The Shining (1980)

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!

For the last movie of this year’s Horrorthon, I decided that I would review another classic and fill a void in my reviews.  This is a movie that I had seen before but, as with most things in my life, I seem to have mostly forgotten by now.  But I know a lot of people who love this movie.  My friend Jordan says this movie is his favorite movie, if I remember correctly.  And so, even though it was not requested, I decided I would get this review out of the way already, and end my Horrorthon with a bang.  This movie is The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King, co-written for the screen by Diane Johnson, co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, and starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Barry Nelson, Anne Jackson, and Lisa and Louise Burns.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes his family – wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) – up to the Overlook Hotel to act as its caretaker for the winter, hoping it will give him time to work on his book.  Undeterred by the isolation, talks of a murder/suicide of the last caretaker, and talks of the hotel being buried on an Indian burial ground, he and his family move in to get the hotel all to themselves.  As everyone else is leaving, the chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), talks to Danny about their shared telepathic abilities, that he calls the “shining”, and warns him to be careful in the hotel, especially around Room 237.  With everyone now gone, Jack gets to work.  But too much of that and not enough play has effects on a man, or so I’m told.

I really like this movie.  I wouldn’t call it my favorite movie, or even my favorite horror movie, but that’s mainly just because the pace is a little slow for my tastes.  It still remains very effective, but it’s a bit of source of contention about what makes the movie scary.  The movie portrays itself like a ghost story, but it’s been argued that it’s not a ghost story.  It’s actually a window into Jack’s descent into madness.  Personally, I say it’s both.  It’s clearly more about madness that comes along with the isolation, but I found that even more disturbing.  The reason I found it so disturbing was because I think I would LOVE that setting.  If I could get my Xbox working up there, and possibly get some internet access, I could do that for a few months and be really bummed out that they were making me leave when my time was up.  But I’m already insane, so I assume other people might not handle it that well.  But this movie is also a ghost story.  There’s no way Jack could’ve gotten out of the freezer if a ghost didn’t open it.  That stuff all works well enough too, but it is definitely more about the madness.  There was also not a whole lot to this movie that I took issue with as far as the writing is concerned.  If things in the story didn’t make sense, the quality of the movie usually distracted me from them.  The only one I had was the biggest one, but it would’ve stopped the whole movie from happening.  How did they not notice any of the gigantic stop signs for going to this hotel?  The loneliness makes people crazy, the last guy killed his wife and two kids, and this was on an Indian burial ground.  That’s a trifecta of haunting.  I guess it kind of makes sense because this movie happened before those things were cliché horror movie stuff.  Poltergeist was still two years away to make Indian burial grounds such a big haunting device.

I think Kubrick’s direction caught my attention the most in this viewing of the movie.  He really seemed to go all out with the interesting filming techniques.  He had a lot of really great aerial shots and frequently went to a side-scrolling pan for walking conversations.  He also used some nice jarring angles while Jack was losing his shit.  Early on it was a lot of still shots watching him do something monotonous that would inevitably drive him insane, and later he would go to the more jarring angles.  The first I really noticed was filming Jack from in front of him, looking up as he had his head against the freezer door as he was trying to trick Wendy into letting him out.  Later, of course, is the classic “Here’s Johnny” scene.  He also used sound a lot to drive the audience insane, like the first time when Hallorann communicates with Danny psychically and it’s built up to with what sounds like a tooth drill amping up.  Not a whole lot of noises that will drive someone insane better than that noise.  The only bad thing in the visuals of the movie was the naked old chick.  That was an awful sight to behold, because she was old and naked.  Also, she was supposed to be dead, so that’s bad too.

The performances in this movie are hard for me to talk about.  I respect the actors in the movie and their performances, but sometimes they felt a little over the top.  I guess they were going insane, so they should’ve been over the top, but it threw me off a few times.  Jack Nicholson acted like an insane douche nozzle from the very beginning of the movie, but he probably should’ve been a little more normal from the beginning and slowly turned insane douche.  There’s also a chance that Jack Nicholson cannot have his face and not look insane.  Am I the only person that finds Shelley Duvall really attractive?  I would wreck that!  She spends the first part of this movie being relentlessly kind and a little naïve, and then spends the latter half of the movie screaming a lot.  She perhaps went a little over the top, but I don’t know how I’d act if my husband was trying to kill me with an axe.  I might scream in exactly the same way.  Danny Lloyd I did not like from the very beginning of the movie.  Perhaps I’m spoiled by how many quality child actors are in the business today, but this kid was not very good.  He was rarely convincing, and always looked like a midget going to a Halloween party dressed as Davy Jones from the Monkees.

It’s good to end the Horrorthon with a bang.  The Shining is a classic horror movie that holds up as well today as when it came out.  It’s a great movie about isolation and madness, a pretty good ghost movie, and a fantastic outing for director Stanley Kubrick.  The greater majority of the performances are fantastic, even if they do tread into the bombastic at times.  I could see this movie not being for everyone because the slow pace in parts of the movie makes it a bit of an investment, but I think it’s worth it and everyone should see this movie at least once in their lives.  The Shining gets “Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t” out of “Don’t worry, mom.  I know all about cannibalism.”

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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

It’s Time for a Bit of the Old Ultra-Violence

Today’s movie was requested by my friend Christine, probably based on my earlier review of another Stanley Kubrick film, Spartacus.  This movie is A Clockwork Orange.  I already had this movie in my collection so it was an easy request to grant.  Problematically, I don’t remember liking the movie very much so I’m not sure why I owned it.  But I watched it again anyway and here’s what I think.  A Clockwork Orange stars Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, and Anthony Sharp.

A short time ago in a land across the pond, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) is the leader of a gang of “droogs” that likes to hang out in “milk bars” and go out for “the old ultra-violence”.  This, on one evening, including the beating of writer Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee) and the raping of his wife while singing “Singin’ in the Rain”.  Two of Alex’s droogs suggest that they break into the house of a wealthy woman who is all alone except for her cats.  They do so and Alex ends up beating the woman to death with a penis statue, then getting betrayed by his cohorts and left for the police.  He goes to jail for about 2 years until he gets selected by the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) for an experimental aversion therapy called the Ludovico technique.  This involves giving him a shot to make him sick and showing him scenes of violence and rape.  This has the desired effect of making him sick whenever he sees naked girls or wants to hit someone, but also has the accidental effect of making him sick when he hears Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony because it was the background music.  Calling Alex cured, he is sent back out into the world.  Suffice to say, it goes poorly for Alex.

I’m generally not a fan of what I refer to as an “artsy-fartsy” movie.  Take, for instance, Donnie Darko.  I know, everyone tells me it’s the best film ever for some reason.  I know I’ve seen it once and I know I’ll have to see it again, but I remember not liking it and barely understanding it.  I’m not much for finding hidden meaning to films or novels, either because I’m not paying attention at all or maybe just not paying attention to the right things.  Either way, I generally regard such movies as trying to seem meaningful by not making sense.

All that being said, I generally liked A Clockwork Orange.  It’s a very watchable movie with a couple confusing bits but not enough that I’d lose track of what was going on.  The slang was the hardest thing to follow.  At least 50% of what comes out of McDowell’s mouth is almost unintelligible by the standards of an American of my age.  I don’t know what a “droogie” is, nor do I know what it is to “viddy”.  I think I managed to deduce that “yarbles” are testes, but much else made it difficult to understand what was being said.  Of course, that’s not the movie’s fault.  It can either be blamed on England in the 70’s for their choices of crazy slang terms, or for the author of the book the film was based on.  I’m not going to read that book, but I assume the movie sticks to it fairly well.  Based on nothing, of course.  And this movie left me wondering if everyone in London in the 70’s actually had artsy pictures and sculptures of naked women and dicks laying around their houses as the movie lead me to believe.

I figure the point of the movie (as best I can understand) is something about the morality of a temporary fix to a problem in comparison to fixing it for good.  Sure, Alex was unable to rape people and randomly assault people, but is that fixing it?  Hell, it didn’t even work out that well for him because he was unable to defend himself when being attacked or, I assume, have a consensual relationship with someone.  Basically the movie seems to be asking whether or not it’s good enough for someone to want to do something bad but to be unable to, or should we instead try to fix them wanting to do the bad thing in the first place.  This is not really a hidden message as the Priest in the movie pretty much says just that.

The acting is all pretty good in here.  As is expected, McDowell steals the show.  In the beginning, as leader of his droogs, he’s every bit as creepy as he should be.  In the middle, when he’s trying to finagle his way into the aversion therapy, not to get better of course, but instead to get out of jail, he’s got a thick layer of unbelievable obedience masking his true intentions.  And during and after the therapy, he’s every bit as conflicted as he should be.  He’s probably the reason I found this movie so watchable.

I give this movie my blessing.  It’s very watchable with a decent meaning to it and some great performances.  You should take a look and it should probably be in any self respecting collection.  It’s still inferior to my favorite Kubrick movie, The Shining, but I can’t hold that against it.  I’ll give this movie a “Viddy well” out of “Whatever the hell that means”.

And, as always, please rate, comment, and/or like this post and others.  It may help me get better.