Tag Archives: mark hamill

The Big Red One – Review

30 Jun

Samuel Fuller has gone down in film history as being a very eccentric and often times controversial film maker. Wether it’s a story about the disturbing nature of racism that was explored in White Dog, or a callous look at the state of mental institutions and journalism in Shock Corridor, Fuller has shown that he has the ability to take a well known topic and turn it on its head to show you darker elements you may not have thought of before. One of his loudest and most memorable cinematic statements was with his semi-autobiographical war film, The Big Red One. Having served in the American army in World War II, this might be the most personal war movies I have ever seen, and it captures some of the oddest and strangely disturbing sides of war that only people who have been there understand.

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This movie tells the story of the soldiers serving in the 1st Infantry Division, which was nicknamed “The Big Red One” due to the red number stitched on their sleeves, in World War II. The division is led by the gruff and experienced Sergeant (Lee Marvin), who has was introduced to the horrors of war in 1918 when he killed a German soldier four hours after World War I officially ended. The core soldiers in his squad consist of Pvt. Griff (Mark Hamill), Pvt. Zab (Robert Carradine), Pvt. Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco), and Pvt. Johnson (Kelly Ward). As the squad moves from the conflict in North Africa to the final battles in Germany, the close knit group sees other soldiers come and go, but their team work and love for each other keeps them together until the very end of the bloody days of the Second World War.

I think it’s worth noting the interesting production history The Big Red One was subject to. Fuller obviously had a lot to say with this movie, and it’s been available as completely “reconstructed” movie since 2004. This sort of director’s cut, which was based more on the shooting script than the original released in 1980, runs two hours and forty minutes, which is about forty five minutes longer than the original version. I’m looking at the reconstructed version since I feel like it’s the full story that Samuel Fuller was trying to tell. I honestly can’t even imagine another, shorter version since this one feels so organic and real the way it is. With a movie as long as this, it’s easy to say that it goes on a bit too long, but that just isn’t the case here. The Big Red One shows the absurd, disturbingly strange, and sometimes comedic aspects of war and what being a soldier is seven years before Kubrick made his magnificently odd Full Metal Jacket. While I definitely love Full Metal Jacket, I have to say The Big Red One feels much more personal and real.

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I really can’t seem to stress enough how unique this movie is, and how war through the eyes of a whacked out mind like Samuel Fuller’s is unlike any other depiction of war. Some of my favorite war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Fury deal with camaraderie and idea of brotherhood among soldiers, and The Big Red One does that as well. On the flip side, the aforementioned Full Metal Jacket deals more with the psychology of war and in many ways the absurd mindset of it all. What Fuller does with The Big Red One is he puts a strong focus on the setting, and I don’t mean how some of it takes place in North Africa and some in France. What I mean is the things people said, did, and saw during their time in the war. Some of the scenes in this movie are now permanently seared in my brain forever, and some of them are clearly taken right from Fuller’s own experiences or things that were told to him by his fellow soldiers. There’s one scene where the squad has to hide behind a pile of rocks while a German soldier relieves himself not ten feet away. There’s another exceptional moment where a young boy agrees to help take the squad to a gun placement in return for a coffin to bury his recently deceased parents. These are some really incredible moments and capture the other worldly setting a war torn country can employ.

War movies really don’t work if the characters aren’t any good because we want to see these people survive. It’s important to feel a connection with them, and the characters in The Big Red One are handled very interestingly. There’s a very strong central performance by Lee Marvin, and the four soldiers in his squad have very distinct personalities brought to life both by Fuller and by the actors playing them. It’s said that each soldier in the squad represents a side of Fuller, which is really cool but I see his personality the most in Robert Carradine’s character, Zab, who is full of wise cracks, writes books, and has a seemingly endless supply of cigars. The other characters that go in and out of the platoon are referred to as “replacements,” and the characters are treated as such. This shows the core strength of the Sergeant and his main four soldiers, while also showing how disposable human life can seem in those extreme situations.

Plain and simple, The Big Red One is one of the best war movies I’ve ever seen, and I can’t imagine how much it lacked before the reconstructed version. Most war movies seem to be very much anti-war, and while this movie certainly doesn’t endorse any kind of violence and also shows the horror that is seen on a daily basis, there’s a sense of pride that the soldiers have throughout the film. This is most certainly a reflection of Fuller’s. It’s a brutally honest look at the lives and relationships of soldiers in a group, and also an examination of what this level of violence does to a setting. This is an amazing film, and watching the reconstructed version is mandatory.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review

21 Dec

I remember exactly when I fell in love with movies. I was in the first grade when I was first exposed to Star Wars. I had just gotten home from school and was watching Return of the Jedi, and I distinctly remember the feeling of excitement watching the speeder bike chase that takes place on the forest moon of Endor. Now here we are in 2015 and I finally got to see a new Star Wars movie. The prequel trilogy didn’t really give me the intense experience that I wanted, so this film had a lot riding on it. With a lot of the cast members returning and J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair, I was confident that this was going to be the Star Wars film that I’ve been waiting for. I’m proud and excited to say that I was right.

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30 years after the Galactic Empire was destroyed by the Rebel Alliance, remnants of the Empire have joined together to create a powerful military strength called the First Order. At the forefront of the First Order is one of the last remaining Jedi, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has make it his mission to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his own nefarious purposes. On the other side of the spectrum is the Resistance, a much smaller military with the support of the Republic. The Resistance is also hot on the trail of Skywalker and will fight back against the much larger First Order to protect the galaxy and find Luke before any great damage can be done.

There’s really no other way I can lay out this story without giving anything away. The marketing for this movie was perfect because I went into the theater without knowing what the movie was about or what anyone’s motivations were. That made the experience so much more exciting than it could have been. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. Everything about the story flowed very smoothly and felt exactly like the kind of stuff you’d come to expect with a Star Wars movie. My only complaint is that sometimes it felt a little bit too much like the older movies. The Force Awakens contains plot devices and themes from all three of the original films which is really cool in some aspects, but the fact that they took so much was a little bit off putting. Luckily, that is where my problems end and my excitement begins.

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I had a feeling that I was going to love this movie, but I didn’t know that it was going to give me a character that I was going to fall in love with. Since I’ve seen this movie, I can’t stop thinking about Kylo Ren. He is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and interesting villains that I have seen in a long time. I was just expecting him to be the stereotypical bad guy, but what I got was a deep character that is full of mystery and conflict. Luckily all of the other characters hold up really well too. As the series’ new heroes we have Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), who both have very exuberant personalities. At times their motivations do clash, but their chemistry still works great. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is another performance that stands out. He may be one of the most likable characters of this new trilogy, which means Disney better be planning on keeping him around. Finally, seeing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Mark Hamill in their respective titles was great even if a few of them get pretty limited screen time.

Most importantly, though, The Force Awakens just felt like a Star Wars movie, and I really shouldn’t be worried about that. Unfortunately, in a world where the prequel trilogy exists, I sort of have to. If this movie turned out to be another Attack of the Clones, I would’ve just given up on film all together. This movie has plenty of action, adventure, and humor rolled up in J.J. Abrams signature style. Abrams has a great eye and it really shows here. This film really feels like a grand spectacle. There are huge set pieces, beautiful CGI, and there were also a lot of great practical effects and make up which I really appreciate. It’s nice to know that, along with his two Star Trek films, J.J. Abrams has the ability to handle major and beloved franchises with care.

There was a lot riding on The Force Awakens since it’s pretty much rebooting the Star Wars franchise. I’ve heard some different opinions, but for me, it was a huge success and I loved pretty much every minute of it. Sure, the fan service, references, and plot elements can be a little overwhelming and repetitive at times, but these are minor complaints. This is a really fun and action packed entry in a franchise that is both beloved on side and mocked on the other. It may not be as iconic as the original trilogy, but it sure is great.