STOP. Do not read any further unless you can handle spoilers.
The day has finally come – the day when Damian Lewis plays Steve McQueen on the big screen. It’s July 26, 2019 and I’m planning my early escape from work to see an 11:00 a.m. showing of Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. I purchased my $8.72 matinee ticket online on July 17 around 4:00 p.m. and it has been burning the proverbial hole in my pocket ever since.
Fiddlesticks. I do not escape the office at the exact moment I had planned because my pesky co-workers, whom I adore, have thwarted my early getaway by chatting me up like it’s Monday instead of Friday. For the entire conversation I do not compute what they are saying to me. It’s like Charlie Brown’s muffled teacher and all I can hear is that little voice in my head saying, “You’re going to have to speed to get there on time.” On the drive to the theater (going 68 mph in a 65 because I’m a chickenshit) I go over the plan of action rolling around in my head like a 35mm black and white film countdown on loop:
I’ve arrived at my destination. I hastily park and immediately abandon the plan of action, inserting a step between park and check-in. Ahhh, the marquee. MUST GET PHOTO. A little foreshadowing here…Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) does a similar bit in the movie.
While you can show the usher your QR barcode and scan from your phone for entry, I want some memorabilia. I check-in at the front desk and request a hardcopy ticket, hoping and wishing it will look like the Hollywood premiere night tickets…
But I know better and settle for this remittance stub instead…
On to step three, restroom break. I know you hear me ladies when I say your weakened bladder from childbirth and/or age knows when you’ve stepped into a new place, be it a store, event, or theater and it demands to mark that territory immediately. I listen and obey since it’s a three-hour movie if you count the previews and I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk missing Damian’s scene because of a tinkle tragedy.
I grab some popcorn and settle in for the previews. Like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, I have “a spot” I favor in theaters – second to the last row, middle of the row. I prefer to see the screen in it’s entirety while facing forward so I do not have to move my head from left-to-right like I’m watching a tennis match.
Blimey. My plan of action is shot to hell. I realize as I’m settling into the recliner that I have forgotten to prep my phone. It is very important my phone is prepped – you’ll figure out why later 😉
I quickly set the popcorn in the empty seat to my right, reach for my phone in my bag, both mute the volume and silence it (two separate settings on the iPhone….why????), fumble quickly through the settings to disable ‘lock screen’ when not in use and decrease the screen brightness, then ready my phone in the empty cup holder to my left like Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) slides a 6-shooter in his leather holster or Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) slides a can of beer in his tool belt.
I’m ready. I have survived the additions to my original plan of action just in time for the theater lights to dim. However, a few kernels of popcorn did not survive.
Can I just say the previews seem to be one-degree of separation from Damian? Sure, us super fans see things and relate them to Damian in a way that no other person does, but still.
Tom Hanks will play Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and I think to myself, “Tom Hanks. Band of Brothers. Damian.” Playing opposite Hanks is Matthew Rhys and I think to myself, “Rhys, Wales, Damian.” Followed by, “Rhys, The Americans, Noah Emmerich, Billions, Damian.” Either way, I’ll be seeing that movie this November!
Then a preview for Knives Out begins with captions like ‘whodunnit?’ and ‘murder mystery.’ I think to myself, “Whodunnit play. Damian.” Playing the character Joni in the movie is none other than Toni Collette and I think to myself, “Collette. Dream Horse. Damian.” Playing another character in the film is Daniel Craig. I think to myself, “Daniel Craig. Bond. James Bond. Damian.”
Next up is a preview of The Kitchen about 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives and I think to myself, “Hell’s Kitchen. New York. Billions. Damian.” I mean, Damian does live in New York about 5-6 months of the year, right!?!?! Also, don’t forget Damian’s character Axe on Billions is stored in Krakow’s (Danny Strong) phone under contact name “Bullitt,” which is a Steve McQueen movie. “Steve McQueen. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. Damian.” See? Can’t help it. Too bad Danny Strong’s part in OUATIH ended up on the cutting room floor.
Enough of the previews. Here we go! Fasten your seatbelts, the movie has begun and it begins with opening credits. I fumble for my phone and snap a picture of Damian’s orange name on the screen, which is superimposed on Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as they drive from the airport to their home located at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon.
Other true life former residents of this homestead include Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher with Candice Bergen, in which Charles Manson visited the house during their occupancy, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. Throughout the movie Sharon Tate (Robbie) plays Paul Revere & the Raiders vinyl records in the home.
It’s February 8, 1969 as Polanski and Tate head out to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion party where, unbeknownst to us the audience, Steve McQueen and Jay Sebring await their arrival.
I recognize the large gated driveway that sweeps through a petite redwood grove before it circles up around a huge water fountain at the front of the mansion. The camera pan during the drive is brilliant in that Tarantino makes you feel like you’re in the backseat.
This is it. I know Damian’s scene is at the Playboy Mansion from social media – clue number one – and yet I am still surprised how quickly his scene is before my eyes, about 49 minutes in. I hurl my popcorn to the empty seat to my right, grab my phone and watch through my camera. I scan the partygoers for Damian and hone in on the back of this tall, slender-framed man in white jeans who is standing off in the distance with two others next to that famous circle drive. I’d recognize Damian anywhere in a crowd.
McQueen is flanked by Michelle Phillips and Jay Sebring. A black crew neck pullover under a black leather jacket complements McQueen’s white jeans. Polanski and Tate’s car approach the three, Tate bounces from the car over to McQueen, his arms open wide as he says:
“Heyyyyy, how you doin’ baby?”
They hug, he picks her up and twirls her around in the air.
“Hey, [giggles] how are you?”
After McQueen greets Sharon, she happy-hops over to the dance area as he lights up a cigarette (or a joint?) and watches her dance carefree from afar.
McQueen and a female partygoer (Dreama Walker as Connie Stevens?) continue to people watch together as he points and explains to her the sordid Hollywood relationships that are all within three feet distance from one another. Gossipy McQueen indeed.
“I’m gonna tell you a story. She is engaged to him. Then she flewwwwwww to the U.K. to make a film with him, and broke off her engagement with him. And married him. Then they moved to Los Angeles and the three of them have been inseparable.”
The “three” that McQueen refers to are Jay Sebring (McQueen’s hairstylist), Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate pictured here back in 1968.
Dismayed she asks,
“Really? What’s up?”
“Jay loves Sharon. That’s what’s up.”
McQueen passes the cigarette (or joint?) to her, she takes a drag…
“And he knows – as sure as God made little green apples – that one of these days that Polish prick’s gonna fuck things up and when he does…Jay’s gonna be there.”
The female partygoer states,
“Well one thing’s for sure….”
“Yea? What’s that?”
“Sharon absolutely has a type. Cute. Short. Talented guys who look like 12-year-old boys.”
McQueen quips back,
“Yeah, I never stood a chance.”
I’m having a freak out moment in the movie theater. I’m not sure if McQueen’s little green apples reference is a nod to O.C. Smith’s Little Green Apples but OMG I have this song on my playlist – it’s one of my favorites! I couldn’t believe it was coming out of Damian’s mouth! Also, green apples, Charlie Crews, Life, Damian, whhhhhaaaaaaa????
And just as quick as Damian’s McQueen is on the screen to lament about Tate, he’s gone. But his presence lingers. At one point later in the film Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) mentions he was on the shortlist to play the breakout Steve McQueen role in the 1963 classic The Great Escape, then the film cuts to an imaginary version of what it would have been like to watch Dalton in the movie instead of McQueen. Then Dalton says he never stood a chance. The symmetry is ironic in that big movie star McQueen never stood a chance with THE girl and Dalton never stood a chance on THE big screen. It is this interlude that serves to connect McQueen and Dalton.
Time and place. This film, from start to finish, never lets you forget the bygone era of cutoff, frayed jean shorts, cigarettes, Carnation milk, Good Humor ice cream, Pan Am airlines, flower fabric suitcases, STP logo stickers, tv trays, hippies, acid, California Dreamin’ and Hollywood. Just like New York plays a big role in Billions, Hollywood is the largest character for Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. It oozed nostalgia.
From the cameos of Ovaltine and Tang to the music, I was time-warped to a place in time. But nothing could prepare me for the wormhole of traveling instantaneously from 2019 to 1968 like seeing that old Taco Bell facade. I may not have been around in the 60’s, but I was in the 70’s and that’s exactly the way I remember Taco Bell – with it’s colorful block letters, clay-tile roof, stucco building with several arches, a metal bell displayed in an open cavity at the top, and that combination sombrero-bell sign.
Tarantino shows you the world of the movie industry through the eyes of the stars. He also weaved threads of commonality from his other films into OUATIH. Bare feet for one.
Sharon rests her feet on the back of a movie seat, dirty feet at that. There are shots of her barefoot most of the time while in her and Polanski’s home. Booth (Pitt) picks up a hitchhiker who presses her bare feet against his windshield for the majority of the car ride, and yes, dirty feet. The camera seems to focus on Dalton’s (DiCaprio) feet while he’s fully clothed and floating in a lounge chair in his pool.
All the hippy flower children at George Spahn’s Movie Ranch are running around barefoot in the dirt, at one point focusing on Squeaky Fromme’s (Dakota Fanning) feet in a recliner. This reminded me so much of Pulp Fiction – when Vincent Vega asks Mia if her husband Marcellus threw a man out of a window for giving her a foot massage and when Vincent and Mia slip off their shoes, Mia barefoot, as they dance the twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant.
Another familiar Tarantino attribute in OUATIH was the fictional Red Apple cigarette brand. They can also be seen in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Grindhouse’s Planet Terror, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, and Inglourious Basterds. The Red Apple cigarettes remind me of Inglourious Basterds and I say, “Inglourious Basterds. Billions. Bobby Axelrod. Damian.”
Bobby Axelrod can’t get enough of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s mentioned in Billions season one, episode five when Bobby and Lara have a private moment while laying outside on the grass together after a bow chicka wow wow pool scene and also in season three, episode four here:
And who is responsible for those Inglourious Basterds references in Billions? Showrunner and co-creator Brian Koppelman is a known Tarantino fan:
Basterds is still the masterpiece. And Pulp Fiction the one that completely changed film for a generation (it did). But Hollywood is in that next tier along w Dogs and KB. What it lacks in laughs it gains in a subtle, sad profoundness.
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) July 26, 2019
Koppelman even took the entire Billions Writers Room to see Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood:
Taking the whole Billions writers’ room to see Once Upon A Time In Hollywood at the first screening tomorrow. If you’re there, I apologize in advance for laughing and clapping so loudly.
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) July 25, 2019
Quentin is singular. OUATIH will stay w me a good while. Not at all what I expected. The saddest QT movie ever. And, again, not in ways you expect.
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) July 25, 2019
This top three feels right to me. As do the bottom two. https://t.co/CzIMzISMlB
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) July 27, 2019
In addition to Damian’s McQueen in OUATIH, I greatly enjoyed Bruce Dern’s role as George Spahn. Dern is one of my favorite actors of all time. I’ll admit, I was worried I would crave the late Burt Reynolds as Spahn, but I cannot fathom Spahn being played by anyone other than Dern. While the camera spanned Spahn’s home at the Movie Ranch, I am almost certain I recognized a Remington statue similar to that of Axe’s in Billions season two from the Sandicot asset seizure. Wonder if Damian borrowed the prop… 😉
Media outlets seem to be Camp DiCaprio, but I have say this is Brad Pitt’s movie. The Oklahoma-born really shines, from his countless Bloody Mary’s and rugged speed racing, to each scene he shares with his dog Brandy, who, in my opinion, stole the show regardless that she prefers raccoon or rat flavored ‘Wolf Tooth’ brand dog food…yanno, the good dog food for mean dogs.
So there you have it. One scene for Damian as Steve McQueen at the Playboy Mansion. Now it makes perfect sense why Damian gave an interview to Playboy Magazine about playing McQueen for Quentin Tarantino back in April – clue number two. Full circle! As Charlie Crews would preach, “Everything is connected!”
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say Tarantino shows his love of Sharon Tate by flipping the Manson Murders on it’s head. It’s a fairytale ending for a fairytale story that begins with Once Upon a Time…
Oh, and stay after the credits for an extra DiCaprio scene.
Want to know what the critics are saying? Click here for a collection of reviews. Click here to see Damian and Helen attend the UK Premiere of OUATIH. Click here to watch Damian’s red carpet interview about playing Steve McQueen.
1. Treat Her Right – Roy Head & The Traits
2. Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – The Bob Seger System
3. Hush – Deep Purple
4. Hector – The Village Callers
5. Son of a Lovin’ Man – Buchanan Brothers
6. Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course – Chad & Jeremy
7. Good Thing – Paul Revere & The Raiders
8. Hungry – Paul Revere & the Raiders
9. Choo Choo Train – The Box Tops
10. Jenny Take a Ride – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
11. Kentucky Woman – Deep Purple
12. The Circle Game – Buffy Sainte-Marie
13. Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel
14. Bring a Little Lovin’ – Los Bravos
15. Hey Little Girl – Dee Clark
16. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show – Neil Diamond
17. Don’t Chase Me Around – Robert Corff
18. Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon – Paul Revere & the Raiders
19. California Dreamin’ – Jose Feliciano
20. Dinamite Jim – I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni
21. You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge
22. Miss Lily Langtry – Maurice Jarre
23. Batman theme song