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Laramie Movie Scope:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

If only real life was like this

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 30, 2019 – As in his earlier film, “Inglourious Basterds” writer-director Quentin Tarantino spins another alternate history story in this comedy-drama about events in Hollywood around the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969.

This overlong movie (two hours and 41 minutes) seriously drags in the middle as I sat wondering if all these seemingly loose ends were ever going to be tied up. Never fear, it finally comes together nicely when members of the infamous Manson Family, a pit bull dog, an aging, drunk TV actor, and a drunk, stoned stunt man all meet one fateful night.

The moral of the movie seems to be that guys like that stoned stunt man, Cliff Booth (played by mega star Brad Pitt) and his friend, that struggling, over the hill TV actor, Rick Dalton (played to the hilt by Leonardo DiCaprio of “The Revenant”) are the real people who make Hollywood run, while many others (like Bruce Lee) are just Prima donnas.

Much of the movie follows Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth as they cruise through Hollywood from one set to another in Dalton's monster Cadillac (driven by Booth, since Dalton lost his license). During one trip, Dalton meets with agent Marvin Schwarzs (played by Al Pacino) who tells Dalton he needs to capitalize on his fading TV career by starring in some Spaghetti Western movies in Italy. Dalton knows Schwarzs is right, but resists the call of Italy, for a time.

Dalton has a crisis when, seriously hung over, he can't remember his lines in one scene, but comes through with a fine performance the next day. Booth gets into trouble when he gets into a back lot fight with Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh of the TV miniseries, “Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist”). There is also an unsavory rumor in Hollywood about Booth. People say Booth murdered his wife and got away with it (a flashback scene lends some credence to this story).

Bruce Lee fans will not like this film's portrayal of him as a braggart who is not as good a street fighter as he claims to be. Update 10/18/19 -- China’s National Film Administration stopped the release of this film in China after Bruce Lee's daughter complained about it. Tarantino is reportedly not willing to change the film to address her complaint.

Despite the large wealth gap between Dalton and Booth, and the fact that Booth essentially works as a gofer for Dalton, they remain good friends. Dalton tries his best to get stunt work for Booth, but that story about Booth's wife, and his penchant for getting into trouble on set, limit his opportunities.

One day, Booth picks up a pretty young hitchhiker, Pussycat (played by Margaret Qualley of “The Nice Guys”) and takes her to the Spahn Movie Ranch, where she stays with a group of seedy hippie types.

Little does Booth know, but he has walked into the midst of the deadly Manson Family, which even then was plotting to carry out multiple murders with the aim of starting a race war. Suspicious of all these squatters, Booth insists upon visiting his old friend, the elderly, blind ranch owner George Spahn (played by Bruce Dern) just to make sure he is not being taken advantage of. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (played by Dakota Fanning) tries to keep him away, but Booth, who actually is a tough guy, won't be stopped.

After meeting with Spahn, Booth discovers that another member of the Manson Family, Clem (based on Steve Grogan, played by James Landry Hébert of “Ghost House”) has ruined a tire on Dalton's Cadillac with a knife. Booth insists that Clem replace the flat with the spare tire. Clem refuses, and Booth promptly beats him until Clem complies. Things get ugly with members of the Manson family gathering to loudly curse Booth. Some of them will meet Booth later.

The movie lazily wanders along, zigzagging over a span of years through the lives of Dalton, Booth, Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie of “I, Tonya”) and Tate's husband, film director (and Dalton's next door neighbor) Roman Polanski (played by Rafal Zawierucha). In one scene of Tate talks her way into a free ticket to see “The Wrecking Crew,” a movie she appeared in. In another, Dalton discusses acting with a precocious child actor (played by Julia Butters of “13 Hours”).

Since Tate was the most famous murder victim of the Manson Family, we might think we know where this story is going, but Tarantino does like surprises, as well as violence. I have to say that I was looking at my watch during parts of this movie, but the ending was satisfying. There are some good scenes in the movie, mostly involving Booth in some violent confrontations. There is undeniable satisfaction in seeing a bunch of pretenders get their comeuppance from a couple of good ol' Hollywood boys who are the real deal.

This movie has a large number of actors playing other actors, agents, directors, and other famous Hollywood people from that era. There are way too many of these to mention, but the one that impressed me most was Damian Lewis (of the “Homeland” and “Billions” TV series) playing legendary actor Steve McQueen. Damian looks like a dead ringer for McQueen in this movie.

Because these events happened 40 to 50 years a ago, many of the real people who are depicted by actors in the film are dead. Sadly, one of the actors in this film, Luke Perry, who plays actor Wayne Maunder, has also died since filming. Sadly, legendary actor and good ol' boy, Burt Reynolds, originally cast to play George Spahn, died prior to filming.

Aside from slow pace of the movie, and the occasional rambling speech that goes on too long, this is a movie that is fun to watch, mainly because of the chemistry between the two stars, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio (who gives a brilliant performance) and because of the very satisfying conclusion to the film. I also enjoyed the sampling of popular period songs heard in the movie. It is a real blast from the past. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]