A Hollywood Double Feature – Tarantino Style

Disclaimer I guess??? This review contains language relevant to Tarantino’s body of work. Sorry if cursing offends you.

I don’t typically pick up novelizations or tie-ins for movies I’m not diehard in love with. And I never pick up novelizations of movies from directors I don’t particularly enjoy. However, when I heard that the novelization of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was not only going to include the “director’s cut” of moments that weren’t in or just couldn’t be included in the film but that Quentin Tarantino himself was going to write it, I was intrigued. Throw in the face that it was only being published as a vintage-style mass market paperback, and I was buying it immediately on release day. What can I say, pulp novels are an aesthetic joy of mine.

But then I started reading it and well… I was not expecting any of the thoughts it would bring to me. I was not prepared for the emotions I brought back that I haven’t experienced since film school graduation left me bitter, broke, and jaded as all hell. I wasn’t ready to literally feel LOVE radiate out of a fucking Quentin Tarantino movie-turned-book.


Seemingly pitched to viewers as a movie of the Manson Family (especially considering it was released the summer of ’19 – the 50thanniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders), Quentin Tarantino’s movie was anything but. Following actor-on-the-downfall, Rick Dalton, and his stuntman-turned-personal-assistant, Cliff Booth, the movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood gives us an entirely realistic view of how the Golden Age of Hollywood was. Of course this is still Tarantino, though, so this reality is still slightly-to-the-left as the ending gives us a happier conclusion of what happened on the night of August 9th, 1969. 

The movie is fun, goofy, and heartfelt while still keeping to the ridiculous Tarantino bloodbath ending. The scale of the cast alone is magnificent to see as huge actors play the smallest roles – a feat I truly think only Tarantino is capable of doing. Over the last two years I kept my opinion on the fact that it was a good enough movie, but my dedication to true crime and the many research projects I’ve done on Charles Manson and his girls kept my head out of the point. I could tell it was a homage to old Hollywood, a salute to what came out of it, but I didn’t think too much more.

Rewatching the movie after reading the “novelization” was a treat and a half. I noticed far more of the details, appreciated what Tarantino was doing far more. Leo DiCaprio’s subtlety as vulnerability as Rick is sublime and every scene with Mirabella (Trudi) made me tear up. Naturally it’s still a bit of a let down we only see Damon Herriman as Charlie for like two seconds (he’s an amazing actor), I know I can still get more of him in the role by watching Mindhunter. It’s difficult to keep on track with talking about the movie because there’s just so much going on in it, but I can happily say I adore it to it’s core at this moment.

T H E     N O V E L I Z A T I O N

Many millennial and gen-x readers will be familiar with the concept of novelizations, books that came out after a successful film that was a direct adaptation of screen to page. Sometimes they were fun and sometimes they were terrible, but they were always the story we expected. These days, move-to-book adaptations are less of an adaptation, and more of a tie-in, adding more dialogue or context and nuance to better convey the story and add more depth to scenes that were potentially shortened in the editing room or by producer demands.

When it comes to Quentin Tarantino’s own novelization of his film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, this is not a novelization in the conventional sense, and that point needs to come with something of a disclaimer.

If you do not give a flying fuck about the history of film and television production during the 40s through the early 70s then this book is not for you. Doesn’t matter if you love the movie, you have to love the boring parts of cinema as well, the important details in production, to give a shit about this book.

I’ve always loved the little details in film and my obsession with true crime and pulp novels means I have a soft spot for this “golden age” of Hollywood. Having fallen even more in love with production details while in film school, the fact that the first 100-or-so pages of this book reads like a text on critical film theory regarding genre films and international arthaus as political commentary made me so happy I was basically giggling like an idiot while reading. Sans for the part where Cliff says he liked Breathless (I hate this stupid French film so much), I agreed with just about everything that was being said.

As the novel goes on, in Tarantino’s typical non-linear fashion, it becomes less and less a story of Rick Dalton fighting against the Manson Family, and more a story of how Hollywood has always torn down it’s icons at every chance. It’s a character study of men hitting middle age and learning where they went wrong and trying to do better for themselves. As Rick’s role on Lancer starts eating at him, the way Tarantino weaves together the story of the pilot with the story of Rick’s self-hatred, it’s a beautiful thing to follow along.

If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of a Hollywood set, this is a book that does that. While I have had my own reservations about Tarantino’s work in general, this “novelization” has shifted so much of how I think of him. No matter what your opinion is, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: A Novel is the biggest love note to cinema that I have ever come across and it is slap-you-in-the-face clear just how much Tarantino cares about his movies, others’ movies, others’ shows, and every one of the actors that takes place in them. 

Did this book make it any more of a Manson story than the bit pieces in the movie? Absolutely not. Was it any more accurate? Hard no. But it was a bigger realization that this wasn’t a Manson story. This isn’t about Charlie or the girls. This is about a period in time and you can’t ignore what was going on just to tell a story about a failing Western super star. You can’t mention the collapse of Spahn Ranch without mentioning Charlie.

Absolutely not for everyone, this is a book I know I will be reading again and again. This is a book that reminded me why I loved film, why I pushed myself through film school despite how hard it was to bear, why I still care about film without working in it anymore. 

A few days ago I said I would fight Tarantino in a Denny’s parking lot with joy, that I was giving him a chance to truly impress me with this book. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t do just that. He impressed me and reminded what it is to love art. Cheers, Quentin. You bastard.

REVIEW: Hunting Charles Manson

I’m going to make this a quick review for a few reasons. The first is that this is obviously non-fiction and about Charles Manson. The second is that I was not fond of this book at all and, if I’m being entirely honestly here, I ended up skimming most of it.

Having had something of an obsession with Manson for many, many years now, I have read countless books on the Summer of ’69 as well as books about what factors made Manson who he was. Earlier this year I reviewed an ARC for Nikki Meredith’s The Manson Women and Me, which I absolutely adored. This time, Lis Wiehl’s book Hunting Charles Manson: The Search For Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter is bland and includes many things that I question.

The first red flag for me was the author stating in the Author’s Note that she is a prosecutor and reporter who believes in a Christian brand of justice. It seems like an irrelevant thing to bring up in a book about a cult who was fairly against organized religion that didn’t centre around Charlie himself. Not only that but several times throughout the book, some of the profanity is censored out and some of it isn’t, causing me to question what facts have been twisted for the sake of the story and the author’s personal opinions.

Next up is that she doesn’t automatically use the names of the victims in the murders on Cielo Drive (aka. The Tate Murders), instead saving them for the following chapter when the “survivor” in the guest house in brought into the mix. It felt disrespectful to me and most people my age probably don’t know what the victims looked like (other than Sharon Tate) so only using descriptors felt like an odd choice. Not only that, but when Wiehl does go into the life of William Garretson, she focuses a lot on his drug habits and his friendship with the immigrant groundskeepers of the property. In other words, there’s a lot of irrelevant information here.

I’m not going to say any more because, quite frankly, I’m really disappointed. This time period that helped spark the Satanic Panic while also doing so much politically is fascinating to me, but this author does not do a good job of getting her points across, instead choosing to rehash the facts in a way that feels censored and manipulated. Not to mention that unless readers are truly familiar with the members of the Family – meaning both their names and their “Family names” – it can be confused to remember who is who.

The only decent thing about this book is that it got me working on my cross-referencing and fact-checking skills as I often found myself looking at other sources to make sure the information was accurate (which, based on my knowledge, not all of it was).

If you want a good read about the cult, I highly recommend you read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, The Manson Women and Me by Nikki Meredith, and Manson by Jeff Guinn.

36576143Author: Lis Wiehl (with Caitlin Rother)
Published: June 5, 2018
Pages: 336
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9780718092085

Synopsis: In the late summer of 1969, the nation was transfixed by a series of gruesome murders in the hills of Los Angeles. Newspapers and television programs detailed the brutal slayings of a beautiful actress–twenty six years old and eight months pregnant with her first child–as well as a hair stylist, an heiress, a businessman, and other victims. The City of Angels was plunged into a nightmare of fear and dread. In the weeks and months that followed, law enforcement faced intense pressure to solve crimes that seemed to have no connection.

Finally, after months of dead-ends, false leads, and near-misses, Charles Manson and members of his “family” were arrested. The bewildering trials that followed once again captured the nation and forever secured Manson as a byword for the evil that men do.

Drawing upon deep archival research and exclusive personal interviews–including unique access to Manson Family parole hearings–former federal prosecutor and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl has written a propulsive, page-turning historical thriller of the crimes and manhunt that mesmerized the nation. And in the process, she reveals how the social and political context that gave rise to Manson is eerily similar to our own.

REVIEW: The Manson Women & Me

I received a free copy of the e-book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I finished this book a few days ago but it has taken me since then to really think about how to go about this review. It’s a bit of a sensitive topic, even now so just bear with me on this one. Also please note that while my review is free of triggers, links to various examples listed in this review may contain graphic and potentially triggering content. I would also warn that the book also contains unsettling content, so please be aware of the crime it is discussing before reading should that sort of thing be triggering to you.

Nikki Meredith’s book, The Manson Women & Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder is as much an autobiography on the author as it is a true-crime depiction of the very real lives of Pat Krenwinckle and Leslie Van Houten while they were with Charles Manson as well as their lives in prison. Woven into the lives of these young women is the life story of Nikki Meredith, herself, as she faces a different kind of struggle between her own morality and finding herself in her Jewish heritage. It a true crime book while also given great insight into the psychology behind wanting to be loved and the psychology that goes into ignorance and racism (from ethnicity to religion).

When I saw this book on NetGalley, I was excited. Even more so when I was approved for it. Since high school I have been somewhat “obsessed” – for lack of a better word – with the psychology of the Manson family and Charles Manson himself. Susan Atkins was the only of the women who I really knew about so the chance to learn more about the other women involved intrigued me. However, this book was not at all what I was expecting.

I’m going to take a moment here and make a statement: I am not condoning nor will I ever condone the actions of the Manson family, especially in regards to the Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969.

With that said, I was not expecting this novel to make me cry over Leslie and Pat. I was not expecting to feel their pain and grow physically sick at the though that these women are still in prison for a crime committed after months of manipulation when they were 19 and 23 respectively. The year is 2018 at the point and both of them are still behind bars.

Want to know who isn’t behind bars? OJ Simpson. Karla Homolka. The entirety of the Children of God cult (who openly bragged about years of child abuse, molestation, and full-out rape). Want to know who is allowed to go up for parole but isn’t even in the general population for fear he’ll be murdered? Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo.

Through Nikki’s retellings of conversations she has had with these two very intelligent women over the course of over 20 years, she shows just how well the confused and brainwashed girls have grown into responsible adults (Leslie even has her Masters Degree and certifications in counselling). Leslie and Pat are in the general population of the prison and are fully functional in their everyday lives. There is no reason for either of them to still be condemned to rot behind bars for following orders they were brainwashed into believing were gospel.

To me their lives were no different then than any “normal” women to “in love” to see that she is being abused by a manipulative partner. It is truly heartbreaking.

Aside from that, I found the anecdotes of Nikki’s personal life to be humanizing in the way they connected to the lives of the women she has befriended. I found her pulls from other horrific crimes – from Abu Ghraib to the Moonie cult – to also be fascinating in determining how people react to different levels of crime. I have known who Charles Manson was for the majority of my life (as of this writing I am 23) but barely knew about Abu Ghraib or Jonestown in a real world context (everyone has seen parodies of the tortured prisoner photos or the phrase “Well so-and-so has drunk the Kool-Aid”). People are still furious about what happened to the Tate and LaBianca families, yet very few people even talk about the other aforementioned atrocities.

To cut myself off I will wrap up this review saying that this book is a very insightful and tastefully written profile on two women involved in one of the most famous crimes of the 20th century. Nikki Meredith is incredibly detailed in her research and her prose without being exploitative in any way or excusing the crimes of Leslie, Pat, Susan, Linda Tex, and Charlie. It is a modern day look at the crimes as written by someone with a clearly level head and as little bias as anyone who grew up in those days can have.

Nikki Meredith’s first complete book gets 5 / 5 stars for me.

Author: Nikki Meredith
Published:  March 27th 2018
Pages: 368
Publisher: Citadel Press
ISBN: 9780806538587

Synopsis: In the summer of 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of the charismatic cult leader Charles Manson. At their murder trial the following year, lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi described the two so-called Manson Women as “human monsters.” But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an unfathomable crime.

Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels “normal” people to do unspeakable things?

The author’s relationship with her subjects provides a chilling lens through which we gain insight into a particular kind of woman capable of a particular kind of brutality. Through their stories, Nikki Meredith takes readers on a dark journey into the very heart of evil.