The return of Samara in RINGS is an unexpected, Gothic treat for fans of the dreaded VHS' tape's mythology.
CHAINED is the disturbing journey through a serial killer's method, as he trains a boy he abducted from his family.
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.
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.
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.
Joker: “Leonard, if Hartman comes in here and catches us, we‘ll both be in a world a‘ shit.”
Pyle: “I am in a world of shit”
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: “We‘re 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.
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.
The Cell. 2000. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Screenplay by Mark Protosevich.
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Colton James, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gerry Becker, Musetta Vander, Patrick Bauchau, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jake Weber, Dean Norris, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Peter Sarsgaard, Catherine Sutherland, and Vince Vaughn. New Line Cinema.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
Tarsem Singh doesn’t always hit the nail on the head – apparently his latest Self/less is a bit derivative and uninspired if I’m to believe some of the criticism – either way, I feel he has an incredibly distinct vision when it comes to the way he makes films. I remember seeing this the year it came out and ever since I’ve been highly enamoured with Singh’s visual style. His work is all slick looking; not in the big budget Hollywood sense, but in a way that’s often highly reminiscent of painted art.
The way in which Singh visualizes the script for The Cell plays perfectly into the story. If Singh had gone a different route, or another director entirely did this film, the emotions and the sensory experience, all the wonder of the script would not come across as perfectly as it does. Aided by the incredibly moving and disturbing performance from Vincent D’Onofrio, as well as probably the most solid work Jennifer Lopez has ever done in my opinion, The Cell has an air of science fiction, but most importantly becomes a dramatic and tense story about a terrifying serial killer, and a brief look at the minds of the people who catch them.
Using a new technology allowing her to literally enter the mind of a patient, psychotherapist Catharine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) first explores the brain of a young boy in a coma named Edward (Colton James). Though not many believe in her methods aside from Dr. Miriam Kent (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Henry West (Dylan Baker) who work alongside her at the hospital, Catherine pursues this innovative technology in order to help actually fix the mental illnesses some people suffer under.
When a serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) goes into a coma from a sort of epileptic episode and still has a woman in an unknown location, slowly drowning, Catherine is called in to enter his mind and try to figure out where the latest victim is being held.
Once inside the dangerous mind of Stargher, it becomes more dangerous in real life for Catherine. Her own mind becomes susceptible to the influence of the dark world Stargher inhabits within his dream world. In the end, it’s up to FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) to enter Stargher’s world so he might try and save Catherine; moreover, hopefully the last drowning victim Julia Hickson (Tara Subkoff).
“Want some milk?”
A huge part of why I love Singh’s work has to do with his films and their overall aesthetic. As is with a lot of very visual movies, editing is always an important aspect.
The edit here at the ‘milk moment’ is perfect starting with Catherine about to feed her cat. Next shot cuts to a dead woman’s open-eyed face emerging out of a pool of milky white liquid; this is in fact, what we later learn to be, bleach. Very creepy and effective.
Right afterwards, more of Singh’s visual identity as an auteur director comes through, as Catherine falls asleep after smoking a joint, and as the camera slowly pans to the sheets on her bed they merge with the sandy dunes of the desert which she’d seen earlier in Edward’s mind. Excellent shot, again with some wonderful editing.
These moments, they are only the start to the visual feast which Singh serves us.
It’s the plot of Carl Stargher which truly horrifies me in The Cell. The writing for his character is pretty great, I must say. I’m not a fan of much else Mark Protosevich has written personally (one of the only Marvel films I do like coincidentally was written by him – Thor). However, his script for this movie impressed me. I like how there’s a sci-fi element to it with the technology Catherine Deane uses. At the same time, Stargher provides a disturbing and intriguing look at a real life type killer.
What’s interesting, though, is how we get the look at Stargher in reality then we’re quickly swept off into his mind – a dream world. This is the most disturbing when it comes to The Cell‘s killer – even after we’ve seen him suspend himself from rings hooked into the skin all down his back and legs then masturbate over a dead woman. The dream world Stargher inhabits is something out of horror and fantasy; perhaps you could almost classify this film as part dark fantasy, as well as a thriller. Not only is the imagery of the world inside Stargher’s head itself scary, but when we see Carl as the king of this world he is an awful, mortifying creature that you couldn’t even come up with in your worst of nightmares.
Vincent D’Onofrio is a wonderful actor and here he gives a truly wild performance. Those moments inside his head, when Catherine (Lopez) is looking for him and following the younger Carl (Jake Thomas), are so perfect and effective. D’Onofrio keeps the essence of the real life killer in Stargher and also imbues the character with an essence of monstrosity; even in his insane makeup and speaking strangely, D’Onofrio makes this literal monster still feel real. I think a lot of people jump to Full Metal Jacket – and rightfully so – when they say it’s his best work, but honestly, for me this is his crowning achievement as an actor. Plenty of actors have played serial killers over the course of their career; it’s Vincent D’Onofrio who does something completely different and changes the role from a familiar character into an altogether new beast.
It’s strange how cinematographer Paul Laufer does such an amazing job here, and yet everything else he’s done is a couple TV movies and music video stuff for Rihanna and Katy Perry. I mean, what? So strange because this movie is viciously dark and horrifying, yet nothing else he’s done as a cinematographer has been anything like that. Although, Laufer did work as an assist camera on 1988’s Lady in White and also as an addition photographer in the second unit for cult classic Miracle Mile.
Regardless of his previous experience, or anything after, the camerawork he does on The Cell is just downright gorgeous. There are definitely moments people will chalk up as MTV style music video moments, but it’s not the fast editing style or anything similar to the fast pace of Tony Scott films (ironically one of the editors who worked on this also edited Scott’s final movie Unstoppable. Laufer uses these highly stylized techniques in order to make it visually evident how strange and dreamy a world we’re inhabiting while in the mind of Carl Stargher. The way the scenes look match perfectly the atmosphere and tone the script goes for, which is why I say this movie has such an incredible, undeniable aesthetic. It brings together so much talent on all ends, from the performances of the actors to all the technical angles involved in the film.
That brings me to the score, which is – to my surprise – from Howard Shore. Lately I’ve written reviews for other films including the masterful compositions of Shore, now I come across this one; a movie I know well, apparently just not well enough. I think when it comes to music that has a lot of horns involved, Shore is one of the greatest in the movie industry. He does such impressive work with the foreboding sounds trumpets, tubas, trombones (and so on) can produce, which I recently discussed in both The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en; each having their own unique and dark qualities. Furthermore, in The Cell there is plenty of equally amazing string work and percussion. I find especially his score rocks me in those first scenes after Catherine has entered the mind of Stargher: as she walks down the trophy cased room of victims and the bodybuilder grabs Catherine, presenting her for Stargher’s dream world alter ego, the score just ramps the tension up until we’re hit with a ton of bricks. That moment could’ve easily played well almost on its own. However, Shore adds the extra oompf a proper film score ought to. There are plenty instances of his music and its effectiveness throughout, which each bring more of that tension and it drives the thriller elements of the plot.
This is yet another film that strays into horror, dipping its toes at the appropriate times, yet does not fully become a horror movie. And as a horror fan, I find that great when genres can cross together and mix as one. I like when a thriller can incorporate horror while not fully becoming a scary film; if it’s done right.
The Cell absolutely uses horror, some times it is quite raw and ugly, but it’s mainly a thriller with dramatic and sci-fi elements. We get a lot here, a nice bang for your buck, because there’s something for everybody. Even while it can be terrifying at times, it’s so rooted in reality – even with the innovative technology used in the plot – that the drama of the story draws an audience in, the performances stay buoyed around human situations, and we’re able to feel all the appropriate emotions without getting lost in too many aspects of horror.
With all that being said, the horror is still my favourite part. It’s a scary story and at the same time exciting, as well as dramatic. But the disturbing elements concerning Carl Stargher make things all the more interesting for me. Examining his mind/head LITERALLY is something that hadn’t been explored really at the time of The Cell‘s release. They took a cool and familiar idea from science fiction and then crafted a highly intense serial killer drama-thriller out of it.
All in all, Tarsem Singh does spectacular work with The Cell. It isn’t perfect, however, I’d argue that it’s close to being so. Maybe there are little things Singh could have tweaked, who knows. Some people say they’ve got a problem with both Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn. Me, I think they’re both pretty decent here, certainly Vaughn who rarely gets to show off his serious side; his character felt very real and I thought his backstory came out just enough, briefly, in order to give us a sense of how intensely he feels about his job. Lopez does a good job and I don’t think you can fault her for anything here, she’s not a particularly awesome actress overall but here her character goes over well.
I’m giving this movie a 4.5 star rating. There’s a disturbing script which keeps you incredibly involved with its drama and psychological horror, while it also contains overt elements of horror – a serial killer with a nasty penchant for drowning women and turning them into bleached dolls – and a dose of science fiction. Add to that Singh and his visual flair, which I’m always pleased to watch (this and Immortals both blew my mind; The Fall is pretty neat, too). Then there’s the costume and set design and makeup effects which each cement this is an excellent bit of technical work. Together all the elements of the film work so well in unison, they create a lingering aesthetic that I’m never fully able to get out of my mind.
I’ll never forget this movie because it is so beautiful looking and simultaneously so unsettling, plus Vincent D’Onofrio brings out one of the most nuanced and terrifying visions of a fictional serial killer I’ve ever witnessed.
Haven’t seen it? Don’t let J-Lo turn you away. She is as good as she needs to be for this film. Come for the bits of horror, the interesting premise, and a script/plot that’s bound to stick to you a little after you’ve finished watching.
Enjoy. Or be disturbed. Not sure which I’m supposed to say to normal people.
JURASSIC WORLD is meh for Father Gore