My First Tarantino “So-So”

There is no doubt Quentin Tarantino belongs to the Greatest American Film Directors Club, and Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg should be greeters at the door (Big Kahuna Burgers served inside). His knack for non-sequential storytelling and intertwining narrative is impeccable and legitimately his. Cherry-topping that, his testosterone-prone dialogue fires as rapidly as the bullets that protrude through well-scripted characters you both love to love and love to loathe. Basically, you know when you are watching a Tarantino movie, and you know when other directors try to be Tarantino.

Inevitably (and much like the greats mentioned above), where Tarantino has broken cinematic ground – Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), and Reservoir Dogs (1992), he has also treaded water, and his latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, not only treads, it never breaches the surface.

I think most will enjoy the nostalgically and even fetishistically accomplished setting, but they will also find the characters less fleshed out and more like pawns, basking in the scenery and inadvertently awaiting the Sharon Tate demise we already anticipate.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the hip, postmodern auteur still has the cinematic chops, and he successfully conceives an illustrious 1969 Hollywood where psychedelia clashes with show business, and the true story of Sharon Tate and Charles Manson enter into the mix. Simon & Garfunkel and Paul Revere & the Raiders rock over ripping, gas-guzzling engines and hippy peace signs, while fluorescent marquee signs light up as the sun lights down.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays TV star Rick Dalton, who wavers in and out of self-confidence and movie industry washup. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his stunt double, housekeeper, and friend. They live right next to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. You can imagine the possibilities of historical fiction and narrative overlap.

It is too bad that it takes Tarantino two hours to reach these possibilities, and when he finally does, the breaking point is expected and less impactful. Without spoiling the ending, I wish it occurred sooner so that I could keep getting to know Rick and Cliff. The Tate/Manson/Polanski ordeal is superfluous kryptonite and obvious time-filler, no matter how much Tarantino tries to style it up.   

Brad Pitt’s character and performance is, by far, the most charming and memorable. A case can be made that he transforms Tarantino’s film into the latest “buddy movie,” and this is a good thing. “Leo” hangs in with his close-ups and a powerful Western monologue scene with teary eyes, but when Tarantino takes away his vulnerability, he becomes less likable. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate and that is it. She plays Sharon Tate on paper and logistically to the movie’s premise. That, really, is it.

I have never said this about any Tarantino movie, but this one places style over substance and character development, and whether it is intentional or not, it is another misstep of the 21st century when movie-making is so far from movie-making.

There is a scene when Sharon Tate spontaneously decides to watch her own movie – The Wrecking Crew – at the local movie theatre. Humbly disguising herself, she revels in all the laughter and reactions from her seat neighbors as they watch her onscreen. I couldn’t help but think of Tarantino doing the same thing at his movies. In most cases, he would deserve the accolades, and he should be proud of them. But, with this movie, it seems to only be his movie, his beloved pet project. He might have enjoyed his trip down memory lane, and we might have enjoyed the postcard, but the characters end up left behind.

I will continue to rewatch Quentin Tarantino movies, probably faster than they remake movie after movie in America. But, yes, this will be the first Quentin Tarantino movie that I will just call so-so and rewatch less. I hope his tenth and last film goes back into groundbreaking territory. It kind of has to since Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg are still working and defying age.

Don’t succumb, Quentin. You’ve got one more.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood *** out of *****

26 thoughts on “My First Tarantino “So-So”

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  1. I agree to this sentiments. Especially if you know nothing about Sharon Tate and Hollywood history in general, you will feel left out and disconnected in this movie.

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  2. Watching this movie I felt like it was sort of a love letter to the art of filmmaking for its own sake, and not necessarily as a medium for storytelling. There really was not much of a coherent plot, nor was it a particularly in depth examination of character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it seemed like the main character was the slick 1969 Hollywood setting itself, and characters’ main job was to just walk and drive through it. Other than two precious albeit short developmental scenes for Brad and “Leo,” there really isn’t much there (and, the fictionalized historical ending ploy has already lost steam these days). Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Katio, that’s the toughest question, but I can honestly say that other than FIELD OF DREAMS, the book in the head is better than the movie in the eye. That said, it looks like RACING IN THE RAIN is sincere, so there is no right answer. I’m just glad the dog doesn’t have to move his mouth to express his thoughts 🙂


  4. ‘and we might have enjoyed the post card” your writing is superb! ☺

    Racing in the Rain is my go-to book when a friend loses their pooch to age or illness. I love the book so much I don’t know if I should see the movie? And Costner’s voice in the trailers does have an ‘old man’ sound.. what do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I saw it Thursday. Some scenes dragged on a little too long. The scene in the theatre is a prime example. Some editing would have helped.
    I am glad he finally did a movie over the time period he has hinted at with so many films.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was his pet project. I guess for me when I walk into one of his movies I expect the unexpected…I agree…He is driving the car on this one.
        You analyze movies like I do bands…that is why I read your posts. You find things I would not…I will admit I was so caught up in 1969 that it distracted me from the movie…if that makes sense.
        My son was with me…the first thing I told him was…this movie is NOT for the masses. I had the same question on Sharon Tate…why? She was used more as a prop.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Agreed. It was a period piece more than anything, and there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re Tarantino and have a canon of brilliance up your sleeve. What’s your opinion on GOODFELLAS? Your music expertise and visual analysis seem to line up well on this one. I apologize if I haven’t dug further into your blog about this movie…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I love Goodfellas…I mean love. The music placement like the Donovan song…Atlantis during the Billy Batts scene and the song Fire at the end when he is opening the trunk…brilliant to me.
            No man…I haven’t covered Goodfellas…My movie reviews are not that good…that is why I leave them to bloggers like you. I mean that in the best way. I know my weaknesses lol.
            I’m not as critical as I should be… like music I write about my experience with the movie…like Platoon more than the movie itself. That works better with music.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Humility is the best quality, especially in this blogging community. Your song analysis and history tap into the feel-good gut, and even though most of your songs are a bit older than mine, I really appreciate and feel your passion for each verse and refrain.

              I go back to “Floyd,” Aerosmith, Van Halen, and CCR, but your reviews remind me that I was listening to so much more.

              My dad had and still has a jukebox. It used to take a quarter to play a tune. Now, it’s an unplug-plug process.

              It’s worth it. My nephews concur.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Thank you so much. I grew up in the eighties….was 13 in 1980…I bought my first Beatles album in second grade and unlike my peers I wasn’t a huge fan of the 80s music…Now I liked some but I should have been born a generation before I was lol. I always related to older music for some reason. People think I’m older than I am…I’m 52 but feel 18. Well…my mind does.

              Music feeds other music no doubt. It all comes down from their peers and gets refiltered again.

              How I would love to have a jukebox. I really like the older ones…see there I go again…
              I appreciate you reading my blog.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Last question (so we can get on with our lives, haha) – What made you start your blog? I admire your passion for music nostalgia, and you write with such a comfortable conversation tone. Is blogging therapeutic? Catharsis? A hobby when you have time? Last question (I promise): What is your take on David Bowie? For no reason at all, I have found myself admiring his work backwards, from Black Star to his first hits. I like his sound yet find him monotonous at the same time. Ugh.

              Liked by 1 person

            4. It’s a hobby because I don’t know many people who like the music I do. My peers mostly like 80s music. I’m a huge Beatles fan as you probably know and I just don’t know many around me that have read and listened to them like I have…. Blogging opened up a lot of knowledge… I can talk to first generation fans who were there when the sixties went down…I just love that…talking to someone about it instead of reading about it.
              Yes it is also very therapeutic for me. I’m an IT Director and stress goes with that job…this helps a bunch.

              With Bowie… I respect all of his work and his ability to change from one style to another. Check out the change between Ziggy Stardust to Young Americans. Saying that…I like him more in certain periods than others. I like…naturally the early seventies best. Life On Mars is my top song by him because it has that Beatles like quaulity to it. I also like his Tin Machine period…just raw as hell also. So yea there are certain times I like him more than others.

              Man you can ask as much as you want…it doesn’t bother me….

              but I have to ask you…Why did you start blogging?

              Also…did you figure out how to put that widget in so you can list your movies on the side? The index I added has really helped…if you get the time I would suggest it. My old stuff gets read more than my newer posts.
              Sorry for the novel man…


            5. I’m reading a notated letter account bio on Bowie right now, and I jog to his ever changing musical styles. He is such an enigma to me, and I don’t know if it’s his sound or story that makes me intrigued.

              I starting blogging (I can’t stand that term) because I have a writer in me who likes movies. I loved, loved, loved reading Roger Ebert because he not only praised the films I liked, he articulately explained how they worked. I started writing movie reviews during college, took a break while I taught high school music, and now I’m trying both 🙂

              This is the ultimate compliment (trust me) – you remind me of my dad. He is 15 years older, but he loves his music. The Beach Boys were his sound, and even though I could never feel the same way, I can I understand their positive impact on him. They make him smile. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

              Liked by 1 person

            6. Bowie like Neil Young seemed to do what they wanted to do and screw the consequences….there weren’t any beause they were talented enough to go over with the masses.
              There is a quote that Bowie made about Lennon…this isn’t exact but basically Lennon had a gift of taking Avant Garde and making it appealing to the masses… Bowie had the same effect.

              I always liked Ebert also. You do it really well. I wish I could do that more…mine is emotional more than breaking it down. Keep at it.

              The Beach Boys have to make you smile! I do appreciate it and I take it as a compliment. Yes that is what it’s all about. Movies and Music can take you to a different place….some good some not as good but they take you all the same.

              Liked by 1 person

            7. “Good movies make good moviegoers.” Bowie still has the “it” factor. And, yes – movies and music are such a great escape. For me, the more real, the more they hurt. I’m okay with that.

              Liked by 1 person

        2. Also (and random, I apologize), what’s your take on pre-fame Aerosmith? I tend to go back to their first four albums more than all their pop hits in the last twenty years. Did you dig them during their development days, and do you dig them now? I was the only (only) fan of theirs in 1996 before they came out with “Livin’ on the Edge.@

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Man with me you can be as random as you want to be. My mind jumps everywhere and I go off subject a lot.
            IMO….They came out with Permanent Vacation and have remade it over and over and over again since then. They got that commercial sound and lost their roughness. I liked the Toys in the Attic days MUCH more.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. God bless. Me too. I was made fun of in high school for playing Toys in the Attic circa 1994. They wanted their new stuff, but I reveled in their old, Boston sound. It’s amazing and sad how much music can define a sound and genre and exploit it not soon after. Who do you listen to right now? No hesitation.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. You will laugh! Right now I’m listening to new/old artists. I pulled up a powerpop count down on one site and started to check all of those unknown bands and artists out.
              But right now Elvis Costello more….as far as new…Jake Bugg. I cannot get into the new dance music or new country music. I live near Nashville and we are hit with that a lot.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh no, Reely, Bernie? I can see how it happens. Tarantino has always placed the pole vault bar up near the high rise apartment patio, and he can’t hit a grand slam every time. No sweat! I still will go and see it. Y o d

    Liked by 1 person

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