Quentin Tarantino’s 10th film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is surprisingly sweet but very sloppy

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a new Quentin Tarantino film doing the rounds. Yes, everyone’s favourite director from when they were 18 and wanted an edgier auteur than Tim Burton is back, with what is being advertised as his 9th film but is at least his 10th.

This time, after languishing in the Wild West for his previous two movies, Tarantino sets his sights on the Hollywood of 1969, and the twilight period of the career of Rick Dalton: a TV actor whose legacy includes a recently cancelled TV show, and a string of hokey B-Movies with such names as “The 14 Fists of McCluskey” and “Jigsaw Jane”. Alongside the washed-up Dalton is his lifelong stuntman Cliff Booth. Booth’s eventful past has hampered his opportunities to double for Rick on past projects, but he has never allowed those obstacles to a Hollywood career to ever get in the way of his and Dalton’s friendship; when he’s not living the risky life of a stuntman, Cliff is Rick’s driver, handyman, and confidante.
Dalton and Booth are played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt respectively, and both actors are giving phenomenal performances here. DiCaprio and Pitt have, in press interviews for this film, alluded to Tarantino having given them reams of backstory for their characters – judging by the finished product, I absolutely believe it. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are arguably Quentin Tarantino’s most fully realised characters, and it’s a treat to be in their company for the majority of the film’s 2 hour and 45 minute running time.

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Of course, when addressing Hollywood at the end of the 1960s in any medium, it’s almost inevitable that the spectre of the Manson “Family” and the brutal Tate murders would soon make itself known. Sure enough, Sharon Tate is a supporting character in this film.
I’ll admit, when I heard that Tarantino was doing a film which would include Sharon Tate and her killers as key characters, I was profoundly worried. Given Tarantino’s penchant for ultra-violence in his films, and given the precedent set for readily changing history in his films (see: Inglourious B******s), I was imagining a few ways that this film would address the tragic true story – none of which filled me with hope. With that in mind, I found Quentin Tarantino’s treatment of Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood surprisingly sensitive and, at times, even beautiful. There’s a moment just past the film’s halfway mark, where it follows Tate, played by Margot Robbie, enjoying a day free of commitments, during which she decides to visit a cinema playing The Wrecking Crew, one of the last films that the real Sharon Tate made. In the auditorium, Robbie’s Tate gets to take in the reception from her fellow moviegoers, and it’s really rather heartbreaking to see the glimpses of a bright future, which was cruelly stolen away on that fateful August night.

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Unfortunately, while it’s beautifully realised, the segments leading up to the climactic encounter on August 8th 1969 feel very inessential when compared to the central story of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. While the two stories do ultimately overlap in a way that only Tarantino could deliver, the inclusion of Charles Manson and his followers felt for me like something that could have been trimmed from the film’s overall running time.
Make no mistake, this is very much one of Quentin Tarantino’s better films, but the overall feeling I got from it was one of indifferent admiration outside of the aforementioned mini-tribute for Sharon Tate. Everything shown on screen, from the acting to the camera’s backseat perspective of various characters’ long drives through 1960s Los Angeles, is remarkable, but I was always aware of the filter through which I was being shown these images. Maybe it’s Tarantino’s innate love for the film’s setting, but it felt like his adoration trumped narrative storytelling or even basic editing; as with everything else he’s made post-Reservoir Dogs, the man simply cannot tell a story in less than 2 hours.

After watching Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, nobody would be in any doubt that Quentin Tarantino loves cinema. However, I wish that after more than 25 years as a filmmaker, that he’d have something more to say. Maybe his next film – supposedly his last, if you believe Tarantino’s self-aggrandising declarations – will have something more substantial to say.

Yesterday will make your troubles seem so far away.

As someone who finds himself pondering bizarre thoughts in those quiet hours when sleep is just beyond my reach, one of the hypothetical questions I’ve come back to a few times is: what would I do if I were somewhere where nobody else knew the last 50 years of pop culture?
It’s an idea which naturally comes up in stories of time travel – “Johnny B. Goode”, anyone? – and with Yesterday, Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis consider a modern world where the music of The Beatles was erased from history and everyone’s memory, save that of one struggling musician in Lowestoft.

Enter Jack Malik, the hero of Yesterday played by Eastenders actor Himesh Patel. He’s a warehouse worker by day, whose ambitions of making it as a singer/songwriter have all but faded away, and whose back catalogue extends to a couple of naff songs. One evening, Jack finds himself quickly acquainted with a seaside road after a nasty collision with a bus, right at the time when the lights seem to be going out around the world.
Jack wakes up in hospital, with his childhood friend and manager Ellie, played by Lily James, by his side. Before long he’s out of hospital, and on receiving a new guitar as a get-well present, decides to christen the instrument with a quick rendition of “Yesterday”.

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As you can probably guess, everyone around him absolutely freaks out that Jack Malik managed to write something good for once.
From there, Jack begins to realise that the world has become a place which has forgotten all about John, Paul, George and Ringo (illustrated by some neat Google-based gags which I won’t spoil here), and our hero decides to take it upon himself to preserve the memory of the Fab Four’s music while indulging in his rock star fantasy along the way. Oh and Ed Sheeran is his mentor, for some reason.

Events transpire and the film takes some very interesting narrative turns, and the end product is this strange, fascinating film which I still can’t quite believe got made by such prestigious filmmakers. Boyle and Curtis have certainly undertaken some ambitious projects in the past, and their collaboration here has birthed a concept that will definitely rub a lot of people the wrong way.
Curtis’ involvement should tell you a lot about where this story ends up, and I’ll say now that Yesterday is closer in execution to About Time than any other film in his or Boyle’s oeuvres.

The film’s cast and crew clearly seem to be revelling in the nuttiness of the idea, and everyone involved – except for Ed Sheeran who, bless him, is not an actor – carries that enthusiasm through to the film’s climax. It’s always a delight to find a film which sees its ideas through without a hint of cynicism, and Yesterday feels purely and simply joyous. This is summed up in one subplot in the film’s second act which looks like it’s going down a route of blackmail and exploitation, but quite literally concludes with three people singing and dancing in a dressing room. It’s brilliant.
As a jukebox musical, Yesterday ticks all the necessary song choice boxes, and while the film does flirt with some of Lennon and McCartney’s more… esoteric songwriting efforts for comedic effect, there aren’t many surprising inclusions here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but anyone hoping for a rousing rendition of “I Am The Walrus” will have to wait another day.

It’s a complete understatement, but Danny Boyle is an incredibly visual storyteller and his unique vision is clear and present here. Not so much that it distracts from the story however, unlike the frankly messy other musical movie based on The Beatles: Across The Universe. The wackiness of Boyle’s direction and the light, sentimental comedy of Curtis’ writing complement each other beautifully.
The one thing I will say as a major fan of Lily James, is that she’s somewhat under-utilised here. As she proved in last year’s Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again, she’s got the talent to give a great musical performance alongside her on-screen charm, but she maybe doesn’t have a whole lot to work with in Yesterday. Thankfully leading man Himesh Patel is so likeable, and a damn fine singer to boot, that he’s more than able to keep the film bobbing along nicely. A lesser actor would have struggled to sell the weirdness of this movie, and it’s to Patel’s merit that I was so engaged throughout Yesterday‘s running time.

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Yesterday feels like a dying breed of film; the kind of crazy high concept story that would have been made without question back in the 1980s or 1990s, but now would either be a straight-to-Netflix affair or pumped so full of ironic snark that it wouldn’t have been remotely entertaining. Under the careful eyes of Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis however, Yesterday is a joyous, Beatles induced fever dream. It won’t win any awards, but it’s by far one of my favourite cinema experiences of 2019 to date; personally speaking I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up on any end of year list I ever decide on doing.

To put it short, Yesterday is fab.