Here’s Johnny! (The Shining)

This Thanksgiving break I decided to sit down and watch the not so-wholesome family film, The Shining(1980), directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring one of my favorite actors Jack Nicholson. While I had seen the film before ages ago, I wanted to re-watch the film to see if I would have a greater appreciation for the film and not be afflicted with nightmares from the eerie setting of the infamous haunted hotel that is of course built on top of none other than Native American burial ground.

The Shining was Kubrick’s only real dive into the horror genre, but of course like all of Kubrick films, there is strong psychological component to the film. Even more so when the film is considered to be in the “psychological horror” genre. In the film, what in my opinion adds to the suspense and intensity of the film, is the slow paced nature of the film and subtle corruption of the characters. Especially Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) as he resorts back to his old habits of drinking and becomes influenced by the supernatural entities of the hotel.

The filming techniques used in the film, such as when the camera is at the same height level as Danny, Jack’s son, and when we see what Danny is seeing through via his telepathic hallucinations. These scenes truly immerse the viewer into the events unfolding in the hotel. One scene in particular, the famous “Hallway Scene” managed to instill a strong sense of claustrophobia and sensation of entrapment as I watched Danny riding through the halls of the hotel on his tricycle as he encounters visions of the past.

Hallway Scene

Jack Nicholson of doesn’t fail to deliver an excellent performance of a truly horrifying psychotic husband. As the film progresses and Jack falls deeper and deeper into the clutches of insanity, his outbursts to his wife Wendy escalate from irritation and annoyance when he  is interrupted by her when he is writing, to violent outbursts with clear murderous intent, such as the iconic baseball bat scene on the stairs, and of course, when Jack breaks down the bathroom door with an axe.

Jack Writing Outburst

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

Overall if you haven’t seen The Shining I highly recommend it. Watching the film is quite an experience and is by far one of my favorite psychological horror films. By the end though, you will be left that familiar feeling of having just gotten off a mental roller coaster, that you  get after having watched a Kubrick film.

 

Good Morning Vietnam!

Good Morning Vietnam! (1987) follows the story of Adrian Cronauer (Rob Williams), a Radio DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service of the United States in Saigon, Vietnam in 1965. Cronauer’s sole job is to “send the troops to work laughing” and boost overall morale. Rob Williams spontaneous wit, quirky personality and ability to blend these elements with more serious undertones makes him a perfect fit for the role.

Cronauer’s behavior is by no means confined by the traditional army guidelines that have left the airwaves in Vietnam controlled by monotone, dull, and just plain annoying DJ’s with no sense of comedy or taste in good music that the soldiers would appreciate. There is no better contrast to the different personality types at work than when Cronauer begins his first broadcast and lets out that famous screeching call, “Gooooood Mooooorning Vietnam!”

First Broadcast

Within the comical ranting’s of Cronauer (Williams), there are clear serious undertones to the jokes that also have callings to the real-world implications of how the war in Vietnam was fought.  Often in the form of faux dialogue between himself and numerous fictitious personalities that Cronauer had created, Cronauer would ask about numerous aspects of the war. These questions included everything from asking how G.I’s should dress, which Cronauer’s flamboyantly gay personality would respond “I know a certain GI who is wearing green this fall, why? Because it matches with everything else out here!”, to questioning military intelligence and the progression of the war by answering with the clearly dim-witted Army Intelligence Officer persona, that responds with “We can’t find the enemy, so we ask people if they’re the enemy and if they say yes, we shoot them.”

Army Intelligence

The film itself takes numerous thematic directional turns that take Cronauer out of the setting of the broadcast studio and out into the city of Saigon, where we as an audience get to witness both the hilarious antics and the sincere interactions that Cronauer has with the native Vietnamese. One of the most humanizing aspects of Cronauer, that clearly encapsulates his and Robin Williams love of life, is the English teaching role he assumes in an effort to win the heart over a Vietnamese girl. In the process of teaching the class, Cronauer teaches the Vietnamese more “practical” English that involves numerous swear words and phrases with outrageously hilarious outcomes, but also establishes long lasting relationships with the Vietnamese in his class, in particularly with the brother of the girl he was trying to date.

Up until halfway into the film, Cronauer had yet to experience any of the horrors of Vietnam and had been living the war essentially from his broadcast studio. However this all changes drastically when terrorist attacks in Saigon begin to escalate. One of Cronauer’s favorite hangout spots, a local bar the GI’s call “Jimmys”, is blown up nearly seconds after he walks out of the building, killing a handful of people and wounding dozens.

Overall this is a must see Robin Williams film. The film manages to maintain a balance of both satirical and serious portrayals of the Vietnam War,  by controlling the blending of comedy with the realities of war to tell a story of the struggles of Adrian Cronauer during his time in Saigon. I have purposely left a lot of the film’s content out of this blog post as I do not want to give away too many spoilers in hopes that people will go and watch the film.

A Darker Bond (A Licence to Kill)

After my comments on Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of the James Bond character and alluding to later Bond films in my previous blog post on the 1983 Bond Film Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery, I was inspired to watch A License to Kill(1989). While this was the last bond film of the 80’s, it also was the last bond film to be directed by John Glen and was Timothy Dalton’s last film as Bond.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, unlike the Bonds before him, (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore), Dalton’s Bond emphasized a much more stalwart, singular, and emotionless character that translated into a much darker Bond. In part, this was also due to the toning down or loss of the traditional suave charisma that the bonds before him exemplified.

A Liscense to Kill  arguably has one of the darkest plot lines in the Bond series that also uncovers previous unknown facts about Bond’s character, such as that he was once married.

This is one of the first bond films where the inhuman, brutal actions of the drug-cocaine underworld are exposed. We are first introduced to the main villain, Franz Sanchez in a scene where he orders his lackey’s to cut out a man’s heart, while he proceeds to masochistically whip Lupe, his love interest, for her infidelity.  However, this initial scene is merely foreshadowing the violent and grotesque events that unfold later in the film.

The story begins with Felix Leiter, Bond’s best friend, and Bond on their way to Felix’s wedding with Bond as his best man. On their way to the wedding, DEA agents inform Felix that a wanted Drug lord, Franz Sanchez, is in the Bahamas and they have an opportunity to catch him. After the attempted bust fails and Sanchez attempts to escape in a small Cessna prop plane, Bond and Felix pursue after him in a coast-guard helicopter. Once they’ve caught up with the plan, Bond harnesses himself to a cable and rappels down to the plane below them, attaching the cable around the tail of the plane, effectively pulling the plane of the would-be escaping drug lord vertical. All the while remaining completely expressionless.

Sanchez Captured

 

Despite the being captured, Sanchez manages to bribe his way out and escape, later returning to seek his revenge. After Felix’s wedding, Felix and his wife Della are assaulted.   Della is implied to be raped and then killed, while Felix is lowered into a shark tank and is badly mutilated by a great white, losing a leg. Following these events, Bond seeks his revenge on Sanchez by infiltrating his operations in an attempt to assassinate him. After the destruction of Sanchez base, the film concludes with a cinematic chase involving oil tanker trucks, which results in their crashing and both Bond and Sanchez being covered in petrol. The following clip is how Bond narrowly is able to survive and exact his revenge.

Licence to Kill End Scene

As I watched A Licence to Kill, I was stunned by how noticeable of a change in direction the Bond films took in the 80’s. Having watched all the bond films when I was younger, I distinctively remember being more disturbed by Dalton’s Bond and his films having a much different impression on me than the previous and later bond films. It is clear though that James Bond films typically resonate with the decade they are released in. As is evident by the focus on the drug underworld during the boom of cocaine usage in the United States during the 1980’s.

80’s Bond Turmoil! (Never Say Never Again)

Not only was there significant changes in interest rates that resulted in a volatile financial bond market, but there also were drastic changes occurring within the acclaimed James Bond film franchise in the 80’s!

The 80’s marked not only the third decade for the James Bond film series, but also a a clear shift in the direction and vision of the bond films when John Glen became the new director of the series from 1981 to 1989. One of the more noticeable and often criticized changes that were noted by bond fans was the loss of style, suaveness, and overall established character of Bond, for the adoption of what has been stated by critics as a “workman” style/persona portrayed by director John Glen’s Bond.

 

As an avid Bond fan growing up and still to this day (Not a fan of the Craig films),  I feel that Roger Moore who starred in the earlier 80’s films, stayed true to the established persona of Bond, while the late 80’s Bond, Timothy Dalton added a new, somewhat darker and more direct take of Bond’s character.

 

Interestingly, in 1983, a non EON productions (The studio that produced all bond films to that date) Bond film was released. Never Say Never Again(1983) was directed by Irvin Kershner (Director of The Empire Strikes Back) and starred the return of the original Bond, Sean Connery! This surprising deviation in the Bond film saga competed directly with the release of Octopussy(1983) by EON productions. This conflict was dubbed, “The battle of the bonds” by entertainment media.

 

As mentioned, Never Say Never Again(1983) was produced by an independent production company that was completely separate from EON Productions, which had been the producer of all previous bond films to date. However, the script for Never Say Never Again was written by Kevin McClory, one of the three original writers of the Thunderball who retained filming rights of the Bond novel following a long-drawn out legal battle that occurred in the 60’s.

Surprisingly, after 12 years since his “final” role as Bond in Diamonds are Forever(1971), Sean Connery returned as bond in Never Say Never Again(1981) despite saying he would “never again” play the role of James Bond. Quite ironic to say the least! One can only wonder if the title of the film is a reference to the reluctant short lived return of Connery as the role of Bond.

Appropriate to the length of time since we have last seen Sean Connery as James Bond, Never Say Never Again’s story revolves around an aging Bond who is brought back into action to investigate the disappearance of two nuclear weapon which appears to the work of SPECTRE, a global terrorist organization within the bond universe in the novels written by Ian Flemming.

Despite Never Say Never Again‘s deviation from the original Bond production company, the film held it’s own in box offices and today is regarded as apart of the official Bond series/plot-line. In the future, I wonder if we will see the equivalent of perhaps Pierce Brosnan returning as Bond in competition against Daniel Craig? Something tells me this is highly unlikely, yet unfortunate. Thoough you never know!

Full Metal Jacket: “It looks like what we have here, is a failure to communicate!”

 

 

Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is another iconic Vietnam War era film from the 80’s that is famously known for the colorful remarks of the Senior Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), and Kubrick’s portrayal of the grotesque, realistic, and non-romanticized occurrences of war.

The film begins at boot camp, where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is in the process of turning recruits into well-disciplined, hardened Marines who are prepared for combat, by employing the typical draconian tactics of shouting slurries of insults in the direction of the new recruits and the occasional use of physical force. Unfortunately for one bumbling and clumsy recruit, Leonard Lawrence, who later receives the name of “Gomer Pyle”, attracts the wrath of the Drill Sergeant. Pyle’s torment persists throughout the recruits’ time at boot camp from not only the Drill Sergeant, but also his fellow recruits as well because of the “collective punishment” policy where every mistake Pyle made, the platoon was punished and not Pyle. Eventually, the rest of the platoon gangs up on Pyle during a hazing ritual, beating him with bars of soap wrapped in towels in the middle of the night.

Before even stepping into the Vietnam War, the audience is given a glimpse into what the formation of a soldier entails. In the case of Vietnam, majority of the recruits had no business, nor had any desire to be in the military, but by law of the draft were forced into service. Vast majorities were unable to deal with even the psychological abuse in boot camp and experienced mental breakdowns. This is demonstrated in the film when Pyle, fed up with his abuse, shoots his drill sergeant and then commits suicide.

One of the most important scenes in the film is a later scene between one of the original recruits, (Joker) who is confronted by a colonel on the battlefield about why he is wearing a piece symbol on his body armor, and a helmet with the inscription “Born to Kill”. Joker responds with a philosophical answer, “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man”. Joker’s answer summarizes the clear moral dichotomy of war that is presented in Full Metal Jacket.

 One of the more disturbing scenes in the film that captures the undiscriminating brutality of war, is when Joker and Rafter Man are being transported in a helicopter to the Tet Offensive Front and the door gunner is shooting at civilians in the rice fields, yelling “Get some” as men, women and children are struck by bullets. Sickened by what they are witnessing, Joker questions the man, “How could you shoot women and children?” To which the door gunner responds, “Easy, you just don’t lead’em so much! Ha ha ha… Ain’t war hell?”. If that’s not the mark of a psychopath, I don’t know what is.

“Get Some!”

Overall, Full Metal Jacket is another fantastic Stanley Kubrick film that brings yet another viewpoint and different film style of the Vietnam War to the big screen.

Platoon

From Wall Street to Vietnam, in “Platoon” (1986) Oliver Stone takes viewers on a journey to Vietnam that he himself lived firsthand.  During the film’s release, Platoon was regarded as possibly the best work of any kind about the Vietnam War. Oliver Stone took the film in a direction that dove into the immediate experience of the fighting and conflict by encapsulating the hellish life that infantrymen experienced on the ground, where thousands of young men dragged themselves through the rugged terrain of Vietnam surrounded by the foreign elements and exposed to numerous perils of war. The infantryman’s plight was well summarized with, “It’s better to get killed in the first couple of weeks. Otherwise, you just waste time worrying about it.”

 

Platoon is taken from the perspective of a small infantry platoon fighting near the Cambodian border. Not only is the larger war of Vietnam being fought, but there is also an internal clash of ideologies within the platoon. This clash occurs between the two competing leaders, Sergeant Elias, who stands up for his men and encourages a loose attitude and plenty of camaraderie. Sergeant Barnes, who is a high intensity, gun-ho, “Kill’em all’ kind of guy, is counter persona, an the epitome of all soldier stereotypes. The central theme revolving around this internal conflict is what type of persona a soldier should adopt to not only win a war, but also survive.

The platoon itself is divided with those who support Elias, but idolize Barnes. All of this is foreshadowing a future conflict between the two officers that occurs when Barnes shoots Elias, purposely committing friendly fire and lying to his platoon that the enemy killed Elias. This instance is one of the many manifestations of the stressors placed upon infantryman in Vietnam that eventually manifested themselves in inhumane violent actions.

Overall, I enjoyed the film but found some of the scenes over the top. However creating this sensation of war was Stone’s intention. Stone wanted to paint the realities of war onto the big screen canvas, similar to how he attempted to expose the lifestyles of greed and excess in the film Wall Street. 

Blade Runner: More Human Than Human

Blade Runner’s perspective on human nature is that we long to fully understand our purpose and meaning in life, and that we all are seeking some sort of truth about ourselves and our humanity as a whole. This was particularly evident with the noticeable amount of biblical imagery in the film, such as Roy inserting a nail through his hand and holding a white dove, symbolizing himself as a Christ-like figure.

We also are forced to question ourselves on what makes a human, human. If a man-made artificial being possesses the levels of emotional intelligence and cognition that are equivalent to a human being’s, are they not classified as a human because man created them?

Furthermore, do they deserve to be treated as slaves, beneath the foot of man? All of which are questions we are left to ponder throughout the film. Ultimately, I did not find it all that surprising that despite the overwhelming human like qualities the the replicants had, humanity as a whole still saw them as inferior and slaves to their will. The Humans in Blade Runner wanted to be able to control their technological creations; viewing them as mere tools and nothing more.

Blade Runner’s replicants are robotic entities that are indistinguishable from humans to the naked eye. These replicants, while created for a specific purpose, have an advanced artificial intelligence with cognitive reasoning ability, comparable to that of a human’s. The replicants are identical to humans in nearly every physical aspect. In fact, a replicant’s artificial intelligence and programming are so advanced, that they themselves do not know they are replicants. In the case of Rachel, she was an experimental replicant with implanted memories and was given pictures to reinforce these memories. While in reality, these memories were that of Tyrell’s niece. The replicants even bled and could feel pain, which makes the viewer empathize with their plight even more. These features fully reinforced the Tyrell Corporation’s motto, “More human than human”.

 

Placing the film into the historical context of the time, in the 80’s we had begun to see a wide scale emergence of Sci-Fi films and culture. The genre was beginning to become more popularized and accepted which lead to a convergence of new ideas. Couple this with the emergence of the personal computer and the ability for the common citizen to own such a revolutionary peace of technology for the first time in human history, it was evident that filmmakers would begin to create visions of the technological future. Sci-Fi culture produced a robot with artificial intelligence and combined it with biochemical engineering, effectively giving birth to the concept of a synthetic human. Naturally this brought about all the moral complications that would arise from such a creation, particularly the issue of what makes something human.

Naturally, the possibility that one-day the machines we created could potentially become self aware and even revolt began to sprout as a seed of paranoia within the 80’s culture. The culmination of this being the Y2K scare that by 2000, there would be a systemic collapse of all technology. Overall, it seems to be one of the qualities of human nature that when you cannot understand something, the majority will develop a fear culture around it, even work against their own creations seeking to have them banned or heavily regulated. This was particularly evident in the film when once the replicants became aware of their existence as machine, their use was made illegal on Earth and they were hunted down and “retired”. In the eyes of humans, it is much more efficient to put down a wild beast, rather than rehabilitate it.

Harrison Ford Shot First(In Blade Runner)