Saturday, July 27, 2019
By Kenneth Turan
July 24, 2019
By David Edelstein
Quentin Tarantino isn’t the only director who makes movies that address, invoke, extol, parody, imitate, and fetishize other movies, but he’s one of the few whose dialogues with the past can occupy the same artistic plane as the objects of his reverence — and can even, on happier occasions, transcend it.Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a very happy occasion. It’s a ramshackle ’60s pastiche that acquires a life of its own, evoking not just an era and its pop culture but also celebrating the impulse to recreate and (the effrontery!) rewrite the past in line with his fantasies. Say what you will about those fantasies — they’re innocent, they’re deviant, they’re sometimes weirdly both at once — but no one imparts his pipe dreams so seductively.
The ’60s that engages Tarantino doesn’t touch on the healthy and corrective elements of the counterculture. If anything, he’s a reactionary, nostalgic for the lone-gunman TV Westerns of the ’50s and early ’60s, while using the Manson “family” members to represent hippies. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading Western TV star with a star-size drinking problem. Rick would self-destruct in private but for his bud, his amigo, his stuntman/driver/gofer/one-man entourage, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Discomfort is built into the relationship, because Cliff can’t get work on his own (there’s a scandal in his past) and because Rick no longer has the clout to ensure that Cliff will be hired along with him. It gets awkward. Tagging along, Cliff seems like a bit of a masochist: After chauffeuring Rick home, he returns to his trailer, watches Mannix, and eats a bowl of macaroni and cheese (from a box) while his big dog beside him has a bowl of dog food (from a can — and slimy). They’re both good dogs. Rick, meanwhile, must consider a life in Italy with or without Cliff, where spaghetti Westerns beckon to American actors past their prime.
For a while, Once Upon a Time seems as if it’s going to be nothing but a series of extended digressions. But it’s shaped like a Western, and gets better, tighter, and more surprising as it moseys along, plainly building to the grisly, still-inexplicable tragedy that’s said to have ended the hedonistic feel of late-’60s Hollywood. Next door to Rick on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills live Roman Polanski — super-hot off Rosemary’s Baby — and his young bride, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whom we know going in will be butchered on the night of August 9, 1969, by Manson family members at the behest of their psychotic overlord. Tate is the film’s third and lesser protagonist, but Robbie has one of its most moving scenes, in which Tate goes to a theater to watch herself in a new Dean Martin–Matt Helm movie. If Tarantino has a Dream Girl, it would be Robbie here, her dirt-smudged bare feet (he’s notorious for his foot fetishism) on the chair in front of her, wide-eyed at seeing herself best Nancy Kwan in a karate fight. Be still my heart! That the footage onscreen is of the real Sharon Tate makes the sequence even more poignant.
I’m slightly older than Tarantino (I was born in ’59, Tarantino in ’63) but we share a nostalgia for a culture we saw only from afar, too young to have gotten in on all the R-rated fun. As shot in glowing hues by Robert Richardson and designed by Barbara Ling (production) and Arianne Phillips (costumes), the bric-a-brac constitutes its own kind of fetishism. Marquees with titles like Three in an Attic (what did the trio do up there?) are tantalizing, and so are radio commercials for perfume and trailers for such movies as C.C. and Company with Joe Namath on a motorcycle (plus Ann-Margret). There was no home video, of course, and no streaming, so you saw movies in theaters or waited for them to show up (edited, panned-and-scanned, broken up by commercials) on TV (on one of only six or seven channels). There’s no reason for Tarantino to have Rick’s effusive new agent (Al Pacino) mention that he watched Rick’s movies at home in 35 millimeter and TV shows in 16 except that it sounds so exotic, like saying you listened to a single at 45 rpm. An issue of TV Guide (how umbilically attached we were to it!) sits on Cliff’s table. Robert Goulet murders “MacArthur Park” on the TV screen. Tarantino sets off the Mannix opening with its floating split screens and brassy Lalo Schifrin theme the way Warhol set off his soup cans. The jam-packed soundtrack, chockablock with goodies, is its own love letter to the ’60s. Tarantino gives you the sense that he makes movies to be able to live inside them. They’re his time machines.
His dialogue doesn’t have the tension of his other movies, but after the interminable macho patter of The Hateful Eight, I welcomed the gentle pacing and the characters’ introspection. I’ve never enjoyed DiCaprio more than in the middle section, in which Rick is a guest villain on a pilot for another TV Western starring an actor played by Timothy Olyphant. He has an exchange on a porch with little Julia Butters (a star is born!) as an endearingly serious child actress that proves DiCaprio doesn’t have to grandstand to draw you into his character’s alienation. He doesn’t even have to furrow that wide brow to suggest deep thoughts — they’re there in his stillness and in his melancholy, near-musical drawl. There’s a scene in his trailer (“You’re a fuckin’ miserable drunk!” he screams at himself in the mirror. “Get the lines right or I’ll blow your fuckin’ brains out!”) that taps into an aspect of DiCaprio’s personality I’ve never seen onscreen before — the fear of screwing up to a point where he won’t be noticed anymore. (Nicholas Hammond is wonderful as the show’s director, Sam Wanamaker, an actor who’d go on to recreate Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London; Tarantino introduces just enough Shakespearean diction into Wanamaker’s lines to capture the essence of his passion.)
Cliff’s big sequence is almost as amazing. Tarantino has never written something as quietly foreboding as Cliff’s visit to the Spahn Ranch, a former set for Westerns in which the Manson family has taken up residence. Cliff has given a lift to one of the “girls,” played by Margaret Qualley (best known for The Leftovers), who beckons to him with her eyes and then her whole body — so light it’s as if she’s wafted on air currents. (This is another star-making turn.) Cliff trudges around the compound under the suspicious glare of other girls — a posse that includes Lena Dunham and Dakota Fanning as “Squeaky” Fromme — in search of the owner he worked with a decade earlier. In Mary Harron’s recent Manson drama, Charlie Says, the blind, elderly Spahn was seen being fellated by a Manson girl, but here he’s a full-blown figure of pathos played by Bruce Dern, whose customary cantankerousness suggests a man whose age and disabilities have helped transform him into a helpless addict. (Manson doesn’t appear in this sequence. Damon Herriman plays him with spooky dishevelment in a scene in which the madman wanders onto Tate’s property looking for its previous resident, the music producer Terry Melcher.)
It’s hard to do justice to the riches of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, to its cameos (Damian Lewis as mean Steve McQueen!) and its droll bits of business, among them a devilish shot featuring a speargun. Tarantino has audaciously written Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) as an arrogant dick who lectures Hollywood stuntmen on his superiority. There are lapses. Al Pacino doesn’t have the fine-tuning for a Tarantino movie — his generalized hamminess sticks out. The shots of the lank-haired, scowling Manson girls spread out in a line are a misogynist’s nightmare — they look ready to tear Cliff to pieces like the Dionysian harpies in The Bacchae. I’m troubled that Tarantino suggests (even satirically) that square-jawed macho cowboys were victims of the counterculture and would have been (along with their fists, guns, and flamethrowers) the answer to its excesses.
But on its own terms, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a farrago of genius. Because of the horror that’s imminent, a sequence in which Hollywood’s neon signs (El Coyote, Musso & Frank, and more) hum to life as the sky darkens on August 9 is both lyrical and bristling with dread. The convulsively brutal climax I wouldn’t dare to spoil. The finale is a wonder. Has there ever been a scene so simultaneously euphoric and heartbreaking? Tarantino’s dream world is a sadistic place, but in a way it’s sublime, like heaven nestled inside hell.
By John Nolte
26 July 2019
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is quite the comeback for Quentin Tarantino. After the stillborn Hateful Eight and the loss of his mentor Harvey Weinstein into the maw of #MeToo, the writer-director is all on his own with his ninth film; he’s off-the-leash, flush with 90 million of Sony’s dollars, and what did he deliver…?
A straight-up masterpiece.
If this isn’t the movie Tarantino was born to direct (that was probably Pulp Fiction)OUATIH is unquestionably the movie his 27-year career has been chugging toward, the one where it all comes together: a passion for forgotten B-movies, for correcting history, for all things pop culture (including commercials), for a time and place before the disease of chain restaurants and big box stores infected every other time and place, for obscure pop songs the now-corporatized Oldies Stations refuse to play, for cooler than cool men who are all men, for womenly women who are all woman, and for a deliberate pace that slowly raises a middle finger to the MTV-afflicted.
OUTIH is not just a movie, it’s an experience — a hypnotic, captivating, immersive tour. Over one weekend in early February 1969, Tarantino dedicates himself to taking us back to a Hollywood that probably never existed — a magic place, where it’s still safe to pick up hitchhikers and leave your doors unlocked. A fabled place, where the hippies are still everything they say they are: all about peace, love, and easy sexuality. A mythical place, where the studios and their clean cut, square-jawed heroes have not yet been replaced by Easy Riders and Raging Bulls.
Oh, no… in Tarantino’s Hollywood, George Peppard, Steve McQueen, Dean Martin, Maximilian Schell, Mike Connors, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. still rule. Dennis Hopper exists only as a (literal) pejorative. Easy Rider is four months away, the Manson murders six, Altamont nine…
Cocaine is nowhere to be seen. People trip but they don’t fall.
And this is just the way Tarantino likes it, this is where he would freeze the world forever — a world filled with cool cars, drive-in movies, diners, and blue skies… A world where one amazing radio station is so omni-present it acts as the soundtrack of an entire city, so much so that you don’t miss a beat when you get out of your car because all the passing cars — Detroit steel with their windows wide open to this perfect L.A. weather — are listening to the same station.
But in a place called Chatsworth, just outside of Tarantino’s Magic Place, a cancer is growing. In fact, a malevolent force has already blackened a piece of that magic, a Holy Land where Tarantino’s heroes once came to life. Of all things, the Spahn Ranch, a mystical movie lot where TV Westerns and Western heroes and movie stars like Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds once walked, is now home to the Manson family, of Charlie and his concubine of malevolent hippies, those greasy, goddamned hippies who ruined everything.
Also looming on the horizon are the horrors of Woke. Because she’s a stand-in for Woke Cancer, because she’s a self-serious method actor who will only answer to her stage name, we’re never told her real name, but the eight-year-old actress (beautifully played by Julia Butters) who demands to be called an “actor” and has no tolerance for regressivenicknames like “pumpkin” or “shortcake,” will not be precocious forever. In about fifty years — right around, say, 2019 — after all the adorableness that comes with being eight burns out of her, it will only be her imperious, strident bossiness that remains and it will take all the fun out of everything — especially the movies.
So thank God we still have a director like Tarantino with the moral courage to let his camera linger on a young woman’s ass.
It was a half-hour, black and white Western series called Wanted: Dead or Alive that made Steve McQueen a star. And after he had some success in movies, McQueen deliberately sabotaged his own show, and it was canceled after just three seasons.
Rick Dalton did the same, only his half-hour Western TV series is called Bounty Law.
It was Rawhide that made Clint Eastwood a household name, and after it was over and he faced the reality of being an aging TV actor with no future, he made a movie where he killed a bunch of Nazis (Where Eagles Dare) and a handful of Italian Westerns in the hope it would give him a second life as a movie star.
Rick Dalton is staring dead in the eyes of 40 and obscurity, so he just made a movie where he killed a bunch of Nazis, but the only rope ladder being thrown his way is an Italian Western.
Everyone knew Burt Reynolds from his three seasons on Gunsmoke, but all he ever wanted was to be a movie star — and as he watched Eastwood and McQueen succeed where he couldn’t, as he guest-starred on every TV show that would have him — he grew more insecure and despondent.
Same with Rick Dalton.
Burt Reynolds also lived with his best friend, Hal Needham, a famous stuntman.
Rick Dalton’s inseparable sidekick (“more than a brother and a little less than a wife”) is stuntman Cliff Booth.
Yes, Rick Dalton is Tarantino’s creation, and undoubtedly based on a half-dozen other actual people — but I missed those references — and Leonardo DiCaprio inhabits him beautifully. His desperation, his insecurity, his determination, and his talent.
You won’t see many better movie moments than the one where Rick Dalton discovers he truly can act.
OUATIH is, though, Brad Pitt’s movie. As Cliff, Pitt embodies the Movie Star Supreme. He’s as cool as McQueen, as laid back as Dean Martin, and as tough as The Mighty Bruce Lee. Effortlessly masculine, never caught off guard, comfortable in his own skin, and able to embrace the simple pleasures of life because he’s not poisoned by Rick’s ambition, Cliff glides through life and the never-jammed freeways of the Magic Los Angeles just happy he’s not in prison for killing his harpy of a wife — which may or may not have been an accident.
And then there’s Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Ethereal Beauty, the Innocent in The White Boots, the Unaffected Angel still enthralled by the idea of being a star, the Guileless and Radiant Dream Girl who just has to tell the ticket lady she’s in the movie playing there and who practically squeals with delight as she watches a matinee audience enjoy her silly performance as a sexy klutz in The Wrecking Crew.
There’s a lot of Jackie Brown in OUATIH, which is still my favorite Tarantino movie. You see, this is a story that takes its sweet time to develop, a story more interested in character and ambience than anything else. You’re either going to give yourself over to a director summoning his awe-inspiring skills to transport you somewhere else for a weekend, or you’re going to wish you were at home so you could lose yourself in your stupid iPhone.
The last twenty minutes…?
I’m not giving even a moment away. But, man, they’re perfect.
And that final moment, that exquisite culmination of all that came before, the opening of those gates…
I cannot wait to see this movie again … and again … and again … and again.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
By BILL WIRTZ
July 24, 2019
(Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)
By Mark Steyn
July 22, 2019
This weekend we were busy marking the demi-centennial of Apollo 11's moon landing with some thoughts onThe Lost Frontier and some appropriately lunar music. But 1969's giant leap for mankind coincided with one almighty flying leap for a very different kind of man: with his usual exquisite timing, Senator Edward Kennedy chose the day before Messrs Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin reached the Sea of Tranquility to drive Mary Jo Kopechne into a pond of tranquility, at least until he came flying off that bridge. And, by the time America was paying attention, Teddy had been fitted with his neck brace and the minders had everything under control.
Last year there was, very belatedly, a fine feature film about Chappaquiddick, which I reviewed here, and which contains a dialogue exchange taken almost verbatim from a ten-year-old column of mine:
As Joan Vennochi wrote in The Boston Globe:
'Like all figures in history – and like those in the Bible, for that matter – Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.'
Actually, Peter denied Jesus, rather than 'betrayed' him, but close enough for Catholic-lite Massachusetts. And if Moses having a temper never led him to leave some gal at the bottom of the Red Sea, well, let's face it, he doesn't have Ted's tremendous legislative legacy, does he?
That bit turns up in the movie:
Joan Vennochi's words are put in Ted's mouth: He says defensively that all men are flawed - 'Moses had a temper, Peter betrayed Jesus.' And my cheap riposte - 'Moses didn't leave a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea' - is given to the outraged Joe Gargan, already on his way out, supplanted by better, colder, harder fixers. When the guy gets out and leaves the girl at the bottom of the sea, it offends the natural order: Joe is telling him he's not a man.
He wasn't - and nor were those who went along with it. I have rarely been more disgusted by the public discourse of a free society than by the obsequies that attended Kennedy's passing a decade ago. Yet, even so, I would not have bothered re-posting the column below were it not for the fact that they're still doing it. On this fiftieth anniversary, the Associated Press, purveyors of unreadable J-school sludge to America's dying monodailies, are still reflexively playing oleaginous courtiers to a dynasty that no longer exists. In a country that now vaporizes careers for an infelicitous tweet, Ted Kennedy killed a woman and dared us to call him on it. Thanks to the likes of the Associated Press, America failed that test:
~from Mark Steyn's syndicated column, August 28th 2009:
We are enjoined not to speak ill of the dead. But, when an entire nation – or, at any rate, its "mainstream" media culture – declines to speak the truth about the dead, we are certainly entitled to speak ill of such false eulogists. In its coverage of Senator Edward M Kennedy's passing, America's TV networks are creepily reminiscent of those plays Sam Shepard used to write about some dysfunctional inbred hardscrabble Appalachian household where there's a baby buried in the backyard but everyone agreed years ago never to mention it.
In this case, the unmentionable corpse is Mary Jo Kopechne, 1940-1969. If you have to bring up the, ah, circumstances of that year of decease, keep it general, keep it vague. As Kennedy flack Ted Sorensen put it in Time magazine:
Both a plane crash in Massachusetts in 1964 and the ugly automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 almost cost him his life.
That's the way to do it! An "accident," "ugly" in some unspecified way, just happened to happen – and only to him, nobody else. Ted's the star, and there's no room to namecheck the bit players. What befell him was a thing, a place. As Joan Vennochi wrote in The Boston Globe:
Like all figures in history – and like those in the Bible, for that matter – Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.
Actually, Peter denied Jesus, rather than "betrayed" him, but close enough for Catholic-lite Massachusetts. And if Moses having a temper never led him to leave some gal at the bottom of the Red Sea, well, let's face it, he doesn't have Ted's tremendous legislative legacy, does he? Perhaps it's kinder simply to airbrush out of the record the name of the unfortunate complicating factor on the receiving end of that moment of "tremendous moral collapse." When Kennedy cheerleaders do get around to mentioning her, it's usually to add insult to fatal injury. As Teddy's biographer Adam Clymer wrote, Edward Kennedy's "achievements as a senator have towered over his time, changing the lives of far more Americans than remember the name Mary Jo Kopechne."
You can't make an omelet without breaking chicks, right? I don't know how many lives the senator changed – he certainly changed Mary Jo's – but you're struck less by the precise arithmetic than by the basic equation: How many changed lives justify leaving a human being struggling for breath for up to five hours pressed up against the window in a small, shrinking air pocket in Teddy's Oldsmobile? If the senator had managed to change the lives of even more Americans, would it have been OK to leave a couple more broads down there? Hey, why not? At The Huffington Post, Melissa Lafsky mused on what Mary Jo "would have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history. Who knows – maybe she'd feel it was worth it." What true-believing liberal lass wouldn't be honored to be dispatched by such a death panel?
We are all flawed, and most of us are weak, and in hellish moments, at a split-second's notice, confronting the choice that will define us ever after, many of us will fail the test. Perhaps Mary Jo could have been saved; perhaps she would have died anyway. What is true is that Edward Kennedy made her death a certainty. When a man (if you'll forgive the expression) confronts the truth of what he has done, what does honor require? Six years before Chappaquiddick, in the wake of Britain's comparatively very minor "Profumo scandal," the eponymous John Profumo, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for War, resigned from the House of Commons and the Queen's Privy Council and disappeared amid the tenements of the East End to do good works washing dishes and helping with children's playgroups, in anonymity, for the last 40 years of his life. With the exception of one newspaper article to mark the centenary of his charitable mission, he never uttered another word in public again.
Ted Kennedy went a different route. He got kitted out with a neck brace and went on TV and announced the invention of the "Kennedy curse," a concept that yoked him to his murdered brothers as a fellow victim – and not, as Mary Jo perhaps realized in those final hours, the perpetrator. He dared us to call his bluff, and, when we didn't, he made all of us complicit in what he'd done. We are all prey to human frailty, but few of us get to inflict ours on an entire nation.
His defenders would argue that he redeemed himself with his "progressive" agenda, up to and including health care "reform." It was an odd kind of "redemption": In a cooing paean to the senator on a cringe-makingly obsequious edition of NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," Edward Klein of Newsweek fondly recalled that one of Ted's "favorite topics of humor was, indeed, Chappaquiddick itself. He would ask people, 'Have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?'"
Who was that lady I saw you with last night?
Why did the Last Lion cross the road?
To sleep it off!
What do you call 200 Kennedy sycophants at the bottom of a Chappaquiddick pond?
A great start, but bad news for NPR guest-bookers! "He was a guy's guy," chortled Edward Klein. Which is one way of putting it.
When a man is capable of what Ted Kennedy did that night in 1969 and in the weeks afterward, what else is he capable of? An NPR listener said the senator's passing marked "the end of civility in the U.S. Congress." Yes, indeed. Who among us does not mourn the lost "civility" of the 1987 Supreme Court hearings? Considering the nomination of Judge Bork, Ted Kennedy rose on the Senate floor and announced that "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution."
Whoa! "Liberals" (in the debased contemporary American sense of the term) would have reason to find Borkian jurisprudence uncongenial but to suggest the judge and former solicitor-general favored resegregation of lunch counters is a slander not merely vile but so preposterous that, like his explanation for Chappaquiddick, only a Kennedy could get away with it. If you had to identify a single speech that marked "the end of civility" in American politics, that's a shoo-in. And in fact setting a new moral standard in which a drunken adulterer's appetites can cause a woman's death and he pays no price is also an end to civility.
If a towering giant cares so much about humanity in general, why get hung up on his carelessness with humans in particular? For Kennedy's comrades, the cost was worth it. For the rest of us, it was a high price to pay. And, for Ted himself, who knows? He buried three brothers, and as many nephews, and, as the years took their toll, it looked sometimes as if the only Kennedy son to grow old had had to grow old for all of them. Did he truly believe, as surely as Melissa Lafsky & Co do, that his indispensability to the republic trumped all else? That Camelot – that "fleeting wisp of glory," that "one brief shining moment" – must run forever, even if "How To Handle A Woman" gets dropped from the score. The senator's actions in the hours and days after emerging from that pond tell us something ugly about Kennedy the man. That he got away with it tells us something ugly about American public life.
We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting and finishing with the aforementioned lunar commemorations, The Lost Frontier and Fly Me to the Moon. Kathy Shaidle's film column celebrated The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and our marquee presentation was a brand new edition of The Mark Steyn Show, with former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and Mrs Thatcher's former speechwriter John O'Sullivan discussing populism and globalism, both generally and more particularly - as in the Somalification of Minnesota. If you were too busy visiting the new madrassah at Lake Wobegon this weekend, I hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.
As the third year of The Mark Steyn Club cranks into top gear, we're very appreciative of all those who signed up in our first flush and have been so eager to re-re-subscribe for another twelve months. We thank you all, and hope to see at least a few of you to thank personally on our Second or Third Steyn Cruise. For more information on the Club, see here.
Monday, July 22, 2019
By Ralph McLean
19 July 2019
By Roger L. Simon
July 21, 2019