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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A tricky fable and love letter to 60s stardom

There are true-life characters in Quintin Tarantino’s latest opus, along with a lot of imaginary folks, and while the inclusion of doomed actress Sharon Tate gives this movie a nervous edge, you have to remember Tarantino’s takes on history: they are fluid and not always by the book.

This is a relief, because this is basically a comedy, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving a hilarious performance as Rick Dalton, a TV star who took a shot at being a movie star and is watching his career fade before his eyes.

Dalton still keeps around his trusty stuntman Cliff Booth, who is basically acting as his errand boy with an easy-going, ready for anything vibe. Brad Pitt plays the part to perfection, showing his toughness early on in a showdown with Bruce Lee on a movie set. Lee is played by newcomer Mike Moh, and he nails the part.

Margot Robbie, as Sharon Tate, is more of a presence in the movie than a character, but she still shines as the actress who is seeing her star rise while her neighbor Dalton is watching his star power fall.

Along the way, they cross paths with a group of apparent flower children led by a certain Charles Manson.

But while you wait for the obvious confrontation, Tarantino takes a glimpse at the Hollywood machine of the late ’60s and how stars navigate a changing landscape, and DiCaprio makes a great guide on this strange trip.

Some scenes play out with no real connection to the rest of the movie, but they are still entertaining because of Tarantino’s talent as a director to grab an audiences’ attention and hold it. Some of that is attributable to the ultra-violence that pepper any Tarantino project.

But in the end, this is really a love letter, to a different time and breezy era, before the ’70s, when everything started to get a bit more serious.

 

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