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Mr. Arkadin

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Sounds like a horrible idea to me. I've had a decent time with some of his films, but this just seems like it would be a tonal disaster.

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It seems the reports that this film would focus primarily on the Manson Murders was exaggerated. The trailer seems to be more of a comedy-drama period piece about late-60s Hollywood. The Bruce Lee scene got a good laugh out of me.

 

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Does anyone else think the line, "That was the best acting I've seen in my whole life," is going to be placed in the film in a similar way to, "I think this just might be my masterpiece?"

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I have seen the trailer 3-4 times, and my I feel really gross every time they show Tate or Manson. 

I've really wrestled over the years with depictions of violence based on true people (Zodiac, From Hell). I am generally challenged to thought by many of Tarantino's films -- though I hated the Hateful Eight I confess to finding Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction to making me uncomfortable in *good* ways. This just feels...I don't know what, but I hate Hollywood's fascination with the Tate murder.

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Have you seen it yet, Ken?  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts (and anyone else's, of course).

I was entertained throughout, but wow, the more I reflect on Once Upon a Time, the more morally problematic it becomes.  Its misogyny and shallow fetishization of Sharon Tate become creepier and creepier.  

My full review (where it was more difficult than usual to talk about it without major spoilers): https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2019/07/once-upon-a-time-tarantinos-stylish-but-insubstantial-love-letter-to-1960s-hollywood/

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7 hours ago, Andrew said:

Have you seen it yet, Ken?  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts (and anyone else's, of course).

I was entertained throughout, but wow, the more I reflect on Once Upon a Time, the more morally problematic it becomes.  Its misogyny and shallow fetishization of Sharon Tate become creepier and creepier.  

My full review (where it was more difficult than usual to talk about it without major spoilers): https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2019/07/once-upon-a-time-tarantinos-stylish-but-insubstantial-love-letter-to-1960s-hollywood/

I did. I despised it. And I despised myself a little for talking myself into watching it.. 

I realize, of course, that moral revulsion is not in and of itself a review, and we (parsed as humanity not just people at A&F ) don't have a strong track record when it comes to expressing that without it being condemnation of those who don't share it. So I'll just offer my own as reportage rather than argument. I've seen on Letterboxd that plenty of people I respect (Anders, Russ) liked it just fine, and I do tend to be a proponent of the adage that the best reviewer is the one who had a positive response b/c the one for whom the movie worked is often the one who is most in tune to what it was trying to do. (As opposed to the sort of typical Evangelical assumption that the one who is most enthusiastic is the one who is most debased because all movies are debased, etc.) 

I like about every third movie that Tarantino does, so I'll probably like his next one.. I should have known better from the previews that this would be one that pushes some of my buttons and just steered clear of it from the get go.

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Misogyny? Misanthropy, perhaps, but why focus only on the women who get beaten up, and not the men?

FWIW, I remember hearing a few years ago about Tarantino's foot fetish, and my goodness but there are at least two scenes in this film where you Really Notice it.

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32 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Misogyny? Misanthropy, perhaps, but why focus only on the women who get beaten up, and not the men?

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

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Misogyny, because the did he/didn't he kill his wife of Brad Pitt's character goes unexamined, plus Tarantino's choice to spend so much time on the Home Alone-esque slaughter of the home invaders, two out of three who were women.  It just strikes me that if QT could go whole hog and have the Basterds kill Hitler, why did he stop short of altering history here and allow Charles Manson to walk away unscathed?  In addition - not that I'd expect QT to show this degree of sensitivity - the women in Manson's family were brainwashed victims in their own right, something that is not even given a consideration here.

It really grates me that both AO Scott and Walter Chaw are talking about this film as a touching tale of male friendship, which seems to sickly miss the point utterly.  It's certainly a story of masculine enabling, considering how Pitt enables DiCaprio's substance addiction, and DiCaprio allows Pitt to keep a foot in the door at studio lots, despite the (likely) domestic violence in his background.  And of course, Manson is a tale of toxic masculinity to the nth degree of psychopathy.

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*** SPOILERS AHOY! ***

Andrew wrote:
Misogyny, because the did he/didn't he kill his wife of Brad Pitt's character goes unexamined, plus Tarantino's choice to spend so much time on the Home Alone-esque slaughter of the home invaders, two out of three who were women. 

I have absolutely zero sympathy for the home invaders, and I note that, historically, there were *four* home invaders -- one male and three female -- but the movie shows one of the women leaving at the last minute, before the actual home invasion. And I also note that, historically, two of the brutally murdered victims were female, but in the film only one of the people in jeopardy is female (i.e. DiCaprio's wife), and even she is never threatened in a particularly exploitative way, cinematically speaking.

I would also note that Tarantino spent a considerable bit of screen time showing Brad Pitt's character beating up a *male* Manson follower in an earlier scene, and when the female followers move to intervene, Pitt's character explicitly says that he will beat *the man* even harder if the women make one more move. Moving from one of Manson's male followers to a trio of Manson followers who are two-thirds female certainly kicks things up a notch, but I don't buy that there is anything particularly "misogynistic" about this, particularly given the historical facts that Tarantino is starting with.

Pitt's back-story is the more pertinent point here, but, as you note, it is never examined, and it is never clear whether the story is true. I could see myself kind of leaning towards the story being true, given that so many other seemingly incidental details in the first two hours are basically preparing us for the cathartic violence of the final half-hour. The rumours about Pitt's wife, at the very least, do prepare us to see him as someone who *could* kill a woman. But the fact that he kills two women (and a man) when they threaten his life (and the life of another woman who happens to be in the room) does not, in and of itself, prove the rumours true.

: It just strikes me that if QT could go whole hog and have the Basterds kill Hitler, why did he stop short of altering history here and allow Charles Manson to walk away unscathed?

Maybe because Manson wasn't one of the actual home invaders...?

In addition - not that I'd expect QT to show this degree of sensitivity - the women in Manson's family were brainwashed victims in their own right, something that is not even given a consideration here.

And the men in Manson's family weren't?

I'll give you this much, though you didn't mention it: Manson barely appears in the film at all, and to the degree that anyone seems to be "in control" on the Manson farm, it is the Dakota Fanning character, more than anyone else. So maybe there's some sort of sexist angle there, I dunno, inasmuch as a woman bears the weight of the movie's onscreen depiction of cult leadership. But Fanning's character is not one of the home invaders, and thus she is not the victim of anyone's violence.

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I haven't seen this movie yet, and probably won't because Tarantino's violence and I don't mix, but here's Jezebel's Rich Juzwiak on misogyny in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood.

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Thanks for sharing that, Beth.  Juzwiak provides some helpful context, and it's nice to know that I'm not the only critic who saw misogyny writ large in this film.

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Saw it last night. I can't quite cosign on Walter Chaw's rave, but if I lost a best friend to suicide a couple weeks ago, I have no idea how a movie about any sort of close friendship (even a toxic one such as this) would hit me.

At the same time, I don't agree at all with saying Robbie's Sharon Tate lacks personality or is just a dumb blonde. Despite substantially less screen time, I thought she had just as much depth as Rick and Cliff, and she provides the film its soul with her longing for fame while knowing it's temporary. She was not only my favorite character here, but one of my favorites in Tarantino's entire filmography. The scene when she watches herself and the joy she takes from the audience was one of my two favorites in the film (the other being the filming of the TV pilot, where DiCaprio's bad acting is hilariously perfect for the character). I'd say Robbie should be a strong contender for supporting actress awards.

If it hadn't been for the sheer viciousness and brutality of the final act, which is shocking and jarring to a degree that I'm not sure has any dramatic justification, Once Upon a Time would have easily been my favorite Tarantino film. It's a lament for an era that's gone and the good aspects of that era, while simultaneously acknowledging all the toxic elements of that era that led to its inevitable demise.


I really like the points Alissa Wilkinson makes in this essay on the movie's ending:

Quote

But it’s an especially poignant fantasy in this case, since this isn’t just a movie about something that happened; it’s a movie about something that happened in Hollywood. That Manson landed in LA, and tried for years to gain fame himself, is indicative of what drew (and continues to draw) people to Hollywood. It’s the same drive that is pushing Rick right off the cliff: When Hollywood once embraced you and now you’re being edged out, what really is left?

SPOILERS

I took it for granted Cliff most likely did kill his wife, which may have also been a lament over Natalie Wood's early death - that was the first thing I thought of with that subplot. Let's also not forget one of his first lines after the opening TV interview is a racist insult of Mexicans. I thought the point of both was to establish he's an antihero and to expose the racism and sexism that plagued (plagues) Hollywood and necessitates a reevaluation and deconstruction of many films from that era, which Tarantino clearly knows, as can be seen in Bounty Law and the bad TV pilot being just as much a critiques of Westerns as they are tributes.

One early line states "Roman Polanski is the hottest director in Hollywood right now." That line only makes sense and has any greater meaning if we know why in six years from the time of the movie that will very much no longer be the case.

Tarantino's premise seemed to me to be: what if evils like that had never happened? Which puts this in a slightly different category of revisionism than the revenge fantasies of Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. There'd unquestionably be other evils that still have to be dealt with, and the film shows that, but dreaming for one night of a world with four fewer murders because of two drunk, stoned antiheroes makes this film less conceited than I often find Tarantino's films.

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Owen Gleiberman loves the first two hours but hates that ending. Not sure whether I agree with his take on the film, but he makes some very valid points.

BethR wrote:
: . . . here's Jezebel's Rich Juzwiak on misogyny in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood.

It's weird how Juzwiak begins the article by calling Tarantino's statement an "odd, petulant response" when his own response to that response is odd and petulant, inasmuch as he casually dismisses the likelihood that the probable interpretation of Tarantino's statement is, in fact, the probable interpretation of that statement. (It "seems unlikely" that the "hypothesis" Tarantino was rejecting was that he had made a "deliberate choice" not to give Margot Robbie more dialogue? Really?)

If Tarantino doesn't delve deeper into Sharon Tate *as a character*, though, it could be due to the same reverent impulses that arguably hindered Jackie Brown. Gleiberman observed, back in the day, that Tarantino had too much respect for both Elmore Leonard and Pam Grier to give that movie the sort of dangerous energy that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction had had, and maybe there's a similar dynamic in the distance that Tarantino keeps between himself and Tate here.

Evan C wrote:
: One early line states "Roman Polanski is the hottest director in Hollywood right now." That line only makes sense and has any greater meaning if we know why in six years from the time of the movie that will very much no longer be the case.

I don't know if Tarantino *meant* for us to think along these lines, but I was struck by the first scene between DiCaprio's character and the child actor, and how the child actor had *no chaperone*. Thankfully, the scene itself is perfectly innocent, as is the relationship between DiCaprio and the child actor in all their other scenes together. But in light of all the concerns that have been raised in recent years about the treatment of children in Hollywood, it was striking to see that eight-year-old girl just sitting by herself on a movie set in 1969. (And yeah, a part of you wonders if we are supposed to associate that in any way with our knowledge of what Roman Polanski did to a 13-year-old girl just eight years later.)

(DiCaprio himself is a former child actor, of course. He first really caught people's attention with Growing Pains, which he joined when he was 16, but he had been working in TV consistently for two years by that point, and the IMDb says he even appeared in an episode of Romper Room when he was 4 or 5.)

Incidentally, I *really* liked the last scene between DiCaprio and the child actor. The fact that DiCaprio's character was so desperate for validation that he felt moved by the little girl's claim... brilliant writing and acting there.

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Incidentally, I saw that Jezebel headline before I saw the film, and I avoided reading the article because I didn't want to see any spoilers... but I assumed at the time that the headline was referring to how the film would depict the death of Sharon Tate or something. So imagine my surprise when I saw the film and realized where the movie's violence was *really* directed... and how the movie aimed it at the men, too. (Again, let's not forget the absolutely riveting sequence at the Spahn ranch.)

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On 7/29/2019 at 4:45 PM, Peter T Chattaway said:

I would also note that Tarantino spent a considerable bit of screen time showing Brad Pitt's character beating up a *male* Manson follower in an earlier scene, and when the female followers move to intervene, Pitt's character explicitly says that he will beat *the man* even harder if the women make one more move. Moving from one of Manson's male followers to a trio of Manson followers who are two-thirds female certainly kicks things up a notch, but I don't buy that there is anything particularly "misogynistic" about this, particularly given the historical facts that Tarantino is starting with.

In addition - not that I'd expect QT to show this degree of sensitivity - the women in Manson's family were brainwashed victims in their own right, something that is not even given a consideration here.

And the men in Manson's family weren't?

3 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Incidentally, I saw that Jezebel headline before I saw the film, and I avoided reading the article because I didn't want to see any spoilers... but I assumed at the time that the headline was referring to how the film would depict the death of Sharon Tate or something. So imagine my surprise when I saw the film and realized where the movie's violence was *really* directed... and how the movie aimed it at the men, too. (Again, let's not forget the absolutely riveting sequence at the Spahn ranch.)

 

Peter, I am following your individual rebuttals but confess I am not yet grasping your overall claim/point. Are you suggesting the film is *not* misogynistic because it also directs violence towards male characters? Are you claiming that is is misanthropic as well as misogynistic? (If so, I don't know that anyone is disagreeing.) Or is there a larger argument that I'm not grasping, that the treatment of violence in all its forms has some sort of artistic merit and necessity that is being lost in the labeling? 

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kenmorefield wrote:
: Peter, I am following your individual rebuttals but confess I am not yet grasping your overall claim/point. Are you suggesting the film is *not* misogynistic because it also directs violence towards male characters? Are you claiming that is is misanthropic as well as misogynistic?

I am not claiming that it is misanthropic, per se. (I don't have enough invested in the film to push that particular label.) But I am definitely disputing the narrow focus that people are putting on the film's treatment of women to the exclusion of its treatment of men.

: Or is there a larger argument that I'm not grasping, that the treatment of violence in all its forms has some sort of artistic merit and necessity that is being lost in the labeling?

Again, I don't have enough invested in the film to argue for its necessity, per se. But I do have a resistance of sorts to trendy labels, and the frequency with which "misogyny" gets thrown around when mere "sexism" would suffice is certainly one of those things that pushes my buttons. (And, as I've already said, the film's treatment of men leaves me thinking that even a label like "sexism" would obscure more than it enlightens here. I mean, I was kind of astonished that the film includes an entire sequence in which Brad Pitt's fictitious character *beats up Bruce Lee*, an actual person and a cinematic icon, to boot. The sequence is more comical than anything else, but -- if I'm remembering the sequence of events correctly -- it starts us on a trajectory towards Pitt's more serious beating of that male Manson follower, which then points us towards the even more intense climax of the film.)

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I was stunned to discover a video review by SDG for this film. I was even more surprised to see him give it a 'B.' I'd long been under the impression that he avoided Tarantino altogether on the sense that this was someone he wouldn't be able to stomach. Now I'm curious to hear his reviews of Jackie Brown, Inglorious Basterds, and the Kill Bill films. Did I just make his Tarantino abstinence up? Or is it some other filmmaker he purposefully avoids, and I've accidentally overwritten one name with another? (Maybe it was Von Trier?)

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1 hour ago, Overstreet said:

I was stunned to discover a video review by SDG for this film. I was even more surprised to see him give it a 'B.' I'd long been under the impression that he avoided Tarantino altogether on the sense that this was someone he wouldn't be able to stomach. Now I'm curious to hear his reviews of Jackie Brown, Inglorious Basterds, and the Kill Bill films. Did I just make his Tarantino abstinence up? Or is it some other filmmaker he purposefully avoids, and I've accidentally overwritten one name with another? (Maybe it was Von Trier?)

Hi Jeff,

Do you not interact with Steven any longer? I have no issues with this post, just wondering why you didn't ask him about it? 

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Actually, I was just reading this thread as I sipped my morning coffee, didn't see him participating in the thread, had this thought occur to me, and posted the question. Yes, I do still interact with him. And I will ask him.

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That makes sense. I think he posted something on Facebook a while back that he was not a "fan" of Tarantino (which can cover a broad spectrum), but found this film brilliant, or well-executed, in ways he himself did not yet fully understand. (I disagree with Steven about the value of the film, but his post on FB was sort of a textbook example of *starting* with your reader/viewer response and using it to examine the film--how it creates that effect as opposed to so much of what passes for film or literary criticism these days, which is just making your visceral reader/viewer response the end all of your take.)

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No, the Bruce Lee depiction was not the worst thing in the movie, but it did bother me: https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/13/entertainment/quentin-tarantino-bruce-lee-trnd/index.html

 

Quote

"Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could," Tarantino said. "If you ask me the question, 'Well, who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?' It's the same question. It's a fictional character. If I say Cliff could beat Bruce Lee up, he's a fictional character, then he could beat Bruce Lee up."

 

This is not as asinine as saying Batman could win a fight with Superman, but it's in the same bloody ballpark of asininity. 

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Here's Melissa Tamminga with an excellent long-form essay on the conservatism inherent within the film

Quote

We might protest that Tarantino should not have to bear the weight of responsibility in this particular film for centering two white, cis-gender men, and that there is nothing inherently wrong in an individual film for centering two white, cis-gender men. However, the film’s positioning as a tale of “Hollywood” (not white, male Hollywood, but “Hollywood”), its use of the Sharon Tate character (Margot Robbie), its racial slurs (however mild, relative to Tarantino’s other work), its use of characters of color (from Mexican valets to Bruce Lee), its construction of other women characters, indicates that this isn’t really a film that can claim to be free of whiteness and the patriarchy (and the implications and assumptions of supremacy surrounding both) — and it is those things that makes the nostalgia of the film a toxic, rather than an innocent, longing for the past (if any nostalgia can ever be innocent). The film is both a nostalgic vision of the past and a film that is itself a relic of the past, deeply conservative in its views of women and of the supposed innocence of white men.

I am admittedly not a Tarantino fan, but I went into Once Upon a Time with hopeful expectations...which were almost entirely dashed. I had (accurately) guessed the outcome of the narrative as part of Tarantino's revisionist history project before the first trailer ever dropped. So when Brandy the pit bull was introduced, it confirmed my suspicions, and found the expected bloodbath 2+ hours later to be anticlimactic, unoriginal, and deplorable in its worship of violence. And everything in between was...well, Melissa says it far better than I ever could.

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