Shine On (The Shining, 1980)

The_Shining_PosterThe Torrence family is struggling. Jack is trying to stay sober and be a better husband and father, Wendy does not trust her husband and their son Danny seems to be having trouble coping with reality.

To this end, Jack, a hopeful author takes a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel.  He and his family will live there, alone with no access to alcohol or people. Jack is informed that a previous caretaker, Grady, went nuts and butchered his family and killed himself. But several months with little to do but write his great American novel is too good to pass up.  And so he takes the job and the family arrives on the day everyone else leaves.

It is here that we the audience learn that Danny is a special child, in a way his doctors could not understand.  During their tour, they are introduced to Hallorann. He instantly senses a connection to Danny and the two are able to communicate telepathically. He warns Danny to stay out of certain places.  Especially Room 237.

As the winter progresses, Wendy and Danny are trying their best to make the world they are in work out as normal as can be. But Jack seems to be struggling.  As he seems to face insurmountable writers block, the stress begins to wear on him.  And that is when the ghosts start to reach out.

From the opening shot of the film, as we fly through mountains looking down on the road leading to the overlook, Kubrick infuses his shots with a slight discomfort early on.  There is a presence, even in the early times, a menace, in how the film looks, the angles, the perspective, the motion.

As Nicholson’s Jack Torrance devolves into a madness he is seduced by the ghosts of the Overlook, who seem intent on destroying Jack, Wendy and little Danny. Wendy on the other hand is trying to hold it together, but starts to realizing she may not be able to save her entire family from the darkness around them.

The Shining is a terrific film that has earned its status as one of the great horror films. However… it is not without flaws.

There are times when Danny Llloyd’s scared face gets almost comical.  But more so, as an adaption of the King novel?  It is a failure. King’s book is about a man trying to to be a good father, he is not a scary man…he is broken and trying to put it all back together. He loves Wendy and Danny and wants to do right by them.  This is what makes it so tragic when he is consumed by the hotel.  Wendy is a strong woman who is able to confront Jack. In the film? She is meek and so scared of conflict.

But more so? Nicholson’s Jack Torrance is a little over the edge on day one. When we meet him, he seems like the switch has already flipped…before the Overlook ever has him. It works in the film. But it is not the Shining I read and loved. It is something else entirely.  And so, If I view it as an adaption of that story? I think I kind of hate it. But if I just view it as a Kubrick film? Well, it is amazing.

Last Laugh (Batman, 1989)

batman-poster1989 saw the release of the most controversial Batman casting until Batfleck.  Michael Keaton, known almost entirely for comedies such as Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho was cast as Batman…oh the horror and oh the wailing.  A long tradition of freaking out over casting began right here.  People were a bit more open to Jack Nicholson playing the Joker.

As it turned out, Keaton was okay in the role.  His Batman was appropriately serious, while his take on Bruce Wayne was an interesting approach.  His Bruce Wayne seems to be constantly distracted.  After the 1960’s series, Batman’s comics had returned to a darker version of the character.  A dark soul, haunted by his parents’ deaths at the hands of a low level criminal.  People feared Keaton would make this more 60’s Batman, rather than the Dark Knight Returns.

With Tim Burton at the helm, the film was a dark and gothic affair filled with crime bosses and corrupt police officers.  And the fabled Batman haunting the city.  In a attempt to thwart a mob crime, Batman knocks aspiring Crime Boss Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals.  He emerges with a chalk white complexion and a new smile.  He goes off and takes over the Grissom (Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance) criminal Empire.  This leads to an ongoing battle with Batman.

The film has a great cast, headlined by Keaton, Nicholson and Kim Basinger.  They are supported by a crew of character  actors and well known faces.  You have Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and the glue that held the franchise together?  Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted butler and aide.

While the visuals are grand, the Joker’s motives seem supremely mundane.  He wants to be a mobster.  And woo Vicki Vale.  He may be cruel and ruthless, but so are lots of mob bosses in the movies.  Take away the grin and face-paint? He would not stand out.  Batman’s greatest weakness is not Keaton, but the fact that he cannot even turn his head.  The costumes look good in still shots, but seem goofy when Keaton is having to turn his whole body to look around.

In addition, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent feel more like set decorations than characters.  They are almost entirely inconsequential to the story.  They seem to be there because they have to…it is a Batman movie.  Gough is the bright spot in the film.  His Alfred is kind and wise.  He is not as involved in the day to day support of Batman, he is more there to support Bruce Wayne.

While 1989’s Batman is not terrible, it does not quite stand the test of time.  It is still enjoyable, but it does not live up to the character’s full potential.

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