enema at the gates (and why I go to bat for Dances With Wolves)

Most nights I can’t sleep. Most nights I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about a film. Usually, it’s not a great film that’s keeping me up. It’s a film that could have been great, but everyone fucked up.

One such movie is Enemy at the Gates (2001).

It’s a shame. This movie could have been dope. So what happened?

Now forgive me, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve watched it so I won’t go into plot details. But the screenwriters shouldn’t have committed to telling a love story AND a game of cat and mouse.

Individually these stories could have been interesting on their own. The Battle of Stalingrad was such a test of the human spirit that it provides an interesting backdrop to any story.

But Enemy at the Gates falls victim to a very serious problem…a problem that plagued so, so many movies of the era: it tries to have it both ways. It wants to be a gritty war film AND appeal to 90s sentimentality.

“But it’s based on a real historical account,” you might say.

And lo and behold, this is largely true. Of course, it takes a few creative liberties. I doubt Joseph Fiennes’ character was real. Same with Ron Perlman’s…a character that I hated so much because it seems to have been included for expositional purposes only. Because the film takes such liberties…it is a movie after all, and not a documentary…then pick a lane.

If I were making this movie, I would have focused exclusively on the chase between Ed Harris and Jude Law. But there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk.

Enemy at the Gates appears to have been one of the last of the so-called “90s, mediocre, sentimental historical dramas.” I don’t hate all of these movies. In fact, I go to bat for perhaps the greatest example of this genre: Dances With Wolves.

“Can you believe that Kevin Costner beat Martin Scorsese at the Oscars?” everyone says to me.

No. That’s not surprising at all. Have you seen the movie? I will pound the table every chance I get: Kevin Costner DESERVED his Oscar.

Quote me on that.

Honestly, as much as it pains me to say this, if there’s a flaw with the movie, it’s the screenplay. That’s a big one. This might not have been obvious to audiences then, but it’s clear 32 years later. BUT, it appears to me that Costner was involved in the project from the moment of its inception, so the script was suited to his strengths.

Could anyone else have made Dances With Wolves?

No.

And here’s where Costner excels: every character…EVERY last character…has their moment, however brief, to shine. When Stone Calf is killed, you feel it. Even when LT. Elgin is killed, one of the “villains”, there’s a shred of sympathy for him. This helps you become immersed in this lovely, bloody world.

Costner approaches the subject matter, much like his character, in a child-like, gentle manner. Not a detail is missed. It felt genuine, and not at all like it was trying “to have it both ways”.

It worked. It worked so well that nobody was able to emulate that style. They tried. But where every mediocre 90s historical drama failed, only Kevin Costner succeeded.

(Yes, I’m including Braveheart)

(Not sure about Saving Private Ryan)

‘the internet ruined everything’s’ canon of greatest films ever made

You know what the internet needs? Another list of greatest movies.

So, in no particular order:

The Deer Hunter (1978): I’ve discussed this movie at length numerous times. I think it’s the greatest example of the power of filmmaking.

Robocop (1987): For the simpletons, this is just another 80s action film. For those that know better, it’s the greatest satire ever made. But each time I watch it, the more horrified I become. The idea of “Robocop” is terrifying. Imagine getting killed in the most violent way, then you get revived and made property of an evil corporation and begin to struggle to understand who or what you are. Hollywood is a lesser place without Paul Verhoeven.

-The Thin Blue Line (1988): This, along with Errol Morris’ (currently known for directing Chipotle commercials) Vernon, Florida are my two favorite documentaries. This is the story about a killing of a Dallas cop and a man getting rear ended by the justice system. I love Randall Dale Adams. He’s an everyday dude that took an unfortunate trip to Texas. We’ve all been there.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): Yes, I’m a Trek fan. While every nerd has seen this movie dozens of time, I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves. It’s not really sci-fi, it’s more of a Shakespearean tragedy in space. In many ways, this film revived Trek. And director/writer Nicholas Meyer, who knew nothing of Star Trek prior to this, deserves credit.

Dances With Wolves (1990): I will go to my grave saying Kevin Costner deserved his Oscar. Fuck Martin Scorsese.

Taxi Driver (1976): We all know Martin Scorsese is a genius. And Paul Schrader may be the greatest screenwriter of all time. In the era of angry, lonely young men roaming the internet, this movie was well ahead of its time.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): if you’re gonna do science fiction, do it right. Everybody knows this movie. And because this movie rightfully gets the credit it deserves, we take it for granted. But, to this very day, it is the most ambitious film ever made.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): I love movies that satirize a very serious situation. It’s kinda like Dr. Strangelove, albeit this film is dealing with a much less serious subject: the taking of hostages. Every actor is great, but Walter Matthau was an unusual talent. His face alone could carry a film.

No Country For Old Men (2007): The best movie made in the last 20 years. Cormac McCarthy may be the greatest living author and it ain’t easy adapting his work for the big screen. The nihilism, the existential themes, Javier Bardem, the vast, empty Texas landscape… “okay, I’ll be a part of this world.”

Blood Diner (1987): Most fans of the B-movie, cult genre are familiar with this film but it should be more widely known with general audiences. Probably the funniest fucking movie I’ve ever seen.

Dennis Hopper: GOAT

Phil Spector, Carrie Fisher, Stevie Nicks, and the greatest of all, Dennis Hopper, are all on the Mount Rushmore of cocaine addicts.

In case you forgot, Mr. Hopper was the star in over 104,000 films

Dennis Hopper brought an intensity to his craft that has yet to be matched. In addition to his acting, his talents also extended behind the camera as director of such unforgettable classics like The Last Movie, Colors, Out of the Blue, and Chasers (starring a peak form Tom Berenger).

The 1969 film, Easy Rider, Hopper’s directorial debut, kickstarted the “auteur” fad in Hollywood that extended throughout the 1970’s (which ended in 1983 when, again, three people were killed. And again, RIP). Sadly, the 70s saw Dennis Hopper’s acting career more or less flatline, which was likely due to his aforementioned cocaine addiction (which is unfortunate. The decline of his acting career that is. Not his crippling cocaine addiction).

However, there was a Dennis Hopper renaissance in the 1980s, with the height of his success coming in 1986 as the sadistic Frank Booth in Blue Velvet and the alcoholic Shooter in Hoosiers.

Hopper rode this newfound fame on into the 90s and 2000s, saying ‘yes’ to any script that was handed to him. Who can forget the time he fought Keanu Reeves on top of a train in Speed? Or taught Kevin Costner how to act in a bad movie for Waterworld? Or gave the greatest racist monologue in the history of film (written by Quentin Tarantino) in True Romance?

Dennis Hopper passed away in 2010.

No matter the script (remember, he was in Super Mario Bros.), no matter the personal dramas in his life, Dennis Hopper always gave it his all.

He was an actor’s actor.

He was the GOAT.