Movie #122: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard, Vincent D-Onofrio, Adam Baldwin

Academy Award Nominations (1988):

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford

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Full Metal Jacket follows Private J.T. “Joker” Davis (Modine) from his Marine Corps training on Parris Island, South Carolina through his time as a combat correspondent for Stars and Stripes in Vietnam.

This is one of the definitive movies about the Vietnam War.  I think what sets Full Metal Jacket apart from other movies on the same topic is the grand scope of what life was like for a soldier in this war.  Other films, such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, launch straight into combat and don’t take the time to show the path these soldiers take to get to that war.

Full Metal Jacket is primarily known for roughly the first 45-50 minutes where Joker, along with Private Cowboy (Howard), Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (D’Onofrio) and the rest of the platoon take part in eight weeks of recruit training.  A large part of the training focuses on Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Emrey) and his attempt to whip Lawrence into fighting shape by any means necessary.

With his experience as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor during the Vietnam War, Emrey had originally been brought in as a consultant for that part of the film.  He quickly demonstrated a more competent and authentic portrayal compared to the actor who was originally playing the role.

Kubrick does a great job at going into the details and giving an authentic look at the emotional toll that intense training and circumstances of war has on each type of soldier.  It was especially hard for me to see the deterioration of Lawrence as he was repeatedly chastised both by Hartman and his platoon.  The nighttime beating he took was one of the roughest of the movie, and I really lost a lot of respect for Cowboy’s character at that point.

Though the actual war part of the film is less memorable, it is still very well done.  I’ve read that Animal Mother (Baldwin) represents what Lawrence would have been like had he made it to the war.  He has his one track mind and has truly become a killing machine.  Baldwin has said that he has come to appreciate the patience Kubrick had in making the best movie possible.

Though there is no perfect film, and liberties are taken when dealing with historical events, Full Metal Jacket humanizes and personalizes the Vietnam War in a way that sets it apart from other war movies.  I’ve seen this movie twice, and I don’t feel like I need to see it again.  It’s great, but it’s not one that needs to be seen over and over again.  I haven’t seen too many Kubrick movies, but this film confirms why he has the reputation as one of the great directors.  His time and attention to detail are very apparent.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Best Picture Winners. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Director: Hugh Hudson

Starring: Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Holm

Academy Awards (1982):

Best Picture: David Puttnam

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Colin Welland

Best Music, Original Score: Vangelis

Best Costume Design: Milena, Canonero

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Ian Holm

Best Director: Hugh Hudson

Best Film Editing: Terry Rawlings

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Based on a true story, Chariots of Fire is the internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning drama of two very different men who compete as runners in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell (Charleson), a serious Christian Scotsman, believes that he has to succeed as a testament to his undying religious faith. Harold Abrahams (Cross), is a Jewish Englishman who wants desperately to be accepted and prove to the world that Jews are not inferior. The film crosscuts between each man’s life as he trains for the competition, fueled by these very different desires. (From RottenTomatoes.com)

I’ve owned Chariots of Fire for many years, and it’s a bit surprising that I’m only now getting around to watching it. It was enjoyable to watch, and unique enough to keep me engaged.  It’s one of the few family-friendly movies I’ve watched for this project.

This film stays much closer to the source material than most films based on real events.  From what little research I’ve done, a lot of the characters portrayed, the various runners from each country and so on, are historically accurate.  A few people did not give consent for their names to be used, and a few of the background details, where they attended school, etc., were changed.

Perhaps because it was made in the early 1980s or the fact that it’s a 1920s period piece, Chariots of Fire has a more basic visual approach.  It also focuses on developing conflicted yet strong main characters and less on visual effects and a complex set of characters.

I have a feeling that if Chariots of Fire was released today, it wouldn’t get a second look from the Academy.  The film’s pace is slow and the acting is serviceable though not necessarily spectacular.

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Chariots of Fire‘s charm comes from the inner struggle that Abrahams and Liddell deal with throughout the film.  Abrahams is out to prove himself despite the fact that he is seen as inferior because he is a Jew.  He seems more passionate, though not as focused in direction and purpose as Liddell, even saying “I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”

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Liddell, on the other hand, has a very clear reason and purpose.  “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  His refusal to race on Sunday made headlines in its day.  The issue was resolved months before the trip to Paris in reality, however pushing back the discovery and changes added for the film’s dramatic effect.  Liddell is a good example of maintaining one’s beliefs in spite of the consequences.  I find that admirable regardless of what one’s convictions are.

chariotsianholmIan Holm earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Sam Mussabini in this movie.  He does well as the straight-forward no nonsense trainer.  I like straight-forward no nonsense characters.  They’re blunt and inadvertently add a little comic relief.  Mussabini is almost an 1920s version of Mickey Goldmill from Rocky.

I have mixed feelings about Chariots of Fire.  On the one hand, it did win best picture in a year that also had Raiders of the Lost Ark and On Golden Pond up for the nomination.  It’s a charming film with two protagonists, each with something to prove, however, there’s not much of a re-watchable factor for me.  The film’s score can be set to anything in slow motion and immediately make it awesome.  The score, which earned an Oscar for the film, is probably the biggest and most long-lasting cultural contribution.

This is a film to see once.

My Rating: 3/5 stars.

Best Picture Winners: Amadeus (1984)

From now until Oscar Sunday I will be reviewing Best Picture winners. Enjoy!

Director: Milos Forman

Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice, Simon Callow, and Jeffrey Jones

Academy Awards (1985):

Best Picture: Saul Zaentz

Best Actor in a Leading Role: F. Murray Abraham

Best Director: Milos Forman

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Peter Shaffer

Best Art Direction, Set Direction: Patrizia von Brandenstein, Karel Cerny

Best Costume Design: Theodor Pistek

Best Sound: Mark Berger, Thomas Scott, Todd Boekelheide, Christopher Newman

Best Makeup: Paul LeBlanc, Dick Smith

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Tom Hulce

Best Cinematography: Miroslav Ondricek

Best Film Editing: Nena Danevic, Michael Chandler

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After attempting suicide and being placed in an insane asylum, an elderly Antonio Salieri (Abraham) gives his confession to Father Vogler (Richard Frank), a young priest.  In it he tells of his relationship with God, starting as a young boy devoting himself to music that glorifies God in exchange for his own fame and immortality as a composer.  As time goes on, he gains notoriety and respect within the music world, rising to the role of court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (Jones) in Vienna.  His life drastically changes when a young, arrogant, vile Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Hulce) performs in Vienna and is subsequently fired by his patron Count Hieronymus von Colloredo (Nicholas Kepros) and stays in Vienna.

Mozart stays in Vienna, marries Constanze (Berridge) and establishes himself as a brilliant composer.  Salieri, upon reading some of Mozart’s music, realizes that Mozart’s music, and not his, is the voice of God.  He prays, “From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.”  Despite his envy of Mozart and hatred of God, Salieri can’t help but recognize Mozart’s genius.

Though ignoring historical accuracy, Amadeus tells the entertaining story of Mozart’s later life through the perspective of a fellow composer who was seriously threatened by him.  It is highly unlikely that Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart or caused his death.  In what little research I’ve done on the relationship between Salieri and Mozart, it seems that their dislike for one another was more on the level of two people competing for the same job.  It was written that Salieri was one of the few people to attend Mozart’s interment.

It’s interesting to me how a period film about one of the most famous classical composers had such critical success in the MTV-driven culture of the 1980s.  It speaks volumes to the attention to detail in every facet of movie making that the cast and crew gave in Amadeus.  I’m no expert on classical music, however, I do appreciate the amount of work and talent needed to make the music.  This film does a great job in celebrating Mozart while telling an entertaining story.  The music, costuming, acting, and cinematography all come together nicely.

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F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce are perfect in each of their roles.  They embody the characteristics of their characters in a way that works to perfection.

Hulce’s Mozart is more or less an 18th century rock star, knowing he’s a genius and flaunting it for all to see.  The audience can’t help but be annoyed and awed at the same time by this bratty child-like adult who writes flawless music.  As Salieri puts it, “Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.”  His struggle for acceptance and constantly butting heads with Viennese laws and ultimately pushing through because he knows his work is perfect speak to the transformational person Mozart was with music.

But then there’s that laugh.  That annoying, irritation, gouge-your-ears-out laugh.  It’s actually not that bad after the first few times, but still.

It was interesting to see how different Mozart was following his father’s death.  The build up with it was somewhat predictable: Mozart’s father didn’t approve of his sons actions, and despite his immaturity Mozart still wanted his father’s approval.  He sought for that approval after his father died, and ultimately it contributed to his deteriorating health and well-being, with a little help from Salieri of course.

Having primarily worked in theater and television, F. Murray Abraham was not very familiar with movie audiences.  His most significant role prior to Amadeus was Omar Suarez in Scarface the year before.  It’s difficult going from a relatively unknown to winning an Academy Award.  Where does one go professionally after a performance like Murray’s Salieri?  He’s had a number of noteworthy roles over the years, but the success Murray had with Amadeus limited him thereafter.

Salieri has to deal with fate, and that though he had the desire to make great music, he was not given the ability to create that music, and Mozart was given that talent instead.  Murray is simply brilliant in portraying this inward struggle.  His facial expressions as he read Mozart’s sheet music or secretly attending Mozart’s performances out of awe of his work build that struggle he deals with and the growing envy he has of Mozart and God.

It’s an interesting dynamic for Salieri as he describes to the priest how Mozart’s music remained popular, yet his own work has slowly deteriorated from common knowledge.  It seems a fitting punishment for his crime to watch his work fade into obscurity.

Though told through the perspective of one of Mozart’s rivals, Amadeus does a great job in celebrating Mozart’s music and life.    It’s a movie I can re-visit every 5 to 7 years and still thoroughly enjoy.  I’d recommend Amadeus for those who enjoy classical music, though I imagine most who do have seen it.

My Rating: 5/5 stars.

Movie #110: Back to the Future (1985)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells

Academy Awards (1986):

Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing: Charles L. Campbell, Robert R. Rutledge

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Music, Original Song: Chris Hayes, Johnny Colla, Huey Lewis for ‘The Power of Love’

Best Sound: Bill Varney, B. Tennyson Sebastian II, Robert Thirlwell, William B. Kaplan

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Robert Zemekis, Bob Gale

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 Teenager Marty McFly (Fox) inadvertently goes thirty years back in time and interrupts his mother and father’s first meeting.  To avoid fading out of existence he must convince his future parents that they’re meant to be together. (via 501 Must-See Movies:Revised and Updated Edition)

This is a nice mix of science fiction, comedy, action, and drama.  This mix was common for a lot of the major films of the 1980s.  Looking back, the casting for Back to the Future was spot on.  Michael J. Fox works wonderfully as Marty McFly.  Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty, would have probably done a serviceable job, but Fox’s comedic timing and chemistry with the rest of the cast really makes the character and by extension the movie.

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I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the key characters in this movie.  One of the things that really sticks out to me is how each character acts whether it’s 1955 or 1985.  It’s interesting to see how common American culture and history influences each era and   Christopher Lloyd does a great eccentric scientist, and he’s a much different character depending on what year it is.  Part of that was his performance, part of it was from great writing.

"Last night, Darth Vader came down from Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn't take Lorraine out, that he'd melt my brain."

“Last night, Darth Vader came down from Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn’t take Lorraine out, that he’d melt my brain.”

Ok, yes, this was more than a little creepy.

Ok, yes, this was more than a little creepy.

Though they all were around the same age, I enjoyed the contrast that Biff Tannen (Wilson), George McFly (Glover), and Lorraine (Thompson) has with Marty in 1985.  The makeup really gives each character, Thompson specifically, a noticeable difference between looking 17 and looking 47.

One interesting message in this film is the profound impact one moment can have on a person’s life.  George’s encounter with Biff towards the end of the movie completely changes the dynamic of their relationship.

Though I’ve seen this movie many times before, it’s always interesting to catch new things I hadn’t seen before.  I’ve realized and come to appreciate how the dialogue is intricately connected throughout the movie.   There are very few throwaway lines in Back to the Future.  It’s also interesting how a lot of the same lines and conversational sequences are used in 1955 as well as 1985 Hill Valley between Biff, George, and Marty.

Back to the Future is fun.  It combines a funny, intelligent script with great on-screen chemistry between the primary actors and actresses.  It’s fascinating to look back and think that virtually every major studio passed on this movie and Universal Studios green lit this film after Robert Zemeckis directed Romancing the Stone.

Also, since they travel to 2015 in Back to the Future Part 2, here are a few reminders.

People dress like this...

People dress like this…

and drive cars like this.

and drive cars like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Movie #107: Witness (1985)

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Danny Glover

Academy Awards (1986):

Best Film Editing: Thom Noble

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: William Kelley, Pamela Wallace, Earl W. Wallace

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Harrison Ford

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration: Stan Jolley, John H. Anderson

Best Cinematography: John Seale

Best Director: Peter Weir

Best Music, Original Score: Maurice Jarre

Best Picture: Edward S. Feldman

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While waiting at the train station, Samuel Lapp (Haas), a young Amish boy, witnesses the murder of an undercover cop.  He and his mother, recently widowed Rachel (McGillis), go into hiding in the Amish community with hard-bitten cop John Book (Ford).  Worlds collide as Detective McFee (Glover), one of the killers, and Book’s superior Schaeffer (Sommer) attempt to kill the only witness and in doing so introduce a world of violence into an otherwise peaceful community.

Witness was interesting to watch for a few reasons.  The thriller elements of this film worked well.  The dramatic elements weren’t over-the-top, and as such the story flowed naturally.  There is a good balance of drama, romance, and action.  None of them necessarily dominated the others.

It was also interesting as a case study in the drastically contrasting cultures of the Amish and then ‘English,’ the outside world.  Though Book is doing a good thing in protecting Samuel and Rachel, he unintentionally brings violence and murder into the Amish community.

Witness was a launching point for a number of big name actors and actresses.  Harrison Ford had been well established by 1985, but this performance really showcased him as a serious actor, and he gives one of his better performances in my opinion.  Kelly McGillis has a good balance and demonstrated she could play a strong yet conflicted character.  Danny Glover had a few notable roles prior to this movie.  Viggo Mortensen also has a minor part in the film.

The chemistry between Ford and McGillis in this film was interesting to watch.  As they slowly progressed in their like of one another, you could see Rachel’s inner struggle as she is torn between her upbringing and her desire.  The love story between them doesn’t feel forced, and though love stories are common in films, this one is done well enough that it’s not just your run-of-the-mill love story that’s thrown in.

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Witness combines a number of dramatic, thriller, and romantic elements to make for a well-rounded and engaging movie.  It was interesting to watch, and I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie #104: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

As I’m sure you’re well aware, Robin Williams died Monday at the age of 63.  He is certainly a one-of-a-kind actor and a comedic genius.  Dead Poet’s Society is simply brilliant in large part because of Williams’ performance, and it’s one of my favorite movies.  Though he’s primarily a comedic actor, he balances that out with genuine dramatic performances.  I’ve been more surprised at how many stories are now coming out about how caring of a person he was.  It makes me appreciate him even more knowing how he lifted other people’s spirits and didn’t do it for the attention or accolades.  He will be missed.

Director: Barry Levinson

Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran, J.T. Walsh, Robert Wuhl, and Bruno Kirby

Academy Award Nominations (1988):

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Robin Williams

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“What’s the demilitarized zone? It sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz “Oh no don’t go in there!” “Ohhh wee ohh. Ho Chi Minh.” “Oh look you’ve landed in Saigon. You’re amongst the little people now.” “We represent the ARVN army, the ARVN army. Oh no! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail!”

“An unorthodox and irreverent DJ begins to shake up things when he is assigned to the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam.” from IMDB.com

Good Morning, Vietnam, a film loosely based on DJ Adrian Cronauer, was originally pitched by Cronauer in 1979 as a TV series.  M*A*S*H*, another war-based comedy, was one of the highest rated shows at the time, but Cronauer’s show was rejected.  Eight years and probably a few rewrites later, we got Good Morning, Vietnam.  Though it’s considered a war movie, I think of it more as a comedy set during a war.

Though primarily a comedy, this film was also one of the first to really humanize the Vietnamese on the big screen.  As Adrian pursues a relationship with a local Vietnamese girl, and befriends her brother in the process, there’s a tension and fine line of figuring out who is friend and who is foe.  The Vietnam War is unique for America because it was the first war where the enemy could have been anyone.  In prior conventional wars, there would be one army on one side and the other on the other side and they’d know who the enemy is.  With Vietnam, a kid could set a basket down that has a bomb in it.  Including Adrian’s interactions with the locals adds depth and makes this movie about more than just Williams’ comedic performance.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams’ comedy really makes this film enjoyable.  Most of his radio broadcasts in the film were improvised and frankly, Williams is the only person who could have pulled that off.  This film really showcases his comedic talents.  He balances the comedy out with the more dramatic scenes, though, and it makes his performance so much better.  He can switch the emotions seamlessly and does both sides of the character in a believable, genuine way.

good-morning-vietnam-1987-12-gThere is a great supporting cast in Good Morning, Vietnam.  A young Forest Whitaker holds his own as his character Edward Garlick assists Adrian.  Robert Wuhl, who I usually find insufferable, was actually pretty good in this movie.  He didn’t get on my nerves.

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J.T. Walsh and Bruno Kirby make great adversaries to Adrian.   Kirby’s Lt. Steven Hauk, thinks he’s funny but has horrible comedic timing.  It’s so bad that it’s great when he’s trying to be funny.  Walsh just has that look and feel of the straight-laced, by-the-book hard head.  Dickerson gets his comeuppance in the end though.

Williams lost the Academy Award for Best Actor to Michael Douglas.  That’s a shame.

Good morning ,Vietnam1988Barry LevinsonRobin Williams

I enjoyed Good Morning, Vietnam.  It has a lot of comedy and a good balance of drama and tension.  Robin Williams makes this film great with his brilliant improvisational abilities and helped bring out a lighter side to the Vietnam War.  He is complemented by a great supporting cast, but ultimately Williams is the star.  I’d definitely recommend seeing this one, it’s simply one of Williams’ best.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #103: Airplane! (1980)

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Starring: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Lorna Patterson

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Ted Striker (Hays) has an extreme fear of flying following his experience as a fighter pilot.  When his girlfriend Elaine (Hagerty), a flight attendant, dumps him, he follows her onto her next flight in hopes of winning her back.  Unfortunately, the fish served on the flight poisons most of the crew and many of the passengers and Striker must land the plane.  Assisted by Dr. Rumack (Neilsen), a fellow passenger, ground-controller McCroskey (Bridges) and Kramer (Stack), his commanding officer during the war, Striker is able to land the plane and save everyone.

Following a string of successful disaster movies in the 1970s, the genre had reached a point where there were very few stories left to be told.  Parodying disaster movies seemed like the next logical step, and Airplane! does a great job of poking fun at every cliché imaginable.  Additionally, it gave rise to the parody film.  Though these types of films have completely sucked for the last decade (thank you Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer), there was a time when spoof movies were actually worth watching.

airplanehaysRobert Hays does great at Ted Striker.  It’s unfortunate that he really hasn’t been in anything else that’s noteworthy, though he was in Sharknado 2:The Second One.  As with many of the performances in Airplane!, he acts completely normal throughout and the wild and crazy dialogue he has is hilarious and is funnier because he says things in a matter-of-fact way.

airplaneneilsen This film also marked a transition in Leslie Neilsen’s acting career.  He would go on to do The Naked Gun trilogy, among many others.  He became synonymous with this type of movie, and I think his acting is spot on.  In fact, the script and matter-of-fact attitude that many of the supporting cast had throughout the film made for some of the biggest laughs.  Specifically, when someone would ask, “What is that?” the reply would be an explanation having nothing to do with the story, something the person would point out at the end of the explanation.

Greatest End Credits scene. "Well, I'll give him another twenty minutes, but that's it!"

Greatest End Credits scene. “Well, I’ll give him another twenty minutes, but that’s it!”

Airplane! is the type of film that’s funny every time you watch it.  The way the jokes blend in with the story seamlessly adds to the hilarity of this movie.  Airplane! was followed up with numerous spoof movies such as The Naked Gun and Hot Shots! series.  Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker do a great job of capturing the essence of the disaster movie and poking fun at it.  Leslie Neilsen, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack provide strong supporting performances along with Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty.  This is definitely a film I’d recommend seeing at least once.  This is the way a spoof movie should be done.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.