Saturday, 17 August 2019

Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Cert: 18 / 161 mins / Dir. Quentin Tarantino / Trailer

I'll cut to the chase, the jury at Blackout Towers is out on this one. It's not that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood failed to meet my expectations - I didn't really have any expectations. While I'm definitely a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work to the point of being forgiving of his worst excesses, I was impressed that the trailer is a kaleidoscope of cool which reveals very little of the actual story. It's only after watching the movie that I realise that's because there is no coherent story.

Quentin sets up his core characters, then just sort of bimbles along aimlessly, going off on lengthy tangents which add to the character-building but do almost nothing for the narrative. You remember when Tarantino was famous for driven pacing and snappy dialogue? Well those days are long gone, mate. This begins languidly where each scene is around 30% longer than it needs to be, and pretty much keeps that up for the entire movie. Meticulous yet thoroughly unfocused, this is the absolutely unfiltered Tarantino of 2019, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. Self-indulgent as absolute fuck, even by his standards.


There's an entire, lengthy saloon-scene where actor Rick Dalton is filming a western, which might be more quirkily entertaining if Quentin hadn't already made Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Has he still not gotten spit-and-sawdust out of his system? But there are too many unanswered questions elsewhere. A sporadic narration comes from Kurt Russell. But he's also in the film as a big-shot director. Is it supposed to be his character who's narrating this? Why? How would his character know of events which went otherwise unwitnessed? Wasn't the whole "once upon a time means it's a fairytale and I can subvert your expectations from real-world events" used up on Inglourious Basterds?

Why have big names like Al Pacino and Bruce Dern been hired for a cameo roles which add nothing to the final movie? Why has Leonardo DiCaprio been edited into The Great Escape for a cutaway scene, but Margot Robbie hasn't been given the same digital treatment in The Wrecking Crew when she's playing the actress Sharon Tate watching Sharon Tate in a film? Because the Sharon Tate in those clips is clearly not Margot Robbie, so why put them in at all? I know that ultimately the film is a tribute to her, but it's glaringly noticeable that she's not watching herself. Why am I even thinking about these things when I'm meant to be enjoying a movie by a director I love?


Don't get me wrong, there are some great things in this, I just don't think it's a great movie. I definitely had that dissatisfied feeling leaving the auditorium where I'd apparently been waiting for something that Quentin wasn't going to deliver. Because while the climactic fight is inordinately, gleefully, brutally good fun, the actual narrative payoff afterward feels like a weak punchline that doesn't support the grandiose, bar-room, shaggy dog story which went before it. It turns out the journey was more important than the destination, but you weren't able to focus on that because the driver had been rabbiting on for the entire journey.

This is Guy Ritchie giving us Revolver, James Cameron's Avatar, Spielberg with Ready Player One. It's not devoid of merit, but by no means what Quentin is best at - and this has happened because there's now nobody to tell him 'no'. The bottom line is that if any other writer/director had made Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I'd be calling it out as a rambling, first-draft mood-board. In fact I still am. Because since each movie ultimately has to stand on its own merits, where does that leave this? But now I know what to expect, another viewing is called for, that's for sure.

All I'm saying is that it's coming to something when Drew Goddard is making better Quentin Tarantino films than Quentin Tarantino…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Honestly? I have no idea.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Probably, yes.

Although I could feel the casual-audience around me growing increasingly restless and fidgety throughout

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
I know I'll be adding this to The Collection either way, although I may well wait until the price has dropped to something more reasonable.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
At this point, I genuinely don't believe it is.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Oh yes.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, it's in the first scene and it's absolutely textbook.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Clone Wars Count Dooku is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
^^ This may be subject to change after the next viewing.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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