dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola’s film is Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” melted into Picasso’s “Guernica”. The ultimate war movie that defined how to do Vietnam for all time. The opening shots of predatory helicopters, coiling napalm clouds, and exploding jungles, framed by Jim Morrison’s guttural need for “a stranger’s hand in a desperate land,” is at once a deeply visceral revelation of the innate, troubling beauty of war violence, a condemnation of the wanton destruction of the primitive, and, by the movie’s end, the seeds of the demise of one nation’s innocence in the dark jungles of another land. This mythology is borne on the back of Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard, who sails up the Nung in a PBR, headed for his Army-sanctioned target, the mad Colonel Kurtz – Marlon Brando as corpulent jungle Buddha, all sweaty philosophy and petty narcissism. The movie remains, nearly 40 years later, the epitome of uber-bravura filmmaking, 16 months of it, with Sheen, Brando, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper (as a kind of drugged-out John the Baptist with a Nikon F) all adding to the pastiche of ambivalent duty, rock and roll, and the darkest corner of the American psyche.
dir. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick siphoned comedy up from the depths of a serious source book (Peter George’s Red Alert), then restrained the comedy by filming, then scrapping, an over-the-top pie fight in the War Room. In between these two major tonal adjustments, resting perfectly on the pinpoint nexus of dark and funny, is where the movie lives. We know it’s serious because of what the characters are saying; we know it’s funny because of how they’re saying it: the most internationally destabilizing act possible, instigated by a gone-mad Air Force general, alongside all of the commentary on that act, by the men whose job it is to keep it from happening at all costs and then clean it up if it does, must be believed because of the dry authority behind it, but cannot be believed because the implications mean the destruction of all life on earth. There isn’t a flawed performance in the movie, and one actor in particular had three chances to fail. While Peter Sellers completely manifests three different energies within the movie, the highest-wire achievements belong to Sterling Hayden, who must somehow believe every word of his own outrageous, fluid-based self-justification, and George C. Scott, who must somehow believe every one of his pouty, hyper, arm-flapping, tumbling physical expressions. Together, the verbal and the physical are absorbed into the dark and the funny, a cook so pure that it distracts us until the very end from the ultimate dark realization: there’s little chance that scrawny humanity, with its twin passions for technology and war, will ever avoid getting its hair permanently mussed.
dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
To many, the best and most purely Coen of all Coen Brothers movies. It’s a ransom bag full of every one of their obsessions, visually and story wise: it contains the exact right mixture of black humor and random violence; it’s predicated, like many of their movies, but this one much more so, on a crime gone horribly wrong; it’s the epitome of their typical slide-rule filmmaking, with precise, classroom-worthy moves and compositions; and it has a merciless stranglehold on place – a frigid, snow-packed landscape populated with characters so specific they’re funny for being so real. And the two stakes that hold the whole tent in place are two of the most well-crafted characters in their entire body of work. William H. Macy is Jerry Lundegaard, the world’s most pathetic man having the worst week of his life, not unlike, say, Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man, only Jerry’s Job-like circumstances are entirely, stupidly self-inflicted. His attempt to salvage a dire financial situation with the aid of dubious criminal elements teaches him the hard way that his skill set in such matters might be limited to pushing TruCoat, and we watch with cringing glee as he scrambles around for any kind of rope out of his self-made quagmire. Meanwhile, Frances McDormand, as sharp, wide-eyed, and very pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson, slowly registers for the first time the depths of depravity some men can go on such a beautiful day. It’s the first, and only one of the few, of the Coens’ movies to move so inexorably along a line of dread and inevitability, so much so that the brand it stamps on your memory is like the darkest, cruelest, and funniest of morality tales. Lesson: you can’t always get what you embezzle.
dir. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino, swaggering showman and showoff that he is, made his own anthology movie, shuffling three disparate plot strands into a single, twisting Möbius strip of a story, obliterating death itself as it moves with entertainingly self-conscious fits, then doubles-back into a final story of one man’s redemption. A great deal of the genius and re-watchability of the movie is in the continual laying bare of the banality within the lives of classic noir genre characters, and that banality crashing against random acts of intense and profane violence, and all of it doled out in a never-ending free flow of chatter-boxy, pop-culturally aware dialogue. Everyone feels like it’s their movie because the muscly newness of the mix is so shocking and close, and the overwhelming unpredictability of events nurtures such a level of audience participation that you feel like you’re there – waiting for Travolta to plunge the needle in, having the barrel of a gun and a passage from Ezekiel shoved in your face, being strapped in a chair with a ball-gag in your mouth. You feel this movie in your guts. Nearly every scene has become an indelible reference for filmmakers ever since, even as nearly every scene is itself a reference to this filmmaker’s teeming brain-trove of influences. It might not ultimately have much on its mind but being the ultimate movie for movie lovers, and it may use its characters’ personal plights as mere springboards for eventual disturbing acts of violence, but that doesn’t make those plights any less fascinating. Chief among them is the ongoing spiritual quest of Jules, who comes to believe he’s been rescued from certain death by God Himself – and he has what can only be called a conversion experience over a muffin and coffee. The movie is finally a true collaboration of the sacred and the profane.
If you can maneuver around the initial wall of overly-warm sentimentality that stands thick in the middle of Little Boy, and if you don’t mind the multiple themes tossed at you like a juggler trying to impress a children’s birthday party, then you’ll eventually get to a colorful-if-shaky treatment of that most nagging of Christian mandates: “Have faith.”
In this episode, Tyler and Robert discuss the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis and Brad Silberling’s Moonlight Mile.
00:00:44- Intro, The MTOL Top 50 Movies
00:03:50- Finding Dory review, Thank God for Scary Movies, VidAngel
00:20:30- Inside Llewyn Davis
01:09:10- Moonlight Mile
01:41:27- Tragedy, loss, helping, and Tyler has a breakdown