Quentin Tarantino has, for a while now, been reminding us what’s so great about movies — or at least, what he thinks is so great about them.
He’s made an old-fashioned double-feature (“Death Proof,” of “Grindhouse”), resurrected the wide-screen format of 70mm Ultra Panavision (“The Hateful Eight”) and generally presided as the pre-eminent B-movie evangelist for a generation. The power and thrill of exploitation movies, he has earnestly espoused, can conquer all evils — or at least slavery (“Django Unchained”) and the Nazis (“Inglorious Basterds”).
But “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” set in 1969 Los Angeles, is Tarantino’s most affectionate and poignant ode yet to the movie business. It’s a breezy, woozy Hollywood fable that luxuriates in the simple pleasures of the movies and the colorful swirl of the Dream Factory’s backlot. Some pleasures are nostalgic, and some — like driving down Sunset Boulevard or martinis at Musso & Frank — are everlasting.
Here, movie love feels contagious, like something in the air. In one of the film’s best scenes, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate explains at a theatre’s ticket office that she’s in the movie, the newly released caper “The Wrecking Crew,” (“I’m the klutz!” she says cheerfully). Inside, she giggles with delight at seeing herself on the big screen, giddily mimicking her character’s martial-arts moves and watching to see if the audience laughs at one of her lines. (They do.)
The pleasures in “Once Upon a Time” are also ours. Tarantino, has lowered his typically feverish temperature to a warming simmer, bathing us in the golden California light and the movie-star glow of his leading men, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. They spend copious amounts of time driving through the Hollywood Hills in a creamy Coup de Ville, riding along like Butch and Sundance and just as nice to look at.
DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, a Burt Reynolds-type actor of TV Westerns (his claim to fame is the ’50s hit “Bounty Law”) whose career is stalling. Pitt is Cliff Booth, his stunt double and best friend, a war veteran with a bad reputation but a friendly, relaxed manner. They have a natural, easy rapport, with Booth doubling as a drinking buddy and support system for Dalton, who’s increasingly anxious about his typecast future. (Al Pacino, as his agent, urges him to head to Italy for a spaghetti Western.)
In DiCaprio’s finest sequence, he chats between takes on a Western called “Lancer” with a frightfully serious Method Acting 8-year-old co-star (Julia Butters) before forgetting his lines. After a bout of self-loathing in his trailer, he returns and nails the scene. DiCaprio, a preternaturally self-possessed actor himself, captures the whole arc beautifully.
When word got out that Tarantino’s latest film would take place around the Manson murders, it was easy to wonder what genre mayhem the director would bring to this epochal moment. We know what carnage resulted when Zed was dead, so what did Tarantino have in store for the demise of the ’60s?
It’s not that “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” doesn’t revolve around that grisly tragedy. It looms always in the background, and eventually in the foreground, too, after Booth picks up a hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) who leads him to the Manson compound at Spahn Ranch, the former production site of TV and film Westerns where Manson’s mostly female acolytes emerge and Booth goes to check on the owner, an old friend, George Spahn (Bruce Dern). Dalton and Booth are fictional concoctions surrounded by real people, including their neighbours: Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).
By the film’s climax, blood will spill and movie-made historical revisionism will have its day. But I suspect a lot of Tarantino fans will be taken by surprise at the film’s leisurely pace, set more to a (and this a good thing) “Jackie Brown” speed. As in that film, Tarantino isn’t purely living in an over-the-top movie fantasy world, but one teetering intriguingly between dream and reality. The dialogue and action has slowed down enough to allow a little wistfulness and melancholy to creep in.
At times, his path is a little wayward and prone to digressions. Tarantino feels perilously close to simply turning his movie into several of Dalton’s, so eager is he (like the Coens were in “Hail, Caesar!”) to lovingly adopt those period styles. But usually, the detours are hard to resist. In one, Booth ends up in a fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of “The Green Hornet.”
And if you’re going to make a movie that celebrates what’s grand about Hollywood, it helps to have Brad Pitt in it. The chemistry between him and DiCaprio, together for the first time, is a delight; I would gladly watch them drive around lacquered, golden-hour Los Angeles, with cinematographer Robert Richardson trailing them, for longer than the already lengthy running time of “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”
Pitt, in particular, appears so utterly self-possessed. It’s a swaggering grade-A movie star performance in a movie that celebrates all that movie stars can accomplish — which, for Tarantino, is anything. That the youthful, exuberant Tate was robbed of that potential is one of the wrongs Tarantino is righting here. But his fairy tale also swells with an even larger and optimistic vision. For today’s doomsayers of movies, which are seen by some as a less potent art form, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” imagines an apocalypse denied. Tate, and the movies, will live forever.
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references. Running time: 161 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
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LONDON — Voting is drawing to a close in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister.
Members of the governing Conservative Party have until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party.
The winner is to be announced Tuesday, and will take over from Prime Minister Theresa May the following day.
Johnson, a populist former mayor of London, is the strong favourite.
Several members of May’s government have said they will resign before they can be fired by Johnson over their opposition to his threat to take Britain out of the European Union without a divorce deal.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan quit Monday. Others, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, are set to do so on Wednesday.
The Associated Press
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LONDON — Britain’s next prime minister will govern a nation of 66 million people, but only 0.25% of them had a say in the choice.
Either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will be announced Tuesday as the winner of a contest to lead the governing Conservative Party. After a formal handover of power, the victor will become prime minister the next day.
A look at how the process works:
In Britain’s parliamentary system, voters elect a lawmaker for their local area. There are 650 of these constituencies across the U.K., and so 650 members of Parliament. The party with the most lawmakers forms a government, with the leader of that party becoming prime minister.
Parties are entitled to change leaders without going back to the voting public. It happened when Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Labour prime minister in 2007, and when Theresa May took over from her Conservative predecessor David Cameron in 2016.
May announced her resignation last month, triggering a leadership contest in which any of the 313 Conservative legislators was eligible to run. The initial field of 10 candidates was then winnowed down to two in elimination votes by Tory lawmakers.
The final two, Hunt and Johnson, went to a runoff decided in a postal ballot of about 160,000 Conservative members across the country. To be eligible to vote, they need to have paid a 25 pound ($31) membership fee and been in the party for at least three months.
WHO ARE THEY?
The country’s leadership choice is largely in the hands of comfortably off, older white men.
According to a U.K. academic study, 70% of Conservative members are men, half are over 55, 86% are middle class or above and 97% are white — in a country where 10%-15% of the population belongs to an ethnic minority.
Most of them want Britain to leave the European Union, whatever the consequences. Two-thirds of Conservatives support leaving the EU without a divorce deal even if it damages the British economy.
Both Johnson and Hunt campaigned on a promise to take Britain out of the 28-nation bloc, deal or no deal.
HOW DOES THE HANDOVER HAPPEN?
The winner of the vote will immediately become Conservative leader, but they won’t be prime minister until a carefully choreographed political handover on Wednesday.
May is due to hold her final weekly prime minister’s questions session in the House of Commons at noon Wednesday. Then she will travel to Buckingham Palace and ask Queen Elizabeth II to invite her Conservative successor to form a government.
The next leader will go to the palace before speaking to the nation in front of his new home at 10 Downing St.
WHEN DOES THE PUBLIC GET A SAY?
Most Britons have had to watch the leadership contest — complete with campaign rallies and televised debates — as passive spectators.
The situation strikes many as undemocratic, although the criticism is often partisan. In 2007, Johnson criticized Labour’s handover from Blair to Brown without an election as “a palace coup” and compared it to the succession of Roman emperors.
He’s not so critical of the current contest.
And, in comparison to presidential systems of government, it’s relatively easy to get rid of a British prime minister.
Conservative lawmakers can trigger a no-confidence vote in their leader if 15% of them ask for it. May narrowly survived one such vote in December.
Alternately, the Labour opposition can call a no-confidence vote in the government — something that looks highly likely to happen by September. If the Conservative government lost such a vote, it would have 14 days to overturn the result with a new vote or fall, triggering a national election.
Britain’s next scheduled election is in 2022, but the incoming prime minister might call an early vote if he can’t get his plans approved, and seek a new mandate from the electorate. Even an unelected prime minister eventually has to face the judgment of the public.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership race at: https://ift.tt/2QQDXv6
Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
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