Tag: stanley kubrick

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
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“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.”

This may have been the movie on this countdown I was dreading most. There are others on the list I’ve seen before and not liked it, including another movie by this same director. But I remembered this being such a long, boring, painful slog, that the thought of sitting through it again really was daunting. Then, an old cinema in Melbourne announced it was closing down and that it would be showing this movie over its final weekend. So I figured if I had to see 2001: A Space Odyssey again, I’d at least do it in style at the Astor.


Opening on the African savannah at the dawn of man, some vegetarian monkey-men are chased away from their watering hole by rival pack of monkey-men. The next morning, they wake to see that a giant monolith has appeared. The mysterious black monument is blankly anonymous, yet emits obvious power. Soon, under its influence, the monkey-men realise that bones can be used as tools and weapons. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #39. Dr Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
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“Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books.”

Stanley Kubrick was film making genius.  But as several past reviews have noted, I’m not a big fan of Stanley Kubrick.  I can recognise his brilliance, while finding a lot of what he does too showy, cold and generally more interested in showing off than telling a story.  A Clockwork Orange is all style and no substance, and one of the downsides of this AFI Top 100 countdown is that it means I will have to endure 2001: A Space Odyssey again at some time in the near future.  But there’s one movie in Kubrick’s filmography that even I think more than lives up to its classic status.  That movie is the gloriously titled Dr Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.


It’s the height of the Cold War, and while his squadron of bombers are in the air on a training exercise, but none the less loaded to the hilt with nukes, Brig. Gen. Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) uses a military loophole to order them to attack Russia.  With their radios turned to a secure frequency, the only thing that will bring the pilots back is a secret code.  A secret known only by Ripper.  When a visiting English officer, Peter Sellers as Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, tries to get the codes from Ripper, he realises that Ripper has gone completely insane.  Soon, the soldiers on base are fighting off allied Americans who they believe are undercover Soviets (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI 100*** #70. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

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“Welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, well.”

When I was in high school, A Clockwork Orange was notorious for having been banned back in the day in my home state of Queensland.  None of us had read the book or knew very much about it, but the fact that it had been banned made it a must see.  This was before you could stream instantly, or download any movie in a few minutes, and even before DVD.  And I lived in a town small enough that there was only one copy of This is Spinal Tap between the dozen or so video shops.  Which gives you an idea of the selection on offer to me back then.  A friend got me the book of A Clockwork Orange for my 16th or 17th birthday and it blew my mind.  It also made seeing the movie even more necessary.


A few years later, DVDs made seeing movies like this possible and I was completely and totally underwhelmed.  Everything about the movie version of A Clockwork Orange was so fake, so over the top, so choreographed and artificial, that it took away all of the threat and menace of the book.  I also saw it around the time I was discovering that Stanley Kubrick just didn’t seem to be a film maker for me.  Doctor Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket had tricked me into believing the hype.  Then I saw the trifecta of The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey and, finally, A Clockwork Orange, and my Kubrick skepticism has been full effect ever since. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #81. Spartacus (1960)

 “The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
 Spartacus
“Don’t give them the pleasure of a contest. Lower your guard, I’ll kill you on the first rush.”

I’m not a big Stanley Kubrick fan (get used to reading that as I make my way through this this AFI list).  I know movie nerds aren’t supposed to think that, but I just can’t see what all the fuss is about.  I love Dr Strangelove and really like Full Metal Jacket.  But I think A Clockwork Orange is way too impressed with itself, I think The Shining is low rent horror dressed up to look like something more important, and I think 2001: A Space Odyssey is a boring mess.  But for some reason, I had always assumed I’d like Spartacus.  I just needed this AFI countdown  to finally make me watch it.


According to the opening narration, “In the last century before the birth of the new faith called Christianity, which was destined to overthrow the pagan tyranny of Rome and bring about a new society, the Roman Republic stood at the very center of the civilized world.” Working on a salt mine (goin’ down, down), Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) attacks a guard and is put in chains. But it’s that kind of spirit that captures the attention of Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), a slave trader who trains and sells gladiators. Soon, Spartacus is at Batiatus’ academy where he quickly proves himself to be a promising warrior.

As a reward one night, Spartacus is treated to a night with one of Batiatus’ female slaves, Jean Simmons as Varinia. And, of course, they fall in love. When Roman senator Marcus Licinus Crassus (Laurence Olivier) arrives, he demands some gladiatorial entertainment and decides to also buy Varinia. After being forced to fight men who have become his friends, Spartacus vows to escape. Soon, he has the support of his fellow enslaved gladiators (including Tony Curtis as Antonius) and is destined to lead an army much bigger.

I thought I’d like Spartacus, and I was right.  I think, from a Kubrick angle, I like it because it’s pretty straight forward and simple film making.  Obviously it’s big and elaborate in its epic scope, but it’s told in a very normal way.  No tricks, cheap gimmicks, or pseudo intellectual wankery, which are the things that turn me off movies like A Clockwork Orange and 2001.

It also doesn’t hurt that Kirk Douglas is one of Hollywood’s greatest badasses.  Like Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum, Douglas comes from a time when manliness and masculinity meant something different than they do today.  Sure, those bygone definitions included a little too much sexism and misogyny, but it’s a kind of masculinity that you need to pull off in a movie like Spartacus.  There’s no forced emotional motivation like killing Rusty Crowe’s family in the monumentally shit Gladiator.  The only motivation Spartacus needs is his pride.  He’s a man, and he’s not gonna eat Roman shit anymore.  Simple.

The story goes that Kubrick clashed a lot with Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter of Spartacus.  Because of that unpleasantness, Kubrick demanded complete control on every movie he made after this.  All that says to me is, Kubrick worked best when he was under at least some restraint.  If Stanley Kubrick left completely to his own devices means Barry Lyndon, or Eyes Wide Shut, I’ll take the hamstrung Kubrick of Spartacus any day.  Which means I also have to assume that Dr Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket were just lucky flukes.

Spartacus
Directed By – Stanley Kubrick
Written By – Dalton Trumbo

Academy Awards
Best Supporting Actor – Ustinov
Best Art Direction
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design

MOVIE REVIEW | A.I: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

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“Stories are not real! You’re not real!”

You’d be hard pressed to find two more notorious directors who gained their notoriety for more different reasons than Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. With Jaws, Spielberg made the world’s first blockbuster, and since then, he’s gone to be the most profitable director of all time. Along with Alfred Hitchcock, Spielberg might be the most recognisable name behind the camera in the history of cinema, a director who even the most casual movie viewer knows. Then you have Stanley Kubrick. While Spielberg makes ‘moves’, Kubrick made ‘films’. Highbrow stuff that only a tortured genius and perfectionist could make. He even made a trashy Steven King book into a cinephile classic.


When Kubrick died and it was announced that Spielberg would be talking over one of his passion projects, movie snobs were not happy. How could this crowd pleasing hack possibly understand the depths of a story that a genius like Kubrick found so fascinating?   Here’s the thing, I’m kind of on the fence with both directors. Spielberg is an undeniable genius who can make crowd pleasing, mass appeal stuff, that still has real heart. Movies like E.T, Schinderl’s List, Jaws and the first three Indiana Jones movies. But he’s also made painful syrup, like Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal and War Horse. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Kubrick: Fear and Desire (1953)

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I know I should love Kubrick, but for some reason, his movies just don’t do it for me.  A Clockwork Orange is too over the top.  I don’t mean the violence, that’s fine.  I mean the acting, sets and camera work.  I never got on board with the deliberate artificialness of it.  2001: A Space Odyssey is just so self-indulgent and wanky.  Barry Lyndon looks amazing, but it’s probably best enjoyed with the sound down so you don’t get discouraged by the boring story.  I do however, really like Full Metal Jacket and Dr Strangelove.  But even though his misses out number his hits in my limited experience with his work, I don’t disagree with Kubrick’s status as a legend.  So I was still really interested to see where it all started, with his first feature, Fear and Desire.

Stuck behind enemy lines in a non-specified war, four soldiers devise a way to make it past their enemy and back their own base.  There’s the leader Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp), the grizzled, seen-it-all veteran Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), the burnt out wacko Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky) and the other one, Pvt. Fletcher (Stephen Coit).  Plans to build a raft and float to freedom are derailed when they take a local girl prisoner and spot an important enemy colonel who’s vulnerability makes an attack a little too tempting to resist.

The pacing isn’t slow, it’s awkward.  And had this been the debut feature of anyone else, I’d put it down to in experience.  But because this is Kubrick, even as an amateur first timer, I wouldn’t be surprised of every awkward pause, slightly too long close up and uncomfortable hesitation was planned and directed to within an inch of its life.

The performances are pretty wooden and the camera is never quite in the right place to make the editing smooth.  But the real downside to Fear and Desire is the over dubbed dialogue.  It seems that not a single piece of audio was recorded while filming.  Every single word has been dubbed in later and it almost never syncs in a way that even comes close to convincing.

The version of Fear and Desire I watched must have been some new, remastered update.  Because for a movie that’s more than 60 years old, the resolution looked almost as crisp and clear this year’s two black and white stand outs, Nebraska and Frances Ha.  While it looks amazing, the sharpness makes the relentless over dubbing of dialogue stand out even more.  If things were a little muddier, it may not have been so obvious every single second of the film.

As a movie, Fear and Desire is a little too simple, the direction a little too obvious and the overall result a little too hokey.  But if you’re an aspiring film maker, you really need to see this.  Kubrick has a reputation as one of the greatest artists the form has ever known.  So to see that even he had a pretty shakey start, yet went onto greatness, has to be reassuring to anyone else wanting to have a red hot crack at the pictures.

Fear and Desire
Directed By – Stanley Kubrick
Written By – Howard Sackler

MOVIE REVIEW | Room 237 (2012)

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If you’ve ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you probably thought you’d seen a pretty good (but kind of overrated) horror movie about a dude going nuts, a son who can read minds and a wife who tries to keep this crazy family together.  If you’ve never seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you probably just know it for the iconic sight of Jack Nicholson cutting his way through a door with an axe before delivering his demonic take on “Here’s Johnny”.  Whatever you think this movie is about, all I have to say is, you’re wrong dummy, stop being so dumb you big dumbo.  Because Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is obviously about the genocide of the native American Indians, faking the moon landing and Nazis.  So many Nazis.


For Room 237, director Rodney Ascher assembles a group of obsessives who have their own interesting takes on what The Shining really means.  It’s an impressive effort from Ascher, because it couldn’t have been easy finding time for them to record their thoughts on the movie in between long, sustained bouts of picking peanuts out of their own crap.  To reiterate, these guys are pretty nuts.

Through voiceover, five nut bags are given the chance to tell their story and give their interpretations of The Shining.  We never see them, only hear their voices.  Maybe their respective mental institutions allowed tape recorders but not video cameras.  As they draw their dangerously long bows in making connections between their wack job theories and The Shining, Room 237 meticulously shows the portions of the film they’re referring to.  Even with zoom ins, slow motion replays and sometimes even frame by frame presentations of their “proof”, every one of those theories comes across as more unlikely than the last.

None of that is to say however, that Room 237 isn’t fascinating.  Watching a few seconds of The Shining broken down and analysed in the most intricate detail, to show you all the (possible) references to the Holocaust is amazingly compelling.  Somehow, something as simple as showing that a chair that’s visible in the background of one shot is missing when the camera cuts back to the same shot seconds later, is really interesting when backed up by the ramblings of a mad man.

And while I love a playful romp about genocide and the Holocaust as much as the next guy, these theories are pretty tame next to the assertion that The Shining is actually Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake the moon landing.  The best proof of which is that in one shot of The Shining, we see a key ring that says “ROOM No 273”.  If you rearrange those letters and ignore a couple, it says “moon”.  Wow, I just got goose bumps typing that.

Whether you love The Shining, think it’s just an OK horror and that everyone should just settle down, or have never even seen it, Room 237 is really entertaining.  The crazier the wing birds and their theories get, the more entertaining it is to listen to them clutching at straws to their barely there connections.  I can’t wait for Ascher’s follow up, when some wackadoos pull apart City Slickers 2: The Search for Curley’s Gold, to prove how it’s all a prescient allegory for the Global Financial Crisis and 9/11.

Directed By – Rodney Ascher
Written By – Rodney Ascher