I was trying to write about every movie I see at the theater, but sometime (late last year?) I commenced in failing at that project, then I stopped seeing movies in the theater, and then I just stopped watching movies. Maybe I'll write a single article about the few movies I've seen and haven't written about, or maybe I won't. Anyway, I thought that this movie might be a good one to get me back to writing about movies again. My idea is to write short reviews. I have failed. But anyway, after this, it's going to be short reviews. Or no reviews. Anyway, there's a lot to talk about here. It's worth noting that Quentin Tarantino can command, maybe more than anyone currently making movies, money, stars, time, and final cut—gets credit for the popularity and success of his movies—but also is asked to take responsibility for what people criticize in his movies—and I understand can get a little prickly. But since there is zero chance of him reading this, I'm not going to worry about pissing him off (I still may want to audition for the next one). First of all, there's the goofy title, which may or may not contain “...” (also known as “three dots”). Next, for much of this movie (too long not to have an intermission), the pace is relaxed, meandering, taking its good old time. I love that. Most movies are afraid to do that. It almost felt like not watching a movie, or watching a movie from the late Sixties or early Seventies, one of the ones where you think, what in the hell is going on here? But if you're like me, are just, like, in movie heaven.
If I was to say this movie is “Quentin Tarantino's love letter to Hollywood,” in any capacity (including those words) you would have my utmost permission to march right over here to HQ and beat me with a frozen mackerel. (Not) talking about love letters, I was not expecting much after The Hateful Eight (2015) brutally disappointed me. I loved the beginning of that movie and hated where it went. It was as if you exchanged a steamy series of love letters with someone, then hiked over a mountain and across a desert to finally see them and were greeted with: “Who you?” The first half or more of this movie is like paging through old Life magazine ads, imagining, at least, an aesthetically better world. Lifestyle porn, cocktail porn, and more than anything else, cool old car porn. Perversely, there was an advertisement just before the movie started for some kind of new SUV automobile that, of course, looks like absolute shit, and like every other new car, and all these people, who are terrible actors, are saying how great it looks. (Now that I think about it, I'm not sure this wasn't actually part of the movie?—if this was some kind of joke ad, ha! You got me! Touché QT!)
So then, we're watching actors, some playing movie stars (both biographical and imaginary) and some playing not-movie stars, but all of them actors (it's Hollywood!) in some respect. Most fun is Brad Pitt playing a stunt double and self-made mystery man with a nemesis named Randy and a dog named Brandy. (When I was in high school, a friend got a new dog, and at dinner his dad asked what he named it—he mumbled Brandy, to which his dad said, “Do you think Randy will appreciate that?) The dog is a handsome pit bull (get it) and between Brad and the dog, I'm guessing the heartthrob appeal is about 100%. Brad works as driver, stunt man, and companion of a washed up, alcoholic TV actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio (amazing performance, I don't think I've ever seen anyone, a man at least, on the verge of tears for an entire movie). It didn't occur to me until later, after a big deal was made about Brad killing his wife “and getting away with it,” that this odd couple could be informed by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs—an obvious American icon who fell into an alcohol-fueled, paranoid, angry, racist, pathetic state (though many people still loved him)—and an impenetrable, questionable antihero, who was hard to take your eyes off of. So our heroes, here, are what we (do we, really?) need right now—the super-couple for 2019, not cartoon superheroes, not robots, but flesh and blood straight white males. Though Brad's character is about as straight as a three dollar bill (no one turns down a “blowjob while driving”). I'm not sure if they're “doing it” (I might be too unsophisticated to pick up 2019 innuendo), but I see Leo as kind of like the frat guy who wakes from a blackout drunk—on Old Spice stained sheets—and conveniently “can't remember” anything. What I liked most, though, is Brad's portrayal of this kind of guy who goes through life—no matter what he's doing, driving, fixing something, feeding the dog—as if he is constantly being filmed. We all know people like that, right? In fact, you might be one. In fact, I might be one. I am, actually—I will admit that, for the first time, here. The camera is on me right now, typing this, in spite of my lack of pants.
So eventually there's the Manson Family, and our heroes thwart this horrible murder of Sharon Tate and those other people, that real-life tragedy that people never seem to get tired of rehashing. But yes, our heroes in this movie, they change history, as if they went into the The Time Tunnel (1966)—which maybe was a missed period reference, or maybe I missed it). Oh, I guess I should say “spoiler alert.” Is that a spoiler alert?—no, I guess you're supposed to say that before you give away the amazing plot twist, so the person reading can, ha, stop reading on a dime and come back to your article after they've seen the movie. As if. Anyway, if someone told me that there's a movie that's a spot on theatrical rendition of the Mansion murders, you're not going to be able to pay me to see that movie, because fuck the Mansion Family. I refuse to put people who are famous for unimaginative acts of tragic stupidity into some kind of “famous for the sake of famous” museum. My approach to the deplorable is to ignore them. Apparently QT's approach is to recreate history, so these characters can get mauled by a pit bull and have their heads slammed viciously into furniture like 1000 times. I do realize that these Manson Family murders freaked out an entire generation—no more free love, free drugs, romanticism of mental illness, and bathrooms, henceforth “for customers only.” One interesting thing I just recalled, my high school history teacher, Mr. Wenzel, in talking about Charles Manson said, “If they ever let him out of prison, there's going to be one fat man on the hill with a rifle.” (Referring to himself, he was portly.) I can't remember another time a teacher spoke with such murderous passion about someone or something, and I think it made me realize the impact that that event had on society's feeling of well-being.
While watching this movie, though it wasn't boring, my mind wandered to an idea about social media—I don't know why, maybe because of our different ways of entertaining ourselves in 1969 and now? Anyway, I was thinking that one of the problems with social media (maybe older people have this more than people who have grown up with it?) is that most of us, even though we know better, kind of assume that we're all looking at the same thing. So, for example, if someone is looking at Facebook on Sunday night, they assume it's like everyone's got the TV on, say ABC, at that time—so like what they're seeing on Facebook is what you're seeing on Facebook. So the idea that came to me is to somehow organize social media trades—so for example, for a couple of hours on Sunday night, you take over my Facebook and I take over yours—we can look at the feeds, see who their friends are, comment, and post stuff. I'm sure we can think of a snappy name for this activity! (Facebook Swapping, perhaps?) Well, let's try it. I'm very serious about this. (I know I should have made this proposal somewhere else, but since it did come to me while watching this movie...)
A few other random observations. I missed Samuel L. Jackson, but did you notice—I can't remember exactly where—someone was doing a Samuel L. Jackson impersonation? I noticed that, and it was pretty good. Also, I liked the music and how it was used, for the most part. Particularly, when we get to Family-frenzy, instead of using “Helter Skelter” like they would do, if they could afford it, on TV, the soundtrack plays “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)”—which manages to be both too on-the-nose and too ironic, yet still perfect. Also, I just love that song (who's making the creepy John Phillips biopic?!) A few decades ago, I coined a term, “The Cinema of What-It-Ain't”—though I don't know if you can say, “coined” since it didn't catch on (dumb name), but it was about the trend I noticed more and more (sure, this is all through film history and literature) of creating tension and release by exploiting expectations based on other works and then thwarting those expectations. Sure, some of that is fine, and inevitable, but it becomes a real crutch, and this movie (if you haven't seen it, why are you even reading this?) if you've seen it, think about it—this has got to be one of the worst offenders I've seen in recent years (though I admit, I see almost no popular movies). Just one example: you're just waiting, dreading the moment that dog gets shot, so you can feel real remorse, but the dog doesn't get shot!! And one last, unrelated, random thing—I've been noticing, more and more, the use of the name “Randy” to kind of shorthand some quality of particular characters. Where did this come from? What does it mean? The “Randy” in this movie has a particular quality—hard to put your finger on. Maybe I'm too close to it. (In this case, played by Kurt Russell, adding another layer of queasiness, for me, personally.) Okay, I'm just trying to figure out exactly when the name Randy became synonymous with “douchebag?” I don't like it.
At some point we do see Charles Manson—he stops by the Tate-Polanski residence, but unless I missed something, we don't see him again. After the members of his Family are thwarted, instead of successful, at their murders, I suppose we could assume that Manson might still be arrested, but on the other hand, in this new history, maybe Manson escapes (I don't remember when he was actually arrested and I'm not going to look it up)—and is still at large! Or at least until the sequel to this movie comes around (which will be QT's last, right? Before he becomes a novelist?) It could be called, Once Upon a Time... in Iowa or something, and could be about Manson's nearly successful attempt to get elected President and start a race war and end civilization, etc. Of course he's thwarted by someone (an A-list actor, of course) who then smashes his head into a coffee table for maybe like the last 40 minutes of the movie, which eventually kind of just becomes abstract, and if not entirely beautiful, meditative and perversely cleansing. Just an idea! I'm throwing that out there for free!
Randy Russell 8.4.19