Thursday, October 31, 2013

Play with us, Danny . . .

What better way to spend All Hallow's Eve eve than by watching Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, The Shining, on the big screen? I got a free ticket thanks to my friend at the Hollywood 20. The only other Kubrick movie I've ever seen on the big screen is 2001: A Space Odyssey and both were amazing experiences. Kubrick never made a bad looking film, and watching them on the big screen you notice all kinds of details that are lost on television.
What's most remarkable about The Shining (I will forever have to catch myself from adding an extra "n" thanks to The Simpsons) is how little it's dated, apart from the 70's hair and fashions. One of the reasons is that Kubrick cleverly avoids clichéd "jump" scares in favour of a sense of dread that builds throughout the whole movie. And Jack Nicolson's performance is as entertainingly over the top now as it was then.
Stephen King has a lot of complaints about the movie, and while some of them are understandable (Jack Torrance is a far less sympathetic character than in the book, seeming crazy pretty much from the start; Wendy is less of a strong character and more a typical abused wife) most of the changes are, frankly, improvements. The dialing back of the supernatural elements (no living topiary animals in the movie) makes the story more believable and allows the audience to wonder if the horrifying visions are just in the characters' minds (at least until a ghost lets Jack out of a locked pantry). Killing off the cook, Halloran, while seeming like a callous move on Kubrick's part, ultimately serves the story well because it gives it a sense of danger missing from the novel, while still allowing Halloran (the charming Scatman Crothers) to save the day with his unexpected arrival.
Nicholson gets all the praise, but all the performances are good. Danny Lloyd is a perfect Danny (certainly better than the awful kid in the risible TV version made years later) and it's a shame he quit acting shortly after the film. Shelly Duvall gets a lot of criticism for her histrionic performance but she's actually very good and believable and her genuine fear adds to the scariness of the film.
The images in the film (the dead twins, the elevators pouring blood) retain their power despite years of parody and the dramatic score is very effective. The steadicam shots (such as Danny endlessly riding his tricycle around the hotel) are classic filmmaking. The digital print shown looked great and I was glad it was the longer, U.S. version of the film (I grew up with the European cut, which omits many important scenes).
Like all Kubrick’s films there are endless interpretations of the themes of the story. The Shining makes a good companion piece with his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, as they both deal with a troubled marriage (though for very different reasons) and have a strong and disturbing sexual undercurrent (the brief scene in The Shining where we see a man in a bear suit apparently performing fellatio on another man is one of the more bizarre moments). The final shot, where Jack is seen in a photo of the Overlook from 1921, will be as endlessly debated as the conclusion of 2001.
The Shining remains one of the director’s finest movies, full of quotable lines and haunting imagery. We’ll never see another filmmaker quite like Kubrick.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


So I’ve completely forgotten to write about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since it started. Not because I dislike the show (it’s good, clean fun) but due to some personal issues and Tuesday nights generally being the lowest point of my week I haven’t had the urge to review it.
SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN WATCHING: Right now I think the show is about on the level of early Dollhouse episodes. It’s not a bad show, and certainly never dull, but definitely less Joss Whedony than his fans will hope for. Clark Gregg really holds the show together as the resurrected Coulson (can’t wait to see how the mystery about his return plays out) and the supporting cast is likeable if a bit bland. The writing is good, with plenty of witty one liners (especially in the Whedon-led pilot) and the nods to the Marvel Universe are nicely done, especially cameos from Maria Hill and Nicky Fury. A lot of people will be disappointed that it’s more of a spy show than a superhero adventure, but I think that works to give it a different feel from other Marvel product.
Hopefully the show will continue to improve and get deeper as most Whedon series do. The characters certainly have potential. I was disappointed with how the character of Skye was depicted in the third episode, though (namely running around in wet clothes being rescued by a man and told to follow his orders). Maybe Joss really isn’t a feminist (though he didn’t write that particular episode). Overall, though, the show has promise and I’m looking forward to having a marathon of the whole season. Just hope it doesn’t turn out to be the only season . . .