It’s impossible to look at the making of Full Metal Jacket without exploring how Gunny R. Lee Ermey’s famed iconic role helped make Gny. Sgt. Hartman a legend both on and off-screen.
You might know that R. Lee Ermey was a former Marine Corps drill instructor turned actor. He served as a DI for India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion from 1965-1967. He was also the host of a popular YouTube channel, GunnyTime, and an advocate for America’s military. But Ermey’s most notable performance was as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the Stanley Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket. This famed iconic role helped separate Ermey from the rest of famed military movie actors.
It might be hard to think of him as anything but a hardline, rule-following Marine, but the fact is Gunny didn’t start out that way. In fact, he was a big troublemaker. He got in so much trouble that after being arrested for the second time, a judge told him he could either go to jail or join the military. Fortunately, Gunny made the right choice and enlisted in the Marine Corps. In 1968, Ermey deployed to Vietnam and spent 14 months in country. Ermey served in the Marine Corps for 11 years.
From E-6 to Honorary Gunny in just 30 years
In 1972, he was medically separated from the Marine Corps and officially retired as a staff sergeant. It took 30 years, but in 2002, Ermey was awarded an honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant by the Marine Corps’ commandant. He was the first retiree in Marine Corps history to be promoted after leaving service.
His big break almost didn’t happen
Let’s take a look at how Gunny managed to make the Hartman character such a legend – and what that did for the rest of his acting career.
While attending the University of Manila in the Philippines, Ermey was cast in his first movie. He played a 1st Air Cav chopper pilot and also served as an advisor to director Francis Ford Coppola. Then Ermey landed a role as a drill instructor in The Boys in Company C. For several years, Ermey played in a series of small roles until he landed his big break as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. Initially, Ermey was going to serve in a support role for Kubrick.
Adding to the authenticity of the role, Kubrick even let Gunny add and improvise his dialogue throughout the entire movie. That’s huge for a Kubrick film since most of his movies were scripted down to the letter. Or at least, they were until Gunny entered the picture. Without the ad-libbing, it’s possible that Gunny’s famed iconic status might not have ever happened. After all, part of what makes the role so good is how real it feels.
Kubrick said that Ermey didn’t need many takes for each scene. Maybe that’s because playing the role of a drill instructor felt so natural for him. He was able to make the role his own specifically because he’d lived it. He knew exactly how the minds of new Marines would think and worry and react. All of that added to the authenticity of what he brought to the screen, making his performance in Full Metal Jacket one of the most iconic roles in all of film.
If you’re quiet and close you eyes, you can almost hear him shouting:
Ermey went on to star in over 60 films, including roles in Leaving Las Vegas, Se7en, Dead Men Walking, and even stretched his actor’s legs with Saving Silverman and Toy Story.
Tolkien premieres today, a movie that looks at the horrors that legendary author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien endured in World War I and how it may have informed his writing of The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy novels. But while it’s easy to see some elements of World War I combat in the author’s novels, it’s pretty much certain that some elements won’t make it on to the big screen.
(Also, for what it’s worth, the Tolkien Estate has disavowed the movie ahead of its release, so go ahead and assume it’s not a terribly accurate picture of his life.)
Soldiers with the Royal Irish Rifles at Somme in 1916.
(Public domain, British Army)
Human waste overflowed and spread parasites
Yeah, Tolkien’s novels aren’t known for their graphic descriptions of waste management and disease prevention, so it’s unlikely the movie will have to address it much. But the sanitation challenges of trench warfare were overwhelming. Everyone poops, and millions of soldiers pooping in a line generates a lot of waste.
Soldiers in a shell hole receive a message from a dog in World War I.
(National Library of Scotland)
Buried under exploding dirt
Troops in the trenches were generally below the level of the surrounding terrain. (It’s the whole reason they dug those trenches.) That protected them from machine gun rounds and reduced the threat of artillery, but it also meant that large artillery shells could move tons of dirt onto them, burying soldiers.
World War I wounded leave the battlefield at Bernafay Wood in 1916.
(Ernest Brooks, Imperial War Museums)
Treating the wounded
Tolkien likely has the guts to show hospitals in World War I, but the author wasn’t a medic, and so there would be little reason to depict it. But World War I hospitals in the front were terrifying. They had rudimentary sanitation procedures in place and were often overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties.
During major battles, like when Tolkien took part in the Battle of the Somme, medical personnel couldn’t keep up with the number of wounded. Harold Chapin was assigned night duty in May 1915, but as he described it, that had no real meaning. The medical personnel worked almost 24 hours a day and still couldn’t keep up. One bombardier described waiting three days to get the shrapnel in his leg treated, not an uncommon wait.
Mind-numbing boredom and spotty communications with home
That meant news of a sick relative in a letter might actually be already dead by the time the letter made it to the front. An overwhelmed lover lamenting the separation might have already written their Dear John follow up. And there was no guarantee that the soldier would be kept busy enough to prevent them from dwelling on potential catastrophes at home.
So, in addition to the horrors of battle, troops were left in a prison of their own mind, wondering what parts of their life back home survived.
A sergeant in a flooded out trench in World War I France. Floods like these spread disease.
(National Library of Scotland)
The movie might show a little water in the trenches, but most directors are happy with some wet ankles and splashes of mud. That is not what troops in World War I endured. No, they could be so wet for so long that their flesh rotted off. And the water could easily be a foot or more deep, too deep for soldiers to get dry just by dropping some wood into the trench or cutting a little shelf into the dirt walls.
Serving in the Marine Corps infantry is one of the toughest jobs there is. From deploying every other year to completing the rigorous training required to hold the “03” MOS, the infantry is full of badasses. In the Marines, each infantry squad typically consists of a platoon leader, a squad leader, three fire team leaders, three SAW gunners, six riflemen, and a hospital corpsman.
A while back, we ran a similar story in which we hand-picked our top choices from fiction for each role and made a squad. You guys had a lot to say about our selections. The response was so freakin’ epic that we decided to create this article in your honor, using the choices you made in the comments.
So, check out all the great characters that made the cut. You guys picked some incredible, iconic badasses — well done!
Your platoon leader: Maj. Payne
This Marine leads from the front and has an extremely effective method for taking your mind off a physical ailment — he’ll break your finger.
Your company gunny: Bob Lee Swagger
He’s an ace sharpshooter with a sniper rifle and will go through hell or high water to defeat corruption. That’s why he made your fictional infantry squad.
Your squad leader: Carwood Lipton
This soldier was a real-life badass. His on-screen depiction in HBO’s Band of Brothers showcased his heroics and landed him in the hearts of our audience.
Hollywood has been abuzz since it was announced that Joe Jonas will be making his big-screen debut in the upcoming Korean War movie, Devotion. Jonas follows his younger brother’s appearance in 2019’s Midway. Other cast members include Glen Powell (also appearing in Top Gun: Maverick), Jonathan Majors and Christina Jackson, who will be playing lead roles in the movie. Devotion tells the story of two naval aviators from very different worlds who were brought together by friendship and tragedy.
Ens. Jesse Brown, expected to be portrayed by Majors, was born into an African-American sharecropping family in Depression-era Mississippi. Working in the fields, he developed a love of flight after seeing local pilots fly overhead. Working toward his goal of flying, Brown graduated salutatorian of his high school and enrolled at Ohio State University. Despite working two jobs to pay for school, he maintained top grades in his classes. During his second year, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves and became a midshipman in the school’s NROTC program to participate in the V-5 Aviation Cadet Training Program.
In March 1947, Brown began his Naval Flight Officer training. He also married his girlfriend, Daisy Nix, in secret. Naval cadets were prohibited from marrying during training under threat of immediate dismissal. Despite this and racism from at least one instructor and several classmates, Brown completed his flight training in August 1947. He then trained to fly carrier-based aircraft and became the first African-American naval aviator to earn the coveted wings of gold in October 1948. After breaking this color barrier, he was assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32) flying the Vought F4U Corsair. By the time the Korean War broke out, Brown established a reputation in the squadron as a capable pilot and section leader.
In contrast to Brown’s upbringing, Thomas Hudner Jr., expected to be portrayed by Powell, had a privileged youth. The son of a grocery chain store owner, Hudner attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Inspired to join the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he entered the Naval Academy in 1943 and graduated in 1946. He attended Annapolis with future Admirals Marvin Becker, James Stockdale and Stansfield Turner, along with future President Jimmy Carter.
Although he initially served as a surface officer, Hudner was drawn by the challenge of aviation. After completing basic and advanced flight training, he earned his own wings of gold in August 1949. After a brief posting in Lebanon, he was also assigned to VF-32. It was there that he met and befriended Brown.
By the Korean War, the WWII-era Corsair was quickly becoming antiquated as a fighter. The new breed of jet fighters were faster and more lethal. However, piston planes the Corsair could deliver heavy ordnance in close air support roles better than their jet counterparts. Brown and Hudner flew these missions with the other members of VF-32 in Korea. Following the Chinese intervention in November 1950, VF-32 flew daily missions to support the encircled Marines at the Chosin Reservoir.
At 1338hrs on December 4, 1950, six planes from VF-32 took off the the USS Leyte. Known as Iroquois Flight, the group consisted of squadron XO Lt. Cdr. Dick Cevoli, Lt. George Hudson, Lt. JG Bill Koenig, Ens. Ralph McQueen, Lt. JG Thomas Hudner Jr., and Ens. Jesse Brown. On this flight, Hudner and Brown flew as wingmen. Hunting for Chinese troops, Iroquois Flight flew just 700 feet off the ground. At 1440hrs, Koenig radioed that Brown appeared to be trailing fuel.
The fuel line of Brown’s Corsair was ruptured by unseen ground fire. Fuel pressure dropping, Brown started to lose control of his aircraft. He dropped his external fuel tanks and rockets in preparation for a crash landing. Despite landing in the snow, the Corsair broke up so violently upon impact that the rest of the flight thought Brown to be dead. His leg pinned under the fuselage, Brown waved to his fellow aviators for help.
15 miles behind enemy lines in 15°F weather on the side of a mountain, Brown’s chances of survival were slim. Iroquois Flight put out a mayday call as the patrolled the area for any threats to their downed comrade. However, the crashed Corsair started to smoke from a fire near its internal fuel tanks. Seeing his wingman in trouble, Hudner intentionally crash-landed his own Corsair near Brown’s crashsite to rescue his trapped friend. He attempted to douse the flames with snow and tried in vain to pull Brown from the wreck. At around 1500hrs, rescue helicopter pilot Lt. Charles Ward arrived and joined Hudner’s efforts to free Brown. Despite the use of a fire extinguisher and an axe, the Corsair continued to burn as Brown remained trapped inside.
Fading in an out of consciousness, Brown, suggested that the two men amputate his pinned leg. Before the suggestion could be acted on, Brown fell completely unconscious. His last known words were to Hudner. “Tell Daisy I love her,” Brown said. Unable to fly in the dark, Ward was forced to fly his helicopter back to base before nightfall with Hudner, leaving Brown behind. He is believed to have died of exposure and his injuries shortly thereafter.
Despite Hudner’s pleas, the Navy prohibited further efforts to recover Brown’s body for fear of enemy ambushes. To prevent Brown’s body from falling into enemy hands, the crash site was bombed with napalm. The pilots forced to carry out the mission reportedly recited the Lord’s prayer as they watched their fellow aviator be consumed by the flames. Ens. Jesse Brown was the first African-American naval aviator killed in action.
Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. For his efforts to save his wingman, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor. Both men have had naval vessels named for them. A book and painting, both titled Devotion, capture the bravery and loyalty displayed that 4th of December. The upcoming movie retains this title and will finally bring the incredible story to the big screen. Devotion is currently in pre-production with no release date.
The 38th Parallel between North and South Korea isn’t a place known for comedy, and lately it’s been even more un-funny than usual.
American General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in the country, recently said that tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at their highest level in more than 20 years. So Conan O’Brien took his late night show on the road to provide a little levity for the troops stationed along the DMZ.
They went to the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the border, the only place where North and South Korean troops stand face to face. The JSA is used to hold diplomatic engagements between the two countries who are still technically at war. They were startled to discover the North keeps a closed circuit television feed on the buildings in the JSA to monitor activity there.
While there, O’Brien and crew performed the first late night talk show ever performed in the Hermit Kingdom, albeit just a few feet across the border. His first guest was “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun. Watch the whole segment below, then check out an outtake from the DMZ Gift Shop.
Comfort is one of the last things in mind when the U.S. Navy designs a submarine. There’s little room to walk around, restrooms and showers are kept as cramped as possible to make room for ordnance and mechanics, and the perpetual lack of sunlight and fresh air will make you forget what time of the day it is.
Add all that up and you’ll quickly realize being deployed for months on end on a submarine is enough to make most people go crazy with cabin fever — but the submariners of the United States Navy are legitimate badasses, so they make due.
We Are The Mighty is proud to support the release of ‘Hunter Killer,’ a submarine thriller starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman that hits theaters on October 26, 2018.
An extra two hours of duty is nothing if it means not losing your freakin’ mind.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey M. Richardson)
There’s a certain flow that gets developed while underway. The lack of sunlight actually makes it easier on the human body to adapt to a new circadian rhythm, which makes splitting shifts a little easier. There’s a running joke among submariners that the only reliable way to tell the time it is by what the mess hall is cooking. If it’s waffles, it’s probably morning. If it’s leftovers, it’s definitely midnight.
The crew takes turns cycling through three eight-hour shifts: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of duty, and eight hours of free-time. Prior to 2014, submariners endured an 18-hour day that was split into three sections of six hours of each, but it was decided by the powers that be that shifting people off of a 24-hour cycle was a terrible idea for everyone’s sanity.
This 15 sq. foot rack can be all yours for the low, low price of a one enlistment contract!
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey M. Richardson)
When it comes to sleeping, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the racks resemble coffins. Stacked two high and barely arms-width apart, the only way you can get any kind of privacy is via a tiny, little curtain. If you can get used to that, great. If you can’t, well, sucks to be you…
The space for your personal belongings amounts to all of a single drawer under your rack and a cabinet above your pillow. To everyone else in the military, that’s about a duffel bag’s load of stuff to last you an average of 90 days. What this means is that you’ll usually take changes of uniforms, the occasional personal memento, and that’s about it.
Slackers, rejoice! You probably won’t be PTing that much while you’re underway. Just remember that PT standards still apply when you’re back on land, so there’s that…
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven Khor)
After the submariner finishes their assigned watch, their time is their own until they head back to bed. They’ll often get called back for work or get stuck on some mind-numbing detail — but sometimes, it’s a nice break in the monotony.
Since you can’t really chill out in the living quarters if you’re lower rank, the preferred way to relax is to crowd into the mess hall and watch TV. New submarines are being fitted with internet access to give submariners something to do — but don’t expect speeds greater than old-school dial-up all the way down there. There are gyms on board, but you’ll have to stretch your definition of “gym” to mean two machines that are shared among the crew.
Life isn’t easy on a submarine. It’s not for everyone. But if you can endure the extensive training to earn your Submarine Warfare Insignia and knock out a deployment-at-sea in a cramped tin can, you’ve earned the right to be objectively cooler than (nearly) everyone else in the Navy.
We Are The Mighty is proud to support the release of ‘Hunter Killer,’ a submarine thriller starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman that hits theaters on October 26, 2018.
In 2008, HBO released Generation Kill, a highly popular military mini-series that chronicled the experiences of the Marines from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as they led the way on the initial push into Baghdad.
The entertaining series made veteran audiences freakin’ proud that Hollywood finally got something right.
Well, we used our (fictional) WATM private investigators to locate the grunts of 1st Recon silver screen whereabouts, and here’s what they found.
After he returned home from Iraq, this outstanding recon Marine decided that a life aboard a massive battleship was the right life for him. He was commissioned as a Naval officer and assigned to USS Sampson.
Unfortunately, aliens showed up, and the former squad leader ended up getting killed-in-action — or so we thought. It turns out, something happened to his genetics, and he was turned into a freakin’ vampire.
No one saw that coming.
After this badass and buffed out sergeant left the Marines, he became a famous figure in the military community and a good friend to WATM.
He managed to even star in his own show about how to survive after an apocalypse in Apocalypse Man.
In less than two weeks, the biggest movie of the first half of the year will hit theaters. Avengers: Endgame will be the end of an era, mostly because there’s every reason to believe that at least two of the core Avengers — Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans — won’t be coming back to make more of these movies. But what if these movies are actually a little hazy in your memory? Or, more interestingly, what if you kind of can’t remember which Marvel movie is which, but you want to catch up a tiny bit before Endgame drops? There are literally twenty movies out on home video, and one movie still in theaters. So, should you binge-watch all of them before seeing Endgame?
Nope! In fact, there are really only five Marvel movies you have to watch to get good and refreshed for Endgame. If you barely care about Marvel, here’s the bare minimum of what you need to see. So, if you are cramming before Endgame, hopefully this will make the next two weeks fun, rather than feeling like watching a bunch of superhero homework.
1. Iron Man (2008)
The film that started it all, and possibly one of the best superhero/action movies of all time. The third act is a little wonky and predictable, but it’s hard to believe this insane movie phenomenon started just 11 years ago with this film. Tony Stark built this movie franchise…in a cave…with a box of scraps!!
Though Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger do a good job setting up those respective characters, you can totally skip those movies and just watch the Avengers after you see Iron Man. At the time it came out, the novelty of this movie was nuts. None of us could believe that six superheroes were teaming up in the same movie! Wow! Somehow just seven years later, that idea seems quaint.
Reason to watch it before Endgame: Because the new Avengersmovie is actually about the Avengers, watching their first big adventure together will help you understand how this became such an important super team in the first place.
In between Avengers and Civil War were mostly bad movies. With the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel movies prior to Civil War and after The Avengers are mostly forgettable and, in some cases, straight-up bad. (Thor: The Dark World springs to mind.) Yes, while one could make an argument for watching Captain American: The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3, you really get everything you need to know in Civil War. And, the movie is nuts.
Reason to watch it before Endgame: Captain America and Iron Man’s partnership and friendship basically ends in this movie. The newer movies are connected to that aftermath. This helps explain how all that went down.
This is a no-brainer, but if you don’t see Infinity Warbefore Endgame you will be utterly lost. In some ways, it appears that Endgame is just like…the rest of Infinity War. These aren’t really two separate movies, not really. So, make sure to watch this one right before you see the new one.
This is a little bit of a wild card, but other than Captain Marvel, the most recent Marvel Studios movie is Ant-Man and the Wasp. Unlike Captain Marvel, you can watch Ant-Man and the Wasp at home! There’s not a ton in this movie that connects to Endgame, other than the fact that Ant-Man being stuck in the Quantum Realm could be pivotal to what happens to the Avengers going forward. And, best of all, this is the only Marvel movie on this list that is specifically about a superhero who is also a dad trying to do right by his daughter. That reason alone makes it worth your time.
5 Questions Your Kids Will Have After ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp,’ Answered
Babasoloukian — aka “Babalou” — tells a story that illustrates how easy it is for trainees to fall into traps set by their drill sergeants…or just actually fall…even when they’re told specifically not to fall (common sense would suggest that you wouldn’t have to tell someone that but…boots amirite?)
A genius moment is when one of the enlistees doesn’t know the difference between an Armenian and a Kardashian.
Maybe genius isn’t the right word?
But hey, when it comes down to it, all military personnel are well aware that our great nation faces threats of all shapes and sizes, whether it’s ISIS, al Qaeda, or Kardashian.
It’s a new world for military movies, a world where realism is just as important as the story. While movies like Heartbreak Ridge, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings are memorable and entertaining, they just aren’t grounded in reality. That’s a big problem for a lot of veterans. It’s difficult to be immersed in a story set in your world when everything you see is slightly off in some way.
But the filmmakers behind Tango Down want to do more than produce a film that gets it right; they want to be able to produce other veteran films — with as many veterans working the films as possible. That vision just starts with Tango Down.
That’s where Andrew Dorsett and Rick Swift come in. They are Marine Corps veterans who decided to start writing after leaving the service.
Dorsett was in Marine Corps aviation between 1998 and 2010. After he got out, he became pretty sick of the corporate world and decided to start writing.
“Veterans are the most critical audience you can have,” says Swift. “One chevron out of place and you’ve lost them. And so many feel like Hollywood just doesn’t get it.”
Swift has loved movies his entire life and became a writer as soon as he got out of the Corps (he also writes a review blog called Film Grouch). He soon started working with actress Julia Ling (Chuck, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) on the web series Tactical Girl. Now Ling, Swift, and Dorsett are collaborating on their short film, Tango Down.
“It’s very important to work with veterans when creating stories like this one, because they have the real experience,” says Micah Haughey, a producer on the film.
Where Tactical Girl was a funny, tongue-in-cheek series, Tango Down is a serious film, with a serious subject. It’s a film by veterans, for veterans. Still, don’t assume that’s what Tango Down is about. The team is serious about their work with the veteran community, but Tango Down isn’t about PTSD.
“There will be some levity in it,” says Swift. “It’s geared towards the veteran community, so there’s going to be some inside jokes that only veterans will get with insider things that only veterans will understand.”
The film is about the bonds formed through military service. It’s a film with action – but not so much an action film – that shows how real veterans might overcome significant challenges using the morals and integrity instilled in them through military service. From Afghanistan to the U.S., the film follows the paths of two friends after they leave the military.
If that sounds vague, you’re right. The filmmakers are careful not to give too much away.
“It’s going to be controversial,” says Dorsett. “It’s not about the broken veteran and that’s an important part. But it’s a very positive message. No politics, no criticism of policy. It’s a character study. We aren’t taking ourselves too seriously. We laugh, we crack jokes, but we know when to be serious.”
There are number of veteran-produced movies that made or are currently making the rounds on social media. Most famously was the film Range 15, an entirely crowdfunded effort by a group of prominent veterans to make “the best military movie ever.” Marine Corps veteran Dale Dye is pushing project designed to be as historically accurate as possible. And they all want to include as many veterans as possible.
So does the team making Tango Down. But Dorsett, Swift, and Ling aren’t just trying to make a movie, they’re trying to build a community of veterans who come together to make movies. In their view, a lot of veterans are adrift right now, seeking a voice. They want to show the world that vets have talent and don’t want to be viewed as a faceless mass.
Tango Down wants them to come and rejoin a unit with a mission – the first of hopefully many opportunities, including feature-length films.
“For all of the veterans working on Tango Down, there’s a genuine mission behind it to connect veterans, to create a community where veterans actually can connect with each other,” says Ling. “At the same time, we hope civilians can watch it and say ‘Wow, I appreciate the military a little bit more after watching this film.'”
To learn more about Tango Down or to see how you can be part of the community, visit their website. To help fund the film and the community, donate here.
On stage, Gary thanked Second World War veterans for “defeating tyranny over 70 years ago”.
“Just imagine the world if we had not succeeded in defeating that tyranny all those years ago,” he said.
“I’m grateful for these heroes and all who continue to defend us. It’s a gift to be able to use some of the success that I’ve had in the movie and television business to try to do some good for those who serve and sacrifice each day for our precious freedom,” he added.
“It’s a great country. I’ve been so blessed over the years.”
General Robin Rand, head of the US Air Force Global Strike Command, described Gary as a “true American patriot”.
Addressing Gary on stage, he said: “My friend and brother Gary doesn’t stop. Like a tiger in battle, he doesn’t quit. He’s just there for us, quietly and without fanfare. You’re a humble servant and you’re a valued friend to American warriors who serve in ill forgotten places. Your star is a legacy of service and a legacy of love.”
Other guest speakers at the event included “Everybody Loves Raymond” actress Patricia Heaton and “Criminal Minds” star Joe Mantegna.
Gary was presented with the 2,606th star on the Walk of Fame.
Outside of Hollywood, the South Korean film industry is one of the most successful. It’s affectionately known as “Hallyu-wood” and is responsible for some great movies, like Oldboy, Train to Busan, and 3-Iron, which have all reached a level of commercial and critical success.
The same, however, cannot be said for North Korea, whose only not-entirely-propaganda (but totally is) film is so campy that it makes The Room look like a masterpiece. We’re talking, of course, about Pulgasari.
Don’t worry. The communist propaganda film was, unironically, also a merchandising opportunity. (Photo by Claw Mark Toys)
The film’s origins lie in the 1970s when Kim Jong-il was still just the head of the state propaganda department. Jong-il was a huge movie buff and wanted to create his own. One obvious downfall of living in an authoritarian dictatorship that shuns artistic expression, however, is that it’s hard to find artists who haven’t already been executed. So, he set his sights on the man known as the “prince of South Korean cinema,” Shin Sang-ok, and his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee. In their prime, the power couple was compared to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. While the two South Korean film magnates were visiting Hong Kong, North Korean agents abducted them.
Shin Sang-ok was forced to create six propaganda films for Kim Jong-il between 1978 and 1983 — all of which were terrible because Shin sabotaged his own art in protest. Then, Kim Jong-il pitched Pulgasari, a pro-communist knock-off of Godzilla. In order to get the special effects right, Jong-il also got staff from Toho Studios (the studio behind the Godzilla films) to North Korea. He did this by saying there was a very lucrative film being shot in China. They only realized something was up when they instead landed in North Korea.
The budget was so high that it almost bankrupted the nation, but Kim Jong-il was still happy. Author Paul Fischer wrote about the filming in his book, A Kim Jong-il Production. In it, he describes how Kim Jong-il was as giddy as schoolkid throughout production even though everyone half-assed everything.
The film is about a Feudal Korean blacksmith who turns into a giant metal-eating monster called Pulgasari. An evil, corrupt king tries to stomp out all of the rebellions and it’s up to the blacksmith and his daughter to overthrow the evil, capitalist monarchy. Shin was very heavy-handed about how this metaphor also applied to the Kim dynasty.
After production wrapped, the world watched the kidnapping in horror. To prove that Shin Sang-ok, Choi Eun-hee, and the crew weren’t kidnapped, Kim Jong-il sent them (with the film) on a world tour. They were also sent to talk to investors for Kim’s next great masterpiece about Genghis Khan. The first chance they got — at the Vienna Film Festival — they all bolted and went into hiding.
If you haven’t seen it, know that it’s painful to watch — seriously, it takes a lot of beer to get through it.
A new Disney+ series is a throwback to an aspirational time in U.S. history that proved ordinary humans can achieve extraordinary feats.
“The Right Stuff” takes viewers back to America’s space race against the Soviet Union, with the U.S. placing its hopes on the capabilities of seven astronauts — all military test pilots. Two men at the center of the Mercury Seven are Maj. John Glenn (played by Patrick J. Adams), a revered Marine test pilot and committed family man, and Lt. Cmdr. Alan Shepard (played by Jake McDorman), one of the best test pilots in Navy history, according to a press release.
McDorman is no stranger to high-profile military characters. He previously played Navy SEAL Ryan Job in “American Sniper.” Though McDorman wasn’t looking for crossover in the two roles, he says there are parallels.
“What I got out of reading “The Right Stuff” and also reading “American Sniper” … was this relationship to fear. I mean these are people who have a very unique relationship to fear as far as any average person, like myself, could understand. To be able to act efficiently and make smart, calculated decisions under circumstances that would have any of the rest of us acting impulsively or recklessly or too reactionary is certainly a parallel,” he said.
“The Right Stuff” explores how the astronauts’ lives were put on full display, in a manner described as America’s first reality TV show — including with “government-backed PR and publicity” to elevate the Mercury Seven, McDorman says. He adds that a joy and a fear exist when portraying a real person from history.
“When you feel that real presence of people that knew this person, loved this person, along with the public perception of a person — you know it both can breathe down your neck but it can also really inspire you, because it’s just this great responsibility to have. And honestly, it really doesn’t change my approach to the work too much, and I think if you let it, it can just spin you out and kind of sabotage you. So, I kind of use it as just another layer of excitement to view into the research process,” he said.
McDorman and his fellow cast members had a wealth of research to lean on for the pre-production process, he says, but Alan Shepard was also a private man — he was among the astronauts that didn’t write his own book. The other component of McDorman’s preparation for the role entailed in-person experiences.
“As far as the physical training part of it [the role], none of us did as much as we wished we could have — there was probably an astronaut bucket list that we all have,” he said. “We didn’t get to do the most exciting parts of astronaut training physically but educationally, by far, we did. We shot in Coco Beach, we shot in Florida where all of this stuff happened. We got to meet real astronauts at Kennedy Space Center and tour the entire facility; we got invited to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing … and just kind of soak in this environment firsthand before we started.”
“The Right Stuff” takes viewers back to a unified time in history when Americans rallied behind a common goal of developing a space program. McDorman recommends adding it to the must-watch list for the intersection to strides made this year.
“I’d say directly, the historical aspect is fascinating and if you really want a bookend with this year, the first manned SpaceX launch that happened in 2020, and now this show coming out months later, which is the inception of the American space program. You really get to see the start and finish and scope of that entire timeline with this show. It’s a story that even though it’s a famous book and was adapted to an Academy Award-winning movie, I still think for a lot of people — myself being one of those people at first — it’s relatively untold. I think most people my age, and especially people younger, are familiar with Apollo 11 — Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, those guys — so learning about two space programs before Apollo, starting with Mercury and learning how the whole space program came to be and how far behind the Russians we were, you know we were reacting to them successfully putting satellites in orbit,” he said.
The Disney+ series also examines the astronauts’ families, who became instant celebrities. Among those under the microscope was Louise Shepard (played by Shannon Lucio), a wife and mother who refuses to let her husband’s [Alan Shepard] transgressions affect her home.
Lucio said she was attracted to the project because the story takes a deeper, clear-eyed look at this cast of characters who came together to try to do something that was dangerous and unheard of at that time. But the private nature of the Shepard family made getting inside of Louise’s head more difficult, Lucio added.
There is an effort by show creators to put the roles of the wives at the forefront, especially because Lucio points out these families were forced to present a “perfect Americana life to the public” while grappling with the realities of their lives privately.
“The show really focuses primarily on three astronauts: John Glenn, Alan Shepard, and Gordo Cooper, and then it also puts a good focus on their wives — and really what each wife was struggling with during this chaotic time when the spotlight was really on them. It does focus, not just on how they were there for their men to support them through this, but what was personally going on for them,” Lucio said.
Shannon Lucio as “Louise” and Jake McDorman as “Alan”
The couple’s relationship, as an example, was complex because it was born out of love, but “Alan was a known philanderer, almost from the moment they were married and throughout most of his life,” Lucio says. Still, Louise remained by his side so that the family could remain whole and he could continue being Alan Shepard.
Lucio says “The Right Stuff” offers an opportune message for current matters facing the nation.
“The story is an inspiring one because it takes these people who are deeply-flawed, but very ambitious and also noble and honorable, in some respects, and it throws them together and they’re all jockeying for this position to be the first. But at the end of the day they realize this is so much bigger than them. This is for America. This is for humanity. This is for trying to push what we are capable of further, and I think that right now, especially with what’s going on and how divisive our country in particular is in this moment, coming together and accomplishing something that is unthinkable is a story I feel needs to be shared and watched right now, for the sake of our souls,” Lucio said.
Other members of the cast include Patrick J. Adams as “Major John Glenn,” Colin O’Donoghue as “Captain Gordon Cooper,” Eloise Mumford as “Trudy Cooper,” James Lafferty as “Captain Scott Carpenter,” Nora Zehetner as “Annie Glenn,” Eric Laden as “Chris Kraft, Jr.,” Patrick Fischler as “Bob Gilruth,” Aaron Staton as “Wally Schirra,” Michael Trotter as “Virgil “Gus” Grissom,” Micah Stock as “Deke Slayton,” and Josh Cooke as “Loudon Wainwright, Jr.”
The eight-episode series premiered on Oct. 9 and is available for streaming on Disney+.