REVIEW: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Corpus Christi, TX.

Flour Bluff High School.

2013.

 

I'm scuffling through a grim hallway, overcrowded by kissing couples and thoughtless walkers. AP Stats is my destination (unfortunately) and I somehow manage to claw my way through the mob of strangers a bit early.

Me and Cristian Requenez initiate the ritual.

 

"Sup?" "Hey."

"Do we have a quiz?" "Next week."

"I freaking hate this class." "Eh..."

 

Once that's complete all are free to move about the cabin.

Chris is a year older than me but always easy to talk to. The topic of our conversations ebb and flow to all sorts of things - God, Mexican Food, Connect 4. Often we end up coming back at the same well: movies. Specifically the works of Quentin Tarantino.

 

Christian was (and is) a Tarantino acolyte. I was a Tarantino doubter. A passionate one.

You see dear reader, my experience with the likes of Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Bastards had not been exceptional and tarnished my entire perception of the filmmaker.

His use of violence was so jarring, and even though the dialogue and cinematography were excellent, these atypical plots barred me from becoming a true believer. His flicks felt unfocused to me. From Pulp and Bastards I could tell that Tarantino was a director who had vision. But it felt like this vision plowed through his story and left an unsatisfying product. Everything was a little too loose to feel complete and a little too bombastic to emotionally connect.

Maybe that makes me uncultured? I've always been one to advocate for a strong narrative over tone and themes... to the chagrin of my film-y friends. They tend to celebrate people who get a little more dangerous with the rules. The Coen brothers for example. Noah Baumbach. All great artists in their own right but not exactly my cup of tea. I'd like to say that means I know my own taste but calling me pedestrian is probably closer to the truth.

 

Anyway, Christian wasn't the only Tarantino acolyte in my life. Plenty of people tried to hook me on the religion.

"Oh, but you'll LOVE Kill Bill. Everyone loves Kill Bill."

Volume 1 is great but Volume 2? I dunno.

 

"Django is unlike anything he's ever made! Go watch Django!"

I mean, I did. It's alright.

 

"Reservoir Dogs?"

 

 

 

Azusa, CA.

Azusa Pacific University.

2015.

 

I make my way up to Engstrom Hall. There are no crowds anymore. Lines sure, but crowds? Not really. I sorta miss that. Nothing is wild at APU. I have a schedule for everything. 3 hours homework, 2 hours for chapel, and 2 hours for lunch, dinner, and free time. My dorm opens and mysterious college funk mixes with the smell of my off-brand Chipotle burrito. It's been a long day. A real long day. Most days back then were.

At this point I have 2 options:

 

1. Shirk my responsibilities and unwind

2. Die

 

Netflix comes to life and I select the first movie in my action recommended. Reservoir Dogs. I knew it was Tarantino but at this point I was too zonked to care.

…And it was great.

 

Action. Drama. Some of the most iconic characters of all time. How could I not love this movie?

It has the structure of a BMX race, leaping from point to point without a care, but never once was I confused about what was going on. There was a clear intent that I could get lost in. The music, the performances, the tension. By the finale I could feel my own heartbeat in tips of my ears. BAM!

That ending.

Reservoir Dogs was so tight that it made me take a closer look at a director I wasn’t a fan of. I could accept the intent of Tarantino’s violence as zany rather than a grotesque display, I could take in the loose-ness just a bit more, and while my overall opinion of his work hadn’t changed, I could appreciate the gimmick and couldn’t ignore the rest of his filmography.

You could practically hear the acolytes cheer in delight.

 

 

 

Mokena, IL.

Emagine Entertainment Theater.

2019.

 

The parking lot is fairly empty as I trick my broken windshield wipers into shutting off. It's a Tuesday night, say, 10pm. Free popcorn for Emagine members.

Ticket. Concession. Previews.

I settle into my cushy adjustable recliner as a family of 4 chatters in the seats next to me. My life has changed a lot since 2015. I am completely unscheduled in every way. Wildness abounds so I don’t really miss that anymore. I miss other, stupider things. Like off-brand Chipotle.

"I didn't know Brad Pitt was in this?!" echoes throughout the room as the opening score rises.

 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is my most recent foray into the world of Quentin Tarantino.

It is also my most complex Tarantino experience to date.

 

The time period is crafted beautifully. You can find the aesthetic of the early 70s in everything be it the production design or general character interaction. It’s not just a single facet of the early 70s either; flower children, rock n’ rollers, businessmen, Tarantino captures a rainbow of Americana in this and easily sucks you into his world.

Structurally it must be his most ambitious writing feat to date.

Some of the strongest theming I’ve ever seen anchors a narrative that’s borderline nonsensical for the first 2 acts. The spirit of Los Angeles envelops each scene: how Hollywood bounces back and forth between dreams and reality, its relationship with audiences, the way it treats its alumni, you get all that and more.

The constant start-stop of storylines made me road sick towards the midpoint, but the film manages to stick the landing amidst this sea of random vignettes, so just stay with it.

My ever-present Tarantino question of “how far is too far?” still lingers in this flick.

The foot/underage fetishizing makes sense given the whole L.A. thing but it’s also unbelievably creepy. Same thing goes for the violence. I get these scenes are supposed to be over the top but there’s a point where the sex/gore hinders my experience rather than helps it. I didn't find it clever or funny… just plain gross. At best it's tasteless and at worst it placates the very thing it’s mocking.

That said, the way this movie handles the Charlie Manson stuff is surprisingly decent. There’s almost a sense that Quentin Tarantino is laughing at those who wanted him to make an edgy scene filled with true events. Instead this slice of realism is used to emphasize absurd Hollywood idealism and I couldn’t be happier with how ridiculous he makes the “family” look.

 

I’ve long had an odd relationship with the work Quentin Tarantino and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood continues that legacy. I can’t wholly love this film like I do Reservoir Dogs, but I don’t dislike it in the way I dislike Inglorious, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and Kill Bill: Volume 2. It’s good in some ways and bad in others. I dunno.

3.5/5


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