DVD Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

1682657-poster-1280-room-237-unlock-doc-enlists-kubrick-obsessives-to-decode-secretsDull boys

Picturenose welcomes writer, screenwriter and all-round film expert Paul Morris with his thoughts on Rodney Ascher‘s dissection of Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining (1980).

There are little boys who love nothing better than passing a lazy summer’s day pulling the legs off spiders – then there are those who like to watch others remove the limbs of said unsuspecting arthropods. The nine disembodied guests gathered around a mike in Room 237 are certainly in the voyeur category.

Room 237 is a conspiracy theory in miniature, or rather in the minutiae wherein they claim lie the hidden messages in Stanley Kubrick’s horror – I prefer psychological – classic The Shining (1980). If you believe the nine ‘experts’ in this insanely detailed work these messages have been breeding faster than a colony of rabbits that has stumbled upon a packet of Viagra. They are, it appears, to be found in every frame, and someone has to be obsessed enough to check every frame, making the film last days rather than its original running time of 146 minutes.

Room 237 is as billed as a documentary but it feels more like a film school test set by a permanently sozzled professor who didn’t quite cut it in Hollywood. Director Rodney Ascher is clearly teacher’s pet. It has the feel of early 1970s commercial films, for some small city attempting to attract first-time buyers to its corner of the dust bowl: in other words, the budget didn’t quite stretch to images that always match or enhance these nine voices of God.

It has been described as “head-spinning” and it has that effect as we are bombarded with the evidence of the secret intentions of one of Hollywood’s most maverick – to put it mildly – filmmakers. In this film the devil in so much in Jack Torrance but in the detail, and there’s lots of it. At times it’s positively hallucinogenic. I had to pause it and take a breather after I watched a very, very slow zoom in on a poster until the camera found a fuzzy image of a skier – you’ll have to watch it to find out the significance of that blurry character.

You have to really buy into this malarkey from the off or you’ll find yourself shouting at the screen ‘Come on!’, ‘Seriously!’, followed by umpteen ‘For real!’s. Kubrick was renowned for being difficult – more, I think, a power struggle with producers than anything to do with creative juices – but the notion that he planted so many little secrets on his set is dubious, not to say ludicrous. I directed my own humble low-low budget feature some time back and the set designers could have dumped a blood-soaked thoroughbred’s head in my hospital bed scene and I wouldn’t have spotted it, such is the frantic nature of no money filmmaking.

The nine different earnest views of what the film is really about range from the genocide of Native Americans to the Apollo 11 moon landing (yes, that old turnip again), rather than simply a very well-made film based (loosely) on a bestseller by Stephen King – “an entertainment”, as Graham Greene used to call some of his novels. I can picture these creative conspiracy theorists staring at the back of the cornflakes packet in the morning until it reveals its true meaning.

A friend of mine took his Granny to the cinema, to see Star Wars (1977). Driving her back home he asked: “So what did you think of the film?” She replied: “It’s a bit far-fetched.”

PS. It’s heartening to know that director Ascher admitted to not believing any of these theories. Thanks for the ride, Rodney.

102 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

only-god-forgives05Lacking rhythm

When we left the very effective Nicolas Winding Refn-Ryan Gosling duet a year-and-a-half ago, after Drive (2011), we were surrounded by the violence of the last part of the film, but also seduced by the elegance and the sobriety of this highly original cinema, which paid a very personal tribute to Michael Mann’s film-making style.

Very slow, very silent and above all very red, this is how one may characterize the long prologue of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ninth film, a project he reportedly has been devoted to for years. Taking place in a Bangkok city with no Asian cliché absent – prostitution, boxing clubs, drugs, corrupt cops and karaoke – Only God Forgives (2013) details the rather complicated relationships between two brothers and their mother, all of them hiding their criminal business under cover of a boxing club. The older one, Billy (Tom Burke), a psychopath whose likeness to the young Orson Welles is underlined during a long close-up, slaughters a young Thai prostitute in a brothel. Chang (Vithaya Pansrigarm), the mysterious cop who apprehends him, gives him up to the young girl’s father, who kills him in an act of vengeance.

Enter the mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who arrives from the US to avenge of her favorite son’s death. The younger one, Julian (Ryan Gosling), while involved in illegal activities such as drug dealing, clandestine gambling nevertheless seems to have principles is reluctant when it comes to violence. From this point on, the film becomes a kind of face-off between two figures of evil, the feminine and totally perverse mother on the one hand, and the mysterious yet extremely cruel cop who killed her son on the other.

If Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance is impressive, revealing a blonde vulgarity that contrasts sharply with the icy kind of class she usually gives her characters, if her part is undoubtedly the most talkative, she unfortunately has to deal with impossible lines – such as during the dinner scene with Julian and his so-called girlfriend. She also has to assume caricature-style attributes, generally speaking, such as the ‘prophetic’ evening dress she wears in one of her first scenes.

Chang’s character may in fact be the most disconcerting and convincing, alternating between quiet karaoke scenes and ultraviolence, as if he had signed an enigmatic pact as a righter of wrongs. What about Ryan Gosling, with his Drive and his recently expressed wish to retire from the cinema industry? Julian’s part was not meant for him in the beginning, yet his recent weight as an actor has obviously resulted in turning Only God Forgives into a nice little earner for Gosling with numerous close-ups and slo-mos. In the process, however, it has seemingly appeared unnecessary to provide him with the opportunity to cope with proper dialogue – if Gosling does not confirm his intention to distance himself from acting, one may think he should at least urge his agent to find him parts in talking movies.

So, what remains of Only God Forgives in the final analysis? The lack of rhythm from which the film suffers makes the extreme violence almost unsustainable, which reaches a climax with a blood-and-thunder Oedipal denouement, whereas in Drive it seemed to be part of a meticulously constructed structure. There are long shots of blood red corridors after the fashion of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), insistent references to Buñuel and Lynch, a complete absence of emotion, while the atmosphere of the film is so packed with symbols that paradoxically the aesthetics that Winding Refn builds manage to be frosty and kitsch at the same time. The film leaves us dazed and relieved, yet disappointed not to have understood the intentions of an indisputably gifted and ambitious film director.

90 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

room-237-documentary-full-trailer-2013Room with a view

Conspiracy theories and opinions run amok in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237 (2012). In great detail, Ascher interviews nine contributors who have spent years analyzing and deciphering Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining (1980). From people who simply try to piece together the illusionary hotel’s surroundings to messages Kubrick may have been secretly trying to tell his audience, each contributor to the story has a different approach to the genius of Kubrick’s vision.

We are all aware that Kubrick is regarded as a genius director simply for being possibly the most manic and controlling director of his time. Therefore, people assume every detail, from a missing chair to a ski poster in the background, has meaning the director deemed was required. Every colour, sound, frame and (Jack Nicholson) eyebrow is open for analysis.

In Room 237, each conspirator grasps for a reason to make The Shining an even better film. Several of the commentators stated, that upon their initial viewing of The Shining, they had just seen a classic film, but sensed something was missing. It took another few, or sometimes hundreds, of viewings to pinpoint what they couldn’t comprehend in their original viewing. This is when the conspiracy theories and, sometimes even, plausible opinions begin to surface.

As noted in the documentary, Kubrick took certain liberties to instill his own vision into Stephen King’s novel. He changed aspects involving so many key aspects of the original book, that you can understand why King was upset. Therefore, again due to Kubrick’s controlling reputation, it’s each of these changes that the commentators rely on most when making their claims. Some conspiracies are not so far fetched, like the hotel’s layout being in such a way that it cannot be possible. There are also some ideas or theories that are borderline mental. For instance, that Kubrick was responsible for directing the original moon landing and he plants, time and time again, hints in the film to prove it. Room 237’s director uses these commentator’s voices mostly for voice-overs allowing the audience to actually witness the instance in the film that is being described. To great affect I might add.

One by one, another contributor greets us and discusses what they believe Kubrick was trying to communicate. Was Kubrick trying to say the child was molested or was he simply trying to sneak comedic bits into the foreground so it’d look like Nicholson was aroused? These details are all brought up with convincing proof, spun around and around, until you’ve lost your room key and forgot which floor you are on.

As a whole, the sum of the parts makes the documentary an interesting viewing. Especially for the portions when they go into such detail by showing the hotel’s halls and mazes and the research Kubrick put into the film. However, once it begins to lean heavily on a couple of wild conspiracy theories the film begins to lose some luster. Personally, I think those that create these conspiracy theories, such as the current Boston Massacre theory or the fake moon landing (to only name a couple), are people who either cannot accept the truth or they have an ulterior motive.

Overall, the one thing that is not debatable is that The Shining remains, and will forever be, one of the greatest horror films of all time. For so many people to continue to vest so much energy into the film after all these years only proves it worth. I’d recommend watching The Shining prior to watching this documentary, then again after the documentary. Maybe you’ll see something nobody else has.

102 mins.

The Haunting In Connecticut (2008)

The Haunting In Connecticut (2008)Derivative dross

TV director Peter Cornwell’s latest effort to revisit the ‘Based On A True Story (Honest)’ craze that was begun by Stuart Rosenberg’s really rather average The Amityville Horror way back in 1979, with screenwriters Adam Simon (Brain Dead (1990)) and Tim Metcalfe (Kalifornia (1993)) along for the ride, suffers very much from all the same faults as its predecessor, coupled with the ever-increasing tendency (see my recent review of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell (2009)) of mainstream US horror to dumb it down, big time.

This time around, the ‘honest-to-God they’re true’ events on which the film is based are alleged to have centred around one ‘Snedeker’ family, from Meriden Avenue in Southington, Connecticut. Though suffering from similar credibility-sapping stories concerning their veracity as beset Jay Anson’s original ‘novel’ of The Amityville Horror, writers Simon and Metcalfe, unfortunately, still couldn’t let it lie, and have whipped up ‘origins’ for the hauntings’ raison d’etre, while Cornwell can do little better than employ truly cliched horror routines, coupled with an intrusive, abrasive soundtrack that reduces the subtlety of a large part of the ‘scares’ to the equivalent of clanging chains and white sheets with holes cut for eyes. Woooh…

The film’s opening title sequence, with its genuinely creepy sepia-toned shots of the dead, a common early photography practice that is now viewed as morbid (such as boy with his deceased brother leaning on his shoulder, parents each holding a dead child in their laps), promises much more than is actually delivered, when we’re thrust into 1987, where Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) is suffering with the effects of his cancer treatment, while on a drive with his mother, Sara (Virginia Madsen).

Because of Matt’s condition, long hospital commutes are necessary, but Sara spots a charming-looking rambling colonial house for rent that’s much nearer, and is immediately sold on the place. But the house, apparently, ‘has a history’, as a friendly local informs her – cue atmospheric music…

The hackneyed factor is ratcheted up quickly from here onwards – of course, the family moves in anyway and, of course, Matt chooses a basement room as his bedroom, one that has, of course, an additional interior room (locked, naturally) with fogged windows. Visions begin, such as blood on the floor where is mother is mopping and rather ‘poorly’ looking invisible friends…

Seriously, enough already – Amityville isn’t the only horror franchise to have been willfully plundered by this mess – there’s more than a little of The Exorcist (1973), The Shining (1980) and even Poltergeist (1982) thrown in for good measure, none of which helps negate the feeling that this is a scary-house show without a single original idea in its attic.

There are a couple of jumps, a few jitters, but very little else besides. Madsen does her level best as devoted mum (she is the film’s best feature, in fact) but, other than that, this has all the hallmarks of a straight-to-DVD classic and, if it had had anything better from the US to compete with thus far during 2009, that’s certainly where it would have ended up.

102 mins.