East Meets West

Heaven & Earth details the seldom talked about Vietnamese perspective of the Vietnam war. After closely following the war in Platoon and its life changing aftermath in Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven & Earth was the final piece of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war trilogy. Although it’s not as acclaimed or talked about half as much as the first two. I guarantee I’d probably never have seen it if not for the trilogy.

Heaven & Earth is based on Le Ly Hayslip’s personal experience during the Vietnam war. Painting a picture of how much Vietnamese villagers dealt with their place in the middle of conflict. Even dealing with the brutality of the Viet Cong before Americans even entered the war. The late Hiep Thi Le was chosen among many Vietnamese actresses. Although she had no acting experience, she’s natural enough to carry the film as Le Ly. Hiep’s performance, Stone’s filming techniques (especially in the gorgeous Vietnam fields), and less traumatizing aspects of the war itself are about all I got out of Heaven & Earth.

Le Ly’s narration dominates too much of the film. To the point important details of her life don’t have time to set in. Same with the out of place black & white flashbacks. Le Ly goes through a lot of personal trauma before meeting her American soldier husband. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t appear until about an hour in. Le Ly becomes more Americanized, but everyone in Vietnam speaks English, so it’s not a big change. It’s depressing, but most of her American life was changed to increase tragedy. Heaven & Earth is a good perspective change that should’ve had a better presentation.

3. Heaven and Earth

Le Ly sits with Steve

Wounded Warrior

Born on the Fourth of July isn’t an easy film to discuss, but I’ll try my best to stay impartial. Happy 4th of July everyone! Born on the Fourth of July is the second film in what would turn out to be Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war trilogy. The only similarity is Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Since Stone has experience as a Vietnam veteran, he became the top choice to direct Ron Kovic’s autobiography. Kovic was an all-American Catholic youth so patriotic he was born on the 4th of July. So he severed by enlisting in the Vietnam war.

Reality sets in when a misfire results in the loss of innocent villagers and the accidental shooting of one of his fellow soldiers. The loss of his legs is what changes him forever. Maintaining his patriotism, but slowly losing faith when people turn their back on him. When fleeing to Mexico doesn’t work, Kovic returns to speak out against the war. Compared to Platoon, there’s actually very little war featured in the 2 hour & 25 minute movie. There’s just enough to take in the harshness of the war from someone else’s perspective.

Born on the Fourth of July was a major breakthrough for Tom Cruise. Earning him his first Oscar nomination and first chance in a dramatic leading role. Since before he was just the young heartthrob type. Cruise takes Kovic to every extreme he experienced. Spending nearly the entire movie in a wheelchair. Suffering through his post-war experience with genuine realism. It helped that the real Rob Kovic co-wrote the script. I don’t agree with everything, but Born on the Fourth of July is just another reminder of the folly of the Vietnam war.

2. Born on the Fourth of July

Ron Kovic protests the war

Loss of Innocence

Platoon is the most hellish depiction of the Vietnam war I’ve seen up to this point. Oliver Stone was the first war veteran to direct a Vietnam film. Giving Platoon a sense of realism that’s difficult to replicate. It’s the second Vietnam film to win Best Picture after The Deer Hunter. Stone made Platoon to counter film’s that glorified the war as anything other than a horrific war that should never have been fought. Platoon is far from the laugh riot The Naked Gun makes it out to be.

It follows a platoon of soldiers at the height of the Vietnam War. The opening Bible quote represents the theme of youth and the unfortunate loss of innocence. The ensemble cast is full of familiar faces that I was seeing in a whole new light. I didn’t even realise Johnny Depp had a bit part. This is easily the most serious role I’d seen Charlie Sheen in. He plays a young volunteer regretting his decision to enlist, but trying his best to maintain his humanity. Willem Dafoe plays the most moral commanding officer in a break out Oscar nominated performance. He’s the one who strikes the iconic pose that best represents the devastation of the war.

His exact opposite is Tom Berenger as an experienced soldier driven to an insanity that’s made him a murderous monster. Keith David and Forest Whitaker are moral soldiers, but most of their platoon is driven mad as well. The Viet Cong attack without warning, yet they aren’t the biggest threat that they face. The true enemy is within. Which is why the village scene is so difficult to get through. Platoon doesn’t hold back in depicting the harsh reality and moral loss of the Vietnam war.

1. Platoon

Sgt. Elias struggles to live

What Have I Done?

The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic war film best remembered for 2 reasons. One is for featuring one of the riskiest practical effects in movie history. The other is for featuring the famous war march whistle. A whistle people would sooner think originated from The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t seen many Best Picture winners from the 50’s, but I knew I needed to see it for these reasons alone. The film is based on a book of a similar name, which in turn was loosely based on actually events.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is set in World War II. British POWs are tasked by the Japanese to build a bridge over the Kwai river. After decades of only knowing Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan, I finally saw his Best Actor winning performance as Colonel Nicholson. A stubborn and duty bound British officer who refuses to allow his officers to work. It puts him at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito. Although it was the only Oscar they didn’t win, Sessue Hayakawa is just as engrossing in a way that makes you see things from both sides.

When an agreement is made, Nicholson seems to lose sight of which side he’s on. Taking pride in the bridge his men built. Meanwhile, William Holden’s Major Shears is the only serviceman to escape. Except he’s brought back on a mission he doesn’t believe in, to blow up the bridge. With the help of local women, charges are set, and the once in a lifetime blast goes off. The tension is great and the explosion is well worth nearly 3 hours. With so many grey areas, The Bridge on the River Kwai makes it clear that war is simply madness.

Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins in Bridge on the River Kwai (1)

The bridge on the river Kwai

Save the Rebellion, Save the Dream

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was made for the sole purpose of fixing one of the biggest plot holes in Star Wars history. After Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, they made it clear that it would be one of their major franchises. That didn’t fully sink in until after Rogue One entered serious production. Since Star Wars is an overarching saga, I had no idea what to think about anthology films. It was strange seeing 2 Star Wars movies in a row, but Disney was sure to make Rogue One as different as possible. Without losing important hallmarks of the franchise. Notable changes include a lack of opening crawl, no John Williams score, cutting without wacky screen wipes, and a lapse of time. Of course “A Star Wars Story” was tacked on so as to not confuse casual moviegoers.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the third highest grossing movie of all time, so Rogue One was worthy of anticipation before the next “Episode” came out. Rogue One is the only Star Wars movie based on an opening crawl. Events are meant to match up to the one’s preceding A New Hope. The idea to answer the question of how the Death Star plans were stolen is as old as the unproduced TV series Star Wars: Underworld. It was revived as Rogue One and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards was chosen to direct. Despite having no involvement whatsoever, George Lucas gave the film his seal of approval. SPOILER ALERT! (for non-fans mostly)…

23. Rogue One

Jyn and company prepare to steal the Death Star plans

Rogue One thankfully begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” after the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo, but it just feels hollow without an opening crawl. Instead all the backstory is shown in the first ever extended flashback sequence in Star Wars. Frequent villainous actor Mads Mikkelsen plays former Imperial scientist Galen Erso. The Empire tracks him down to the vacant planet Lah’mu. Equally frequent villainous actor Ben Mendelsohn is the never before seen Imperial weapons developer Commander Krennic. Erso is forcefully taken to work on the Death Star. His wife is killed, but his daughter Jyn escapes. Leaving Saw Gerrera to raise her. Rogue One is the first Star Wars movie to directly reference something from the extended universe. Saw Gerrera actually first appeared in The Clone Wars as a young war rebel who suffered a great lose in the name of victory. Now he’s a radicalized Rebel extremist. Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor, but I’m not sure what he’s trying to do. Gerrera’s horse voice, cybernetic replacements, and extreme methods all seem very random.

15 years later, Jyn Erso grows into Felicity Jones. The second beautiful British brunette heroine in a row. Jyn is rebellious, wants to find her father, and that’s about all we learn about her. Meanwhile on several less than memorable planets in the galaxy, defected Empire cargo pilot Bodhi Rook gets a hologram from Galen, Rebel spy Cassian Andor learns that the completion of the Death Star is imminent, and he rescues Jyn with his large reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO. He may be just another droid with a big personality, but Alan Tudyk is genuinely funny as K-2SO. Thankfully Rogue One isn’t reliant on humor. Jyn is brought to the Rebel Alliance on Yavin 4. Despite Disney wanting to distance themselves from the prequels as much as possible, I was pleased to see Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly reprise their Revenge of the Sith roles as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma respectively. The interesting thing about O’Reilly is that she only appeared in a deleted scene beforehand. Mothma instructs Jyn to join the Rebellion in order to find her father. Unaware Cassian is there to take him out. Diego Luna plays Cassian as a morally ambiguous Han Solo clone.

Jyn, Cassian, and K2 are sent to find Gerrera on Jedha (yet another desert planet). They discover a city where kyber crystals are being mined for the Death Star. Hardcore Star Wars fans will recognize them as the primary power source for lightsabers. While there, the Rebels make allies with heavy blaster mercenary Baze Malbus and blind maybe Jedi Guardian of the Whills Chirrut Îmwe. They’re cool looking characters, but I can’t remember their names to save my life. When they meet Bodhi in Gerrera’s prison, Galen’s message reveals he’s built a hidden weakness into the Death Star. So the Death Star being easily blown up by a simple blast from a torpedo isn’t just serious oversight. Meanwhile on the Death Star, Krennic discusses a test fire with a familiar face. Obviously it doesn’t make sense for Grand Moff Tarkin not to appear, but I don’t think anyone was expecting this. The late Peter Cushing is brought back from the dead with unsettling CGI reconstruction. By using old movies as reference. This is the only time I’d say that technology goes too far. A low power shot is fired at Jeddah where the Rebels escape, but Gerrara is killed in the process.

Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Luna all make for an ethnically diverse band of mostly one dimensional characters. With the message lost, Jyn and the Rebels instead locate Galen on the foggy planet Eadu. It doesn’t amount to much since Galen is killed by Rebel bombers after revealing his betrayal to Krennic. Krennic is then sent to Darth Vader’s castle on a planet that’s obviously Mustafar. Vader’s presence is indescribable, but you can hear the age in James Earl Jones’ voice. Plus the random scene is only included to show off Vader’s signature Force choking. Rogue One really picks up when Jyn and the rest of her Rebel team go rogue by hijacking an Imperial ship. Calling themselves “Rogue One,” they finally attempt to steal the plans from the Empire. They can be found on the beach planet Scarif in an Imperial compound’s crane operated archives. Jyn, Cassian, and K2 disguise themselves as Imperials in order to find the plans. Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi hold off AT-AT’s and attempt to send out a transmission.

The Rebels learn about their plan and everyone takes an X-Wing for back up. It just wouldn’t be Star Wars without a cameo from R2-D2 and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Rebels fans will also recognize the name Hera Syndulla. It’s not as noticable, but important Rebel pilots are also digitally recreated. While the Mon Calamari are key to the battle as well. Since this is a prequel, don’t expect any of the new rogues to survive. The plans are successfully transmitted, but each hero dies one by one until the Death Star takes out everyone else. Leading to the greatest Star Wars scene Disney has ever produced. Darth Vader ignites his lightsaber and takes out a hallway full of terrified Rebels. That scene alone proves Vader will always be the most intimidating force in the galaxy and is well worth the price of admission. Now that requires a PG-13 rating. The lead up to A New Hope matches perfectly when Captain Antilles hands the plans over to a hopeful Princess Leia. Her CGI recreation is so brief that you barely notice if it’s convincing or not.

Rogue One went to greater lengths in recreating the original trilogy. Blasters, Stormtrooper armor, and specific costumes were even used from the original film. The callbacks are occasionally on the nose (like showing the cantina thugs), but it’s just nice to see familiar aliens and droids for a change. Michael Giacchino is no John Williams, but his score at least captures its war theme. Although Gareth Edwards was a fine director, it’s obvious from the trailers that a lot was re-shot. Specifically the omission of the cheesy line “I rebel.” Luckily Disney maintained the dark tone of a story where everyone dies. I just wish the rest the movie wasn’t so drab and colorless. Rogue One takes time to get to the action, but when it does, you’ll find it’s a surprisingly entertaining way to build on the Star Wars mythos. “May the Force be with you.”

24. Rogue One

Darth Vader confronts Krennic

Sex on the Beach

From Here to Eternity is the Best Picture winner that brought us the iconic moment of a man and woman kissing on a beach. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I thought I’d talk about one of the most recognized scenes in romantic movie history. Since the passionate water soaked kiss was very racy for the time. To the point that most people don’t even know what the rest of the movie is about. How surprised I was to learn that it’s a war picture. Not just that, it’s also a far more competently made movie about Pearl Harbor. The beach kiss is only a small piece of the puzzle.

From Here to Eternity actually follows a couple of World War II soldiers and their love lives. Burt Lancaster is Warden, a Sergeant who begins a scandalous affair with his commanding officer’s wife Karen played by Deborah Kerr. They fool around in secret (including kissing on a beach), but the Captain is a cheating jerk. He insistently torments Private Prewitt played by Montgomery Clift. He’s a former boogie woogie bugle boy that refuses to box in the Captain’s team.

The only thing keeping Prewitt happy is the love of beautiful club attendant Lorene and often drunk friend Angelo played by Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra respectively. Both of whom won Oscars for their performances. Ol’ Blue Eyes may or may not have gotten the role through mob connections. Along with those wins, the film was nominated in every acting category with 13 nominations overall (and 8 wins). Proving From Here to Eternity is more than just a steamy kiss on the beach.

FHTE

Warden and Karen kiss on a beach

I Want My Scalps

Inglourious Basterds gave Quentin Tarantino a good excuse to kill nazis. With what became his most critically acclaimed film since Pulp Fiction. At least in terms of awards attention. After the more experimental Death Proof, the next Tarantino flick was something so aesthetically different then anything he’s done up to this point. I was certainly thrown off by Inglourious Basterds being a period war picture. Half the time it feels like a foreign film. But all the classic Tarantinoisms are there. From lengthy casual conversations to era appropriate pop culture references. Even a few foot shots make it in.

The profane (possibly misspelled) Inglourious Basterds refers to a group of manly Jewish-American nazi hunting soldiers. Brad Pitt plays their leader Lt. Aldo Raine, who wants nothing more than to brutalise every last nazi and take their scalps. Horror director Eli Roth is one of his top soldiers. On the English side is Michael Fassbender as an undercover Lt, Diane Kruger as undercover German actress Bridget von Hammersmark, and an out of nowhere Mike Myers cameo.

But the real star of the film is Christoph Waltz as the charming yet despicable SS Colonel Hans Landa. Waltz was so magnetic that he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Landa is a “Jew hunter” capable of seeing through deception, but his biggest mistake was sparing one of their lives after a disturbing house raid. That lone survivor is French Jewish theater owner Shosanna Dreyfus. She’s not the biggest name, but Mélanie Laurent is still the person you want to follow the most.

With all the pieces in place, the Basterds and Dreyfus both simultaneously plot to end World War II. After nazis plan to premiere a propaganda film at Shosanna’s theater. History skews completely when the theater is burned to the ground and all the top nazis, including Hitler himself, are viciously killed in a sea of blood & fire. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t satisfying. There’s still plenty of black comedy, but a Best Picture nomination proved Inglourious Basterds was a more sophisticated step in the right direction for Tarantino.

6. Inglorious Basterds

Colonel Hans Landa negotiates

Land, Air, Sea

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s most serious attempt at an Oscar to date. Since the most critically acclaimed directors managed to win by switching to historical drama. Dunkirk very accurately details the events of 1940 in Dunkirk, France during World War II. When allied troops found themselves surrounded by Nazi forces. Because Christopher Nolan’s films draw crowds, it was a perfect opportunity to teach them history. Since I don’t recall learning about the event in social studies. Like almost every Nolan project, Dunkirk is nonlinear. Focusing on many sides of the battle.

  1. The Mole (one week) – Taking place primarily on land, it follows a group of British soldiers attempting to make their way towards the beaches while avoiding enemy fire. You feel every bit of fear and bravery even with long absences of dialogue. Kenneth Branagh is the most high profile actor in the segment, but One Direction’s Harry Styles is the one who took most people by surprise.
  2. The Sea (one day) – Taking place on the ocean, it follows a civilian’s attempt to help evacuate the stranded soldiers. It offers the film’s most human moments. As Nolan’s favorite Cillian Murphy plays a rescued soldier with PTSD. Mark Rylance is the boat captain since he recently won an Oscar.
  3. The Air (one hour) – Taking place in the sky, it follows the pilots who shot down enemy planes. Tom Hardy’s character is the one who delivers the final blow at his own expense. In a role that once again requires him to cover his face.

In conclusion, Dunkirk has a winning score, sharp direction, massive cinematography, and an emphasis on actions over dialogue. Yet it didn’t win Best Picture or Director. I’m usually not one to watch war movies. So I had trouble following Dunkirk from time to time. When I really stop to analyze it though, I see all the effort that was put into it. All the much needed renewed admiration that soldiers got after its release. Over 300,000 brave men were evacuated from Dunkirk. For that, I will always salute.

Dunkirk

Soldiers look in horror

The First Best Picture Winner

Wings is the first film to win Best Picture. Being a film buff, I’ve known this fact for many years. Only now seeing the legendary winner for the first time. Since I don’t normally gravitate towards silent films. The very first Academy Awards presentation was held in the year 1927. When they were still fine-tuning things. Not many people know why the ceremony was created. Most people assume the sole reason was to honor the best in cinema, but there’s a slightly less glamorous reason. The other reason was to essentially bribe filmmakers with a trophy provided they continue to make high quality films. Whatever the reason, Wings set the standard for decades to come. Wings tells the story of two young men who enlist in the Air Force during World War I. Jack and David go through training and eventually experience combat. With highly impressive aerial plane stunts for the time. The real star of the movie though, is “it” girl Clara Bow. She was the biggest sex symbol of the roaring 20’s. Her role as Mary, a woman in love with Jack who helps in the war, is the most unforgettable. Wings is full of firsts. It’s the first and only film of the silent era to win Best Picture. It was the first (but definitely not the last) war film to win an Oscar. Being a Pre-Code Hollywood film, it does feature an early nude scene. It might even surprise you to know that it features the very first same-sex kiss in any movie. Luckily it was recovered and fully restored. Though some people might have a hard time finding it. Wings is nearly a century old, but it still managed to elicit strong emotions  from me and most importantly, reminded me why I love cinema.

27-28-wings

Mary (center) comes between Jack (left) and David (right)

What is Your Major Malfunction?!

Full Metal Jacket features some of Stanley Kubrick’s best and most poignant commentary. It’s one of many Vietnam War movies to depict the war for the harsh reality that it was. I know that anytime I look at history, Vietnam always seemed like the most unnecessary war America has ever fought. It certainly affected soldiers a great deal mentally. Full Metal Jacket takes place on an island where Marines experience basic training. This is where the late great R. Lee Ermey comes in. Gny. Sgt. Hartman is easily the most iconic movie drill instructor of all time. From his opening monologue to his final insult, he truly shines brighter than any other character in the movie. Of course it helps that Gunny was a real life Marine who improvised a majority of his lines. Which is saying something since Kubrick almost never allowed improvisation. The second most memorable character is Private Pyle. Played by a heavier Vincent D’Onofrio. His character is the most tragic and at times sympathetic. Since he can’t do anything right and gets picked on the most. Full Metal Jacket very much feels like two seperate movies. The first half with boot camp is more well remembered than the part with the actual war. Not that there aren’t still parts of it that stand out. I didn’t even realize this was the movie that features the line “me so horny, me love you long time.” It portrays the Vietnam War for the horrific nightmare that it was. By depicting the soldiers as conflicted killing machines. Full Metal Jacket will leave you with mixed emotions, but a very clear message.

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Gny. Sgt. Hartman riles up his troops