THIRD time’s the charm? Last year Francis Ford Coppola released his latest take on his Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now. The original version came out in 1979, running at almost two and a half hours and was a hallucinatory, baffling, self-conscious, at times ridiculous, but often thrilling piece of filmmaking. More than 30 years later Coppola had another go with Apocalypse Now Redux which added nearly an hour of material, including scenes not included in the original. It clocked in at 203 minutes.

Last year’s Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (a title that given Coppola’s track record with the movie might be something of a hostage to fortune) cut the film back to 183 minutes, though it does retain the French dinner party scene which was one of the main changes made in 2001.

Not that any of this makes the film any less incoherent or any less magnificent. It remains a wild folly, a visionary movie that has nothing much to say about the war in question and lots of woolly things to say about war in general.

But it is also a film that throbs with a feverish intensity, that pulses with horror and excess, that reflects the madness of America’s involvement in Vietnam while, like so many Vietnam war movies made by Americans, has next to no interest in the Vietnamese themselves.

Based very loosely on Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, a novel about 19th-century colonialism, it's a film that is marked by the extreme strains and stresses that went into its making. Shot in the Philippines, it saw its star Martin Sheen suffer a heart attack, while director Francis Ford Coppola's marriage and his very sanity came under threat. Famously, when he presented the film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, Coppola exclaimed: “My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It's what it was really like.

“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.”

There is no question that the story behind the movie is itself is something of an epic story (one told by Coppola’s wife Eleanor in her book Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now and also in Les Blank’s 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness). As for the film itself, its reputation has waxed and waned in the years since its release. If anything, its “greatness” is now less in question than it was when it was first released (to some very suspicious reviews), just four years after the end of the war itself.

That may have something to do with the fact that it is now seen as one of the last gasps of New American Cinema, that moment in Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Movie Brats, including Coppola and Spielberg, and fellow travellers including Hal Ashby and Robert Altman, sought to reinvent Hollywood movies, to create a cinema that matched the complicated, dark moment that America was living through. It gave us Chinatown, Nashville, and the first two Godfather films among others, but it proved short-lived. It died when George Lucas proved to the studios that the blockbuster was where the money was at when he made Star Wars.

(That’s a shorthand version of the rather more messy and complicated reality, of course. You could argue that Spielberg had already proved the efficacy of the blockbuster with the success of Jaws. And it’s possible that it was the epic failure of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate that did as much as anything to kill of the idea of American auteur cinema in the end.)

The question now is where in all this does the film itself sit? The truth is it remains both brilliant and incoherent, beautiful and yet nauseatingly self-obsessed at the same time. It’s impossible to watch the Ride of the Valkyries sequence and not believe you are seeing one of the greatest sequences in cinema history. The journey upriver, too, is a dream narrative that is full of wonders. At the same time, the film is flawed and sentimental and foolish. And never quite as grown up as it pretends. It’s a problematic text then, but one you can’t help keep poring over.

It is also a testament to the long-ago ambition of cinema before the days of CGI and empty spectacle (Apocalypse Now at least knows that it wants to say something; it’s just not quite sure what that something is). This once was cinema, it says. The question is do we miss it? The answer? Yes, but …

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is on BBC Two tonight at 9.30pm

Knives Out, Amazon Prime, from Friday

Has it only been eight months since this was in cinemas? Has it only been four months since we were all in cinemas? Let us console each other with this exhilarating whodunnit. Director Rian Johnson takes a top-drawer cast and lets them (and his camera) loose as we try to work out who killed Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Could it be one of his own dysfunctional children? Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson and Toni Collette all play a part and Daniel Craig actually looks like he’s having fun here as the detective with a Southern accent, Benoit Blanc.