From War

“Children are like glass”: The Terrorism of Heart and Home in OF FATHERS AND SONS

Talal Derki's intense documentary dives deep into the dark heart of terrorism to explore how radical belief swallows entire bloodlines whole.

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Full Metal Jacket’s Vietnam War: One Big Mickey Mouse March

Full Metal Jacket. 1987. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Michael Herr, & Gustav Hasford; based on the novel The Short-Timers by Hasford.
Starring Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Keyn Major Howard, & Ed O’Ross. Warner Bros/Natant/Stanley Kubrick Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
Drama/War

★★★★★
POSTER I forever will love Stanley Kubrick. I don’t care how many hacks come out of the woodwork trying to say he’s not as good as everyone makes him seem, that keeping his genius alive is supposedly trying to be artsy and yadda yadda yadda. Can’t believe the way many supposed film fans talk about film online. Then again, the ones clamouring all over the message boards aren’t the best representation of objectivity.
Full Metal Jacket is simply another instance of the brilliance that was Kubrick. Every bit of his impeccable style is on display – lots of perfectly composed frames, sweeping and gorgeous tracking shots, among much more. Having already taken a look into war, Kubrick opts to turn his attention to the viciousness of the Vietnam War. Of course it’s based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, so one of these days I’ll have to read it. Because among all the humorous moments weaved through the screenplay, the disturbing scenes, the unsettling visions of war and its affects, there’s deep things happening. Maybe some see it as a typical anti-war film. I see it as an in-depth examination of war, its effects and consequences. Mainly, Full Metal Jacket seeks to point out the damage war does to those who fight it, those against whom it’s fought, as well as everything and everyone it touches. There are other great war movies that try and get to the heart of these issues. This is one of the greatest.
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Certainly there are disturbing moments. The first one, obviously, is when the other Marines-in-training throw a Blanket Party for Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). His wails alone are enough to sicken you emotionally. Perhaps the deepest cut is the fact Private Joker (Matthew Modine) joins in right at the end, despite his reservations. Creepier still is the vacant look in the eye of Pyle afterwards, as the others chant along with their Gunnery Sergeant. This all extends until that fateful moment in the bathroom where Pyle finally takes action. Albeit dangerous, ill-advised action. All the scenes leading up to this after the Blanket Party are unsettling, constantly catching the disaffected look now on Pyle’s face. Finally realizing he is alone in the struggle, no longer even with the helpful hand and watching eye of Joker. This is the entire emotional crux of the film’s plot, despite all the other elements of Vietnam and the action going on there. Pyle’s actions taint everything in the movie, everything for Joker, after what he does, and you can never forget it. Neither can Joker. For him, and the viewer, the atrocities of war begin long before they ever set foot on the battlefield against the enemy.
Part of why Kubrick makes this movie disturbing is because he shows us how certain people become brainwashed by the military. Not everyone, but many do succumb to it. At least back when Vietnam was raging, anyway. Nowadays there’s a little more disillusionment with the heroic idea of military service; not any part of the soldiers, though, rather the blood is on the hands of the government. And that comes through here in how we see Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) drilling and drilling and drilling the rhetoric in their heads. The reason things are as disturbing as they get is due to the fact Kubrick plays things in both comedic and serious light. For instance, Ermey’s amazing performance as the loud and foul-mouthed Gunnery Sergeant is definitely funny in that he pulls out a bunch of incredible insults, yet it’s terrible at the same time. There’s a way to train soldiers physically and mentally. Not sure this is how they ought to do it. In this day and age things are apparently much different. Kubrick uses that old school military bravado, the constant emasculating jabs and the constructions of masculinity that go along with the whole lifestyle, and he turns that on its head. Funny in the one moment. Serious a little later when we see how far it drives certain soldiers, like the poor, damaged Private Pyle. Sure, the platoon jogs around Parris Island and chants Hartman’s funny sound-offs. Underneath that is a darker reality. These aren’t rhymes to keep the young soldiers interested. It’s deflection. Hartman lures them in with funny, crude rhymes and jokes when really he’s hypnotizing them and brainwashing each last willing participant. Sadly, the way Pyle chooses to get out is probably better off. In a way, he’s spared all the terror, both real and existential, of the Vietnam War experience.
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Joker: “Leonard, if Hartman comes in here and catches us, well both be in a world ashit.”
Pyle: “am in a world of shit
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When Hartman asks “What is this Mickey Mouse shit?” there’s not an immediate realization of how much depth that question carries. He doesn’t live to see what it goes on to mean. However, it’s clear to the audience by the time the credits roll. Both this film and Oliver Stone’s Platoon dig deep into the world of the military we’re not often given a look at. Usually we, especially Americans, are inundated with the idea that everything about the military, the soldiers, is patriotic, as if they can do no wrong. Instead of trying to make some hero’s tale, Kubrick – along with Michael Herr and writer of the novel on which the film is based Gustav Hasford – dissects the finer points, wondering exactly how these men coped with the training, which is rough enough, only to find themselves thrown into a war they don’t understand, one they maybe shouldn’t have been fighting.
Aside from simply the military, this is obviously aimed directly at Vietnam as a whole. Even in the smallest moments it’s evident. Joker and Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) walk back to base at one point, as the latter remarks: “Were supposed to be helping them and they shit all over us every chance they get.” This one single line exemplifies exactly the ignorant bliss in which so many Americans (both citizen and soldier) wallow because of the stories they were fed at the time. Everybody thought they were there to do some good, save people; America, saviours of the world. Yet they did some hideous things to the people there, not just military troops. Part of Kubrick’s commentary is that many of these people become sucked into the whole rhetoric and machismo of war, particularly the young men. So the fact these guys don’t see anything wrong with their role, the American role in Vietnam during the war is part and parcel of the brainwashing. We further see this in Joker’s continual reference/impersonation of John Wayne, as the ultimate representation of the American ideal of the tough guy, the absolute hero, the one and only MAN’s MAN. Hell, a portion of the brainwashing started before they even got to training. In addition, the desensitization comes nastier later when Joker and the others joke about fucking sisters, mothers, so on; this shows how emotionally stunted these guys have become after so long. Worse still, later when the Marines are being interviewed by a camera crew Rafterman acts like a big, tough killer, holding his rifle up with some bravado bullshit and pretending to have whipped his gun out all over the place. Joker doesn’t pretend to have already killed, though makes clear he wants to kill – supposedly. It all began the first time Joker and the rest of those hypnotized soldiers saw an amped up American classic where the men weren’t allowed to show emotion, only the flare and smoke off the muzzle of their gun as they blew it away after blowing some other poor soul away, or only the fire of lust on some young woman cast specifically to look good next to the American cowboy hero.
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Kubrick really does the war genre a solid. Full Metal Jacket has an amazingly strong first half. The second half isn’t any less strong, it just diverges from the brainwashing angle of the plot a little more. That doesn’t mean this aspect disappears. As we’re thrown “into the shit” alongside Joker, we slowly come to discover how one man and his principles can change over the course of time. More so if he’s subjected to the horrors of war, both deliberately and purposefully. At the same time, there’s a degree of self-realization. By the finish, Joker hasn’t exactly become totally engrained in the system. At one point he brings up “the duality of man“, all that “Jungian thing” and so on. This is the epitome of Joker. Nearing the end, he gives in and kills a sniper in mercy. This is his way of surviving that world of shit of which he and Pyle spoke. Although, coming full circle to Hartman’s words the men all sing “Mickey Mouse March” and head off in the distance, towards the next atrocity. So in a way, Joker and the others realize it’s all a bunch of Mickey Mouse shit. Yet as Joker, for him, a world of shit it may be, but being alive is better than being dead. After seeing some of what the dead endured, his mind may not have been totally warped. It may, in a mysterious way, be saved.

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Man Behind the Sun Begs the Question: Is It Trash? Or Is It Important?

Man Behind the Sun. 1988. Directed by T.F. Mou. Screenplayby Mei Liu, Wen Yuan Mou, & Dun Jing Teng.
Cast: Jianxin Chen, Hsu Gou, Linjie Hao, Haizhe Jin, Tie Long Jin, Yuanrong Jin, Bolin Li, Pengyu Liu, Xuhui Lui, Zhaohua Mei, Zhe Quan ,Jiefu Tian, Gang Wang, Runsheng Wang, Shennin Wang, Jiang Wen, Dai Yao Wu, Guowen Zhang, Yongdong Zhao, & Rongming Zheng. Sil-Metropole Organisation.
Rated R. 95 minutes.
Drama/History/Horror/War

★★★
POSTER
In a quest to try and watch any/all disturbing films out there, good or bad, I’ve heard about Man Behind the Sun (the correct translation, though titled most places as Men Behind the Sun) for many years. At an early age, I saw a clip on a website – possibly eBaum’s, or something similar – though, I never was able to find a copy. Living on an island at the far East Coast of Canada, the horror especially didn’t always find its way to the video stores; many movies as I did get to see, the real cult stuff was that for which I had to wait. So in lieu of actually being able to see this one I dove into the actual history behind Unit 731 – during World War II this particular unit lead by Major General Shiro Ishii committed heinous war crimes testing tactical biological warfare (resulting in small outbreaks of plague and cholera), which includes attacks via airplane on localized areas, later escalating to injecting plague directly into live subjects, among many other atrocious experiments such as infecting Allied POWs with glanders (a disease that primarily affects horses, donkeys, mules), dissecting POWs and other citizens, they even subjected women to rape and forced pregnancies, among too many other hideous things to list.
So straight away, you know Man Behind the Sun is not to be trifled with, neither should you assume it’s not as bad as people say. It is, absolutely. Now I can still sit and watch it, managing to get through. Regardless, this is one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen in my life. It is brutish, ugly. You’ll think twice about going on. There’s no shame in not making it all the way. However, I have to say that there’s an almost important merit to this piece of cinema. While I do not condone the use of real corpses (both human and animal; the film’s most controversial ‘cat scene’ is actually a practical effect, albeit an impressive one that involves a real cat covered in honey being licked by rats), director T.F. Mou argues that we must try confronting the past, no matter how disgusting, no matter how bad it feels or looks. There’s an exploitative aspect to the entire film, no doubt. Foolish to say otherwise. Although I can’t discount the merit which lies beneath.
If you do venture ahead to watch, please know – only the hardcore horror hounds are likely to handle what they’ll see. That’s no joke. If you’ve got the stomach, hang for a ride.
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There’s not a whole lot I have to say about the acting. It isn’t much good, at all. Though there are moments. On the whole this film is all about the hypnotically shocking gamut of realistic horror through which it grinds the viewer.
One scene that’s just downright unsettling is the drinking glass. You’ll know what I’m talking about. I won’t spoil it for those who’ve not yet seen the film. Rest assured, as someone who considers himself a hardened horror movie watcher, this even felt nasty to me. Specifically because the actor doing the drinking from said glass plays the moment so well. A creepy, brief scene. There’s not much good acting from here on in, aside from the young boys watching on under command of the General, as well as some of the victims in the experiments.
Later, the scariest element to so much of the horrific imagery we see is the fact these high-ranking men are training a bunch of young boys, they’re having the fact engrained in them that certain people they deem lower are considered not even people, as fodder for experimentation. Despite the graphic, visceral images, the disturbing part is this brainwashing, and if it’s at all possible this actually makes the nasty bits even nastier.
Maybe the most disturbing to me is the frozen arms of the woman, her reaction. It’s of note that those arms are actual corpse arms. Yes, you got that right. Real, dead, human arms. Only person willing to hold them was the director’s own niece. So they really froze them, she held them. It’s insanity. You always hear people rag on Ruggero Deodato for his filming of the natives killing animals, nobody’s over here worried about the dead bodies Mou used for his horror flick. Good lord. There’s one scene Mou claims is actual autopsy footage of a young boy. Not sure if this is true. If so, I’d hope there was some form of consent in order to use that. But then again, I highly doubt it. Turns out that the autopsy is real: the parents signed over consent to let the autopsy be filmed, and Mou dressed the doctors performing up like they were from the WWII era. There are huge questions about morality concerning whether Mou ought to have made the film this way. Apparently the special effects industry in China at that time did not exist, essentially. So partly he had to resort to what was available, which meant using connections of his with local police to inform him of cadavers matching the descriptions he required. Part of me then wonders if this was necessary. At the same time, was that maybe his aim? In confronting actual atrocities committed in the past, does something sickening like real corpse parts in a film about said atrocities somehow make the realism better? Certainly makes it real. Just not sure if it makes anything better. In the end, I’m conflicted.
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Respect must be given to the legitimate practical effects in this movie. Forget the rats and all that controversial stuff. The practical special effects accomplished here are terribly impressive. They’re even able to surprise and disgust someone like myself. For instance, as I wrote this the scene where the guy’s intestine pops out made my eyes go wide. I didn’t get sick or anything, but I mean, it gave me pause. That doesn’t happen often. All I could do was stare a moment, horrified at the scene. They put him in a sort of audio chamber, jam on the high frequency until the guy can’t do anything but lay in pain on the ground, and then BAM – intestine, right out his asshole. I know that sounds cheesy, and rightfully atrocious. It is the latter. Unfortunately, it’s too well executed for me to say it has a cheese factor. The effect is ghastly.
Don’t believe it stops there. So much of runtime is spent in an endurance test as the audience. Rarely do we get time to break from the hideousness and settle our stomachs. Only now and then.
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It’s hard for me to give this 3 out of 5 stars by saying the film is good. In terms of technical aspects, some of what Mou did as director works in the name of realism. In other ways, Man Behind the Sun is purely an exploitation flick, a torrid bit of hardcore genre filmmaking. Again, I’m completely conflicted when all is said and done. One side of me thinks what Mou did, in terms of using real corpses and animal parts, is downright despicable. The opposite side insists there’s value in Mou’s confrontation of a dark period in Japanese (and Chinese) history. Somewhere in the middle of the road lies an understanding.
If you want to test your ironclad stomach, do so at your own peril. Like I said, this didn’t make me sick. It did actually make me question, for the first time in 4,200 films: why am I watching this? Could be awhile before I figure out the answer to that one.

The Wonderful Foolishness and Biting Satire of Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Peter George, & Terry Southern.
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, & Jack Creley. Columbia Pictures/Hawk Films.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Comedy/War

★★★★★
POSTER
Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is easily what I consider as one of the funniest films of all time. I love me a good Farrelly Brothers flick, In Bruges is another one that kills me, Anders Thomas Jensen’s movie Adam’s Apples is a god damn riot. Then there’s stoner comedies like Cheech and Chong among others that give me a kick, some of the Broken Lizard movies are downright hilarious. Point is, I’m not snobbish about my comedy, nor do I think this film in particular is high brow. But I love comedy from any time, any era, any corner of the world.
Dr. Strangelove is so good because it came along at a particular time. In the midst of the Cold War, in a time where extreme ideology certainly reared its head in the U.S. and had people paranoid of communists infiltrating society, Kubrick – along with Peter George himself and brilliant writer Terry Southern – turned the book Red Alert from something sombre into an absolutely knock ’em down, drag ’em out riot. All the same, there’s nothing slapstick about this, and even in its ridiculousness there’s still always a contained feeling; that clinical process that Kubrick seems to inject into almost every one of his films. It’s capable of being incredibly funny while also taking on the concept of nuclear war, completely inept heads of government and more.
I still remember seeing this for the first time. Each viewing since then feels like the first all over again because every joke is still fresh, especially in this day and age where lunatics are all too near the big red button. I’m always laughing just as hard. And for that, I thank Kubrick. So much of his filmography is quite serious, which I love. However, it’s nice to see the funny side of that great director, in no less than one of the greatest comedies – if not THE GREATEST – in cinematic history.
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Sterling Hayden is pitch perfect as General Ripper. There’s no way anybody could’ve given Ripper such a funny turn. When he starts going on about his “essence” there’s no way I can keep a straight face. It is at once frightening and all the same makes you giggle. That’s the overall genius of the film. Certainly when it comes to Hayden’s character. He is just a great actor, whose performances in films like Kubrick’s The Killing and The Godfather are memorable. Although not near as memorable as General Jack D. Ripper. And what a hilariously dark name for his character.
This brings me to the fact of names. Look at a few of them: Buck Turgidson (sounds slightly like turd yet also literally spells out ‘turgid’), President Merkin Muffley (do I need to point out what a merkin is, or what that then means for his last name?), Colonel Bat Guano, Major King Kong (played amazingly by Slim Pickens). Many of the main characters are named with tongue planted firmly in cheek. However, the President himself is most interesting, as his name seems to play into part of the character’s purpose.
One major aspect of the satire in this story is how the President of the United States of America is made out to be the ultimate pawn. Merely a figurehead. The whole fact he’s been overridden when Ripper goes mad and starts the nuclear attack on Russia points to the fact he really has no ultimate power, when it comes down to the wire. The fact the POTUS is named Merkin Muffley suggests a couple things. Mainly, the idea of a merkin – a pubic wig – suggests he is a fake, or a literal wig that hides something, concealing. So Merkin himself, as a figurehead for the government, is just a peon. He’s made to look all powerful when really it’s everyone underneath him, mainly those in the War Room (and obviously General Ripper who overstepped his rank) holding all the real power.
Love when Kong reads out all sorts of materials in the plane, including condoms, nylon stockings, lipstick. Such a farce, yet unless you’re really paying attention you might just pass off this brief moment. That’s another brilliant aspect to the script. There are a number of points where the writing weaves a serious situation through excellent satirical dialogue that you could miss it if you’re not focused. Then in other scenes it’s almost dripping with satire to the point that if you miss it, you’re just not watching the film.
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The actors are all in fine form. You cannot ignore the pure genius of Peter Sellers, though. Three different parts. Each more hilarious than the last. It’s hard for me to even decide which one of them I love most. Mandrake is priceless in his juxtaposition with the perpetually crazy General Ripper ranting on about fluoridation and how Commies never drink water, only vodka, and all sorts of further madness. President Muffley’s conversation with the Russian Premier is one of the film’s highlights, as well as perhaps one of the most prevalent instances of the absurdist satire at play. But you’ve also got the eponymous Dr. Strangelove. He is appropriately the big finisher, giving us an awesomely performed finale to both finish off the film, and also the performance of Sellers. He is one of the greatest comedians to have ever graced the silver screen. Even if you recognize him slightly, each character has their own way of talking, on top of an accent, and they even move differently. All a testament to his impeccable acting talents.
In addition, the great George C. Scott brings General Buck Turgidson to life. Right from the get go he has me laughing. As the scenes wear on and the situations become dire, his comedic efforts and timing only serve the plot even better. One of my favourite moments from Scott is after Turgidson answers the phone and it’s his secretary, the one with whom he’s sleeping; he gives her this great little speech that makes me crack up. Everything about Scott’s performance is stellar, right down to the incessant gum chewing of General Buck.
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There are so many impressive elements to Dr. Strangelove, but above all else it is funny, it cuts deep while also making things laughable. The satire and its execution, from George C. Scott to Peter Sellers in his three roles, is first and foremost what makes things work. As usual, Kubrick makes good directorial choices. There is an ominous feeling even throughout all the comedy, and that clinical sense of direction further seen in his later work is very much at play. All in all, I’m comfortable calling this my personal favourite comedy of all-time. Enough moments make me tear up from laughter that I can easily say that. Never will I get bored of the political commentary and satire jammed into this movie. In my top three Kubrick, which is saying something. If it’s not your cup of tea, I understand. But damn, are you ever missing out if this doesn’t strike you as funny as it does me.