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Tag: Stanley Kubrick

Reviews

Retro Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

May 24, 2019

And so we return once again to Stanley Kubrick. As I stated in my Eyes Wide Shut review Kubrick was one of the most highly regarded film directors of the 20th Century and much of his work displayed the real potential of what can be done with cinema. And nothing epitomizes the qualities of his work better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.   

Released in 1968, 2001 initially polarised critics and moviegoers alike. But in the years since it has been reassessed. And is now heralded as one of the greatest and most influential science fiction movies ever made. But does it really deserve that title? Well, today I head on the ultimate trip as I dive into 2001 and see what all the fuss is about.

Synopsis

2001 begins at “the dawn of man”. We see tribes of apes that will become humans fighting over resources in the wilds of the earth. Suddenly a large black monolith appears. Inspiring one of the tribes to use the bones of a tapir as tools to kill their fellow apes. We then jump to a time when we have used tools to make space travel possible and have conquered the moon. Another monolith is soon discovered, emitting a signal originating from Jupiter. So a team of astronauts go to investigate. Accompanying the team is the worlds most advanced computer system, HAL 9000. But does the artificial intelligence have other motives? What is the purpose of these monoliths? And what lies in wait beyond Jupiter?

What did I like?

As I said earlier there is no movie that gives a better introduction to Stanley Kubrick as a director than 2001. Because it demonstrates what his films do best.

Firstly, this film pushed the envelope in terms of what was possible with visual effects. The amount of sheer effort that went into creating the visuals in this film is unbelievable. Despite being over 50 years old the space sequences in this film still manage to blow modern productions out of the water. Everything looks and feels real, because of the lack of digital enhancement. The spaceships look authentic and the zero gravity sequences have weight to them because of the lingering shots and expert behind the scenes craftsmanship on display. Many newcomers and even old fans can still marvel for hours at how the filmmakers managed to achieve these feats without CGI. But importantly they also feel like part of the narrative, never intruding on the story.  

His films also asked complex questions, such as are we really the masters of our domain or is something else guiding us? Will technology eventually grow beyond us? Is conflict part of our very nature? Kubrick was not afraid to tackle big subjects. But the great thing about 2001 is that it invites different interpretations because of the little details packed into every frame of production, which some may notice and others won’t. Thus it provides a rewarding experience for multiple watches and everyone who sees it will come out with something different.

And, most importantly, Kubrick’s films were uniquely cinematic in their storytelling. The cinematography looks stunning and is packed with unique stylistic choices that make the film more engaging. The dialogue is also used carefully. The first and last 20 minutes of the film has no dialogue. But the audience is never confused because the information is always clearly conveyed through visuals. But even with less dialogue focus, the actors all shine. Whether fighting to get inside a spaceship or pretending to be apes, all the performances feel natural and well-integrated. The highlight being Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL. Who despite his monotone delivery evokes genuine menace and sympathy for his character. Lastly the films classical score is beautiful. When juxtaposed against savageness of the past and the wonders of the future, it gives the feeling of a true epic, spanning all of human existence and is very emotionally engaging.

So if the film is this good, what could possibly drag it down?

What did I not like?

First and foremost, if you are looking for an easy movie, that explains everything, with a simple plot structure and well-developed characters this is not the movie for you. The movie is more about themes and the bigger picture than it is about a character’s journey. It can, therefore, be frustrating to some viewers when the plot keeps jumping forward in time. With only thematic links and minimal dialogue to explain it; and no character to anchor the experience for the audience.

But it’s not just the lack of clear exposition and traditional presentation that may turn people off. The film has a slow and deliberate pace to it. Often lingering on the mechanics of how things work in this world. And while that does link in with the theme of technology getting ever grander and was very impressive for 1968, it does sometimes feel that the movie is stalling for time. And with a runtime of nearly 2 and a half hours that can be incredibly frustrating.

Finally, just like Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick employs a colder directing style that will keep some viewers from engaging with the film. Because he is more fascinated with the mechanics of technology than on the human story much of the characters seem, unengaging. Not that the actors do a bad job. The characters just seem more focused on business and basic survival, which can be emotionally uninvolving for a film audience. Not helped by Kubrick again focusing more on wider shots and a cold colour pallet. Keeping us as viewers at a distance and can keep us from becoming involved with the action.

Verdict

It is easy to see that 2001 will not be to everyone’s liking. The non-traditional narrative, lack of exposition for key plot points, the tendency to linger on minor details for a long time and cold, uninviting presentation may understandably turn a lot of people off.

But if you are looking for a unique cinematic experience that encourages debate and analysis with some of the best special effects ever put on screen and has such a polished level of craftsmanship in terms of cinematography, acting, soundtrack and editing, that even those who hate it can not help but admire it in some way, then do yourself a favour and go on the space odyssey. It’s a journey you won’t soon forget.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

2001: A Space Odyssey is available for free on BBC iPlayer until Monday 27th May 2019.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

Editorials

Top 5 Stephen King Movies Adaptations

April 28, 2019

Stephen King – a name synonymous with frightening fiction. Though primarily known for writing horror, he’s had an incredible impact on popular culture since he released his first novel in 1974. He is a regular fixture of the New York Times Best Seller list and has influenced generations of creatives in many different mediums. And one medium that certainly has a fascination with King is film.

Stephen King movie adaptations are currently experiencing a resurgence. With IT parts 1 and 2, Pet Sematary (2019), The Dark Tower, Geralds Game and 1922 proving that King’s name can still attract new talent and audiences. But this is no new thing. Film adaptations of King’s work have been a fixture of release schedules ever since the late 1970s.

So today I am going to look at what I consider to be the five best film adaptations of King’s work. But because there’s over four decades worth of material to choose from, to make things more interesting I will be picking only one film per decade. So let’s see which Stephen King adaptations manage to float above the rest.

1970s – Carrie (1976)

Although there aren’t many 70s Stephen King movies to choose from, Brian De Palma’s adaptation of King’s first novel is still a true classic. And deserves mention on any best adaptations list.

Carrie tells the tragic story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). A shy, introverted girl who is bullied at school and lives under the control of her religiously fanatic mother (Piper Laurie). One day, however, Carrie learns that she has telekinetic abilities. As she begins to discover more about herself her sympathetic classmate (Amy Irving) gets her a date for the school prom. But some of the girls want revenge on her for putting them in detention. Leading to a prom that no one will ever forget.

Carrie is iconic. The prom scene is permanently etched into our culture. But many often forget how good the rest of the movie is. All the performances are incredible. Sissy Spacek is, of course, the standout. She is incredibly sympathetic and easy to relate to as Carrie. But there are so many subtleties to the rest of the performances that make everyone feel real and not like caricatures, which many lesser quality King works often fail to do. Then there’s De Palma’s direction that wrings incredible suspense from every situation and makes everything flow so naturally. Topped off with beautiful visuals and a mesmeric score, you have a movie that set the bar high for all king adaptations to come.

Carrie surrounded by fire in Carrie (1976)

1980s – The Shining (1980)

The 80s is where selecting a single film becomes difficult. Many 80s King adaptations including Stand By Me, Christine and Pet Sematary are remembered fondly. So some may disagree with this selection. Especially given King’s open dislike of this particular adaptation. But for the best 80s Stephen King movie, the honour has to go to The Shining.

The Torrance family are looking after the Overlook hotel for the winter. They have all the food they can eat, space for young Danny (Danny Lloyd) to play and a lot of time for Jack (Jack Nicholson) to work on writing his novel. But as isolation sets in ghostly apparitions start appearing, affecting Jack’s sanity. Eventually, Jack breaks down and decides to “correct” his family, chasing them through the hotel with an axe. With the winter snows closing the place off, can Danny and his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) escape?

Like Carrie, I can say nothing about the Shining that hasn’t already been said. King purists will protest its deviations from the source material but for me, it does what good adaptations are supposed to do. Take what works about the source material and add a new distinct voice to it. And you can’t get more distinct than Stanley Kubrick. The film is a marvel of atmosphere. The lingering camera, some of the most disturbing images ever captured on film, the unnerving score, the cold lonely location and performances that feel just a little too real. It all goes together to create a haunting portrait of madness and generational guilt that lingers in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Jack Nicholoson’s iconic turn as Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980)

1990s – The Shawshank Redemption

Again the 90s had several films that could have filled this spot. Including Green Mile, Misery or the IT mini-series. But I would be lying if I didn’t put The Shawshank Redemption in this spot on the list.

Red (Morgan Freeman) is a prisoner at Shawshank penitentiary. He’s spent a long time inside. But despite his placid nature, he’s never made parole. He seems to be ready to just run out the clock in Shawshank. But when he meets Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), he begins to rediscover what it means to feel human again. Only Andy doesn’t intend to stay inside. With the corrupt system poised against them will the two men ever be able to find a way to escape the harsh reality of Shawshank?

The Shawshank Redemption is not only a testament to King’s adeptness at writing in genres other than horror, but it’s also one of the most beloved movies of all time. It has held the number 1 position on IMDb’s top 250 films since 2008 and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a film that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride. The story of escaping the prisons we make for ourselves is one that we can all relate to. All the actors are also fantastic. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give career-best performances and manage to make you empathize with criminals of dubious moral fibre, Which is no small task. And when combined with Frank Darabont’s confident direction and incredible character interplay, the result is a genuine classic, that will enchant many generations to come.  

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins giving the best performances of their careers in The Shawshank Redemption

2000s – The Mist

This is both Frank Darabont’s second appearance on this list and yet another no brainer for the time period. After Darabont’s success adapting Green Mile and Shawshank he proved himself yet again as possibly the best director to put King on the screen with The Mist.

The Mist concerns a family in a small Maine town. One day the town is engulfed by thic fog. Which wouldn’t normally be a problem but inside the fog are otherworldly creatures intent on killing all in their path. The family hold up in a supermarket with most of the town and what follows is a two-hour meditation on the nature of humanity in crisis.

The main reason why the Mist is so effective is because it keeps it simple. For most of the movie, we are trapped inside the supermarket with our main characters. And as the film progresses we slowly learn more about them and the situation. This intrigue coupled with the tension brought by the agendas of the other captives and the monsters outside helps keep the audience on the edge of their seat as the movie heads towards an ending that will play on your mind for a long time.

Poster for The Mist

2010s – IT (2017)

As the 2000’s went on King film adaptations began to decrease. His stories became more the domain of TV shows. But in 2017 King came back in a big way with two Netflix original movies (Geralds Game & 1922) and two theatrical releases (IT & The Dark Tower). And of those releases, IT was definitely the most significant.

It concerns a group of friends called the losers club. Over the course of one summer, we follow Bill, Eddie, Richie, Ben, Stan, Mike and Bev as they form lasting friendships with one another and battle the dark forces that hide in their home town of Derry. All of which are linked to a child-snatching spectre. Which mostly manifests in the form of Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard).

IT accomplished a lot. Not only did it prove that a remake can in many ways improve on its predecessor. But it also proved to be a very fun movie in its own right. With fantastic performances from the child cast, inventive ideas and cinematography and an incredibly creepy turn from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise who managed to equal the iconic nature of Tim Curry’s performance from the 1990 mini-series. IT also managed to tap into the nostalgic magic that made properties like Stranger Things popular. And acted as both an affectionate tribute to and critique of people’s nostalgic memories for the 1980s; because of IT we can look forward to many more adaptations of King’s work on the big screen.

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in IT (2017)

Conclusion

So ends our list of the top 5 Stephen King movie adaptations. As I said many times throughout this list, it was incredibly hard to narrow down my choices when there are so many good movies based on Stephen King’s books. So please let me know your opinions.

Do you agree with my choices? What are some of your favorite King films that I missed? Sometimes, other opinions are better.

Reviews

Retro Review: Eyes Wide Shut

April 17, 2019

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most revered film directors of all time. His films were championed as art which displayed the power of cinema. And many are held as some of the greatest movies ever. However, his final film Eyes Wide Shut has often slipped through the cracks.

Many critics were left disappointed when the film came out. Which is understandable. When the film was released Kubrick hadn’t made a film in 12 years. And with his great track record, many were probably expecting a masterpiece. With such high expectations, it’s understandable why the film didn’t fare well upon initial viewing. But with the film celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary this year, today we will be looking back to see if Eyes Wide Shut deserves its reputation as Stanley Kubrick’s worst film.

The Story

Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are a well-regarded New York City couple. Bill has a good job as a doctor, the couple has a child together and is very active in high society. But after a series of intimate flirtations with other people at a Christmas party, they begin to have doubts about how secure their relationship is.

After Alice admits to having sexual fantasies about another man, Bill embarks on an odyssey around New York to find out more about himself. His curiosity leads him to several encounters that will test his commitment to his relationship. Eventually causing him to cross paths with a secret society who don’t take kindly to strangers.

What did I like?

If you are a fan of cinema Eyes Wide Shut delivers something truly unique. It uses its basis as an erotic thriller to ask some interesting questions about relationships. What does marriage mean to people? Is it possible to truly know someone? And does true love really exist? And these interesting thematic points are accompanied and conveyed through great performances and a confident script.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s performances are some of both actor’s best work. They have fantastic chemistry, which makes the films questions about relationships more impactful because theirs feels so genuine. They were of course dating at the time. Tom Cruise being Hollywood’s go to charming leads makes Bill easy to like. But he’s equally effective when the film shifts and shows him in more vulnerable or compromising positions. And he makes each character shift work by wholly committing to the emotion required from the role. And Kidman shows her strong dramatic capabilities and how committed she can be. She’s willing to commit to nudity and brings dramatic weight to her simplest actions. The scene where she and Cruise discuss their relationship is incredibly powerful, because of her performance. And all the supporting performers although given limited screen time, manage to make their characters feel like fully rounded people.

The script is also one of Kubrick’s best. It creates a seamless world that blends both the real and surreal perfectly. The dialogue between the characters all feels natural. It doesn’t seem pretentious or forced. It feels like these are characters voicing their opinions, and aren’t just actors reciting dialogue. Even the exposition, although there can sometimes be a lot, fits what the characters are going through. And it allows room for interpretation, with so much being left unexplained for the audience to interpret. While also being a complete narrative. With all of the major characters arcs completed in a natural way.

And the cinematography is some of the best of Kubrick’s career. Cinematographer Larry Smith makes every scene look like a painting come to life. The colourful lighting and smooth tracking shots make the film a joy to look at. And he creates a palpable atmosphere through adding a haziness to many of the shots. Making the film feel like a dream. Which makes the more surreal frightening parts of the film all the more plausible.

But there are still elements that may bother viewers especially those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s work.

What did I not like?

Firstly, the slow pace that favours character interaction, mood and visual metaphors over an efficient, traditional narrative can make the film a chore for people simply wanting to watch a story unfold rather than trying to decode what the movie means. Many will also be dissatisfied with the directions the story takes. The payoffs to many of the story’s arcs happen off-screen and are explained away in dialogue or favour intimate images over big spectacle, which can make some audience members feel cheated.

The direction doesn’t help. Kubrick’s films often lack intimacy. Favouring wider shots over close-ups and cold/washed out colours, which keeps the audience at a distance and inspires a depressing feeling. Coupled with the actors slower, more methodical delivery, this can make the film seem stagey and un-real. Which may keep you from becoming engaged with the drama.

Alternately there are times when some might feel that the movie is patronizing them. Some scenes literally vomit dialogue about what has occurred. Which is necessary for the characters but not for the audience. The pool scene being the worst offender.

Finally, it is easy to see some take against the portrayal of women in the film. Many may feel the film paints all women as being obsessed with sex and are portrayed in an enticing way for the male viewer. Which is not an inaccurate conclusion. Though it is worth pointing out that the film does hold Bill’s character accountable for his chauvinist views. And many of the films male characters are controlling, manipulative and driven by self-interest (though they have significantly less nude scenes).

Verdict  

Twenty years after it’s release, it’s easy to see why some audiences took against Eyes Wide Shut. Because it favours atmosphere over tight narrative structure. Goes in directions that many may not expect. While also offering up a possibly unflattering view of women and to those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s style it can seem alienating and hard to read.

However to those looking for something different or are familiar with the directors work the film delivers a one of a kind experience. It asks big philosophical questions in a way that allows the audience to think and come up with their own conclusions while still functioning as complete narrative. The characters are memorable and interesting. All of the actors commit themselves in ways that are very admirable and play to and against their strengths. And the film is a feast for the eyes with a vibrant colour scheme that attracts and repels at the same time.

It’s a hard nut to crack. But once you have, it is a rewarding experience and a worthy swan song for one of cinemas greatest voices.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Editorials

The Ingredients Of A Cult Classic

July 27, 2018

Take a huge helping of interesting, often strange, characters. Add a dash of quotable dialogue and a sprinkle of marketable merchandise. Mix it all together with an audience dead set against the consumerism taking over Hollywood and you should have the makings of a cult classic. But is that really all you need to create a film which will be passed down through the generations? Films that can often spawn their own sub-cultures, festivals and even religions?

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a “cult classic” is; a film which has “enduring appeal to a relatively small audience” and exists outside of “mainstream” cinema. Cult films consist of an eclectic collection; there is no set genre which these wonders stem from.

During Hollywood’s formative years, there was not a great deal of opportunity for films to reach cult status with the quick turnover of productions. However, this began to change with the introduction of Midnight Movie screenings. These often featured films which were considered too shocking for mainstream audiences. “Freaks”, the 1932 MGM production, was one such controversial feature of the midnight screening.

However, the status of the cult film gained momentum with the development of distribution. Whereas before, low-budget, non-confirmative films had to rely on midnight screenings to reach viewers, home cinema allowed potential cult movies to reach a wider target audience. Television channels began to provide their own form of the “midnight movie”, showing films that didn’t cost a lot. (This is actually where I remember catching my first glimpse of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a cult classic which is firmly cemented as one of my favourites!)

This access to films only increased with the creation of VHS. Now fans could pass on the treasures they had discovered to other, like-minded potential fans. If a movie had been banned then this only added fuel to the cult film fire. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange gained such notoriety when it was withdrawn, meaning that any rare copies of the film added a particular magic for the cult following it amassed.

Much like A Clockwork Orange, the success of the cult classic seems to lie in it having some sort of controversy attached to it. As previously mentioned, these films often appeal to a small, niche audience and tend to challenge the typical conventions instilled by Hollywood. Many productions have reached the dizzying heights of cult status due to their focus on extreme, and often taboo, subject matters. The aforementioned Clockwork Orange had such graphic depictions of violent acts that it was withdrawn in the UK for  27 years after comparisons were made in high profile crimes.

Another way that a film can become a cult classic is by being so bad that it’s good. Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room is one such offering- it has been described by critics as one of the worst films ever created.” As a result, it has gained a massive cult following. So much so, that another film was created just last year, The Disaster Artist, to celebrate just how bad it is!

But what of those hugely successful films which have followings around the world? The Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises have gargantuan fan bases and have stemmed a multitude of sub-cultures such as festivals, conventions and even theme parks. Do these productions warrant the title of cult classic? Or do they fall short somehow? And if so, why?

Perhaps it is because these films have become so commercialised that they cannot be given the title of cult classics. Those films deserving of the title do so because of the microcosm that is their fan base; that “have you heard of this film?” moment. Whether you have watched the big blockbusters or not, you’ve definitely heard of them which is not always the case with those movies that are deemed cult films.

Some critics argue that the term has lost its value with it now being attached to any production which seems to break away from convention or challenge the mainstream. But the real cult classics will stand the test of time; that’s what makes them a classic after all.

 

Reviews

Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick

September 24, 2016

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Big Picture Film Club took a trip to one of the most talked about art exhibitions this summer: Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick, held at London’s Somerset House. The exhibition featured a variety of paintings, installations, videos, and sculptures inspired by the late cinematic genius Stanley Kubrick. Much like Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas & Ridley Scott after him, Stanley Kubrick’s impressive body of work has given him a cult-like following, particularly after his death in 1999.

Curator, James Lavelle, has done an excellent job in putting together this mix-media exhibition. The 45 works on display flow effortlessly together and make for a seamless and captivating experience. While there were many great pieces of work on display, in no particular order here are some of our favourites from the exhibition:

1) Life, by Dexter Navy

This piece was distinct, in that it references current social commentary of civil unrest, as opposed to directly taking from Kubrick’s films. However, the intricate use of colour in this piece was inspired by the work of Kubrick.

2) Various Works, by Philip Castle

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Airbrush artist, Castle, who designed the original poster’s for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange & Full Metal Jacket, gave the iconic posters a contemporary redesign, and showcasing a never used alternative design for Full Metal Jacket.

3) Camera A, Scene 136, Take 1, by Thomas Bangalter

Bangalter, one half of electronic duo Daft Punk, exemplifies what Kubric’s work is about with his simple, yet powerful video piece. The slow-mo clip features a person walking calmly through a pitch darkness engulfed in flames – the fire providing the only source of light, illuminating the ground below.

4) In Consolus – Full of Hope and Full of Fear, by James Lavelle & John Isaacs ft Azzi Glasser

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Immediately the senses are treated to an overload of sight, sound and smell. The clearly recognisable, Lolita inspired giant teddy bears gives a sense of fun and playfulness whilst the darkness of the room and the juxtaposed neon love sign hints at sinister undertones. Empty pantry boxes reference The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired scent from perfume designer Glasser fills the room, whilst the soundtrack comes courtesy of: Detroit techno pioneer Carl Craig, Italian dance ensemble Planet Funk – Domenico “GG” Canu and Marco Barani, spoken word artist and designer Michele Lamy, and UNKLE collaborator Elliott Power.

6) Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums, by Norbet Shoerner

Norbet created a 360° virtual reality recreation of the Discovery One space. Breath taking in its redesign, fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey will feel as if they have been dropped right into the movie. Definitely one of the key highlights of the exhibition!

7) History Painting, by Marc Quinn

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Quinn draws from media reportage of social unrest, amplifying the sense of violence and unease with the contrasting use of colour.

8) The Shining Carpet, by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

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Immediately recognisable, no Kubrick exhibition would be complete without the iconic print carpet from the Overlook Hotel. The print continues to inspire artists of all mediums.

9) Clockwork Britain, by Paul Insect

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Famous for his street art, Insect alludes to violence and the alienated youth in A Clockwork Orange by fusing 60s pop art and contemporary street art with the use of bold colours and the Union Jack motif.

10) Metanoia, by Polly Morgan

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Morgan explicitly exhibits the implicit sexual imagery we see from Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. The downward pointing triangle is traditionally referred to as the chalice, symbolising the flow of water, the grace of heaven, and the womb – an ancient symbol of female divinity. Seeing this stuffed uncomfortably with a serpent, provokes very real feelings of disturbance just as when we watched those awful scenes in the film itself.