Film Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Also known as: Two Thousand and One: A Space Odyssey (alternative title), Journey Beyond the Stars, How the Solar System Was Won (working titles)
Release Date: April 2nd, 1968 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Based on: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke
Music by: various
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain (voice), Vivian Kubrick (uncredited)

Stanley Kubrick Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 149 Minutes, 142 Minutes (theatrical release), 161 Minutes (initial release)

Review:

“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” – HAL-9000

This is my 2001st film review here on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria) and I held off on reviewing this a few months back because I figured I’d save it for this special occasion. I’m also planning on reviewing its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, for my 2010th. So look for that one in a little less than a week.

Well, I guess I should start this review by saying that it is one of the three films in my Holy Trinity of Motion Pictures alongside The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and The Dark Knight. So I do have a bias and a bit of favoritism towards this picture but that’s also because it’s a fucking masterpiece of cinematic perfection.

And really, that actually makes this harder to review, as I don’t want to just come across as someone who can’t find flaws in the picture and only sees it through rose colored glasses.

This is cinematic art, however, and it redefined what motion pictures could be forever.

Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest directors that ever existed and even though I think he’s made multiple masterpieces, one of them has to be the best and in my opinion, it is this film.

The story has multiple parts to it and this is a fairly long movie. Despite that, it plays well and moves at a perfect pace, even if some sequences move slowly. While this isn’t really considered a thriller, one specific part of the film very much is and everything surrounding that is done so well that even if I’ve seen this well over a dozen times, it still works for me, every time I watch this.

The acting is understated but in that, it generates a lot of emotion, dread and this is almost a thinking man’s movie. It explores interesting concepts, presents them in a unique way and it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the viewer.

In fact, it does the stark opposite of that and it relies on the audience to pay attention, follow along and figure out things on their own. While I think that the messages and the story are pretty clear, it does leave the film open for some interpretation and the debates people have had for decades over the “meaning” of this film are just as entertaining as the picture itself.

I’ve debated parts of this movie with other film lovers for years and almost every time, I’m left with something new to think about or a detail that eluded me and makes me want to go back and watch the film again.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for the few who might not have seen this film. And frankly, it’s not all that easy to summarize. Maybe, at some point, I’ll write a multi-part essay series on it. Or I’ll bring people in to talk about it if I ever do something with the YouTube channel again.

2001 is perfect in every way, though. Sure, some may disagree and that’s fine but for me, it’s the greatest thing Kubrick, a true master, has directed. It also features some of the best cinematography and sound in motion picture history. And for the time, this, hands down, had the best special effects ever seen on the big screen. Over fifty years later, this looks so much better than the CGI effects of today.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, as well as other Stanley Kubrick pictures.

Film Review: Killer’s Kiss (1955)

Also known as: Kiss Me, Kill Me (working title)
Release Date: September 21st, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Howard Sackler, Stanley Kubrick
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Ruth Sobotka

Minotaur Productions, United Artists, 67 Minutes

Review:

“It’s crazy how you can get yourself in a mess sometimes and not even be able to think about it with any sense-and yet not be able to think about anything else. You get so you’re no good for anything or anybody. Maybe it begins by taking life too serious. Anyway, I think that’s the way it began for me. Just before my fight with Rodriguez three days ago…” – Davy Gordon

I consider myself to be a massive Stanley Kubrick fan. However, I’ve yet to see this film, which came very, very early in his career. Like his other early film The Killing, this one is a classic film-noir, shot in black and white but with an extra level of grittiness that can only be described as Kubrickian.

Now this came out a year before The Killing and in a lot of ways, it feels like a rough draft or a practice run before he made that other, superior noir picture.

That’s not to say that this is weak or unworthy of admiration. The Killing was absolutely superb but I don’t think that Kubrick could’ve made it as good as it was without having done Killer’s Kiss first.

This film shows that even if Kubrick hadn’t quite reached greatness, at this point, he was always a visual storyteller. While employing several atmospheric tropes of the classic film-noir style, this movie also uses a lot of interesting angles and it showcases New York City in a way that even in its cold bleakness, it feels alive and becomes a character within the picture.

The story is about an aging boxer, at the end of his career. He falls for a taxi dancer across the courtyard from his apartment but he gets pulled into her seedy world and draws the ire of her villainous employer. One thing leads to another and their world is turned upside down. Luckily, this one surprisingly has a happy ending and the two lead characters are at least good people just trying to escape the hell that has become their lives.

Nothing all that remarkable happens in the movie. The plot is straightforward with a few noir-esque swerves but it’s very, very short and even if the plot has a lot of stages to it, it’s still pretty simplistic.

The film’s greatest quality is its look and its style. Experimenting with the noir genre here, allowed Kubrick’s The Killing to be a much better movie than just its script. But this certainly isn’t a waste of anyone’s time. This is pretty solid and engaging with characters that you care about.

In the end, this isn’t a bad outing from Stanley Kubrick and it helped lay the foundation for one of the greatest careers in film history.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Kubrick’s other noir picture: The Killing.

Comic Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Series)

Published: 1976-1977
Written by: Jack Kirby
Art by: Jack Kirby
Based on: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick

Marvel Comics, 180 Pages

Review:

This comic book series took me a really long time to track down. There are ten issues and they’ve never been reprinted and probably never will be due to the fact that Marvel hasn’t owned the comic book publishing rights to 2001: A Space Odyssey since… well, 1977 when this series ended.

But who the hell wouldn’t want to read Jack Kirby’s version of what happened after the movie finished? And this is all Jack Kirby. He wrote it, he did the art and he had a love of the Stanley Kubrick film that was truly a masterpiece.

This comic follows up the adaptation Kirby did of the film earlier in 1976. This series sees Kirby take the concepts and ideas from the movie and apply them into new stories. This really is an anthology series in the beginning but larger, multi-part story arcs come out after the first four issues.

Now those first four issues are different versions of the same story. Each follows an ancient character that comes into contact with the Monolith. Then they flash forward to one of their descendants in the future, usually an astronaut, and show what happens when they also come into contact with the ominous Monolith. Many characters evolve into a different version of the Star Child or as Kirby refers to them, “Seeds”.

The fifth and sixth issues deal with a larger arc and starts as a bit of a superhero story featuring a heroic character named White Zero and a villain named Death Master. There are twists to the plot but this is where Kirby really finds his footing and starts turning 2001 into something closer to his work for DC Comics on The New Gods, The Forever People and Mister Miracle; collectively known as his Fourth World saga.

The seventh issue is really interesting as it follows the journey of a Seed through the cosmos, space and time. It’s bizarre, it’s cool and it’s 100 percent Jack “The King” Kirby.

In the final three issues, we get a big surprise. Well, it was at least a big surprise for me, as this three-part arc is the origin story of the character that would go on to become Machine Man in the regular Marvel Universe. Which, I guess makes Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey part of Marvel canon, even though I didn’t see it that way for the first seven issues.

This was a solid series by Jack Kirby. It’s not quite a masterpiece, as it is a bit bogged down by the first four issues and their repetitiveness but once it found its footing, it was some of the best work that Jack Kirby has done.

And I can’t end this review without mentioning how dynamic and beautiful the art was. You could tell that Jack Kirby put a lot of passion into this and I’m glad, as a Kirby fan, that I now own the complete saga.

Now I just have to track down a copy of his film adaptation.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jack Kirby works that dealt with the cosmos.

Film Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Also known as: Dr. Strangelove (informal title), Edge of Doom, A Delicate Balance of Terror (both US working titles)
Release Date: January 29th, 1964 (UK & US)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George
Based on: Red Alert by Peter George
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Shane Rimmer

Hawk Films, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” – President Merkin Muffley

This is my 1000th film review since starting Cinespiria back in November of 2016. That’s a lot of movies watched in 18 months. Granted, I did filter in reviews from other sites I worked on before this one. Anyway, I wanted review number 1000 to be something special. I chose Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb not because it was my favorite film but because it was partially responsible for putting me on my path of not just loving to watch movies but loving to intimately understand them.

When I was in film studies in high school, back in the mid-’90s, Dr. Strangelove was the first Stanley Kubrick film that we watched out of three; the other two were 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. While I had seen some of Kubrick’s films before this, it was this experience that really made me learn who the director was and why he was so important and one of the greatest auteurs that ever lived.

Dr. Strangelove isn’t my favorite Kubrick picture but it is still one of my favorite movies of all-time. But I’d say that Kurbick would probably own four spots in my personal top ten.

I love this movie. It is exceptional in a way that films aren’t anymore. I’m not saying that filmmakers today aren’t capable of greatness, they certainly are, but Kubrick could touch any genre and leave a very distinct and very powerful mark.

Dr. Strangelove is a terrifying film, at its core, but it mixes a war story with comedy. Yet, despite its absurdity in several scenes, none of what happens seems all that implausible. Kubrick had that power, the ability to make something seemingly ridiculous and also very real, at the same time. I can only imagine that this film was even more effective when it was current during the height of the Cold War and just over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kubrick did an amazing job shooting and capturing this film. He collaborated with cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who over his career, worked with Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, Roman Polanski and Mike Hodges. The two men really capture lightning in a bottle in nearly every scene. All of the material shot in the War Room is superb. In fact, the War Room scene has gone on to inspire countless films over the last half of a century.

The centerpiece of the film is Peter Sellers, who performed three different key roles within the film. All three roles were very different characters. The reason why this happened, is that Columbia Pictures originally wanted Sellers to play four roles, as they believed that the success of Kubrick’s previous film Lolita was due to Sellers’ character in that film assuming different identities. Kubrick reluctantly accepted Columbia’s demand in order to get the picture made. But frankly, it worked and it worked wonderfully. All three of Sellers’ roles in this film have become pretty iconic and all of them would steal the show if not competing for screen time against one another. Sellers should have won the Academy Award but he was beaten out by Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.

Everyone in this really takes command of the screen, however. There are great performances by George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and James Earl Jones, who plays a small but important role.

Additionally, the music selections for this film are fantastic and help drive the emotional narrative and growing tension.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a masterpiece that still plays well over fifty years later. It is stupendous and truly is a perfect motion picture.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Kubrick films that deal with war: Paths of GloryFear and DesireFull Metal Jacket.

Film Review: The Killing (1956)

Also known as: Bed of Fear, Clean Break, Day of Violence (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1956 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson
Based on: Clean Break by Lionel White
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Joe Turkel

Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay

The Killing is one of the really early films in auteur director Stanley Kubrick’s long and storied oeuvre. It came out less than a year after his previous film and first attempt at film-noir, Killer’s Kiss. With similar titles and coming out around the same time, the two films may confuse people looking back into Kubrick’s filmography. Also, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both noir pictures and presented in silvery black and white.

The Killing is the superior of the two pictures, however, and Killer’s Kiss feels like more of a practice run leading up to this damn fine motion picture, which boasts the star power of well known noir actors Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, Marie Windsor is perfection in her role.

The plot of this film is about a high stakes heist at a horse track. A team is assembled, a greedy femme fatale enters the mix and we get scheming, violence and chaos. And it is all capped off by the immense talent of Kubrick behind the camera and a stellar and more than capable cast in front of the camera.

The truth is, The Killing, as great as it is, has always been overshadowed by Kubrick’s more famous pictures: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningA Clockwork OrangeDr. StrangeloveLolitaFull Metal Jacket, etc. The Killing is a top notch crime thriller and true to the film-noir style, even coming out late in the style’s classic run through the 1940s and 1950s. It is one of the best heist pictures ever made and like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, it helped create a lot of tropes used in heist pictures since its time.

Being a fan of Elisha Cook Jr. for years, I especially love this film because he gets a really meaty and pivotal role. He is one of the top character actors of his day, was in more noir pictures than I can count and even went on to some well-known westerns and popped up in a few Vincent Price horror movies. He really gets to display his acting chops in this and it is nice to see the guy’s range, as he was a more capable actor than one being relegated to playing background characters and bit players.

The Killing was an incredibly important film in the career of Stanley Kubrick, as it lead to bigger things. He would go on to do Paths of Glory and Spartacus and eventually start making more artistic films that changed the filmmaking landscape forever. The Killing was a big part of Kubrick’s evolution and thus, the evolution of motion pictures in general.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Shining (1980)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on: The Shining by Stephen King
Music by: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Tony Burton

The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 146 Minutes (premiere), 144 Minutes (US cut), 119 Minutes (European cut)

Review:

“Here’s Johnny!” – Jack Torrance

My big Halloween treat this year was getting to see The Shining on the big screen!

People often ask me what the greatest horror movie of all-time is. The Shining is always the first motion picture to pop into my mind and frankly, it has always been my favorite. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very close second.

The reason I love this film so much is because it is a masterpiece. It is perfect in every regard. The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the music, the sound, the lighting, the whole overall ambiance: everything.

Some people, Stephen King included, were critical over the fact that Stanley Kubrick didn’t include some of the elements of King’s novel. King was even instrumental in the film being remade as a miniseries for television in the 1990s but that version falls short in every way. While this is based off of King’s writings, the film is very much a Kubrick picture and to be honest, Kubrick is the stronger artist of the two, especially behind the camera, because do you really want to try and compare King’s directorial effort Maximum Overdrive to The Shining?

Books and film are two different mediums and even then, The Shining film is better than The Shining book. Besides, walking shrub animals just wouldn’t fit into this film in a believable way.

As great as Jack Nicholson has always been, it is hard to think of a film where he shined more than he did here, pun intended. As Jack Torrance, Nicholson became the top movie monster, as far as a singular performance goes. Sure, he might not look as cool as Dracula or Freddy Krueger but he is much more terrifying and has a presence that no other actor has matched in a horror picture.

Shelley Duvall also nailed her role and honestly, she has never been better than she was in The Shining. A lot of her performance was enhanced, behind the scenes, by Kubrick terrorizing her on set. He did this in an effort to generate an authentic performance and it worked. His technique was harsh but it wasn’t any different than what many auteur directors have done in the past. I can’t think of a better actress for the role and Duval really is the character of Wendy. She’s terrified, frail but sweet in a way that your heart goes out to her and you wish you could go into the film and pull her and Danny away from mortal danger.

The film also has a few character actors sprinkled in. There is Scatman Crothers, who plays Mr. Holloran, an older cook that has the power to “shine” like the child Danny. His death still bothers me every time I watch the film because all he wanted to do was help Wendy and Danny escape the hell they were trapped in. Joe Turkel, most known as Tyrell from Blade Runner, plays the hotel bartender. Tony Burton, Apollo Creed’s trainer from the Rocky films, also has a small role as the owner of a garage.

While this is considered a ghost story and a haunted house movie on the grandest scale, it is more about madness and isolation. While the Overlook Hotel is incredibly haunted and ghosts appear to steer Jack into his state of madness, you feel as if none of this wouldn’t happen if the family wasn’t trapped in this massive snowed in lodge, by themselves for five months. You also get the feeling that Jack was already going to lose his mind and just needed a little push. It is also a film about abusive relationships taken to the extreme.

The film is full of violence, a good bit of gore and grotesque things but it is so artistic in the application of its imagery that everything seems to have some sort of deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface. People have been debating the “hidden messages” in this movie for years. There is even a whole documentary that analyzes that stuff. It’s called Room 237 and I already reviewed it here. It’s not great but for fans of this film, it is still a fun experience.

The Shining is a perfect motion picture. Some people take issue with the way Kubrick handled certain parts of it. Some people also think that it is lacking in substance. It really isn’t something that should be compared to King’s style or other haunted house stories. It is as unique as Stanley Kubrick was. It is the most terrifying tale that the auteur director has ever crafted and horror films like this just don’t exist anywhere else.

Rating: 10/10

Ranking the Films of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director of all-time. I don’t think that he was capable of a bad film. In fact, he didn’t make one. Here, I have ranked his films.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. A Clockwork Orange
3. The Shining
4. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
5. Eyes Wide Shut
6. Spartacus
7. Lolita
8. Paths of Glory
9. Full Metal Jacket
10. Barry Lyndon
11. The Killing
12. Killer’s Kiss
13. Fear and Desire

Documentary Review: Room 237 (2012)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2012 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Music by: Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson, The Caretaker, Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind

IFC Films, IFC Midnight, 102 Minutes

Review:

If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, you will probably be pretty interested in this film.

Room 237 is a pretty meaty documentary about the hidden messages and imagery within The Shining.

You see, some people believe that Kubrick’s films all had hidden meanings and messages. Being that this is his most horrifying film, I guess it was the one that has generated the most theories and obsessive-compulsive analysis.

This documentary could be a journey into madness.

What I mean by that, is that this film allows five different “intellectual” types go on rants about all their theories and “discoveries” in this film. Some theories seem pretty plausible but most do not. Then there are those that go so far off of the deep end that it is hard taking any of this too seriously. One guy goes on a rant about how Kubrick used this film to cleanse his soul from the guilt he felt after the government supposedly used him to fake the moon landing.

This film is full of a lot of bullshit and unfortunately, in all these shared theories by people’s whose faces we never see on camera, no one offers up any real evidence. Everything we are presented with is just the speculation of people who have obsessed over this film for decades. If you stare at something long enough, you can start to make connections to anything you want. It’s like people who read Nostradamus’ bullshit cryptic poetry and think that he predicted the Holocaust and 9/11. In fact, I almost feel like Alex Jones woke up one day and decided to make a conspiracy film about The Shining.

The thing is, despite my criticisms, I still really liked this movie. While many theories were way over the top, this film was still entertaining as hell to someone who has watched The Shining almost annually and who suffers from a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I then saw my own “hidden message”. I saw that the people talking in this film, were actually symbolically stuck in Room 237. They became too fixated on all of this and walked into the room where you aren’t supposed to go. Now they sit in there, obsessed and haunted over things they can’t understand but have to decipher: trapped by an almost supernatural power that fuels their obsession and steals their sanity. And maybe that is the point of this film.

I think that this is a film worth watching if you are a Kubrick fan or just like conspiracy theories.

When questioned about this film recently, Stephen King referred to it as “academic bullshit.” I don’t really disagree with him but it is academic bullshit that is fun to watch.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Lolita (1962)

Release Date: June 13th, 1962
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Vladimir Nabokov, Stanley Kubrick, James Harris
Based on: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Music by: Nelson Riddle, Bob Harris
Cast: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers

Seven Arts, AA Productions, Anya Pictures, Transworld Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 152 Minutes

Review:

The poster for this film asks, “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” The answer: with lots of meddling by overreaching censors with nothing better to do than to dictate what should and should not been shown in the art form that is film. This was also before the modern film ratings system came into play.

Because of the do-gooders stranglehold over such things, Stanley Kubrick said that he probably wouldn’t have made the film had he known how difficult and severe the censorship limitations were going to be. He also later commented that, “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn’t sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did.”

As far as the movie goes, it is hampered by the issues above. It is still a better than decent motion picture, though. While it isn’t close to Kubrick’s best, it is a great lead-in to what was to come from the director, as almost all of his films after this are either masterpieces or pretty damn close. Had the censors backed off, Lolita may also have been able to be considered in that regard.

From a stylistic standpoint, this is less artsy than the later Kubrick pictures but it is still immaculately shot with pristine camera work, editing and beautiful cinematography. The attention to detail and the depth and character of the sets and the world around the actors felt lived in and authentic. The black and white presentation worked quite poetically as a contrast to the colorful story and very layered and subtle undertones that added a great depth to the characters and the situations they found themselves in.

The highlight of the film for me was seeing Peter Sellers play a myriad of characters. Granted, he was the same guy but he played roles within the film. This was sort of a precursor to what he would do in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, where he played three separate characters. That film is one of Kubrick’s best and it is the pinnacle of Sellers’ acting career, in my opinion.

Sue Lyon was also quite impressive, especially for her age at the time of filming. She had real acting chops and held her own alongside the talented cast around her.

While this film explores some uncomfortable territory, in that it follows an older professor who is infatuated with a teen girl, it doesn’t get as dark as I feel it maybe should have. I’ve never read the book but from what I’ve read about the book, it goes places that the film wasn’t able to due to the censors. I really would have loved to see what Stanley Kubrick could have done with the film had he been left alone.

Lolita still turned out to be a good film in spite of its production issues and the fact that the director’s vision was compromised by Hollywood politics. Unfortunately, the bulk of the story is presented in ways that may be too vague for audiences to fully grasp. It isn’t hard to figure out what’s going on but the motivations of the characters, while known, are still kind of mysterious and not fully explored.

Rating: 8/10