Francis Ford Coppola boasts an oeuvre of the highest calibre, from The Godfather trilogy to his psychological thriller The Conversation. However, his 1979 epic Apocalypse Now stands alone: an ingeniously hallucinatory take on war films.
The year is 1969, the Vietnam War is at its peak. We pan around a vast jungle, pristine, full of glorious life. And then comes the bomb. The napalm, the fire and the symbolic opening notes from The Doors’ The End chime in.
Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s 1899 Heart of Darkness, about imperialism in the Congo as a man searches for a mysterious ivory trader, in Coppola’s plot, Martin Sheen’s protagonist Captain Willard is sent on a mission to assassinate a rogue officer, Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Heading deep into enemy territory, he soon comes face-to-face with insanity, corruption and the horrors of war.
The making of the Apocalypse Now would make a blockbuster itself. The initial plan was for them to remain there no more than five months, but the shoot ended up taking over a year-and-a-half. By then, most of the members of the crew were affected by the madness in one way or another. There were typhoons, drugs (lots), madness, seizures, an unhelpful Marlon Brando and many breakdowns – seriously, extended reading is recommended – yet all this mayhem only aided the film’s disorientating and disturbing genius.
Watch Apocalypse Now on Amazon Prime.
Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
Shot entirely on iPhone for a budget of $100,000 and starring non-professional actors, Sean Baker’s 2015 film Tangerine was a perfect combination of DIY innovation and modern convenience.
Centred around the lives of LA transgender sex workers, the film marked the cinematic debut of trans actors Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez – after much criticism of nontransgender actors taking these roles, Baker was giving this community their voice. Using Rodriguez and Taylor’s real-life stories to inform his script, Baker’s plot centres around a whole lot of drama: Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) finds out her boyfriend/pimp Chester had been cheating on her with a ‘fish’ (a cisgender woman) while she was in jail.
The fact the film’s incredible colour tones and Cali-centric aesthetic was done using an iPhone –something the film-maker had managed to keep a secret up until its world premiere – is far from a gimmick, and it isn’t even the film’s biggest pull: that’s undoubtedly the performances from Taylor and Rodriguez.
Watch Tangerine on Amazon Prime.
Tangerine by Sean Baker, 2015
The zombie genre may have arrived in South Korea a lot later than it did in the west, but that hasn’t curbed any of its blood-curdling potency. Riding the Hallyu wave of the 1990s and early 2000s, Train to Busan remains the South Korean zombie film, responsible for introducing a new taste for flesh-eating ghouls among audiences while setting the precedent for the upcoming Peninsula spin-off.
The story’s central protagonists are a father, Seok-woo (played by Yoo Gong), and his daughter Seong-kyeong (Yu-mi Jung). Feeling guilty about the amount of overtime he’s been working and a general absence from his daughter’s life, Seok-woo agrees to ride the train to Busan with his daughter so she can spend her birthday with mum.
The passengers onboard represent a cross-section of Korean society, from the affluent tech-working suits to the trendy teens and homeless stowaways. When a zombie finds its way onto the train and the infection begins to spread, these are the social divides that come to the fore, separating sinner from saint, the altruists from the avaricious.
Watch Train to Busan on Shudder.
Train to Busan by Yeon Sang-ho, 2016
Top image: Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola, 1979