2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Speaking of movies that need time and maturity to appreciate... I remember seeing 2001 with my dad when I was younger and viewing the slow pace and seemingly nonsensical plot as some sort of punishment. However, watching it again (and again) from an older perspective makes it fairly clear that this is one of, if not the best science fiction film ever made.
Kubrick bravely followed up the success of DR. STRANGELOVE with this polarizing enigma of a movie that features a cautionary, sometimes scathing outlook of technology and humanity’s dependence on it. Revolutionary in terms of technical and visual style, and evolutionary in its content, 2001 is a tale of a space exploration at a time when the world was just encountering such plausible possibilities. It also deftly looks at the metaphysical ramifications of this expansion in terms of humans as a species, which is where the movie tends to lose its casual viewers. (Darn that pesky monolith!) However, the story is equally as important as the presentation. The classical music, the groundbreaking special effects (which still hold up), the cold cinematography of the spaceship and the centrifuge set, HAL’s calm and calculated voice—they’re all iconic sights and sounds to behold.
While 2001 may work as a narcotic lover’s wet dream, the ideas it puts forth are cerebral enough to stimulate the opposing crowd as well. It may be slow to those now used to giant action-filled space battles, but I’d find it hard for any fan of movies to not at least be captivated by what Kubrick is doing, which was truly ahead of its time.
4.5 out 5 stars
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
To summarize, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE will eff your ess up. From the opening tracking shot of the Korova milkbar, with its naked female furniture and menacing milk-drinking droogs, you know you’re in for a crazy two hours. Kubrick’s sensibilities are a perfect match for Anthony Burgess’s controversial novel, and to me this movie shows the director at the top of his game. Everything just comes together perfectly in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, making it a unique and memorable story of disaffected youth, sex and violence. Kubrick creates a bizarre society that’s oddly futuristic and socially exaggerated, but somehow still connectable to our present (i.e. disaffected youth, sex and violence). And while Kubrick may be the brains behind the operation, Malcolm McDowell really gives himself fully to the performance and the director. (For proof, just watch the terrifyingly realistic head dunking scene, which was shot an unbelievable 27 times.)
It’s seriously tough to describe without telling you to just watch the damn thing. The production design and visual schemata (the colors alone are enough to make your stomach turn); the use of music, from Ludwig Van to Alex’s absolutely inappropriate use of “Singing In The Rain;” and traces of dark humor that’s as brutal as the film’s “ultra” violence all make for a very unsettling but subversively entertaining experience. And as a fascinating cultural and political satire, it’s brilliant but definitely not for the easily disturbed.
5 out 5 stars
With THE SHINING, Kubrick transcends the basic stipulations and expectations of the genre, creating a more psychologically involving film than your average horror movie. Here he takes his time, focusing on subtler yet equally unsettling aspects—things like the expansive hotel location or Jack Nicholson’s inherently creepy persona—which allows the suspense to slowly and unknowingly build up over the film’s lengthy runtime to a terrifying and exhilarating conclusion. While there may not be as many outright scares in the movie, THE SHINING haunts you long after you’re done with it. And as an atypical ghost story, the majority of the focus seems to be on familial relationships. Like in previous films such as 2001 and Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick seems to be showing the consequences of dysfunctional communication, albeit a bit more dire with an ax wielding psychopath.
Kubrick finds a great balance between an aesthetic arsenal and the psychological. The design of the Overlook Hotel, with its tight hallways, distinct carpet patterns, and rich color pallet, recalls his signature visuals. (When Jack goes with Charles Grady in to the bathroom, it looks like a leftover set from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.) It’s also the filmmaker’s most impressive movie from a dynamic perspective. Thanks to a Steadicam operator on crack, the motion picture camera has never moved as effectively as it does in this movie—wandering ghostlike without reprieve.
After years of seeing it all, I may be desensitized to scary movies, but THE SHINING still gets me every time.
5 out 5 stars
FULL METAL JACKET
There have been tons of war movies that cover the same ground as FULL METAL JACKET, but none of them come close to portraying the mental anguish and moral ambivalence on and off the battlefield as Kubrick’s 1987 film. What really sets it apart is the powerful first half at the Paris Island boot camp, which is so well done it feels like its own movie. R. Lee Ermy’s hardass (and highly quotable) drill instructor and Vincent D’Onofrio’s chilling Private Pyle are dynamically realized and although their characters may only appear in the first 40 minutes, what they represent permeates every single frame of the movie thereafter. As we follow Joker through Vietnam it’s impossible not to equate each decision, each line of dialogue with what he experienced before and the indoctrination that resulted. That’s why it’s so effective that this is a movie about the perception of war—with the filmed interviews, Joker as a reporter, and the Mickey Mouse Clube theme song—as much as it is about the fighting itself. It also makes a lot of FULL METAL JACKET still relevant and applicable to our current war.
My friend Marc went through Paris Island himself and is currently in the Shit in Iraq, so I’ll let him share his more qualified opinion: “FULL METAL JACKET is as close as you can get to being in ‘the Suck’ without signing a damn contract. It's still a better look at the Marines than any other film I can think of, despite the fact that it was made a while ago.”
4.5 out 5 stars
EYES WIDE SHUT
Even with a giant orgy scene, this is an easy film to be disappointed and frustrated by, especially since it was Kubrick’s first film in 12 years…and ultimately his last. I think EYES WIDE SHUT suffered most from inflated and contrasting expectations. It was hyped up to be a hypersexual romp with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, but what Kubrick delivered was a psychoanalytic drama about a couple whose problem stemmed from them not having sex.
After a deserving second or third viewing (and some effort on the part of the viewer), it becomes clear that this is a movie about celebrity and a culture obsessed with it. Kubrick uses his stars, two of the biggest in the world, and exposes them (sometimes literally). Nicole Kidman looks gorgeous and alluring as she undresses in that opening shot, but then moments later we see her doing her business in the bathroom. And while Kidman is hot enough that I would still ravage her on said toilet, it’s a decidedly unglamorous and unexpected image. The rest of EYES WIDE SHUT follows suit; the main characters are constantly surrounded by beautiful people and things, but also by everyday doubts and insecurities, as well as the ugly side of the elite. This view of power and balance amongst society turns the movie in to an interesting exercise in class study. It also allows Kubrick to spend most of his time creating an enigmatic atmosphere instead of concentrating on the mystery plot, which is mostly responsible for the slow pace (although it is used to full effect with György Ligeti’s chilling minimalist piano). In the end, EYES WIDE SHUT, like a lot of Kubrick films, has a lot to offer if you know what to look for.
4 out 5 stars
STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES
If you’re a fan of Stanley Kubrick or his films, no matter how casual or diehard, this two and a half hour documentary is a must see. Directed by his longtime executive producer Jan Harlan, A LIFE IN PICTURES gives viewers a glimpse in to the introverted director’s very private life and mindset thanks to interviews with friends and family, as well as some never before seen home movies and pictures. (I never thought I would see a young Stanley Kubrick dancing crunk style.) The film also goes in depth with the origins and making of each movie in his filmography, including early ones like DAY OF THE FIGHT and FEAR AND DESIRE and even a few passion projects that never made it to the screen (NAPOLEON, ARYAN PAPERS). Pretty much everybody who ever knew or worked with Kubrick turns up for some revealing interviews. And they don’t shy away from some of the more honest yet harsh details, such as the director berating poor Shelley Duvall on the set of THE SHINING to elicit a more terrified and stressed out performance from her.
This flick was a great way to cap off this new DVD set, putting all five movies in to a more personal perspective and making them even easier to appreciate.
4 out 5 stars
It should also be noted that the set contains the uncut European version of EYES WIDE SHUT, the only difference being that no digital extras are placed in front of the group sex. (The box says the rated version is also included, but I couldn’t find it. Nor did I want it.)
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Commentary by actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood: It’s always fascinating to hear from stars who’ve worked with Kubrick, mostly because his relationship with actors seems to vary wildly. Luckily both guys have a good memory and plenty to say, although they’re recorded separately, which makes it a little stilted, but still worth listening for fans of the movie.
The Making of a Myth (43:02): Hosted by James Cameron, this documentary takes a look at the film’s production, its place in history and culture, as well as the complex ideas behind it all. You get some nice interviews with cast and crew, author Arthur C. Clarke and a variety of scientific experts. Best of all, it’s also revealed how they did some of the special effects. (The way they got the pen to float in zero gravity is so simple yet so fantastic.)
Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 (21:21): Some great interviews with filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, and George Lucas, who speak about Kubrick’s directing style and influence in the scifi genre and cinema overall.
Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 (21:28): A variety of Hollywood players—from visual effects artists to critics like Roger Ebert—shed some light on the film as a cautionary worst case scenario and how Kubrick’s vision of space travel and technology has influence society’s own ideas and expectations.
What Is Out There? (20:44): Actor Keir Dullea uses a lot of big words to drop some science on you.
FX and Early Conceptual Artwork (9:37): Visual effects maestro Doug Trumbull and Kubrick’s widow Christiane reveal the arduous and unique process by which they achieved some of 2001’s trippy visuals.
Look: Stanley Kubrick! (3:13): A quick retrospective of Kubrick’s early career as a photographer.
11/27/1966 Interview with Stanley Kubrick (1:16:24): A little long for an audio only interview, but a rare find. Kubrick sounds a lot different than I expected (though I guess he was still quite young at this point), but it’s very cool to hear him openly discuss his career and movies.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Commentary by Malcom McDowell and film historian Nick Redman: McDowell is very humble but frank about his experience on the film and reveals a lot of interesting stuff about Kubrick’s mannerisms and work ethic, not to mention a few funny stories. Definitely recommended.
Still Tickin’: The Return of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (43:35): A slew of filmmakers and experts go through the film with a fine toothed comb, especially the controversy surrounding its release. And Sam Mendes makes a great RESERVOIR DOGS visual connection that I never put together before. Good stuff.
Great Bolshy Yarblockos: The Making of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (28:14): An extended behind the scenes documentary reveals some interesting tidbits (like how Malcom McDowell endured constant torture). Cast, crew, and other filmmakers turn up with their thoughts. And can I just say, thank God we have the director of BULLETPROOF’s opinion on this film.
O Lucky Malcom! (1:26:03): A very in depth career profile of Malcom McDowell, with lots of interviews and a little “In The Actor’s Studio”-style Q&A.
Commentary by Steadicam inventor/operator Garrett Brown and Kubrick historian John Baxter: A very novel idea, as the steadicam is almost a separate character in this film. Baxter offers plenty of background and critical info, while Brown has lots of on-set stories.
The Making of THE SHINING (34:56): Shot at the time by Kubrick’s 17 year old daughter Vivian, this offers an appreciated and unhindered first hand look at the film’s production. It’s amazing watching Kubrick direct, but also a little weird considering his stature. (Also available with commentary by Vivian Kubrick.)
View From The Overlook: Crafting THE SHINING (30:19): This average Making Of feature has more current interviews and perspective, but pales in comparison to the awesomeness of the previous one.
The Visions of Stanley Kubrick (17:14): A look at the man’s visual style and some of the iconic images from THE SHINING (and his other movies).
Wendy Carlos, Composer (7:29): A pioneer of the synthesizer music movement, Carlos worked with Kubrick on THE SHINING and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and here she speaks about (and performs) some of the scores she wrote. She definitely gives off kind of a creepy, eccentric cat lady vibe.
FULL METAL JACKET
Commentary by Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey and Jay Cocks: The group offers some very informative and interesting info, but I wish everyone wasn’t recorded separately. If only because I bet R. Lee Ermy would start yelling at them until they did push ups.
FULL METAL JACKET: Between Good and Evil (30:47): Cast reminisces about the Kube and life on the set, which seems a bit more experimental then with his previous movies. Baldwin also reveals the original ending idea, which was quite dark and gory.
EYES WIDE SHUT
The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and EYES WIDE SHUT (43:05): This three part documentary covers the directors style, his relationship with actors and other directors, and finally covers his legacy and final film.
Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick (20:22): This intriguing and ultimately depressing feature goes in to more detail about some of the projects that Kubrick obsessed over and even started (with location scouting and makeup tests), but ultimately never made. These include a sex-filled Napoleon biopic and a Holocaust movie called ARYAN PAPERS starring the little boy from JURASSIC PARK.
1998 Director’s Guild Award Acceptance Speech (4:01): Only Stanley Kubrick could incorporate a comparison to Icarus in an acceptance speech and not come off as a pompous d-bag.
Gallery, Trailer and TV Spots.
Extra Tidbit: Kubrick’s father cashed in his life insurance to help fund his son's first feature film, FEAR AND DESIRE.