I can’t remember the last time a film made me so conflicted about whether I liked it or not. Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ is definitely a head-scratcher for me. I will acknowledge that it is well-made, and has that Tarantino stamp. I have never been a fan of his films – they are fine, for sure, but all of them are just too “bro” for my taste. There’s a certain tenderness in OUATIH that makes me like it a little more than the others.
The film is a love letter to a certain time; Los Angeles in the late 60s. The production values are top notch – you really do feel like you are transported to that specific era – Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth listens to the radio and you can even hear the commercials of the time, and of course I was fascinated by the perfume ones. I think I liked that a little more now that I love in Los Angeles – it was interesting for me to physically see how certain streets and monuments looked then – I say it’s a shoo-in for a Production Design nomination at the very least.
But the screenplay was just not enough for me to really get into – an episodic hodge podge of points in Rick Dalton’s life. Rick is an aging actor, played by Leonardo di Caprio, who has maybe seen better days – he has now been relegated to playing bad guys on television shows, even as he is offered leads in Spaghetti Westerns. He has a sidekick of sorts, Cliff Booth, who serves as a paid friend/driver. We see them go from gig to gig, as they live their showbiz lives. And they live next door to Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, a rising actress who starred in ‘Valley Of The Dolls.’ And just when you think you know where the story is going with those details, Tarantino gives you a surprise ending.
I don’t know how I felt about that. On one hand, I don’t know if I want another movie about the Manson murders (Didn’t I just see one, ‘Charlie Says?’) yet I also got where QT was going here, as this is a fairy tale of Los Angeles in that specific time. All in all, this movie is ultimately not really for me, even if I enjoyed some specific parts of it. I gotta give it credit for making me think, and making me feel differently.
I won’t lie – I was initially drawn to ‘Allied’ because of salacious reasons. Angelina Jolie, when she filed from divorce from Brad Pitt cited as one of the reasons his affair with Marion Cotillard while filming this movie. Allegedly, Jolie hired a private investigator and discovered something. I find this one of life’s greatest ironies – if true – because Jolie and Pitt’s affair blossomed when the two were filming ‘Mr & Mrs. Smith’ while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston. Cotillard, to be fair, has denied the affair via a cryptic message on her Instagram page. So, the question is – can we look at the movie, and their performances, and gain some clues if this is true or not? Do they have scorching hot chemistry?
As a matter of fact they do (and I don’t know is that is proof enough for the accusations) They look great on screen, and make a handsomest couple . And as a matter of fact, I think Cotillard has never looked more beautiful on screen, and at certain angles even kind of resemble Jolie. ‘Allied’ is a movie I thought they stopped making – a romantic war thriller. In recent years, I have been fascinated with stories during the second world war, but most recent movies have been of the ‘war’ variety (I present the recent ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ as evidence) so it was nice to see a new WW2 story with romance at its core. Some call the story here as ‘Casablanca’ in reverse, and yes while I find that to be true, I think this one will stand on its own. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this is an epic film: set in exotic locales (from French Morocco to London) and a sweeping story of love, possible betrayal, and passion. I have never been the biggest fan of Pitt as an actor – too blank for my taste – but here he seems better, seemingly more engaged with his character, especially during the latter dramatic parts. But I think his s Cotillard’s movie – she is charming, duplicitous. She is accused of being a German spy and she plays it brilliantly, and we never really know the truth until we need to – her performance much in sync with the narrative’s every twist and turn. It would be a crime if she wasn’t nominated for her performance here.
I will always be fascinated with movies about Wall Street because I used to work in the industry (and will probably even go back at some point) and I was excited to hear about “The Big Short,” which is based on Michael Lewis fascinating non-fiction book. Do we need another film about the housing market crash of 2008? There’s the excellent “Margin Call,” which explained Lehman Brother’s collapse, and earlier this year, 99 Homes (my thoughts here, ) dealt with a more personal look at the homeowners which caused it.
Adam McKay (he directed the Anchorman movies with Will Ferrell) starts off with a comic approach, drawing characters as almost cartoon-like characters – the metal head broker who wore flip flops, the neurotic New Yorker trader, zany investing BFFs – but, as things get more serious, we see these characters as more humanized versions of themselves. It all works great, thanks to great ensemble-piece acting by Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Finn Witrock, among others. I know and recognize these characters, based on my years of working in the industry. I have to make special mention of Brad Pitt, who lost himself in his character that I did not even realize it was him until after a couple of scenes. And I was pleasantly surprised by Ryan Gosling, who is fine here. (I have almost given up on him)
All in all, the film succeeds. It gives us a reason to root for the “good guys” her, though we ask ourselves if we should be rooting for these people who basically bet against the US economy. And it explains how it all happened to most folks who normally who would not take the time to understand how it did, and did it in a very entertaining manner.