Apocalypse Now

War movies don’t always leave a good impression with me. In fact, I rarely go to see them. When I saw Apocalypse Now, it was years after its release on DVD and I wasn’t that excited going in. Luckily, I was hugely pleased with the result. This film made it into Riley’s Great 100.

apocalypsenow-poster

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Cast

Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

Directed by

Francis Ford Coppola

Written by

John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola

Other Info

Drama, War
Rated R
2h 33min

When I saw it the first time, I was in an American Literature course at Cal State Fullerton. I had a prof named “Dr. Friend.” Some people didn’t see him as a friend but I did, considering the amazing books and movies he turned me on to. This film is one of those.

One of the assigned novels in the course was Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” This is a gut-wrenching novel about killing for profit. The first chapter of the book is full of blood soaked descriptions. It describes a place where human life no longer has value in the wake of the mighty dollar. Conrad was getting at real “truth” and many a college student since has studied his words looking for that elusive word. What is at the heart of darkness? That’s what Conrad is luring us toward.

Apocalypse-Now3Apocalypse Now is based on “Heart of Darkness.” It takes place on a boat in Vietnam. The soldiers are lost in a lost cause war but they stumble on something far more sinister and evil. A living being created by the American war machine. There are parallels to Conrad’s book but both pieces stand alone as incredible vignettes of evil and the dark propensity of the human soul if left unchecked.
IMDB gives a short synopsis as such:

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

Robert Duvall stars in this film along with Harrison Ford a cast of other now-legendary actors. The two that usually get the most press are Martin Sheen as Captain Willard and Marlon Brando as Kurtz. Apocalypse Now KurtzBrando is hypnotic to watch and listen to. What can you do when you have sympathy for the devil? The interplay of what we see as “moral” vs. “animal” makes this movie a trip. Should we assign guilt to those who are survivalists at all costs? If not, why do we murder them in war? These are questions that came up for me. I saw this as less a war movie and more or a moral drama. I really enjoyed it on that level.

david_halberstam_on_apocalypse_nowThe war images are still prevalent here. Almost every scene has an orange sky, alluding to the use of crop dust laced with Agent Orange to commit mass unbridled homicide against the Viet Cong. All is fair in love and war? You see the men uttering phrases like: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” upon waking. There is even a stud from San Diego with a surfboard who catches waves in between mass carnage. This black humor lays the foundation to look at what we do in the military on both sides and the dark hearts we must have to do it. The director, Francis Ford Coppola gave so much of his heart and soul to make this movie. francis-ford-coppola-on-the-set-of-apocalypse-now-1050x715A documentary called Hearts of Darkness shows some of the ghastly things the cast and director had to go through to get this filmed. It’s an amazing doc, I highly recommend it. Martin Sheen was so stressed filming he had a heart attack during filming. Fortunately he was able to get proper medical care and rest and he finished the film. If you are like me and don’t like war films but the idea of this “heart of darkness” being portrayed is interesting to you, I recommend seeing it anyway. The war images soon fade in the presence of a profound cinematic look at the human heart. What you make of that experience is up to you and your conscience. Are you more or Kurtz or Willard? For me it was tough to choose one over the other as good. In the end though, I made my choice. I recommend this film highly, a LOT of other movie critics do as well. This is of course, a classic of all time.

Days of Heaven (1978)

Your eyes… Your ears… Your senses… will be overwhelmed. In 1910, a Chicago steel worker accidentally kills his supervisor and flees to the Texas panhandle with his girlfriend and little sister to work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer. Listen to me act out my review below 🙂 OR just continue reading below that.

A love triangle, a swarm of locusts, a hellish fire—Malick captures it all with dreamlike authenticity, creating at once a timeless American idyll and a gritty evocation of turn-of-the-century labor.

Days of Heaven (1978)
PG | 1h 34min | Drama, Romance | 6 October 1978 (USA)

A hot-tempered farm laborer convinces the woman he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Stars: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard

This is a nice little story with spectacular cinematography. It’s a piece of American art in cinema that stays with you after the closing credits have run. There is a little here about a lot of things: liberty, justice, wealth, poverty, and the American way to happiness. This has been called the best reviewed film in history. Will I be in that camp? Wait and see. Let me tell you a bit about this director: Terrence Malick. This director is one of the most interesting ones I’ve yet to learn about. He found his way after 18 by attending Harvard. That’s not your average college folks. To get his undergrad degree he must have shown discipline and fortitude. After that as time neared the 1970’s he decided to make short films and eventually graduated from a film school. Now, Harvard and film school don’r automatically make a great director but in this case, they did. He directed “Badlands” with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Like “Days of Heaven” this film deals with the gatekeepers that prevent certain people from achieving the American Dream. It also deals with infatuation, evil, drive, manipulation, and murder. But we’ll save “Badlands” for another day.

Now, let’s take a look at a few of the actors and the characters they play. Richard Gere plays Bill. He’s the one you have to hake up your mind whether he’s a criminal, evil, or just a desperate man trying to survive. Shoveling coal, he gets in an argument with his boss and accidentally kills him. After that he takes his girlfriend and girlfriend’s sister on the run for he knows he will be executed if caught.

In the new town, we see more of Abby, played by Brooke Adams. Incidentally, it was really educational for me as a reviewer to see her in this film. I knew her face so well from many films but did not realize just HOW many. The long list includes Monk (tv), Man on Fire, and may more. She does a great job with a complex character. She has to fake love a landowner she knows is dying in order to get inheritance for her boyfriend (Gere), and sister. It’s a mess and it only gets worse. Still, it raises so many questions about what is fair when people are so low they can never be rich.

Sam Shepard, may his poetic soul RIP, plays the landowner. I think you will agree that just these three actors with a good story and amazing cinematography will be worth the watching. It is. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and recommend it to you with a 9/10 score.

Blade Runner 1982 – Damien’s Brief Review

This podcast contains Damien’s usual excellent 5 min movie review and also a special offer from Blubrry Podcast hosting. Check both out!

Blade Runner (1982)
R | 1h 57min | Sci-Fi, Thriller | 25 June 1982 (USA)

A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Hampton Fancher (screenplay), David Webb Peoples (screenplay) (as David Peoples) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young

Brief Film Review of A Christmas Story – 10/10

I think there are certainly some Americans, happy or not with their upbringing, and delighted to tell stories about their childhood. If we tell them, they become immortal. Such is apparently the case with humorist Jean Shepherd. His semi-fictional memoir In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is the basis for this lovely, wonderful film.

A Christmas Story

“In the 1940s, a young boy named Ralphie attempts to convince his parents, his teacher, and Santa that a Red Ryder B.B. gun really is the perfect Christmas gift.” -IMDB

Cast

Peter Billingsley Ralphie
Melinda Dillon Mother Parker
Darren McGavin The Old Man Parker
Scott Schwartz Flick

Directed by

Bob Clark

Written by

Jean Shepherd, Jean Shepherd

Other Info

Comedy, Family
TV-PG
Fri 18 Nov 1983 UTC
94min
IMDB Rating: 8.0

Looking at this film on face value alone may cause it to appear like a Hallmark channel move or a strictly family film. The truth is it’s more than that. A humorist lends his life supply of experiences growing up to produce family-friendly comedy, with a slightly twisted bent. I know I wouldn’t have liked it if it was simple a family Christmas film.

It takes place in the 1940’s when American life was a lot simpler. Even still, you see the father come home from work getting mad at the broken furnace, cussing at it. You see that daily dilemma of Ralphie and his little brother trying to get to school in sub zero temperatures. And then of course, there are the bullies to and from school to worry about.

Why the hell do we tell our kids to believe in Santa Claus? This question is indirectly raised but never answered. In fact, it raises gender role issues, peer pressure, and American traditions. It reminds us of our traditions, even ones we’ve taken for granted all our lives. As we laugh at Ralphie and this family, we are really laughing at ourselves.

Bob Clark directed this amazing piece. He will be remembered by some as directing the coming-of-age film from 1982, Porky’s. While not as racy as that film, this one deals with boys growing up and poking fun at our human situation.

Some of the cast should be mentioned: Peter Billingsley played Ralphie. Before that, in America he was recognized as the Nestle Quick chocolate Milk kid. Darren McGavin plays “The Old Man,” Ralphie’s father. His role is superlative. He plays the somewhat detached aging father so well. When he cusses at the furnace, you swear you’ve heard that somewhere before! The whole cast is amazing and it’s an excellent script they use to deliver the jokes and message in the film.

When seen for the sarcastic, dry, deadpan humor it offers, this film is a winner! Some may be put off by its seemingly traditional appearance but please remember it is poking fun at tradition as much as reminding us of it. Give this incredible memoir film a chance, you won’t regret it.

The Accountant

I love watching a film I know hardly anything about that has mediocre scores on Rotten Tomatoes and that surprises the hell out of me to be on my best films of the year list. Watching the Accountant was like that for me. I put some extra sound effects in this one for fun. The rest of this review may contain spoilers

This is a film of two worlds: 1) a history and upbringing of an autistic boy and 2) The path of adulthood and a career for that boy after becoming a man. As it turns out, high functioning autistic people make ingenious accountants. Ben Affleck is this man and he is so good, many underground crime bosses use him to “uncook” their books. Let me reiterate, he is really good at it.

We are catapulted from stories of his youth where his father mercilessly trains him to fight a exist alone to his life as a criminal accountant who’s cool as a cucumber. If you heard he was doing well and not getting caught year after year, you might think to yourself, “Ok, so what’s the problem. This guy has it made.” Wrong. There are some real issues that would prevent the average person from being happy in his shoes. First, he can’t have relationships. His autism gives him tunnel vision and he is literally unable to walk away from projects. He attempts a relationship with Anna Kendrick but it never really pans out because of his disorder. In more than one way, it gets in the way.

In this film we see what Affleck’s character can do as a result of his father’s horrifying training. He is a machine when it comes to fighting. He is able to see details no one else does and this makes him not only an accounting weapon but also what we might call a para-military soldier and killer.

So, these are just some if the amazingly creative particulars written into this gem of a film. Affleck is at the top of his game. There are many shoot-em-ups from which he generally emerges victorious. I loved every minute of this film. They say people with autism are on a different level than the rest of us. This film shows that shouldn’t be looked down on. Someone with autism, trained in this way, could save the world. Would he be happy though? The jury’s still out.

The Maltese Falcon

Sometimes old movies can be really good. But without the correct background knowledge it’s sometimes hard to see the genius in a film for its day. I think a little of both was going on for me as I watched the classic “The Maltese Falcon.”

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Not Rated | 1h 40min | Film-Noir, Mystery | 18 October 1941 (USA)

A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.
Director: John Huston
Writers: John Huston (screenplay), Dashiell Hammett (based upon the novel by)
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George

Humphrey Bogart is a talented actor, who can deny it? The strength of his vocal delivery and his calm, cool mannerisms like lighting a cigarette are what made him a star and kept him there in the public perception, even now.

You’ll notice the film poster highlights Bogart holding guns and reads “Explosive … Blazing.” Bogart was famous for guns as well as for romancing the ladies. Both of which were utilized in the content and advertising for this film. They’re his “gimmick” if you will. He was like a Bruce Willis in the gun aspect. I think marketing a known talent has been going on even to 1941.

Mary Astor is a beautiful actress with an innate talent for playing the “needy woman.” There is also a quiet strength to this character that Bogart’s character has a hard time reconciling. Perhaps he’s used to women whose minds he can control. It’s hard to tell in the beginning of the film who the least sincere is.

This is a story of a lost jeweled bird and a woman who hires a private detective to get it back. It’s a film Noir and definitely representative of its time. For old film fans, this film is a must. You get to see two amazing actors as well as the scenes and props from the day. For this audience I’d give it an 8/10.

Audition

If you ever set out to explore foreign horror, you may have stumbled across “Audition” from 1999. It’s a Japanese flick that certainly can be called horror but the large first portion is just drama, building up to a crescendo that is definitely not for weak stomachs.

Audition (1999)
Ôdishon (original title)
R | 1h 55min | Drama, Horror, Mystery | 3 March 2000 (Japan)

A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writers: Ryû Murakami (novel), Daisuke Tengan (screenplay)
Stars: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki

Director: Takashi Miike has a long list of foreign horror he has made. One I recognized right away was “One Missed Call.” He used a lot of sophisticated camera and editing techniques in “Audition: that make it a great horror film. He is clearly a master of his craft and when I look into Japanese horror again, I’ll be checking out his stuff. But this particular film is well known and respected. It has at 69 on Metascore and you have to take into consideration that it’s a film with subtitles so I see 69 as an excellent American score.

The main character struck me as a chauvinist who thought himself romantic. The age difference was way too wide. When she started playing into his wiles all to quickly, I was in agreement with his friend that it was probably too good to be true. What happens near the end has been viewed as a victory for feminism because the two men were holding an “audition” for his new wife posing as a casting call. This was made in 1999 but it certainly echoes what has been happening for awareness in Hollywood.

I did enjoy the first 3/4 of this film but for me, the end was a weak payoff. I enjoy seeing authentic cultural food and architecture and there was a lot of that. Unfortunately, I was looking for a horror the likes of say, “Martyrs” and this is not even in the same universe. The story is more equivalent to a mystery on the CSI tv show. Things get explained with flashbacks etc. Overall, I was not amazed by this film but I’d recommend the drama side of it. The horror is pretty much not there in terms of screentime. I have to give this film a 5/10.

Sightseers

What happens when Ben Wheatley is behind the camera while Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, and Kenneth Hadley are the writer and actors? Sightseers, that’s what. This is a laugh a minute but not for everyone. It has a lot of black comedy which I myself like quite a bit.

Sightseers (2012)
Not Rated | 1h 28min | Adventure, Comedy, Crime | 10 May 2013 (USA)

Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram | 1 more credit »
Stars: Alice Lowe, Kenneth Hadley, Steve Oram

Have a listen to this my 5 min podcast on “Sightseers.” I hope you enjoy listeninhg and if you fancy leaving a comment, I would be much obliged. Now, have a listen to my 5 min review of “Sightseers.”

Dark Water

This is the English remake of the very well received Japanese novel and film. We seem to be seeing more and more of these lately. It’s a good thing because these Japanese films are so well made, some people don’t like subtitles. Jennifer Connelley is in this along with a few other heavyweights in Hollywood. It’s worth taking a look at, so I did 🙂 I hope you enjoy listening to my 5 min podcast. Comments are always welcomed.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

This film in some ways is like “Fargo,” it has buffoons trying to commit crimes with disastrous results. It isn’t funny like “Fargo” though. In fact, this is one of the darker films I’ve seen in the past decade. I hope you enjoy my 5 minute podcast on this film.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
R | 1h 57min | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 26 October 2007 (USA)

When two brothers organize the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father and one brother’s wife hurtling towards a shattering climax.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Kelly Masterson
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney