Quentin Tarantino has a recognizable filmmaking style. A Tarantino film is sure to feature certain actors like Kirk Douglas or Michael Madsen, quirky conversations in cars, a cool retro setting, and violence … lots of graphic violence. “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” which opens today (Friday) at the Nugget Theatre, has a talented cast. The story centers around a well-known television actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose career in Westerns is coming to an end, and his sidekick and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The movie chronicles their relationship and interactions with others in 1969 Hollywood in the time leading up to the Manson Murders.
DiCaprio and Pitt have a wonderful chemistry. Watching DiCaprio struggling to give an honest performance that impresses his young co-star walks the line between exaggerated and comical to genuinely moving. Pitt is the straight man to DiCaprio’s emotional artist. This is the first film that I’ve seen that lets the actor look his age with close-ups of the lines on his face. He still looks fantastic with his shirt off, and Pitt exudes an easy charm and warmth that’s sexy.
In his ninth film, Tarantino has finally let his foot fetish out to dance. Each character is introduced through their footwear. Dalton in cowboy boots, Booth in moccasins, our young starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) skips into the scene in white gogo boots and there are lots of bare feet for our hippie girls. It’s a quick way to establish the characters. Of course, the actress would wear fashionable footwear, and Booth’s chill and secure in his masculinity to rock moccasins. But there’s no way that Robbie’s character would take off her boots and go barefoot in a movie theater. Maybe the young hippie chick, played by the luminous Margaret Qualley, would remove her sandals and prop her feet up on the dashboard of the car, but it looks awkward and lasts too long in the shot.
There is a tension to the story as the characters go about their lives, as the audience knows that there’s a horrific murder that will shatter their world. Tarantino plays with this tension by having Kirk Douglas narrate the timeline as it reaches the night of the killings. But first there’s a lot of conversations and driving in cars and a trip to Italy and a new wife; some of it interesting, much of it seems like an excuse for Tarantino to create fake movie posters. Having established Sharon Tate as this lovely young woman, now pregnant, and her hip friends hanging out at their home, the tragedy of lost lives will be even greater. Tarantino plays with expectations, but delivers on the graphic violence he’s known for.
You can almost feel Tarantino’s glee at shooting an extended scene of young people being killed in such a gruesome manner: close-ups of a dog crunching down on an arm, dragging a body across the floor and a young woman getting her face smashed repeatedly into multiple surfaces and the grand finale of the flame thrower used to torch a still twitching murdered woman. For Tarantino fans, I think the violence is so over-the-top and gratuitous that it becomes comical. As someone who finds violence very upsetting, especially against women and children, this was torture for me to watch.
If you’re a Tarantino fan, the two-hour running time will be just perfect. You can enjoy his imaginative camera moves and recreation of that time period with cameos by some talented actors. There are brilliant bits of dialogue and lots of cool cars to enjoy. If you’re squeamish over the violence, may I suggest you leave in the long set-up when the killers to make it up the driveway. You’ll have plenty of time to wander the lobby and return for a brief touching moment between Pitt and DiCaprio … and you won’t have the brain scar from the violence.
Drinks With Films rating: 3 blended margaritas out of 5
If you’re not into Tarantino’s work, I hope that you catch “The Farewell” Thursday as part of TFF Presents, the occasional third Thursday art film presented by the Telluride Film Festival.
Director and writer Lulu Wang has been winning accolades for her touching, personal film. “The Farewell” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won the Audience Favorite award. This delightful film follows a Chinese American family traveling from America to a fake wedding. The immediate family have been made to hide the truth about the family matriarch’s diagnosis and the wedding is an excuse for everyone to say goodbye. Starring Awkwafina, perfectly cast as the American daughter straddling two cultures, the film started as a story told by Wang featured in an NPR show about telling the truth. The film opens with the tagline “based on an actual lie.”
The film explores the daughter’s feeling of conflict. Should the grandmother be told the truth so she can say proper goodbyes and get her affairs in order? The Chinese family knows that this is not the case and that this is a “good lie” — one that lets the matriarch retain her dignity and possibly prolong her life by not focusing on the illness. It’s unusual to see so many older actors be the focus of a story, and it’s a view of Chinese culture that’s likely new to most people. Instead of a sad movie focusing on death, the story has funny moments and focuses instead on the resilience of family bonds. Awkwafina’s expressive face showcases a wide-range of emotions: fear, anguish, joy, and finally, acceptance. With its unusual story and great performances, “The Farewell” has earned its accolades. This quiet contemplative film deserves to be seen for more than a one-night screening at The Nugget.
Drinks With Films rating: 4 shots of Baijiu out of 5.