I cannot understand at all where the hype for this film is coming from. There is absolutely nothing in this film that has not been done better elsewhere. There is no reason for this film to exist, as far as I'm concerned. The style is seems to riff on Wes Anderson, to the point where he should probably be asking for a royalty. Except it comes across as a "poor man's" version of it.
And there is a Disney war propaganda cartoon made in 1943 called "Der Fuehrer's Face" that captures the exact same essence of "JoJo Rabbit" - the absurdity of the Nazi beliefs and Hitler as the buffoon - and does a better job of it. Not many people nowadays have seen that old short, but "JoJo Rabbit" basically rips it off (particularly the "Heil Hitler" gags). I enjoyed that short cartoon far more then I enjoyed JoJo Rabbit and recommend you check it out.
I could perhaps forgive the derivative nature of the film if it was actually clever or funny, but it is neither. The humour is all one-note low brow slapstick. And there is a confusing juxtaposition at play between absurd and completely unrealistic comedy while ALSO trying to insert entirely serious (and old as dirt) messages about war and fascism. The two work together like oil and water.
I am coming to the conclusion that the only reason this film got so much attention from the Academy Awards was that it was this years "woke" choice - a film where the message trumps the filmmaking. Not recommended at all.
I went into the theater with pretty close to zero expectations for "Birds of Prey," and for the first 1/3 of the film, I thought that maybe I had it all wrong. While the plot is so thin as to be almost non-existent, the storytelling was done in a non-linear way with a cute Margot Robbie voiceover that made it interesting to watch. The style and visuals were interesting and it seemed to be going for a kind of self-depreciating "why so serious?" take on the superhero genre, similar to the wildly popular "Deadpool." There was potential for a good film there.
But this all fell apart quickly, and the rest of the movie caved in on itself in service of moving the ridiculous plot forward and the seemingly obligatory "superhero" action sequence of all the girls kicking butt, which was so corny and over the top I couldn't tell anymore if the film was taking itself seriously or had devolved into satire (I suspect the former, sadly). There is one moment in the fight sequence where the film totally "jumps the shark" so to speak and my theatre erupted in laughter (anyone who has seen the movie should know exactly what I'm talking about). The only redeeming thing that carried me to the end was Margot Robbie's acting, as she is interesting to watch in every scene. All of the other characters are cardboard cutouts.
"Birds of Prey" seems to have gotten filmmaking backwards. Good films start with solid plot and interesting characters and have their messages (if any) come out naturally. "Birds of Prey" starts with notions of female empowerment, women beating up men, and toxic masculinity, and attempts to build a story around these fixed and immobile points. Such an approach can never, and will never, succeed in making a good film.
Like so many films of the 80s, "Scrooged" was ruined by network television, who for years have played a hacked and mangled version of this film that strips away the real essence of it in order to sanitize it enough for the networks. Like many people, that was my initial introduction to "Scrooged" and so I dismissed it as trash. But on a re-watch of the uncut DVD for the first time, I loved it.
"Scrooged" is a very much a tongue-in-cheek modern re-telling of the timeless Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol," and is brimming with dark humour and subtle digs at our modern consumerist culture. No, this isn't high minded stuff - it's a fun Christmas movie, and doesn't really pretend to be anything else. It's a rare feat for a film to pull off a story that you essentially know in advance how it will turn out, yet still keep you engaged, and "Scrooged" pulls it off. With some sexuality and adult jokes, it's not really for young kids, but I would still consider it a classic. We don't get films like this anymore, which is maybe why I appreciate it all the more.
For me, "Midway" is a frustrating film because the source material has so much potential but what we get is so lackluster in comparison. In many ways, I am reminded of the (awful) 2001 "Pearl Harbor" film, which was over-expository and spent far too much time creating and following around flimsy 1-dimensional characters that the viewer is supposed to care about (but really, we don't) in a series of tear-jerking moments as opposed to really telling the story of what happened that day. And despite the obvious lesson there, "Midway" inexplicably goes down the exact same path.
There is a youtube video by a user called 'montemayor' that explains the battle for Midway from a strategic point of view, and that video is unironically more compelling and entertaining then this film. The Japanese were faced with several really tough and crucial decision points on that day, and "Midway" managed to miss or ignore all of them. The main one of these, which the aforementioned video calls "Nagumo's Dilemma" is that he had a choice between launching strike aircraft against the American fleet or waiting to land and refuel his initial strike force against the island of Midway, and risk having to ditch the entire 97 plane force into the sea. He decided on the latter, and thus became a fat sitting duck with a hold stuffed with planes and bombs.
Instead on focusing on these compelling things, "Midway" gave us shots of weepy wives and what Admiral Nimitiz was up to. I'm surprised they didn't include the "Admiral Nimitiz visits the lavatory" scene. The battle scenes they did provide were confusing and video-game like (absolutely NOT realistic) in an attempt to dazzle the audience as opposed to the more difficult task of story-telling. I think the only hope one has of enjoying the film is if you are completely ignorant of the actual events of that day and can then attempt to enjoy the film 'as-is." Also check out that youtube video, seriously.
The IMDB episode ratings really tell the tale here. They are basically a downward slide, with each episode getting a lower review than the previous one. That's exactly how I felt. The first episode left me almost giddy with excitement at the huge potential this "cinematic" show had. The last episode left me flat, deflated, and wondering what went wrong.
And my criticisms are not the obvious ones. I don't mind the slow placing, the long shots, the lack of plot details. I loved these things actually, and in particular I loved the pure visual art of this series, the way things were shot and framed, and lighted. The way the visuals were part of the story telling. Just divine. But as the series progressed, it revealed that there really wasn't much else going on behind the curtain. It was all build up, with no pay off. It was all window dressing on an empty store. And the bizarre way it ended left me wondering if the filmmakers even knew themselves what was going on.
I also started to become a bit bothered by the increasing gratuitous nature of events in the episodes. In the first episodes, there were shocking and violent acts yes, but they seemed purposeful, necessary as part of the story. In the latter ones, the acts seemed done for the sake of doing them, in other words, gratuitous. This was exacerbated by the fact that the whole story arc really seemed to hollow out by the end.
Still, for lovers of film, there are many things to delight in during this series. So it's frustrating that I'm left feeling so underwhelmed and almost regretful at the end of it all.
This feels like something big. It feels like after years and years of building of this fake culture where everybody is offended and outraged by absolutely everything, and everyone is afraid to speak the truth, afraid to make a joke, and everyone is self censoring everything, out pops Dave Chappelle, funnier and even less censored than ever. Action - Reaction.
"Sticks & Stones" is the funniest comedy routine I've seen in years. And part of what makes it so funny is that it feels like we haven't really laughed in years either. We can laugh for the first time in ages at some of these topics. And the strangest thing of all will happen while you are laughing: instead of feeling "hate" as the leftist media culture will tell you that you are supposed to feel, you will actually feel closer. You will feel like we are all just people after all. That's what great comedy does, it makes awkward things feel normal, because we can laugh about them.
We need more comedy, laughter, and certainly more Dave Chappelle in this world.
The people that disliked this film have it all wrong - it's a comedic masterpiece, carefully built layer by layer to culminate in the hilarious slapstick of the final showdown between our heroes and the terrorists. That kind of "keystone cops" type of humour is sorely lacking in today's films.
Early in the film, the main character's partner gets killed because he chose to split up without weapons. So what do they do for the finale? Hey let's split up without weapons! You follow the totally not-suspicious guy carrying a large load. No way that could be a potentially dangerous bomb... stay close! I'm going after the other guys. Hmmmm... they are on the 7th floor, better get climbing. The woman follows the bomb guy around for 20 minutes. Hasn't he stopped them yet? If only we had some way of communication... Nope, he's still climbing those stairs!! They are about to detonate, oh wait, he's up the stairs, what now? I know, lets choke hold one of the 3 terrorists not doing anything. Meanwhile, after about 30 minutes of staring at the bomb guy, the woman has decided there is something suspicious about him. You can literally see the wheels slowly turning in her stupid mind. I mean what a feat of filmmaking!
This is only a sample of comedic delights that await you. Honestly I laughed more in this film than anything else I've seen all year.
"Teen Spirit" completely blew away my expectations. Due to the lack of attention this film has garnered and the lackluster IMDB rating, I almost didn't watch it at all. But the trailer looked cool so I took a chance on it, and I'm so glad I did. Goes to show that in this day and age, one must be their own critic.
Elle Fanning gives a knock-out performance, easily the best of her career. This is the kind of film that needs to be carried by the lead, and she does that in spades. She is highly watchable, yet highly relatable and believable as a poor Polish girl, even speaking Polish in the film! And Zlatko Buric's "Vlad" character is the perfect foil.
The direction and cinematography are masterful. I didn't expect a film like this to look beautiful, but it does look beautiful. Shots are carefully planned and arranged, and everything from quick jump cut montages to long pan shots are used. It all adds up to something visually interesting. My favourite shot of the film was a long single take as the camera watches Elle/Violet makes her way through the many backstage corridors to the stage. So much is communicated in this sequence, without a word being spoken. And that motif of silent communication and using subtle visuals to tell a story is something that is carried throughout the film. We don't get the story of the other singers in the competition, but you see them reacting on the side of the shots, and in a way you kind of do get their stories too. "Teen Spirit" has a surprising amount of depth to it.
And finally, any film about that portends to be about music, must have good music. "Teen Spirit" makes the wise choice of going with a selection of slightly off-mainstream pop hits as opposed to filling it with music written just for the film. Songs that are not nauseatingly overdone, but still great music. Any film that opens with Grimes gets an immediate bonus point in my book.
This is the best film I've seen so far in 2019. I can't even begin to explain how or why it's not more widely liked. Perhaps it's just a matter of timing - people thinking it's just another "A Star Is Born." But that was a remake, and this is an original, and in my opinion better, film.
What a strange little movie. It's almost three separate movies in one. The first is about a bank heist, the second is about a sappy romance, and the third is about a politically charged police investigation. Out of the three, only the heist portion has any merit and even that is pretty thin. It's mostly a study in how to create flat, 1-dimensional characters that nobody cares about. The political parts were dull and this Nixon stuff has been re-hashed a million times before. The romance part seems like it was written by a 12 year old boy who's never touched a girl (and in turn, that's how the lead actor plays the part, which was unintentionally the most amusing part of the film). For the most part, I would call the performance "cringe-worthy." The female lead was only remarkable for how much she appears to be a clone of Nicole Kidman (where DO they find these people?). There was so much awesome music in that era, but we get the b-list of the b-list here. You could see everything coming a mile away, partially because they structured the story in a way that intentionally gave away spoilers. Kind of a bizarre approach to filmmaking.
I watched this only because I like heist films set in that time period. There was more sport back then - now technology has made large scale robberies practically impossible. Do not waste your time with this and instead check out "Thief (1981)."
I wasn't going to review this film until I read the other reviews. But the way a large number of people so negatively react to this film is a testament to how powerful it really is, and perhaps says more about the film than those reviews themselves ever could.
We live in a world that hates the truth. And "Eighth Grade" is pure truth. The most remarkable thing about the film is how it refrains from dramatizing how young people today grow up and interact, and instead tries to simply show things how they are. You can argue how successful they were in this attempt, but I think they got it pretty close. And some things about growing up are timeless. While the technology may have changed, all of the things Kayla did in the film, I also did at that age. I also came from a broken home and background of trauma, and I was also not popular. One review said that you had to be a loser to like this film, and maybe there is more than a nugget of truth there. The kid who was head of the class in Grade 8 might have a tough time relating.
The film does very little to explain all this to the viewer, and does not make any attempt to show why Kayla is how she is. This is fascinating because that is exactly how our society, and in particular teen society, works: it is blind to why people are how they are, and simply ruthlessly sorts them into categories such as attractive/popular and ugly/unpopular. It seems that people who are used to going along with this way of thinking are puzzled and unsettled by the film.
What "Eighth Grade" ultimately is, is a mirror. It simply reflects back to us what our world is. There is no editorialization. So when so many people are recoiling in horror from a mirror, what does that actually say?
The first John Wick film was special because it broke a mold of sorts. It went against certain action film conventions - the hero was not a muscle bound hulk like a Schwarzenegger or Stallone, the action was super fast paced, the plot was basic and straighforward, but introduced some unique elements, and there was something a bit unique and stylish about the film. John Wick was cool.
Then they made a sequel. And while the second film was more ridiculous, less believable, and not as good on any level, it was still John Wick, and still enjoyable.
But this third film is out of ideas and is simply rehashing the same things again for a payday (and hey, people seem to like it, so I can't fault them entirely). The magic is gone and it's just another over the top action film. In their attempt to mine more movies out of what was the barest of bare bones plots to start with, they have had to resort to ever increasing gratuitous violence and fight scene gimmicks. I'm no wilting rose, but even I was a bit unsettled by the casual nature of the violence in this film, which surely has one the highest body counts of any film in recent history. It was so over the top it became a bit cartoonish, like watching a video game. There was even the concept of John fighting a series of progressively more important and more difficult "bosses," just like a video game. John Wick 3 is watchable.... but barely.
This is not a science fiction film. It's a fantasy/drama. And it happens to be a tedious, hammy, and cringe-worthy drama at that. None of the characters act like real people, except this isn't a Yorgos Lanthimos film, and it isn't funny. Add the heavy use of handheld "shaky" camera (a fad that thankfully is mostly relegated to the dustbin of history along with neon hats and zubaz) and it becomes a genuine painful film to watch.
Maybe I'm old school, but I like my films to be visually appealing. Stunning visas, arranged shots, interesting pans, etc. Whereas this film is ugly and confined, from start to finish.
All "Another Earth" really has is a bunch of sappy emotional manipulation, which I think greatly appeals to a certain subset of the population, but is certainly not everybody's cup of tea.
Modern science fiction films are, mostly, not really science fiction at all. Most of it is really space-fantasy, with laser cannons, explosions, space craft zipping around, fantastic monsters/aliens, etc. None of that is found in "Prospect." This film is grounded in a gritty reality that is extremely believable, more so than in any science fiction film I can remember seeing. In the novel world, stories that stick to some semblance of known scientific fact are known as "hard" sci-fi. Now, to be fair, there isn't a lot of science on display in "Prospect" - it's mostly action, but I will take what I can get! In case you can't tell, I've very much in favour of there being more films like this out there.
I very grudgingly rate this a 7 instead of an 8 or higher mostly for technical / production reasons, that are perhaps in turn due to budget compromises. Special effects, music, and perhaps a bit of the acting was a little b-movie at times. But I quickly got over it and was sucked into the story.
Also Star Wars writers take note: the main female character "Cee" is someone that the audience really roots for by the end of the film. Why? Because instead of being all knowing and all powerful right from the start, her character develops. Some of the characterization was a little lean, and I felt another 10 minutes of screen time devoted to fleshing out the father would have really helped the film, but these are minor nitpicks. Give us more films like this, please!
How "Glass" ends: all the characters you know and love die. Permanently. How the child-like masses wanted it to end: nobody dies, or if they die, there is some kind of time travel invoked that brings them back, or at least linger the possibility that they are not really dead and may come back in a series of 8 sequels yet to come.
Mr. Shyamalan had the guts to go the former route, and is suffering the slings and arrows of the masses as a result, but I think that he achieved something quite rare. Not only is Glass a successful film, but he made a series of three films (Unbreakable, Split, Glass) that are greater together than the sum of their parts. Films that leave you guessing about what happens off-screen in that world, rather than filling in all the blanks with eye-popping explosions and laser beams.
I just hopes he leaves it here, and moves on to other projects.
Yorgos Lanthimos is a director that loves to challenge his viewers. He uses a variety of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) film-making and story-telling techniques that assist him in punching up the story he is trying to tell. The viewer will likely fall into one of two camps: people that are interested in the art of filmmaking enough to pick up on, appreciate, and understand these techniques, and people that just wanted to watch a movie and not be subjected to subtle psychological prodding.
You can see this division play out in these reviews, with most people either highly praising the film, or saying it was boring, a waste of time, unsettling, disturbing, and nonsensical. The funny thing is that the critics are not entirely wrong with these labels - the film actually is at times unsettling, disturbing, and nonsensical, and intentionally so. This is trademark Lanthimos.
The classic example of one of Lanthimos' techniques, and something of his own trademark prior to this film, was the way characters in his films would speak in clipped, unnatural ways to keep the viewer off balance. Thankfully he has dropped that from this film, as I feel it was starting to hold him back a little. But he has included in its place a wide variety of interesting camera angles, lenses, lighting (such as intentional bad lighting, with faces darkened, something you rarely see), a soundtrack that transitions from pleasant to jarring and back, and anachronisms thrown in (Intentionally I believe).
Where I diverge strongly from the critics is that I found this film to be highly compelling and not boring in the slightest. The acting was absolutely superb, with Emma Stone in particular knocking it out of the park. The interplay between the three female lead characters was fascinating. The historical context created by the sets and scenery were mind blowing and I wish I could have seen this on the big screen to really appreciate it. And the aforementioned techniques kept me on the edge of my seat and guessing at what would come next throughout.
If this film were made by anyone other than the Coen Brothers it would be universally panned, nobody would see it, and it would more than likely have never been made in the first place. The gushing user reviews of this film are seemingly all from Coen Brothers "fans," of which I had no idea until now were so numerous as to actually sway the IMDB score of a film who have judged the film based on who made it, not based on the film itself.
If we are to look closely at the film (or films, as this is really a series of disconnected shorts), there are few redeemable qualities to be found other than parts of it look pretty. Maybe the esteemed Coen Brothers don't know much about making short films, but I've seen my fair share and the good ones are just like good short stories: they are good stories that simply don't need that much time to tell them. But the Coen Brothers have confused things and think that a short film is just filming stuff for a shorter period of time, and then ending abruptly when the time has run out. That's how these pieces feel: utterly pointless meandering that end abruptly with (to steal a brilliant line from another review) with a "pie in the face" to the viewer. The shorts are gratuitously violent, they completely abandon any notion of realism, the characters are unlikeable, and they are a struggle to watch. And yet some people are calling it "brilliant." Yes Mr. Emperor, your clothes look exceptionally "brilliant" today....
As much as I wanted to like it, "The Sea of Trees" is not a very good film. I was attracted by the two principle actors (McConaughey and Watts), both of whom I generally like, and by the director, who has some excellent work in his resume, but after watching I have to join the group of people saying this film simply is not worth your time.
This film fails mostly for technical reasons. The primary one being completely unlikeable characters. McConaughey's character was a complete and utter jerk in just about every scene of the film, start to end. In order for this film to work, he needed to have a sympathetic side, but the film did nothing to create one. None of the other characters were particularly likeable either. I also kept getting pulled out of the film by what I found to be poor production qualities, unrealistic plot holes, and overly melodramatic scenes.
The premise of the film is actually quite interesting. If it was done as an animated film, like a Studio Ghibli film, the story could be made into something special. But as it stands, it rings heartless and hollow for me.
This film was not what I expected. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. What I expected was another rehashing of the Colombian drug cartel wars / gun fights / Pablo Escobar type stuff, and while there is certainly some of that here, the film is so much more than that.
This film takes you to a remote and little known corner of northern Colombia and immediately immerses you in the local culture. I hope this is not a spoiler but I was left speechless by the simple fact that Spanish is not actually the language being spoken in most of the film - instead it's the regional native dialect of the tribes-people that the film follows. Being completely foreign to Colombia, this was all new and fascinating to me. The film does a wonderful job portraying these proud people and their culture, and how the larger Colombian "drug" culture seeps in with its temptations of money and power. The lesson of what happens when those two mix is a timeless one.
The landscapes of the film are stunning, and I particularly appreciated the cinematography. But perhaps my favourite thing about the film was it's heavy use of spirituality and what I can only describe as "magical realism" transposed into film. I thought it was brilliantly done.
This is one of my favourite films I've seen this year, hands down.
"Leave No Trace," much like the director's previous work "Winter's Bone," offers a glimpse at the lives of forgotten Americans living in remote corners of the country. It's refreshing in and of itself to see a film based somewhere a bit different, and looking at people's lives we may have otherwise overlooked. And to that end, "Leave No Trace" does a wonderful job of capturing the landscape and spirit of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. And the premise of a man and his daughter surviving in the woods on their own is fascinating.
My main issue with "Leave No Trace" is that people have been making "indie" films almost identical to this for years. It's almost formulaic at this point: take a slice of life out of some downtrodden characters, follow them around for a while, and end on some poignant moment that is supposed to make the viewer think. Case in point: ten years ago there was a film called "Wendy and Lucy" where a woman and her dog down on tough times roam around Oregon that followed the exact same formula. And I can think of others, seen at various film festivals over the years. These are not usually bad films, but there is something a bit sophomoric about them. You are probably either the type that enjoys this style or doesn't.
While there are a few subtleties of this film that I can appreciate, in the end there is nothing much new here, which, for me, makes the film entirely forgettable.
There is a concept in food where something if something that is supposed to be sweet is made too sweet, it becomes "cloyingly sweet" and is ruined. That is how I would describe "Mr. Nobody" - a cloyingly sweet film that abandons any notions of realism, science, or logic in favour of an outpouring of style and sweetness.
It's one of those films that seems high-minded and intellectual, but there is really nothing there behind it, at least nothing that I found. I found it a bit nauseating to watch the overly sappy romances, with overly sappy love music overlaid, and overly stylistic camera angles applied... as I said, "cloying." The jump-cut style of the editing is also quite annoying and the jumping around in time grows tiresome extremely quickly. The logic holes in the plot quickly become apparent but the film slaps on more sap to cover them up.
Part of the problem is that I came to this film as a recommended "science-fiction," but I can assure the reader that there is nothing scientific in the slightest about it. I see the IMDB tag does read "Fantasy Romance" and that is how I would accurately describe the film.
To me, "Journey's End" is a far better film than the rating may lead one to believe. It's an intense war film with extremely realistic sets and clothing. The film puts you right into the trenches of WWI in way that I've never experienced before in a film.
Adapted from a play, "Journey's End" takes place primarily right in the trenches and underground officer's quarters, with the characteristic lack of set changes that come with plays and films adapted from them. While the movies are nothing alike in any way, I was reminded of the classic film "Glengarry Glen Ross," as it was also adapted from a play. When a film is adapted from a play and done right, it gains a certain intensity that is sometimes lacking in standard films. This played perfectly into the WWI trench atmosphere - a constricted, confined, intense space.
These sort of movies become character focused and the actors can really shine. Therein lies my only real critique of "Journey's End," in that I found some of the acting to be a bit uneven. I have nothing against Sam Clafin (Captain Stanhope), but he failed to carry this film, even though the story is ostensibly about him. The drinking in particular bothered me - the character drank whiskey like it was water but came across as too sober and clear-eyed for it to be believable.
But overall, "Journey's End" is a compelling look at a war that perhaps doesn't get the attention it deserves. Maybe it was so horrible, we'd just rather forget all about it, but therein lies the danger.
After about 10 minutes of it, I came to the conclusion that "Toni Erdmann" was a terrible film and wanted to turn it off. But for some reason I kept watching, and kept watching, until suddenly 2+ hours had gone by. After watching, I still kind of think it's a terrible film, but also have an appreciation for the journey it took me on. I can see how some people on get the former experience, so one will have to judge for themselves whether this type of film is their cup of tea.
To me, "Toni Erdmann" is a film about emptiness. It's about empty people, living empty lives, all striving for something. While there are some solid laugh out loud moments in the film, I actually found it a bit depressing. I think I see too much of my own life and the lives of those around me here. These characters all seem to be desperately striving for something in their lives - to feel something - but all falling short.
In that respect, it's one of the most "modern" films I've ever seen - a film that really tries to capture the current time we live in. The vast majority of entertainment today tries to take us away to some other place, time, or culture, so this film is remarkable in how it takes on our society dead on. The impression left is not favourable.
PS: "Toni Erdmann" is quite similar to the Swedish film "The Square," so if you enjoyed one you will likely enjoy the other.
Here is your test for whether you should watch this film: do you love superhero movies, can't wait for the next three instalments of the "Avengers" series to come out, and loathe anything "arsty" and pretentious? If so, please hit the bail button now without hesitation. You may have heard something about this film being a modern "Taxi Driver," but you are wrong (and those who made those lazy equivocations are wrong as well).
If you are still with me, "You Were Never Really Here" is one of more interesting films I've seen in recent memory. It tackles a lot of very heavy subject matter in one go, though it does so in a rather oblique manner - like stealing glimpses from the corner of your eye because you dare not look directly at the thing. You have to think a lot to keep up. Some will get left behind.
Some reviewers have called the film slow, but it seemed to be coming at me at a lightning pace. The violence of the film comes in rapid bursts - over before you know what's even going on. Like in real life, the blanks are filled in after. The film got me onto edge, such that I had no idea what was coming - a rare feat, these days. Yes, the same plot could have been conveyed in a typical linear fashion and this would be a typical brainless action film. But the director has managed to accomplish much more. If you are open minded, I recommend you try this film.
Is "Once Upon a Time in America" praised because of what it is, or because of who made it? I would argue that it is the latter, as Sergio Leone has been raised to a mythical status due to his unique directing talents and the success of the four western films he directed. Despite what Leone brought to this film (and his signature techniques are all at work here), that alone does not make a great film, and unfortunately "Once Upon a Time in America" suffers from several key shortcomings.
The main one of these shortcomings is simply the plot, which is too cumbersome, and once put through the wringer of the pacing and time-jumping, simply doesn't hold up as interesting enough to justify the 4 hour runtime of the extended version (the version Leone intended, apparently). By the end of the film I was deflated and bored, and the ending itself did nothing to change that. There was a gem of a good story in here - Leone knew that - but I don't think he succeeded in bringing it out. And many of the scenes seemed to be there only to provide shock value. Leone's earlier work was much "tighter," where every shot seemed to matter.
The music and soundtrack are also a bit jarring. I think this was Leone's weak spot through most of his films. His repetition of musical themes in a film worked OK for his westerns, but in this film in particular, it becomes wearisome to hear the same cloying theme for the 50th time over 4 hours. I found myself distracted by the music and wishing it wasn't there behind the dialogue much of the time.
So despite some glimmers of brilliance, even the fully restored version of "Once Upon a Time in America" rings flat for me. Due to the years of delays in getting this film off the ground, he missed his window and the "gangster" genre was already tired when this film came out (and arguably it's even more tired today). And unlike his westerns, which were sort of meta-films as they came after the hay-day of the format. "Once Upon a Time in America" just feels like one of the pack.
They will never make a film like this again. An epic western with a large cast and real sets. The cinemascope widescreen format on real film. The languid pacing, demanding patience from the viewer, revealing the story slowly. The artistic shooting and framing of everything. The stylization. Somehow getting A-list hollywood talent into a film by a foreign, b-movie filmmaker. It simply couldn't be done today, and it will forever amaze me that it was done at all.
This was Leone's best film, the one where everything came together. The acting, the music, the cinematography, the sets, the landscapes, and the story. It's all there. "Once Upon a Time in the West" may very well represent "peak cinema" - the exact high water mark of the film format. And for that reason, it's my favourite film.