Ranting Usher

 

Hello everyone. Welcome to the very first movie review.  Today’s movie: Full Metal Jacket.
I wish I could court martial this movie.
Watching it just makes me feel like I want to round up all the cruel people in the world, strap them to dynamite and then give them the middle-finger before blowing them all to hell.
I also have a problem with characterization, direction and plotting.
All right, let’s take a look.
Full Metal Jacket is a Vietnam War drama released in July 1987 by director Stanley Kubrick. Yes, I’m talking about the director responsible for the bizarre book adaptation of The Shining and the even more bizarre film A Clockwork Orange. I can already see white flags waving dubiously in the wind. Don’t bail out on me now. I’m not finished yet.
The movie is a two part story based on the novel “The Short Timers” by Gustav Hasford. It begins with the recruitment of young men into a Vietnam Marine Corps in Parris Island in 1967. The narrator Private James T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) joins to experience the thrill of combat along with the obese and bumbling Leonard Laurence (Vincent D’onofrio).
Our heroes endure boot camp training imposed on them by the charming Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Emey). He is known for coining such delightful phrases as…”Holy dog shit! Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas and since you ain’t no steer, well, that kinda narrows it down,” and…”Do you suck dick Private?”
Private: “Sir, no, sir.”
Hartman: “Bull-shit, I bet you could suck a golf-ball through a garden hose.” He also gives Laurence the nickname Gomer Pyle based on his awkward demeanor and obesity. It takes Private Pyle nine months to shed his grotesque weight. I understand that Pyle’s physicality is meant to give others an excuse to treat him like an outcast, but I would think that the military would think twice about enlisting someone with such a wide girth. But I could be wrong.
Pyle is teamed up with Joker who wears a peace sign medallion on his uniform as well as the words “Born to Kill” on his M1 Helmet. Despite a brief explanation that it is a Jungian philosophy of the duality of mankind, this contrast may have been a little bit too outlandish and honestly it doesn’t make much sense to me.
Joker helps his partner get in shape so that he could graduate the training. Incidentally, this is one of the only moments in the entire movie that isn’t entirely devoid of human kindness and compassion. It is short-lived, however, after a jelly doughnut is discovered in Pyle’s locker and his comrades take it upon themselves to beat him viciously his bunk-bed with solid bars of soap wrapped in towels.
To its credit there is something to be said about a movie that speaks to a target audience, namely the Vietnam Veterans, while at the same time attempting to enlighten those of us about the sheer reality of training and combat. But I have to question just how enlightening is it to show the would-be soldiers ganging up on each other? Isn’t there such a thing as the Band of Brothers?
One would think that this movie would portray boot camp in a slightly more positive light, one that would have shone through the end of the first half, at least. But it doesn’t. I mean, Forrest Gump went through boot camp and not only did he deliver the most outstanding answer anyone ever heard to the question, “what is your sole purpose in this army?” which was “to do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant,” and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Of course, Forrest Gump is not a Kubrick film.
If there is a glimmer of light anywhere in the film, it is when Joker steps in to aid his fellow comrade so that he can survive basic training, but even those moments are minimal at best. Despite his partners’ compassion and willingness to lend a hand, the collective brutality embitters Pyle to the extent that he seeks to hone his marksmanship skills, which he perfects with deleterious ease.
Pyle manages to impress Sergeant Hartman, but some of the other Privates, Joker especially worries he is growing a little bit too fond of the rifle. He even starts talking to it. After all, “it is his rifle. There are many others like it, but that one is his.” Clearly, Pyle is teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
On their last night in Parris Island the platoon graduates basic training and are each given their Military Occupational Specialty assignments. Joker Davis is assigned to Basic Military Journalism.  Amid his excitement during the ceremony, Joker can’t help notice that Gomer Pyle didn’t bother to attend the celebration. He later finds him in the latrine loading his rifle. Joker, being the levelheaded, helpful man that he is tries to calm Pyle down, tries to reason with him. But Joker quickly discovers Pyle is beyond reason. He is beyond himself. Pyle shouts drilling commands and even recites the Rifleman’s Creed.  Hartman confronts him. He orders him to surrender.
Private Leonard Laurence, aka Gomer Pyle, murders Sergeant Hartman before turning the rifle on himself.
Really???
I sympathize for Pyle through half the movie just so that he can turn into a Columbine maniac and blow his brains all over the wall???

What a lousy payoff!!!

Oh, but it doesn’t end there.
Private Joker Davis goes on to become a self-sufficient combat correspondent in Vietnam for Stars & Stripes in the city of Hue. I have to admit that after what happens to Pyle, I am reluctant to follow this character into battle. I have a feeling I’m going to be let down yet again.
I digress.
Joker is assigned to First Class Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard). Rafterman is a photographer who claims he wants to go into combat as Joker himself has done. One would think that Davis would be a great mentor. The soldiers at Hue military base are far less convinced. They mock him for his inability to execute the thousand yard stare and criticize him for his lack of expertise. Is there no end to the cruelty in this movie? I mean…my God!!! Why can’t they lighten up?
Joker’s expertise, his psyche and the ability to determine his fate are tested when his position as a combat correspondent thrusts him into the Tet-Offensive. When the North Vietnamese attempt to storm the base, Joker is forced to decide whether or not he is the killer he aspired to become.  So, Joker endures nine months of brutal training and discipline to become a hardcore Marine only to find out he’s not really sure whether or not he has it in him to kill people. Then Kubrick justifies the second half of the film by giving Joker enough time to figure this out.
…Rolling my eyes.
He discovers a teenage sniper who wounded and killed several members of his platoon and makes an effort to shoot her but not before his gun jams and he only succeeds in drawing attention to himself.  Rafterman shoots but merely wounds her, causing the squad to rally. The sniper begs them to put an end to her suffering. Then they go into this long debate over her while she’s bleeding internally and most likely going into shock. Because, you know, that’s the kind of thing Marines do in a Stanley Kubrick film.
One of the other sergeants, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), orders that the girl be killed mercifully, and only at the hands of Sergeant Joker Davis himself. Why? Well, because he’s the main character, of course.  Realizing he has become a killer after all, (spoiler alert) Joker shoots the teenage girl and performs the thousand yard stare into the distance.
It seems he really can do it.
Joker then narrates. “Despite being in a world of shit, I’m glad to be alive and no longer afraid.”
This is a great line, I must say. I just wish it could have been used in a different movie and in a more uplifting context. So, the payoff is that Joker realizes killing is in his blood when absolutely necessary. Oh yeah and he celebrates being alive.

Excuse me while I smack my head down on the desk in front of me.
Well, it’s still better than Pyle’s resolution. Even so, I’m still not sure whether I should cheer Joker on or simply pity him. But that’s the conclusion I’m left with.
…Sigh…
Sometimes open-ended conclusions that make you wonder what would happen if things turned out differently can be fun and even intriguing. This ending, however, makes me want to weep for humanity.

So, anyway, that’s Full Metal Jacket. Like I said, I really don’t like this movie. I prefer movies where the main characters rise above adversity and cast hope onto the audience. Instead the more I talk about it the more I want to become a sniper and scope out the director.
The movie may have been made with a $30 million budget and grossed $4.63 million at the box office but I’ll tell you one thing. It sure didn’t make me want to enlist.

             This is Ranting Usher giving a full salute. See you all next time.

A Writer’s Life Transformed

If you’ve ever strategized in chess only to find yourself stalemated, you’d know what a mental illness diagnosis feels like.  I was diagnosed with clinical depression.  Feelings of inexplicable sadness, anxiety and obsession haunted me over the years.  I relied on friends for support, even happiness.  Subsequently I chased them off and was left alone to contemplate my illness.

How does one spell recovery?  Friendly and efficient staff at Vincent House, a vocational rehabilitation program for people with disabilities; that’s how.  Rather than dwell upon how it feels to be cornered on a chess board, I volunteer to perform tasks that help get me further ahead in the game, verifying attendance, answering phones, handling transactions as well as writing articles such as this one for the daily newsletter and monthly Gazette.  It has always been a dream of mine to pursue a career as an author, but reality dictated that I roll my head out of the clouds and become one with the modern workforce.

Vincent House saw this need in me before I saw it in myself.  They presented me with T.E.P’s, Transitional Employment Positions.  The first was collecting files and envelopes in the mail room at the Public Defender’s Office and delivering them to legal assistants.  Months later I was chosen by Vincent House to put together files patients needed to present to their therapists so they could best determine how to treat them.

These temporary positions along with other jobs I’ve held taught me the value of promptness, efficiency, organization and dedication, sharpening my work ethic.  It is this same ethic that I bring to my current job as an usher at Cobb12 at Countryside Mall.

Ultimately, the support and encouragement of Vincent House has transformed me.  I can’t thank them enough.  When I publish my first book, I’ll reserve for them an autographed copy and include a brief but meaningful dedication.

Ever Been Scared?

Have you ever really been scared?  I’m sure you have.  What scares you?  While you’re scratching your head trying to conjure a response lengthy enough to fill a diary or the better half of a spiral notebook, let me tell you about an experience that caused my alarm bells to go off.  It took place during my childhood, which I believe, is a time when a person’s intuition, sense of awareness, fear and imagination all blend together so that when something frightening happens, the overall reaction is akin to an emotional firecracker.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the same doesn’t happen to adults, but children are often more vulnerable to surroundings when they cease being familiar and border on being precarious.  I wouldn’t bother asking you to embark on this journey with me if I didn’t think you could glean something from it as a writer, especially if you’re just starting out in the horror genre.

My grandmother once rented a summer cabin somewhere in the middle of Cayuga State Park, a place that for all intents and purposes has remained virtually untouched by the curse of modern technology.  I wish I could tell you I was unlike any other curious boy between the ages of seven and eleven and not prone to wander, but that wasn’t true.  My venture started out the way most others do, by following a wide, straight path.  As they say in the Bible, “wide is the gate and broad is the way leading to temptation.”

My curiosity might as well have opened the gate and paved the trail I chose to follow, but my imagination was what ran on autopilot.  How could it not with everything going on around me?  The sun melted behind the horizon.  Following a renaissance of fiery hues, a platoon of shadows descended upon the valley.  A cool breeze rustled the surrounding bushes.  Crickets, bullfrogs, crows, loons and other creatures contributed to the chorus of the evening.  My nostrils flared with the odors of pine and old bark.  Rabbits, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks and rats scurried about.  My path spread into a dozen different directions at once.  All these things beckoned me.

I had been warned by both my mother and grandmother not to stray, most of all at the onset of dusk.  However, it’s often human nature that when you tell someone not to do something, ninety percent of the time they’re going to do it anyway.  I couldn’t help myself.  My venture continued.  I guess you could say I was in a kind of trance.

Once Cayuga Park ceased to resemble what I knew to be familiar, it occurred to me that I had crash-landed on planet Lost.

God only knew how far I had actually gone.  I barely heard someone, it sounded like my mother, shouting my name.  She didn’t drown out the crows or the crickets, but her voice traveled just the same.  I imagined her face contorting with anxiety and how she might have shed tears when she realized I was nowhere to be found.

There I was, a boy straddled into a fetal position.  While the wilderness was alive with noise, what made my heart leap the most were the duping frogs and hooting owls.  Urine streamed down my pant-leg.  Fog permeated the night, blurring my vision, and I shivered from a drop in temperature.

Intuition warned me how vulnerable I was.  What bloodthirsty predators had sniffed me out?  Bats soared above me, possibly carrying myriad diseases.  Surrounding trees had transformed into gargoyles, all of them groping with jagged limbs.  Groping for what, I didn’t know and wasn’t sure I wanted to.  I’m still not sure how much of this was real and how much I imagined.  That was what frightened me the most.  Wait, was that a bear I heard growling in the distance?  Yikes!!!

Where to Find Great Ghost Stories

Many people enjoyed hearing ghost stories around the campfire, especially during their childhood.  What if there was a place where these were more than just stories, but pieces of history spread out over four centuries?  Such a place does exist.

 

Located about fifty miles from the Georgia border and founded in 1565 under Pedro Menendez Aviles, St. Augustine FL is the eldest European walled city in the US.  The town’s initial settlement was to serve as a port for the Spanish Treasure fleet.  Many believe the town’s haunted folklore relates to the electromagnetic fields atop which the town is said to rest.

Sandy Craig, a native resident, has provided ghost tours since 1994.  Her heritage can be traced back to the first Spanish settlers ever to imprint their souls upon the ancient land. Craig can be quoted as saying, “when I pass away, I want to stay here like everyone else and have people tell fascinating stories about why I can’t leave this wonderful city.”

Currently the owner of St. Augustine, Inc. Sandy established “Ghostly Experience,” rated the #1 guided Ghost Tour by avid readers of Florida Living magazine.  It started as an exciting and educational activity for school children staying in St. Augustine for an overnight visit.  With the help of Karen Harvey, a local writer and historian, the tour has since attracted members of all ages.  Craig and Harvey are no longer the only tour guides available to turn an evening of crickets and burning twigs into a night of phantom chills as well as windows and doors opening independently.  Ghost Tours employs over twenty different storytellers, each of whom has their own stories to contribute.

If you happen to be a skeptic and it’s very possible you’re not the only one, bear in mind every tale has been thoroughly researched through historical libraries, church documents, personal diaries and interviews.  People claimed to have captured orbs on either their cell phone or digital cameras.  Orbs, commonly referred to as ghost or spirit orbs, are balls of light, of energy consisting of several shapes and sizes and can be photographed without the help of a camera flash.  They are glimpsed by the naked eye and don’t always stand still.  Sometimes they maneuver swiftly around people and objects.  Orbs can appear anywhere, usually in places they have no earthly business appearing: indoors and outdoors, in schools and businesses, lurking in churches, racing through parks and cemeteries.  There could be one hovering somewhere near you as you read this.

Assuming a ghost-story is what you’re waiting for, you may want to inquire about one that originated at the St. Francis Inn Bed & Breakfast www.stfrancisinn.com.  It’s located in the restored historic district on 279 Saint George St.  Ask about a star-crossed love affair that once took place there and who, as a result of that affair, is still rattling within its walls.

If you’re going to be staying at the St. Francis Inn, the Casablanca Inn www.casablancainn.com or the Bayfront Wescott Bed & Breakfast www.bayfrontmarinhouse.com you may want to sleep with a night light on.

Brian D. Roth