[Early Review] Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

161 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.

 

I’m a sucker for movies about making movies and Hollywood. I also adore the 1960s as a setting. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film seemingly tailor-made for me, including having my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) at the helm. So what did I think?

The year is 1969. The once-bankable film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, The Revenant) is making his living by appearing in guest roles on various television series, usually as the villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino, Serpico, Paterno) doesn’t think these roles are helping his career, and he tries to push Dalton into doing Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Rick’s stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Deadpool 2) is searching for work himself as Rick needs a double less and less, but he has a bad reputation in the industry. Rick’s concern over his career is causing him to have a personal crisis, but he is reinvigorated when he discovers that he is living next to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots). All the while during this, out on the Spahn Movie Ranch, a cult is forming led by Charles Manson.

Many have come to the belief that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a central element to the film. Her character, in fact, is a lot more like a looming presence that the 1960s and the free-love hippie culture are coming to an end very soon. She’s not featured as much as one might think in the film, and neither is Charles Manson, who barely has any dialogue whatsoever.

The stars of the film are DiCaprio and Pitt, and they are the two characters that are most engaging, and they are the two with the best chemistry in the film. Don’t kid yourself about this being a Manson family film because it isn’t, and that’s fine because the incredible Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are worth the price of admission alone. They are two fully-realized, equally flawed, and equally enthralling. These two are some of Tarantino’s best characters in his entire career, and both actors put their all into it.

The third big character in the film is Hollywood, and it is gorgeously shot. This is Tarantino’s love letter to a world that has changed and, for the most part, disappeared. It’s a rare glimpse into an aging has-been’s world as it begins to crumble and the stunt-double/driver/entourage/friend who tries to keep him in one piece, and without the amazing production design, costuming, and cinematography, the film wouldn’t work half as well.

The pacing is rather strong here as well. I didn’t notice the time flying by and I was surprised when the film had concluded because I didn’t think nearly three hours had gone by that quick. It’s a testament to the world that Tarantino puts to the screen, and it didn’t take me out of the film to see actors I knew from today playing actors I know from decades ago because each was so meticulously collected for the cast, and it’s an impressive damn cast.

If there’s a flaw with the film, it’s only that I’m somewhat divided on its conclusion. I will have to see it again to know for certain how I feel about it. I’m not going to get into any specifics but it is definitely an exciting finale to say the least.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a very strong Quentin Tarantino that’s more melancholic and thoughtful. He takes his time building the story and seemingly every sequence has a purpose in developing character or moving plot. This is a film that may divide audiences more than some of his previous outings, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about everything that takes place, but I loved the theatrical experience, the characters, and the world. Go see it as soon as you can…and don’t spoil it for others.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, click here.

The Nice Guys (2016)

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Director: Shane Black

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

116 mins. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

 

It’s a great feeling when an artist takes on a project so perfectly in his wheelhouse that it’s all you can think of. I’m a big fan of director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). My fandom is really from his writing, as I grew up watching Riggs & Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, a film written by Black. The franchise is very near and dear to my heart, partly due to the brilliant writing and realistic dialogue crafted by the writer. I also really enjoyed Black’s foray into the MCU with Iron Man 3, but when I heard he was heading back to the buddy-cop-ish genre he helped perfect, I was floored. Sure, our leads aren’t extremely likable guys, but it is their flaws that make them so fun to watch, and the decision to set The Nice Guys in the 1970s…well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Big Short) has been hired to find Misty Mountains, a porn star who actually died days earlier. His search for answers brings him into contact with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, The Water Diviner), who has been hired by one of the women Holland has been tailing. When the two discover something much more sinister is afoot, they join forces, and the unlikely pair, aided by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows), attempt to discover the connection between this dead porn star and a secretly made adult film featuring a now missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV’s The Leftovers, Palo Alto) in 1977 Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys feels like a movie that so perfectly encapsulates Shane Black’s storytelling style, but it might be his riskiest movie yet. He takes several chances on pushing the envelope of the viewer and most (but not all) really work. Black has a gift of dealing with somewhat taboo subjects like porn without glamorizing or debasing them. There is a level of respect given to his seedier characters as well that doesn’t treat them any differently than how he’d treat any others.

In Crowe and Gosling I found the most unlikely chemistry from two leads that I’m likely to find this year. Both come from different cinematic backgrounds and mesh so damn well. Crowe is seemingly directed at being the lead here but it is Gosling’s performance that shines, and the way the two characters interact with Angourie Rice, who plays the young yet mature Holly March that shows the depths of Black’s character development range. The trifecta of characters are tested by a cadre of interesting secondary characters played by Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar, Magic Mike XXL) and my personally proclaimed screen legend Keith David (Platoon, Cloud Atlas) in great supporting roles.

As a director, Shane Black is still fairly new, but he has tested the waters already and jumps right in, exploring some really interesting cinematography and musical choices that showcase the 1970s without throwing at you.

The flaws with the film? The editing is a little looser than it could be. Certain sequences should’ve been tightened a bit more to create a more cohesive pacing to the film. Black chooses to linger on some moments that I didn’t need him to linger on. There’s also a reveal at the end that I found both unsurprising and a little clichéd, something I didn’t expect to find here.

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The Nice Guys is a mostly fantastic romp through an often overdone time frame, but Shane Black chooses to populate his film with likably unlikable people and a few moments of genuine heart. It is the characters and their relationships with each other that drive this film to a pretty exciting conclusion. One can only hope that this has the making of a new franchise, and this reviewer would be more than happy to see the further adventures of The Nice Guys.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen The Nice Guys? What did you think? And what’s your favorite buddy pairing in film? Let me know!

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