Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood …Take 2

So…

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. I stick by my original post… most of it. Reflecting on it a bit more: it’s still a wasted opportunity, even assuming Tarantino’s general approach.  So much latent material that was left unexposed…  that was my frustration as the end credits rolled.

But I’m also a big believer in judging a movie for what it is, not what it is not. And it’s really a quite entertaining film, despite some glitches. I especially liked Cliff’s interactions with the Manson clan, headed by “Pussycat”/”Cat,” and Rick attempting to deal with a precocious young actress. An encounter with Bruce Lee is another highlight.

So… there’s a lot of fun to be had. More than I let on at first. It’s in no way a masterpiece, and it rests solidly a couple pegs below Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, or Hail, Caesar!. But you need to lighten up people.  7/10

Those ellipsis still drive me nuts.

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.

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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 ==

The Revenant: Iñárritu Wins Again

The Revenant - poster

The Revenant is a grand spectacle of filmmaking virtuosity on a scale perhaps never before seen.  With Birdman, Iñárritu set the keystone of his newly developed fluid style.  I wrote that Birdman was:

…a film executed in whirlwind non-stop frenetic fashion that will hold you from start to finish. …But I found the story too monotone, or put another way Birdman has trouble breaking free of its self-imposed Alcatraz.

The Revenant builds on the expertise set forth in Birdman, and adds a stronger story.  Birdman’s enclosed spaces have been blown out and replaced by vast, wide-open, windswept and snow-covered landscapes, and realized by an absolute mastery of the lens and anything put in front of it.  From a moviemaking point of view, The Revenant is pure wonderment.  This is an impressive film.

The Revenant - text blockSomething else I liked was that this is a Western put in stark, brutally realistic terms — a true rarity.  So there is no doubt The Revenant is a great film.  But there were a couple storytelling issues I ran into.  A couple 5-minute days, for example.  I mean, I know it’s winter and the days are short, but they aren’t that short.  Another small problem toward the end nagged me slightly.  And ultimately, the story, with all its applied nuance, is fundamentally a one-dimensional revenge picture, with a pair of characters at the core who could have been more interesting to say the least.

The Revenant will win the Best Picture Oscar, and I don’t have a big problem with that.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Dancing with Wolves, Dead Man, I Spit on Your Grave; Not Recommended: The Grey, True Grit (2010)

Cinematic Greats: Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can - poster large

Catch Me If You Can (2002) is my favorite latter-era Spielberg movie, and my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio performance.  And while the true story is “supremely entertaining” (Stephen Holden), it is greatly enriched by deeper elements including Frank Jr.’s relationship with his father, and the loneliness of life on the run.  Performances by DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken unify with first-rate production and a great story into one superlative movie-watching experience.

Don’t Wolf It Down

2013 is turning out to be a bad year for movies.  Some of the most anticipated films the year have disappointed me — American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, and now The Wolf of Wall Street.  I found The Wolf to be a very entertaining movie — for the length of a normal movie.  For no good reason, though, it’s three hours long.  Now I have no problem with long movies — as long as there’s a reason for it.  Last year’s best film, Django Unchained, clocked in at 2 hours 45 min., and I can’t imagine cutting a thing out.  It was a rich film that required every last minute to tell its delicious tale.  2001: A Space OdysseyBreaking the Waves and Mulholland Drive are further examples that come to mind, ones made greater by the time they occupy, not lesser.

Not the case with The Wolf of Wall Street.  I agree with critical consensus that this is a very entertaining film — but for only about the first half.  The second half on its own is not terrible — though there are some ridiculous, B-movie sequences that are put forward — but after about the half-way mark the film has said as much as it will by the end.  The last hour of the movie adds nothing fresh, and it ends up suffocating under its own extruded weight.

The Wolf of Wall Street - still

Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio in characteristic form which well represents the entire film.

And that’s a pity.  Trimming this movie down to the lean mean fighting machine that it deserves to be would have resulted in a champ.  As it is, I can only recommend it with the caveat that you peel yourself away for the last hour or so.  But of course I must judge the entire film, and on balance it’s thumbs down.  5/10

She by Spike Jonze is the next, and probably the last, big 2013 release — I sincerely hope I won’t be disappointed again.

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Comparison Notes (all recommended): Wall Street (duh), Natural Born Killers, Cape Fear