil, Quentin Tarantino (voice), Vincent Laresca, Lew Temple, James Marsden (extended release), Walton Goggins (voice, extended release)

Visiona Romantica, Heyday Films, Bona Fide Group, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 161 Minutes

Review:

“When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell.” – Narrator

It’s probably no secret that I really loved Quentin Tarantino’s earlier films.

However, his more recent stuff hasn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way. I think a lot of that has to do with his reliance on his dialogue and his films coming across as a handful (or less) of long conversations with a bit of cool shit sprinkled in and an overabundance of ultraviolence that isn’t as effective as it once was and often times feels out of place and jarring.

That being said, I really fucking dug Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

It’s not a picture without its flaws but it’s well constructed, well written and perfectly paced, which isn’t something I can say for the rest of Tarantino’s more modern pictures.

I haven’t liked a Tarantino movie this much since the Kill Bill films.

I’m not sure what changed in the way that he paces and constructs his movies but this plays much more like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown and that’s a very, very good thing.

A lot of credit has to go to the massive cast, all of whom felt perfect in their roles. It was really cool to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play best buds and sort of go on this adventure together. Their characters were an homage to Burt Reynolds and his stuntman, Hal Needham, who were really close and had a tight bond for years.

DiCaprio’s character was also based off of all the television western actors who were once big stars but never seemed to be able to move on to bigger projects and sort of got typecast and brushed aside.

The third main character in the film is Margot Robbie, who plays a fictionalized version of Sharon Tate, the most famous victim in the Charles Manson murders.

However, like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this film doesn’t follow history’s path and it carves out its own unique story. But I’ve always really loved alternative history takes in fiction. Hell, The Man In the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is one of my all-time favorite novels. I still haven’t watched the television show, though.

Anyway, the film does run long but it’s not as exhausting as The Hateful Eight. We’re not trapped in one room for three hours, here. Instead, we get to explore old-timey Hollywood in an era where it was leaving its glamorous age behind and moving into the darker, grittier, post-Code era.

There are some scenes, while pretty cool, that probably didn’t need to be in the film and don’t serve much purpose other than amusing the director.

One such scene is the fight between Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it didn’t serve the story other than to show how cool and tough Booth was but by this point in the movie, we already knew that. It was also a way for Tarantino to wedge in a few more cameos, in this case: Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell, two of his faves.

The sequence that really cemented this film as being pretty solid was the one that took place at the ranch. Here, Brad Pitt’s Booth discovers that an old friend’s ranch has become infested with cultish hippies, who the audience comes to learn are associated with Charles Manson. It’s an absolutely chilling sequence that builds up suspense in a way that I haven’t seen Tarantino do since the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, a decade prior.

The climax of the film is also well constructed and pretty fucking intense. This is the part of the film where history is altered and we get to see some epic Tarantino-styled justice befall the force of evil that has been brooding over the story for over two hours.

I probably should have seen this in the theater and I believe that it’s the only Tarantino picture that I haven’t seen on the big screen. However, his two previous films exhausted me and I assumed that this would do the same. But I’m glad to say that this seems like a return to form and I hope this momentum carries over into his future projects.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other more modern Tarantino films.

Film Review: The Love Witch (2016)

Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Directed by: Anna Biller
Written by: Anna Biller
Music by: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum

Oscilloscope Laboratories, 120 Minutes

Review:

“According to the experts, men are very fragile. They can get crushed down if you assert yourself in any way.” – Elaine

The Love Witch definitely flew under the radar when it came out back in November of 2016. Granted, I doubt anywhere near me had it in the theater anyway. I did see a trailer recently though and it captivated me from a stylistic standpoint. Also, I saw that this was pretty well regarded by critics, as it holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So when it dropped on Amazon Video, I had to check it out.

I haven’t seen Anna Biller’s other film Viva but after seeing The Love Witch, I am pretty stoked to check that one out too.

In a nutshell, the story follows a witch named Elaine. We learn that she went through a lot of emotional turmoil after her husband left her well before the start of the film. Since that time, she turned towards witchcraft and found herself, in a sense. She uses her power to attract men through magical means but her love spells come with unforeseen and tragic consequences. This doesn’t deter her, however, as she is hellbent on finding a man that will love her.

Elaine is played by virtual unknown Samantha Robinson. Robinson is absolutely stellar in her role and I hope that this opens doors for her because this film is destined to grow into a cult classic and develop a loyal following. She is alluring in the right way and even though she has selfish motivations and seems to be mostly indifferent to the negative effects of her magic, you still feel deeply for her and want her to find find love, at least in the beginning. As she gets deeper into her schemes and her cycle of wreckage continues, she goes on from being a sad and tragic character to an out of control despicable narcissist. Realistically, she was this all along but as the film progresses, you come to understand that she will not stop until she is satisfied and by this point, you know that she will never be satisfied.

When I read about the production of this film, I was pretty astounded by the level of detail and design that went into it. Not only is it directed, written and musically scored by Anna Biller but she also did the paintings that populate the film and made the costumes, as well. Everything is visually enchanting and the attention to detail really makes the film take on a life of its own, existing in a surreal and magical world but still feeling grounded in reality, in some way.

The Love Witch looks like a picture from the 60s or 70s. It has vibrant giallo-like tones, which serve the film more than just being window dressing. The tea room scenes are exceptionally beautiful. On top of that, everything is well shot; the cinematography is perfect through its lighting and in the way that it captures the vivid and lively visual tones. It is a fantastical film but it feels lived in and real, which isn’t an easy feat with something so stylized.

This is a highly entertaining film. The only thing I can really be nitpicky about is the running time. It comes in at exactly two hours and it moves along nicely but the second act felt like it could have moved along a wee bit quicker.

The Love Witch is enchanting, mostly due to its visual style and the execution and allure of its star. Also, it benefits from the use of its presentational acting style. It feels more like a stage performance where we, the audience, are sitting front row and drawn deeply into the production. Additionally, the dialogue in just about every scene is perfect. I loved the banter in this movie and it was incredibly well-written and presented on screen.

I was surprised by how much I liked the film and I appreciate how much effort went into it. While I wouldn’t consider this a picture for everyone, it is certainly one that will find its audience and develop a much deserved level of respect and admiration.

Rating: 8/10