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Apocalypse Now Redux (2001): Director’s Mutt

Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 2001)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

The movie poster for Redux is identical to the original, except with the word "Redux" added.

Run through the jungle. For another hour.
photo credit: fansshare.com

It is a long-known fact of Hollywood life that directors and studios are most at each others’ throats when it comes time to edit a film for final release. Judging by the various directors’ cuts I’ve seen over the years, ninety-nine percent of the time, the director is right (anyone who’s seen both the theatrical release and directors’ cut versions of Profondo Rosso knows exactly what I’m getting at, and it’s hard to argue with the superiority of directors’-cut releases of such films as Aliens, Bladerunner, etc.). One percent of the time, the director is wrong. Francis Ford Coppola’s new, fifty-three-minute-longer, cut of Apocalypse Now rides right on the line.

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Requiem (1973): Barefoot Setsumo

Shizuko Gô, Requiem (Kodansha International, 1973)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

An artist's rendition of a Japanese countryside, with a violent slash of red over the horizon, adorns the cover of the book.

Other than that, Mrs. Ozaki, how did you like the war?
photo credit: ogiharaoffice.com

One of the review blurbs on the back of Requiem calls it “The Japanese counterpart of Anne Frank’s diary…”. Actually, Requiem is a much better book than The Diary of a Young Girl; Gô does a fine job of weaving her main character’s dying moments in with recollections of the last year of her life. Gô gives us no illusions from page one; her main character, Setsumo Oizumi, is lying in a bomb shelter close to death, clutching a grey notebook containing letters from her best friend, Naomi Niwa, and the flashbacks alternate between letters between the two of them and scenes from Oizumi’s life.

Where this short novel fails, and this is rare in Japanese novels, is in its lack of reserve. Gô wanted to pen a horrors-of-war novel, and for the most part she succeeds. Much of the book uses the imagery of war, and Oizumi’s developing disillusionment with the war effort, to convey its pacifist message. But every once in a while Gô drops the veil and comes out with a passage where the message overrides the medium; the book goes from a fine, sparse novel to a political polemic. There is never a point where this gets out of hand, and Gô recovers herself quickly every time; still, one feels that perhaps one final revision under the watchful eye of an editor concerned more with the craft of writing than the art might have been a good idea.

Still, there is much to like here. You can safely ignore another of the reviewlets on the back (“Should be compulsory reading for every Western schoolchild.”) that would imply this to be a “bad Americans! go to your room without supper!” polemic; there is more of All Quiet on the Western Front here than there is Johnny Got His Gun, and Gô’s message is directed not at any one set of allies but at the futility of war in general. There are no guilt trips to be had aside from those all of humanity shares. Recommended. *** ½

Prayer at Rumayla (2002): The Hurt Locker

Charles Sheehan-Miles, Prayer at Rumayla (Xlibris, 2001)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

A tank sits, burning oil wells in the background, as if in contemplation on the book's cover.

Twelve years ago. The beginning of my long friendship with Charles.
photo credit: Amazon

I had some trepidations before cracking the cover on this one; with a very few notable exceptions, I’ve never been much of one for war novels, which tend to either fall into the knee-jerk anti-war camp or the “sis-boom-bah rah-rah-rah” camp. Prayer at Rumayla leans towards the left side of the division, but prefers to let the images and events therein do its preaching, which already puts Sheehan-Miles ahead of 95% of the pack. Despite the book’ s “A novel of the Gulf War” subtitle, this is more a case of the Gulf War being a driving force for the main character’s actions after he’s back in the U.S. after combat.

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The Patriot (2000): Braveheart vs. Redcoat, with Expected Results

The Patriot (Roland Emmerich, 2000)

[originally posted 4Apr2001]

Mel Gibson is so dominant in this poster it might as well be called "Mel Gibson and... well, a few other people."

At least he didn’t call it The Last Temptation of Washington.
photo credit: Wikipedia

I’m not sure why I’m mildly surprised this movie wasn’t nearly as good as Braveheart. After all, Roland Emmerich was the brain behind such wondrous projects as Godzilla (1998) and Universal Soldier. Hoo boy. That said, it’s quite amazing that the thing manages to come off as well as it does. The main reason it does is Jason Isaacs, who plays William Tavington, the sleazy British colonel who serves as Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson)’s nemesis. (Did Isaacs look familiar to you? He delivered the immortal “C minus” line in Armageddon—one of the few lines in that movie that made it worth watching.)
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Hei Tei Yang 731 (Men Behind the Sun) (1987): Philosophy of a Knife

Hei Tei Yang 731 (Men Behind the Sun) (T. F. Mous, 1987)

[originally posted 19Jan2001]

A montage of actors from the film centers around one of its infamous gore scenes in the original theatrical poster.

The original theatrical release poster, according to Wikipedia. You couldn’t get away with that today.
photo credit: Wikipedia

On November 17, 2000, a small, unassuming man in a grey pinstriped suit took the stand in District Court 103 in Tokyo, and for two hours he stunned a courtroom with details of atrocities that made the testimony at Nuremberg seem like a description of a Sunday picnic. In the days between the Sino-Japanese war and World War II, this man, Yoshio Shinozuka, was a member of the Junior Youth Corps of Unit 731, the Japanese chemical and biological warfare division headquartered in a Japanese-occupied section of northern China. Until then, many had considered the T. F. Mous/Godfrey Ho-directed trilogy of films based on the actions of Unit 731 to be equal parts sick fantasy, documentary, and pure saidsm. As it turns out, the opposite was true; even Mous and Ho hadn’t shown it all.
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Dead Presidents (1995): Big Shot Screaming “Put Your Hands in the Sky”

Dead Presidents (Albert and Allan Hughes, 1995)
[originally posted 2Mar2000]

photo credit: in.com

These n***** is playin’ Russian Roulette with a full clip. Foolish…

What do you do when your debut film is one of the top 100 movies of all time? [ed. note 2013: Menace II Society is currently at #58 on my all-time top 1000.] This was the predicament the Hughes brothers faced after releasing 1993’s stunning Menace II Society. My guess is they wanted to get away from what they were doing while still preserving the Hughes style that made Menace such a fantastic film, so they decided to do a flick about African-Americans’ involvement in Vietnam and its fallout.
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Rules of Engagement (2000): You Can’t handle the Script, Part 2

Rules of Engagement (William Friedkin, 2000)
[originally posted 8May2000]

photo credit: warmovieblog.com

Step 1: Insert generic poster.

Two bad Samuel L. Jackson movies in one year? Say it ain’t so, Jim! But the sad truth is, yep. On the heels of allowing himself to be cast in Star Wars: Episode I, Jackson finds himself in this muddled mess of a Friedkin. You know, one wonders what drives Friedkin these days, and how someone whose career started with such promising work as The Birthday Party, The French Connection, and The Exorcist took such a left turn so quickly, leaving us with stuff like Blue Chips, Jade, and Rules of Engagement.
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