Stanley Kubrick, a legendary filmmaker of great renown, has been at the helm of some of cinema’s most well-known and iconic pictures; who can forget Lolita (1962), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)? His resume reads like a greatest hits list, the multitude of his work being critically acclaimed and pioneering in their own right. Quite possibly my all-time favorite Kubrick flick, though, is the utter masterwork that is Paths of Glory. Set in WWI, the film’s focus involves the trial of three men accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy after a failed assault on the enemy German positions. Kirk Douglas, a personal favorite, plays the role of French Colonel Dax, a visceral portrayal of a man tasked with defending the accused soldiers, who all face death by firing squad. His character faces the daunting task of proving the unwavering character of his men, while facing the impossible brutality that was WWI.
The film itself is wrought with a tension befitting the backdrop of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, with themes of honor, duty, nationalistic pride, greed, betrayal, family, and idealism laced tightly within. The stark realism on display in the raw and gritty set pieces and the intricately placed details add to the brilliant performances of the actors. The grand scale of the set captured the sheer scope and intensity of the conflict, and the dramatic, solemn tension vividly captured the perilous plight of the condemned men. An outstanding achievement in film from a director and cast known for their remarkable performances.
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So if you’ve ever perused this blog, you’ll by now be made aware of the fact that I am a massive fan of foreign films, be they good or bad. I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences of American versus Foreign, and how the blending of the various cultures can often create an overall appealing movie. People are generally the same from continent to continent; the same gripes, hopes, dreams, and setbacks. But the subtle cultural differences seem to pop creatively on film. My latest pick is a bad boy out of South Korea titled “A Better Tomorrow“, which is a 2010 remake of the original 1986 Hong Kong classic that featured shoot ’em up action titan Yun-Fat Chow. In short, the film centers around two brothers, separated at a young age, that end up re-connecting years down the road. One brother chose the police force and the other followed a life of crime, so we can predict the inevitable clashes that arise with that; in addition, we have the usual double crossing bad guy that you end up hating by the end of the movie. While I’m generally opposed to remakes and ‘re-imaginings’, this is a solid version of a true gem.
Below, the horribly dubbed original:
Period films are often challenging ordeals. Many factors come into play when transferring a fact based story to the big screen, from costumes, to historical accuracy, to the ever-present “will anyone pay to watch this” dilemma. The American Civil War stands among the pivotal moments in our nation’s history, so it stands as no surprise that there have been a plethora of flicks based on that time period made over the years, from the infamous Birth of a Nation in 1915, the legendary Gone with the Wind, and 2003’s Gods and Generals. It was 1989 when a powerful gem named Glory was released into theaters, chronicling the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all black regiment mustered in 1863. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie featured some serious star power in Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and a host of recognizable faces. Incorporating a triumphant score by James Horner, the film succeeds in painting a multi-layered picture of the trials and hurdles that had to be overcome by black and white troops in the Union Army following the Emancipation Proclamation passed into law by President Lincoln. The film carefully creates a vivid portrait of the main characters, with the simmering tensions of the war serving as a commanding backdrop. I remember getting misty-eyed in the theaters when I saw this film as a kid, and the message that it conveys holds true today. Definitely worth a watch.
Harakiri is a slice of 1962 Japanese cinematic brilliance; the story of an old ronin (masterless samurai) who falls on hard times. Samurai were the masters of their craft, skilled in fighting techniques as well as the arts; during times of peace though, the fighting skills that earned them a living were useless. They were laid off, unemployed, and cast out into a world possessing a talent that was no longer needed. We are confronted with a challenged world at the moment, and the skills that we may have earned and acquired over the years could potentially be outdated, useless, or unneeded. Like the main character’s clear headed approach to this predicament, it’s important in times such as these to keep a clear, level outlook, and to be thankful for what we have and are able to do. So in many ways, this film hits home, and the overall message translates somewhat well.
In the film, lack of employment is a major factor and the driving force behind the motives and actions of the main character. He is a widowed former warrior who is forced to construct umbrellas as a means of supporting his daughter, son in law, and grandson. He is essentially destitute as a result of repeated attempts to make ends meet; the skills that he obtained through years of training are no longer of use, as there is no need for for them in a time of relative peace. In today’s world, I see a few loose similarities between having a degree and having warrior skills during peacetime; unemployment is so strikingly severe and widespread these days, that a degree provides no guarantee of employment. It didn’t matter how adept a samurai was back then, and it generally doesn’t matter how educated a job seeker is now. In the enclosed film trailer, the main character states, “This thing we call samurai honor is ultimately nothing but a facade”; is the tradition of collecting a university certificate indicating that one has completed a series of courses also a thin facade? Again, a very loose correlation, but still food for thought! Nonetheless, Harakiri is a very weighty, masterfully directed and acted film, more than worthy of your time.
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Have you ever seen a movie six thousand times, but only gotten half a whiff of the real depth of that movie after the most recent viewing? Case in point; I’ve seen Joe Versus the Volcano at least 30 times since 1990, but only recently came to understand the immense truths contained within it. The film was always on in the background, and I’d often half ass watched it without really seeing it for what it was. The realization and understanding came slowly; a little bit here, a little bit there, until one day I said “fuck it” and sat down and really watched the film again for the first time. I took it all in with a renewed sense of awareness, and a considerably open mind. I dissected it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d enjoyed the movie time and again previously, but I’d only just seen the surface of it. And in truth, I was sincerely blown away. For all of its cheese, the movie was an acutely effective, multi-layered glimpse into a man’s thirst for knowledge, meaning, purpose, and self discovery. Looking beyond some of the dated, clunky 90’s camp, it’s quite a deeply rendered portrait of the journey that we all endure in order to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish with our lives. It is a great little tale about overcoming obstacles, standing up for your beliefs, and never giving up. Who can’t relate to that, right? And if you’ve ever hated your job, the “I quit” scene below is a revelation.
In the vein of magnificent but severely under-recognized pictures that emerge from the bowels of Hollywood, here’s another iconic performance that was more than worthy of the industry’s top honor. A Soldier’s Story was based on a pulitzer prize winning play by Charles Fuller, about the investigation into the death of a black sergeant in the WWII era south. The film’s antagonist was Sergeant Waters, splendidly played by the late Adolph Caesar; he was in fact nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for the role, but lost out to Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields). At any rate, his hauntingly conflicted role of the gruff, abrasive Sergeant Waters is indeed one for the record books, in one of cinema’s finest masterpieces.
Ten bucks certainly can’t buy much these days; a measly movie ticket, maybe a six pack, a mess of cheap tacos, or a beer at a ball game. Oddly enough, ten dollars can sometimes finance your movie. Ok, maybe this film cost twelve bucks to make. Want to be a filmmaker? Grab your beefiest best friend, a ratty blonde weave, some fur covered fruit of the looms, a few dwarves for a little “Lord of the Rings” flavor, and get to filming. That’s exactly what the makers of The Quest for the Mighty Sword did. Vomit inducing dialog? Check. Cookie cutter, fifth grade school play quality, 80’s porn-esque backdrops? Check. Absolutely, incredibly, mindbendingly ridiculous storyline? You know it. A dude with a sword that fights robots? All i can say is wow. I truly don’t think anyone ever successfully pulled off a Conan meets Battlestar Galactica mix. This flick takes you down a dark alley that you’d normally avoid at all costs, lest you get stabbed unmercifully. The film follows a guy named Ator on his journey to free his people from a magically evil dwarf troll (like you really care what this movie is about), while battling mythical creatures along the way. That pretty much sums it up; the key to watching a flick like this is keeping an open mind, and trying really hard not to take it seriously. Surprisingly, director Joe d’Amato did. All jokes aside, it’s a hilariously fun ride, and props to d’Amato for crafting a truly memorable piece of work. Also, much respect to Eric Allan Kramer, who is one hell of a talented actor, and was just the man to connect the dots and hold this thing together. Needless to say, as a true film fan, this flick is a must watch purely for the sake of an hour and a half of utter fun and a good deal of belly laughs.
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Note – this movie scored a whopping 2/10 rating on IMDB.com.