Once Upon a Time…I changed my mind! (And I might again.) Oscar time for Shia LaBeouf! Also — Joan Collins…Shawn Mendes…Ellen Barkin…Viola Davis…Renee Zellweger, great TV — and kittens!!

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Joan Collins making her fabulous guest appearance on “Hawaii Five-O.”

“YOU have the right to change your mind.”  — Oprah Winfrey.

I really don’t need Oprah to tell me I can change my mind, in fact I’d rather she didn’t tell me anything.  I’ve never been much carried away by her perceived deity status.  But … maybe I’ll change my mind. 

I’m pretty flexible and for sure I have different attitudes — I’ve evolved — from decades past.  Much remains the same, however.  I was an unusually precocious and astute 15, when I left home.  Now I am a sometimes rather dim 66. Things work out.

Sony Pictures

One thing I was determined not to change my mind about was seeing Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” which was initially promoted as yet another glimpse into the Manson family and their reign of terror, which included the deaths of actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child, her friends, and in a separate horror the following night, the murders of Leno and Rosemary Labianca.  I have always avoided movies and documentaries about serial killers — I am revolted by the exploitation of the victims and the inevitable glamorization of the killers.  

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.

Why, as much as I admire the great talent of Zac Efron (pause here for slight eye-roll) I have avoided his Netflix movie about Ted Bundy, although I have been told his great talent has several potent moments.  I sacrifice a lot for my convictions. But I can be persuaded. Several friends, whose opinions I respect told me to get over it, and catch Mr. Tarantino’s latest. After all, it’s not like I haven’t liked, or at least been fascinated by his work in the past. (I was grateful to “The Hateful Eight” if for no other reason than the dazzling return of Jennifer Jason Leigh.)

Soooo … I took myself off to the cinema, and emerged from “Once Upon A Time…” knocked sideways.  It’s dazzling, demented, maddening, meandering, absurdist, revisionist, too long, not long enough, brilliantly acted and gorgeously photographed.  And, it’s not really about Charles Manson or Sharon Tate, although both wander through the adventures of Leonardo DiCaprio, as an actor with career problems, and Brad Pitt, as his stunt double and friend, who simply has problems.

Pitt and DiCaprio are are both at their individual peaks in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

I’ve always thought DiCaprio was a very good actor, and have come to forgive him for the abomination of “Titanic.”  But I never quite connected to him as a person — he seems rather empty shell-like.  I’ve probably just read too many misleading tales of his encroaching, plumpish middle-age and all those models he dates.  As for Brad Pitt, I’ve placed his talent on the low burner, but he’s always seemed an appealing guy, despite Jennifer Aniston’s famous remark about “lacking the sensitivity chip” and his doomed-from-the-get-go marriage to the eternally fraught Angelina Jolie.  Here, in this film both men are at their individual peaks. Pitt is particularly effective. And still looks hot, which is itself an art.

The film is loaded with delicious (to me, at least) self-indulgent nods to late-’60s cinema history. I loved it.  But it goes for so long and teeters so precariously in every way, I could just as easily hate it, the third time I see it. 

Huge shout-out to Margot Robbie as Miss Tate; she is enchanting.  And epic kudos to production designer Barbara Ling, set designer Nancy Haigh, costumer Arianne Phillips and cinematographer Robert Richardson, who drenches the film in vibes, visions and colors of 1969. Oprah notwithstanding, I’m glad I changed my mind.

NOW, “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” reminded me why I love movies and the people who make movies.  

“The Peanut Butter Falcon,” starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen and Dakota Johnson reminded me why and how movies can actually lift you up in the worst of times— or what one might perceive as the worst of times — and affirm life.  Nothing too complex here.  Mr. Gottsagen plays a young man With Down Syndrome, who dreams of becoming a pro wrestler (Zack, in real life, also has the genetic disorder.)  He runs away from the facility where he lives,  eventually encounters the somewhat disreputable but good-at-heart Mr. LaBeouf, and they embark on a rather Mark Twain-ish travelogue of adventure, misadventure and discovery.  Dakota Johnson, fully dressed and actually conveying emotions, Thomas Haden Church (consistently terrific) as Zac’s wrestler icon and Bruce Dern (consistently iconic) also appear.  This movie just tells a story in a straightforward fashion.

Zack Gottsagen and Shia LaBeouf in The Peanut Butter Falcon.

It’s very funny. It is deeply and viscerally moving.  I wept ridiculously several times, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t alone in my weeping. To say I felt better about life in general would be the understatement of the last, uh — four years.  If movies like this can still be made, all hope is not lost. I am genuinely grateful to co-directors and writers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.  You guys are better than anti-depressants and/or tequila.  (Okay — maybe not tequila.)

Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson.

As for Shia LaBeouf, I have adored him as an actor since 2005’s “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”  He’s had his crazy times — who hasn’t?  (I’m quite interested in seeing LaBeouf’s autobiographical indie, “Honey Boy,” which apparently explains some of his past outré behavior.)   His performance in “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is brilliant, heartfelt, his best effort yet.  I hope Oscar takes note.

THIS ‘N THAT: I watched the VMA’s.  Glad John Travolta came out as bald. (Is there a second act?)  Very glad Shawn Mendes did two numbers — one in a tank top.  He is a fine singer.  Forget about the rest, including Taylor Swift’s hollow pandering.

Viola Davis as Michelle Obama?  Love Viola, but she is SO intense and kinda always tragic.  I think her conveyed emotions are too huge for the former First Lady. (Not that Michelle isn’t a powerful woman.)    Funny, I was just musing to myself that Viola either needs a comedy or Shakespeare — what a Lady MacBeth!

… Caught Joan Collins on “Hawaii Five-O” of all things and watched her do a terrific scene at a bar with one of the show’s leads. (I have never tuned in to the series before. I don’t know who these guys are.)  Good grief, the woman is a phenomenon!  She really made something out of this guest appearance.  She can act, and at a ridiculously vibrant 86, I still say her best is yet to be. Julian Fellowes should have dropped Joan into the coming “Downton Abbey” movie.

Ellen Barkin has been killed off in TNT’s “Animal Kingdom.”  Sorry, they should have killed the show. It’s an absurd premise, but has been driven by the pyrotechnic emoting of Barkin — I don’t know if it’s good or bad acting, but it has been mesmerizing.  The Medusa-mother role she was born to play.  Misguided move, producers.

Renee and Liz at the 2011 Texas Film Awards.

VERY much looking forward to Renee Zellweger’s “Judy” and Jonathan Van Meter’s wonderful New York magazine profile of Renee reminded me of an exquisite night with the actress and Liz Smith at the Texas Film Hall of Fame a few years back.

Renee was/is a divine, deeply complex, sincere, utterly enchanting person.

GREAT TV — “Snowfall” (incredibly intense and realistic) … ”Our Boys” (grim, heartbreaking, hypnotically slow-paced) … ”Derry Girls” (second season, just hilarious) … the Motown documentary on HBO. (“Hitsville: The Making of Motown.”)

Great TV.

BAD TV — “13 Reasons Why.”  Netflix should be ashamed.  Ugh!

13 Reasons WHY?

PERSONAL NOTE: A little over a month ago I left for summer “vacation.”  Because writing a column every Friday is SO exhausting.  Who knew that from the moment I wrote “I’ll be back” we’d be pummeled with one horror story after another, one more outrage a day.  I needed a vacation from my vacation. 

My neck disc is still degenerative and disintegrating—physical therapy later this month.  Bruce is going in for (relatively) minor surgery.  The shock of the sudden death of our beloved cat Dude is still raw, and brought up a lot of other stuff, that is not cat-related, but gives one pause and deep thought about how swiftly things can change. 

Our two newest additions – Boy …
… and Honey.

But, one can’t pause and think deeply too long.  Dreary.  We got two kittens, real babies.  Boy and Honey.  Kittens (and puppies, too, I guess) are a lot of fun.

Given my generally broody, dystopian outlook, kittenish fun is vital.  We’re loving them.

And already they are taking after me — fighting over Harry Styles!

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