Origin stories have drowned out the originality of the big-budget feature. Nowadays, everything, whether it is a supporting riff from an old legend or a leading role of an established franchise, needs an origin story. Before it was hip and resourceful to do so, though, The Godfather II took a portion of the Mario Puzo book, The Godfather, and siphoned it off into a sequel. While it may open with a mother’s love for her young boy and the lengths she will go to in defending him, the real core of The Godfather II is that the gut instinct of those threatened by the young boy is correct. It is a common occurrence in The Godfather. Instinct is the unmovable object, and it is that which The Godfather II bases itself on.
Scratching at the heart and soul of most musical-based feature films is the idea that artists are contingent. As luck would have it, they have soared as high as they can, and hitting that limit is a dangerous topic to take down. It is as dangerous as reaching that height in the first place. Tender Mercies tries. It has all the goods needed for such a challenge. A strong leading man, an interesting angle and some fine music. Can any director or actor get to grips with the throes of alcohol and the impact it has on the working mind, though? Yes, absolutely. Tender Mercies does just that, and the Bruce Beresford-directed feature has time to kill with its leading man and the throttle of alcoholism.
Bleak simplicity was the anguished core of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. Its tale of a father and son traipsing through life and trying to survive is a touching portrayal of disastrous consequences and the bond between family left unbroken. Adapting that to the big screen was always a run of the gauntlet. No sooner had Viggo Mortensen signed on to play the role of the father, that The Road soon took shape as something different. Something new, and exciting. A remarkable rendition of a text that felt truly, truly bleak. What it lacked was something to compare it to, but it is only now, watching this feature from John Hillcoat, that we can realise it was not needed at all.
Peter Yates’ slick direction is the cornerstone for Bullitt and all the action it entails. While the eponymous police officer does not feel sluggish or sound disgruntled, he certainly looks out of his element. There is a flicker of worry behind the eyes of Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen). All action heroes are flawed, and whether they show it or not makes no difference to the reality they find themselves in. Mobsters and senators butt heads, with Bullitt in the middle of it all. He is scared. More often than not he is terrified of playing into the hands of the losing side, and McQueen lets that guilty weakness show more than once throughout this feature.
Those brave boys in Korea are cannon fodder for director Robert Altman. Those immortal, scribbled words that sat on a desk in his home, are engraved in history. “Fuck it, I’ll do it,” he wrote when asked to direct M*A*S*H. His distaste for the novel it was based on, paired with his fresh filmmaking legs made for a rough ride through a war that had ended nearly two decades ago. There was, of course, another war on at the time over in Vietnam, and the concern studios and producers had for what that meant for the contemporary appeal of M*A*S*H was palpable. Altman must have known, for while his efforts here may focus on the horrors of Korea, they instil the tragedies of the contemporary world around him and his ensemble cast.
Even the great innovator, Tony Scott, could not be stopped by the pratfalls and ridiculousness of stock car racing. It has an untimely, inevitable shtick attached to it where the stereotypes of the drivers infect the core mechanics of what is, essentially, a race. No twists, turns or obstacles, just a track that goes around and around. Turning that monotony into something as thrilling as Days of Thunder is no small feat of endurance. But knowing the tokenisms of Scott’s direction, and how well he works when collaborating with Tom Cruise, we can hold out hope on Days of Thunder delivering some layer of fast-paced, action-packed enjoyability.
Bolstered by the fine writing he had offered in the Oscar-winning Patton, Francis Ford Coppola, now seemingly on top of his game, sauntered into Paramount Studios in need of work. His production studio owed hundreds of thousands to Warner Bros., and his previous film, The Rain People, had bombed. But he had an Academy Award in the bag and showed no signs of stopping. His initial hesitance to take on Mario Puzo’s The Godfather as his next project stemmed from the “cheap” nature Coppola had assigned to the book. Still, that mounting financial pressure changed his mind, and that is indeed for the better, for The Godfather is a stroke of pure, raw passion.
From its explosive introduction to The Doors’ The End to its final, unflinching moments, Apocalypse Now is the maniacal, dangerous creation Francis Ford Coppola trooped on through to accomplish. His shaky and loose adaptation of the values found in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are established alongside the waning post-Vietnam war fallout, which inspired so many for the decades to come. It is hard to argue against Apocalypse Now as, at the very least, a definitive, stalwart remedial on the effect the war had on those involved. It is with that in mind that Coppola heads into the heart of darkness, combating not just the powers and horrors between America and Vietnam, but his own demons as well.
As stalwart as he was in the Western genre, John Wayne provided few performances that could carry a film to the finish line. I say that with a real love for the genre, but only a small handful of the films Wayne starred in during his glory days do anything at all for me. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is certainly the high point to a series of otherwise tolerable and forgettable westerns. True Grit seemed like the jewel in his crown, an Oscar-winning performance that saw us in the waning years of the genre, unable to compete or contend with the rise of dramatics elsewhere. This would be far from the last western Wayne would star in, but True Grit does feel like a farewell to the old and a welcoming embrace of the new.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are no eagles within The Eagle Has Landed. There is, however, one Michael Caine playing an undercover Nazi with the task of assassinating Winston Churchill, so I do suppose that is an even trade-off. From The Great Escape director John Sturges comes a war epic with a frightfully good cast and a remarkable premise. Detailing what would happen if a desperate plan to traverse the coasts of England led to the assassination of their Prime Minister, The Eagle Has Landed is a sadly wasted opportunity. One premise that suffocates the war movie fan within me, and brings us firmly to a grounded, often incredibly dull film with limited entertainment value.