Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

“It: Chapter Two” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

As I sit here writing this review of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth (out of ten he plans on making before retiring from the director’s chair) movie “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” I have the soundtrack to it playing in the background. The music serves as my notes for the movie. I can clearly recall the opening credit sequence as former 1950s television western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and friend/stuntman/driver Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) take a drive through the Hollywood Hills in 1969 to the tune of “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head & The Traits. I can likewise recall the fun evening that Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and their friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) had at the Playboy Mansion while listening to “Son of a Lovin’ Man” by the Buchanan Brothers. Tarantino is one of only two directors (Martin Scorsese being the other one) whose use of pop music is just as important to his movie has the visuals. In “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” the visuals and the sound are inextricably linked, including small bits like advertisements for Tanya Tanning Butter and Numero Uno Cologne.

The movie centers around the relationship between Dalton and Booth. This is easily one of the best, most accurate, most fleshed out, true to life male friendships ever committed to film—and I mean actual Kodak film, which Tarantino, ever the purist, uses for shooting. Booth is technically in Dalton’s employ, but he’s more than that—he’s a good friend and companion. Booth has a shady history and is having a hard time getting stunt work because of it. Dalton is a stalwart friend and in a flashback we see how he advocates for Booth to a stunt coordinator (Kurt Russell) on the set of the “Green Hornet” television show. Things look good for Booth until he rubs a braggadocious Bruce Lee (perfectly played by Mike Moh) the wrong way in a highly entertaining and funny scene. Likewise, Booth is more than grateful to Dalton—he genuinely likes him and cares about him and his career. As the narrator of the movie (also Russell) says at one point, these two men regard each other as a little more than a brother and a little less than a wife. That is a strong friendship, which shines through and is an absolute joy to watch.

Dalton’s big concern is that he’s washed up as an actor. He had a hit television show in the 1950s called “Bounty Law” but it got canceled after he decided he wanted a movie career. He did have a career—credits include the western “Tanner” and a World War II movie I wish was real called “The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey”—but it didn’t go as well as he planned so he is now relegated to guest spots where he plays the heavy and the star of the show gets to beat him up. Tarantino’s ability to capture the zeitgeist of 1969 through movies and television is pitch perfect. He blends real life movies and television shows with fabricated ones so seamlessly that anyone not familiar with pop culture at the time would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

One of my favorite aspects of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is the juxtaposition of what Dalton thinks about his career versus how everyone else perceives him. After a meeting with movie producer Marvin Schwarz, played gently and sweetly by Al Pacino, Dalton is so hard hit by the truth laid on him that he starts weeping on Booth’s shoulder in the parking lot. He weeps again in my favorite scene in the movie in which he discusses a western novel he’s reading with precocious eight-year-old fellow actor (she regards the word “actress” as nonsensical) Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters) on the set of a pilot they’re filming. There are parallels between the character in the book and Dalton. DiCaprio’s slow but steady break down while talking about the book is heartbreaking and is pulled back with a funny moment that is timed perfectly, before things get too schmaltzy.

The amazing discovery as we in the audience journey through “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is that people still remember Dalton and love him. Schwarz wasn’t all bad news—he wants Dalton as his first choice to go to Italy to make westerns. The reason he has the pilot role is because the producer/director of the show, Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond), thinks Rick is a fantastic actor. Then much to Rick’s surprise and joy, at the end of the movie he finds out that he has a fan who has fond memories of him from “Bounty Law” and “The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey.” It’s a great revelation to Rick that he’s still known so well and him finally realizing it is one of the reasons the movie left me feeling euphoric as I exited the theatre—all four times that I saw it. The other reason is a real whopper and should not be spoiled. Buy it.

Also New This Week

It: Chapter Two

I wasn’t a fan of “It: Chapter One” and was hoping that “It: Chapter Two” would be better since we now get to see the members of the Losers Club as adults. My hopes, however, were dashed as I did not see a marked improvement over the first one. My biggest problem with the first movie was the cartoonish nature of the terror inflicted on the kids. I thought maybe that now they’re adults, the terror would be more adult. Nope—still laughably silly with goofy CGI.

Then there’s the run time. This movie has the audacity to be two hours and 49 minutes long. I am fine with a run time that long if necessary, but with “It: Chapter Two” we get a lot of exposition, characters going on what gamers will recognize as “fetch quests” and a final act that feels draggy and goes on for way too long before reaching an admittedly inventive and original—but still bizarre—ending. Anyone who has seen the first movie is bound to see this one to see how the story wraps up, but there should be no rush to spend this amount of time on a movie this mediocre. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Hustlers,” about a group of exotic dancers who get their revenge on wealthy, drunk, and abusive clients by maxing out their credit cards after they've passed out, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, and Julia Stiles; and “The Fanatic,” about a man who takes movie star fandom and autograph seeking to the extreme, starring John Travolta, Devon Sawa, and Ana Golja.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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