Knee-jerk review: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

1. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino, at this point, is at the top of his game.  He's a filmmaking virtuoso in complete command of mood, pacing, tension, and characterization.
2. Which goes a long way towards making the first half of this movie completely watchable despite a lack of traditional storytelling structure.  One critic called it a "hang out" movie and that's completely appropriate.  We spend about 70 minutes more or less just walking the earth in 1969 Los Angeles with Leonardo DiCaprio (actor) and Brad Pitt (actor's gopher) as they do what they do. We can't believe that part of the movie works as well as it does.  
3. Things don't really click into gear until Pitt's character crosses paths with the Manson family commune in a memorably creepy sequence.
4. It's essentially Inglourious Basterds for the Manson murders, if you catch our drift.
5. This may be Tarantino's most "meta" movie yet - a movie about movies. More specifically, a movie about the kinds of movies Tarantino grew up watching. It's chock full of loving - and surprisingly lengthy - recreations of 1960s Hollywood, both the logistics of backlot production (makeup trailers, scene rehearsals, camera flubs) and the specifics of audience marketing (TV spots, radio announcers, and the endless parade of theater marquees).  Particularly impressive is the painstaking degree to which DiCaprio's Rick Dalton actor's completely fictional career is fleshed out with clips, magazine covers, and movie posters.
6. We don't know much about the real Sharon Tate but Margot Robbie's wide-eyed performance gives her a carefree exuberance about life (and acting) that we should all hope to emulate.
7. There is a novelistic, impressionistic vibe at work what with all of the rambling digressions and narrative detours that seem to serve no clear purpose aside from some fun moments that surely amused Tarantino. Then again, we get the sense that there's a lot more going on here thematically than meets the eye. A second viewing may be needed.  For example, while it was a little on the nose, we appreciated the parallels between Dalton's blooming midlife crisis and the hero in his dime-store Western novel.
8. Brad Pitt is the coolest. It's no contest. We're not even sure he's trying.  The cool just... happens.
9. In case you didn't know, Wolf's Tooth canned dog food comes in "raccoon flavor."
10. Amid all of the movie gimmicks and flourishes and Brad Pitt doing his awesome "I'm cool" bit, DiCaprio creates real empathy for an actor terrified that his best days are behind him. That's something most adults of certain age can surely understand, even if few of us are as whiny and spoiled as DiCaprio's character seems to be.
11. Tarantino always delivers at least one blackly comic moment. We couldn't help but laugh out loud (and feel horribly guilty for doing so) at one big moment in the climax.
12. We're not sure what to make of the movie's angry stance towards the hippie youth movement.  Yes, the Manson family were hippies, but it's strange for a 2019 film to treat progressive, rebellious youth as a whole with such unironic contempt.  Is the idea that the movie is pretending it was actually made in 1969?  We get that DiCaprio and Pitt might look down on hippies, but the movie seems to agree with their take.
13. Dakota Fanning has just one villain scene, but she knocks it out of the park.
14. Stay for the end credits and watch Rick Dalton's Red Apple cigarette ad.  They don't burn your throat, you see.  Hilarious.
15. We squirmed in our seat when Pitt's character beat a woman to death. Justified or not, it felt over the top and cruel... in classic Tarantino fashion.
16. Without question, one of the stars of the film is the production design, so exacting in recreating the locations and wardrobe of 1969 Los Angeles. We couldn't help but wonder how the producers got some of the shots where even the billboards far in the distance were period specific. Nothing short of amazing.  People, the production completely redressed an entire block of Hollywood Boulevard.
17. We don't want to spoil the ending, but it definitely creates a strong sense of poignancy as you consider how fickle fate can be when dealing out tragic endings. One turn here or there and horrible outcomes can be completely avoided.
18. For the record, Pulp Fiction (of course) remains our favorite Tarantino movie, followed for now by Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill Vol 1, and Reservoir Dogs.  This one might eventually slide up to number 3 ahead of Kill Bill.  We haven't yet seen The Hateful Eight.

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