Double Feature

September 2019 - I'm on a roll! After going months without seeing a first-run movie in the theater, I saw two in the space of about two weeks. One was Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, which is already generating Oscar talk for the writer/director and the stars.

Tarantino's ninth film takes 2:40 to show us what was and what could have been in Hollywood. The R-rated film is set in the late 1960s. Leonardo DiCaprio plays an actor named Rick Dalton. He has a house in the Hollywood Hills. His new neighbors are actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her director husband, Roman Polanski. They've lived there for about a month. Rick hasn't met them yet, but he really would love to meet Polanski.

See, about 10 years earlier, Dalton starred in a hit TV Western. Now, he's an alcoholic who's been reduced to guest-starring roles as "the bad guy." When a producer (Al Pacino) suggests that Rick go to Italy to make Westerns there, Rick's stuntman/gofer/friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is ready to go along for the ride.

While Rick considers the career move, he spends the day on the set of the pilot for a TV Western titled Lancer. Cliff drops him off at the studio, picks up a hippie chick, and ends up at a ranch that's been taken over by members of the Manson family. Several months later, Cliff encounters some of those family members again when they break into Rick's house with nothing but murder on their minds.

Overall review: Loved it! It's a very good film that I can't find a lot of fault with. The performances are good, the set pieces are good, the soundtrack is good. There's really nothing wrong with it. The only thing I can say is that, even though the ending of the film allows for the possibility of "happily ever after," I left instead feeling melancholy, saddened by a sense of loss for what might have been.

One particular scene in Once Upon a Time ... evokes memories of another Tarantino film, 2009's Inglourious Basterds. Brad Pitt gets top billing, but Christoph Waltz won an Academy Award for his supporting role as Col. Hans Landa, the "Jew Hunter." Mélanie Laurent and Diane Kruger have featured roles.

The opening sequence of this R-rated film takes place in 1941 Nazi-occupied France. Landa and his men show up at a farmhouse where Landa believes a Jewish family is hiding. Only the eldest daughter, Shoshanna (Laurent), escapes. We later learn that she has fled to Paris, where she lives under a false name and operates a movie theater.

Occupied France is also where "The Basterds," an elite unit of mainly Jewish-American soldiers, carry out their mission to kill Nazis. A select few are branded with a swastika and left to tell their terrifying tale to Hitler himself. Things come to a head in 1944 when the Nazis choose Shoshanna's theater to premiere a new propaganda film. It all culminates in an explosive ending.

Overall review: Loved it! Tarantino is at the top of his game as both writer and director. To my mind, the best scene in the film occurs as Shoshanna prepares to carry out her revenge. Tarantino picks a song from the Eighties and fits it perfectly into this period piece. His mastery of music makes this particular moment the most memorable in a very memorable movie.