It’s Kubrick Week! No more bullshit, it really is! I watched four Kubricks this week, and I’m just gonna go ahead and spoil today’s reviews: they’re all fantastic. I also watched a couple other random movies, but you can ignore those if you so choose, I won’t be mad. I finally got to see a whole lot of movies this week, six to be exact, and I have at least a little bit to say about all of them, so here they are:
March 31: A Clockwork Orange (random streaming site)
Okay Kubrick, we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but you’re starting to make up for it. The Shining was a good looking movie, but offered very little else. A Clockwork Orange is even more fascinating as an oeuvre, but adds a far more intriguing story to accompany it. While I knew the basic plot going in, I had no clue how dark and disturbing it was gonna get. The fact that this movie came out in 1971 is surprising to say the least; the rape scenes alone would be enough to spark a decent amount of controversy even today.
The philosophical dilemma that the movie explores is one that has never ceased to be relevant, positing the question of whether a person can change their violent ways by force rather than by conscious choice. Alex, while unforgivably despicable, is a fascinating way through which we can see the effects of institutionalization, and whether or not it can actually have an effect on recidivism.
As great a movie as this is, I still don’t understand the title. I was really hoping that seeing it would clear the issue up, but it only served to confuse me more. Alas, there is always Google.
March 31: Eurotrip (Amazon Prime Video)
To cleanse ourselves of the bleak world of A Clockwork Orange, we decided on Eurotrip. It’s one of those movies that tried to capitalize on all the success American Pie had in 2001, but the difference between Eurotrip and other Pie copycats is that it’s actually kinda funny. Problematic, to be sure, but funny nonetheless. It’s fascinating to watch a movie that would have a 0% chance of getting made today. A scene where one of the main characters accidentally gets himself sexually ravaged in a German sex club? Nuh uh. A scene where a man on a train sexually assaults another character when they go through a dark tunnel? Uhhhh, that’s not ok. Then there’s the nude beach, the incest, the sex in a confession booth (in the Vatican)… this movie has pretty much all the elements of a movie that would be near universally reviled in 2019. It’s a relic of the past, and though it should stay in the past, it should not be forgotten, because there are some genuinely hilarious moments that make it more than the sum of its raunchy, idiotic parts.
April 1: Tropic Thunder (Amazon Prime Video)
I know, another non-Kubrick movie. I swear, the rest of the week is exclusively reserved for Stanley, so bear with me. Tropic Thunder is an absolutely insane and ambitious idea for a movie, and it succeeds on pretty much every level. Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux’s script is tight, hilarious, and inserts some genuine heart into the disingenuous film the characters are trying to make. As a comedy and nothing else, it works, and even makes you love Robert Downey Jr. playing a dude who’s playing a dude in blackface. As a commentary on/parody of Hollywood filmmaking, it’s even more hilarious. Tropic Thunder ends similarly to Adaptation, in that it becomes the very movie Tugg Speedman is trying to avoid: an over-the-top action movie with a litany of explosions and heroism. Also, it should be mentioned that Tom Cruise gives my second favourite performance of his career (after Magnolia, obviously), and his dance scene is only rivaled by Oscar Isaac’s in Ex Machina for best of all time.
April 2: Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (random streaming site. Amazon Prime Video has it and lets me click on it, but then tells me it’s not available in my country. Fuck you, Prime Video.)
Following A Clockwork Orange, I was beginning to be a little more optimistic towards Kubrick, and went into Dr Strangelove with some relatively high expectations. Strangelove not only delivered, but absolutely blew me away.
It’s another one of those movies that I’ve always heard is amazing but had never actually gotten around to seeing, much like The Shining. The difference here is that there’s a much more legitimate reason people love Dr Strangelove. It tells the topical tale of a mad general who authorizes nukes being sent to Russia in 1964, early in the Cold War; 1964, of course, being the current year at the time the film was made. We follow the general and his terrified captain as they attempt to hold off their fellow troops, the War Room where the president and another general are attempting to alleviate the situation, and the pilot/crew of a plane that’s gonna be dropping one of the bombs. While the setup is rather dark and serious, the film itself is often hilarious, and takes a satirical look at the tense political landscape of the Cold War. Where the movie shines brightest, though, is in its characters, a delightful collection of folks who are likely perfect reflections of who’s really protecting the world from total annihilation. Despite lacking the same visual ingenuity of the other works I’ve seen, this is Kubrick’s masterpiece.
April 3: 2001: A Space Odyssey (random streaming site)
How does one write about, let alone review, 2001: A Space Odyssey? It feels to me like it transcends traditional criticism, and requires some kind of analysis at the very least to go along with it. I read the short story it’s based on, The Sentinel, and it gave me a little bit of perspective and insight into what the frick actually happened, but the philosophical implications are very much up to interpretation. As I see it, and as generic as it may sound, 2001 is about the nature of humanity; what makes us human? The monolith appearing at the dawn of man implies that we became clever, tool-using humans only because of some kind of alien intervention. This same dilemma is reintroduced with HAL, an AI that appears to have genuine (malicious) feelings of his own, but is that by design, or did he develop emotions by himself? I don’t have the space to fully voice my thoughts, nor do I actually have the thoughts themselves at the moment, so I’ll keep the speculation to a minimum until I can put it all together in a way that makes sense.
2001 is a visual and aural masterpiece, a complement to Kubrick’s performance and writing masterpiece in Dr Strangelove. Every frame is electrifying, and every drawn out moment of silence is just as effective as the booming crescendo of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Some of the practical effects absolutely blew me away, and I usually care very little about those kinds of things. 2001 cements Kubrick as the most visually adept filmmaker of all time, and that’s saying a helluva lot, especially since by this time a couple weeks ago I’d never even seen a Kubrick. He somehow manages to suck you in to every single shot, whether it’s simply a glowing red circle, or a cacophony of lights and a silently screaming face. I think I understand now why people are so obsessed with analysing every second of The Shining. I’m not saying I endorse it, nor am I saying that every second deserves to be scrutinized for further proof of Kubrick’s genius, but I am acknowledging that there’s a valid reason to be so intrigued by a mediocre movie. 2001, though, is in no way mediocre; it’s a spectacular exploration of man and cosmos alike that I probably need to see again to come close to comprehending.
April 5: Full Metal Jacket (random streaming site)
Is there anything Kubrick can’t do? Well, okay, his horror movie wasn’t very good. But this dude made a violent drama, a political satire, a beautiful sci-fi, and now he makes a war movie? And it works? How does he do it? Are there any directors that are as versatile as Kubrick? I haven’t even mentioned the movies I haven’t seen like Barry Lyndon and Lolita, both of which are also entirely different from his other works as well.
Full Metal Jacket feels a lot like two movies in one. The first 45 minutes or so takes place in a brutal boot camp where we meet our main characters: the aptly named Joker, the overweight and inept Pyle, and Cowboy, a pretty normal dude. We’re treated 45 minutes of the late R Lee Ermey screaming in our faces, and I found myself curiously compelled through my computer screen to repeat after him.
The last hour and a bit sees the recruits being placed in various roles fighting in the Vietnam War. Full Metal Jacket becomes a little more traditional at this point, but remains impeccably written and acted, and introduces some impressive setpieces. The only thing I struggle with is how the first half connects and impacts the latter half, but I suppose I’ll have to give that a bit more of a think. It seems to be a theme that Kubrick movies require a long and hard think afterwards, and that might be why I’m having some difficulty writing about him. His movies are challenging, and while I appreciate that greatly, it makes it much tougher to put my thoughts on a page for the world (aka my few loyal followers) to read.
So, Kubrick is a genius. I know, people have been saying that for decades, but this is all new to me. I finally understand why he’s hailed as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time: he is, simple as that. I’ll likely be continuing to watch his movies in the coming weeks, and I’ve never been so excited to exhaust the entire filmography of a director. I won’t keep calling it Kubrick Week, though. Or maybe this entire month is Kubrick Month? I’ll give that a think while I’m thinking about the giant ghost alien baby in 2001. This week’s shoutout goes to Denny’s, because Denny’s is for winners.