Sergio Leone’s follow-up to the “Man With No Name” film trilogy was probably not what anyone expected, but international audiences seemed better able to cope with the surprise than their American counterparts. Once Upon a Time in the West initially bombed in the States despite being a smash hit overseas. Only in retrospect have we conferred upon this film its proper status as a unique classic, as different from the director’s previous work as it was from the more traditional Hollywood conventions it inverted at the same time it was playing homage to them.
Think of this movie like a long, slightly boring lecture in history class, only with explosions. This attempt to do for the attack on Pearl Harbor what The Longest Day did for the D-Day invasion of Normandy succeeds on so many technical levels that it’s a shame that it fails to engage the audience emotionally in its subject matter.
\However, while it was initially a failure at the box office, I wonder if the film ultimately managed to recoup its budget through royalties from licensing pieces of the film as stock footage. It’s hard to find a movie about World War II in the Pacific over the next twenty or thirty years that doesn’t reuse at least a few shots from Tora! Tora! Tora!
A lyrical but unsatisfying adaptation of Ray Bradbury‘s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes is interesting more for the possibilities that were squandered than for the end results. Bradbury adapted the script himself, meaning that the novel’s language is kept intact. Unfortunately, Jack Clayton’s pedestrian direction, coupled with corporate meddling from Disney, undermine any artistry found in the author’s prose.
Adapting Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s bestseller about their investigation in the Watergate scandal, director Alan J. Pakula, screenwriter William Goldman and Robert Redford accomplished the near impossible. They made a genuinely gripping political thriller out of the day-to-day drudgery of the life of a newspaper reporter.
They did it without hyping up the story with a lot of false Hollywood devices or overly glamorizing its lead characters. It is this prosaic sense of everyday reality, this semi-documentary style that gives the film its tension. There is no point where you are comforted by the thought that it couldn’t happen this way. It could and it did. The film shows the two reporters often beating their heads against the wall. At many times their story teeters on the edge of failure and you realize just how close the perpetrators came to getting away with it.
Quick Change is probably the least famous of the good Bill Murray movies. This is a grown-up, more cynical version of the Murray characters from movies like Stripes and Ghostbusters. He’s Grimm, a fed-up city planner for New York City and he’s decided to get out of town with his girlfriend, Phyllis (Geena Davis), and best friend, Loomis (Randy Quaid). First, however, he’s going to rob a bank.
It’s difficult now to even imagine a time, a little more than a decade ago, when Philadelphia was a daring, breakthrough film. In structure and style, this movie is a wholly conventional courtroom drama. In 1993, its frank treatment of homosexuality and AIDS was culturally groundbreaking. That’s probably the true genius stroke of this film, taking an edgy, uncomfortable subject and couching it in a familiar setting.
I have to confess that I didn’t see Philadelphia until this year, largely because at the time the movie was released, my oldest brother had less than a year to live and the subject struck a little too close to home for me. Finally seeing it, a decade removed from the real life events, I could appreciate the movie for what it was without dwelling on the subject matter.