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'Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood' is Tarantino's ode to '60s, filmmaking

'Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood' is Tarantino's ode to '60s, filmmaking


Calling all Quentin Tarantino fans: This is a film lover’s dream come true.

“Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood” is both fictional and factual, hilarious and insightful, violent and tender. The creator of “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” has created an ode to the 1960s and movie making.

When I say this contains less violence than some of his other movies, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for those who draw the line at “PG-13.”

The movie is set in 1969 Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead, starring as Rick Dalton, a hard-drinking actor who faces the possibility of being cast in Italian westerns now that his hit television series has been cancelled. His loyal buddy Cliff (Brad Pitt), a stunt man whose career has seen better days, drives him around and pretty much takes care of Dalton.

Dalton’s agent Marvin Schwarzs (an enjoyable Al Pacino) encourages the actor to go to Rome, where he’ll find plenty of work. Dalton has a meltdown after their conversation, because he thinks this means he's washed-up.

Cliff, a kind of vagabond with no immediate vision except to assist Dalton and spend time with Cliff's beloved dog, consoles Dalton and wonders what’s so bad about starring in spaghetti Westerns.

Dalton has new neighbors: Director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). While Rick doesn’t see much of his neighbors, we do: We watch them living the luxurious existence of a beautiful couple, including a party at the Playboy mansion.

In the meantime, we catch glimpses of hippies throughout Los Angeles. They turn out to be part of the notorious Charles Manson “family” that lived at Spahn Ranch, where a movie set was located.

The plots weave back and forth until, ultimately, the plot trajectories bring the characters together.

A lot of Tarantino veterans are on hand, some in really small roles, including Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern. Speaking of small roles: If a flower child looks strangely familiar to you, she’s Maya Hawke, the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.

Tarantino’s direction is exquisite. He captures the look and the feel of films shot during the era depicted with his own camera work. There’s a great brief sequence he shoots through a fence, and another – during the credits, so stick around – of a wonderfully written “testimonial” commercial for cigarettes.

As always, the soundtrack is as important as the script and the characters in a Tarantino movie. Perfectly cued tunes from Paul Revere and the Raiders “Good Thing" and “Hush” by Deep Purple take center stage from time to time. The music will delight not only first-time listeners but also those old enough to remember the era.

Look for this one to earn Oscar nods in a few months.


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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.

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