Stanley Kubrick

Better In The Dark #153: Just A Couple Of Good Time Guys Sitting Around Jawing-LIVE!

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In our latest episode, The Guys Outta Brooklyn welcome one of their major fans–and a major presence on our Facebook Group–into The BiTD Cave for a freeform conversation about pop culture.  Listen in as Tom, Derrick and Jay as they discuss the James Bond Expanded Universe, childhood television memories, Stanley Kubrick, reality television, tabloid talk shows and the silliest kaiju ever created!  You know kids are people, too (WackadoWackadoWackado), so get to clicking, and don’t forget to Twitter us at @BITDShow!

http://earth-2.net/podcasts/betterinthedark/betterinthedark.php

Paths of Glory

PATHS OF GLORY

1957

Bryna Productions/United Artists

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Produced by James B. Harris

Screenplay written by Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson and Calder Willingham

Based on the novel “Paths of Glory” by Humphrey Cobb

We could discuss and debate all day long about why Stanley Kubrick is a genius filmmaker and why so many of his movies are masterpieces of cinema but here’s why his movies work for me: he didn’t sentimentalize or romanticize the way the people in his films behaved. He never worked at trying to make audiences like the people in his movies. He simply presented them as people and it’s up to you as a viewer to decide how you feel about them and what they’re doing. In a Stanley Kubrick movie, People Are People. And that’s just the way I like it.

In discussions I have with people about Stanley Kubrick the major complaint I hear from people as to why they don’t like his movies is that they’re too ‘cold’ and ‘cerebral’ which really perplexes me because those are words I would never use to describe “Spartacus” “Lolita” “Full Metal Jacket” “The Killing” “A Clockwork Orange” or the movie we’re going to be talking about now; PATHS OF GLORY.

We’re in the middle of World War I when General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) a senior member of the French Army General Staff visits General Mireau (George Macready) on a matter of grave urgency. The decision has been made (and quite pointedly it’s never made clear who exactly has made this decision) that an extraordinarily well-defended German position nicknamed “The Anthill” must be taken. Mireau is horrified at first. The Anthill is virtually impregnable. Taking it is a suicide mission and Mireau cites the brutally high cost of lives lost among his troops to take The Anthill and even if his men are successful, so many would be killed in the attempt that they couldn’t possibly hold it.

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Mireau sings a different song when Broulard dangles a fat promotion in front of his nose. All of a sudden Mireau thinks that such an attack will succeed. He leaves the actual planning of the attack to the regiment’s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) who is frankly and openly aghast as he insists that the only thing this attack will do is waste the lives of good soldiers.  Mireau doesn’t back down and Dax insists that he be allowed to lead the men.

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The attack is a disaster right from jump. So many soldiers are killed in the first wave that the rest refuse to leave the safety of their trenches. An enraged General Mireau orders his own artillery commander to fire on Dax’s men to force them out of the trenches and onto the battlefield. No fool he, our artillery commander: if Mireau wants him to fire on their own troops, he wants it in writing. The attack fails miserably and with a hideously high body count to show for it.

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Mireau picks three soldiers to court-martial for cowardice. Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) is chosen only because there’s a secret he knows about a murder his drunken lieutenant committed. Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is picked because he’s a “social undesirable.” Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) is chosen randomly and he really has no business being on trial as he’s got citations for bravery. Dax volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial as in his civilian life he was a criminal defense lawyer but it soon becomes obvious to him that the entire trial is a kangaroo court and no matter what he does or says, three innocent men are going to be sentenced to death and stood up in front of a firing squad.

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The outrageous injustice of what happens to these three men, each good and loyal soldiers is the core of what makes PATHS OF GLORY such an incredibly compelling movie to watch. The movie is a war movie but then again it isn’t about war, although it’s got one of the most impressive battle scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s about the hypocritical and deceptive nature of cowardice masquerading as leadership. It’s about the abuse of power and arm-chair warriors deciding whose life is valuable and whose life should be thrown away. Even in an office setting there are Generald Broulards and General Mireaus.

It’s some powerful stuff and there’s an equally powerful cast to sell the story. For me, Adolphe Menjou walks away with the acting honors. The way General Broulard manipulates the events that happen in this movie has to be seen to be believed. If his character had ever managed to meet and marry Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin from “The Manchurian Candidate” the two of them could have taken over the world. I see him more as the villain of this piece than General Mireau who is little more than an opportunistic fool who doesn’t know how to cover his own ass. Ralph Meeker owns every scene he’s in and this movie is has one of the best and strongest performances I’ve ever seen him turn in. And Kirk Douglas…well, he’s Kirk Douglas. ‘Nuff said.

The black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and this is one of those movies that I watch and I weep for those of you who refuse to watch black-and-white movies. There are movies that I can’t imagine being in color and PATHS OF GLORY is one of them.

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So should you see PATHS OF GLORY? Absolutely. It makes a terrific companion piece with Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War epic “Full Metal Jacket” It’s a perfect example of the kind of movie that people mean when they say; “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” And along with “Spartacus” it’s the Stanley Kubrick movie that people who claim Mr. Kubrick didn’t make emotional movies should watch. After scenes such as the kangaroo court, the doomed soldiers spending their last night together embracing their doom, the final walk to the firing squad and the final scene with the German girl singing to the French soldiers it’s obvious to me than Stanley Kubrick may have been the most emotional filmmaker the 20th Century had.

PATHS OF GLORY is available for streaming on Netflix and can also be seen on YouTube. I’ve provided the link below. Enjoy.

88 minutes

NR

The Shining

1980

Warner Bros.

Directed and Produced by Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

Based on the novel “The Shining” by Stephen King

Hard as it to believe nowadays when THE SHINING is considered to be a horror masterpiece and one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest films that it really wasn’t all that well received when it had its original theatrical run. Don’t get me wrong, it made its money back and in fact did quite well at the box office. But Stephen King said that Stanley Kubrick had taken all the bite out of his story, deliberately downplaying the supernatural elements of the book and the theme of family disintegration caused by alcoholism that were so important and central to the book King wrote. Some critics said the movie’s pace was too slow. Others said that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall were too eccentric and quirky as actors for the roles of Jack and Wendy Torrance. And African-Americans groups called for a boycott of the movie seeing as how the only character to be killed onscreen is Dick Hallorann, played wonderfully by Scatman Crothers.

But over the years THE SHINING has been re-watched, discussed, debated and has emerged a winner.  I don’t think it’s far off the mark for me to say that it’s become to Halloween what “It’s A Wonderful Life” is to Christmas. And whenever lists of The Scariest Movies Of All Time are made, THE SHINING definitely is in the top ten and quite often in the top five.

Mind you, we’re talking about a movie that has no CGI monsters, no gore and no graphically gratuitous violence. But it’s a movie that has been consistently described as downright terrifying. It’s also sparked an immense amount of speculation as to what it’s really about. Don’t believe me? Just for one example check out Rob Ager’s insanely in-depth analysis of THE SHINING. Just make sure you eat something and go to bathroom before you do so. You’ll be awhile reading that sucker, trust me.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is an aspiring writer who takes a job as winter caretaker of The Overlook Hotel, an isolated mountain resort located in Colorado. Jack hopes that the isolation of being stuck in the hotel for the winter will help him reconnect with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) his five year old son Danny (Danny Lloyd) and help him battle his alcoholism which has led to physical abuse of his son and emotional abuse of his wife.

Danny possesses psychic abilities and is able to see visions of the past and future. It is through these terrifying visions that Danny knows that The Overlook Hotel is haunted. This is confirmed when during a tour of the hotel,  Danny meets Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) who has powerful psychic powers of his own. Dick calls it “The Shining” and informs Danny that he’s going to see things in the hotel but that they can’t hurt him. Boy, did he call that one wrong.

In the novel version it’s made clear by Stephen King that The Overlook Hotel has achieved some kind of malevolent sentience and lusts after Danny’s power to enhance its own. The Overlook uses Jack to get to his son but in the movie version, it’s clearly Jack that the hotel wants. Danny’s just an afterthought. This gives the movie a whole new slant since it’s not long after the Torrance family arrives at The Overlook that Jack promptly goes crazy.

And it’s here where I can understand the grumbles over Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrance since the guy looks kinda wacky even before The Overlook starts playing mindgames with him. Even though he’s supposed to be the caretaker we never see him doing any of the maintenance work he’s supposed to be doing. It’s Wendy who does all of that while Jack is having conversations with a ghostly bartender (Joe Turkel) and long talks in the men’s room with the ghost of the hotel’s previous caretaker, Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) who chopped up his wife and two daughters with a fire ax then stuck a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head to pieces.

But let’s face it, you want to get somebody to play crazy in your movie, especially back in the 70’s and 80’s you get Jack Nicholson. Nobody could play crazy so convincingly and yet be so entertaining. There are moments in THE SHINING that are horrifying yet hilarious and Jack Nicholson is firmly at the center of those scenes. Shelley Duvall really doesn’t have much to do but be terrified by her husband for most of the movie and then by The Overlook itself at the conclusion but she gets to have what is without a doubt for me the most blood-freezing moment of the movie when she discovers what her husband has been writing all day long, every day for weeks.

Scatman Crothers has a really nice scene with Danny Lloyd where they talk about their shared ability but let’s be real, in this movie Dick Hallorann’s only purpose is to provide an escape vehicle for Wendy and Danny at the movie’s end.

But outside of Jack Nicholson’s performance, nobody ever really talks about the acting in THE SHINING, good as it is. No, people talk about images that now have become iconic horror classics: the elevator doors that slowly open to release a tidal wave of blood into a hotel corridor. Danny riding his Big Wheel through the hotel. The half-open door of Room 237. Jack sticking his face in the hole he’s just chopped in a locked door and squealing with manic delight, “Here’s Johnny!” Danny running through the hedge maze in the middle of a snowstorm trying to escape his deranged father who is chasing him with a bloody axe. The man in the bear costume. Danny with a huge knife in his hand, writing ‘Redrum’ on a door. The Grady twins who invite Danny to come play with them. The photograph of the 1921 July 4th Overlook Ball.

I love haunted house stories and I consider both the book and movie versions of THE SHINING to be right up there with the best of haunted house stories. It couldn’t have a better pedigree than to be directed by Stanley Kubrick who is the last person I would have picked to direct THE SHINING but damn if he didn’t do an excellent job. No, it’s not the book. There’s a tremendous amount of material that Kubrick and his co-screenplay writer stripped away but I didn’t mind. THE SHINING is one of those odd movie adaptations where even though most of the subplots and character exposition is gone, the core of what makes the story work is still there.

So should you see THE SHINING? Chances are you’ve seen it already. I don’t think I know anybody who hasn’t seen it at least once. But if by some chance you haven’t then you’ve picked the best time of the year to catch up. Trust me on this, THE SHINING is a movie that truly deserves its reputation as a horror masterpiece.

142 minutes

Rated R

 

Full Metal Jacket

1987

Warner Bros.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Gustav Hasford and Michael Herr

Based on the novel “The Short Timers”

Occasionally the subject of Vietnam war movies will come up when I’m having one of my well known heated discussions about movies with friends and family. Everybody will start slinging around their candidate for best Vietnam war movies and while everybody knows and loves “Platoon” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter”, you don’t hear many people today mention movies like “Hamburger Hill” (which has some excellent work by Dylan McDermott and Courtney B. Vance) or “Who’ll Stop The Rain” or even the movie that was billed as “the best war movie ever made” when it first opened in 1987, Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET

Now saying that FULL METAL JACKET is “the best war movie ever made” is really stretching a point as far as I’m concerned. It’s not even the best Vietnam War movie ever made. That honor most certainly has to go to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” And if you really want to be blown away, watch the Redux version. Yeah, it’s a whole hour longer and some may say that the French plantation sequence isn’t necessary but screw ‘em, I enjoyed it anyway. And as far as pure story goes, “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill” have FULL METAL JACKET beat. But you really should see it because Stanley Kubrick made it and it is a remarkable vision of The Vietnam War. In fact, if you’re in the mood for a Vietnam War movie marathon, rent all the movies I’ve mentioned so far and watch them in this order:

The Deer Hunter
Platoon
Full Metal Jacket
Hamburger Hill
Apocalypse Now Redux
Who’ll Stop The Rain

Trust me on this, it makes sense to watch them in this order because by watching the films that way you get a sense of how the madness of the war exponentially increased and how it infected the American consciousness thereby causing the collapse of the diehard values of the 50’s and 60’s held onto by The United States. It was painfully obvious that everything was changing day by day and nobody was really all that certain of what was going to happen tomorrow. But that’s enough of my half-assed social commentary. Onto the movie review….

FULL METAL JACKET begins with one of the most brilliant and profanely hilarious sequences in movie history as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) addresses his raw recruits on Parris Island, which is where The Marine Corps trains their troops. R. Lee Ermey actually was a Marine Drill Instructor for thirty years and it was a stroke of genius on Kubrick’s part to have Ermey basically play himself since Ermey brings an outstanding level of realism to the role. And at the same time, he’s as funny as Richard Pryor on his best day. He seems to have a bottomless well of profane insults and obscene descriptions for his men that are at the same time outstandingly creative and yet mind-numbingly hilarious in their dehumanizing effect and he never repeats himself once as far as I could tell. One of the recruits actually has to pay a pretty stern price for laughing while Hartman is berating another recruit and I couldn’t blame the guy one bit ‘cause if I’d been standing there, I’d have been laughing my ass off. Ermey is simply wonderful in the role and he has a scene where he finds some contraband food in the footlocker of one of his recruits and the cat just simply loses his mind. The scene has even more power if you do your research and find out that R. Lee Ermey’s dialog is this movie was actual things he used to say to his real-life recruits. Suddenly it doesn’t become so funny.

Hartman in particular latches onto one overweight recruit he names Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) since the poor slob can’t even tie his shoes right and heaps a whole bunch of abuse on the hapless bastard.  Hartman ruthlessly drives the recruit to the breaking point in his efforts to turn him into a soldier worthy to serve in Hartman’s beloved Marine Corps with horrifying and tragic results.  The conflict between Hartman and Gomer Pyle is witnessed by one Private Joker (Matthew Modine) who is there to become a journalist.

Joker confuses his superior officers because while he claims he is a killer and fully intends to be “the first kid on his block to get a confirmed kill” also blatantly wears a peace symbol on his helmet. Joker is the character we follow through the movie as he goes through basic training and eventually sees combat along with his buddy Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) who is a photographer but also is insanely hot to see his share of the action. Rafterman’s constant mantra to Joker is: “I wanna get in the shit.” The two men hook up with a platoon that is involved in The Tet Offensive and this leads to the last third of the movie where the platoon engages in a bloody confrontation with a sniper in the flaming ruins of Hue City. And by then, Rafterman, Joker and the platoon are most certainly all in a world of shit.

FULL METAL JACKET isn’t a movie with a straightforward plot or story and it feels very loose to me as a result. There’s no sense that we have a story that we’re following from beginning to end and in fact, some scenes don’t really end. They just fade out and go to the next one and maybe that’s what Kubrick was trying for in order to make us feel that The Vietnam War didn’t have a beginning or end. It just went from one outrageous horror to the next. And Kubrick isn’t known for being a director who concentrated on his actors anyway. Despite this, there are some great performances in the movie, especially from Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio who plays Gomer Pyle. In fact, the first hour of the movie is so dominated by their performances that after we leave the Parris Island training sequence, the movie loses some of its energy since there’s no actor in the movie that comes close to the level D’Onofrio and Ermey achieve in the beginning. Although Adam Baldwin as a half-crazed M-60 machine gunner and Dorian Harewood as a member of the doomed patrol come awfully close as you can see that they’re acting their asses off. They’re both very good actors and their roles are solid pieces of characterization. I especially liked how even though Baldwin’s character shows blatantly open racist attitudes toward Harewood, he’s the first one to object when Harewood’s character is shot and the platoon leader orders that they leave Harewood behind.

But even flawed Stanley Kubrick is way better than most directors at the top of their game and FULL METAL JACKET is a five star package of entertainment on a lot of levels. The dialog is simply great and I love the look of the film. It’s simply amazing to me that Kubrick filmed this entire movie in England (Kubrick hated to fly and he insisted that he film his movies in England and he got what he wanted) The combat scenes in Hue City give the movie a very distinct look from other war movies that are usually filmed in the jungle since combat in a city is waged in a radically different manner from combat in the jungle.

So should you see FULL METAL JACKET If you’ve seen it already, you’re probably a rabid fan of the movie and don’t need any further convincing. But if you haven’t, by all means, rent the sucker and enjoy. As I’ve said, the first hour with Ermey and D’Onofrio is absolutely riveting and even though the rest of the movie doesn’t measure up to the beginning, it’s a classic war movie that I recommend highly.

116 minutes
Rated R. And it deserves it. There’s no sexual scenes in the movie but these are guys in the middle of a war and they speak like guys in the middle of a war so if you have sensitive ears, be warned. And when there is violence, it’s graphic. How many times I gotta tell you? It’s a war movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey

1968

MGM

Produced and Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick

Based on the short story: “The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke

So I’m watching 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for perhaps the twentieth time when Patricia comes into the living room and asks what I’m watching.  I tell her.  “Oh,” she says.  “Can you put it back to the beginning?  I’ve never seen that movie.”  Which isn’t surprising.  Patricia always tells people there’s plenty of movies she would never watch or have watched if it weren’t for me.  Okay, so I rewind the movie back to the beginning and we watch it.  And she’s asking me questions and I’m running off at the mouth about the artistic beauty of Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent visual opera and the gloriously majestic wonder of the scope of the story.  Patricia nods and says: “I get all that.  But what’s it about?”

That’s probably the question all lovers of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY dread being asked because there’s no real way to answer that question.  You ask a dozen people what 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is about and you’ll get a dozen different answers.   When asked in interviews what the meaning of the movie was, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke refused to explain what anything in the movie is about, leaving it totally up to your interpretation.  Ever since the movie opened way back in 1968 people have been arguing, discussing and debating the movie and nobody’s been able to come up with an explanation that satisfies everybody.

It’s a movie that definitely couldn’t be made today, not for a generation raised on CGI mega-star power summer blockbusters as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is, to be quite honest, slow moving.  There are long stretches where we see nothing but huge spaceships moving slowly and majestically through space while classical music plays on the soundtrack.  The scenes on the moonbase are acted so totally devoid of emotion that you honestly wonder if these are human beings or a race of androids that has supplanted humanity.  Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) is almost creepy in his dealings with other people, as he seems as if he’s forcing himself to smile or laugh or even hold a conversation for longer than thirty seconds.  Later on the movie, a major character dies and the surviving character hardly seems to care.  However, since he does have an insane computer trying to kill him, we can excuse him for having other things on his mind.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY starts at The Dawn of Man where apish humanoids battle to survive against wild animals, the elements and even each other.  One tribe of humanoids wakes up one morning to discover an imposing black slab looming over them.  Frightened at first, their contact with the slab seems to impart some intelligence to them, enough that they quickly use the knowledge to chase off the other tribes from a precious waterhole when they realize that bones make really great clubs.

We are then transported to the 21st Century where Dr. Heywood Floyd is traveling to the moon where another black slab has been dug up.  Although no one can figure out what the slab is they do know that it was deliberately buried and is roughly four million years old.  It’s the first concrete evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence and the news is being kept from the folks back home.  In fact, while he’s having a conversation with some Russian scientists, Dr. Floyd deliberately gives them the impression that the moonbase is quarantined because of a plague in order to protect the fact that The United States wants to keep the discovery of the slab for itself.  This slab is sending out some sort of signal to Jupiter and eighteen months later, The Unites States sends a spaceship named The Discovery is sent to find out who is receiving the signal.

That takes us to the third part of the movie where we meet David Bowman (Keir Dullea) Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and HAL 9000 (the voice of Douglas Rain) three members of the six-man crew.  The others are in suspended animation until they reach their destination.   Everything seems to be going as planned until HAL starts to make mistakes.  And supposedly that’s impossible for a HAL 9000 to do.  It isn’t long before it becomes apparent that HAL is murderously dangerous, operating on a deranged belief that Bowman and Poole are trying to sabotage the mission and the two human crewmembers find themselves struggling to stay alive, a struggle that Poole loses.  However, Bowman manages to disable HAL and The Discovery reaches Jupiter where Bowman finds a third slab, this one enormous in size and he takes one of the shuttle pods into the slab, which acts as a Star Gate, transporting him to a new and different universe.

The final section of the movie is the most baffling one.  Bowman finds himself in a magnificently furnished white room where he apparently lives out the rest of his life.  His needs are seen to but we never see any aliens or find out how he gets his clothing and food.  On the soundtrack we hear what might be voices whispering in the background but we can never hear them clearly enough to know what they’re saying.  Or maybe they’re not saying anything we’re supposed to understand.  Bowman is a very old man when yet another black slab visits him and he is transformed into what might be the next stage of human evolution or perhaps he has been changed into a completely new life form.  Who knows?  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY isn’t designed to answer any questions at all.  If you’ve never seen it before there’s an excellent chance that when you finish it you’ll say: “What the hell was that all about?”

There’s no point in discussing the performances in this movie because there really isn’t any as this is a movie where Stanley Kubrick is more interested in the ideas, concepts and technology than getting meaningful and distinctive acting from his cast.  The most ‘human’ performance actually comes from the artificial intelligence, HAL 9000.  There’s a scene that never fails to make me laugh out loud where Bowman and Poole take refuge inside a shuttle pod so that HAL can’t hear them as they’re discussing if they should deactivate him or not.  There’s a shot from HAL’s point of view where his camera eye goes back and forth from Bowman’s lips to Poole’s and we suddenly realize that HAL can read lips.  And later on when HAL is trying to talk a really pissed off Bowman out of shutting down his memory core, HAL’s calm, rational speech is another example of how brilliantly Stanley Kubrick could do the blackest of comedy.

So should you see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY?  I’d say yes if you’re a fan of science fiction films or Stanley Kubrick.  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is by no means a conventional science fiction movie and one that requires patience to watch, as it isn’t concerned with giving you a rollercoaster ride of thrills and excitement.  It’s made to engage your intellect and spark your sense of wonder at the immensity of the universe and man’s place in it.  It’s cinematic art at its finest and one of Stanley Kubrick’s best movies.

Rated: PG

141 minutes