Glory (1989)

Glory_Head_ExplodeAfter this appropriately nasty image, ‘Glory’ becomes awfully choreographed.

Ultimately rather average.

‘Glory’ charts Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s (Matthew Broderick) appointment to the head of a coloured regiment through to his battles with institutional racism during the American Civil War.

As a result of familiarity and the majority of the characters being quite bland, I found Glory’s central theme of racism somewhat unremarkable. The flattest characters in the film were the troops of the coloured regiment, who should be central to the film. The problem is they’re not, which is an issue. ‘Glory’ is adapted from Robert Shaw’s letters to his mother, meaning the film is naturally focused on him. Consequently, the core subjects of the story are quite underdeveloped.

Morgan Freeman gives a very Morgan Freeman performance as John Rawlins, the measured, sensible and wise Sergeant Major, characteristics so typical of Freeman’s oeuvre. Denzel Washington is more interesting as Private Trip, an angry runaway slave who’s understandably embittered with the world and everyone in it. This anger manifests itself as bullying, he’s always provoking people who threaten that chip on his shoulder. His wrath is felt particularly by Corporal Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), an educated, well dressed man whom Trip considers an uncle tom.

Trip is a decent character and convincingly played by Washington, he conveys that pain and anger well; his Oscar winning turn is probably the best performance of the film. However Trip is, like the rest of the film, still somewhat unremarkable and overly familiar. There is one scene where Trip remarks how the regiment is ‘the only family he’s ever had’, which is so clichéd and predictable you could see it coming a mile off.

What perhaps is worst about the film are the battle scenes. While there’s a grisly headshot at the beginning and it succeeds in depicting the disgraceful death of the suicidal battle charges, it ultimately does not convince or affect. There’s far too much choreography going on, whether its soldiers exuberantly throwing themselves about under cannon fire or the almost laughable scenes of contrived mêlée where the soldiers run about rifle butting each other like in some second-rate action film.

Mark Kermode spoke of how ‘Glory’ had ‘visceral war scenes’ that were ‘long before Saving Private Ryan’. Indeed, ‘Glory’ was before ‘Saving Private Ryan’, but the latter heralded a new level of brutal realism, after its awesome 169 minutes you feel completely battered and depressed. I am very surprised that Kermode would compare this tame piece of work with Spielberg’s stark WWII epic.

Despite my reservations, I wouldn’t say ‘Glory’ is a bad film, it goes along just fine. Although I thought there should’ve been more focus on the black characters, it is Shaw’s struggle to control and maintain his new regiment that’s probably the most interesting part of the film. Although a compassionate man, he realises that he is now an authority figure, he must nurture a veneer of unwavering stoicism and power so the men respect and obey him. This means he must adhere to the rules of the time, including the ugly, violent ones. I was most engaged when watching Shaw wrestle with the officialism and racism of his regiment, however the men he commanded were trite and boring.

While it may have been more profound in 1989, I felt that the film, although competent, was rather neutered and covered well-trodden ground.

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Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

vampire's kiss

I found myself laughing at this unsung gem far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’. 

Over the years, Nicolas Cage has developed a reputation for being a ‘paycheque actor’, the National Treasures, the Ghost Riders and the slew of others have, in the eyes of many, demeaned him as an actor. I can understand this, and agree to a certain extent, but Nicolas Cage is capable of many great things on the big screen, and Vampire’s Kiss, a genuinely peculiar piece of work, is a testament to that.

Cage occupies the role of Peter Loew, a womanising literary agent whose empty, high-pressure existence leads to a major mental breakdown. Peter is sent into a downward spiral of increasingly psychotic episodes, believing he is turning into a vampire after apparently being bitten by a rather more sinister one night stand.  As Peter crumbles under the grasp of his psychosis, he begins to antagonise his sweet secretary Alva, obsessively badgering her to fix a painfully daunting and monotonous filing issue.

Cage is at his unhinged best in this film; his rather idiosyncratic lunacy is perhaps an acquired taste, but I found it to be refreshingly hilarious. It’s a truly strange performance, there are many memorable outbursts that leave you rather incredulous, such as a scene of infantile crying that is quickly followed by Cage running down a street shouting ‘I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!’. Aside from the various crazy eruptions, the inflections in Cage’s voice also have this comic air of pomposity – it’s futile to try and describe them, you have to hear them yourself.

With its yuppie-in-trouble story line, Vampire’s Kiss bears a striking resemblance to American Psycho, only it’s much stranger. The film charts the descent into madness, but it does it in such a surreal, eccentric manner that you don’t take it very seriously, it is indeed difficult to empathise with Peter. Some have said that this is a detriment of the film, but I don’t think it is; besides, I think the themes of unhappiness and unfulfillment do have a certain degree of poignancy. It is first and foremost a black comedy with an oddball central performance, not a grim piece of drama.

‘Vampire’s Kiss’ is likely to polarise audiences. I’m sure many viewers would find it plain silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m very much part of its cult following. I found myself laughing far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’.

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