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Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio surprise CinemaCon to tease ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

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Just a couple of months ago, it seemed as if Quentin Tarantino’s Hollywood future could be in question. But at a major movie industry event here Monday night, the head of Sony Pictures feted the director as Hollywood royalty, declaring the filmmaker’s new screenplay the best thing he’d read in 30 years.

Sony was the first studio to present this week at CinemaCon, the annual gathering of movie theater owners where exhibitors are treated to sneak previews of each company’s upcoming slate. After a star-studded display that included appearances by Matthew McConaughey (“White Man Rick”), Will Ferrell (“Holmes & Watson”) and Benicio del Toro (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”), Tom Rothman — chairman of the studio’s motion picture group — told the crowd gathered in the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum that he had one more surprise in store.

Then he called Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio to the stage, inciting audible gasps from the audience. Not only is DiCaprio one of the bigger stars to turn up at the Sin City convention in recent years, but the movie he’s making with Tarantino — “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — hasn’t even started filming yet.

But there was also, of course, the fact that Tarantino has weathered his share of controversy in the last few months.

In January, Rose McGowan alleged in her memoir that the director frequently told her he “used” her movie “Jawbreaker” as masturbatory material. A few weeks later, Uma Thurman told the New York Times that Tarantino had pressured her into filming her own car stunt in 2003’s “Kill Bill,” leading her to hurt herself in a subsequent auto crash. The actress also said he spit on her and choked her with a chain during production.

Tarantino called the stunt “the biggest regret of my life,” and Thurman declared on social media that she was “proud” of Tarantino for providing her with footage of the crash. But then later in February, audio resurfaced from a 2003 Howard Stern interview with the director defending Roman Polanski, saying the 13-year-old that Polanski was charged with sexually assaulting was “down with it” and claiming there’s a distinction between statutory rape and rape.

Tarantino apologized again, saying “Fifteen years later I realize how wrong I was.” Still, many in the industry were horrified. Jessica Chastain wrote she couldn’t stop imagining “Tarantino spitting in Uma’s face and strangling her with a chain for KILL BILL. How many images of women in media do we celebrate that showcase abuse? When did this become normalized ‘entertainment’?” And Judd Apatow wondered why Tarantino was being allowed to make a movie about Polanski: “Why is someone financing this? This is why Weinstein wasn’t stopped. $$$$”

Rothman, however, was fully supportive of Tarantino on Monday, and said the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” screenplay was the best he’d read in 30 years.

There still isn’t much known about the actual plot of the movie, which takes place in 1969 and supposedly revolves around the Charles Manson murders. The film will star DiCaprio and Brad Pitt — whom Tarantino called “the most exciting, dynamic star duo since Paul Newman and Robert Redford — and be released in August 2019.

“It takes place at the time of the hippie revolution and it takes place at the height of the new Hollywood,” the director explained. “During this summer, we will little by little, street by street and block by block, be transforming Los Angeles into the psychedelic era in 1969.”

Even DiCaprio acknowledged that it was odd to be promoting a “film that we haven’t done yet and haven’t shot a frame of,” but promised the audience that Tarantino would “transport us to a different era” with “one of the most amazing screenplays he’s ever written, which is saying a lot, because he’s written some of the masterworks in cinema history.”

Tarantino, who was 7 years old in 1969, said he was eager to make his first movie set in Los Angeles since 1997’s “Jackie Brown.” He reminded the theater owners that he himself was one of their “brethren,” since he owns the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.

“I love movies!” he screamed. “And I love movies in movie theaters!”

Then he dropped his mic and walked offstage.

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Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio surprise CinemaCon to tease ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’