Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps. This week, I take a look at 1986’s coming of age drama “Stand By Me”, and the three hour extended cut of 1979’s “Apocalypse Now” because when I make a deal, I stick to it.
STAND BY ME
Stand By Me might be the Stephen King-iest thing Stephen King has ever written. Small town plus 1950s plus “writers are great” plus foul mouthed teenaged boy protagonists? Hell, all it’s missing is a murdery car or a freaky clown and it would black out all the squares in Stephen King bingo. …The Langoliers.
Moving on! The film, based on the Stephen King novella “The Body”, follows a group of teenage boys played by Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell as they journey to find a dead body. As they walk, they encounter many dangers and personal discoveries. Because of the episodic nature of the narrative, it’s tough to review the plot as a whole, so I’ll go through some of the moments that stuck out. The classic “TRAAAAAAIIIIIIIN!” scene was especially tense and memorable, and is iconic for good reason. The film does a great job of making you like this group of kids and them putting them in situations they might not make it out of. It’s because of this that the climactic face off between the boys and Ace’s gang works so well. Every moment is shot, directed, and acted as if it will be the main characters’ last. Although I did find the “Being a writer is something extremely special and if you have the potential to be one you need to” subtext more than a little eye-rolling (even as a writer myself) the storytelling scene in the woods was still especially well done and engaging. I do have to say that the brutally bittersweet ending to the film hit me a little harder than I would have liked, but at least it’s better than the ending to the original novella (cough, cough, literally everybody except Gordie dies tragically).
Ok, now that I’ve gotten the plot out of the way, I can talk about the main reason to see this movie; the characters.
Gordie Lachance, (textbook example of sucky first name, kickass last name) played by Wil Wheaton, is our protagonist kind of. The film is told from his perspective and he does have the defining action of the climax, but he is by far the least interestingly written of the main cast. His role as audience surrogate means he isn’t given any of the unique and sometimes unpleasant characteristics of his friends. But, he’s a damn good storyteller and his emotional moments are among the film’s most moving so I really related to him. Plus, he’s Wil freakin’ Wheaton, so that’s like twenty extra points right there.
Chris Chambers, (River Phoenix) is probably the most important character to the plot, but also my least favorite. While he results in a great many character developments for the other characters and his emotional breakdown is especially moving, he was the character I personally related to least. Still fantastic though, it’s just that everyone has to have a least favorite.
Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) is the likable fat kid who everyone else makes fun of. And, although he could take a lesson in RUNNING ON YOUR DAMN FEET WHEN THERE IS A FREAKING TRAIN ON YOUR HEELS, I really came away from the film liking him a lot. I mean, hey, who hasn’t felt like the guy everyone makes fun of? Everyone except me? Oh. Ok.
Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) is for-sure my favorite character in the film. Not only is he likeable from the get go, but his backstory and scarred physical appearance create an instantly iconic character. The scene in which he faces down an oncoming train and the one in which he verbally fights back against the junkyard owner are among my favorites in the film. His breakdown also hit me the hardest, and his WWII obsession gave him a special place in my heart.
In total, I really understand why this film is as beloved as it is, it’s probably my favorite of the Stephen King inspired films I’ve seen. Well, besides Maximum Overdrive.
Four out of five stars.
APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX
Normally, when I watch a movie for the first time, I prefer to watch the theatrical cut, and save any extended/directors cuts for if I absolutely adore the film and feel I need more of it. But in this case, the request made to me was specifically for the “Redux” cut of Apocalypse Now, so that is what I watched.
The film, based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” but adapted for screen by Francis Ford Coppola tells the story of Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) and his journey upriver to terminate rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The film is episodic in nature so it’s kind of hard to analyze the plot… wait a second, didn’t I just say all of this? Dammit, I try really hard to pick two films that are nothing like each other for each one of these. Ah well. What was I saying? Oh, right, “episodic”. Yeah so I guess I’ll just pick out some key moments to talk about… again. The early scenes with Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) are especially memorable and give the film some of it’s more quotable moments. It’s kind of a shame Duvall is in so little of the total film, although the same could be said of everyone who isn’t Sheen. Duvall is also integral in the immensely memorable “Ride of the Valkyries” scene, which has burned its way deep into my memory. The last act of the film (everything after Sheen finds Brando’s lair) is downright spectacular and haunting. That entire half hour of film is five-star perfect filmmaking hands down. Almost all of the film is, in fact.
On the acting front, I’ve already mentioned Duvall’s brilliant performance, but the entire crew of the Navy PBR that accompanies Sheen through the film is likable and individually distinct. Each one has their own clear character and although none of them get an arc, none of them really needs one, either. Martin Sheen absolutely nails his role, showing a broken man’s descent into madness in pursuit of his mission. His acting in the final few scenes will for-sure haunt my nightmares. And that’s a really good thing. Also, Dennis Hopper as Brando’s sycophantic freelance photographer does a wonderful job. His mania and excitable lapdog-ing at Brando’s feet really shows the realities of the world Kurtz has built for himself. I would call Marlon Brando’s acting fantastic, but if you look at any of the behind the scenes information, you’ll find that the real star behind Brando’s performance was the insane editing job that made it up. You see, Brando showed up on set overweight and not giving two sh*ts what his lines were. Coppola cut Brando’s incoherent babbling into the haunting performance left in the movie, so I guess he deserves the credit? Sure, let’s go with that.
In terms of production, holy crap is this movie spectacular. No matter how good cgi gets, it will never compare to real helicopters over real jungle. Real explosions and military hardware also looks pretty great on film. The amount of work and preparation that clearly went into each shot blows me off my feet. Have you ever tried to time a helicopter flyby with a tracking shot? Me neither, but I imagine it’s pretty damn hard. The soundtrack is perfect for the film and contains a great many songs to listen to while staring off into the darkening skies as one slowly descends into madness.
But remember, I watched the “Redux” edition, so I think I should talk specifically about that. Most of the additions were for the better, including some more scenes with Duval and a particularly enrapturing scene with Brando and Sheen. Unfortunately, the Redux cut also includes a long section that takes place on a french rubber plantation towards the end of the film. While I understand that Coppola wanted this scene to show the historical significance of France, America, and imperialism in the history of the Vietnam War, in practice the scenes grind the film’s pacing to a halt. Not only are they excruciatingly boring and heavy handed, but they also come right at the moment when the film was ramping up to its climax. While these scenes do stain the film overall, the rest of the movie is still so damn good that, without them the film would be a perfect five starer. As is, however, I have to give it a (still fantastic)
Four out of five stars.
Next week, I’ll try to pick two movies that don’t wind up so similar. And maybe don’t take me three sittings to finish.