No Holds Barred: Once Upon a Time in a Movie Theater

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Outside the iPic Theatre at the Scottsdale Quarter Mall.

I have a few confessions to make; I haven’t been to a movie theater in 10 years.  My last time was at Avatar at an IMAX theater, and the steep stadium seating, ultra-loud soundtrack and freezing thermostat setting sent me into a panic attack and running from any future total “cinema submergence.”  I was born for “at-home streaming” and thrilled that Roku has been my form of film exposure ever since.

I am also not a fan of Quentin Tarantino or even Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt!

So, with that triple threat, why did I end up going to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in a movie theater?  Well, it’s August (the height of summer doldrums), and I missed my annual trip to LA., and I wanted to see what Brad Pitt’s pecs and abs looked like at 55 since everyone was raving about them.

Golden boy Brad and his 55-year-old abs! Credit: Sony Pictures

What better way than to go to our local iPic theater at noon on a Wednesday.  It was completely empty … and for a mere $17 you get a deluxe recliner, velour blanket and pillow, free popcorn and a cinema “gourmet menu.”  This intrigued me as all my friends have been doing this deluxe route to see their movies – but these have primarily been Disney Pixar adventures or Action Hero sagas.  Not my style. But a nostalgic movie about Hollywood in 1968-1969 with the Manson murders as a backdrop?  Why not?

I can’t complain about iPic – you could fall asleep if you hated the feature and I haven’t seen “Coming Attractions” on my streaming service so that was a plus.  I am looking forward to Hustlers with Cardi B and JLo as hefty strippers on the take.  But don’t I already see that on my TV cable channels with the Bravo Housewives?  I feel for Hollywood (and even Netflix) lately – the lackluster lineup has reached big proportions and the movie biz is suffering.

iPic’s main lobby.
Hanging at the sports bar/lounge at iPic.

As it was… nobody showed up for the Tarantino movie (they were all at “Lion King”) so there I was in my own private screening room… with my own memories of L.A. fifty years ago. Ironically the day I went to iPic they announced bankruptcy.  It seems other theater chains are now doing the same recliner and food-at-your-seat service for a whole lot less — it’s no longer a special highlight.

I found “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” just “ok.” Maybe I saw it too late in its run and heard too much about it.  It was at least 25 minutes too long (isn’t everything nowadays). And it certainly didn’t transport me back to Hollywood’s ‘50s heyday. It didn’t take me anywhere.

Admittedly it was interesting seeing Leonardo looking a tad paunchy at 44 in his “Burt Reynolds” vintage brown Naugahyde jacket.  However, it was Brad Pitt’s soft spoken (perfect Missouri twang) portrayal of a stunt “stud” that stood out. Yes, yes – his six pack pecs were notable as were his taut ass and heavy-lidded eyes.  Nobody did “golden guy” better than Brad with his yellow Hawaiian shirt and the hair … the hair… the hair!! Remember, for older actors (or men in general) it is all about the hair!

The aging BOYZ!!

I never really paid attention to Brad Pitt since his arrival on the scene as a hot “boy toy” in “Thelma and Louise” in 1991.  Then he became that gorgeous “Joe Black” (another stunning hair performance).  We all thought he would replace Robert Redford (who actually directed Pitt in A River Runs Through It and still has his own reddish dyed full head of hair at 82). After that – his biggest performance to me seemed to be as Angelina Jolie’s lumpy and disheveled baby bag carrier in airports.

Brad has come a long way since his role as hot “boy toy.”

Apparently, the new gentler male role of Cliff Booth is Brad announcing he is back and “healthier than he has ever been” (according to Daily Mail). Does that mean he is older and wiser, or just hired a new personal trainer and juice-fasting coach. Who knows? Who cares?  

Neither Brad nor Leo had to stretch their acting chops in these roles about “actors” in an “age transition.”  I was just glad that for Tarantino it was a kinder, gentler, funnier script since the violence was kept to a finale minimum and the music was all “California Dreamin’.”

Quentin Tarantino’s re-creation of Manson’s Spahn Ranch.

The highlight for me was seeing his rendition of Manson’s Spahn Ranch.  Show me all those “wayward hippie chicks” as hoodlums dressed in vintage crochet halter tops (no busting boob jobs here – everyone had flat chests) and long over-the-shoulder fringed bucket bags and dirty calloused bare feet, or cheap Indian moccasins.  And everyone constantly smoked everything!

Seeing Musso and Frank’s dark red leather booths didn’t grab me that much, nor did Margot Robbie’s rendition of Sharon Tate since she wasn’t all that important or said very much. What was important was that filtered L.A. yellow light of the late ’60s that Tarantino captured so well.  Remember this was long before the awful environmental smog of the fire and fumes which has since turned the city into a puce green. Also, this was pre-homeless, disrupting earthquakes, and impossible traffic pile ups.  L.A. owned that vintage Oscar gold patina.

Margot Robbie’s rendition of Sharon Tate didn’t grab me …
But the menu did…
Especially the burger slider trio with truffle Parmesan fries!

Was it a real “buddy picture” or just another Boogie Nights version of a city some of us love to romanticize and reminisce about but now long gone. Personally, my favorite L.A. picture will always be 1975 Hal Ashby’s Shampoo. It wasn’t so “golden” hued, maybe more sharply bougainvillea pink and white.  

Shampoo was post Manson, and very LA ‘70s with Warren Beatty (at the height of his pec and abs form) playing a flawed, out of touch hetero hairdresser (THE rock star job of LA).  With his shag hair, shirt unbuttoned to his waist, tight jeans and his blow dryer shoved in his crotch – motorcycling up the Beverly Hills canyons on his “house calls” – who could top Beatty (Not even Richard Gere in The Gigolo). And who could forget Julie Christie as his hot affair in her backless black dress and blonde straight bob.  Or Jack Warden as a typical wealthy LA politico fat-cat supporting Nixon.  And lastly, Goldie Hawn as the “uber” hippie chick and gal pal to everyone.

“Shampoo” caught the moment (It was more about “Charlie’s Angels” than Charlie Manson’s chicks) with that lifestyle of the Daisy Club and streets of hair salons and Jax boutiques. Shampoo was the ultimate story of LA’s “winners” as “losers” or vice versa.  Also, the Shampoo soundtrack was The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” and The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice.” Naturally, the movie nailed ‘70s L.A. nostalgia from beginning to end. And no violence.

Ironically, both movies had the Hugh Hefner overtones (when is Hefner’s movie going to be done?).  Tarantino actually had one of his “girls at the grotto” scenes where Ashby just portrayed one of those giant sexy Beverly Hills mansion parties with women of all ages flirting with everyone.

But when all is said and done whether it is a visit to an iPic or an AMC theatre I still ended up 6 hours later back in my own bed with my own microwaved popcorn and remote in hand streaming Guys and Dolls. Talk about a “buddy movie” (Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit and Marlon Brando as Guy Masterson and they both detested each other in real life!).  Damon Runyan’s New York City in the ’40s a vintage time and place all set to words and music by Frank Loesser and brilliantly choreographed by Michael Kidd.  Different city different crimes and misdemeanors but just as nostalgic as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Of course, you can’t compare Guys and Dolls “Luck be a Lady” to Tarantino’s use of The Mamas and The Papas “Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon.” But face it, it is hard to top today’s “at home” entertainment, and I am sure in a year or so I will “order” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on my Netflix and rethink the whole movie!

My own private screening!

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