Apocalypse Now

War movies don’t always leave a good impression with me. In fact, I rarely go to see them. When I saw Apocalypse Now, it was years after its release on DVD and I wasn’t that excited going in. Luckily, I was hugely pleased with the result. This film made it into Riley’s Great 100.


Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

Directed by

Francis Ford Coppola

Written by

John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola

Other Info

Drama, War
Rated R
2h 33min

When I saw it the first time, I was in an American Literature course at Cal State Fullerton. I had a prof named “Dr. Friend.” Some people didn’t see him as a friend but I did, considering the amazing books and movies he turned me on to. This film is one of those.

One of the assigned novels in the course was Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” This is a gut-wrenching novel about killing for profit. The first chapter of the book is full of blood soaked descriptions. It describes a place where human life no longer has value in the wake of the mighty dollar. Conrad was getting at real “truth” and many a college student since has studied his words looking for that elusive word. What is at the heart of darkness? That’s what Conrad is luring us toward.

apocalypse-now3-300x159-6620954Apocalypse Now is based on “Heart of Darkness.” It takes place on a boat in Vietnam. The soldiers are lost in a lost cause war but they stumble on something far more sinister and evil. A living being created by the American war machine. There are parallels to Conrad’s book but both pieces stand alone as incredible vignettes of evil and the dark propensity of the human soul if left unchecked.
IMDB gives a short synopsis as such:

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

Robert Duvall stars in this film along with Harrison Ford a cast of other now-legendary actors. The two that usually get the most press are Martin Sheen as Captain Willard and Marlon Brando as Kurtz. apocalypse-now-kurtz-300x185-3261410Brando is hypnotic to watch and listen to. What can you do when you have sympathy for the devil? The interplay of what we see as “moral” vs. “animal” makes this movie a trip. Should we assign guilt to those who are survivalists at all costs? If not, why do we murder them in war? These are questions that came up for me. I saw this as less a war movie and more or a moral drama. I really enjoyed it on that level.

david_halberstam_on_apocalypse_now-7621711The war images are still prevalent here. Almost every scene has an orange sky, alluding to the use of crop dust laced with Agent Orange to commit mass unbridled homicide against the Viet Cong. All is fair in love and war? You see the men uttering phrases like: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” upon waking. There is even a stud from San Diego with a surfboard who catches waves in between mass carnage. This black humor lays the foundation to look at what we do in the military on both sides and the dark hearts we must have to do it. The director, Francis Ford Coppola gave so much of his heart and soul to make this movie. francis-ford-coppola-on-the-set-of-apocalypse-now-1050x715-300x204-9669570A documentary called Hearts of Darkness shows some of the ghastly things the cast and director had to go through to get this filmed. It’s an amazing doc, I highly recommend it. Martin Sheen was so stressed filming he had a heart attack during filming. Fortunately he was able to get proper medical care and rest and he finished the film. If you are like me and don’t like war films but the idea of this “heart of darkness” being portrayed is interesting to you, I recommend seeing it anyway. The war images soon fade in the presence of a profound cinematic look at the human heart. What you make of that experience is up to you and your conscience. Are you more or Kurtz or Willard? For me it was tough to choose one over the other as good. In the end though, I made my choice. I recommend this film highly, a LOT of other movie critics do as well. This is of course, a classic of all time.


Empire of the Sun

Wealth set against a background of poverty is an excellent canvas for a coming of age movie. Our protagonist, Jim, loses his parents, their money and his “way.” What follows from there is a magical journey of fighting, surviving, and ultimately surrendering. The transformation teaches us something about our own lives.


Empire of the Sun (1987)

Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

J.G. Ballard (novel), Tom Stoppard (screenplay)

Other Info

Drama, History, War
Rated PG
2h 33min

Spielberg made this film true to the time and to the international conflict of that time. Still, it’s a universal coming-of-age journey. Jim is the young English boy who is living in Shanghai, China in the lap of luxury. His parents pay a servant to look after him and feed him since they are often gone. We hear a little from the father about the situation and the mother is close-lipped. When WWII begins, tables are turned on Jim. The whites are being forced out of Shanghai after Pearl Harbor set the war in motion.

From there the movie starts speeding up. It becomes the journey of young Jim and there are many hurdles along the way. John Malkovich is a street savvy white man who sort of takes Jim in. This adds a compelling acting set to an already alluring introduction.

Jim is verifiably bratty. In the early scenes he bosses his nanny around and reminds here that she “must do what [he] says.” When the reversal of fortune occurs, he tries ordering her around again and she surprises him with an act of disrespect. He is blown away.

The separation from his parents and the complete lack of money brings Jim to his knees. With a sullen, oil stained face, we staggers around looking for his parents. HE reveals what a spoiled kid he is through these scenes. He even tries to surrender at one point but the soldiers just laugh at him.

My word to the wise: This film is about Jim’s journey. It’s an everyman journey to be sure. I feel Spielberg used his common approach which is using metaphor to illustrate the human journey we are all on. It could be a war zone in China or a backyard with an alien in it. There are always personal human conclusions to draw from his film. Yes, Jim is a brat, we are meant to hate him in the beginning. But is he so different from us? As you watch this movie, ask yourself if you could have been the same way without the same advantages we have. This is not a movie you merely watch, you feel it. Jim undergoes a telling transformation. In fact, there is a lot being taught to us my Steven Spielberg Because it’s an artful film that speaks eloquently to the human condition, I highly recommend it to you.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Tina Fey does it again. My wife is in her thirties and would usually never suggest a war based film for us to see. Last night she requested we see this movie and she called it, “The new Tina Fey movie.” I suppose Fey is a brand now and a pretty good one at that.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)
Tina Fey

as Kim Baker

Margot Robbie

as Tanya Vanderpoel

Martin Freeman

as Iain MacKelpie

Directed by
Glenn Ficarra
John Requa


Written by
Robert Carlock
Kim Barker


Other Info

Comedy, War
Rated R
1h 52min

Let’s be clear from the start, this movie has many flaws. The screen jumps around and has more holes that need explaining than a block of Swiss cheese. Tina Fey is brilliant however and she interprets this real life story quite well. It’s a story of a reporter who finds herself single and lacking at 40 something. As a result, she signs on to do a story among soldiers in Afghanistan.

Through the course of her “tour” she meets friends and enemies and an elected official who wants to bed her. It’s all quite hilarious. She is bamboozled by an English female reporter and it taints her happy view of the place. After getting stories on video and partying as much as a college pledge, she makes some decisions about what life is for her and it doesn’t include Afghanistan.

The jokes are typical Tina Fey: short, witty, and usually news related. It would be fun to hear the real Kim Barker and see how much they do or don’t sound alike. Tina Fey is like a military playboy, only she’s a woman. At one point she says, “You mean I almost F****d a Canadian?” Lines like this come off as a little gauche but it seems these days a film has to have a little of that to keep the viewers laughing.

In conclusion, it’s a funny film that would be a great date movie for many fans out there. The war connection is held at a distance and it’s more of a mythic journey film for a woman who is questioning her purpose. I even detected hints of “Eat, Pray, Love” in there sometimes. I recommend this as a fun, light hearted date movie.



Under the Shadow (2016)

This film is streaming now on Netflix (USA). While this is a horror film, it shows interesting and important history of the 8 year war between Iraq and Iran. I found it amazing to watch what these two middle eastern countries did to each other, each in the name of its god. There is a strong and scary film here. It’s not horror in every scene but there are enough jump scares to keep fans happy.

Under the Shadow (2016)
PG-13 | 1h 24min | Horror, War | 7 October 2016 (USA)

As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

Director: Babak Anvari
Writer: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi

NETFLIX: Available in United States of America
From $3.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

This is the story of a mother and her daughter in time of war. Both suffer extreme stress levels as the father/husband has to leave them alone to go and be a doctor in the war for a time. While home alone in a war zone, the mother and daughter experience a strange haunting that neither can explain.

I saw a comparison to The Babadook early on. It’s a psychological drama that has horror elements. There are times we do not know if the scary elements are real or just stress induced psychosis from the mother. The daughter has these visions too though so it seems something is happening. It’s hard I think to explain away a lot of what happens. It is in my opinion indeed a legend, a ghost story. How much the viewer wants to believe depends on her/him.

This film does have subtitles so if that puts you off, stay away. As for me I found them easy to follow and greatly enjoyed this foreign horror film. The casting and acting is top-notch. This is a must for horror fans as well as psychological drama ones.