The Shining (11/9/12)

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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.

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Fear and Desire (11/3/12)

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A group of several soldiers behind enemy lines confront their inner demons in Fear and Desire.

In a fictional war between two unidentified countries, a plane crashes six miles into enemy territory and a group of four soldiers must survive. They try building a raft and happen upon a girl that does not speak their language. When one guard is tasked with watching the girl, he shoots her after she frees herself. Two other soldiers come across two enemy soldiers eating stew in a cabin and kill them, only to find they look exactly like their enemy counterparts.

I could sing the praises of Stanley Kubrick all day long, but Fear and Desire, his first feature, is fairly dismal as a film. Though Kubrick directed, edited, photographed, and produced the film, the entire affair has a strong sense of being a student film…In a bad way. There are shots that are there for no real reason and the plot is bogged down, even though the film is only around 75 minutes long. Kubrick fans may find some commonalities of a young master director, but for the most part Fear and Desire is almost like a weird Twilight Zone episode.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Fear and Desire is Kubrick’s intent to destroy all copies of the film after its release. Obviously he didn’t fully succeed, but the new print of the film (distributed by Kino in the US and Eureka in the UK) is clearly cobbled together from various prints of differing quality. Even though I picked up the blu-ray for Fear and Desire, the picture quality ranges from very good to poor, though overall I stopped noticing the differences in film quality. Also included on the disc is The Seafarers, a promotional short film for the Seafarers Union that Kubrick took on to fund his next project, Killer’s Kiss. Unlike Fear and Desire, I found no trademarks of Kubrick in The Seafarers and it’s merely a curiosity at this point.

Fear and Desire is a unique piece of film / Kubrick history but unfortunately, that is about all it is at this point. While Kubrick would go on to be one of the greatest directors of all time (at least, in my opinion), his craft was clearly refined over the years. Fear and Desire is still recommended viewing for the novelty of seeing a long lost film and also Kubrick’s first, but on its own it’s not worth much else.

I give it 3 young Stanley Kubricks out of 5.

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A Clockwork Orange (7/11/12)

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A Clockwork Orange centers around a youth who partakes in drugs, sex, Beethoven, and ultra-violence before being imprisoned and reformed.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell), and his gang of droogs start A Clockwork Orange in the milk bar they frequent and we see their fights with rival gangs, rape, brutal beatings, speeding in cars and in general what they refer to as “a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence”. Alex is particularly callous and sociopathic in his ways, but has a fondness for Beethoven. After murdering a woman with a giant phallic statue, Alex is betrayed by his gang and is hauled off to prison where he is involved in an extreme experimental procedure to “cure” him.

Stanley Kubrick stands as one of my favorite writer/directors, if not the favorite and I used to watch A Clockwork Orange several times a month in high school. It has been several years since I had seen the film and was lucky enough to get a chance to see it shown theatrically. Unfortunately, the theatrical release was marred by an old restoration or a careless one which is perplexing since the film was recently relreleased on blu-ray and this was definitely not the blu-ray. The sound was a bit muddy and the picture had several hairs and specks on it that weren’t quite distracting, just disappointing.

As for the film itself, A Clockwork Orange has certainly stood the test of time. In 1971 when it was released it obviously caused quite a stir, even today it is a very hard R-rating. Kubrick shows an unflinching view of the rape and violence as well as Alex’s treatment. This is not an easy recommendation for everyone but for those willing to look deeper into the meaning of the pointed remarks being made about government, psychiatry, and the prison system may appreciate A Clockwork Orange for what it stands for.

Malcolm McDowell is absolutely chilling in the lead of this film and the role of Alex has gone to define his career. In A Clockwork Orange he is terrifying while also charming and likable, long before Dexter graced our televisions. The other performances in the film are executed well, but none come close to McDowell’s. I also have to point out the fantastic soundtrack, comprised of classical music and synthesized tracks. It would be impossible to imagine the film working with any other soundtrack and it adds tremendously to the tone of the scenes.

A Clockwork Orange is a great film that is sure to disgust people that aren’t aware of what the film is actually about. Stanley Kubrick made a career of directing masterpieces and A Clockwork Orange is still one of the greatest films released.

I give it 5 Ludovico techniques out of 5.

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