Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Revival of a nearly four-year-old vow

When you run a blog, sometimes you end up making empty promises.

One of those on this blog was a planned series called Random Rewatch, which was going to involve me choosing a movie randomly from all the movies I've seen, and rewatching it. Then choosing another, and so on. I'd use a random number generator, and the number would correspond to my ranking of that movie on Flickchart. So if I got #533, I'd randomly rewatch the movie I had ranked #533 on Flickchart.

On August 26, 2011, that random number was #672, which corresponded to Full Metal Jacket at the time. (It's now #844.)

On March 17, 2015, I finally rewatched Full Metal Jacket.

Why did it take so long? I have no idea. For two years (almost exactly) after that post, I still had a Netflix disc-through-the-mail account, which would have allowed me to order up the movie any old time. But I'm not sure I even added it to my queue. Perhaps I expected to stumble across it randomly, and that never happened.

Well, never say never. It did finally happen this past weekend, when I picked up Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film at the new Melbourne library branch at the Docklands.

This was almost certainly not the only time I've seen Full Metal Jacket available at the library, especially since I used to cruise Los Angeles libraries for movies as well. But it's the first time where when I saw the movie on the shelf, I thought "You know, I told my readers I was going to rewatch that, way back when." This time, I decided to convert that old promise to a reality.

It's not like it was a bad movie to have randomly gotten through the number generator. A "bad" movie, for the purposes of this particular exercise, would be something I hated and had no intention of ever watching again, or something I'd watch again without being forced to do so. The best outcome is something like Full Metal Jacket, where I thought something clear could be gained from a second viewing, but I probably wouldn't otherwise have prioritized it. In the case of Full Metal Jacket, I had only seen it once, and had unresolved feelings about whether the first 45 minutes were really that much better than the next 75. (It's really kind of two different movies.)

So, what did I discover from my second Jacket viewing? (Spoilers to follow.)

The second "half" (really more like two-thirds) has more of substance than I thought it did. I remember thinking that it meandered and was more arthouse in nature, having few in the way of real plot developments. I now recognize that it's a series of effective vignettes that each demonstrate various aspects of the notion that "war is hell." Taken individually, they may not have as much impact as similar scenes in other movies, but they are more powerful than I remembered them being, and worked pretty well as a collection. The death of Cowboy seemed particular poignant this time out, as did the sniper baiting the battalion by continue to put (non-fatal) bullets into the two fallen troops on the battlefield. Kubrick's use of slow-mo in that scene particularly struck me.

However, some of it feels a bit on the nose. The interviews the soldiers give to the Stars and Stripes camera felt a little obvious in terms of a soldier's standard complaints about serving in a war in which the U.S. is meddling and the locals aren't appreciative. Then again, this was 1987 and I suppose some of that stuff was being said in that way for the first time on film. One scene that I thought was supposed to really wallop me, but didn't, was the soldiers standing over the mortally wounded Vietnamese sniper, who turns out to have been a young(ish) girl. They seem really torn by the fact that it's a girl they've killed (or are in the process of killing). Since she's such a lethal weapon, having taken out nearly a half dozen of the American soldiers, the amount of time they lingered on her seemed disproportionately regretful.

One thing that's for certain is that the opening is, indeed, the more effective portion of the film. It too has on-the-nose moments, and I noted this time thinking "Hey, Private Pyle made it -- why does he still want to kill his drill instructor and himself?" But whether Pyle's actions have a totally believable psychological reality or not, it certainly is an effective portrait of how a man's sanity and will to live can be broken down by someone using such extreme means to make him a more effective soldier. I had forgotten how many truly terrific lines of dialogue R. Lee Ermey has as he chews out his soldiers -- if I were Pyle, I'd have a hard time stifling my grin as well.

Other quick observations:

Matthew Modine's superior at Stars and Stripes is played by the same guy who played Jack's father on Lost, John Terry. Of course, when I first saw him I thought it was the guy from Seinfeld whose favorite song was "Desperado," who is obsessed with the Karl Farbman furniture.

For some reason I thought the scene that 2 Live Crew quoted in their notorious song "Me So Horny" comes at the end of the movie. In fact, it comes right at the start of the "second half."

Okay, having fulfilled my promise, I would now like to return to this series with semi-regularity. Really!

Of course, that will depend on my ability to find the movie that's ranked #2843 (of 4098) on my Flickchart. The random number generator has not been quite so kind to me this time.

And #2843 corresponds to ...

... Hollywoodland, directed by Allen Coulter in 2006.

I'm not sure how much more I have to discover about Hollywoodland, but discovering it or not discovering it I will be, at some point. I may lack some of the options I used to have of getting hold of random movie titles, but I see that this one is available for rent on iTunes.

So now I really have no excuse.

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