Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)

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Why mess with perfection? It seems a lot of films get out without their makers’ approval – CE3K being but one example. So there goes your auteur theory, box office and schedules being of more concern to the studios. Twenty-two years after it originally escaped Francis Ford Coppola’s hands, he got back with Walter Murch (who’d already spent two years of his life on it…) and re-edited a masterpiece, adding 29 minutes and substantial extra story to this fabular excursion on the wild side of Vietnam. The story is effectively the same, with the brilliance of John Milius’ touch all over this Conrad adaptation and those incredible, quotable lines – I love the smell of napalm in the morning! Charlie don’t surf! – but with added French ex-pats living out the last of their gilded sweaty days on a plantation (Christian Marquand helps). There is also a new sequence meeting the Playboy Bunnies upriver and more with Colonel Kurtz. The original soundtrack is quite possibly the scariest in my collection (try listening to it on your own in the dark) but more music was added: although Carmine Coppola had died in 1991, a deleted Love Theme was found and re-recorded on synths. If you haven’t seen this, or the original, you’re missing out on one of the great cinematic experiences. Stunning.

Milius (2013)

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“He doesn’t write for pussies and he doesn’t write for women. He writes for men, because he’s a man.” So says actor Sam Elliott. What are your favourite movies? Mine include Big Wednesday, Apocalypse Now and Dirty Harry (feel free to discuss). That means that John Milius is one of my favourite screenwriters and filmmakers. He grew up in California and surfed and went to USC film school with George Lucas and Randal Kleiser and Willard Huyck and wanted to be John Ford and tell Homeric yarns, great big stories that sucked you in and took you on a great ride. This documentary, by Zak Knutson and Joey Figueroa, lines up his colleagues and classmates and tells a compelling story which winds up in the political eye of the storm that was Red Dawn, a Reagan-era pro-US tale of teens vs the Soviet Union which effectively killed off the career of an NRA enthusiast whose political worldview has not evolved with age. He epitomises the term Hollywood outsider. Being ripped off by his accountant has compounded his employment woes. This is a fascinating piece of work, filled to the brim with great photos and film clips and interviews old and new and suffused with the sadness expressed by Steven Spielberg that the greatest raconteur he has ever known is now suffering the after effects of a stroke endured while shooting Genghis Khan in 2010. He had to learn how to speak again. For Spielberg this is the worst thing that has ever happened to any of his friends.  (Bizarrely, for all Milius’ critics, and not mentioned here, the owner of the greatest collection of guns in California is … Steven Spielberg. Not many people know that!) Brilliant, action-filled, witty, informative, emotive and fast-moving. Kind of like a John Milius screenplay.

Midnight Offerings (1981) (TVM)

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Witching hour again! And this time it’s a witch-off between Little House on the Prairie‘s Mary Ingalls (Melissa Sue Anderson) and The Waltons‘ Erin (Mary Beth McDonough), a battle that has an incendiary ending.  Anderson is Vivian Sotherland, the spiteful Mean Girl at Ocean High CA who intimidates male teachers sexually and if they don’t succumb she murders them – we enter as she casts a spell that causes one to crash his car, saving her quarterback boyfriend Dave (Patrick Cassidy) from flunking and thereby keeping him on the team. New (motherless) girl Robin Prentiss  (McDonough) has read about his drunken misdemeanour in the local freebie paper but likes him despite her dad’s objections. They’ve moved from Connecticut following a series of unfortunate events – she has powers too, but no idea how to control them. Vivian can’t read her and starts to attack her dad and Dave and nearly kills Robin in a house fire. Dave is on to her scheme and brings Robin to Emily Moore (Marion Ross, Mom from Happy Days!) to help her ward off evil. Mrs Sotherland (Cathryn Damon) didn’t abort Vivian to stop breeding the 7th daughter of the 7th daughter and blames herself for allowing her to go off the rails so she must intervene before another murder occurs … This is clever, intelligent stuff, as you would expect from long-time Rockford Files writer/producer Juanita Bartlett, responsible for the screenplay. Anderson is very well off-cast in the lead but it’s McDonough who has the more expansive role and she is very good. A newly blonde Kym (Sound of Music‘s Gretl) Karath is the hobbled cheerleader and this is a point of interest – she made her debut in Spencer’s Mountain as a three year old, a film that was the first adaptation of Earl Hamner’s book that of course became … The Waltons. And look fast for Vanna White too. Excellent stuff, thanks to the Horror Channel for resurrecting it. Directed by veteran TV helmer Rod Holcomb.

Point Break (1991)

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Roger Ebert was right about pretty much every film he reviewed. He said of this that it was about ‘men of thought who choose action as a way of expressing their beliefs.’ It is a sensational film in the best sense – a film about sensation and visceral feeling and action and doing and excitement and adrenaline. Quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is enjoined by FBI colleague Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) to infiltrate a surfer gang he suspects of masterminding a series of bank heists, calling themselves The Ex-Presidents. They are led by the charismatic Bodhi Zapha (Patrick Swayze) whose ex Tyler (Lori Petty) proves the necessary introduction, rescuing Johnny from drowning then teaching him to surf. Bodhi’s belief system and bucking the establishment becomes a very attractive philosophy and Johnny is drawn in. This is one of the great Nineties films, directed at warp speed by the wonderful Kathryn Bigelow from a screenplay by W. Peter Iliff (sharing a story credit with Rick King) and it’s a total rush, from start to heartbreaking finish with an ending out of Dirty Harry. One of the great theatrical experiences. Not so much a film as a way of life. Surf’s up.

Love & Mercy (2015)

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Perhaps a filmmaker’s greatest challenge is to get inside the mind of the protagonist and to externalise his world. Only the truly great films manage to find a visual correlative and we might think of Psycho and Lawrence of Arabia as extraordinary exemplars. Here the difficulty is not merely visual but auditory:  how to convey the musical genius of Brian Wilson and the making of Pet Sounds, and going into the future to explore his mental health through his relationship with psychiatrist Eugene Landy. So it isn’t just the double timeframe or the two performers – Paul Dano and John Cusack – portraying the California native at different times in his troubled existence but the soundtrack by Atticus Ross that evokes worlds. We are dragged willingly into how a mind might hear sounds once cacophonous, then symphonic. This is a great film about creativity. Written by Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman and directed by Bill Pohlad.