The Shining (11/9/12)

The ShiningMovie Two Hundred Fifty Five

In The Shining, the winter caretaker of an isolated hotel goes crazy and tries murdering his family.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic, gets a job as the winter caretaker for the sprawling Overlook Hotel in Colorado with the hopes of writing. Despite warnings that the previous caretaker went crazy and murdered his family, Jack will be taking his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny learns that he has telepathic powers from the cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), at the Overlook that he calls ‘the shining’ and has visions of horrific things while at the hotel. When isolation in the huge hotel begins to set in, the Overlook begins looking for ways to tempt Jack into murdering his family.

I have left my synopsis of The Shining intentionally vague because I’d like to briefly discuss some of my theories about the film. Spoilers throughout for those of you that haven’t seen the film yet.

I believe that the most important scene in The Shining is when Dick Hallorann is speaking with Danny about the hotel and the shining. One specific thing of note is that he says some buildings can shine just like some people can. During Jack’s initial walk-through of the Overlook, he is told by the Ullman, the manager, that the hotel was built on top of an Indian burial ground. I know King has derided Kubrick’s vision of the film for lacking the motivations for Jack’s insanity (whether or not it is from ghosts/spirits or just from Jack going crazy) but I think it is pretty clear that the Overlook can shine and preys on the weak mind of an abusive alcoholic father that was already on the edge before getting to the hotel. We know there are strong forces at work because *something* lets Jack out of the pantry. While there are obvious tones of dysfunctional relationships in the Torrance family, the Overlook is the catalyst here.

The Shining as Stephen King envisioned it is a ghost story (note – this is just from what I have heard, I am reading the novel now to form my own opinions) and Kubrick turned the story into something more intangible, but there are definitely ghostly things happening. The beauty of The Shining is that it holds mysteries much like the Overlook itself. We do not fully understand what is happening all the time, even after repeat viewings. I know some may see this as a deficiency but I see it as genius, though frustrating at times. While Kubrick obviously had a firm vision of what he wanted, some of his choices are not clear so a little trust must be given that everything serves a purpose in some way.

I cannot write a review of The Shining without spending some time talking about the cinematography, so allow me to get this out of the way. A few years before The Shining, cameras were not really used as handhelds, they were mounted on tripods for stable shots or dollies for tracking, but Garrett Brown came along and invented the Steadicam. The Steadicam uses gyroscopes to allow a camera operator to move but keeps the camera steady. This device allows amazing one-point perspective tracking shots following the actors in close proximity, especially Danny in his big wheel, and gives the viewer a sense of actually following the character. In the vast corridors and rooms of the Overlook, it is truly a work of beauty.

To me, The Shining is a perfect horror movie and its one that completely mesmerized me the first time I watched it and every single time since. It firmly has a place in my top films of all time. The Shining is the film that not only sparked much of motivation to learn more about movies, but it sparked my interest in Stanley Kubrick, my favorite director. The film is just as mystical as the hotel it takes place in and that allure keeps drawing me to The Shining time after time.

I give it 5 “Things could be better, Lloyd. Things could be a whole lot better”s out of 5.

Continue reading

Goin’ South (6/1/12)

Goin' SouthMovie One Hundred Thirty Four

Goin’ South is a pseudo-Western about a fugitive that gets saved from the gallows by marrying a woman in town.

As Henry Moon (Jack Nicholson) is running from the law, he thinks that crossing the border to Mexico is going to save him. That is, until his pursuers cross the border right behind him and drag him back to the States. Moon finds himself in a small town in Texas where the sheriff (Christopher Lloyd) wants to see him hanged. Before he is about to be hanged, Moon finds out about an ordinance that allows a woman to save a man from his death for his hand in marriage. Moon winds up married to Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen), who only wants Moon’s help mining, but their rocky relationship ends up turning into more than they expected.

Goin’ South is a weird movie. It’s part Western, part comedy, part romance, but even the comedy is uneven. Nicholson actually directed this too, but his best work is done in front of the camera (both here and in general). One thing that I found quite distracting his Nicholson’s speech in this. I couldn’t tell if his Texas accent is just weird sounding or if he spent the entire production doing cocaine. I would believe both.

There is a lot to like about Goin’ South, especially if you’re like me and love watching Nicholson on screen. While Nicholson’s role in this one is not one of my favorites it’s worthwhile. The best recommendation I could give for this would be as part of some amazing Nicholson marathon, which I think I should do sometime. Goin’ South is mostly forgettable but at times is genuinely funny and for the most part, is entertaining.

I give it 3 “How’s about a little desert?”s out of 5.

Continue reading

The Terror (3/30/12)

The TerrorMovie Sixty Seven

The Terror was the first movie I watched in my Roger Corman double-feature. If I called it an obvious Roger Corman flick, would everyone know what to expect?

The Terror is an obvious Roger Corman movie if you’re familiar with his work. Made on a shoestring budget, shot incredibly quickly, improvised scenes, and violence. What sets this film apart from the other billion movies Corman produced is actually more interesting than the film itself.

I won’t even bother trying to dissect the plot of The Terror. A very young Jack Nicholson is a nineteenth century soldier that gets separated from his regiment and stumbles upon a beautiful woman by the sea. Then a lot of crazy stuff happens and he meets Boris Karloff in a castle later. That’s about all I can really say with any certainty. It’s not totally nonsensical, but it’s close. But there’s a reason for that…

The Terror was almost entirely improvised, and not just the dialogue. Corman let that camera run for various takes without cuts with the intention to use that footage later. Apparently all he needed was the basic plot outline. Some of the sets were reused from another Corman picture and a Vincent Price film. The Terror was also shot by at least six different directors: Corman himself, Francis Ford Coppola (yes, really), Dennis Jakob, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson.

Aside from the interesting background of the film, there is not much to recommend of the actual film itself. The acting is actually quite good even if the dialog is kind of weird. The plot is disjointed and confusing but it kept me interested in watching, which is something worth noting. I would definitely recommend The Terror for fans of Corman’s work and horror films.

I give it 3 young Nicholsons out of 5.

Continue reading

Five Easy Pieces (2/21/12)

Five Easy PiecesMovie Thirty Three

In his Great Movies write-up for Five Easy Pieces, Roger Ebert called it “the first Sundance film”. This was of course referring to the Sundance Film Festival, which did not begin for another eight years. What he meant by this was that Five Easy Pieces was a pioneering indie film.

Jack Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, a musician working in an oil field, purposely making sure he does not live up to his potential. He is determined to be a mediocre outcast, but struggles to fit the role he wants for himself. Nicholson is divine as the lead role and despite his best efforts to make himself seem disagreeable, I found him to be identifiable and funny.

The story takes us with Bobby to visit his dying father back home. He travels with his girlfriend, whom he cannot seem to stand but keeps around as part of his facade. We discover he comes from a well off family and we also learn why Bobby wants so desperately to be his own man and disconnect from the bourgeois lifestyle. The film ends in a spectacular way that is perfect for the tone of the film.

After watching Five Easy Pieces I was surpised to learn it was nominated in four different categories for the 1971 Academy Awards, including best picture. I was not surprised because of the quality of the movie, but more so because I’m surprised audiences 40 years ago were very receptive to it.

The Criterion Collection has released Five Easy Pieces as part of their BBS Box Set. The set includes seven films from the BBS production company: Head, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Drive, He Said, A Safe Place, The Last Picture Show, and The King of Marvin Gardens. I would highly recommend it, Five Easy Pieces alone makes it a gem.

I give it 5 barking Nicholsons out of 5.

Continue reading