Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Kubrick’

You let that crazy shine on through, Nicholson!


Aspiring writer Jack Torrance has been paying the bills as a teacher, but he longs for more time to write.   After kicking booze due to a nasty incident where he injured his child, Torrance accepts a position as the winter caretaker for The Overlook Hotel.   He packs up wife Wendy and son Danny and heads for rural Colorado, where they soon get snowed in.   It doesn’t take long for the paranormal weirdness to start affecting Torrance, though.

The Shining is one of those horror movies that always pops up on Top 10 Horror lists and is cited by many folks as a movie that scared the hell out of them.   There’s a good reason for that.    If you watch The Shining, it’s a relatively bloodless movie, especially in comparison to some of the other movies I’ve watched recently.   Kubrick conducts a damn master class in suspense.   Most of the movie is actually build-up, rather than anything really happening.    And the scene that always freaks me out the most is the scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) discovers that the “book” Jack is working on is actually just page after page of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed over and over again.

It’s odd because I’m not a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, but the sense of isolation and growing dread he subtly infuses is just genius.    The Shining is just the story of a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic patriarch filtered through the paranormal lens of The Overlook Hotel.   Even before Nicholson takes up residence in The Overlook, he already has the look of a man teetering on the edge of complete psychosis.   And Shelley Duvall porrays the poor put-upon wife, Wendy, so well as a woman desperately trying to re-weave the last tangled threads holding her family together.

The Shining wouldn’t work half as well if not for the spooky score and brilliantly constructed sets.    It’s a long movie, for sure, but an effective one.   Even with the creepiness of Room 237 and the scary looking twin girls, it was always Jack’s conversations with Mr. Grady, the previous caretaker who went nuts and chopped up his wife and twin girls with an axe, that bothered me the most.    There’s one conversation in particular that stems around “correcting” family behavior that’s eerie.

Shining 1

The concept of being snowbound with an insane family member, one you thought you knew very well a that, is scary enough, but when Kubrick adds in the specters and tricks The Overlook plays on its inhabitants, as well as the trauma sustained by Danny, Wendy and Jack’s psychically sensitive son with fanatically fine-tuned construction and planning, The Shining becomes a movie that shockingly transcends its source material.

That’s a big statement, considering Stephen King is probably the most popular American author living.   I refuse to give Dan Brown any credit, since King can actually write.    And most King adaptations have either been middling or just plain crap, with a few exceptions.   (Even King himself disowned the atrocious Lawnmower Man.)   Even though Kubrick’s version of The Shining deviates in major ways from King’s book, it’s actually all the better for it.   I think Stephen King disagrees with me, but The Shining is one of the few movies that feels very close to being pitch perfect.

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What a long title.

Anyways, my mother, upon discovering that I was sitting down to watch Dr. Strangelove, promptly admonished me that I really needed to see Fail-Safe to get Dr. Strangelove one hundred percent, but I saw the remake with George Clooney and that’s what counts, so there.

I guess you could sum up Dr. Strangelove very appropriately with the phrase “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”.  (Thanks, John Lennon.)

A military commander gets all crazy-like and decides the Russians need to be eliminated during the heart of the Cold War and orders his bomber group to execute “Plan R” – a plan that will deploy thousands of megatons worth of nuclear bombs upon the unsuspecting Soviet Union.   As the insane Ripper comments, the President and Joint Chiefs will have no choice but “total commitment” since the planes are already at their fail-safe points.   What follows is a blackly humorous look at what exactly would happen if the bombs were on their way and there was no way – or sheer human idiocy prevented a way – to stop nuclear annihilation.

Peter Sellers is a major part of this movie.   Playing three characters (Dr. Strangelove, Captain Mandrake and President Muffley), Sellers did it before Eddie Murphy inexorably ruined it for the rest of us.   (Norbit should be considered a crime against humanity, Mr. Murphy, and you should be brought up in front of The Hague for it.  NO EXCUSE.   I say, sir, you are no Peter Sellers).

George C. Scott is outrageous as the uber-patriotic, Commie-hating General Turgidson but I think what most people remember is the iconic image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb down towards its intended target.

While the threat of nuclear holocaust looms over the world, the most powerful men in the world sit in the War Room and dream up plans.  Instead of doing anything proactive, they merely plot to be proactive and Dr. Strangelove is their guide, of sorts.   With every posed question, Dr. Strangelove has an exacting, rational plan devised to cover this sort of possibility, but the absurdist humor in the whole charade is that the formation of “Plan R” was to cover alternate possibilities of defending the United States against nuclear attack.   While the world comes closer and closer to complete destruction, the top men in the U.S. sit and plan, plan away.

Sellers is awesome in this movie.   Strangelove is creepy yet rational; President Muffley is a quiet voice of reason and Captain Mandrake is an uptight Englishman trying to do his best to recall the bomber units from their positions.    Scott’s no slouch either, as the bombastic General Turgidson is a war hawk in every sense of the word.

The dialogue itself has injected itself into pop culture quite nicely already — “Gentlemen, there is no fighting in the War Room!” — and Dr. Strangelove on a whole is a darkly funny look about the worst of what we can do to ourselves.

I feel a certain sort of tension with Stanley Kubrick.   I certainly don’t like all of his movies; some of them I find highly overrated, but then again, I think you don’t get much better than The Shining as far as direction and overall concept goes.   I’d add Dr. Strangelove in there to the mix with The Shining, as Kubrick does a masterful job with the scenes, especially those in the War Room.

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