Characters in Costume Blogfest: A Few Good Men

Clothes maketh the man…

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The Characters in Costume Blogfest is being hosted jointly by Christina Wehner and Andrea at Into the Winter Lea, and seemed like a great opportunity to discuss one of my all-time favourite films, A Few Good Men (Dir: Rob Reiner, 1992).

The cynics amongst you are probably thinking this is simply an opportunity to post pics of the deliciously young Tom Cruise in his lovely white uniform. As if I’d ever be so shallow!

afgm-tom-in-white

No, indeed! It has always seemed to me that the use of uniforms in the movie, both overtly as one of the major plot points, and more symbolically throughout, is as important in conveying the meaning of the film as are the spoken lines. Since this is a discussion of the film rather than a review, it will be heavily spoiler-filled, so if you haven’t watched it and want to, I’d suggest you do that before reading. But do come back afterwards!

(NB To get it out of the way straight off, I have no idea whether the uniforms in the film are authentic and accurate or not, and I frankly don’t care. As far as I’m concerned they are part of the storytelling, and if the director has taken some liberties with the truth or simply got things wrong, I’m fine with that.)

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Khaki, camouflage and whites...
Khaki, camouflage and whites…

Briefly, the film tells the story of Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a member of the US Navy’s JAG Corps, defending two marines who have been charged with murdering one of their colleagues. The plot hinges on whether they had been ordered to give the victim, Private William Santiago, a Code Red – a traditional form of internal disciplinary punishment recently outlawed. This is used as a basis to discuss codes of honour, attitudes to discipline within the armed forces, and the age old question of whether it is ever acceptable for soldiers to disobey orders given by an officer.

The first indication of the importance of uniform within the film is its absence. Every serving character in the film makes their first appearance in uniform – except Kaffee, who first appears in baseball kit. Daniel Kaffee is a young, recently qualified lawyer, intending to serve a few years in the JAG Corps because he feels his late father, himself a celebrated lawyer, would have wanted him to. He has no real loyalty to the Navy nor any desire to do more than plea-bargain his way through the cases he’s allocated. While others are proud of their uniforms, Kaffee gets out of his into civvies at every opportunity.

afgm-_-baseball-with-joanne

One of the major themes is the divide in attitude between the officers in the JAG Corps, who are part of the navy, and the marines, who see themselves as the real fighting men. This divide is almost a matter of mutual contempt. The JAG officers see the marines as outdated relics of a more brutal past (remember, this is towards the end of the Cold War, when peace had been the norm for decades and everyone anticipated that we’d keep heading in that direction). The marines see the navy in general as an inferior branch of the service, and the JAG officers in particular as bleeding heart liberals with no code of honour and no understanding of the realities of facing an armed enemy. (At that time, the Soviets were still in Cuba and the marines at Guantanamo were the US’ first line of defence in the Cold War.)

Lieutenant Kaffee: Have I done something to offend you?
Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland): No, I like all you Navy boys. Every time we go someplace to fight, you fellas always give us a ride.

afgm-kendrick

When Kaffee and his colleagues JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) and Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) go to Cuba to start their investigation, Sam advises Kaffee to wear his white uniform because of the heat. Unlike the two men, who are first and foremost lawyers, JoAnne’s loyalty is to the service – she sees herself as an officer first and a lawyer second. JoAnne wears khaki. On arrival in Cuba, the two men are immediately told to don camouflage…

Corporal Barnes (Noah Wyle): I got some camouflage jackets in the Jeep, sirs. I suggest you both put them on.
Kaffee: Camouflage jackets?
Barnes: Yes, sir! We’ll be riding pretty close to the fence line. If the Cubans see an officer wearing white, they figure it might be someone they want to take a shot at.

afgm-arriving-in-cuba

The white uniforms are shown even more clearly as symbolising everything the marines despise about these non-fighting officers when the commanding officer of the marines, Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson), demands that Kaffee show him the respect he feels is his due…

Colonel Jessup: You see, Danny, I can deal with the bullets and the bombs and the blood. I don’t want money and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that faggotty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some fucking courtesy. You gotta ask me nicely.

afgm-jessop-faggotty-white-uniform

Kaffee doesn’t fare much better with his clients. Disgusted that Kaffee wants them to take a deal, Lance Corporal Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) tells him…

Lance Corporal Dawson: You’re such a coward. I can’t believe they let you wear a uniform.

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The plot hinges on why Private Santiago didn’t pack on the day he died. He was apparently due to be transferred off base at dawn the following day for his own safety (having gone outwith the chain of command to report on a fellow marine), but Kaffee sees all his uniforms carefully hung up in his wardrobe. The realisation of the oddity of this comes to him when he later sees his own uniforms hung up in the same way. This leads to a courtroom scene where he demands to know from Colonel Jessup what clothes the Colonel packed when he came to Washington to testify. And it’s at this point that the trial begins to turn in Kaffee’s favour. So uniforms play an actual pivotal part in the story as well as being used symbolically.

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Perhaps the most powerful use of uniform in the film, though, comes when Jessup’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Markinson (J. T. Walsh), is torn between loyalty and honour.

Lieutenant Colonel Markinson: I want you to know that I am proud neither of what I have done nor what I am doing.

As we hear his voice reading the last letter he wrote, to Santiago’s mother, we watch as he puts on his full dress uniform – the braided jacket, the belt, the shoes shiny as mirrors, the white gloves, the ceremonial sword, and finally his officer’s hat – then takes his service pistol and shoots himself in the mouth. It’s an incredibly powerful scene, showing how even at this extremity the uniform and all it symbolises is of ultimate importance to him.

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Finally, in the course of the case, Kaffee too has learned the meaning of duty and honour, and learned to admire these men who live by a code that he has come to understand a little better. And in return, he has changed the contempt of the marines he defended into respect. The young man we first met in his baseball gear is last seen in full dress uniform, receiving the salute of his client, and returning it with none of his earlier cynicism for the traditions of the marines.

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A great film, in which I think the three major actors, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson, each give one of their best performances. And, you know, it has to be said… Tom does look awfully handsome in uniform…

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To read the other posts in the blogfest, pop on over to Christina’s blog for links. Thanks for hosting, Christina and Andrea!

Tuesday Terror! The Polar Express – The Movie…

…a chilling tale of child abduction, slavery and torture…

 

The innocent looking cover picture of this movie belies the dark horror that lies at its heart. This is not one for the faint-hearted as the script shows mankind (and elfkind) at their evil worst. So think hard before you read on – the images you are about to see may churn up bits of your subconscious better left unchurned, as we fearfully approach this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Polar Express – The Movie

 

the polar express

 

Right from the beginning an atmosphere of dread pervades the film, as our cute and adorable little hero (symbolically given no name so that we must assume he could be any child – perhaps even your inner child!) is told by his uncaring parents that during the night a strange man will enter the house while he sleeps. Then, laughing, they turn out the light and leave him alone in the dark. Restless and scared, he flees through the window into the clutches of a sinister stranger who offers to take him away to a place where he will be safe. Hah!

 

polar express conductor

 

Our hero is still suspicious, but succumbs to the temptation of gifts and hot chocolate. Soon he finds himself trapped on a train hurtling towards who-knows-where through a harsh and icy landscape filled with wolves, ghosts and other beasts of the darkness. And with him are many other children, each abducted from home on this bleak midwinter night.

 

polar express wolves

 

But the abductor (or, as he revealingly calls himself, the Conductor) is only the go-between – taking the children to meet the real evil mastermind, who hides his true identity behind an innocent-seeming alias: Santa. Our hero-boy realises something is amiss, but as he runs to the back of the train to escape, he is met by a diabolical form of torture that stops him in his tracks, and the most horrific aspect is that the torture is carried out by other children…

 

 

Carried against his will to Santa’s dungeons, our hero-boy is forced to witness some unforgettable atrocities. It transpires that Santa has enslaved all the elves and, not content with forcing them to work till midnight, he tortures them with the most horrible sights and sounds ever to assail human (or elven) senses…

 

 

Look! Look…if you dare…at that poor young female elf at the end, about to be tossed from a roof-top for the wicked pleasure of Santa and his evil henchmen! Too awful!! And then watch with terror as the monstrous Santa cruelly whips his enslaved reindeer while his diabolical laughter rends the night sky…

 

 

With great courage, our hero-boy finally escapes from the clutches of the gang and finds his way back home. He makes sure the door is safely closed and, exhausted, sinks into an uneasy sleep. But the worst is yet to come for, in the distance, we hear the tinkling of approaching bells and then, at last, a terrifying scraping, scrabbling sound is heard in the vicinity of the chimney…

 

polar express bell

Never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for THEE!!!

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            Fretful Porpentine rating:                                  😯   😯   😯   😯   😯

                Overall story rating: santasantasantasantasanta

Transwarp Tuesday! John Carter

When two tribes go to war…

 

kinopoisk.ru

 

Having recently read and loved Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – I was intrigued to see how Disney had dealt with it.

So in a departure from the norm, it’s a movie review for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

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Disney does Edgar Rice Burroughs!

 

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JOHN CARTER

 

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter
Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter

Two Martian tribes are at war – the Heliumites and the Zodangans, who for ease we shall think of as the goodies and the baddies. But the baddies are being helped by a mysterious race of superbeings known as the Thern, who have given them the ability to harness the ninth ray of the sun and use it as a super weapon. As the goodies face certain defeat, the leader of the Zodangans offers to spare them from destruction if the Heliumite Princess, Dejah Thoris, agrees to be his bride.

Meantime, back on Earth, ex-Confederate Army Captain John Carter takes refuge from a horde of attacking Apache warriors in a mysterious cave, where he meets a passing Thern and is accidentally transported to Barsoom, which we Earthlings know as the Red Planet – Mars! Once there, he finds the lower gravity gives him superior strength and the ability to jump really high and really far. Captured by Tharks (14-ft tall, six-limbed, green, horned, pretty ugly), he falls in love with the thankfully human-looking Dejah Thoris and is gradually sucked into the ongoing war…

Tharks...
Tharks…

The plot of the film is a simplified version of the plot of the book, which in truth was already fairly simple. The scriptwriters have tried to make sense of some of the gaping plot holes in the book by introducing the Thern, thus providing an explanation for how John Carter got to Mars. They’ve also changed Dejah Thoris a bit to make her more acceptable to modern audiences. She already had a reasonably heroic role in the book but in the film she is kickass! Truly! And intelligent, gorgeous, scantily clad, interestingly tattooed and a bit of a flirt. A description that works equally well for John Carter, minus the tattoos…and possibly the intelligence.

Some people say women can't be warriors...but I bet they don't say it when Dejah's around...
Dejah Thoris in warrior mode…

However the writers (who somewhat amazingly include Michael Chabon) have got rid of most of the stuff about the society of the Tharks, which personally I felt was one of the more interesting features of the book. Oddly, though, they left little bits in but without much explanation, so that I wondered whether I’d have struggled to follow the plot (such as it is) if I hadn’t read the book. For instance, the big reveal about Tars Tarkas being Sola’s father really needed the background filled out to show why it was important – that is, that in Thark society, love between adults is taboo; eggs are laid and children brought up by the community rather than by biological parents.

Thark on a thoat...
Thark on a thoat…

Instead the film concentrates almost entirely on fighting and battles interspersed with the John Carter/Dejah Thoris love story. This works well in terms of the CGI – overall they do a good job of all the different creatures of Burroughs’ imagination* and the very Disney-style battles involve a lot of fun and exciting fighting and killing, while keeping it almost entirely gore-free – with the exception of the blue blood of the great White Ape, and that was really just splattered about for its humorous value. And obviously only the baddies die, and they all deserve it, so the feel-good factor is not disrupted.

(*Special mention must go to Woola – the dog-like creature. I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t go for the full ten legs, but they got his massive grin and cuddly personality. On the other hand (pun intended), they went for the simplest version possible of giving the Tharks an extra pair of arms, which wasn’t really how Burroughs described them. He said the extra limbs could operate as either arms or legs as circumstances required… I suspect either CGI or the special effects guys’ imaginations must still have limitations.)

Woola...four legs missing, but still smiling...
Woola…four legs missing, but still smiling…

A fun adventure, as silly and inconsistent as the book but in different ways. I’m not sure I’d be nominating it for Oscars for the script or indeed the acting; and I suspect I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t read the book. But it has lots of heroics, a good deal of humour, a nice little romance (despite my severe disappointment that they cut the bit about Dejah laying an egg) and the special effects looked pretty good to my untutored eye. Overall, the full two hours and a bit passed very entertainingly.

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The Proud Valley starring Paul Robeson

the proud valleyThe film that Robeson was proud to be in…    

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I was inspired to watch this film after reading Arnold H. Lubasch’s biography of Paul Robeson, Robeson: An American Ballad. Lubasch tells the story of Robeson encountering a group of Welsh miners in London. On hearing that they had marched all the way from Wales to petition the government for help, Robeson joined them in their march, performed an impromptu concert for them and raised money for them and their families. He later performed concerts in South Wales and developed a strong attachment to the mining community there. This strong bond meant that The Proud Valley, filmed on location in the mining villages of South Wales and in some ways mirroring this real-life story, was the film that he felt most proud to have acted in.

Made in 1939, it is a patriotic film with an emphasis on everyone doing his/her bit for the war effort, a bit overly sentimental in places but with some good acting (despite the occasionally dodgy Welsh accents) and naturally with some very fine singing from Robeson, both solo and as part of a choir. The Radio Times Film Guide gives it only 2 stars and dismisses Robeson’s performance, but I feel this is rather unfair. The story might be a bit hackneyed and the miners unnaturally good, but Robeson’s acting is fine and his singing is sublime as always. I found it an enjoyable watch and the end, though somewhat predictable, still moved me. A film of its time and, as such, recommended.

Starring in The Proud Valley
Starring in The Proud Valley

Amazon UK Link
No US Link – sorry. It only seems to be available as part of a collection.