Movie Review ~ Room 237

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  The film may be over 30 years old but it continues to inspire debate, speculation, and mystery.

Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Director: Rodney Ascher

Rated: NR

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  At one point in the “subjective” documentary Room 237 one of the unseen commentators qualifies his theory regarding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining by stating “I may be grasping at straws here” – a not so off the mark statement.

The majority of this entertainingly watchable but ultimately far-fetched examination of the various conspiracy theories surrounding the movie version of Stephen King’s novel is focused on obsessive minutiae that the casual movie-goer won’t notice.  That’s not to say you’re going to need a film degree to appreciate what director Ascher has complied here, but even the most dedicated Kubrick/Shining fan may have their work cut out for them as five points of view surrounding hidden meanings behind the carpet, costumes, setting, food cans, and so much more  that are used in the film are explored.

Released in 1980 to disappointingly mixed reviews considering the caliber of talent involved, The Shining has grown in popularity over the years and its with repeated viewings that some of the true genius of director Kubrick’s vision emerges.  What on the surface looks to be a standard horror yarn surrounding a family taking care of an isolated inn over a chilly winter and the various evils they encounter could really be about the genocide of the American Indians, or the holocaust, or a thinly veiled confession by its director that he helped fake the footage of the Apollo moon landings.

At least that’s a few of the ideas the five individual theorists put forth over the brisk running length of the documentary.  It’s a classic case of seeing what you want to see in the images displayed and I can’t disagree that some of what it presented makes a lot of sense when you ponder on who was behind it all.  Kubrick was notorious for his obsession with the smallest detail in his films so when its pointed out that props disappear or change color from one shot to the next it’s worth thinking it over because something so glaring is clearly intentional – but what does it all mean?

It’s when the movie goes into theories that involve looking at the film frame by frame that the documentary gets a bit thin in the supporting information.  True, some of the extra long dissolves from one scene to the next have definite cinematic clues in them but claiming that one freeze fame shot makes a file inbox look like a phallus may raise your eyebrow in a “give me a break” arch.

Agreeing or disagreeing with the theories aside, I can’t imagine anyone watching this documentary and not having a strong urge to revisit the source material again right away.  You won’t be able to view The Shining the same way again once you’ve learned about the set-up of the Overlook Inn (with its impossible windows and contradictory lay-out) or the poorly hidden (when pointed out) references to the Apollo 11 mission.

Ascher plays these carefully edited interviews over even more carefully edited footage from not only The Shining but every Stanley Kubrick film released (save for some of his short films) in addition to other Hollywood films that help the story. It’s a remarkable compilation of clips, animations, diagrams, models, and a few recreations that help tell the story and illustrate the theories presented.

The Shining is a film I’ve learned to appreciate as the years go by and Room 237 adds another layer of interest to viewers both new and old alike.  Though I thought a hefty portion of the theories read way too far into what Kubrick was presenting, it’s hard to deny that Room 237 is a fascinatingly obsessive look into a film crafted by a fascinatingly obsessive filmmaker.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Smooth Talk

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, this film chronicles 15-year-old Connie Wyatt’s sexual awakening in the Northern California suburbs.

Stars: Treat Williams, Laura Dern, Mary Kay Place, Levon Helm, Margaret Welsh, Elizabeth Berridge

Director: Joyce Chopra

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  In the mid 90’s I went through a period of really hating Laura Dern.  There was something about her gait, her delivery of a line, her bird-like features that really rubbed me the wrong way and I couldn’t take her seriously or sit through one of her films without feeling rumpled.  Then the strength of her work in recent years (including a remarkable performance in HBO’s just canceled Enlightened and memorable supporting roles in movies like The Master and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio) made me change my mind, encouraging me to seek out some of her earlier work.  Now, I’m enraptured.

That’s how I happened upon Smooth Talk, a true hidden gem of a picture that kept me on the edge of my seat thanks to a star performance by Dern as a California teenager flirting with danger over the course of one hot summer.  Based on a story by Joyce Carol Oates, the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival and it’s not hard to see why.  With direction from Chopra and a Spartan script courtesy of Tom Cole what begins as a familiar look into teen angst in the mid 80’s turns into…well…I don’t want to spoil it for you.  The film is surprising in its turns but never feels like it’s exploiting our lead character or the audience as it unwinds its careful yarn that may remind you a bit of Little Red Riding Hood.

Dern is astonishing here, navigating some tricky material that couldn’t have been easy to play.  She’s supported well by Williams as a mysterious stranger that sets his sights on Dern and Mary Kay Place (The Big Chill) as her mother that holds her to a different standard than her other daughter.  It’s an effective film for a lot of reasons, not the least is its look into a loss of innocence from multiple points of view.

This plays on television quite often so keep your eye out for this one – it’s rare to find a film so assured and unexpected.

The Silver Bullet ~ You’re Next

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Synopsis: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.

Release Date: August 23, 2013 

Thoughts: If the advance buzz is to be believed, You’re Next is one damn good horror film.  Now, I always try to take that kind of praise with a grain of salt because one person’s Cabin in the Woods could be another person’s The Apparition.  Still, the slick and scary new trailer for the horror film releasing this August gave me more than a few chills.  The home invasion genre has been done well recently (2008’s The Strangers) but it seems there’s more terror to mine from a fear we all have about our general safety while at home.  Director Wingard and several of the cast/crew were also involved with the underrated gore-fest V/H/S in 2012 and if that film is any indication, You’re Next will be a twisted throat-grabber aimed to produce maximum screams.