Tagged Stanley Kubrick

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Gorgeously Horrific Isolation

Alien. 1979. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon; story by O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett.
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, & Helen Horton. Brandywine Productions/Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
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I’m not even a huge science fiction fan. Of course I love any good movie, no matter the genre. But even as a nerd, someone who grew up loving Star Trek: The Next Generation and plenty of other science fiction, it isn’t my first choice. Yet you can’t keep a great film down. No matter if it’s your preferred genre or not. Now, when you start to mix genres together, that’s my favourite. So at a crossroads between horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien converges on my tastes to make for an altogether frightening experience. The undeniable legacy of the film is plastered over many genre films that have come out since. Likely that’ll be the case for a long, long time. Scott’s genius as a director is matched in the writing of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, collaborating here on the story with Ronald Shusett. Working on the isolation of space, in ’79 still a relatively new frontier with untold terrors lurking in its dark and uncharted territories, Alien coils you into madness through its horrifying scenario playing out on a previously quiet ship called the Nostromo amongst a bunch of shipmates trying to get home to Earth.
The atmosphere here is tantamount to actually being out there in the depths of outer space, stuck on a ship somewhere where nobody can hear you scream. Scott makes you feel the despair, the fear, the isolation and its effects. Each set piece is better than the last, every corner and hallway exudes the sense of a real environment. The writing of O’Bannon is one thing. The imagination of Scott is entirely another beast, one that isn’t finished working as of this writing. But the clever effectiveness of one of his most satisfying works never fails to hook me. Watching it right now, nearly 3 AM here in Newfoundland, I’m watching Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett walk through the corridors alone, calling out for Jones the cat. And when he finds that facehugger skin, the chills still run up my spine.
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First and foremost, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is obviously the star of the show. What I dig, though, is how O’Bannon sets the entire crew up as characters. Once we get to the excitement and all the wonderful thrills(/chills), Ripley is our woman. She carries us through the action, the horror, as our tour guide almost. Regardless of her status as protagonist, O’Bannon gives us the time to get to know the others around her, so as not to stick us totally in one perspective. It’s a testament to good writing when a screenplay is able to setup a cast of characters behind the one real main character, to make them interesting, to have us spend time with them and let each one build instead of ending up as simply expendable victims for the alien to kill. Mostly, O’Bannon writes the characters so that they’re natural. In any genre, any writer will have a better chance at making their script more powerful if the characters feel like they’re organic. With a crew like those on the Nostromo, the chemistry has to be tight, like the sort of chat and relationships you’d generally see from any group that spend so much time together. Add to that a bunch of good actors who give it their all and you’ve got one enjoyable feast of emotions that run the gamut from strength to paranoia to bald fear and everything in between.
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That first reveal of the Xenomorph is forever etched in my mind. Having the cat there makes it unique. Those shots of Jones hissing, then the eyes watching poor Brett get nibbled up, they’re really something spectacular. Not sure why it’s so interesting. Perhaps to see a cat, a fine predator in its own right, witness such an apex predator at work is the reason this scene works to such a degree. Either way, when the Xenomorph, so quiet, drops down behind Brett, there’s a HOLY SHIT moment, and you immediately understand how threatening this creature is truly. Forget the size, the look, the nasty jaws and acid blood, just the sheer physical prowess of the Xenomorph to curl down from above, slow, silent: that is horrifying. Later, the scene with Dallas (Skerritt) and the Xenomorph is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Then things only get more frightening, the tension mounts until you feel your spine sucking up against the inside of your stomach. There’s a lot of downright exciting moments, too, but it’s the frights that keep me enthralled with Scott’s work in this movie every damn time.
My favourite sequence? When Ash (Holm) goes haywire. The first time I’d seen the film I never once expected it to happen. Now, I’m still impressed. The eerie way Holm plays the scene, the unsettling close-ups shot tight on Ash’s face as he starts leaking a bit of liquid, starting to go crazy. Then when Parker (Kotto) discovers the secret Ash is hiding, the nastiness of the simple effects make it all the more wild.
The sets are elaborate and Scott is able to take us away to another place. You become completely absorbed in the future world. Right down to how they’re shot and the way we initially follow a tracking shot through portions of the Nostromo before coming upon the crew in their stasis. A fine opener to the film, but a visual aesthetic Scott keeps up throughout the film’s entirety. The coldness of the camera, the silence, I find it works well with the advanced looking technology of the ship itself. At certain times you’re sure to be reminded of Stanley Kubrick. Others, you’re most definitely in a Scott landscape. What I like most are the exteriors, as opposed to the clean looking interiors. Outside we get this idea that yet it’s the future, but it is a dirty, rough and tumble one.
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There’s no denying Alien is a whopping 5 stars. A fantastic ride into the heart of science fiction-horror. Scott blew everybody away, and still does with this piece of work. When people try to tell you horror or sci-fi can’t be art, you show them this film. Tell them they’re wrong. The imaginative direction on Scott’s part, the writing of O’Bannon. The strong central performance of Sigourney Weaver as the beloved Ripley, the beyond excellent support of a cast with the likes of John Hurt and Ian Holm. There is much to love. I can never get enough. I personally love the first three films of the series, and Prometheus.
But this one started it all. The dangerous aliens of the outer reaches have never been so vicious, so adverse to humanity as they are in this Scott masterpiece. Feast on it. Learn from it. This film won’t ever get old, except in the way that it gets better with age in all its horrific, science fiction goodness.

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Full Metal Jacket’s Vietnam War: One Big Mickey Mouse March

Full Metal Jacket. 1987. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Michael Herr, & Gustav Hasford; based on the novel The Short-Timers by Hasford.
Starring Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Keyn Major Howard, & Ed O’Ross. Warner Bros/Natant/Stanley Kubrick Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
Drama/War

★★★★★
POSTER I forever will love Stanley Kubrick. I don’t care how many hacks come out of the woodwork trying to say he’s not as good as everyone makes him seem, that keeping his genius alive is supposedly trying to be artsy and yadda yadda yadda. Can’t believe the way many supposed film fans talk about film online. Then again, the ones clamouring all over the message boards aren’t the best representation of objectivity.
Full Metal Jacket is simply another instance of the brilliance that was Kubrick. Every bit of his impeccable style is on display – lots of perfectly composed frames, sweeping and gorgeous tracking shots, among much more. Having already taken a look into war, Kubrick opts to turn his attention to the viciousness of the Vietnam War. Of course it’s based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, so one of these days I’ll have to read it. Because among all the humorous moments weaved through the screenplay, the disturbing scenes, the unsettling visions of war and its affects, there’s deep things happening. Maybe some see it as a typical anti-war film. I see it as an in-depth examination of war, its effects and consequences. Mainly, Full Metal Jacket seeks to point out the damage war does to those who fight it, those against whom it’s fought, as well as everything and everyone it touches. There are other great war movies that try and get to the heart of these issues. This is one of the greatest.
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Certainly there are disturbing moments. The first one, obviously, is when the other Marines-in-training throw a Blanket Party for Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). His wails alone are enough to sicken you emotionally. Perhaps the deepest cut is the fact Private Joker (Matthew Modine) joins in right at the end, despite his reservations. Creepier still is the vacant look in the eye of Pyle afterwards, as the others chant along with their Gunnery Sergeant. This all extends until that fateful moment in the bathroom where Pyle finally takes action. Albeit dangerous, ill-advised action. All the scenes leading up to this after the Blanket Party are unsettling, constantly catching the disaffected look now on Pyle’s face. Finally realizing he is alone in the struggle, no longer even with the helpful hand and watching eye of Joker. This is the entire emotional crux of the film’s plot, despite all the other elements of Vietnam and the action going on there. Pyle’s actions taint everything in the movie, everything for Joker, after what he does, and you can never forget it. Neither can Joker. For him, and the viewer, the atrocities of war begin long before they ever set foot on the battlefield against the enemy.
Part of why Kubrick makes this movie disturbing is because he shows us how certain people become brainwashed by the military. Not everyone, but many do succumb to it. At least back when Vietnam was raging, anyway. Nowadays there’s a little more disillusionment with the heroic idea of military service; not any part of the soldiers, though, rather the blood is on the hands of the government. And that comes through here in how we see Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) drilling and drilling and drilling the rhetoric in their heads. The reason things are as disturbing as they get is due to the fact Kubrick plays things in both comedic and serious light. For instance, Ermey’s amazing performance as the loud and foul-mouthed Gunnery Sergeant is definitely funny in that he pulls out a bunch of incredible insults, yet it’s terrible at the same time. There’s a way to train soldiers physically and mentally. Not sure this is how they ought to do it. In this day and age things are apparently much different. Kubrick uses that old school military bravado, the constant emasculating jabs and the constructions of masculinity that go along with the whole lifestyle, and he turns that on its head. Funny in the one moment. Serious a little later when we see how far it drives certain soldiers, like the poor, damaged Private Pyle. Sure, the platoon jogs around Parris Island and chants Hartman’s funny sound-offs. Underneath that is a darker reality. These aren’t rhymes to keep the young soldiers interested. It’s deflection. Hartman lures them in with funny, crude rhymes and jokes when really he’s hypnotizing them and brainwashing each last willing participant. Sadly, the way Pyle chooses to get out is probably better off. In a way, he’s spared all the terror, both real and existential, of the Vietnam War experience.
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Joker: “Leonard, if Hartman comes in here and catches us, well both be in a world ashit.”
Pyle: “am in a world of shit
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When Hartman asks “What is this Mickey Mouse shit?” there’s not an immediate realization of how much depth that question carries. He doesn’t live to see what it goes on to mean. However, it’s clear to the audience by the time the credits roll. Both this film and Oliver Stone’s Platoon dig deep into the world of the military we’re not often given a look at. Usually we, especially Americans, are inundated with the idea that everything about the military, the soldiers, is patriotic, as if they can do no wrong. Instead of trying to make some hero’s tale, Kubrick – along with Michael Herr and writer of the novel on which the film is based Gustav Hasford – dissects the finer points, wondering exactly how these men coped with the training, which is rough enough, only to find themselves thrown into a war they don’t understand, one they maybe shouldn’t have been fighting.
Aside from simply the military, this is obviously aimed directly at Vietnam as a whole. Even in the smallest moments it’s evident. Joker and Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) walk back to base at one point, as the latter remarks: “Were supposed to be helping them and they shit all over us every chance they get.” This one single line exemplifies exactly the ignorant bliss in which so many Americans (both citizen and soldier) wallow because of the stories they were fed at the time. Everybody thought they were there to do some good, save people; America, saviours of the world. Yet they did some hideous things to the people there, not just military troops. Part of Kubrick’s commentary is that many of these people become sucked into the whole rhetoric and machismo of war, particularly the young men. So the fact these guys don’t see anything wrong with their role, the American role in Vietnam during the war is part and parcel of the brainwashing. We further see this in Joker’s continual reference/impersonation of John Wayne, as the ultimate representation of the American ideal of the tough guy, the absolute hero, the one and only MAN’s MAN. Hell, a portion of the brainwashing started before they even got to training. In addition, the desensitization comes nastier later when Joker and the others joke about fucking sisters, mothers, so on; this shows how emotionally stunted these guys have become after so long. Worse still, later when the Marines are being interviewed by a camera crew Rafterman acts like a big, tough killer, holding his rifle up with some bravado bullshit and pretending to have whipped his gun out all over the place. Joker doesn’t pretend to have already killed, though makes clear he wants to kill – supposedly. It all began the first time Joker and the rest of those hypnotized soldiers saw an amped up American classic where the men weren’t allowed to show emotion, only the flare and smoke off the muzzle of their gun as they blew it away after blowing some other poor soul away, or only the fire of lust on some young woman cast specifically to look good next to the American cowboy hero.
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Kubrick really does the war genre a solid. Full Metal Jacket has an amazingly strong first half. The second half isn’t any less strong, it just diverges from the brainwashing angle of the plot a little more. That doesn’t mean this aspect disappears. As we’re thrown “into the shit” alongside Joker, we slowly come to discover how one man and his principles can change over the course of time. More so if he’s subjected to the horrors of war, both deliberately and purposefully. At the same time, there’s a degree of self-realization. By the finish, Joker hasn’t exactly become totally engrained in the system. At one point he brings up “the duality of man“, all that “Jungian thing” and so on. This is the epitome of Joker. Nearing the end, he gives in and kills a sniper in mercy. This is his way of surviving that world of shit of which he and Pyle spoke. Although, coming full circle to Hartman’s words the men all sing “Mickey Mouse March” and head off in the distance, towards the next atrocity. So in a way, Joker and the others realize it’s all a bunch of Mickey Mouse shit. Yet as Joker, for him, a world of shit it may be, but being alive is better than being dead. After seeing some of what the dead endured, his mind may not have been totally warped. It may, in a mysterious way, be saved.

Come Get It in the Yarbles: Criminality in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Can we ever rehabilitate a criminal mind? Is some supposed rehabilitation too invasive?
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE goes beyond either question with a look at a young man primed for ultra-violence.

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The Wonderful Foolishness and Biting Satire of Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Peter George, & Terry Southern.
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, & Jack Creley. Columbia Pictures/Hawk Films.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Comedy/War

★★★★★
POSTER
Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is easily what I consider as one of the funniest films of all time. I love me a good Farrelly Brothers flick, In Bruges is another one that kills me, Anders Thomas Jensen’s movie Adam’s Apples is a god damn riot. Then there’s stoner comedies like Cheech and Chong among others that give me a kick, some of the Broken Lizard movies are downright hilarious. Point is, I’m not snobbish about my comedy, nor do I think this film in particular is high brow. But I love comedy from any time, any era, any corner of the world.
Dr. Strangelove is so good because it came along at a particular time. In the midst of the Cold War, in a time where extreme ideology certainly reared its head in the U.S. and had people paranoid of communists infiltrating society, Kubrick – along with Peter George himself and brilliant writer Terry Southern – turned the book Red Alert from something sombre into an absolutely knock ’em down, drag ’em out riot. All the same, there’s nothing slapstick about this, and even in its ridiculousness there’s still always a contained feeling; that clinical process that Kubrick seems to inject into almost every one of his films. It’s capable of being incredibly funny while also taking on the concept of nuclear war, completely inept heads of government and more.
I still remember seeing this for the first time. Each viewing since then feels like the first all over again because every joke is still fresh, especially in this day and age where lunatics are all too near the big red button. I’m always laughing just as hard. And for that, I thank Kubrick. So much of his filmography is quite serious, which I love. However, it’s nice to see the funny side of that great director, in no less than one of the greatest comedies – if not THE GREATEST – in cinematic history.
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Sterling Hayden is pitch perfect as General Ripper. There’s no way anybody could’ve given Ripper such a funny turn. When he starts going on about his “essence” there’s no way I can keep a straight face. It is at once frightening and all the same makes you giggle. That’s the overall genius of the film. Certainly when it comes to Hayden’s character. He is just a great actor, whose performances in films like Kubrick’s The Killing and The Godfather are memorable. Although not near as memorable as General Jack D. Ripper. And what a hilariously dark name for his character.
This brings me to the fact of names. Look at a few of them: Buck Turgidson (sounds slightly like turd yet also literally spells out ‘turgid’), President Merkin Muffley (do I need to point out what a merkin is, or what that then means for his last name?), Colonel Bat Guano, Major King Kong (played amazingly by Slim Pickens). Many of the main characters are named with tongue planted firmly in cheek. However, the President himself is most interesting, as his name seems to play into part of the character’s purpose.
One major aspect of the satire in this story is how the President of the United States of America is made out to be the ultimate pawn. Merely a figurehead. The whole fact he’s been overridden when Ripper goes mad and starts the nuclear attack on Russia points to the fact he really has no ultimate power, when it comes down to the wire. The fact the POTUS is named Merkin Muffley suggests a couple things. Mainly, the idea of a merkin – a pubic wig – suggests he is a fake, or a literal wig that hides something, concealing. So Merkin himself, as a figurehead for the government, is just a peon. He’s made to look all powerful when really it’s everyone underneath him, mainly those in the War Room (and obviously General Ripper who overstepped his rank) holding all the real power.
Love when Kong reads out all sorts of materials in the plane, including condoms, nylon stockings, lipstick. Such a farce, yet unless you’re really paying attention you might just pass off this brief moment. That’s another brilliant aspect to the script. There are a number of points where the writing weaves a serious situation through excellent satirical dialogue that you could miss it if you’re not focused. Then in other scenes it’s almost dripping with satire to the point that if you miss it, you’re just not watching the film.
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The actors are all in fine form. You cannot ignore the pure genius of Peter Sellers, though. Three different parts. Each more hilarious than the last. It’s hard for me to even decide which one of them I love most. Mandrake is priceless in his juxtaposition with the perpetually crazy General Ripper ranting on about fluoridation and how Commies never drink water, only vodka, and all sorts of further madness. President Muffley’s conversation with the Russian Premier is one of the film’s highlights, as well as perhaps one of the most prevalent instances of the absurdist satire at play. But you’ve also got the eponymous Dr. Strangelove. He is appropriately the big finisher, giving us an awesomely performed finale to both finish off the film, and also the performance of Sellers. He is one of the greatest comedians to have ever graced the silver screen. Even if you recognize him slightly, each character has their own way of talking, on top of an accent, and they even move differently. All a testament to his impeccable acting talents.
In addition, the great George C. Scott brings General Buck Turgidson to life. Right from the get go he has me laughing. As the scenes wear on and the situations become dire, his comedic efforts and timing only serve the plot even better. One of my favourite moments from Scott is after Turgidson answers the phone and it’s his secretary, the one with whom he’s sleeping; he gives her this great little speech that makes me crack up. Everything about Scott’s performance is stellar, right down to the incessant gum chewing of General Buck.
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There are so many impressive elements to Dr. Strangelove, but above all else it is funny, it cuts deep while also making things laughable. The satire and its execution, from George C. Scott to Peter Sellers in his three roles, is first and foremost what makes things work. As usual, Kubrick makes good directorial choices. There is an ominous feeling even throughout all the comedy, and that clinical sense of direction further seen in his later work is very much at play. All in all, I’m comfortable calling this my personal favourite comedy of all-time. Enough moments make me tear up from laughter that I can easily say that. Never will I get bored of the political commentary and satire jammed into this movie. In my top three Kubrick, which is saying something. If it’s not your cup of tea, I understand. But damn, are you ever missing out if this doesn’t strike you as funny as it does me.