Category: 1980


StardustMemories1

Among artists of a certain stripe, there’s an uncontrollable urge to make art of meaning, and if they can’t make art that contextualizes some aspect of the human experience, it can drive these artists to mania and depression. And while art that forces us to examine our place in the universe is often the most rewarding, we can’t discount the power of entertainment and escape. Situated at the tail end of Woody Allen’s transitional period from his early comedies to his later “serious” films, 1980’s Stardust Memories is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of one artist’s struggle against his own commercial talents as he desperately craves the ability to craft work of genuine import. And, in the process, he discovers maybe you can do both.

By 1980, Woody Allen had won a Best Director and Best Picture Oscar for Annie Hall, and Manhattan was a turning point for him as a dramatic storyteller, but the mixed critical reaction to Interiors and the even more mixed audience reaction to the increasingly dark and realistic nature of his films was taking its toll on Allen. He felt pigeonholed as a director of silly farces, but Allen cut his teeth on foreign art house cinema, and he wanted to make works more inspired by Bergman and Fellini than the Marx brothers. And Stardust Memories is a stunning work of art as self-therapy as Allen reconciles these warring impulses in a feat of pure cinematic magic truly worthy of its clear cinematic peer, 8 1/2.

Continue reading

Advertisements

RagingBull1

(A quick aside before I begin the review proper. I watched this movie in the wee hours of Monday/Tuesday morning. I haven’t had a chance to review it yet because I went out and partied on Tuesday and was hung over the entirety of Wednesday. Anyways, if my review isn’t up to my usual standards [particularly my recent reviews of Into the Wild or Melancholia], that’s why. My apologies.)

Finally! After over three years of waiting, one of my goals for this blog has finally come true. After three years of review films, I think it’s safe to say that my understanding and appreciation of cinema has deepened and my taste in movies has certainly matured since I was in high school. And one of my goals for this blog was to find a movie that I had watched for the first time when I was much younger that is supposed to be a “classic” but that I simply didn’t enjoy and finally understand why it’s held in such high regard and enjoy it as much as everyone else.

RagingBull2

Vertigo is the closest I’ve come although I still find the first 2/3 of that film to be an insufferable bore (thankfully, it’s last act is perfection). My viewings of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia for this blog were marked by an appreciation of the films’ technical merits but no real pleasure (once again, still think they’re mostly insufferable bores). When I was in high school, I didn’t get the hype surrounding Raging Bull at all, and I’ve long thought that De Niro only won his Oscar because he gained 60 pounds during the film’s shoot. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

RagingBull3

All of the other “classics” that I’m still yet to warm to beyond their technical merits have consistently suffered from what I view as a deficiency of compelling character. Lawrence of Arabia is interesting as a historical document (though skewed towards the notion of British exceptionalism) and a phenomenal bit of epic filmmaking, but the film has nothing to say about why T.H. Lawrence is such a legendary and endlessly fascinating figure. And I’m actually unsure if 2001 has anything interesting to say whatsoever. But, if there’s ever been a more intense portrait of desperate, wounded masculinity than Raging Bull, I don’t know what it is.

Scorsese is famous for his gritty, stylistic crime thrillers but anyone who’s seen The Age of Innocence or Taxi Driver (or even the recent The Wolf of Wall Street) knows that his real talents lie in burrowing into the heart of his characters; his most famous films simply combine great characters with iconoclastic style. The ultimate sacrifice of his own happiness that Newland makes in The Age of Innocence is one of the most moving and powerful arcs of Scorsese’s career. And by casting aside the typical tale of good guys and bad guys for Raging Bull, Scorsese lets us see the full force of his understanding of character in one of his most memorable “heroes,” the real life boxer, Jake La Motta (Silver Lining Playbook‘s Robert De Niro).

RagingBull4

Based on La Motta’s (ghost-written) autobiography, Raging Bull takes a look into the La Motta’s rise to boxing world champion as well as the ultimate self-destruction that rules every step of his life. Managed by his brother Joey (Joe Pesci), who only seems kept together in comparison to Jake, the film begins when a 19 year old Jake La Motta loses his first boxing fight by decision. In an unhappy marriage (Jake has a major Madonna/Whore complex), Jake meets the 15 year old Vicky (Casper‘s Cathy Moriarty), and he instantly falls for the virginal beauty. But, the two’s marriage  only leads to heartbreak and destruction for both.

With the possible exception of Ray Winstone in Nil by Mouth, there has never been a male lead in the cinema as insanely jealous and aggressive as Jake La Motta. What’s more astounding is the extent to which Jake himself owns up to and wished to atone for his outrageous behavior. Jake is sweet and tender with Vicky until they get married and sleep together. And from that point forward, he’ll beat and harass her if she so much as looks at another man. At one point in the film, she referred to another boxer as a good looking man  and Jake beats him so viciously in their next match that he’ll never be good looking again.

RagingBull5

And, at the end of the day, Raging Bull is an attempt by Martin Scorsese to explore the dichotomy of Jake’s violent and brutal presence in the ring (and how said violence makes him successful as a boxer) and that same violence and brutality destroying his personal life. Jake becomes convinced that his brother is sleeping with Vickie just because Joey beat a mobster outside a club to protect Jake’s honor. And so Jake beats Joey within an inch of his life. And although that toughness means Jake can stand toe to toe with Sugar Ray Robinson, it makes him an awful husband and a generally terrible human being.

And Robert De Niro’s performance makes this film. On some level, I still question if the film is as deep and definitive of overt masculine desperation as it makes itself out to be or if Robert De Niro is just that good. Regardless of the answer to that question, De Niro gives one of the finest performances of his iconic career as Jake La Motta. There’s a scene later in the film where La Motta’s been arrested and is thrown in jail, and the animalistic ferocity of De Niro’s performance is one of the most intensely acted scenes in film history, and the rest of the movie lives up to that high standard. To be honest, him gaining the 60 lbs. himself seems like an unnecessary stunt when his performance alone carries the film.

RagingBull6

The film’s cinematography is as brutal and unforgiving as the movie’s script. Trust me when I say you haven’t seen a boxing movie like this before. Replacing the “boxing ballet” of titles like Rocky with buckets of blood and in-your-face camera angles, Raging Bull makes you feel every punch and every cut. In fact, Raging Bull goes beyond reality unless Jake La Motta’s final bout against Sugar Ray Robinson is really as bloody as this film suggests (which is to say that by the end, Jake looked like Sloth from The Goonies). And the gorgeous black & white cinematography fits just as well for the domestic segments though they are nearly as brutal and terrifying as the boxing sections (which is what makes Raging Bull such a classic).

Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty both shine in some of the earlier roles of their career (I might be wrong, but I think this was Moriarty’s first role). Vickie is less a character in her own right and more a bounce board for Jake’s insane rage. And her lack of depth is probably the sole reason I’m not giving this film perfect marks (spoiler). But, Cathy Moriarty works wonders with what she’s given, and of course, Joe Pesci is always your go to man if you need a small guy with an insane presence and a hair-trigger temper. The role isn’t as substantive as his parts in Goodfellas or Casino (I know I’m one of the latter’s few defenders), but he steals every scene he’s in as usual.

RagingBull7

As I said, I watched this film several days ago, and I’m at work and I just need to draw this review to a premature close. Raging Bull is clearly one of the great films of the 1980s which was sadly something of a dry period for great American cinema (the fiasco of Heaven’s Gate essentially ended the New Hollywood era of the 60s and 70s), and while I wouldn’t put it over the top of Taxi Driver as Scorsese’s best film (or even the flawed Gangs of New York for that matter), it is one of the great portraits of American masculinity and a must-see for all film lovers.

Final Score: A

 

TheElephantMan1

David Lynch is known for two things: mind-bending surrealism and an uncanny ability to terrify audiences through entirely unconventional means. His best films (Inland Empire, Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr.) tap into both realms through surrealistic nightmares of Freudian psycho-sexual imagery. I’ve been watching Twin Peaks lately (I’m near the beginning of Season 2), and in the episodes where Lynch has the biggest involvement, it too hits those high-notes. 1980s The Elephant Man is without question a Lynch film. His second directorial feature, it features Lynch’s sympathy with the bizarre and cast-aside. But it is also an almost uncharacteristically straight-forward exercise in Lynchean film-making. It lacks much of the surrealism that defines him as a director, and the structure of the film is remarkably simple by Lynch standards. It is also, perhaps, Lynch’s most thematically complex and emotionally rich picture so perhaps leaving the surrealistic flourishes at the door was the correct decision.

Though there is generally an over-riding theme to any given Lynch film (Blue Velvet = pulling back the curtain on suburban tranquility, Inland Empire = the borderline psychotic obsession of the best performers, Eraserhead = a Freudian nightmare of fatherhood), I also don’t think said themes are often the point of that particular Lynch work. They aren’t the reason that people obsess over his films. Lynch is a cinematic technician of the highest order and when modern directors like Gaspar Noé and others aspire to match his work (they rarely do), it is because they recognize his rightful standing as one of the great cinematic visualists. For the first time that I can remember, the visual nature of Lynch’s films takes a back seat (though trust me, it’s still there waiting in the wings) and instead The Elephant Man becomes an almost quiet mediation on cruelty and the perverse nature of voyeurism.

TheElephantMan2

The Elephant Man is a very loose adaptation of the true story of 19th century Englishman Joseph Merrick (called John in the film and played by Alien‘s John Hurt), who suffers from a truly horrific series of bodily deformities that gives him such a frightening visage that he has been exploited by the circus and dubbed “The Elephant Man.” The film begins with respected British surgeon and anatomist, Frederick Treves (Thor‘s Anthony Hopkins), arriving at the circus and finding himself intrigued by this so-called Elephant Man display which is causing enough of a stir that the police force the circus owner, Bytes (Freddie Jones), to shut down that feature in his display of “freaks.” Treves requests a private viewing where he sees John Merrick for the first time and is struck to tears by the man’s disfigured frame. Treves strikes a monetary deal with Bytes and utilizes John in a medical forum on anatomical abnormalities before returning John to Bytes, under the impression that Merrick can’t speak or understand English.

When John returns to the circus, he gets bronchitis and when Bytes realizes he can’t beat it out of John, he calls Treves back to fix his prized possession. And after an extended stay at the Royal British Hospital, Treves discovers that John is actually capable of speech and has known how to read for most of his life, a fact he’s hidden to avoid beatings from Bytes. After convincing the hospital’s governor, Carr Gomm (The Charge of the Light Brigade‘s John Gielgud), of John’s intelligence, Treves becomes John’s permanent caretaker and mentor. And, though Treves realizes he initially exploited John in a manner similar to Bytes, Treves tries to atone for his early selfishness by helping to integrate John into the upper echelons of British society and to give him a life of comfort and happiness that has constantly eluded him. But, the cruelty and wanton stares that have haunted Merrick his whole life will need more than Treves’s good intentions to disappear.

TheElephantMan3

John Hurt received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for his turn as John. For the first thirty or so minutes of the film, I actually thought that Treves was the true main character of the piece, but once John begins actually speaking, he takes his rightful place as the emotional center of the film. Though some could accuse Lynch of portraying Merrick as being inspirationally disadvantaged in a Forrest Gump-esque manner, I actually think the film is a deconstruction of that trope. John’s utilization as a “freak” that happens to be well-spoken and the hottest ticket in upper British society is treated as the exploitation it is, and one of the greatest scenes of the film is Anthony Hopkins (also in a brilliant performance) wondering if he is a good man or a bad man for what he is done. John’s circle in life isn’t complete until he’s truly accepted as a peer by these men and not some novelty for their dissection (and when that finally occurred, I was, of course, in tears).

Here’s a fun fact about The Elephant Man that you may not be aware of. The Best Makeup category at the Academy Awards was invented because of this movie. There was not a category to honor the make-up work in The Elephant Man in 1980, and only a vague special citation had been given in the citation category in the past. If you’ve seen The Elephant Man, you know how absurdly well-done John’s makeup is. I’ve seen photographs of the actual Joseph Merrick, and John Hurt is made to look practically just like him. I miss the pre-2000s days of actual physical special effects. If The Elephant Man were made today, Merrick would probably be some type of CGI creation, and it would rob him of his basic humanity. As an actual physical creation, John becomes a marvelous feat of technical wizardry that looks phenomenal 33 years later.

TheElephantMan4

That both this and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull lost to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People for Best Director and Best Picture (and to Polanski’s Tess, which is at least a great film, for Best Cinematography) has to be one of the most absurd moments in Academy history. I mentioned that this is one of Lynch’s more subtle films, but I don’t mean that as an insult. His strength as a visually arresting director are still on full display (though his usual surrealist touches are left to dream sequences that are explicitly such). The Elephant Man is shot in a beautiful black-and-white, and in general, the movie’s visual style is an homage to German expressionism of the Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau vareity as well as subtle shout-outs to the Tod Browning cult film, Freaks. Considering the look of this and Eraserhead, part of me wishes that Lynch might have stuck to black & white though his color films are just as good. The movie’s sound design is nearly as interesting as its visual direction as it turns into some nightmare of industrialization.

I’ll draw this review to a close. I want to eat lunch and watch (ironically enough perhaps) some more of season two of Twin Peaks. I didn’t have much time to dive into the thematic statements of the film. The movie is particularly effective in making the audience feel guilty for wanting to know what John looks like. You become as much of a bastard as those that hound him at the train station (which provides the film’s most famous sequence). The Elephant Man provides something that few Lynch films ever do (and this is coming from a huge fan). It provides actual emotional context. The Elephant Man is an almost overwhelmingly sad experience but not in a cheap, exploitative way. This is a David Lynch film for that aren’t generally David Lynch fans.

Final Score: A-

 

 

(Quick aside before my actual review. In my Song of the Day post for today, I promised to reveal why it was that my blogging had slowed down some this week even though I had only worked two days at the mall. It’s because I finally got around to starting on a screenplay. I know I’ve talked about that a lot of times on here, but I actually sat down and tried to write for the first time in a long while. And it’s going really well so far. I started Tuesday or Wednesday I guess. I’m not sure for sure, but I’ve written 30 pages since then. The average screenplay is either 90 or 120 minutes long so I’m either a third of the way there or a fourth for my first draft. I’m not going to share it with anyone until I’ve finished my first draft and done some proofreading/minor editing, but when it’s taken real shape, I will let all of my loyal readers know. Now, on to Star Wars!)

When this blog was in its infant stages, one of the first 50 films that I reviewed was Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Nearly the entire saga is on my list (except for The Phantom Menace because I will never voluntarily subject myself to that film again), and it’s taken a year and a half for the random number gods determining which films I watch from my master list to provide me with another entry in the series. The Star Wars franchise is one of the most beloved film series of all time, and although I think that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is superior to the original Star Wars trilogy (it’s not even a competition about being better than the prequels), there’s still something magical about watching the original films. That magic is never greater than in Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back which remains the crowning achievement of the franchise.

After destroying the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back picks up three years later with the Rebel Alliance in hiding on the ice planet of Hoth. After Luke gets stranded over-night in the frozen wastes when his tauntaun (basically a reptile horse alien creature) is killed, he sees a vision from his old mentor Obi-Wan telling him to visit the planet of Dagobah to find the Jedi Master Yoda. Luke is rescued from Hoth by Han Solo only for the planet to be invaded the next day by the Empire. After holding off the Imperial forces, Luke heads to Dagobah (with R2-D2) while Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO escape on the Millennium Falcon while evading constant pursuit from the Empire. As Luke is trained in the ways of the Jedi by the mysterious and tiny Yoda, his friends must stay one step ahead of the Empire if they want to avoid the clutches of Darth Vader.

Many of my thoughts about the original film remain relevant here. Outside of Han (and now Billy Dee William’s Lando Calrissian who appears in Empire), most of the film’s characters are more of an archetype than actually well defined characters in their own right. Luke is still your classical hero-in-training/messianic archetype (although actually, it’s hard to decide whether Luke or Anakin is actually the one who brought balance to the force and I don’t want to spark that nerd debate here). Leia is your rebellious princess. Darth Vader is the fallen hero (though you don’t find that out til the next film), and The Emperor is… the evil emperor. Only Han’s loveable rogue breaks the rules of mainstream storytelling, and it’s a testament to his character’s popularity that Han himself has become nearly a stock character type since the series began.

Similarly, the acting itself remains hit or miss. Harrison Ford is as charming and rakish as always, and the decision to play with the sexual chemistry between himself and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was wise. Let’s face it. Han telling Leia “I know” when she says that she loves him remains one of the most bad-ass moments in film history (rivaling any of the actual action sequences of the series). Carrie Fisher is appealingly tough as the Princess even if there isn’t much going on beneath the surface there. However, Mark Hamill, the center of the franchise as Luke, avoids being the worst leading actor in the series only because Hayden Christensen would show up later to ruin Anakin Skywalker forever. He’s wooden, weird inflections, and his angry face is more hilarious than dramatic. Thank god James Earl Jones is still around to add some gravitas to the interactions between Luke and Darth Vader.

What makes Empire Strikes Back my favorite entry in the franchise is the way that it expands the universe in consistently interesting ways without falling prey to any of the “cutesy” trappings that would mar Return of the Jedi (fucking Ewoks man) and straight up ruin the first two prequel films. A New Hope can basically be summed up as Tatooine, escaping the Death Star, destroying the Death Star. Empire Strikes Back is more willing to diversify the settings as well as the act structure. The film also introduces many of the most famous and beloved characters of the franchise. We see Boba Fett, the Emperor, Lando Calrissian, and Yoda all for the first time in Empire. If you really pay attention to the dialogue of the film, you will walk away knowing much more about the Star Wars universe than you did at the end of A New Hope.

The other (and pretty much primary) reason that I prefer The Empire Strikes Back to any other film in the franchise is that it’s easily the darkest entry in the series. Well, perhaps Revenge of the Sith is darker, but it also ultimately falls apart when it’s examined too closely (cause George Lucas did not write a compelling enough downfall for Anakin) so it’s disqualified from this race. Nearly every aspect of the final act of Empire Strikes Back is a downer. If you somehow haven’t seen the film stop reading now because you’re about to get some spoilers. Star Wars is the original blockbuster film series, and it’s decision to have its middle chapter end on the stark note of Luke losing his hand and finding out his father is his sworn enemy as well as Han Solo being captured and frozen in carbonite would ultimately shape the narrative structure of future series such as The Matrix.

I haven’t actually worked on my screenplay any today because I slept in til nearly 2 (even though I went to bed before 11 last night. I just slipped into a minor coma) so I’m going to keep this review short and try to write about 5 or so pages of my screenplay before I go to bed and get ready for class tomorrow. I’m sure at some point, I will review Return of the Jedi (I’ve now decided that even if my list has Revenge of the Sith or Attack of the Clones first, I’m just going to watch the films in the order they were released) although I don’t know when. I just hope that my earlier statement where I expressed my love for Lord of the Rings over Star Wars doesn’t inspire a Clerk 2-esque flame war in the comments section of this page. May the force be with you.

Final Score: A

Airplane!

After a series of very heavy and highbrow films, I was relieved to see that the next film in my instant queue for Netflix was the classic spoof film, Airplane!. I love serious movies and I love to have my brain stimulated to the maximum of its abilities, but every now and then I need to recharge and just sit through a film I can enjoy without having to exhaust my mental facilities. Airplane! was a straight comedy with no social commentary, subtext, boundary pushing moral dialogues, or acid-trip ending (seriously what the hell was “Beyond the Infinite” about in 2001: A Space Odyssey). This film is an all-time classic for a reason and with visual and verbal puns arriving every couple of seconds, Airplane! has aged wonderfully. If you don’t mind comedies that came from a less sophisticated time and where a series of never-ending sight gags was considered a proper way to arrange a film (and you’ve somehow managed to never watch Airplane!), you can’t go wrong by buying a ticket for this flight.

In the late 70’s, disaster films like The Poseidon Adventure, Airport, and The Towering Inferno (starring a pre-murder O.J. Simpson) were all of the rage, and Airplane! is to those films what the Scary Movie franchise is to modern horror (though actually funny unlike the latter). Former pilot Ted (Robert Hays) boards a last-minute flight to Chicago to convince his stewardess girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty) not to leave him. Scarred by his experiences in the last war, Ted hasn’t flown since his errors in a combat mission cost seven of his fellow soldiers their lives. It looks like this was the wrong flight to get on when food poisoning disables the pilot (Peter Graves) and the co-pilot (Kareem Abdul Jabar). With the help of Dr. Rumack (Naked Gun‘s Leslie Nielsen), Ted is going to have to fight past his fear of flying (and the zany cast of characters onboard the planet) if he wants any chance to bring this plane down and save everyone on board.

Much like the disaster films it was sending up, this movie featured an all-star cast, and one of the most brilliant decisions of the film was to cast predominantly dramatic actors in many of the film’s smaller bit parts. Watching Peter Graves ask the boy in the cockpit if he had ever seen a grown man naked or been to a Turkish prison worked because Peter Graves played the part perfectly straight. Were it not for the absurd things he was saying, you would have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a dramatic film based on his performance. The same thing goes for Robert Stacks (Unsolved Mysteries) whose cool, commanding voice never winked or conveyed any overt irony to the audience. He simply played it like this was a real situation. I’m a big fan of deadpan delivery and these two were possibly the funniest parts of the whole film. Leslie Nielsen made his career off of this role, but I will always appreciate the subtle and sandpaper dry performances of Peter Graves and Robert Stacks the most. Lloyd Bridges was also great in a smaller role as an air traffic controller who chose the wrong week to give up an absurd number of vices.

Even more than its wonderful cast, what makes Airplane! work 30 years later and what caused it to inspire so much of the parody and gag driven humor to follow was that this movie simply never stops throwing gags at the audience. There are so many tiny little sight gags encoded into each scene that you have to watch the film multiple times just to catch every joke. Not ever bit works, but the film is simply chucking so much humor at its audience that you don’t care. These aren’t the most intellectual jokes either, and if you aren’t familiar with the works it’s parodying, then you’ll miss a lot of the humor, but even 30 years later, there’s so much universally funny humor in this movie that you’ll probably still find something to love here even if you were born during the 90’s (I’m barely still in the 80’s. 1989 represent everybody!). To top it all off, the film remains endlessly quotable from “I’m completely serious, and don’t call me Shirley” to “I speak jive” to “You’re Kareem Abdul Jabar!” to “Do you like to watch movies with gladiators in them?”, there plenty of lines in this film that have remained part of the pop culture lexicon for three decades.

I generally prefer my comedies to be a little darker and a little drier, but when a movie remains as funny as Airplane! all of these years later, I can’t complain. Whether you’re an everyman or a Woody Allen fan, Airplane! is an undisputed classic. While I have to blame it for the terrible spoof revival movement that we had to suffer through during the ’00s, it only goes to show how great the Abrams brothers timing was as the masters of the lowbrow spoof movie. If you’ve managed to go your entire life without seeing Airplane! (and I would really like you to tell me how that happened), then it’s high time you dust off this classic and surely you’ll be impressed. Just don’t call me Shirley.

Final Score: B+

As an avid reader that is an equally avid cinephile, it is not uncommon for me to watch movie adaptations of books I simply adore. While I’m not one of those literary snobs who can’t get past differences between books and movies (thankfully because I understand the different needs of the two genres), there are still times when I’m incredibly disappointed with one director’s interpretation of a beloved work (I can count on one hand the number of movies that I actually prefer to the book: Lord of the Rings, The Road, The Mist, and The Shawshank Redemption). Stephen King’s novels are especially prone to terrible adaptations (Thinner, Needful Things, Pet Sematary) as his in-depth characterization is often ignored solely for the horror element even though the neuroses and psychological flaws of his heroes is often more important to his actual texts. The original 1980 film version of The Shining (as opposed to the made for TV movie from the 90’s with Stephen Weber and Rebecca De Mornay) is the rare film adaptation that completely eschews all but the barest semblance to the source material but still manages to maintain an intriguing and ambitious artistic voice. I may prefer Stephen King’s original novel, but there is no denying the artistic tour-de-force that is Stanley Kubrick’s bold re-imagining of the original text.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former schoolteacher and a recovering alcoholic. Currently unemployed (for vague reasons not clearly stated in the movie) and hoping to write a novel, Jack takes a job at the scenic Overlook Hotel in Colorado as the winter caretaker. Along for the ride are his meek wife Wendy (Shelley DuVall) and his psychic son Danny. As explained by the cook Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) before the rest of the staff leaves for winter, Danny has what is known as “the shining,” a psychic ability to hold mental conversations with other psychics as well as some slight precognition. As winter marches forward, Jack slowly starts to succumb to cabin fever, and minor aggravations with his family begin to mutate into psychopathic, murderous rage as the supernatural elements of the Hotel begin to work their voodoo into Jack.

Just as a heads up, this is going to be a fairly meaty review because the things I like about this film (Jack Nicholson’s performance, Kubrick’s direction, the stellar camerawork, the musical score) are just as noticeable as they things I loathe (the shallow characterization, Shelley Duvall, poorly paced plotting). First and foremost, it’s hard to say who sells this film more: Kubrick’s cinematic wizardry or Jack Nicholson’s bravado performance. Every single second that Jack Nicholson is on screen you have this inescapable sense of dread and foreboding. He is a man who has made a career off of frenetic energy and startling intensity, but Jack Nicholson has potentially never been more intense than he has in this film. While I really do not enjoy this particular characterization of Jack Torrance, that is the screenplay’s fault and not Jack Nicholson who consistently takes Torrance’s crazy factorto new and new heights. This is the psycho performance to top all psycho performances.

I am not always a huge Stanley Kubrick fan. I adore A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove, and (the first half of) Full Metal Jacket, but by that same token, I think 2001: A Space Odyssey is among the most over-rated films of all time and that last half of Full Metal Jacket is a mess (and don’t get me started on Eyes Wide Shut). However, during this particular viewing of The Shining (the first time I had watched it since high school), I was stunned by all of the little touches either in set direction, lighting, coloring, and general composition of shots. All of the long, abandoned corridors helped to contribute to the sense of isolation and dread and the recurring technique of framing a shot through a doorway was very interesting. During scenes where Jack was starting to lose his grip on sanity, there would be a very subtle but noticeable “heartbeat” effect in the color of the scene and it helped add to the disorientation. This was one of the pioneering films in the use of a “steadicam” for the tricycle scenes. At times, you could notice how the images were warped at the edges to further disturb audiences who could just notice something was not right even if they couldn’t say what it was. All in all, this film was always an absolute treat to look at (even when the story faltered as I’ll get to in a moment).

The film’s most unforgivable flaw is its treatment of Jack Torrance’s character. Jack Torrance remains one of my favorite Stephen King heroes (even though he ends up a bad guy, he is still the main protagonist of the tale alongside his son Danny) because he was a heavily autobiographical creation of King’s own battles with alcoholism and violence. Jack was complex and watching his gradual transformation to madness (and ultimate redemption through his son) was very rewarding and terrifying. Jack seems to already be a deeply troubled person when he gets to the Overlook in the film, and there is very little reason given for his seemingly instantaneous transformation into an ax-murderer. In the book, the Overlook was able to draw on the boiling tensions of this alcoholic who was otherwise a good man and use it to tempt him to the dark side because it fed off of the darkness in his heart. In the film, Jack seems to get one fake bourbon from a ghost who may or may not have been real in the first place and that shoots him off to crazyville. It all just seemed to heavy-handed for my tastes and while subtlety isn’t usually Stephen King’s forte, he is far more subtle about a journey into madness than Kubrick came close to achieving with this film.

This is a horror classic. There is simply no debate there. Stanley Kubrick laid the groundwork for so much of the slasher and serial killer stories to follow in how he crafted this film, and perhaps, if you take this film out of the context of its source material, then it would simply be amazing. However, I would hope that even without King’s original tale, the simple lack of context for much of Jack’s actions in the film and the rushed nature of its climax would leave me a little cold. With the exceptions of A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove though, perhaps that is Kubrick’s thing. He makes gorgeous films  that are perhaps more fun to look at than actually parse for plot and characters. I would never deny that 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t a stunningly beautiful film, but by that same token, I also think it’s a pretentious and bloated beast that is more fun for stoners than for people who want any deeper meaning. All horror fans should watch The Shining, but then you need to read Stephen King’s book and see how a real horror master does it.

Final Score: A-

The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino, The Sopranos. There’s something about the mob that makes for classic movies. Maybe it’s the violence. Maybe it’s the glamorous lifestyle. Maybe it’s the chance to take a look at a redefinition of the family. Whatever it is, organized crime has made for compelling movies ever since Howard Hawk’s original Scarface back in the 1930’s. The genre is practically as old as cinema itself. Lest we Yanks get too cocky, we can’t forget that there have been plenty of great gangster films from across the pond, such as Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake, or the original Get Carter. Well, I now have another film to add to the list of great British crime picture’s, 1980’s The Long Good Friday, and while it might not be as great as the film’s I just mentioned, it’s definitely worth a watch for everybody that loves a good mobster picture.

The Long Good Friday follows a couple explosive days in the life of Cockney mob boss Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins). Harold is on the cusp of making a huge and very lucrative business deal that will allow him to leave his life of crime and become a legitimate business-man. However, his life gets thrown into chaos when a car-bomb that was meant for his mother blows up one of his associates, a bomb nearly goes off in a casino his owns, and his closest consiglieri is stabbed to death at a pool. Harold manages to escape all of this basically unharmed, but he now must figure out who is after him and how to stop them, or else the American mafiosi that are to be partners in his new deal will pull out and his big plans will come out from under him.

Bob Hoskins is perhaps at the best I’ve ever seen him in this movie. He’s fiery and passionate and at times down right terrifying. After seeing one of his explosions of rage in this film, it may color all of the scenes from Who Framed Roger Rabbit from my childhood in different and less pleasant ways. I feel like James Gandolfini probably got a lot of inspiration for how he played Tony Soprano from Bob Hoskins performance in this film and that’s definitely a compliment. He can be philosophizing one second and stabbing someone to death with a broken bottle the next. An incredibly young, beautiful, and damn near unrecognizable Helen Mirren plays Harold’s wife Victoria. It’s no wonder she aged so well. She was gorgeous when she was younger. Also, there are two blink and you’ll miss it cameos from a super young Pierce Brosnan in the film as well. I had to go to IMDB to be sure it was him.

The movie might have ran a little too long, and at times there were some pacing problems that made me a little bit antsy, but don’t let that discourage you from giving this one a go. For the first real gangster picture that I’ve reviewed for this thing, I was not remotely disappointed. You might want to turn on the subtitles for the movie however. The primary players in the film all have incredibly thick Cockney accents and pepper their dialogue with a lot of obscure British slang and that makes it hard to follow exactly what’s happening at times. If you like gangster movies or a good old fashioned crime thriller, you should give this one a whirl. I’ll think you’ll have a good time.

Final Score: B+