Review: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino excels at suspense, building anticipation that something terrible is about to happen in many of his most memorable scenes. Most of the time in Tarantino’s latest creation, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the situations defuse themselves, but the few times they don’t, chaos ensues.

The movie tells an endearing buddy story—washed-up western TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) stars as the “heavy,” or villain, in all his newer films and yearns for the days when he was young and played the hero of the pictures in which he appeared. His stuntman and best friend, Cliff (Brad Pitt), drives him everywhere he needs to go, a requirement after Rick racked up one too many DUI’s.

Rick also lives in a house next door to actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski–something that becomes important as the film begins to intermix fiction with the real-life events of the Manson murders that occurred around that time. The film’s story seems to wander at first, but actually builds carefully, laying out characters and beats scene-by-simmering-scene while intermixing real-life Hollywood notables such as Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee with Tarantino’s own composites. It’s a film of many layers that is enjoyable on the surface as a dramatic, off-beat, humorous film filled with memorable characters and moments. Yet with a little knowledge of history and the events surrounding the Manson murders, some of the scenes take on more significance and have greater impact.

Of course, this is an alternate history, so we know that Tarantino is putting his own twist on the disturbing historical events. While not a violent movie by any means, the film contains a few violent moments that make the film warrant an R rating (along with profanity, drug use, and some sexual references – at least according to the film’s IMDb page).

What is this film? Is it wish fulfillment? Haven’t we all wanted to go back in time at some point or another, saying, “If had been there when this or that historical event happened, here’s what I would have done.” Perhaps this film is for know-it-alls? Regardless, the result is quite gratifying while also being suspenseful. The suspense is also greater since, due to the composite nature of the movie, we actually don’t know everything that will happen. Tarantino, not history, holds the last card here.

This is a movie for movie buffs as well as buffs of history. It’s well-acted, well written, well designed, well-photographed, and well—just all-around well-done.

The Accidental President

How often do the “normal” people and moments in life capture national fascination?  After all, the public and the media like to focus on stories that deviate from the norm, that are bigger than everyday life, and that take the audience away from their typical lives.  However, a person or event occasionally becomes extraordinary by being quite ordinary and yet surprising the world in some unusual way.  Harry S. Truman was one of these people.

The Accidental PresidentIn the biography The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, A. J. Baime provides insight into Truman’s life, career, and the national and international impact of his time in office after FDR dies.  This story is fascinating as it shows how a Missourian with little money and almost no public presence rises to the highest seat of power in the United States.  What makes Truman’s career even more remarkable is that he was extremely ordinary.  Baime writes about Truman and his future wife Bess, “Bess Wallace was everything Harry was not.  She was fashionable, athletic, and popular.  Harry, in his own words, ‘was never popular.  The popular boys were the ones who were good at games and had big, tight fists.  I was never like that.  Without my glasses, I was blind as a bat, and to tell the truth, I was kind of a sissy.  If there was danger of getting into a fight, I always ran’” (44).  Humorously, Baime explains that even though “Harry sat next to Bess Wallace in church school…[i]t took him five years to get up the courage to say hello” (44).  These descriptions sound more like a depiction of Charlie Brown, not future president material.

Despite his ordinariness though, Truman wins against all odds time and time again, and his honesty and hard work appear to have been key to his success.  Also important to Truman’s character is his continuous dedication to his family.  He always makes time to look after and stay in touch with his mother, sister, daughter, and wife.  When his family is most concerned about the huge responsibility that has been thrust on him, Truman is worried about how being president will affect the privacy and lives of his family.

Dewey Defeats Truman headline
Truman surprised the nation by winning the 1948 presidential election and proving newspaper headlines wrong.

In contrast to his unimpressive personality and ordinary origins, Truman’s life is anything but ordinary, and The Accidental President is a fascinating biography.  Baime packs the book with interesting details and narrates events in a story-like manner that makes the biography very readable.  Thanks to Baime’s skillful juggling of places, people, and events, the different scenes of the story tie together smoothly and help the reader grasp what is happening simultaneously around the world.

While the title The Accidental President appropriately captures how unusual Truman’s career turned out to be, I think perhaps a more fitting title would be The Providential President.  As much as people may criticize or disagree with Truman’s policies and decisions, he turned out to be the right man for his hour.  Truman faced difficult decisions and stressful scenarios with courage, honesty, and dedication, and I think succeeding generations should take care before passing judgment on Harry S. Truman.  After all, he had to make some of the hardest choices and deal with some of the greatest challenges any American president has ever confronted, and he did so without the clear support of the American people that an elected president would have had and without the history-making charisma that most world leaders have possessed.  President Harry S. Truman proved a common man could become the leader of a world power and accomplish the extraordinary.


Works Cited

Baime, Albert J.  The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That  Changed the World.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY: 2017.

Lilies in Water

“Good news!” called the Intern, as his boss, the museum’s director, finally emerged from her meeting. “The object labels for the Monet exhibit are finally here, and are being installed right this sec!”

“It is 4:00 p.m. the day before the exhibit opens!” the Director exclaimed. “How could they just now have gotten the object labels to us?”

The Intern shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “I wish I knew. I got them the info over a month ago, and I’ve been calling all week, and they just kept saying it was ‘taking longer than expected.’”

The Director sighed. “Well, at least they made it in time, if just barely. Let me know when they’re done installing them – this is an incredible exhibit for us, and we’re expecting almost a thousand people tomorrow at the opening. I’d like to take a look at the finalized display before I leave.”

“You’ve got it, Boss!” the Intern mock saluted.

An hour later, all the signs were installed, and the Director, followed by her intern, walked into the gallery and gazed around admiringly. There they were, over 50 of Monet’s famous water lilies and other assorted garden paintings, all together under one roof – her own museum’s roof. She smiled, and turned to the first painting’s placard.

Water Lilies with a Lot of Froggy Green Rather Than Blue in the Water (1917), it read. 

It took a moment for the Director to register what she was reading. “Um, Josh,” the Director called, with an unusual tremor in her voice. “What is this?” she pointed a slightly shaking finger at the title. The Intern trotted over, but without waiting for an answer, the Director turned hurriedly to the next painting.

This one said: Water Lilies Where the Water Looks Kind of Brown (1917). Water Lilies Where All the Flowers are Purple-ish (1918), said the next, and the one after that: Water Lilies Where the Flowers Are Purple-ish Again but There’s Also a Willow Tree (1918).

“Josh, you sent the label info over to the printer, what…” the Director struggled to find words that were calm and non-accusatory, but all that came out was: “What did you do?”

The Intern apparently failed to sense the displeasure in his boss’s inquiry. He beamed “Oh, well, Monet really wasn’t very inventive with his painting titles. They were literally all just Water Lilies or The Japanese Bridge and I thought, like, how are visitors going to talk about which ones were their favorite, you know? ‘Which one did you like’ ‘Oh, I liked Yellow Irises’ ‘But which one?’ So, I added some description to all the titles, some color commentary, if you’ll pardon the pun. Problem solved!”

“All the titles,” the Director repeated, numbly.

“All the titles!” the Intern repeated, enthusiastically.

Indeed, as the Director wandered blankly around the exhibit, every title had some alteration. Water Lilies that look like Monet was Experimenting with Finger Painting (1921), The Biggest Water Lily Painting (1920), Weeping Willow with a Whole Lot More Orange than the Others (1920). They’d never be able to reprint them all before the exhibit opened.

It was The Japanese Bridge that Doesn’t Look at All Like the Japanese Bridge (1923) that finally caused the Director to snap. Later in his life, Monet had developed cataracts in his eyes, and he’d painted that particular picture of the Japanese bridge that didn’t look very much like the Japanese bridge when he could barely see anything.

“Josh.” The Director turned to the Intern, and looked him dead in the eye. “You’re fired.”

Unfortunately, the satisfaction of saying that was nothing compared to the chagrin the Director felt the next morning, when she overheard a museum patron talk about how their favorite painting was definitely “Water Lilies with a Lot of Froggy Green Rather Than Blue in the Water.”