Category Archives: Stanley Kubrick
I was, if you can believe, probably about five or six years old when I had my first glimpse of a Stanley Kubrick film. It was the middle of a sunny, Sunday afternoon, and I was visiting my father, stepmother and sister. For some reason that would probably merit a visit from child services today, Dad had The Shining going on the VCR.
Come and play with us Danny.
Give me the bat.
KDK 12 calling KDK 1.
You’ve always been the caretaker, sir. I should know. I’ve always been here.
Would you look at that? A whole bunch of familiar quotations from The Shining and I didn’t even throw in the most famous one. The point is, Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the classic Stephen King novel (it strays way too far from the source material for me to call it an adaptation) is far more influential than simply two words and an axe through a doorframe. The Shining is one of thee great horror films of our lifetime, one that’s influence continues to be felt today.
Find out where and why after the jump!
A Clockwork Orange: I won’t bother summarizing the plot. If you haven’t seen this magnificent film by Stanley Kubrick (or read the less-than-magnificent-but-still-pretty-good novel by Anthony Burgess), stop reading this column right now and head to your local video store/shop/torrent site, get a copy, sit down with a glass of whisky, and dedicate two hours to absolute brilliance and jaw-dropping horror. Seen it? Good. Now we can continue.
Alex: a morally empty young man whose leisure activities include opiate-laced lactose, theft, battery, bloodletting, and rape. Like Frank Castle, the subject of my previous post, the man is a sociopath. He lives outside our laws and levels of moral behaviour because he considers himself above them; he is a law and force unto himself, and he revels in his self-imposed position. He’s not psychotic: he doesn’t break into fits of uncontrolled rage or mania; everything is cold, calculated, and considered. He’s fully aware of his actions; he simply doesn’t care.
I started Nine Week of Kubrick with a look at Eyes Wide Shut, the final film in the Stanley Kubrick Collectors Edition blu-ray set. Nine movies later, I conclude the series with the first movie in the set, one of the defining epics of our time and a film that, amazingly, I had never seen before this weekend. But Saturday afternoon, with the Queen beside me, I was most tempted to yell out “I am…watching Spartacus!”
What the film is about: set in pre-Christianity Rome, Spartacus is the story of the title character (Kirk Douglas), a slave who becomes a gladiator and leads a revolution against and Rome and General Crassus (Laurence Olivier). The film is a mixture of politics, romance and action and features a cast of nearly 10,000.
What I liked about Spartacus: I was genuinely cautious about watching Spartacus. Three hour epics that don’t involve mobsters or Viet Nam are not usually my cup of tea, and the last Kubrick film I watched that ran long was the disappointing Barry Lyndon. However, my fears of potential boredom were completely unfounded as I watched Spartacus. While I wouldn’t say that it moved along at a brisk pace, I was never bored. In fact, I was engaged and impressed by what I was watching. I was floored by just how much of an epic the movie is, especially having been released in 1960. Without CGI, you know you’re actually seeing thousands of extras line up for battle and go to war. The majesty of the scenery wasn’t created post-production, which makes Spartacus all the more stunning.
Along with it’s great storytelling and visuals, Spartacus has solid performances from every actor on screen. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen too many Kirk Douglas films, but after watching him as Spartacus I’m determined to track down more of his work. The same goes for Laurence Olivier as Crassus, Tony Curtis as Antonitus and the brilliant (and Oscar-winning) Peter Ustinov as gladiator owner and seller Batiatus.
What I didn’t like about the film: while Spartacus is big and bold and epic in style and nature, it never quite feels like a Stanley Kubrick film to me. At least, not the Kubrick who would make 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Lolita. Now, obviously Kubrick tried to not repeat himself, but because he was essentially a director for hire on the picture (brought in by Kirk Douglas to replace original director Anthony Mann, who was let go one week intro shooting), Spartacus doesn’t altogether resonate like the other work of the great director. Apart from a few brilliant moments, I just didn’t feel like Kubrick’s stamp was evident, no matter how great the film is.
Should you watch Spartacus: absolutely, 100% you should see Spartacus. Not because it’s a great Stanley Kubrick film, but because it’s simply great moviemaking. It’s one of those movies that all film fans have to see at some point, and I glad doing my Nine Weeks of Kubrick feature finally led me to viewing it. While it’s far from being my favourite Kubrick film, it is still a certifiable classic.
Final thoughts: Here endeth my look at one of the greatest directors of all time. I hope you enjoyed reading my take on the films contained in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition blu-ray box set. Personally, I loved watching and writing about every single movie (yes, even Barry Lyndon). The series has inspired me to do more features along these lines, to explore great filmmakers and pictures I may never have seen before. On that note, be on the lookout for the next director to get the in-depth, Biff Bam Pop treatment.
He’ll make your day.
Nine Weeks of Kubrick, Week Eight – Andy Burns on Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this is previous entries, but the eighth film in my Nine Weeks of Kubrick series is one I genuinely haven’t been looking forward to watching. In fact, aside from Barry Lyndon, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb was the one picture I really had zero interest in. I’ve only seen it one previous time, back when I was in university and taking a film class. I just remember being horribly bored with it. Now, I was relatively young at the time, nineteen or twenty years old, so maybe I just wasn’t ready for the complex black satire. Maybe I’d enjoy it more as a full-blown adult, watching with a discerning eye as I made my way through the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition blu-ray box set. Did I change my tune? Read on.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb
What the film is about: Set during the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb finds America at risk of nuclear war after a disgruntled general (Sterling Hayden) orders a first strike against Russia. Various characters, including Peter Sellers in three different roles, try to prevent the strike, while a B-52 fighter plane attempts to nuke the country.
What I liked about Dr. Strangelove: What does it say about me that I really didn’t enjoy watching what many consider to be a classic piece of black comedy and one of Stanley Kubrick’s defining films? Sadly, some fifteen years or so removed from my first seeing, I still wasn’t engaged by the good doctor. Though it has great performances from Peter Sellers (three of them, in fact), George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, there’s very little about the film that moved me or captured my imagination the way that Kubrick’s other works have. Though it’s supposed to be a comedy, I really only ever chuckled – and almost always, that came from Peter Sellers (the President’s phone call with the Russian Prime Minister is definitely priceless, as is Dr. Strangelove’s incessant Nazi salutations). While I appreciate the film is a satire of the Cold War fear at the time, I’m left feeling that Dr. Strangelove is the most dated of all Kubrick’s work, and dated often leads to boring.
What I didn’t like about the film: It’s definitely worth nothing that there isn’t anything imparticular I disliked about Dr. Strangelove, though I would say that the War Room scene where the implications of what’s been set in motion goes on for far too long, in my book. I suppose the passing was just far to slow for me. I remember thinking back in school that it was a three hour picture, when it’s actually only slightly over 90 minutes. As well, unlike future Kubrick films, there’s nothing visually arresting in Dr. Strangelove. It’s fairly straightforward, relying more on script and character, just as Lolita did. I just feel that Lolita did it better.
Should you watch Dr. Strangelove: Considered to be one of the 100 Greatest Films of all Time by more than a few critics, it’s probably mandetory for a cinema lover to see Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb at least once. If you like it, all the better. However, it’s not a Kubrick film I’d recommend as your first time taste of what the director can do. I think he did dark, comedic satire far better with A Clockwork Orange, vastly different films they may be. But who knows? Maybe I’ll come around to Dr. Strangelove in another fifteen years.
Check in next week for the ninth and final film in our look at the work of Stanley Kubrick. In the meantime, check out the previous seven editions:
After a week’s break to check out some in-theatre film adventure, I’m back at it with the seventh instalment in the Nine Weeks of Kubrick series I’ve been working on. One of the reasons I’m glad that I set this up is, apart from last week’s brief intermission, knowing I’ve committed to writing about the films contained in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection means I can’t just let them sit there. It also means I can see how Kubrick utilized his talents and style in all of his pictures in a fairly condensed viewing period, giving me a serious appreciation for just how brilliant a director he was. That being said, this week’s offering is what’s considered to be one of the defining war films of all time. In the hands of the master, how could it not be?
FULL METAL JACKET
What the film is about: Released in 1987, Full Metal Jacket was a unique take on the Viet Nam war, split into two halves. The first half focuses on training for newly recruited Marines by a hard case drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), the confident Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and the seemingly hopeless Private Pyle (Vincent D’onofrio). The second half takes us into battle, but unlike every other Viet Nam film, which are typically set in the jungle, Full Metal Jacket focuses on the urban warfare the Marines face while in combat.
What I liked about Full Metal Jacket: Once again, Stanley Kubrick didn’t just make a genre film, he made thee defining genre film. Full Metal Jacket is truly the story of the creation of soldiers, from their beginnings in training to who they are once entrenched against the enemy. For years, one of my favourite films has been Apocalypse Now, the classic Viet Nam movie about a man travelling up river to kill an insane colonel. While both it and Full Metal Jacket are set during the same war, both are severely different pictures. I look at Apocalypse Now as more of a cinematic trip and experience, whereas there are times during the second half of Full Metal Jacket that feel as though you’re watching a documentary, especially with the sounds of running soldiers and the camera work that follows them into battle. Two different takes on the same subject; two brilliant films.
The performances in Full Metal Jacket are nothing short of fantastic from all involved. As Joker, Matthew Modine gives us a character we can latch on to, a kind soul who seems to excel as a soldier, though he clearly is ambivalent about it. Vincent D’onofrio is riveting and frightening as Pyle, a would- be soldier taken to the edge, while R. Lee Ermey totally embodies his character, which makes sense, seeing as he was a Viet Nam drill sergeant off screen first. There’s not a bad actor in the entire cast.
What I didn’t like about the film: Much like Lolita, there wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about Full Metal Jacket. From cast to script, scenery to length, it’s another perfect Kubrick film.
Should you watch Full Metal Jacket: Whether you love war films or not, I can honestly say that Full Metal Jacket is a film worth every movie lover’s time. At less than two hours long, Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s shortest film, and he doesn’t waste a minute. Besides it’s technical brilliance and the stellar performances, Full Metal Jacket has taken on a timely and timeless quality. While it takes place in Viet Nam from 40-some years ago, it could just as easily be Iraq of the past decade. Watching the documentary that comes on the Blu-Ray edition of the film, there’s talk by producer Jan Haran of how Full Metal Jacket was somewhat prosaic in nature, based on the world we live in today. It’s hard not to agree with that assessment of what is one of the greatest films in Stanley Kubrick’s amazing cannon.
Check out the previous Nine Weeks of Kubrick instalments:
Week Two – The Shining
Week Three – A Clockwork Orange
Week Four – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Week Five – Lolita
Six weeks in to our look at the brilliant films found in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection of blu-rays and what I expected has finally occurred – I’ve hit a movie that really just hasn’t moved me, and it’s exactly the one that I thought it would be. As I tried to make my way through Barry Lyndon for the first time, I stopped and started the film multiple times over the weekend. On that note, here are my thoughts on the Kubrick movie that Martin Scorsese has sited as his favourite from the legendary director:
What the film is about: Released in 1975 and adapted by Kubrick from the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon is an extremely slow-moving 18th century period piece about the life and adventures of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), a rogue who maneuvers his way into high society from his lowly beginnings through thieving, gambling and seduction.
What I liked about Barry Lyndon: As someone who is not a real fan of period pieces, I did find much to appreciate about Barry Lyndon. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the film is gorgeous to look at, especially on Blu-Ray. The Irish scenery is alive and beautiful, and Kubrick makes sure we take it all in with his gratuitous use of long shots throughout the three hour running time. Worth noting is the natural candlelight often used to light many of the indoor scenes – it’s unique and gives a sense of intimacy where utilized. There’s a reason why the picture won Oscars for Art Direction and Cinematgraphy.
Ryan O’Neal delivers a strong performance as the title character; he’s a strong leading man, and does the most with the role. Aside from the scenery, he’s the reason to watch Barry Lyndon. However, as good as O’Neal is, he doesn’t have the presence that Malcolm McDowell showed in Kubrick’s previous film, A Clockwork Orange, or that which Jack Nicholson has on display in The Shining, the movie that would be Kubrick’s follow-up to Barry Lyndon.
What I didn’t like about the film: First off, Barry Lyndon is three hours and it is simply way too long. I’d suggest a half hour could have been cut out to give it a little bit more flow. As it stands, to me the film really drags for almost its entirety, regardless of how nice it is too look at. When it comes to performances, while there are no poor ones to speak of, there are none that stand out other than Ryan O’Neal’s. Names and faces come and go and you really don’t remember any of them other than Barry himself.
As for O’Neal’s Lyndon, the truth is, he’s not a likable lead character, which means you don’t ever really care for him or his circumstances. This really came to light for me when I first started watching the film, with the Queen was sitting beside me. You see, she really enjoys the period films so I thought she’d like watching Barry Lyndon. However, after about a half-hour she tapped out because of how unappealing the character is. He’s rarely sympathetic or even slightly relatable. Imagine watching that for three hours, and you’ll start to see how I felt.
Should you watch Barry Lyndon: If you like period dramas, I think you’ll likely find much to admire about the movie. That is, if you can make your way through three hours of it. No matter how beautiful a film is, you’ve got to have characters to keep you engrossed in it, and that’s where Barry Lyndon is lacking. Having watched so much of Kubrick’s work over the last few weeks, I can safely say that there’s something to admire about all of his movies, but in the case of Barry Lyndon, it is the first Kubrick film that I can’t out and out recommend to you.
Check out the previous five weeks of Kubrick: