Mike at the Movies

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (R)

It is 1969. Everything is big cars, scantily clad hippies, overpaid starlets, drugs and, eventually, the Tate murders. The Tate murders are not previewed until a shot of the street name “El Cielo,” the address of the street where Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, Roman Polanski, were living. But we get ahead of our story.

The story revolves around the fictional characters of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), one-time western movie star, and his stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Their alcohol and drug-fueled partnership runs through to the end of the movie, though as it ends, so too does the career of Dalton as a star.

Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) has warned Rick that his career is ending as a leading man. Rick has been forced to say such lines as: “Anybody want fried sauerkraut?” as he flamethrows into a group of Nazis in one of his films. Cliff doubles as Rick’s stuntman and driver. He is fond of very young girls and flirtations with one, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), bring him to the Spahn Ranch, once a site for shooting westerns, now home to the Manson clan. Rick, meanwhile, does not help his career by forgetting lines, cursing at directors, drinking too much, walking off sets and generally reacting badly to his predicted future.

Their story proceeds to its natural outcome while we see more and more of Sharon Tate, the former Playboy model and starlet. One of the most touching scenes in the film is Tate entering a mostly empty theater, putting on thick glasses, taking off her shoes and enjoying her bit part in a Matt Helm film starring Dean Martin. Robbie, in fact, more than holds her own with Pitt and DiCaprio.

Another star turn is filed by Bruce Dern as blind George Spahn, who has allowed the Manson clan full run of his ranch.

Tarantino, who wrote as well as directed, is a quirky personality and probably a genius. His scenes always turn out to be riveting even if they begin oddly and don’t seem to fit in. When all is said and done, they fit perfectly to advance his story, regardless of how strange that story may be.

This story is strange, indeed, but never hard to follow and always believable in its weird way. Like most Tarantino films, the violence is sometimes excessive, but so were the Manson murders, which are foretold here but not actually seen. DiCaprio and Pitt get along like brothers, and Pitt’s staged fight with “Jackie Lee” (Mike Moh) is a comic highlight.

Leave the kids at home because there’s just too much blood and bashing going on. Let them read about the Manson killings first. This could end up being a cult as well as popular hit this summer. Hurry to get in line.


Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (PG-13)

This film deserves four stars only because of the spectacular action sequences that are part of this franchise, done with remarkable imagination from start to finish. The plot creaks: A virus has been programmed to destroy the world, and Hobbs and Shaw are assigned the task of shutting it down before it can be ignited.

Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) combine with MI6 agent and Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), to provide some crazy martial arts pieces. Meanwhile Idris Elba as the villain (Brixton), a programmed assassin who has met both Hobbs and Shaw before, summons a good portion of the longest credit section of “Stunt doubles” perhaps in history.

The action starts immediately with the deadly verdict: “She took the virus!” That’s never good, but it’s not unusual in thrillers so we just file that away as the “plot” unwinds. The plot alternates between admittedly incredible action sequences featuring motorcycles, trucks, Jeeps, cars and anything else that moves. There is plenty of hand-to-hand action as well. Both Hobbs and Shaw are challenged by overwhelming odds but win every fight except those against Brixton (he has superpowers). Hattie does pretty well. too, though she is as beaten up as the other two by the end.

There are what amounts to cameos by a very funny Ryan Reynolds as a CIA agent, Eddie Marsan as the creator of the virus and Helen Mirren as “Queenie,” Shaw’s mother and a felon in prison. The film never takes itself totally seriously except for the somewhat soapy FaceTime bits between Hobbs and his charming daughter, Sam (Eliana Sua). Hobbs is careful to get the “family values” message delivered as often as he can, whether or not it makes sense at the time or not.

There are special effects galore. The most incredible is the fight between a wrecker and a military helicopter and the final bash-up between the Samoans and the heathen led by Brixton.

Is the virus located in time to save the world? Who cares? A solution might get in the way of the plot, whatever it may be.

There was an almost constant gaggle of giggles coming from the audience and they were appropriate. There really are no out-loud laughs in the film but lots of titters and a few “Oh, no!” moments.

Leave your brain at the beach and enjoy the chemistry between co-producers and co-stars, Johnson and Statham with handy assists from Vanessa Kirby, one of the stars of “The Crown” and a veteran stage and screen actress who handles her physical role handily and with relish. The violence is constant but cartoonish and leavened with humor so the kids should be able to laugh with you.