Paths of Glory (1957)

7/10

Kubrick directs his first big-budget feature, Paths of Glory, with grace and his signature phlegmatic style of shot-succession. It stars Kirk Douglass Col. Dax, a young leader whose occupation as a crime lawyer shines through his personality, before he even has to take the stand. Although Douglass is known by some as a vanity actor, I get the feeling that after he thought he could push young Kubrick around in ‘Spartacus’, as the producer, now as an actor he found his ‘rank’. He gives a strong, constrained performance, as the man who tries very hard to be the mirror of the General’s immorality, and of the idea of war entirely.

Col. Dax leads the units in the trenches many yards back from the ant hill, a rather funny name to be used in such seriousness by higher-ups. But when he is ordered by his higher-command, Gen. Mireau, to raid up towards Ant Hill, which even then they could barely hold from a distance, Col. Dax is forced into this act of wrong futility. He obeys orders, and the result is half the men charging and being blown to pieces, in a very effective tracking shot concerned only with the frame of the charging soldiers. The other half of the soldiers don’t charge at all; this cowardice, as Gen. Mireau calls it, who by now we can see is a soulless man whose been in Wars far too long, is put into military court. Gen. Mireau demands execution of his own French troops for their cowardice; beginning with a request of one-hundred, it ends with the selection of one from each regiment, a total of three. The rest of the film concerns itself with the morality of this, and the desperation of Col. Dax for a way to save the soldiers from a pointless execution.

We know once the court hearing is adjourned that the soldiers are going to die; it is a transparent slight in the film that the one-position opinion of Col. Dax is so absolute, as to mimicking the same absoluteness of the General. The military is too attached to cowardice, and sending a signal, more so to the public’s approval than the soldiers, about how things are run. At this end, the rest of the movie seems pointless, yet the ruminations of Col. Dax on the nature of war are enticing;  he stands up to higher-ups and even when they don’t always catch it, we do: he plays word-games on the bluntness of the Generals when it comes to death and rightness, constantly.

Paths of Glory is a unique war film, expected from the anti-war director Stanley Kubrick. He approaches the story with economical methods of  narrative, from the perspectives of all parties involved, including in the cellar with the soon to be executed soldiers. Stark, riveting, and unnerving, Paths of Glory strikes rebellion in the gut from the comfort of a chair.

Repulsion (1965)

Revulsion, directed by Roman Polanski, is his first English-made film and a great example of his talent for suspense and quiet paranoia. He shows through his filmography that he has a real tendency or characterization of apartments as terrible, solitary locations. They’re small and hot, unclean and perched above the alive city and all the moors that goes on right below on the streets. His film “Rosemary’s Baby”, though having to do with fear of pregnancy, also involves a woman in an apartment, paranoid and introspective.

Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, a man-hating introvert, she works at a multistory woman’s parlor, rarely ever being around men, good or bad. The first scene shows a woman laying on a cushioned bench, her face painted with invigorating lotion, Carol silently unresponsive to the woman’s demands. We can see that she is caged by her mind, which results in some trouble at work. She lives in an apartment beside a church-tower, the bell periodically ringing right outside the kitchen-window. Living in the apartment with her is her older sister and the sister’s boyfriend, a wife-cheating smooth-talker who can’t get on good terms with Carol no matter how hard he tries. He annoyingly touches her things stashed underneath the bathroom cupboard: this meticulous focus on detail displays her indefinite obsessiveness and highly anti-social tendencies.

Carol has a James Dean like early-twenties man somewhat stalking her as she walks on the street, trying to persuade her to go out to lunch with him. He seems warm-hearted, and Polanski strays away from first-person and into this man’s perspective at certain times; he really seems like just a simple, friendly guy with a bit of a crush. But she doesn’t see him as anything good, she sees him as an annoying, rotten little vermin continuously poking her. Her inability to socialize with the opposite-gender turns her into a paranoid shut-in, and for the second half of the film she’s exactly and only that: whoever visits her disovers the deep recesses of her mind, especially now that her sister has departed on vacation and left her by herself.

Polanski displays a keen photographic eye, invoking sharp-cuts into the gloomy eyes of our protagonist, and chaotic moments of extreme angst and anxiety, a shaky-camera mixed with Carol’s bulging pupils and placid-white skin. A classic of American cinema, and a clear indicator of the quality of work Polanski would continue to produce.

Dr. Strangelove

10/10

Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is hands down the greatest cold war satire in cinematic history. Filmed in monochrome, it showcases the undebatable talent of director Kubrick, seaming together three different scenarios into a feature-film: Jack Ripper’s office, the war-room, and the cockpit of the deterring plane itself. It all roots from one man, Jack Ripper, and his sudden order for Plan F, to send one of the twenty-four hour a day planes off to the target, Russia, who he thinks are communists conspiring to take away the precious bodily fluids; Jack Ripper is clearly homosexual, as he juggles his thick cigar constantly in his mouth and tells of his refusal to give woman his precious bodily fluids.

Peter Seller’s stars in three different roles: The Nazi weapons expert, the president, and the hostage of Jack Ripper. The war-room rendezvous with the president converse hilariously with a trigger-happy General Buck Turgedsen, played by George C. Scott, who really attracts the spotlight with his uproarious character, descriptive of right-wing paranoia and compulsiveness. When the president says he has invited the Russian Ambassador, he instantly fears putting in full-view the plans and war-screen, and when he does come stumbling in, the general plants a camera on him, quite literally tackling him with his masculine physique; he calms down by chewing a stick of gum, wrappers scattered across his table-space. The ambassador lightly calls him a fool, seems to not be bothered much.

The nuclear-carrying plane, blocked from communication, was not enough for the film: Added in is the doomsday device, a computer controlled deturrent that automatically destroys all human and animal life; “Your not suppose to keep it a secret!” the nazi weapons specialist shouts. This bumps the consequence up higher, and it is no longer a matter of what the world thinks, but if they will survive.

In many of Kubricks films, like Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket, he mocks the petty “Uncle Sam” notions of war peace. As soldiers move in to infiltrate the base that Gen. Ripper has locked down, bullets fly across the frame, and in the distance is the sign, “Peace is our Profession”.

The film never lets you breathe with its comedy and even tension for the final minutes of the planes course. Their are many newcomer actors, like the Texas Cowboy pilot played by Slim Pickens, who I found to be tedious in his reciting at times. Regardless, the tree of characters and performances are legendary, a cinematic masterpiece in the actors art of gesture and timing, and will endure even past its date of historical satire.

Film Review: 2001- A Space Odyssey

2001 is a synthesis of Kubrick and Clarke’s storytelling capabilities, and is an unattainable standard for space-bound pics, at-least the ones with clear hard science-fiction motives. Duncan Jones’ ‘Moon’ is under Odyssey’s wing, among others, including its admittedly sub-par sequel. Like most repeatedly say, the movie is a picture book of poster-ready images, never once escaping its own brilliance.

The beginning of 2001 is at a dry, desolate landscape, filled with wandering apes. The sun and moon rise to form eclipses, a gnostic metaphor for inspired evolution, which soon comes in the form of a dark, rectangular monolith, one of the greatest images in cinematic history. The apes cower and groan at its sight; but this jump-starts their evolution, and the next part in the story flips millions of years later, to a space-shuttle heading for the moon. Dr. Heywood Floyd is preparing to brief a group of supervisors about the cover-story for whats been found on the moon: No one presently knows exactly what it is. The monolith?

The third act is the day-to-day lives of the 2001 Astronauts, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole. The two converse casually, eat the normal vacuum-frozen meals, creating an eerie comfort to their surroundings. They sit at the same table, while looking at two different video-tablets on the same interview. One can see they do their own things, while also able to speak and be friends. The split between them is a robot, named HAL 3000. A rectangular output-device with a glowing red dot as a face, HAL turns the scheduled space-shuttle into horror and chaos; he alleges a part to need maitenance, as part of a scheme to take out the two astronauts and safely clear the way for the missions end-goal. Human-error is what HAL fears the most, but perhaps not as much as having his plug-ripped.

The phlegmatic manner in which the shots are placed, by Stanley Kubrick, is worth a generation of film-students study. Each scene has an importance, and they are all aesthetically innovating; the scene I found the most impacting, was the claustrophobic moment when Bowman and Poole are conniving on the strange actions of HAL, inside a sealed Pod. The camera turns into HAL’s POV, and we see him focusing on each of the astronauts lip-movement, through close-up panning; he’s studying their rebellion.

Anyone interested in this movie should read Arthur Clarke’s ‘The Lost Worlds of 2001’  with some real unique journal entries of him working diligently for months with Kubrick, who he regards very highly as a professional and a friend. The movie will never be forgotten: a dark, pessimistic view of artificial intelligence.

The Conversation (1974)

The Conversation, a seminal film by acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, takes a few seconds of fragmented, audio-recorded dialogue between a man and a woman and makes it the subject of a film. Scrutinizing the audio-track is legendary surveillance expert Henry Caul, a quiet, heavy-gazing man with a few (many) years of experience under his belt. His longevity does not provide him with any moral cushioning, however, and the film progresses as he realizes that the tape he is submitting to the corporation that hired him might result in the murder of his clients, a man and woman.

We see early on, when Harry visits a woman in a different apartment, the sexual tensions present: he’s afraid to become close to a woman, it seems, because he is afraid to reveal any sort of inner secret. And when he reveals this to a woman in what seems to be an entirely honest moment, it is recorded by a competitor, who Harry hadn’t realized had bugged him; all fun and games, for the competition, but Harry takes guard and responds equally as mad at this act of private thievery as he would have if his professional tapes were stolen. It’s all the same to him.

Earlier in the film, when the same sardonically hateful and envious fellow surveillance expert asks Harry about how he tapped into a boat and recorded a highly-guarded dialogue, which resulted in the murder of three different persons, we find out why he is so ambivalent to give the tapes in and return to such a state of murderous guilt. He tries to remain objective, but the line between duty and moral obligation becomes thin; a machine would be better fit for the job of Henry, but then does that not make the creator of the machine equally immoral?

The Conversation expertly blends existential angst and obsession into a sharp and uniquely spliced audio experience filled with buzzing, static voices. The slow increase of paranoia hits Henry hard, his past being suddenly explored in a sort of expressionistic black- and-white scene where he’s calling towards a woman he listens to, standing fearfully atop long concrete stairs, listening to him, as if he were another person just exploiting her for information, not a friend, not anyone who would help.

Francis Ford Coppola’s sensitive and intriguing look into surveillance professionals boasts great performances from Gene Hackman as Harry, and a very influential use of audio as a stepping stone and as a main ingredient in the narrative. A jarring, tantalizing look into a man who cares about nothing more than the keys in his life; to his apartment, his mind, and to his various recordings.

Film Review: Rosemary’s Baby

9/10

Like his earlier film “Repulsion” Roman Polanski  uses a quiet, sensitive woman as the magnet of his camera in his first American film, and also blends her into its themes and shadows with keen cinematic ability. The film starts with a common-day sight of a man and a woman, ready for a child, buying an Old new york apartment several floors above the city streets, and appearing to be occupied mainly by elderly folk. The hard floor echoes and the empty floors are hallow and unoccupied by furniture. The titular character, played by Mia Farrow, stays at home in preparation for the new baby, while her husband Guy, played by John Cassavettes, goes to work as an aspiring actor. His dramas and failures are more expressed than the fears of Rosemary and her pregnancy, suppressing her internal doubts like the stereotypical housewife.

The signature of Polanski is taking the normal patterns of life and twisting them by the mind’s fears and hesitations into something mutated. Child-birth should be celebrated, but it is instead feared by Rosemary, as she thinks the baby is of a different world or somehow cursed by the devil. Through these dark, brooding sequences of terror, Rosemary’s Baby influenced such well-regarded future films as “The Omen” and “The Exorcist”.

The main source of paranoia in Rosemary is her mysterious next door neighbors, Roman and Minnie. Guy takes a fond liking to them and often leaves to have conversations with Roman, while Rosemary fears the two rather eccentric elders are conniving behind her back.  Minnie brings over little bowls of Chocolate Mousse for Rosemary, taking concern over her health, but even the sweet desert seems like a trap, a snare concocted by the odd woman. The film is well-paced and creepy, in huge part due to the performances, especially the older neighbor Minnie,  played by Ruth Gordon, with black, focused eyes and a very strange wardrobe; she commands the screen whenever she’s present with her glossy but shadowy facade.