#359/ 365 – ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) – 153 mins
IMDb Challenge #231 / 250 – Ranked #36 – DVD Collection
Troubled veteran Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is recuperating in Saigon when he’s offered a new mission. His task is to travel deep into the Cambodian jungle to locate and assassinate Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who appears to have gone insane and now commands a renegade native army. After witnessing the destruction of a village by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and his airborne cavalry, Willard and his crew embark on a dangerous journey upstream towards Kurtz’s outpost.
“The horror! The horror!” – Apocalypse Now was a horror to make for director Francis Ford Copolla, and in the 1977 press the wildly ambitious project was often rumoured to be a total disaster. Martin Sheen only 36, suffered a heart attack during filming. The production, mostly on location in the Philippines, was also besieged by extreme weather that destroyed several expensive sets. The shoot was meant to be 6 months but ended up taking 16 months to complete. In addition, the release date was pushed back several times as Copolla struggled to come up with an ending amongst the astonishing 200 hours of footage he had shot.
Featuring some unique and unforgettable cinematography, the breathtaking chopper scene that beats to a pulsating score of Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” – this and other scenes are masterfully paced as each one flows into the next it makes for this feeling that everything is running together seamlessly.
The acting in Apocalypse Now is absolutely phenomenal. Martin Sheen gives some deep and powerful narration from Willard’s perspective of the harrowing events he is experiencing. Marlon Brando, even though he turned up late, overweight and unprepared gives an astounding performance as the deranged Kurtz with his nonsensical philosophies. Although limited in the screen time he was given, Robert Duvall steals the show by giving a commanding performance as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, the surfing-obsessed officer whilst declaring the unforgettable line: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”.
Having watched both the theatrical and the Redux version (brings an extra 53 minutes to the table) on several occasions, I can safely say this is simply one of the greatest war films of all time and it brings about a surreal experience that holds you with intense focus. Apocalypse Now is a rare work of genius in Francis Ford Copolla and it should always be appreciated for not only being a pure piece of cinematic art but also one of unique ambition.
#360/ 365 – ‘Seven Samurai’ (1954) – 207 mins
IMDb Challenge #232 / 250 – Ranked #13 – Lovefilm
A village is constantly attacked by well armed bandits. One day after an attack they seek the wisdom of an elder who tells them they cannot afford weapons, but they can find men with weapons, samurai, who will fight for them, if they find samurai who are in down on their luck and wondering where their next meal will come from. They find a very experienced samurai with a good heart who agrees to recruit their party for them. He selects five genuine samurai and one who is suspect but the seven return to the village to protect it from the forty plus bandits.
Another first time watch, and to say that I was highly anticipating watching Seven Samurai after many a recommendation from friends would have been an understatement. Like me if you’ve never seen The Seven Samurai, you’re probably familiar with the basic outlines of the story that so often shown up in the many films it has influenced – ‘The Magnificent Seven’ being the most notable.
Acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa really lets you slowly experience the film, in the opening act you sucked in hypnotically into the 16th century farming peasants lives and the way of the Ronin (masterless Samurai) and this act is crucial to defining the characters and their relationships.
All of the characters are richly textured. With Toshirô Mifune as Kikuchiyo stealing the show. He’s a quirky, loud, stumbling drunk, a brooding man who meditates on his unhappy past, but he’s also completely lovable and a character that dives right into your heart, especially when he acts as a playful clown in the company of the towns children.
With a running time of 3 hours and 27 minutes, you would think Seven Samurai would have a lull, but it doesn’t include a single dull second. With its sweeping cinematography, engaging story, simple but effective dialogue and a flawless climatic epic battle scene, it is a film of the highest order from Kurosawa and one that will surely excite any film lover.
#361/ 365 – ‘Casablanca’ (1942) – 102 mins
IMDb Challenge #233 / 250 – Ranked #17 – DVD Collection
In World War II Casablanca, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in town. The cynical lone wolf Blaine comes into the possession of two valuable letters of transit. When Nazi Major Strasser arrives in Casablanca, the sycophantic police Captain Renault does what he can to please him, including detaining Czech underground leader Victor Laszlo. Much to Rick’s surprise, Lazslo (Paul Henreid) arrives with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s one time love. Rick is very bitter towards Ilsa, who ran out on him in Paris, but when he learns she had good reason to, they plan to run off together again using the letters of transit. Well, that was their original plan….
What can I say on another film I’ve watched and immensely enjoyed on more times than I can remember, and one that just continues to get better and better with every viewing?
Everything is in the storyline, which is the perfect blend of romance and drama mixed with tension, and all of this partly down to Michael Curtiz’s fantastic direction, but it’s also down to the unforgettable performances that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman convey, and its they who bring ‘Casablanca’ to life and the sizzling chemistry they share just flies off the screen.
Bogart is spectacular as Rick as he delivers his lines with an iciness, almost bitterness as he runs Ricks, his beloved bar. But then the second Isla (and Bergman truly lights up the screen) walks into the bar that coldness is melted and feelings start to rise up. What makes this perfect is that Bogart makes Rick extremely likeable and remarkably easy to understand. Then theres Claude Rains as Capt. Renault, who stands out and delivers a magnificent performance which is as strong as those of Bogart and Bergman. In an impressive career, it’s a damn shame that Rains didn’t win the Best Supporting Oscar here for which he was deservedly nominated.
Casablanca contains a slew of instantly quotable lines, “Here’s looking at you, kid”, “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” and “We’ll always have Paris” are just several to mention in what probably is the most quotable film ever.
I could forever talk about Casablanca all-day long as it is a masterclass of filmmaking and a film that will always reside in my Top 10 films of all-time. But what it all boils down to is that for me Casablanca is the greatest romantic story ever to grace the cinematic screen and if you’ve never seen it then you’re truly missing out on something special. Watch it today with someone you love.