Also known as: Dominator (Italy) Release Date: September 4th, 1984 (UK) Directed by: Mark Buntzman Written by: Mark Buntzman, William Sachs Based on: characters by James Glickenhaus Music by: David Spear Cast: Robert Ginty, Deborah Geffner, Frankie Faison, Mario Van Peebles, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Kenny Marino, Irwin Keyes, Arye Gross
Cannon Films, 89 Minutes
“You want to clean out the streets? I am the streets!” – X
It could be possible that I’m the only person that likes this movie more than its predecessor but I thought it took the concept of the original, upped the ante quite a bit, gave us a much better villain and it truly felt like a Cannon Group movie because it was.
I love that Cannon secured the rights to make this sequel and while I don’t know whether that deal was just to make one film, I really think this could’ve been a franchise that ran on for several installments like Cannon’s Ninja trilogy, Missing In Action films or American Ninja series.
Robert Ginty is so enjoyable in this role and I really enjoyed how this one was more of a buddy movie with Frankie Faison by his side. They had good chemistry, felt like real buds and I’ve been a fan of Faison since first seeing him as the landlord in Coming to America when I was a kid.
The evil scumbag gang in this movie is led by a very young Mario Van Peebles. In some regard, it draws parallels to his villain role in the third Highlander movie but I like him in this much better. He looks great, intimidating and he took the role seriously enough to come across as a real bastard. His final showdown with the hero, while mired down by clunky editing, was a great cat and mouse game between a cold-blooded killer with an Uzi and a vigilante hero with a fucking flamethrower! This final showdown always stuck out in my mind as one of the best when I was a kid.
I also like the villain’s look and the whole gang’s vibe. I liked how they painted red “X”s on their victims and that whole psychotic aesthetic. They sort of felt like a mix between a gang from The Warriors and the sadistic serial killer cult from Cobra.
This is just a balls out, badass action flick that further reinforces why Cannon Films was so damn good and why they excelled in the best decade for action movies.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other ’70s and ’80s vigilante flicks.
Also known as: Fall Break (alternative title) Release Date: August, 1984 (Wilmington, North Carolina premiere) Directed by: Buddy Cooper, John S. Douglass Written by: Buddy Cooper Music by: Michael Minard Cast: Matt Mitler, Bill Hitchcock, Ruth Martinez, Connie Rogers, Morey Lampley, Frances Raines
OK Productions, Ocean King Releasing, 86 Minutes
“So my philosophy is, let’s have some beer.” – Ralph
Growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s, nothing quite made Halloween feel like Halloween more than a low budget, formulaic slasher flick. Luckily, there are so many that I still come across that I haven’t seen, this being one of them.
The Mutilator, also known as Fall Break, is actually better than I thought it could be and it also reminds me of another great, lesser-known slasher, Blood Rage.
The story is simple, a young kid accidentally killed his mother and it drove his father insane. Years later, the kid is now a teen and he takes his friends to his family’s old beach house to clear it out. Unbeknownst to the kid and his friends, its a trap by the crazy father, who is fell bent on killing everyone in and around the house. Unfortunately for the teens, this North Carolina beach house is on an island in a small seasonal community where all the other residents are away.
This has the two main ingredients that every slasher film needs: violence and titties. There could’ve been more titties but the overall experience is pretty damn good and you can relish in the pretty decent kills and well executed special effects.
The real highlight for me was the scene at the end where the father is split in half by a car slamming him into a cinder block wall. Immediately after that, the father, who is literally in two separate pieces, snaps back to life for a split second and uses his big ass battleaxe to chop off half of a cop’s leg with ease. It’s crazy but it’s great and it left me with a smile, ending the film with a good gory exclamation point.
I liked the setting a lot and it just made the film more interesting. This could also be because I was born and raised in a small coastal community.
Overall, this is kind of cookie cutter and predictable but that’s the slasher genre’s modus operandi. It’s the little things in this that are different that set it apart from more mundane slasher flicks.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: other slasher films of the ’80s, especially the very similar Blood Rage.
Also known as: 2010 (original title), 2010: Odyssey Two (original script title) Release Date: December 7th, 1984 Directed by: Peter Hyams Written by: Peter Hyams Based on:2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke Music by: David Shire Cast: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain (voice), Madolyn Smith, Dana Elcar, Elya Baskin
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 116 Minutes
“[message relayed from monolith] All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.” – HAL-9000
Since I did 2001: A Space Odyssey as my 2001st film review, I figured that I’d also revisit 2010: The Year We Make Contact for my 2010th. Both are great films: the first being an absolute masterpiece and this one being one of the best science fiction films of its decade, as well as one of my favorite of all-time.
Unfortunately, 2010 gets compared to 2001, which really isn’t fair, as there was no way that this movie was going to live up to the hype that a 2001 sequel would’ve gotten, even back in the early ’80s. As its own film, though, it’s exceptional even if it wasn’t necessary.
Now there were four Odyssey books written by Arthur C. Clarke, two at the time of this film’s release, so I don’t see why further movies couldn’t have been made, as the story already existed and for fans of the novels, this was probably something they wanted to see. Hell, I’m still hoping that someone eventually adapts 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Tom Hanks was going to do them about twenty years ago and there were rumors that Syfy was going to take a crack at it as well but neither of those really materialized.
From what I remember from the novel, this is a pretty good adaptation that takes some liberties but tells the gist of the story. It also changes the location of the monolith from being near Saturn to being near Jupiter for some reason. But I also kind of see this as existing in its own continuity, as it’s really hard to envision what could’ve even come after the 2001 movie despite this story trying to follow it up. As far as it being a movie sequel to the first book, as it is written, it works. The Kubrick 2001 film was much more mystical and fantastical than the book and it left a lot open for interpretation where the novel was more clear cut and explained things better.
Like the books, this film tries to define the strange things that are happening within the plot, unlike it’s cinematic predecessor. In fact, this film starts with an opening recap of the first movie with actual explanations of plot details to try and ground the story and set certain events in stone. I actually really like that, as it immediately shows that this movie is indeed different in its style and how it is going to present its fantastical journey.
Additionally, I really liked the casting of Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd, as he felt like a better version of the character than what we got in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Granted, he was more of a minor character in the first film and we needed someone with more presence and gravitas, as he becomes the main character in this story.
Scheider was a great choice, though, as he had just come off of the first two Jaws movies and was one of the top actors of his era. He had a certain panache and a good level of manliness but also came across as a smart guy that would think before reacting and usually had a clear head and felt like a natural leader.
The rest of the cast is also good with Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, the return of Keir Dullea as Bowman and the rest of the Russian crew. I especially liked Elya Baskin as Brailovsky, as his chemistry with Lithgow’s Curnow was superb. Some of you may know Baskin from his role as Peter Parker’s landlord in Spider-Man 2 and 3.
I also love that the story is anti-Cold War, as it forces the Americans and Russian astronauts and scientists to work together, despite their countries being on the cusp of war. In fact, the countries do go to war while the crew is on their mission and what they may return home to is a somber, dark cloud over the rest of the story. Late into the story, the crews are forced to separate by the orders of their feuding governments but in spite of this, the two crews still end up working together to complete the mission and attempt to solve the universe’s greatest mystery.
Some people have said that the ending was underwhelming but I don’t think that’s true at all. It kind of felt like the ending to a really good classic Star Trek episode where the crew must solve a cosmic mystery. The reward for doing so is actually quite profound, as it forever changes the solar system and man’s place in it.
The movie also has incredible special effects and I especially liked how well they did in recreating the Discovery. It really pulls you back into the iconic ship and it just adds an extra level of legitimacy to this film, marrying it to the original one, aesthetically. Having the same voice for HAL-9000 was also a nice touch, as the character wouldn’t have been the same with someone else doing the performance.
Ultimately, this isn’t on the level of 2001: A Space Odyssey but what is in the science fiction genre? As it’s own motion picture, it’s cool, imaginative and it expands upon the greater work before it while also entertaining and boasting some solid acting performances across the board.
Rating: 9/10 Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Odyssey series of books by Arthur C. Clarke.
Also known as: The Warrior (Germany) Release Date: September 7th, 1984 Directed by: John C. Broderick Written by: John C. Broderick Based on: a story by John C. Broderick, William Stout Music by: Louis Saunders Cast: David Carradine, Luke Askew, Maria Socas, Anthony De Longis, Harry Townes
Aries Cinematográfica Argentina, New Horizons Picture, 81 Minutes
Just when the world thought that there were enough re-imaginings (or ripoffs) of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Roger Corman’s New Horizons made a sword and sorcery version of the tale.
Sadly, this is terribly boring and like many of David Carradine’s lower tier schlock flicks, he doesn’t even really seem to care too much about performance in this one.
While that is a knock against Carradine, the guy was truly great when he wanted to be. But maybe he’s one of those guys that needs good motivation from the director.
I don’t think that Carradine got that direction here and all of the other actors just sort of seem to be dialing it in. This feels more like a community theater rehearsal than a legit motion picture. That could be due to the inexperience of the director or simply because the script and story are uninspiring and overly derivative.
Additionally, the special effects are subpar, even for a foreign made Conan ripoff. Although, I did enjoy some of the sets. But to be fair about that, it really isn’t hard creating a sword and sorcery world. I have an ex-girlfriend whose house looks like half the sets in this film because she’s a witch and never cleans up after herself or her pets.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it is simply boring. Yes, I already pointed that out but it can’t be stated enough. I can look past some of the faults I already listed if I can be engaged or energized by something. This film, to its extreme detriment, just drained my battery dry.
If you are a big fan of cheap-o sword and sorcery flicks, you’ll probably still want to pass on this one. That is, unless you’re a David Carradine completist. If that’s the case, I don’t envy you, as he’s starred in some really dreadful shit.
Rating: 2/10 Pairs well with: other cheap sword and sorcery movies of the early ’80s.
Also known as: Dr. Acula, Revenge of the Dead (script titles) Release Date: 1959 (limited), 1984 (video premiere) Directed by: Ed Wood Written by: Ed Wood Music by: Gordon Zahler (stock music supervisor) Cast: Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Paul Marco, Valda Hansen, Johnny Carpenter, Bud Osborne, Criswell
“Monsters! Space people! Mad doctors! They didn’t teach me about such things in the police academy! And yet that’s all I’ve been assigned to since I became on active duty! Why do I always get picked for these screwy details all the time? I resign.” – Patrolman Paul Kelton
Released theatrically but very limited, Night of the Ghouls sat on a shelf in a lab for decades before finally being dusted off and released on videotape. The story behind that says that Ed Wood didn’t have the money to pay for the film to be released and so he never got enough copies produced to actually distribute it.
The film is a follow up to Wood’s Bride of the Monster while also feeling like a spiritual sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space. Tor Johnson returns to the role of Lobo while frequent Wood contributor Paul Marco returns to the cop role that he played in Bride.
I have wanted to watch this for quite some time but this was my first chance to see it and I was glad to see that it was streaming for free, at least for now, on YouTube.
I really enjoyed it overall, for what it is, but it’s seemingly less imaginative and bonkers than Plan 9. I’d say that it’s on par with Bride but it falls behind it a bit due to not having Bela Lugosi. I know that Wood wanted to add Bela via stock footage but ultimately, he wasn’t able to.
Criswell appears as Criswell to do the narration, as well as introing and outroing the film. He first appears, rising up from a coffin similar to the scene from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood where Jeffrey Jones plays Criswell.
The plot is about a bullshit artist a.k.a. fake psychic named Dr. Acula (get it? “Dr-Acula”… “Dracula”). Weirdly, he’s not a vampire and it’s a strange play on words for some reason. Anyway, Dr. Acula takes people’s money, convincing them that he’s contacting their dead relatives and loved ones. However, by the end, he actually conjures the dead and they rise to put him in a coffin and bury him alive.
It’s not a great story or even all that original, as 1933’s Sucker Money has a very similar premise. However, it does work well within the Woodiverse and it feels like an extension of Wood’s other horror/sci-fi outings.
One thing I found surprising is that Wood recycles some scenes from a failed TV pilot he directed called Final Curtain. I actually reviewed that here. The scenes don’t necessarily fit that well but at least Wood’s footage wasn’t wasted, even if this film also languished on shelves for decades.
Night of the Ghouls would probably be despised by most people. However, those of us that like and appreciate the man’s hard work and passion can find something endearing and kind of cool with this picture.
Rating: 3.75/10 Pairs well with: Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Also known as: Beverly Drive (script title) Release Date: December 1st, 1984 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: Martin Brest Written by: Daniel Petrie Jr., Danilo Bach Music by: Harold Faltermeyer Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Elbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, James Russo, Stephen Elliot, Paul Reiser, Jonathan Banks, Gilbert R. Hill, Bronson Pinchot, Damon Wayans
Eddie Murphy Productions, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes
“This is the cleanest and nicest police car I’ve ever been in in my life. This thing’s nicer than my apartment.” – Axel Foley
There weren’t a lot of characters cooler than Axel Foley back when I was a kid in the ’80s. Because of that, this and the second film, were always in constant rotation in my VCR.
I’ve seen this dozens of times but it’s been quite awhile since I saw it last. Having just come off of revisiting and reviewing all the Lethal Weapon films, I wanted to go back and get reacquainted with this trilogy, as well as the two 48 Hours movies. Reviews for all these Eddie Murphy action comedies will be up over the next few weeks.
Anyway, this movie holds up well and its still pretty enjoyable.
Eddie Murphy is at his absolute best in this and the film really shows how much of a star he was in his prime. About midway through the ’90s, he started to fall off and lose his touch but I’d say that’s more about the roles he chose over his talent because Beverly Hills Cop makes it pretty clear that the guy is stellar with perfect comedic timing, unlimited charm and the ability to have to be serious when the moment calls for it. This film showcases all of his strengths quite well and it is still my favorite Murphy movie.
Adding to his awesome performance is the rest of the cast, all of whom are also solid in this. I especially like Judge Reinhold, who, unfortunately, also fell off after the ’80s. Here, he is able to play the lovable and inexperienced straightman to Murphy’s fun antics. Although, Reinhold does get in on the fun too and frankly, Murphy and Reinhold have great chemistry and it’s that chemistry that makes these movies so good.
John Ashton and Ronny Cox are perfect in their roles and with Cox, it’s really great seeing him play an honest good guy because he’s such a great asshole when he wants to be. I love this version of Ronny Cox even though his performance as Dick Jones in RoboCop gave us one of the best movie villains of the ’80s.
The picture also benefits from an incredible ’80s pop soundtrack, as well as one of the best instrumental scores of its era.
This is action packed, hilarious, doesn’t take itself too seriously but delivers in everything it set out to do.
Overall, this movie is just a lot of fun and it should brighten any bad day because Murphy, at his absolute best, is amusing, entertaining, exciting and a real pleasure to watch. And this is, certainly, one of his best.
Rating: 9/10 Pairs well with: the other Beverly Hills Cop movies, as well as the 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon films.
Release Date: December 14th, 1984 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: Tim Burton Written by: Lenny Ripps, Tim Burton Music by: Michael Convertino, David Newman Cast: Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Joseph Maher, Paul Bartel, Sofia Coppola, Jason Hervey
Walt Disney Productions, 29 Minutes
“I guess we can’t punish Victor for bringing Sparky back from the dead.” – Ben Frankenstein
There was a time when Tim Burton was my favorite director. That was mainly due to a string of movies from the mid-’80s through 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. Things went a bit sideways in the ’00s but I still have a lot of love for his first few decades as a director, especially his two early short films: Vincent and this one, Frankenweenie.
This would go on to be remade by Burton, years later, into a feature length animated film. While I’ve never seen that one, I can’t imagine it captured the magic and charm of this original live action short film. I’ll probably give it a watch in the near future though, as I’ve been meaning to for quite some time.
Focusing back on this film though, it’s a lighthearted and heartwarming piece that showcases how damn good Barret Oliver was as a child actor. While he doesn’t get as much time in this as he did in The NeverEnding Story and D.A.R.Y.L., this is my favorite performance of his and he’s definitely the glue that keeps this movie together, even though Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern are also wonderful in this.
The story is an homage of the classic Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley. However, in this, Frankenstein is a boy and he uses the power of lightning to resurrect his bull terrier, who was hit by a car in the opening of the film.
Initially, this was made to be paired up with the theatrical re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but upon seeing it, Disney executives thought it was too dark for little kids. They were wrong, as I would have loved this as a kid just as I had loved Gremlins earlier that same year. I was five years-old at the time but I think us ’80s kids weren’t total pussies like the kids today… but I digress.
Frankenweenie plays like an episode of an anthology television series; Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories immediately comes to mind. It’s a really good length, covers a lot of ground but also has enough time to develop these characters in a way that makes you care for them.
Tim Burton showed tremendous talent with this short film and I’m sure it played a big part in him getting his first feature film gig, directing the original Pee-wee Herman movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: the feature length animated remake, as well as the Tim Burton short film Vincent and his animated feature The Corpse Bride.
Release Date: October 15th, 1984 (New York City premiere) Directed by: Brian De Palma Written by: Brian De Palma, Robert J. Avrech Music by: Pino Donaggio Cast: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz, Al Israel, Barbara Crampton, Slavitza Jovan
Delphi II Productions, Columbia Pictures, 114 Minutes
“I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent, no water sports either. I will not shave my pussy, no fistfucking and absolutely no cumming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.” – Holly Body
Having now seen all three movies in Brian De Palma’s neo-noir trilogy from the early ’80s, I’d have to say that this one is the weakest but it is also the most fun. But I’ll explain what I mean.
The first two movies in De Palma’s noir thrillers came out back-to-back. This third film, however, came out after he did Scarface. I feel like I need to mention that, as this feels like a weird amalgamation of the style from the other noir pictures, as well as the style from Scarface, which was poppier, livelier and had an early ’80s neo-noir aesthetic in its own way due to its use of lighting, shadows and neon accents. Scarface almost had vibrant giallo tones and they carried over into this movie.
I’ve talked about De Palma also tapping into Alfred Hitchcock for these films and honestly, this might be his most Hitchcockian of the lot, as it channels parts of Rear Window and Vertigo.
As simply as I can state it, Body Double channels Rear Window in how it explores voyeurism and it channels Vertigo in how it features two women appearing as one with some noir styled trickery.
This might also be tapping into Dial M for Murder due to the use of the phone as a narrative prop when the girl that the protagonist is obsessing over has a killer in her midst.
There’s really a lot going on in this movie and it’s a solid homage to all of these great things but it is very much its own film that taps multiple creative wells but still comes up with something refreshing and unique.
I thought that the plot was well conceived and executed and even if you can start to put it together fairly early, there is still a bit more to the big reveal than you’ll anticipate.
While this might be the worst acted of De Pama’s neo-noir flicks, no one in it is bad and the performances kind of add to the bonkers proceedings. I feel as if the performances are a bit hammy because the tone of the film called for that. And that’s not to say that this isn’t a serious movie, it is, but it seems pretty self aware that it is tapping into schlock territory while still being real cinematic art.
The film also uses some gore and it works well here. De Palma has used gore before; look at Sisters for instance, as that had some brutal moments in it. But the use of gore really adds something to the dreamlike quality of the film. While this takes place in the real world, there is something fantastical and magical about the look and feel of the picture.
On a side note: I love the use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” in this film. It briefly turns the film into a bizarre ’80s style MTV music video with a bit of sexploitation thrown in. It may sound odd for someone who hasn’t seen this film but it’s the moment where I realized that I love this picture. And it’s that moment where the film really commits to the bit and shows you that despite the harsh moments and violence, this is a film that’s really having fun with itself. It’s like cinematic masturbation of the highest regard.
And thinking about that moment, it really helps to set this film apart from the other two that are so closely associated with it. Where the first film was really dark and gritty, the second one started to let some light into it and then this third picture, really embraces the bright lights and becomes somewhat chipper, creating a lot of contrast from the beginning to the end of De Palma’s neo-noir work. In fact, the visual tones also remind me a bit of De Palma’s very lively Phantom of the Paradise.
Due to the length of this review, it seems that I have more to say about this picture than the other two, which I still feel edge it out. But I think that’s due to the fact that this gave me the most to chew on and it feels like the most Brian De Palma film of all-time, as he calls back to a lot of his previous work and his main influences.
Despite this being my least favorite of the three noir thrillers, it’s still a damn fine film and honestly, it’s probably the one I will revisit the most.
Rating: 8.5/10 Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other neo-noir thrillers from this era: Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.
Release Date: March 16th, 1984 Directed by: Stewart Raffill Written by: Stewart Raffill, Stanford Sherman Music by: Bruce Broughton Cast: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, John Carradine, John Matuszak, Carmen Filpi
JF Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes
“I’m afraid I have some bad news… well maybe its not that bad. The princess is pregnant.” – Wendon
I have weird memories of The Ice Pirates. I remember it being on TV a lot when I was a kid and I watched it all the time. But I didn’t have a nostalgic fondness for it like I do similar pictures. Watching it now, I did enjoy it but it just doesn’t connect for me in the right way.
It’s lighthearted, fun and amusing. You like just about all of the characters and it’s highly energetic. There’s not much of anything to dislike but even for all of its positives, it does fall kind of flat for me.
I guess my biggest gripe is that the pacing is really odd and sometimes you are just pulled along for the ride and it isn’t even all that clear as to what’s happening on screen. There is a disjointedness to the film that makes it hard to follow if you’re actually trying to take it somewhat seriously.
While the big conclusion that deals with rapid aging and time travel shenanigans is a neat sequence, it feels sloppily done and it feels like the gag is more important than the climax of the film itself.
Honestly, The Ice Pirates plays like a string of sketch comedy scenes, following a sci-fi theme with just a small plot thread holding them together in any sort of cohesive way.
I do like the performances though, everyone looked to be enjoying the production and because of that, it makes the movie more exciting. Plus, I’ll watch Bruce Vilanch in anything.
But, in the end, I have a hard time considering this to be a classic, as many would suggest.
Rating: 5.75/10 Pairs well with:Battle Beyond the Stars, The Black Hole, Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone, Space Raiders and Cherry 2000.
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, James Russo, 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)
“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.