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August 20th, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

(3.5 stars)

Who is the greatest living American director?

…Scorsese, Stone, Nolen, Payne, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson?

I don’t know. All I know is that Quentin Tarantino has to be in the mix. And he’s still in the prime of his career.

“Django Unchained” is one of the best movies of all time.

“The Hateful Eight” is not quite as good but it’s even more meaningful. “Eight” is about two very different people who survive a violent standoff because they are the only ones savvy enough to recognize when other people around them are lying. In this world of scams, charlatans, and fake news, being able to discern lies using your common sense is one of the most valuable skills for a person to have.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is neither as magnificent as “Django Unchained” nor as intellectually focused as “The Hateful Eight.”

It’s still a Tarantino film, though. So it’s inspired, unique, funny, occasionally ultra-violent, and amazing.

It’s Hollywood 1969. Leonardo DiCaprio is magnificent as fading star Rick Dalton. Dalton is still a household name because of the cowboy show he did years ago. But now his star power is gone and he plays bad guys in TV episodes and B movies.

We’ve seen aging actors fretting about losing their looks and their fame. The neat thing about Dalton is what troubles him the most is losing his talent and professionalism. DiCaprio’s Dalton is not a vain Hollywood phony; he a working American like us who just wants to be great at his job.

When Dalton nails a scene and his costar and director compliment him, you see a single tear of relief and joy drip down his cheek. I doubt that was in the script. That was DiCaprio feeling the beautiful triumph of the moment.

While Rick Dalton plays cowboys on screen, Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth is a real-life cowboy. He’s a happy-go-lucky tough guy who keeps his emotions close to the vest.

Years ago, Cliff was making good money as Rick’s stunt double. But Cliff did something terrible in his private life and now he’s blacklisted in Hollywood and hated by many. Rick keeps Cliff around as his driver, his handyman, and his pal.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” features Roman Polanski as a small but perfectly likable secondary character. Quentin Tarantino had a positive working relationship with Harvey Weinstein for decades. With Cliff Booth, Tarantino is arguing that even the most disgusting, unforgivable creeps can be good guys sometimes. He’s saying that it’s possible to want Harvey Weinstein deported to Siberia to starve and freeze but also admit that he was a loyal friend and a caring dog owner.

I found “Hollywood” to be fun and engrossing. I know for a fact that some will find it boring and miserable because my wife did. And, in her defense, the paper-thin plot moves slowly and most of the scenes are style over substance. If you are bored, though, please don’t walk out before the surprise ending.

I love the ending to this movie. How the heck do you make a film that features Sharon Tate and Charles Manson end joyfully? Leave it to Mr. Tarantino.

Oh, another warning: if you are a hippie, were a hippie, or have a soft spot for hippies, you will be offended by this film. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is to hippies what “Birth of a Nation” was to black people.

I do not recommend “Hollywood” to everyone. But I sure liked it. I think Quentin Tarantino is a national treasure and every new movie he makes is a celebration.

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