Film Review: Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Also known as: C’era una volta in America (original Italian title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone
Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, Darlanne Fluegel, Mario Brega, Estelle Harris, Louise Fletcher (only in 2012 restoration)

The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, Rafran Cinematografic, Warner Bros., Titanus, 229 Minutes (original), 139 Minutes (original US release)

Review:

“Age can wither me, Noodles. We’re both getting old. All that we have left now are our memories. If you go to that party on Saturday night, you won’t have those anymore. Tear up that invitation.” – Deborah Gelly

I tried watching this about fifteen years ago but if I’m being completely honest, it bored me to tears. And I’m speaking as a guy that has a deep love for the films of Sergio Leone, a man who sits among the best in my Holy Trinity of Motion Picture Directors. The other two being Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, naturally.

So years later, I felt that I really needed to revisit this, as maybe I wasn’t in the right head space and because I generally have a hard time sitting through movies that feel like they could take up an entire day. Well, this took up an entire afternoon and I did have to take a halftime break and make a ribeye.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this picture and I can’t deny that it is one of Leone’s best. In fact, I may have to edit my rankings of his films, as I would now put this third behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In the West.

What’s interesting, is that this movie has more in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy than Leone’s own pictures, which were mostly top tier spaghetti westerns. But like his westerns, he also employs the talents of musical maestro Ennio Morricone, who gives real life to the motion picture full of mostly understated performances.

This movie is incredibly slow paced but it’s that kind of slow pace that is more like a slow simmering stew of perfection than the chef accidentally setting the burner too low and walking away.

As far as the acting goes, this is a superb film. Robert De Niro and James Woods own every scene that they’re in. However, the supporting cast is also stupendous, especially the child actors, who play the main characters in lengthy flashback sequences.

This is also compelling in that it is full of unlikable, despicable characters yet you are lured into their world and you do find yourself caring where this is all going and how life will play out for these characters. You never like them but that’s kind of what makes this story so intriguing. With The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, there were things you could connect with and respect about the man, despite his crimes. In Once Upon A Time In America, you don’t really have moments with these characters that humanizes them all that much, in fact it does just the opposite of that. I can see where that might be bothersome to some people but we also live in a world where people saw Walter White from Breaking Bad as some sort of hero.

Once Upon A Time In America also shines in regard to its visual components. It’s a period piece that covers different periods, all of which come off as authentic, even if the city sometimes looks more like it was shot in Europe (some of it was) than truly being Depression Era New York City. But the sets and the location shooting all worked well and this picture boasts some incredible cinematography. It should be very apparent to fans of Leone that he’s taken what he’s learned making fabulous movies and found a way to perfect it, in a visual sense, even more with this, his final picture.

There’s not a whole lot I can pick apart about the movie, other than the pacing being slow. But again, it’s not a painful slow and it certainly isn’t full of pointless filler and exposition. Every frame of this movie needs to exist. But maybe take some breaks or just approach the film like you’re binge watching a short season of a TV show.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Sergio Leone’s other films but this has a lot in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films.

Film Review: Rome, 2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators (1984)

Also known as: I guerrieri dell’anno 2072 (original Italian title), Rome 2033: The Fighter Centurions (Belgium, Finland), Fighting Centurions (Norway, Germany), Gladiators of the Future (Portugal), Rome 2072 A.D., The New Gladiators, Warriors of the Year 2072 (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 28th, 1984 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Cesare Frugoni, Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Jared Martin, Fred Williamson, Renato Rossini, Eleanora Brigliadori

Regency Productions, Troma Entertainment, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Take a good look at these contestants, because for these men violent death is just seconds away.” – Commentator

I’ve seen several Lucio Fulci films but I never knew of this one’s existence until I really started going down the rabbit hole of European Mad Max ripoffs.

Sadly, this picture is pretty dull.

It does have two saving graces, though. They are Fred Williamson and the third act of the film that sets things right and makes this turkey end on a pretty high note.

First off, there’s really no one noteworthy here except for Williamson. And fans of Williamson should already know that he spent a big portion of his career married to schlock. This is no different but he helps to elevate the schlock when he’s onscreen. He’s just a bonafide badass and his presence in this film is no different. He owns this shit and he’s pretty unapologetic about how fucking manly he is.

Additionally, the last half hour of this picture is pure adrenaline. Once we reach the third act, we see these manly men get put into a violent game show, ala The Running Man, but in this picture, our heroes are on motorcycles and using any means they can to kill their opponents in an effort to ensure their survival.

There are some strong similarities to this picture and the David Carradine starring Deathsport from six years earlier but this is a better movie with a presentation that looks a wee bit more polished. It also sprinkles in elements of Death Race 2000 in how it employs vehicular violence in a reality TV format in a post-apocalyptic future.

One thing that I liked about the movie, which most people probably won’t, was the use of miniatures and models to create a futuristic looking Rome. You can tell that these sequences are miniatures but it has this otherworldly and dreamlike appearance that sort of drew me in.

Fulci is a better filmmaker than what this movie shows. He’s made worse pictures than this, though. If you’re interested in seeing his best work, Four of the Apocalypse, Massacre Time and Zombi 2 are much better examples of what he’s capable of.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Film Review: Missing In Action (1984)

Also known as: Braddock: Super Comando (Brazil), Desaparecido en acción (Argentina)
Release Date: November 16th, 1984
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: James Bruner, John Crowther, Lance Hool
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh, Lenore Kasdorf, James Hong, David Tress

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 101 Minutes

Review:

“You leave tomorrow, or you not leave at all!” – Vinh

Missing In Action was the first movie that Chuck Norris did for The Cannon Group. However, it would spawn a film series, as well as open the door for the Delta Force film series and other Norris action pictures from the studio.

This film bombed with critics but it was a huge hit for Cannon. Additionally, the sequel to this movie was supposed to come out first, as they were filmed back-to-back, but Cannon changed their minds and rushed this one out. So the second film is actually a prequel because of that.

Another strange factoid is that this was rushed into theaters to avoid a lawsuit in regards to it being a ripoff of Rambo: First Blood Part II. The story for this film was “inspired” by a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for Rambo II.

Anyway, all that drama aside, this was one of Chuck Norris’ best movies. It is also a product of its time and fits the Cannon style and might be the second most perfect Cannon film after American Ninja. That one gets the edge because it features ninjas.

But this one doesn’t just feature Chuck, it also features M. Emmet Walsh and James Hong, two guys I love in just about everything they do.

Now this picture is a heavy handed, pro-America, patriot film. That’s not a bad thing though, as it was the ’80s and our action movies didn’t have time for pesky communists and people’s wimpy fefes.

Chuck is a one man wrecking ball that goes behind enemy lines into Vietnam to rescue some P.O.W.s and while he’s at it, he’s going to make the bad guys pay for the hell they put him through during the Vietnam War a decade earlier.

The action is intense, Chuck’s bravado is infectious and this just hits all the right notes for fans of this genre from this time period.

I love Missing In Action. This is a quintessential ’80s action flick with high octane, lots of explosions and enough ammo to make every 2nd Amendment hater run for the hills out of fear. This represents a time when men were still men and they didn’t have a clue what the fuck a soy latte was.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.

Film Review: C.H.U.D. (1984)

Also known as: C.H.U.D. (Caníbales Humanoides Ululantes Demoníacos) (Spain), C.H.U.D. – Panik in Manhattan (Germany)
Release Date: August 31st, 1984
Directed by: Douglas Cheek
Written by: Parnell Hall, Shepard Abbott
Music by: Martin Cooper, David A. Hughes
Cast: Daniel Stern, John Heard, Christopher Curry, John Goodman, Graham Beckel, Jon Polito

C.H.U.D. Productions, New World Pictures, 88 Minutes, 96 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Are you kidding? Your guy’s got a camera. Mine’s got a flamethrower.” – Captain Bosch

This was the first film featured on the full-time revival of Joe Bob Briggs on television. I’m talking about his show The Last Drive-In, which is now streaming weekly on Shudder.

But like Joe Bob, I’m apparently one of the few that isn’t too fond of this motion picture. It’s not really bad but it’s pretty damn dull for about 80 percent of its running time and there are so many better movies from the era. This is probably why I haven’t reviewed this yet, as I just didn’t have the urge to revisit this, even for review purposes.

In all honesty, I prefer the sequel more. Yes, it’s actually a worse movie but it’s batshit insane and pretty much a black comedy spunoff from the C.H.U.D. concept.

People have been asking me for my opinion on this movie for quite awhile, though. So I guess a review is overdue and if Joe Bob can sit through it again, I guess I can too.

It’s still dull as shit. But it does have several known stars in it to at least distract me from my boredom enough to get through this.

On the flip side of that though, I do like the scenes that feature the actual creature or some of the gore it’s responsible for. I also like the idea for the film, I just thought that this spent too much time boffining it up and not enough time spent on cool monsters eating dumb people.

The performances can be a bit over the top but not so much so that I’d call the acting bad. And at least the performances provide some energy where the story fails to do so.

It may sound like I’m a hater, I’m not. But I’m certainly not a lover of C.H.U.D. I understand that a lot of people have a nostalgic soft spot for the movie but it didn’t really resonate with me as a kid, even though I pretty much lived in ’80s video stores and loved the horror genre tremendously.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: it’s really bizarre sequel, as well as Street Trash and Neon Maniacs.

Film Review: City Limits (1984)

Release Date: October, 1984 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: Aaron Lipstadt
Written by: Don Opper
Music by: Mitchell Froom
Cast: Darrell Larson, John Stockwell, Kim Cattrall, Rae Dawn Chong, John Diehl, Don Opper, Pamela Ludwig, Tony Plana, Dean Devlin, James Earl Jones, Kane Hodder

Film Ventures International (FVI), Island Alive, Sho Films, Atlantic Releasing, 86 Minutes

Review:

“If you kill me, someone just like me – or worse – will become my replacement. I am inevitable!” – Carver

How the hell did James Earl Jones fall so low that they got him to agree to be in this movie just a year after Return of the Jedi? Sure, he bounced back but I can’t imagine many actors bouncing back after this film. Maybe he just had the benefit of no one seeing this.

This also had Kim Cattrall and Rae Dawn Chong but this was before either of them got more famous going into the late ’80s. It also features John Diehl, a guy I loved on Miami Vice until they ruined the show by killing him off, and a small role for Kane Hodder, who would become the longest running Jason Voorhees actor just a few years later.

City Limits was written by Don Keith Opper, who also has a small role in the film. He didn’t write a very good script here but he would follow this up with the Critters film series, which has had some longevity over the years since the first one came out and it even spawned a new television series just this year.

This is a post-apocalyptic film, one of probably hundreds in an era where these things were being made faster than McDonald’s can print Monopoly game pieces. It’s a genre and formula I like but this is like most of those films, unfortunately, a boring, bland dud that borrows so heavily from other places that it doesn’t have an identity of its own.

City Limits was featured on Mystery Science Theater and for good reason. It’s also probably one of the MST3K films that featured a pretty well known cast. It’s a film rife with material for riffing though.

As bad and vanilla as this is, it’s certainly not the worse that the post-apocalyptic genre has to offer. It’s pure ’80s, low budget, sci-fi schlock but it’s a bit endearing because of that. However, City Limits will probably only be enjoyed by people that are into that sort of thing.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other early to mid ’80s post-apocalyptic schlock.

Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 (1984)

Release Date: June, 1984 (Mystfest – Italy)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom, Michael Berryman, Penny Johnson, Janus Blythe, John Laughlin, Willard E. Pugh, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston

Castle Hill Productions, Hills Two Corporation, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Sue, it ain’t natural to be in a place without a disco.” – Foster

I’m not a fan of Wes Craven, despite many in the horror community probably wanting to take off my head for such a statement. I’ve explained why in reviews of other Craven films, so I won’t rehash all of that again.

I also don’t really like The Hills Have Eyes.

So it probably goes without saying that I’m not a fan of this sequel.

While this is worse than the first one which was just kind of okay, this film actually is more interesting.

We check back in with two of the characters from the previous movie, one of them, a girl that left the inbred psychos of the desert, returns with some friends on some sort of dirt bike camping excursion. It seems silly that she would ever go back there for any reason but hey, it’s best not to think too hard about this movie.

This plays a bit more like a slasher than the previous film and while I like that formula, it goes to show that maybe Wes Craven completely dialed it in for this sequel, as he wasn’t necessarily creating anything new and was instead, trying to make his own Friday the 13th, even though his original A Nightmare On Elm Street movie was better than any Friday the 13th film.

The crazy inbred family returns and they aren’t too pleased to see that their little sister (or whatever she is) has come back and is looking pretty normal, living a normal life with normal friends that fuck and do drugs.

The action is okay but the film is pretty dull, overall. I like the premise of the film but it’s not executed in a way that it really matters and thus, this is pretty forgettable.

There isn’t much that’s memorable about this other than Michael Berryman getting a rematch with the dog from the first movie and a moderately interesting bit where the kids try to use a mine shaft to their advantage.

Also, the score to the film is really bad and it just sounds like Wes is deliberately ripping off Friday the 13th in the poorest and most generic way possible.

Willard E. Pugh, who I love in Robocop 2, was kind of funny in his scenes here but other than Pugh and Berryman, there really isn’t anyone of note in this picture.

A poor sequel to a film that really didn’t deserve one, done by a guy who already eclipsed the thing he was trying to ripoff. Maybe this was just done for a paycheck.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Wes Craven works, as well as other cannibal killer movies.