Film Review: The Killing (1956)

Also known as: Bed of Fear, Clean Break, Day of Violence (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1956 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson
Based on: Clean Break by Lionel White
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Joe Turkel

Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay

The Killing is one of the really early films in auteur director Stanley Kubrick’s long and storied oeuvre. It came out less than a year after his previous film and first attempt at film-noir, Killer’s Kiss. With similar titles and coming out around the same time, the two films may confuse people looking back into Kubrick’s filmography. Also, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both noir pictures and presented in silvery black and white.

The Killing is the superior of the two pictures, however, and Killer’s Kiss feels like more of a practice run leading up to this damn fine motion picture, which boasts the star power of well known noir actors Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, Marie Windsor is perfection in her role.

The plot of this film is about a high stakes heist at a horse track. A team is assembled, a greedy femme fatale enters the mix and we get scheming, violence and chaos. And it is all capped off by the immense talent of Kubrick behind the camera and a stellar and more than capable cast in front of the camera.

The truth is, The Killing, as great as it is, has always been overshadowed by Kubrick’s more famous pictures: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningA Clockwork OrangeDr. StrangeloveLolitaFull Metal Jacket, etc. The Killing is a top notch crime thriller and true to the film-noir style, even coming out late in the style’s classic run through the 1940s and 1950s. It is one of the best heist pictures ever made and like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, it helped create a lot of tropes used in heist pictures since its time.

Being a fan of Elisha Cook Jr. for years, I especially love this film because he gets a really meaty and pivotal role. He is one of the top character actors of his day, was in more noir pictures than I can count and even went on to some well-known westerns and popped up in a few Vincent Price horror movies. He really gets to display his acting chops in this and it is nice to see the guy’s range, as he was a more capable actor than one being relegated to playing background characters and bit players.

The Killing was an incredibly important film in the career of Stanley Kubrick, as it lead to bigger things. He would go on to do Paths of Glory and Spartacus and eventually start making more artistic films that changed the filmmaking landscape forever. The Killing was a big part of Kubrick’s evolution and thus, the evolution of motion pictures in general.

Film Review: The Shining (1980)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on: The Shining by Stephen King
Music by: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Tony Burton

The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 146 Minutes (premiere), 144 Minutes (US cut), 119 Minutes (European cut)

Review:

“Here’s Johnny!” – Jack Torrance

My big Halloween treat this year was getting to see The Shining on the big screen!

People often ask me what the greatest horror movie of all-time is. The Shining is always the first motion picture to pop into my mind and frankly, it has always been my favorite. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very close second.

The reason I love this film so much is because it is a masterpiece. It is perfect in every regard. The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the music, the sound, the lighting, the whole overall ambiance: everything.

Some people, Stephen King included, were critical over the fact that Stanley Kubrick didn’t include some of the elements of King’s novel. King was even instrumental in the film being remade as a miniseries for television in the 1990s but that version falls short in every way. While this is based off of King’s writings, the film is very much a Kubrick picture and to be honest, Kubrick is the stronger artist of the two, especially behind the camera, because do you really want to try and compare King’s directorial effort Maximum Overdrive to The Shining?

Books and film are two different mediums and even then, The Shining film is better than The Shining book. Besides, walking shrub animals just wouldn’t fit into this film in a believable way.

As great as Jack Nicholson has always been, it is hard to think of a film where he shined more than he did here, pun intended. As Jack Torrance, Nicholson became the top movie monster, as far as a singular performance goes. Sure, he might not look as cool as Dracula or Freddy Krueger but he is much more terrifying and has a presence that no other actor has matched in a horror picture.

Shelley Duvall also nailed her role and honestly, she has never been better than she was in The Shining. A lot of her performance was enhanced, behind the scenes, by Kubrick terrorizing her on set. He did this in an effort to generate an authentic performance and it worked. His technique was harsh but it wasn’t any different than what many auteur directors have done in the past. I can’t think of a better actress for the role and Duval really is the character of Wendy. She’s terrified, frail but sweet in a way that your heart goes out to her and you wish you could go into the film and pull her and Danny away from mortal danger.

The film also has a few character actors sprinkled in. There is Scatman Crothers, who plays Mr. Holloran, an older cook that has the power to “shine” like the child Danny. His death still bothers me every time I watch the film because all he wanted to do was help Wendy and Danny escape the hell they were trapped in. Joe Turkel, most known as Tyrell from Blade Runner, plays the hotel bartender. Tony Burton, Apollo Creed’s trainer from the Rocky films, also has a small role as the owner of a garage.

While this is considered a ghost story and a haunted house movie on the grandest scale, it is more about madness and isolation. While the Overlook Hotel is incredibly haunted and ghosts appear to steer Jack into his state of madness, you feel as if none of this wouldn’t happen if the family wasn’t trapped in this massive snowed in lodge, by themselves for five months. You also get the feeling that Jack was already going to lose his mind and just needed a little push. It is also a film about abusive relationships taken to the extreme.

The film is full of violence, a good bit of gore and grotesque things but it is so artistic in the application of its imagery that everything seems to have some sort of deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface. People have been debating the “hidden messages” in this movie for years. There is even a whole documentary that analyzes that stuff. It’s called Room 237 and I already reviewed it here. It’s not great but for fans of this film, it is still a fun experience.

The Shining is a perfect motion picture. Some people take issue with the way Kubrick handled certain parts of it. Some people also think that it is lacking in substance. It really isn’t something that should be compared to King’s style or other haunted house stories. It is as unique as Stanley Kubrick was. It is the most terrifying tale that the auteur director has ever crafted and horror films like this just don’t exist anywhere else.

Ranking the Films of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director of all-time. I don’t think that he was capable of a bad film. In fact, he didn’t make one. Here, I have ranked his films.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. A Clockwork Orange
3. The Shining
4. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
5. Eyes Wide Shut
6. Spartacus
7. Lolita
8. Paths of Glory
9. Full Metal Jacket
10. Barry Lyndon
11. The Killing
12. Killer’s Kiss
13. Fear and Desire

Documentary Review: Room 237 (2012)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2012 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Music by: Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson, The Caretaker, Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind

IFC Films, IFC Midnight, 102 Minutes

Review:

If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, you will probably be pretty interested in this film.

Room 237 is a pretty meaty documentary about the hidden messages and imagery within The Shining.

You see, some people believe that Kubrick’s films all had hidden meanings and messages. Being that this is his most horrifying film, I guess it was the one that has generated the most theories and obsessive-compulsive analysis.

This documentary could be a journey into madness.

What I mean by that, is that this film allows five different “intellectual” types go on rants about all their theories and “discoveries” in this film. Some theories seem pretty plausible but most do not. Then there are those that go so far off of the deep end that it is hard taking any of this too seriously. One guy goes on a rant about how Kubrick used this film to cleanse his soul from the guilt he felt after the government supposedly used him to fake the moon landing.

This film is full of a lot of bullshit and unfortunately, in all these shared theories by people’s whose faces we never see on camera, no one offers up any real evidence. Everything we are presented with is just the speculation of people who have obsessed over this film for decades. If you stare at something long enough, you can start to make connections to anything you want. It’s like people who read Nostradamus’ bullshit cryptic poetry and think that he predicted the Holocaust and 9/11. In fact, I almost feel like Alex Jones woke up one day and decided to make a conspiracy film about The Shining.

The thing is, despite my criticisms, I still really liked this movie. While many theories were way over the top, this film was still entertaining as hell to someone who has watched The Shining almost annually and who suffers from a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I then saw my own “hidden message”. I saw that the people talking in this film, were actually symbolically stuck in Room 237. They became too fixated on all of this and walked into the room where you aren’t supposed to go. Now they sit in there, obsessed and haunted over things they can’t understand but have to decipher: trapped by an almost supernatural power that fuels their obsession and steals their sanity. And maybe that is the point of this film.

I think that this is a film worth watching if you are a Kubrick fan or just like conspiracy theories.

When questioned about this film recently, Stephen King referred to it as “academic bullshit.” I don’t really disagree with him but it is academic bullshit that is fun to watch.

Film Review: Lolita (1962)

Release Date: June 13th, 1962
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Vladimir Nabokov, Stanley Kubrick, James Harris
Based on: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Music by: Nelson Riddle, Bob Harris
Cast: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers

Seven Arts, AA Productions, Anya Pictures, Transworld Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 152 Minutes

Review:

The poster for this film asks, “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” The answer: with lots of meddling by overreaching censors with nothing better to do than to dictate what should and should not been shown in the art form that is film. This was also before the modern film ratings system came into play.

Because of the do-gooders stranglehold over such things, Stanley Kubrick said that he probably wouldn’t have made the film had he known how difficult and severe the censorship limitations were going to be. He also later commented that, “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn’t sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did.”

As far as the movie goes, it is hampered by the issues above. It is still a better than decent motion picture, though. While it isn’t close to Kubrick’s best, it is a great lead-in to what was to come from the director, as almost all of his films after this are either masterpieces or pretty damn close. Had the censors backed off, Lolita may also have been able to be considered in that regard.

From a stylistic standpoint, this is less artsy than the later Kubrick pictures but it is still immaculately shot with pristine camera work, editing and beautiful cinematography. The attention to detail and the depth and character of the sets and the world around the actors felt lived in and authentic. The black and white presentation worked quite poetically as a contrast to the colorful story and very layered and subtle undertones that added a great depth to the characters and the situations they found themselves in.

The highlight of the film for me was seeing Peter Sellers play a myriad of characters. Granted, he was the same guy but he played roles within the film. This was sort of a precursor to what he would do in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, where he played three separate characters. That film is one of Kubrick’s best and it is the pinnacle of Sellers’ acting career, in my opinion.

Sue Lyon was also quite impressive, especially for her age at the time of filming. She had real acting chops and held her own alongside the talented cast around her.

While this film explores some uncomfortable territory, in that it follows an older professor who is infatuated with a teen girl, it doesn’t get as dark as I feel it maybe should have. I’ve never read the book but from what I’ve read about the book, it goes places that the film wasn’t able to due to the censors. I really would have loved to see what Stanley Kubrick could have done with the film had he been left alone.

Lolita still turned out to be a good film in spite of its production issues and the fact that the director’s vision was compromised by Hollywood politics. Unfortunately, the bulk of the story is presented in ways that may be too vague for audiences to fully grasp. It isn’t hard to figure out what’s going on but the motivations of the characters, while known, are still kind of mysterious and not fully explored.

 

Documentary Review: Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001)

Release Date: June 16th, 2012 (Los Angeles Film Festival)
Directed by: Jan Harlan
Narrated by: Tom Cruise

Warner Bros., 142 Minutes

stanley_kubrick_alipReview:

I find Stanley Kubrick to be one of the three greatest film directors of all-time. Honestly, out of the three best (Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa), I enjoy his work the most, as it has the most diversity from film-to-film. So when Kubrick died in 1999, shortly before the release of what would be his final film Eyes Wide Shut, I was pretty upset about it. It is hard losing an artist who is still producing not just quality material but legendary material.

This film follows Kubrick’s life and also spends considerable time discussing his films. It features the stars of his movies and the other prominent people who worked with him throughout the years. It was a nice and sweet recap of the man’s greatness and brilliance.

Tom Cruise provided the narration and he did a fantastic job. This film came out about two years after Kubrick’s death and the release of Eyes Wide Shut, so Cruise felt like a natural choice to offer up his voice.

For me, three of my favorite films of all-time are 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. It was awesome to see so much insight provided by the stars of these films about their creation and what it was like working with Kubrick. I found the interviews with Malcolm McDowell, Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall to be really intimate and enjoyable. The interviews with Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise and Sydney Pollack were also great.

If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick, this documentary is a must-see. This is the definitive documentary about the man and his work as told by those who were there for the ride.