Apocalypse Now Redux (1979, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola) English 10

Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Frederick Forrest


Awe-inspiring. Sublime. Masterful.

   Apocalypse Now in its own abstract way shows the horror of the Vietnam War as a symptom of human darkness. Scene after scene demonstrates the idea of nobody being left untouched by the war, and yet the film never lingers on any individual or setting long enough for us to feel any real heaviness towards what we are watching. The violence seems gratuitous, which is odd in a war movie. When a character is killed, we sense that it wasn’t supposed to happen, or that it didn’t have to happen. And there aren’t any abiding sentiments from the protagonists signaling us to care about the carnage and death occurring on screen. Everything that happens just happens, and our guide through this hellish odyssey, Captain Willard (played perfectly by Martin Sheen), has long since given up trying to do anything about it. When a young sailor under his command gets a little too gung-ho and guns down a local family, killing two, and wounding a third, Willard finishes the job and essentially tells the crew to get back to work. He has a job to do. He must find a wayward Colonel (Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando as almost a boogie man) who has set himself up as a god in Cambodia. Willard has no interest for the majority of the film in distractions. He calmly sits and waits while the crew busies themselves with Playboy bunnies that are flown in for military enjoyment. All of these elements, I believe, are to serve the narrative’s ideas of disenchantment, apathy, and, principally, chaos. Clearly, critical things are happening constantly, and yet, nothing really matters. The consequences are quiet, emotions are muted.

There are a number of supporting characters, memorable characters at that, but most of them are one dimensional. Again this serves the narrative in leaving us with the stoic, contemplative Willard as our key. The beginning scene illustrates his loss of stability and perhaps sanity. He has fever dreams, and shadow-boxes the demons in his empty hotel room, wearing only his skivvies. He is no longer fit for anything but battle. During his journey, he meets several characters that are used more to represent an idea than to act as believable human beings. We are introduced to Robert Duval’s character (Kilgore) as he looks to, but never actually does, give water to an enemy soldier with his guts hanging out. Kilgore just wants to surf. Willard’s narration lets us know that Kilgore is the kind of guy that you know will survive the war. Laurence Fishburne is a black teenager that dances to the Rolling Stones on the way to battle. He dies listening to a tape-recording of his mother’s voice as she wishes him safety. The naval leader of the boat voyage (another stoic type and everyone’s image of a chief) is killed by, of all things, a spear. These parts serve to underline the madness of it all. I spoke earlier of disenchantment because no movie makes clearer the disenchantment of the United States towards our first real military failure. In the film’s most famous scene, evoking a sense of ambiguity, Willard hops along for an invasion of a Viet Cong base as Kilgore leads his men in helicopters across picturesque skies blaring Wagner’s Rise of the Valkyries. It is a glorious image. The music is triumphant. The violence is exciting and beautiful. Is Coppola glorifying war? It’s been said that the scene was used by the military for troop morale. I believe though, that in the context of the film, the scene serves as another piece of absurdity to an abstract picture. When you consider that the whole reason for the air strike is basically so that Kilgore has a nice place to surf, no amount of excitement or beauty could justify the violent means to his ridiculous end. Politically, the film is very ambiguous. Does war turn men into Kurtz?  When Willard finally makes it to Kurtz, the latter makes a sort of crazy man’s sense to Willard. And when Willard completes his mission and kills Kurtz, the natives bow before him; he has taken Kurtz place. Willard and Kurtz appear to be two sides of the same coin as the expression goes. Both resigned. Willard resigned to do his job. Kurtz resigned to the Godlike status bestowed upon him, and finally to his assassination.

There is a scene of Willard walking through a massive forest completely dwarfed by nature, and I wondered about man’s significance. Kurtz does not put much importance in the life of an individual, but in the forest scene, I wondered if the film was making the same point: we are all just dust in the wind. What does Willard go back to? With redux opposed to the original, I like to imagine him going back to the French woman, but again we are left with more questions than answers.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Yojimbo (1961, Directed by Akira Kurosawa) Japanese 10

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai,  Yoko Tsukasa


Iconic. Grand. Flawless.

A nonchalant drifter (Mifune) arrives in a town beset by rival gangs. Without a name or any explicit motive, the drifter feigns support for both sides while secretly playing them against each other. Inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Glass Key (great in its own right), Yojimbo is wildly entertaining, funny, cool, and, with its anachronistic soundtrack, the source of inspiration for Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Mifune is unforgettable as the mysterious and deceptive nameless rogue.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Sixth Sense (1999, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan) English 10

Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Donnie Wahlberg, Olivia Williams

Image result for the sixth sense


Fresh. Engrossing. Unforgettable.

After a horrific episode with a former patient, child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Willis) seeks redemption in helping a young boy, Cole (Joel Osment) with dark secrets. Meanwhile, his work takes its toll on his marriage as he grows distant from his wife (Williams). Everything about this ghost story is perfectly calculated. The performances, from Willis to Collette to Joel Osment and down to Wahlberg are essential for this film to work. The twist ending, which you probably know by now, or should, works because it’s not necessary. The film would have been good without it, the final meeting between Malcolm and Cole supplied enough closure to leave the audience satisfied, so when the real ending hits, we’re shocked, and the movie becomes great.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Great Escape (1963, Directed by John Sturges) English 10

Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Donald Pleasance


Classic. Heroic. Thrilling.

During World War II, these allied prisoners of war have escaped from every camp that they’ve been held captive in. So the Nazis build a special camp made just for them. Thought to be impossible to escape out of, the POWs plan a massive prison break, revealed in elaborate detail from the planning to the exciting execution. Thrilling adventure film with real stakes and a cast of some of the coolest men ever (McQueen, Garner, Bronson, Coburn), each given their chance to shine. The tunnel sequence when the lights go out on Charles Bronson is an all-time great suspense scene. And, of course, the score is iconic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Lady Vanishes (1938, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 10

Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas


Efficient. Thrilling. Charming.

One of Hitchcock’s most entertaining films with many of his go-to plot devices; espionage and misunderstanding. A young woman, Iris (Lockwood), receives a blow to the head as she boards a train taking her back to England. An elderly woman, Miss Froy (Whitty), tends to her before she knocks out, but when Iris wakes up, Miss Froy is gone. Worse still, no one else on the train believes a Miss Froy even exists. Eventually, Iris, with the help of a talkative British gentleman (Redgrave), attempts to piece together a conspiracy. British comedy duo Charters and Caldicott offer dry comic relief.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


12 Angry Men (1957, Directed by Sidney Lumet) English 10

Starring Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, Edward Binns, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman


Suspenseful. Powerful. Moving.

1950’s masculine society is compressed into this engaging, tightly spun drama about 11 jury members absolutely certain that a young ethnic kid is guilty, and the one juror (Fonda) that has a reasonable doubt. Integrity, mob mentality, racism, and prejudice are all examined as juror number 8 gradually brings the other men over to his side, and Sidney Lumet, directing his first film, paces the film superbly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Sideways (2004, Directed by Alexander Payne) English 10

Starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh


Funny. Painful. Wonderful.

Two friends-Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Haden Church)- go on a road trip through wine country the week before the latter is to be married. Jack is determined to have a fling before he ties the knot and meek, self-loathing Miles goes along with it, the two meeting Stephanie (Oh) and Maya (Madsen). A hallmark of Alexander Payne’s films is the attention to character detail. In the case of this film, that can often be painful to watch, but ultimately Sideways transcends even its own mire to become something wonderful. The four principals are fantastic and Miles, for all of his faults, is a deeply sympathetic character.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-