In an ever-growing landscape of remakes, sequels, nostalgia cash grabs and CGI overkill, it's a good thing that Quentin Tarantino still makes movies.
His latest, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", takes place in the late 1960s and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as acting star Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his longtime stuntman, Cliff Booth, as they try to cope with a changing film industry and their own waning relevance. The film has a huge cast that also includes Margot Robbie (playing Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern and the late Luke Perry in his final role.
There really isn't much to say about Tarantino that hasn't already been said. His writing is sharp. His direction has purpose. He pulls the best out of his actors. From "Pulp Fiction" to "Kill Bill" to "Inglorious Basterds", he's consistently proven he has few peers in modern cinema.
He's proven it once again with "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", a love letter to the supposed "golden age" of filmmaking (and an era that has clearly inspired just about every movie he's made) that's also the funniest comedy of 2019 so far.
Something to know going into this film is that this isn't a plot-driven movie. Tarantino has made films like this before in which many scenes exist to entertain rather than move some kind of grand story along. The core story of this film is Dalton desperately trying to stay relevant while Booth finds himself in misadventures as a result, but much of that story is played for laughs.
DiCaprio plays Dalton's breakdown and anxiety over not being an A-list star anymore with dead seriousness, which lends itself to many funny moments that wouldn't have landed if it felt like the character himself was in on the joke. He and Pitt have so much chemistry, and it helps that Pitt has most of the funniest lines in the film.
There are emotional moments in the narrative, like two great scenes between DiCaprio and 10-year-old Julia Butters that feature emotional lows and highs for Dalton, but even those scenes don't take themselves too seriously.
This film is like if Tarantino took "Seinfeld", "The Big Lebowski" and "Jackie Brown" and threw them into a blender along with his transparent love for old Hollywood, and the result is an overly long (2 hours and 45 minutes wasn't really necessary, Quentin) but consistently entertaining sequence of events with entertaining characters, witty dialogue and phenomenal editing.
The film's structure does lead to some issues, though. The second act can be especially slow at times. There's a sequence I won't spoil involving an old house in the desert, but after the scene dedicates time to building tension, it doesn't really go anywhere that affects anything in the story.
Also, Tarantino definitely wanted to mess around with Charles Manson's cult, which became infamous during the time this film takes place, so he felt he had to make Sharon Tate a prominent character in the film. The problem is that, despite how much screen time she has, she doesn't come across as much of a character. That isn't Robbie's fault, but the script and directing really just calls for her to be a happy young rich woman who dances a lot.
Of course, when dealing with this subject matter and the fact that Tate was brutally murdered in real life, he couldn't really go too far with her character, but she still has a lot of screen time in this movie and, in hindsight, I'm not sure why she was in the film so much aside from the fact that Robbie was playing her.
True to its comedic roots, though, this film veers a new direction with what happened with Manson's cult. I'm not going to spoil it because it's one of the greatest scenes Tarantino has ever directed. Everyone in my theater, myself included, was roaring throughout the whole sequence.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", despite its length and an intentionally meandering story, is a standout among this summer's slate of films. Instead of another superhero movie or another horrible and insulting live-action Disney remake, it's an original and hilarious take on what the movie industry used to be.
DEAL'S REELS RATING: A-