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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix streaming: ROOM 237 (2013) and SIMON KILLER (2013)


ROOM 237
(US - 2013)

Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING opened largely to critical derision in the summer of 1980, with many complaining that it deviated too much from Stephen King's 1977 novel.  It was still a box office hit, thanks largely to Jack Nicholson's instantly iconic performance.  Seeing it at the drive-in with my parents that summer (they probably figured I'd just fall asleep), I was instantly hypnotized by it.  Of course, I'd seen movies before (I was seven), but nothing like this.  Not just in plot content but from a visual standpoint.  This just didn't look like any movie I'd seen up to that point.  THE SHINING is probably the movie that got me into movies.  It's my favorite film and the one I've seen more than any other (I stopped counting around the 75th viewing, and that was about 20 years ago).  THE SHINING has had a profound effect on many cinephiles, as evidenced by Rodney Ascher's often astonishing, frequently bonkers documentary/visual essay ROOM 237, which examines not just the phenomenon of THE SHINING as an enduring classic, but the various theories about the "deeper meaning" Kubrick was trying to convey.  Five theorists, heard but never seen, explain their positions on what Kubrick, arguably cinema's greatest filmmaker and most obsessively detailed, was attempting with THE SHINING.  These range from the Native American artwork in the Overlook Hotel and the Calumet baking powder in its kitchen being symbolic of American Indian genocide; the recurring number "42" (a "42" on one of Danny's shirts, Wendy and Danny watching SUMMER OF '42 on TV, the total of 2x3x7 equaling 42) being representative of the Holocaust (conceived and implemented in 1942); an examination of sexual deviance via subliminal erections and phallic imagery in carpet patterns and other interior d├ęcor.  There's also an examination of the perceptual shifts, spatial disorientations, and constructive inconsistencies in the Overlook, using detailed maps of what the hotel would look like in reality (the mention of the numerous "impossible" windows, rooms, and hallways and the presumably intentional continuity errors aren't unique to ROOM 237; check out some of "analysist" Rob Iger's "Collative Learning" videos on YouTube).  Some of the theories are surprisingly persuasive, but the more some of these people talk, the more crackpot their opinions start to sound.  When one subject starts angrily rambling on about how THE SHINING is Kubrick's confession to his complicity in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing (or, rather, insisting that while we did put a man on the moon, the footage was actually shot by Kubrick on a soundstage ahead of time), you realize the guy's gone from a largely reasonable potential interpretation of a film's subtext into a full-on tinfoil hat meltdown.


The mysteries of THE SHINING are endless--what is up with the scowling looks from hotel manager Ullman's assistant Bill Watson?   Does he represent the sinister forces of the Overlook while Ullman is just the smiling, glad-handing guy out front? Why is Jack reading an issue of Playgirl in the lobby of the Overlook?--and a brief foray into the "SHINING Forwards and Backwards" presentation (a piece of visual art that actually played in several cities after ROOM 237's release) opens up a whole new can of worms.  Sometimes the interview subjects are just flat-out wrong and simply talking out of their asses, with one saying that Kubrick had actor Barry Nelson (as Ullman) wear a toupee that made him look like JFK, when in fact, it was the same style of toupee that Nelson always wore as he got older. Nevertheless, ROOM 237 is one of the best films about a film you'll ever see, regardless of how much you buy into the things being said.  As many times as I've seen THE SHINING, I still find something new every time I watch it, and if you have anything approaching the affection for it that I do, ROOM 237 is required viewing.  (Unrated, 103 mins)


SIMON KILLER
(US - 2013)

Some of the creative personnel from 2011's acclaimed MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE were involved in this enigmatic and equally intriguing character piece that didn't get nearly as much attention in the indie scene.  After earning his graduate degree in neuroscience studies, Simon (Brady Corbet) goes on a trip to Paris where he's trying to get over a painful ending to a long relationship.  Prowling the red-light district, Simon goes to a sex club and meets Victoria (Mati Diop).  After paying for sex a few times, Simon ends up crashing at her apartment and a real relationship seems to blossom.  Little by little, writer/director Antonio Campos (with story contributions from Corbet and Diop) shows the increasingly complex layers of Simon's personality and before long, it's apparent that he's at best an unreliable narrator.  The title might be an indication where things could head, but we realize something's not right when Simon intentionally drags his knuckles across a concrete wall and tells Victoria that he was attacked in the street by some punks.  He gets increasingly clingy with Victoria and even manages to rope her into a foolish blackmail plot involving her clients.  Simon is the kind of guy who says "I'm gonna need some money because I'd like to buy you something" and somehow gets away with it.


SIMON KILLER is one of those films with a vague resolution that's intentionally left open-ended.  Opening with a stunning panoramic shot of Paris, it's beautifully shot throughout, augmented by one of the year's best soundtracks.  I really liked the overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation that Campos conveys in the early-going with Simon, ear buds in place, lost in his own world and everyone around him staring blankly at their smartphones.  Campos really captures the decadent, "after dark" feel of some sections of Paris that the city's tourism board doesn't promote, and his frequent strobey dissolves between scenes create a chilling feel that comes off like a restrained Gaspar Noe.  Corbet and Diop are terrific in this cold, standoff-ish, and often unsettling film, filled with uncomfortable confrontations and some surprisingly explicit sex scenes.  It's a film that's definitely not for everyone, but if you're open to it and give it some time and space, it's one that slowly and surely gets under your skin. (Unrated, 105 mins)

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