Saturday, September 3, 2016

Murphy Watch: Coming to America (1988)



Back when I was 13 or so, Hollywood was doing pretty darn well.  It was pretty common for middle-class folk to load the crew into the family truckster and go on down to the local mall or wherever and catch a movie at the cineplex.  I saw Coming to America (1988) on opening weekend, and what I remember is: so did everyone else.

This movie was absolutely huge with me and my friends, but my parents watched it more than once (once it hit home video), and it still gets a lot of play on basic cable.  In fact, we parked ourselves on the sofa after getting home from vacation and watched the movie just to give ourselves some decompression time.

At this point, the movie has grossed almost $130 million that Box Office Mojo knows about, which isn't bad for a movie that likely cost about $20 million to make.

In the manner of the best 1980's comedies - from Ghostbusters to Naked Gun, it's an imminently quotable movie, or seemed so at the time.  At least it became that through repeated viewings.  Not that surprising from a movie put together by Eddie Murphy and John Landis, I suppose.

I don't just think Coming to America is a funny movie (I think it's hilarious), I think it's a fantastically written and perfectly executed all-ages movie, from direction to performances to editing and music cues.  And all that's a reminder of what a set of talents we had in Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Landis, John Amos, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair and Eriq La Salle and everyone else (Louie f'ing Anderson is in this!).

I also think it's really funny that Black Panther will need to really think think about about what it's doing for a script and abandon the original Black Panther trope of King T'Challa to the U.S. undercover as a student lest we end up with a suspiciously familiar story.

Maybe most remarkable is that the movie has such an overwhelmingly Black cast and then and now it's not discussed in terms of being a "Black" movie, and not because it was white-washed.  I'd argue it's a movie that - while it has a lot of edges knocked off to reach an all-ages audience - makes no bones about being by and about Black people, and it's hard to say exactly why it was massively successful across the planet (the movie has a very large international box office).  Maybe it's the fairy-tale nature of the story?  Prince Hakeem and Semi's familiarity as protagonists?  I dunno.

Anyway, what's to say? If you don't like this movie, you're a little dead inside.


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Back when I was 13 or so"

You saying that to me invalidates all your criticisms of modern Hollywood. It proves you have a Nostalgic Bias. I was 13 in 1999 and I deeply cherish several pieces of pop culture from that year which older people like you crap on.

But guess what, it was not till after both our youths passed that movies crossing a Billions became a bi yearly event. Hollywood is doing just fine.

Paul Haine said...

The royal penis is clean, your Highness.

Ryan Steans said...

What's weird is, Paul isn't even referring to the movie.

Ryan Steans said...

I'm assuming the person above is Jared.

Sigh. Hi, Jared.

I cannot convince you to stop reading my site, or move on, apparently. If this is your "ah ha! You're a FRAUD!" moment - well, you win. I'll stop posting now, so you can move on. No reason to keep coming back!

Ryan Steans said...

I'm not sure why Jared picked this particular post to notice I have a formula for doing my posts - but I do! If I've seen the movie before, I try to mention in what context I first saw the movie - as a kid, with my folks, in high school, in college, etc... And I'll often try to recollect how I felt about the movie at the time. I don't know that it means I absolve myself of nostalgia, but part of my formula in many, many ways is providing context. Why did I feel that way? What am I seeing then vs. now? This movie is particularly heavy on the "when I was a kid" bit, because I really had nothing to add. I think it's a well executed movie, it's funny and holds up. Everyone's seen it and has opinions. There's nothing to say.

If someone who was an adult when "Coming to America" came out and said "I saw it. It didn't work for me." I'd say "oh, that's interesting", consider their argument, and either take their opinion into account or not. I'd certainly understand that they didn't like for the same reasons. Because people and their points of view vary. It's a thing.

I've also tried to be as honest about nostalgia when coming back and reviewing movies. I'm keenly aware that it absolutely colors my take take on a film and I've got a lot of enthusiasm for the media of my youth that I liked then. I may be able to watch the original "Tron" as a bit of nostalgia and enjoy it, but the movie is slow as molasses and maybe clunkier than it needs to be, for example. I may find Ray Harryhausen's animation amazing, but you won't see me overselling "Clash of the Titans", but some content I can't see past the nostalgia. Is "Star Trek II" actually a good movie? I will never know - and I think you'll see me say as much about many old favorites.

I found his comment about modern Hollywood curious at best. Firstly - our biggest point of disagreement has been about DC entertainment's take on filmmaking, not "modern Hollywood". WB's issues with it's films are not just a matter of my personal perception - both "Batman v Superman" and "Suicide Squad" received poor reviews because both are poorly managed movies (I'm an hour and 15 minutes into BvS as of this writing). In fact, WB is in process reshuffling their films and management of those films in the wake of "Batman v Superman" (and I've repeatedly commented that I don't understand how BvS's $850 million take was seen as a failure, so the idea that these movies are not working is hitting WB at a level beyond dollars - likely thinking about longterm longevity of the DCEU).

I saw 12 new theatrical releases last year - many, many of which I enjoyed, and I figure I'm on par or better for this year, and saw some new movies on home video last year and this year. I'm okay with trying new movies, but I'd freely state I'm not as likely to view a movie uncritically if the movie is pulling from known material or referring to known material.

I'd argue that Hollywood's billion dollar gamble on franchises is going to become a parallel model to smaller movies and television. And, as anyone knows, a billion dollars in 2016 isn't what it's been during Hollywood's 110+ year existence. Yeah, we have billion dollar movies now, but adjusted for inflation, the numbers are illuminating: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm

I am sorry I do not like "The Phantom Menace". Jared has been quite vocal about not liking many, many(, many, many) movies I've enjoyed. I don't take it personally. Everyone out there has a voice. But, I assure all of you, mine does not matter.

Jake Shore said...

"The Phantom Menace" is an objectively bad movie, as are all the Star Wars prequels. If someone likes them, fine. But let's not act like Ryan is a jerk for being on the side of sanity and taste. I can't convince anyone outside my immediate circle of friends from high school that "Highlander" is an awesome movie. They (including my wife) think I'm delusional. I can live with that.