REVIEW: Room 237

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Room 237
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Starring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns and John Fell Ryan

There are no talking heads in Room 237, at least not in the traditional documentary sense. Using footage from the movies, mostly Stanley Kubrick ones and mostly scenes from The Shining, Rodney Ascher creates an obsessive, absurd paean to the movies.  He weaves together five intensely different theories about Kubrick’s 1980 horror staple, all of them bizarre sometimes to the point of ridiculousness.

We are given the names of these people at the beginning of the movie when they each speak for the first time, and then we don’t see them again until the credits.  Ascher rotates between their explanations of what is really going on inside The Shining with the slyness if not the total condescension of a reality show host.  One man believes there are hidden messages about the genocide of Native Americans, another sees a heavily layered Holocaust subtext.  By far the most bizarre of these theories, though, is that of Jay Weidner, who believes that The Shining is Kubrick’s confession to helping the U.S. government fake the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

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CLASSICS: Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, & Peter George (screenplay), Peter George (novel)
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens

Stanley Kubrick never made an original movie.  What he did was take works of literary fiction and make them his own, whether it was altering the plot altogether (most prominently in The Shining) or simply telling a story visually.

In the case of the latter, he was one of the most gifted American directors the world has ever known.  Dr. Strangelove may be his greatest film, although Kubrick devotees each have their personal favorite.  However, I’ll ask you to consider what he did with this movie.  He made a comedy, a genre that today seems stuck in visual purgatory, that is just as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears.  Considering Dr. Strangelove has one of the funniest screenplays every written, that is quite an achievement.

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SPOTLIGHT: Nicole Kidman

Few actresses have matched Nicole Kidman’s hot streak in the early 2000s.  Not that she set the box office on fire, more our imaginations.  People watch this accidental movie star fully embody a variety of characters with not only ease, but technical perfection.  She is a consummate professional when it comes to characterization and the emotional control she displays over her characters.  This perfection draws the audience to her even when she shares the screen with others more famous.  Although now she is a household name, that is only because she snatched it away from those who couldn’t hold onto audiences quite like her.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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10 Memorable Movie Psychos

Instead of a “Scariest movies for Halloween” list, we decided to go with another semi-standard list for this time of year: the best psychotics.  We aren’t limiting it to horror movies: it’s an even playing field for these murderers and madmen.  Let their tricks treat for years to come.  (Entries are placed in no particular order, but feel free to name ones you would’ve picked instead.)

Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)For three movies, no matter your opinion of the sequel and prequel, Anthony Hopkins held your gaze as the calm, collected cannibal.  When you first see him, he stands raised as if he were honoring royalty entering the room, a maddening stillness and calm smirk across his face.  He always appears collected, which makes the madness behind his motives all the more chilling.

Jack Torrance (The Shining)- One of many iconic roles for Jack Nicholson and one of many masterpieces for Stanley Kubrick, this villain stands at the center of a chilling send-up of the American family.  Dad gets cabin fever and starts chasing mom and son around with an axe.  Watching this character descend into madness after seeing him semi-normal is what makes him so effective.

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SPOTLIGHT: Jack Nicholson

For our new Spotlight series, I decided to kick things off with one of the greats.  While this segment of the site may not always focus on big names, they don’t get much bigger than Jack Nicholson.  Exploring a career as acclaimed and a man as legendary as this is no easy task.  What these pieces will consist of are commonalities in the career of the subject, as well as five key films to see their work in.  As always, give us feedback about what you think!

Career: As previously mentioned, Nicholson’s career has been legendary for decades.  One of the greats of both the old and especially the new American cinema, he has forged an identity on the screen that is both iconic and consistently shifting.  A lot can be done with those eyebrows, and he finds something new every time.  Whether he raises them in madness (The Shining) or in smug victory (As Good as It Gets), they are part of what defines him as an actor.  Of course the other thing is that talent.  He has given us some of the most legendary movie characters of all time and also influenced many other fine actors.  His off-screen life is kept largely private, though he makes notorious awards show appearances and is a legendary playboy.  It would be ignorant to keep him out of those shows, since he alone has won three Oscars and been nominated for 12.  At the forefront of American screen legends, Jack is not afraid to take risks, and has made it a point to work with every director he’s wanted to work with and only rarely cashing in on his image (The Bucket List).  Though there are far more than five great performances from him, here are the highlights that showcase a different side to Hollywood’s definitive wily renegade.

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