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Classic Film Reviews

August 9, 2012
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By By Cole Smithey

Alien

Directed by Ridley Scott

1979, Rated R, 117 minutes

“Star Wars” may have lit up bubblegum audiences to the appeal of science fiction fantasy, but Ridley Scott’s 1979 Sci-Fi horror picture introduced real heart palpitating fear into the equation. Scott’s groundbreaking use of sound, lighting, and complex design elements make the film a artistic journey that coincides with a great story. The look of the film was contributed heavily to by H.R Giger, whose 1976 painting “Necronom” served as a stepping off point for the actual alien of the film’s title. The story, by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, follows a group of commercial astronauts aboard the cargo spaceship “Nostromo” on their way back to Earth with a full payload when they get an unknown transmission from a “planetiod” that they are obligated by their employers to investigate. The five men and two women team suffer damage to their ship upon landing, and promptly discover that the distress signal is coming from an abandoned spacecraft that houses the eggs of an alien beast for which there is no comparison in the history of cinema. Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Iam Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and Sigourney Weaver each give exceptional performances as a group of crew members whose number diminishes before the fury of alien intelligence. The level of suspense and fear that Ridley Scott ratchets up is excruciating, as cleverly devised plot points and character revelations keep the audience off balance right up to the final frame. The creative mechanical special effects in “Alien” have withstood the test of time even as CGI as taken over as the industry standard. Science fiction horror doesn’t get any better than this. CV

Full Metal Jacket

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

1987, Rated R, 116 minutes

Stanley Kubrick’s complex adaptation of Gustav Hasford’s novel “The Short-Timers” is more than an anti-war movie. It is a scathing indictment of a publicly funded military organization that systematically brainwashes American men with religious iconography into machines that “kill everything they see.” The film is split into two halves--a before and after format that employs a subliminal mirroring element to underpin the action. The first story follows a group of Marine Corp recruits during their boot training at Parris Island, South Carolina where “Marines are made.” Subjected to a constant barrage of ritualized verbal and physical abuse by their cruel drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), the spectacle-wearing Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine) provides the film’s cloaked propaganda narration from a hypocritical viewpoint that challenges the viewer’s sense of empathy with the ersatz protagonist. Next to Modine’s metaphorical and tangible “Joker” is Pvt. “Cowboy” (Arliss Howard), and Leonard Lawrence--a.k.a. “Gomer Pyle” (Vincent D’Onofrio). Lawrence is an overweight and childlike recruit who Sergeant Hartman abuses with an escalating ferocity that turns Lawrence into the unit’s bête noir. After getting beaten in his sleep by his fellow grunts, Lawrence is “reborn” into the kind of Marine that Sergeant Hartman references when instructively praising the skill of University of Texas sniper Charles Whitman and alleged John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, both former Marines.

The film’s second half shifts to Vietnam, where D’Onofrio’s troubled character is transmogrified into a polar opposite, but facially similar, Adam Baldwin as the able-bodied Sergeant “Animal Mother.” Kubrick works precisely with subconscious image systems and symbols to comment on everything from American imperialism to the hidden influence of oil companies to Mickey Mouse, as the “Lusthog Squad” carries out the senseless murders of women and children before fighting a losing battle against a lone sniper. Vietnam war correspondent Michael Herr (author of “Dispatches”) co-wrote the script with Kubrick; Herr’s personal experiences are evident in the myriad details of the brutal realities portrayed. Where a film like “Apocalypse Now” played fast and loose with conjuring a drug-infected vision of American soldiers in Vietnam, “Full Metal Jacket” (the title refers to a variety of bullet) uses a full range of cinematic language to comment on an institution that “eats its own guts” as it destroys foreign cultures. Exquisite. CV



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