Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): There Lived an Actor and His Stunt Double

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) and stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Titanic), Brad Pitt (World War Z, Allied), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Speed Racer), Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers, Death Note), Timothy Olyphant (Santa Clarita Diet, Live Free or Die Hard), Austin Butler (Switched at Birth, Arrow), Dakota Fanning (Coraline, The Twilight Saga: New Moon), Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight, The ‘Burbs), and Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman, Heat). This film takes place in Hollywood around the time of the Manson murders during 1969. The story focuses on the dynamic duo of the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton) and Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth). Dalton is an actor and Booth is Dalton’s stunt double. Together, they have a hunger for fame and fortune as the Golden Age of Hollywood comes to a close.

If you have been following this blog in recent weeks, you may have gotten the implication that I have just recently introduced myself to the masterful works of Quentin Tarantino, a director known for his quirky style, gritty scripts, and his enthusiasm to deliver a rather nostalgic vibe to his films. And this film is no exception. It is shot using 35mm film, it takes place in 1969, and it is designed to be presented as a love letter to ancient Hollywood. It has callbacks to real life Hollywood figures including Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee, James Stacy, and Sharon Tate. There are tons of throwback cars that can be seen that truly highlight the automobile culture of California that seems to continue to exist today. It kind of reminded me of “Amercian Graffiti” a little bit.

My excitement for this film was through the roof as soon as the tickets went on sale. I called my dad, he and I agreed to go on opening Thursday, I picked to go to the 7:30 show at the Somerville Theatre, which if you are not from Massachusetts, it is a 100 year old theatre that has a few screens, but one of them is in a grand auditorium that shows a lot of event-type films. I was there last year for the 70mm film festival, more specifically, for when they showed John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” It was my second time watching the film, and the atmosphere was turned up to an 11 when it came to how lively the crowd happened to be. I thought we were going to get a few people to show up for this film, because let’s face it, “The Lion King” is out right now, everyone’s going to see that, and unlike “The Thing,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was playing for more than one night. Plus, it didn’t have reserved or reclined seating. People seem to flock to those two things nowadays.

And I’ll let you in on a little something about “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” It’s the single best movie experience I had this year. Yes, better than “Endgame.” The atmosphere was almost dead during “Endgame,” there are several moments in this movie where people would shout, yell, laugh, applaud, it felt like I went to the world premiere of a “Star Wars” film. It was the very definition of exhilerating! The theater might have been sold out, if not super close to being sold out. I got to chat to a guy in the row in front of me about Tarantino films, there was a lovely lady I got to talk to about his work and other people’s films. This was clearly going to be an experience to remember. OK… maybe this has to do with the atmosphere of the film. But how was the movie you ask? F*cking nuts! It’s a special kind of awesome! I mean, could you expect anything less from Tarantino? This is the fourth movie I have seen from him, and this is probably my 2nd favorite. This film is full of excellent scenes with great characters, lines of dialogue that made me laugh and cheer, and fantastic setpieces.

For those of you who don’t know, part of the production of this movie involved transforming Hollywood as if it were presented in the 1960s, and I think the movie did a really good job with it. All of the neon lights shining everywhere and the plethora of signs set the mood, I dug the driving scenes that really had that flair of fun attached to it, and I felt immersed into the world that happened to be presented almost to the point that I imagined myself as a part of it, and I think from watching “Pulp Fiction” and this film, that is something that I think Tarantino can do very well. And this may be a big reason why I enjoyed this film so much. No matter what movie I have seen from Tarantino so far, the appropriate vibe is automatically set. But I feel that Tarantino, from what I have seen so far, has done a better job with his films when they are slightly more grounded in reality. Even though I saw “The Hateful Eight” and there can be a definite argument that that film grounds itself in reality a little bit, it doesn’t really have characters that I can latch onto. The characters in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” feel raw, they feel like people I would probably run into at one point in my life. Maybe I’m biased since this takes place in Hollywood and I am an aspiring filmmaker and I can picture myself working with people who are similar in some ways to these characters, but my case still stands. “The Hateful Eight” has characters that at times are interesting, but for one reason or another, I just can’t relate to all of them.

And this is why I really enjoyed the main characters of the film, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. The two legitimately feel like a best friend pair, and seeing a number of scenes with the two together happened to be entertaining. Whether they were working or hanging out, they just made the movie worth watching. If I had to be honest, when it comes to acting, it’s almost difficult declaring whether DiCaprio or Pitt had the better performance because for one thing they’re both great actors. Not to mention, when you put the two together, they have the perfect recipe for a friendship. Plus, it kind of makes sense since in the movie Booth has to emulate Dalton in productions together, so in a way they have to act like they’re the same person. I’m not saying they are in real life. Both have their individual characteristics and storylines and they hypnotized me. I’ll also point out that the proper execution and quirkiness of said storylines are part of why I would want to go see this in the theater a second time.

And you want to know the best part about this movie? I can’t speak for everybody, but pretty much the entire theater, and this is a lot of people, happened to be dying laughing. This is why I enjoy going to movies with crowds, not to mention in cities (which I did technically for this film) because recent experiences have shown that my urban movie experiences (mainly during early access screenings) have usually gotten better reactions than ones I’d traditionally experience elsewhere. It felt like I was part of the worldwide Tarantino cult, they just accepted me after introducing me to their rituals, and we all came together for an experience of a lifetime.

As for myself, I am kind of in an unfortunate position because I have been exposed to tons of content, and as much as I enjoy watching certain comedies, I often feel like I have “seen it all” or seen enough to know what to expect. Here, I was laughing through a number of scenes, I was appreciating a lot of the dialogue that has been uttered, and it never felt like the movie lost its groove. It was one interesting moment after another. And this all builds up to the big. F*cking. Climax of a lifetime! It is quite literally a Tarantinogasm of super f*cked-up awesomeness on a stick! Is it the best climax or ending in movie history? No, it’s not, but it is by far one of the wildest. I cannot recall the last time, or at least the last recent time, that I laughed as hard as I did during this climax with all the s*it that was going down. I cannot go into it, but the climax alone is worth the price of admission, everything else feels like an appetizer. I, like pretty much everyone else in the world, saw “Avengers: Endgame” this year, and I thought the climax to that, especially as a geek, was fantastic. This ending, to me, wasn’t fantastic. It was bloody phenomenal!

And by the way, speaking of movies I saw this year, one of my other highlights happens to be “John Wick: Chapter 3.” That franchise, as you may know, has a lot of emphasis put on dogs, and the most recent installment manages to continue highlighting their importance to everything that’s going on. In my review for that film, I said it had my favorite dog-related scene of the year. That thought has since changed because “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has a scene that I really cannot go into involving a dog. If you have seen the movie, you may know what I am talking about. It’s almost out of left field in the best possible way. Talking about it feels like a sin because it’s something I really want to do, but it feels wrong because, well in this case, spoilers could flood out of my mouth.

Just… See this movie, my gosh it’s f*cking ride.

I will say though…

The film is not perfect.

Yes, I have raved about this movie to death. Both in person and on here, but there is one single, solitary flaw that I have with the film.

And to my disappointment, it kind of involves Margot Robbie’s character of Sharon Tate, because despite how she may have cool scenes, and how she has a relation to one of the film’s characters who is mentioned by name, she almost had no real part in this movie, or at least one that contributes to the bigger picture of what is happening. And I will admit, it was sad to see her in this film after realizing she is watching the last film she will be alive to see herself in. But even with that, her character could have had more depth to her. She didn’t feel lifeless, Robbie portrayed the character very well, and she was charming. Kind of like how in “Suicide Squad,” the movie itself wasn’t the greatest, but Robbie did an excellent job portraying Harley Quinn. I’d probably have to watch the movie again to decide whether or not this storyline was necessary because there is a part of me that does think it is compelling and is a part of this old Hollywood love letter, but also begs to question how needed it really is.

Nevertheless, the movie is still an excitement bomb. It is still one of my favorite movies of the year, and I would INSTANTLY go back to the theater and watch this film again because I saw this film with my dad, we couldn’t stop talking about it on the way home, and he made an interesting comment. He was laughing so hard that he must have missed something. When your film is good enough to possibly allow that to happen, a repeat viewing is inevitable. Will I go back and see the film one more time? Hopefully, but only time will tell. And if I do, I will be really damn excited.

In the end, the hype is real for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Tarantino once again presents himself as the cinematic mastermind he has always been made out to be. The film utilizes a lot of practical effects to turn Hollywood back fifty years, to say the acting is solid is an understatement, and there are several scenes I will be looking forward to viewing once I see this movie again, because it is absolutely phenomenal. And again, the Sharon Tate thing, I liked certain scenes she was in, but her character almost felt tacked on. I could grow in appreciation for her. After all she’s played by Margot Robbie, who is one of the most beautiful women working in film right now, so who knows? This is not to say she can’t act, because again, she was charming. And there are several films that I have seen this year that are funny. A couple of examples include “Long Shot” and “Fighting with My Family.” But when it comes to comedic timing and writing, this film is most likely going to be the absolute best we are going to get this year in terms of comedy. Between the awesome and brilliantly written final act, the investing opening scenes where we get to know our lovely main duo, and a gag involving dog food, there is so much to enjoy in this one film. I cannot wait to talk more about this film with other people and I cannot wait for this film to come out on Blu-ray. I’m going to give “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” a very high 9/10. I have a feeling, and it’s just a feeling for now, depending on replay value and how I feel about certain aspects of this film over time, this could increase to a 10. I’m not sure, but this was one of the best looking films of the year, one of the most well shot movies of the year, one of the most interestingly written scripts of the year despite my flak given to Sharon Tate, and one of the most compelling ensembles of the year. But seriously, Tarantino, you are a god and we do not deserve you. Thank you for this orgasmic movie! And if it means anything, I’m pretty sure this has to be the best “9” movie of the decade so far. So a score change may be possible, who knows?

Thanks for reading this review! I just want to let everyone know that next weekend is the release of the “Fast & Furious” spinoff, “Hobbs and Shaw.” I probably won’t see the film right away because I’m going out of state for a night, but I will likely make a commitment to get my ass in the theater at some point. It is a movie that I am looking forward to simply because it looks absurd for all the right reasons, so once I can see it, I will take that opportunity. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Do you have a Facebook? Check out my Facebook page! You can get all the latest info from your favorite movie reviewing moron regarding upcoming content, new posts, and more! I want to know, did you see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Quentin Tarantino movie? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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