Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood ★★★★☆

I can't recall a single filmmaker ever dividing critics like Quentin Tarantino. Every movie in his illustrious career has split the critics and attracted controversy wherever they're shown. Whether that's from his particular brand of violence, the time someone passed out during the adrenalin scene of a showing of Pulp or the number of times a certain derogatory term is used. But here we are nine films in, almost thirty years later and the dude just doesn't care, carving out a filmography like no other, without a thought for his critics, making the films both he, and I, want to see.

I was lucky enough to have heard about a pop up at 'Sounds Of The Universe', an old record store in Soho, where if you were one of the first sixty people through the door, you won a ticket to go and see 'Once Upon A Time...' at Sony Pictures headquarters a week before general release. So I pulled myself out of bed at around 5.30am and basically ran to Soho. I snagged that golden ticket (rather, a pink wristband) and grabbed all the free Tarantino swag they were handing out.

I've been waiting for this film ever since the disappointment of his last film, The Hateful 8. But unlike the Hateful 8, a project I followed all the way from the script leak, with 'Once Upon A Time...' I avoided everything, including the trailer. I find now that trailers give away far too much so best to avoid them where possible.

'Once Upon A Time...' takes us back to the late 60s, when flower power and peace & love were what people preached. Our main character, Rick Dalton (Di Caprio), is a TV actor past his prime trying to make the transition to movies. Along with his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt), they navigate through the cut-throat business that is Hollywood and a movie industry that is clearly in a period of transition. But like Tarantino's films of past, he takes a pinnacle point in our history (in this instance the story of Sharon Tate and the Manson Family) and does what only Tarantino does best. 

This is possibly the most, and hardest, I've ever laughed at any of his films. In every review I've read they are calling this '...a love letter to Hollywood' to which I would be inclined to agree. Having himself grown up in Los Angeles during this defining era, we are showered with obscure TV & film references that really only Tarantino would know about. His encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and its history is truly laid bare in this 2-hour 45-minute epic. As well as this, it has all the hallmarks you come to expect from one of his pictures. Over the top violence, tension in the right places, hilarious set-pieces, bare feet galore and the perfect soundtrack to tie it all together. If you do decide to go and see this film, as you should, you are basically talking a near 3-hour walk inside Tarantino's head. What could be better than that?

If I had to pick at it the only issue with any Tarantino film really is they all get compared to Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. These films made such an impact on the industry and the audience that he became a victim of his own success and genius. Luckily he doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks and makes the films he wants to make anyway. There are also a couple of scenes that don't really need to be there, in my opinion. It does drag it out a little, but he's Tarantino. He can do whatever the hell he wants!

Whilst the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg and Cameron have always pushed the envelope in new technologies within their own work, Tarantino remains one of the industries purists. Always insisting on shooting film instead of digital with a heavy hand on dialogue and unique, instantly recognizable characters. To see this film the way he wants you to see it, you have to find a cinema with the capability of projecting 35mm. His film making style throws back to another period in cinema that this really does lend itself to and whilst he's still around and making movies like this, we should savour these moments. 

But will this be the penultimate Tarantino film? It feels like it could be. He's threatened to retire at 60 after only making 10 films. He's now 56 and on his ninth film. The timeline looks about right so this could actually have some weight to it. But whether or not we get a Kill Bill 3 (I sure do hope so), or another western, I eagerly await whatever comes next. 

Jake Bexx

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