Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino drifted south [u]

First a note on the film’s title.  Wikipedia incorrectly lists it without the ellipsis, the marketing materials have the ellipsis after the “in” and the film itself displays the title as I have above — ultimately, the correct version. I think. The New York Times briefly addressed this issue, but one thing not mentioned is the space before the ellipsis, a grammatical error. But the space and the placement as I’ve shown seems to be the consensus.

That title is not shown until the end of the movie, though the rest of the standard intro titles are included in the correct location. Followers of my blog know that omitting for no good reason a film’s intro titles annoys the heck out of me — so a partial titles MIA annoyance here. Especially given how much Tarantino loves titles.

All these title issues serve as a signpost which hearkens the weakest Tarantino feature since Reservoir Dogs.  It is quite clear that Tarantino had a clear vision in mind for this film, and executed that vision. The problem is it’s not a very good vision. An elongated story about an aging actor looking at the demise of his career is not exactly groundbreaking, especially not the way it’s portrayed here. The whole ode-to-Hollywood component, ever-present in Time … in, only half-works. And then there’s the Manson story.

Tarantino proved himself an absolute master with fictionalized history in the brilliant Inglourious Basterds; Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight showed he knows how to optimize a period setting. Others have written more about this (e.g. this other Times article), so I’ll just agree that it only half-works here. The grand vision that Tarantino had feels a lot smaller on screen. And, as with Lincoln, there’s an opportunity that was missed. Tarantino didn’t want to make a movie about the Manson murders, but rather a semi washed-up actor and the Hollywood scene of 1969. That’s fine, but a missed opportunity and something very diminutive, even petty compared to the scale I was expecting.

And … the Manson murders still have not had their proper due on film.

* * *

I’ve always said that I welcome filmmakers to take their own, original directions. But this wasn’t that original, or particularly great. There are parts of it that are borderline cheeseville. The scene where he’s kicking himself for missing a line is real amateur-hour, even as the whole acting sequence that precedes it flows with art. On the other-other hand, the movie-within-a-movie has no connection to anything else. So not exactly Hamlet, despite the references to it.

There’s enough genuinely entertaining parts of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, including the mild arc of story presented, that I still offer a recommendation full of the normal caveats.  A missed opportunity, yes.  But there’s fun to be had — probably all Tarantino is going for, and it didn’t drag too much even with the nearly 3-hour running time.  Unlike Lincoln, Good Times in Hollywood earns a pass.  I just hope this doesn’t mark the beginning of a latter Oliver Stone era in which Tarantino can no longer figure out how to make good movies.

6/10

Comparison Notes: Hail, Caesar! (a much better take on Hollywood’s past, and a vastly more entertaining film), Lincoln, Café Society

UPDATE: It took one more night’s sleep to crank it up a notch; now 7/10.

== TRAILER: PRIOR POST ==

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She Uses Tangerine [Updated]

Tangerine - poster

Yes, that’s a play on the Flaming Lips.

Tangerine is the most talked-about indie of the year, and for good reason.  It splashes vibrant, ruddy, glowing color all over the gritty urban streetscape of Hollywood.  Then, as night falls on Christmas Eve, that patina is washed away, leaving only the ugly naked truth — and a few more laughs.

I’m going to draw an unlikely comparison to Boyhood, because movies are ultimately about the story.  And the story of Tangerine wasn’t bad, but neither was it great.  The same story with more bland, milquetoast characters would probably get a thumbs down — not just from me but most critics.  The audacious characters of Tangerine drive the narrative.

Tangerine - text blockYou can talk about how different, and how novel, a movie is — and I loved the novelty of Tangerine — but ultimately the story must be there.  So probably the best comparison of all: Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It’s like this whole new world you’ve never seen before.  This is what movies are supposed to do!  So how can you not be over the moon?  How can you not be wildly enthusiastic with your recommendation?  Because story matters.

Every once in a while I wish that some truly profound David Lynch – Inland Empire moment might burst forth to offer true, glowing transcendence — but it was not to be.  Still though, there is something endearing about Tangerine.  Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, my opinion has been raised upon reflection.  But also like Beasts, a more developed story would launch Tangerine into the stratosphere.  7/10

Update: A note I forgot to include: the film was shot almost entirely with three iPhones.  Inspiration to low-budget filmmakers everywhere.

The Shining Meets New Yankee Workshop

From the ridiculous to the sublime.  This 24-minute video is infinitely more satisfying and insightful than Room 237.  I had the opportunity to view LACMA’s Kubrick exhibit, and it was utterly fascinating.  Now I hope to see the traveling exhibit again, this time with Adam Savage’s hi-fi maze model.  He stated that the exhibit would be in San Francisco in 2016… so there you go.

Credit to Daring Fireball.

Anatomy of a Scene: I Origins

This year’s most-hyped indie is I Origins.  I’m a big fan Brit Marling, and, based on the trailer, it looks like it has potential.  So here’s hoping that it does not stumble like last year’s ‘big’ indies The East (also with Marling), The Place Beyond the Pines, and by far the biggest disappointment, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.  The walkthrough below is good for those interested in moviemaking.

I Origins - Anatomy of a Scene