Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

I’ve slept on this review because I just haven’t been sure about what to say. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this movie experience, quite the opposite. It’s by one of my favourite directors* so there’s a lot to love and I did enjoy it overall, I think it’s just that – there’s a lot to unpack.

All I’m really sure about is that I need another viewing STAT and next time probably in the comfort of my own home. Without two drunk Aussies sitting directly in front of me waving their arms about.

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

The 9th Film from Quentin Tarantino.

*Spoiler*

My Review

Ageing movie and now TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is having a crisis of career confidence. Relegated to bad guy of the week guest spots, he’s reluctant to take his seasoned talent to Italy’s spaghetti westerns as suggested by big shot casting agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino). His long time stunt double and now personal assistant Cliff Booth (Pitt) drives him around wherever he needs to go and that’s about it. When Dalton gets him a stunt gig on his latest project, Booth fucks it up by beating up the talent. The talent being one Bruce Lee (Mike Moh).

This leaves Booth at a loose end so it’s no wonder he ends up in the company of a prepubescent hippie girl at Spahn Ranch, home of the Manson Family. Meanwhile, Dalton’s next door neighbour, rising star Sharon Tate (Robbie) is on her own journey.

On the surface of it, that’s about it – except that we’re all familiar with the story of the Tate murders and this adds to the ambience. Plus its a QT movie so that’s never just it. As Robbie’s luminous Tate lights up the screen it’s with trepidation that we following her arc – knowing how it all ends. I honestly didn’t know what to expect or where they were going with the Manson connection and although the outcome was deeply satisfying, I’m still a little on the fence. Maybe because this isn’t the first film I’ve watched lately that tries to re-imagine that fateful night – The Haunting of Sharon Tate literally sets her up as a psychic who saves them all just in the nick of time.

OUATIH is infinitely better than the above-mentioned Hilary Duff vehicle obviously but I can’t help it coming to mind in relation. I’m also happy I finished Helter Skelter when I did. Spahn Ranch and the girls were exactly as I pictured them. While this Hollywood homage isn’t quite as steeped in QT’s signature flourishes, he does capture the essence of actually being there.

The performances are top notch, DiCaprio rarely gets it wrong but he’s absolutely brilliant as washed up Rick Dalton. Brad Pitt too plays his part with relish. Booth is an enigma really, followed through Hollywood by the rumour that he murdered his own wife but, apart from a brief flashback, we never find out more. This is clever on the director’s part as we never really know where we are with the seemingly good Booth. What matters here though is the friendship between the two male leads – and their chemistry is really something.

“Hey! You’re Rick fucking Dalton. Don’t you forget it.” ~ Cliff Booth

Some of my favourite scenes are between child actress Trudi (Julia Butters) and Dalton. I can’t understand how a kid can be that accomplished yet believable an actress but she’s incredible. She’s a little Margot Robbie in training.

“It’s official, old buddy. I’m a has-been” ~ Rick Dalton

My Comments

All of the above but also, I enjoyed the inclusion of the real Sharon Tate on the cinema screen when our Tate goes to watch herself. It was poignant and sad, Tate being such a sympathetic beauty by default. When I first watched this I thought anyone could have played Tate but I was wrong. Lovely Margot Robbie is so effervescent and gorgeous, she absolutely nails the sixties zeitgeist.

Like most people I’m more than a little interested in True Crime, so I was mostly here for Charles Manson, the central performances and because I can’t imagine not being intrigued about what Tarantino does next. Interestingly, Manson is only spied once for just a moment and this only adds to his mystique. The Family, more or less run in Manson’s absence by Gypsy (Lena Dunham), are intriguing enough in their own right. Booth’s meeting with George Spahn (Bruce Dern), under the watchful eye of Squeaky (Dakota Fanning) is very tense but hilarious.

Finally, while the climax is shocking in its sheer violence – even by my standards – now I’ve had a chance to sit with it, I kind of love the concept of a moment in time changing history forever. It ends on a hopeful note and that is kind of beautiful.

Shit, turns out maybe I loved it more than I originally thought.

Film details:

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Year: 2019
IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
My Rating:
4/5

What are you watching?

*Problematic fave

Helter Skelter

I feel I should pre-fix this post with a little disclaimer about true crime enthusiasm. I love true crime, my podcast list is peppered with real life stories of murder and horror – I can’t get enough and I’m not entirely sure why.

Obviously I’m a massive horror fan but I feel that actual true life horror goes against why I love those movies so much. There’s comfort in letting myself be scared but also knowing that it’s all fantasy. Stories like this reinforce that there really are monsters out there – and that’s terrifying in a whole new way. It’s probably the psychology of what makes a monster that gets me – and this true account of the Manson murders is no exception. How on Earth could one man be responsible for such horrific carnage when he wasn’t even present on the nights of the murders?

Well, Helter Skelter takes us inside the media circus and tries to answer some of those questions. I just want it to be clear that I don’t believe Manson deserves any of the adoration he’s always received. There’s a mystique to him obviously but he was a horrible, evil manipulator and he doesn’t deserve to be revered as a rock star. See also: Ted Bundy.

It’s taken me almost two months to the day to finish this massive tome, more for the fact that the content is as brutal as you can imagine. It goes in deep on the Sharon Tate murders, adding details I had never read before. I thought I knew most of what there was to know about that particular crime but I didn’t, it’s awful and senseless – and not for the faint-hearted.

But that’s not why this book took me so long. It’s just so court-roomy. Author Vincent Buliosi was a high-profile American attorney and best-selling author – and the chief prosecutor in the Manson trial. He basically took that fucker and the other accused Family members down to China Town, securing the death penalty for all of them (until it was abolished in the state of California).

Sugar and spice these girls are not

I won’t rehash it all here, if you’re interested then the chances are you’ll read this on your own or already have. The detail is fascinating as is the trial, it just isn’t the fluffiest of reads and not one I was eager to devour every night. What gripped me most were the stories of the Manson girls, all young and many of them damaged in their own ways. I can’t even comprehend the nature of their relationship with master manipulator Charles Manson, who thought of himself as the second coming of Jesus. Something they also believed.

There are a lot of surprises in this book – one of the highlights is the speculation as to how many murders The Family actually committed. Some of members claim there are upward of 40 clocked up, however in most cases there’s no proof and sometimes, not even a body.

I definitely recommend this but it is heavy and not the easiest read.

Book details:

Helter Skelter
Publisher: Cornerstone
ISBN-10: 0099975009
ISBN-13: 978-0099975007
Bought secondhand paperback for myself

What are you reading?