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

(10-Masterpiece)

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-

(614)

The Great Wall (2017, Directed by Zhang Yimou) English 4

Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe

Image result for the great wall

(4-Bad Movie)

Silly. Unspectacular. Unsatisfying.

Mercenaries, William (Damon) and Pero (Pascal), on a quest for black powder in China during the 11th century are captured by a group of elite Chinese warriors. While imprisoned, they get wrapped up in their captors’ fight against a race of mythical creatures. One of China’s most expensive productions, I was surprised and disappointed to find the CGI especially bad. Of course, the plot is silly, the characters are thin, and the dialogue stilted, but I thought they could have at least stepped up on the visuals. It’s actually very bad all around, and I might even be going too easy on it, since, for some reason, it was still rather entertaining. However, with the level of talent involved in this picture (Zhang Yimou, Edward Zwick, Matt Damon for example), I can’t understand why it falls so flat. Yimou made a much better film about the Great Wall in 2002’s Hero.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(602)

Operation Petticoat (1959, Directed by Blake Edwards ) English 7

Starring Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Arthur O’Connell, Dick Sargent, Dina Merrill, Joan O’Brien

(7-Very Good Film)

Vibrant. Undemanding. Comical.

Saddled with a crew of stranded army nurses, Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) leads a group of sailors aboard the USS Sea Tiger during World War II. That includes new shipmate Lieutenant Nick Holden (Curtis), whose habits as a con artist prove useful in getting their ship to safety. Old Hollywood fantasy in a lot of ways (the army nurses are gorgeous, the officers handsome), but it’s also very knowing in other ways (the way the enlisted men react to the new officer for example). Plus, it’s a well-crafted, entertaining spectacle.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(572)

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

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

(10-Masterpiece)

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-

(568)

The Last Samurai (2003, Directed by Edward Zwick) English 9

Starring Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe,  Timothy Spall, Tony Goldwyn, Koyuki, Hiroyuki Sanada, Billy Connolly

(9-Great Film)

Escapist. Idealistic. Romantic.

The Last Samurai is a complete fantasy. Silly wish fulfillment, cultural appropriation aside, I love this film. Tom Cruise, a traumatized, boozing veteran of the American Indian War, becomes a mercenary hired to train Japan’s Imperial Army. After a disastrous battle ends with him being taken hostage by a rebel band of samurai, he slowly grows to love and appreciate the samurai way of life. This formula has been recycled a number of times: The Last of the Mohicans, Dances With Wolves, Avatar, Pocahontas. I contend that this Tom Cruise vehicle is the best of them. It romanticizes everything well past realism, but as make-believe, it’s wonderful and finely crafted.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(556)

The Deer Hunter (1978, Directed by Michael Cimino) English 8

Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep

Image result for the deer hunter

(8-Exceptional Film)

Intense. Intimate. Epic.

The lives of working-class buddies in a small Pennsylvania town are interrupted when three from the group head to Vietnam with the Army. There, Mike (the most serious of the group), Nick, and Steven are forced into a game of Russian Roulette that scars them well after they manage to escape. Mike might be De Niro’s best performance and most compelling character (and yes, I have seen Raging Bull). Walken and Streep with the two key supporting roles also stand out. My problems with the film have been noted by others, and mainly concern its lack of complexity. It wears its emotions on its sleeve. The other side, the Northern Vietnamese, are foreign and brutal. Rather than condemn this aspect as racist, I simply saw it as an extension of the film’s simple-mindedness. This being said, the three-hour long epic was engaging and moving. The crap-shoot chance involved in the Russian roulette sequences plus the acting makes for two memorably brutal and sad scenes. I also admired the odd three distinct act structure that makes the film feel epic and not drag. The scenes between De Niro and Streep are some of the best in the movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(477)

The Wind and The Lion (1975, Directed by John Milius) English 6

Starring Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston

Image result for the wind and the lion

(6-Good Film)

Handsome. Appealing. Muddled.

An American widow and her two children are kidnapped and held for ransom by a brigand named Raisuli (Connery) in early 20th century Morocco. President Teddy Roosevelt (Keith) gets involved in saving the widow, just as she begins to form some respect for her captor. Okay, so Sean Connery is playing a Muslim leader. Right away, that’s pretty ridiculous. The crazy thing is that, though he makes no discernible effort to be convincing as a Berber, he’s still pretty compelling in this role. My main problem with the film is that at 2 hours (so not a short film), it still felt like it wanted to be much longer. Splitting time between President Roosevelt and Raisuli with the American family didn’t allow enough time with either. I did love the old-fashioned spirit of the movie; soaring score, epic battle scenes, romanticized characters. Overall, it’s a good film, no more.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(473)