Review: Room 237 (2012)


I read The Shining as a tween in the 1970’s, in its first paperback run. Its cover was made of mylar (“shining” .. get it?), and the back blurb promised it was “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING JACK NICHOLSON” — an image I carried throughout the genuinely scary read. [Side note: I mentally cast Scatman Crothers as Halloran, all on my own, years before the film came out.] Having been well and truly haunted by Stephen King’s novel, I was perplexed and disappointed by the Kubrick film when it finally came out in 1980 (I had re-read the novel several times by then). But over the years, I realized that the Kubrick version was doing some haunting of its own, drawing me back to repeated viewings and heated discussions of its complexity.

The first paperback edition of 'The Shining'

Room 237 is an exegesis of this haunting effect, told by an assortment of obsessive fans. Their theories are alternately schizophrenic (e.g. the film is Kubrick confessing that he helped fake the moon landings) and plausible (e.g. it’s a comment on the Native American genocide). But the interpretations are never boring, even the most outlandish stretches. The stretchiest of the stretches has got to be the “run-it-backwards-and-forwards-at-the-same-time” theory, which is just a warmed-over version of the “play ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ alongside ‘The Wizard of Oz'” epiphany, well-known to stoned teenagers everywhere.

I was surprised that the ‘gold standard’ interpretation of the film, recently noted by io9, didn’t make the kavalcade of krazy theories. But don’t worry, this excellent documentary will give you plenty to chew on. If you’re like me, it will force you to overthink it all, then look in the mirror and ask “who’s the real OCD film freak? Could it be me?!?

Roger. Fuckin. Ebert.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15:  Film critic Roger Eb...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Decent people everywhere have always loved Roger Ebert, long before he became the Oprah-sanctioned warrior against everything random and awful about life. The man is bloody brilliant, and funny as hell. I mean — he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, for God’s sake. His reviews are always penetrating and smart — he is a true champion of film and literature.

But enough of the prelude. Here’s proof of the man’s genius, in his current review of Hot Tub Time Machine:

I mean, how good can a movie named “Hot Tub Time Machine” possibly be? Yes? That’s not what I thought. I saw the stand-up display in a movie lobby and perked up. With a title like that, the filmmakers aren’t lacking in confidence. There was also the item of John Cusack in the lead. As a general rule, he isn’t found in bad films.

“He isn’t found in bad films.” Man, he’s got that right.

I hope science finds a way for Roger to taste root beer again. (If you don’t get that reference, watch the Oprah interview. Then call me in about two years when you’re done crying.)

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Legion: Sinners in the Hand of an XBox God

Legion is the second quasi-religious action flick I’ve seen this week (the first being the far superior Book of Eli). It’s a bit of a clumsy mess, built of shopworn tropes, bad performances and an incoherent theology.

The film opens with archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) falling to the streets of L.A., where he surgically removes his wings and begins assembling a huge arsenal for some upcoming apocalyptic battle.

Continue reading “Legion: Sinners in the Hand of an XBox God”

Book of Eli: American Zatoichi

The Hughes Brothers‘ film Book of Eli revisits the dusty, well-worn roads of the post-apocalypse — a scifi setting so familiar it’s become clichĂ©. But the movie manages to rise above the predictability of this sand-blasted hellscape by telling a captivating story populated by strong characters.

I’m sure you’ve figured out from the trailers that the book in question is none other than the King James Bible — I don’t think that constitutes a spoiler. The protagonist, Eli (we learn his name from a pre-apocalypse K-mart employee name tag), is trekking across the United States, prompted by a divine voice that instructs him to deliver the very last copy “out west”, where it will be kept safe.

Eli confronts several murderous, grimy road bandits along the way; dispatching them with elegantly choreographed swordplay (well, machete-play). The fight sequences are masterful, particularly one early in the film which is played in silhouette against the bright, scorching sun. In this, and in other ways I won’t mention, “Eli” is an homage to the Zatoichi films and TV shows from Japan.

Eli blows through one Deadwood-esque enclave which turns out to be under the thumb of a tinpot tyrant named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie has been looking for the book — but not for spiritual sustenance. He wants it so he can impose a Nietzschean “slave” mentality on the desperate denizens of his empire.

Struggles ensue, and Eli manages to escape with Solara (Mila Kunis), a kind-hearted, illiterate prostitute who is intrigued by all the fuss surrounding Eli and his book. Carnegie and his minions give chase, of course, leading to a surprising and exciting third act.

I found the movie to be quite absorbing, which is interesting considering that I’m an avowed atheist and anti-religionist. While the film was certainly on the preachy side, it did include some fascinating ambiguities about the uses of literature and sacred texts — suggesting that morality ultimately resides in one’s character, not in the scriptures one recites. The “book” is used in the film to justify slaughter and oppression — indeed, it is why all the other copies were destroyed: people thought it had caused all the destruction. But it is also the foundation of Eli’s indefatigable strength, and it inspires his young protege.

The film is also a visual commentary on our economic condition, especially the value of things. There is one particularly arresting sequence of an unhinged woman cowering behind an overturned shopping cart, jealously guarding its meager contents — “lost in the supermarket” taken to a new level. There are other clever visual flourishes as well, including a weather-beaten poster from the cult classic A Boy and His Dog hanging in Eli’s cell while he is a guest of Carnegie.

The performances are all top-notch, especially that of beautiful young Mila Kunis, whose talent is far beyond what you might expect from her well-known roles on That 70’s Show and Family Guy. I must also salute the small but excellent performance of Tom Waits, who has never disappointed me in anything he has ever done (that includes his Tweets, by the way — they rise to poetry sometimes).

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Tribute to Roy Disney: Destino

From the “better-late-than-never” files:

Roy Edward Disney, nephew of Walt, died December 16, 2009 at the age of 79. He is rightly credited with bringing back the hand-crafted artistic legacy of Disney, and also with bucking the greedy grotesqueries of the Michael Eisner years. It was his vision that brought us the beautiful, classically-animated Princess and the Frog (for instance).

But I think Roy Disney’s greatest gift was resurrection of the 1945 collaboration between Disney artist John Hench and Salvador Dali, Destino. Dali and Hench got eight months into the project before the financial strains of World War II put an end to the ambitious venture. In 1999, Roy Disney decided to have Destino finished, handing the priceless storyboards over to French animator Dominique Monfrey, who along with an army of animators completed the short. It is mostly hand-drawn, with a bit of computer animation. There are eighteen seconds of the original — the bit with the two tortoises.

Here it is, enjoy:

[Source: Wikipedia]

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