Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): A Great Exploration of Insecurity

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      “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a great film. This is a film that stays on the theme of exploring insecurity, while giving us a glimpse into the lives in Hollywood right before the 70’s hit. You can clearly see how passionate Tarantino is about his work and the performances and cinematography are amazing. For my non-spoiler thoughts, I think if you are a Tarantino fan you will probably enjoy this film but there are some areas that I wish had been explored further, which was why this film didn’t make my Top 5 this year.

The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The story follows Rich Dalton (Leanardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt) as Rich’s career is coming to an end and he struggles with what to make of his life. The story follows the rising star of Sharon Tate (Margo Robbie) and the actions of the Mansons in the surrounding area.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Tarantino has such a good eye for scenes and this film is a great example of this. Robert Richardson the cinematographer does a beautiful job capturing this as Hollywood feels alive, grimy and fully realized in an era of time.

The World – The world of late 60’s going into the 70’s Hollywood is fascinating. You have the Manson cult running around, you’ve got spaghetti westerns in their hayday and the rise of Italian Cinema and of course the mixture of poverty and excess. Tarantino is clearly passionate about this time period and you can see it in the set designs and characters as well as the catchy soundtrack. This film made me want to check out some more of the films from this era to see more of what Tarantino pulled inspiration from.

The Characters – The characters in this world are complicated and it makes them compelling. Rich is a falling star making sense of himself in a world that doesn’t need him anymore, Cliff is trying to survive in a world where he blacklisted (there is a belief he killed his wife in the film from the Hollywood community), and Sharon Tate is making sense of her own rising star and the world of Hollywood. Robbie, DiCaprio and Pitt are all fantastic in their roles and I’d watch a show of this film to see more of these characters.

The Action and Alternate History – This is one of Tarantino’s alternate history takes as in this the Manson followers who killed Sharon Tate instead go to Rich and Cliff’s house and end up getting killed in the process. The action is brutal in true Tarantino action and getting revenge against terrible people is a Tarantino trope I enjoy. This alternate history leads to Rich possibly getting a second boost in his career too as at the end he gets to meet Sharon Tate and with it becomes part of the new Hollywood that she is a part of.

An Exploration of Insecurity – The common theme of the film is that of insecurity. You see it in Rich’s monologues and breakdowns, in Cliff’s interactions with others where he always has to win, in Bruce Lee starting a fight with Cliff, Sharon Tate in her self-discovery as an upcoming star and in Hollywood itself, always chasing the next big dream. Tarantino explores this through all these characters. Character actions are driven by how people view them and by their own doubts about themselves. It is wrestling with this that characters find balance and some semblance of peace by the end.

The Cons:

Motivation of the Murders – We don’t get to see how the Manson girls got brainwashed and how he kept control and that was something that would have added another layer to the film. The Mansons were cult and we only really get glimpses of how that cult worked. Exploring this further would have strengthened the film and could have been worked into the theme of insecurity as well.

One of the rightful issues with the film was the treatment of Bruce Lee. I can appreciate that perspective but in this case I disagree as it fit the theme of the story. Lee like every person in the story is dealing with insecurity and it is that theme that keeps the story so strong. He isn’t in any lesser light than the other characters who aren’t evil like the Mansons. This film was a joy to watch and I can’t wait to see what Tarantino does next. This was a great film and a huge improvement over Tarantino’s last film “The Hateful Eight.” Seriously, if you are a Tarantino fan, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Game of Death (1978): Over the Top Amazing Action or The Movie That Knows Itself

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“The Game of Death,” is a movie that knows exactly what it is and is all the stronger for it. What do I mean, that it knows what it is? Think the “Kill Bill’s” (Bruce Lee’s same Yellow Track Suit probably helps) and how aware it is that it is a part of this genre and know that this film knows the same thing.

In regards to this film there is an unfinished 1973 version made in Hong Kong, written, directed and starring Bruce Lee. If I can find the footage I will review that one at some point too. Since it was Bruce Lee’s final film, as he died during the making of it. The 1978 using footage from it in order to create the fights and interactions with Bruce Lee’s character or a stuntman in Bruce Lee’s place.

Bruce Lee is one of my favorite people in regards to words he expressed and the life he lived (he was an extremely smart, wise and strong guy), and it was great seeing him in the type of films that made him famous (and he also helped write and direct this film too). I’m not sure how much power he had over the final product but the fact that he at least contributed to Robert Clouse’s final work in writing and directing (and being the star) is no doubt why some of the self awareness exists in this film. The awareness begins in the premise.

Billy Lo (Bruce Lee) is a famous movie star fighter struggling against a crime syndicate who is attempting to blackmail him into submission. When he resists the main villain Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) orders a hit on him on his film set. Billy is shot and needs plastic surgery. Faking his own death he goes undercover to bring the syndicate down.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Action – The action is fantastic! The stunts and martial arts flow beautifully and seeing Bruce Lee in action is something you don’t forget. He is quick and deadly and shows a diverse array of martial arts to take down his opponents (as the thugs that work for Mr. Land are all different sizes and fight in different ways). There is a fight on motorcycles, a fight in the restaurant that uses footage from the original Pagoda fight in the unfinished film which has him fighting the famous basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar at one point, and also Chuck Norris. In each fight he uses different strategies to win since every opponent uses different tactics. This action is the strongest part of the film.

Over the top Acting – I can’t really name any specific actor as being amazing since they all play their parts over the top (except for Bruce Lee) and it does a lot to add to the world. Mr. Land (Dean Jagger) is especially over the top. He laughs maniacally as he feeds his fish and when he escapes from Billy assaulting him in Macao makes a “Get away from me,” comment. Billy’s girlfriend Ann (Colleen Camp) is also extreme in how she voices her fear for Billy or “YOU KILLED HIM YOU BASTARDS!” to Mr. Land and his primary henchman Steiner (Hugh O’Brian). Hugh O’Brian and most of the most of the henchman are evil and love it, from threatening or kidnapping and glares of death whenever Billy shuts them down.

The Settings – This film moves around both in what is used (past footage) and locations Billy goes to get revenge. This makes it so there is never a dull moment and keeps the film rolling.

Billy Lo – Bruce Lee is great as the hero. He plays the confident movie star well (probably playing himself a bit there) and also the righteous hero out for revenge. He wears a bunch of different masks but always reveals himself to his enemies, and he pulled off the Yellow Track Suit so well that I understand why Quentin Tarantino used it for the bride in the “Kill Bill” series. The movie ends once revenge is done and Billy’s arc is complete of saving his girlfriend and friend who helped him fake his death.

Cons: Character Development – The characters are over the top, but I would have liked some motivation and backstory…especially for Dr. Land and the villains, and Billy too on how he rose to fame. This is one thing that would have made the film perfect and why “Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2” are better films…since we get that with all the characters. We get the completely evil and also the reasons why. For this film we get none of that, which is the biggest detractor for the film.

The Cinematography – The Cinematography isn’t great. The best stuff is the stuff Bruce Lee filmed in the Pagoda with the fights. The newer stuff is pretty unmemorable and tends to depend way too much on doing close ups of people’s faces and long shots.

This is a film I would definitely recommend, and I would call it a favorite for myself. I very much want to see more of Bruce Lee’s films after this and look forward to reviewing more of them further down the line. If you like Bruce Lee, Hong Kong Action Films, Martial Arts Films or Kung Fu movies you will like this film.

My final Score for this film is 8.7 / 10.