Friday, April 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Shining

       A few years ago, my parents went out somewhere, and I was left at home for the day with my best friend keeping me company.  We ended up renting a movie from the video store’s horror section and watched it together as we ate lunch.  As the movie progressed, I slowly came to realize that this movie was sent from above.  There just didn’t seem to be enough words to describe how ridiculously amazing it was.  For that reason, the moment I thought about writing a review for this movie, I realized I absolutely had to do so.  And maybe that way, I can refer people to the review next time they look at me funny when I mention this movie needing a laugh track.  The movie I am referring to is none other that Stanly Kubrick’s cinematic opis, The Shining.

Let’s start off with talking about the trailer for this movie.  Because as everyone knows, trailers are meant to draw you in and give you an idea of what the movie is about.  However, this is one of the trailers I can’t find much to say about.  As the trailer plays, we’re treated to some rather creepy sounding music as the camera focuses on a still shot of a pair of elevators.  What’s particularly attention-grabbing here is that the elevator doors are painted a dull red color.  Not the sort of thing you see every day, since all the elevator doors I’ve seen to date range from silvery-grey to dull gold.  (Unless you count the glass elevators, but that is neither here nor there).  As we’re left to stare at these elevators, the movie’s title pans across the screen, along with some other information, including about how the movie was directed by Stanley Kubrick, and how it stars Jack  Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.  The moment the last credit rolls by, the elevator doors open, and a large amount of blood pours out, flooding the room.  And that’s all we’re allowed to see.  All-in-all, this trailer is more along the lines of what you'd expect to see in the opening credits to a movie, or maybe an episode of Tales from the Dark Side.  The trailer is about as far from a real trailer as you can possibly get.

            So, let’s move on to the actual movie itself.  We open to a bunch of aerial shots of a lake bordered by mountains before switching immediately to a lone car driving along an otherwise deserted road that navigates through the mountains.  You better get used to seeing the car, because that’s all you see for the entire duration of the opening credits.  That seems to be a recurring theme in movies, doesn’t it?  One day, someone should do a tally about how many movies feature opening credits that focus over a stretch of road that’s only occupied by one solitary car.  I really want to know the precise number, because I’m sure it’s a pretty impressive one.  But I digress.  Once the credits end and the actual movie starts, we see Jack Nicholson’s character entering a hotel lobby and promptly telling the woman at the front desk that he’s here for an interview with Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, which is called the Overlook Hotel.  We’re also told that the name of Jack's character’s is Jack Torrance.  (So Jack is playing Jack?  Bet it was really easy for him to remember his character name in this movie.) 
Right after Jack is brought to Mr. Ullman’s office, there’s a sudden jump-cut (get used to those) to Jack’s family, who are back in their apartment eating lunch, enabling us to meet J ack’s wife,Wendy, played by Shelly Duvall, and their son, Danny.  We also are somewhat introduced to Tony.  As far as Danny’s parents are concerned, Tony is simply Danny’s imaginary friend, but according to Danny, Tony is a little boy who lives in his mouth.  But don’t bother trying to find him, because Tony will hide in his stomach if you try to do so.  Personally, I would think this should have at least caused his parents to hesitate a bit before chalking Tony up as just an imaginary friend.  The whole thing about living in your mouth and hiding in your stomach seems like a pretty elaborate description for a child to give to an imaginary friend.  But then again, maybe I’m not giving enough credit to the imaginations of children with imaginary friends, seeing as I’ve never experienced or witnessed the imaginary friend phenomena in person.
Anyway, as Wendy and Danny eat their sandwiches, Tony tells Wendy that he doesn’t want to go to the Overlook, but won’t give a reason why.  I probably should address this.  Normally, when kids have imaginary friends, they have to tell their parents what the imaginary friend says.  You know, stuff like “Mr. Cuddles would like some ice cream.”  In Danny and Tony’s case, Tony literally speaks through Danny.  Although, when it’s Tony who is talking, Danny’s voice comes out as a rough croak.  The fact that Tony is displaying a characteristic that doesn’t coincide with other imaginary friends probably should tip off the Torrance family that Tony’s something a bit more.  But again, I refer to my statement on how I might not know much about the extent of a child’s imagination.
Once we’ve established that Tony doesn’t want to go to the hotel, we return to the Overlook, where Jack is in the middle of his interview.  Jack, it turns out, is going to look after the Overlook during the winter.  Since it’s too expensive to keep the long mountain road that leads up to the hotel clear of snow during the winter months, the Overlook is always closed between October and May.  Jack is looking forward to the job, and announces that the isolation tied to the position will be most welcome as he’s working on a new novel and would appreciate having no distractions.  During the interview, Jack, and the audience, is told of an incident that occurred at the hotel in the 1970s.  The caretaker of that time, Charles Grady, suffered a mental breakdown and killed his wife and two daughters with an axe before shooting himself with a shotgun.  Well, that’s something you want your caretaker to know about during an interview.  I kinda would have liked to see some brief shots of other caretaker candidates, exiting the office to run screaming towards the hills.  That would have been entertaining to see.
Back in the Torrance apartment, Danny is trying to ask Tony why he does not want to go to the hotel, and Tony still refuses to explain.  However, when Danny pushes the issue, Tony somehow gives Danny a vision of the blood-filled elevators that were featured in the trailer, as well as a brief image of twin girls in identical dresses.  In the very next scene, we see Wendy talking to a woman who I guess we’re supposed to conclude is a nurse Wendy called after Danny suddenly passed out after receiving Tony’s vision.  During this conversation between Wendy and the unnamed nurse, we’re told that a while back, Jack had been out drinking and came home in a bad temper.  In his drunken state, Jack accidentally injured Danny by dislocating his shoulder.  After that incident, Jack swore he’d never drink another drop of alcohol ever again.  In addition, that was also when Tony made his first appearance.
            We now move on to the day when the Torrance family arrives at the hotel.  During the drive, they end up choosing to talk about the Donner party, which is a rather odd topic of discussion considering they’re going to be completely cut off from the outside world for a few months. Something that astounds me about this scene is the fact that Wendy starts to scold Jack for explaining to Danny who the Donner party was, even though she was the one who brought it up in the first place.   Really, lady, did you seriously think your son wouldn’t ask questions about it?   Asking questions about unfamiliar terms is practically a requirement for children Danny’s age.  Even someone like me who has no real experience with children knows that.  Think before you speak, Wendy.
Shortly after arriving, Mr. and Mrs. Torrance are given a tour of the hotel.  During this tour, it’s revealed that the hotel was built on an old Indian burial ground.  Really, people, that’s the BIGGIST no-no of construction that you can possibly make.  Anyone who puts up a building of any kind over a place where people, particularly Native Americans, are buried is just asking for trouble from the other side.  You’re seriously telling me that none of the people who originally built the hotel stopped and said ‘hey, this might be really, really stupid?’  Also, there’s another one of those pesky jump-cuts during the tour.  In this jump-cut, we see Danny, who has been left alone to play darts in the Overlook’s game room.  His game is interrupted when he sees the same twin girls from Tony’s vision standing in the room with him.  Danny, however, appears completely unrattled by this.
            During this point in the movie, we also meet Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s head chef.  He’s played by Scatman Crothers, who you might remember from the 1976 movie, Silver Streak.  While Jack goes off with Mr. Ullman to discuss some stuff, Dick takes Wendy and Danny to the kitchen to show them around some more.  Unbeknownst to Wendy, Dick reveals to Danny that he can communicate with him telepathically.  It turns out that Dick and Danny both have an ability called The Shining, which, from what I gather, is like a sixth sense, and Tony is a manifestation of this sixth sense.  Danny asks Dick if there’s something bad at the hotel, but instead of giving a straight answer, Dick explains that sometimes, an event can leave a trace of itself behind, and only people with the Shining ability can see these traces.  At the same time, Dick specifically instructs Danny to stay out of Room 237.

            Cut to a month later, where the movie treats us to some pointless padding.  For example, you see Wendy pushing a cart of food through the hotel lobby and taking it up to Jack to serve him breakfast in bed.  But placed in the middle of this scene is a long shot of Danny riding a plastic tricycle through the hotel.  There is absolutely no point to those scenes that I can see.  I mean, granted that when Jack gets his breakfast, he does tell Wendy how he keeps getting déjà-vu in the Overlook, but the two scenes of Wendy pushing the cart and Danny on his tricycle contributed absolutely nothing to the movie.  They could have been left out completely.  The same could be said to the scene immediately afterwards, when we’re treated to a real nail-biting scene that shows Wendy and Danny walking through a large hedge maze while Jack procrastinates from his writing by wandering through the hotel throwing a ball around.  Once again, absolutely nothing happens at all, and the scenes could have been significantly shortened down.  I get that those scenes are included to establish the fact that there's a hedge maze on the hotel grounds and that Jack's not really focusing on his novel, but the scenes in question really overstay their welcome, and it gets to the point where you just want to tell the movie to get on with it. 

In fact, there’s one scene sometime later where Jack is just staring into space aimlessly.  Out of curiously, I actually timed this scene and clocked it in at a whole 27 seconds.  That’s 27 seconds of nothing but Jack making a weird derp face at the camera.  Riveting, although I guess I should be grateful it wasn’t longer.

            Thrown in amongst these foam peanut scenes is our first indication that Jack really is a pretty rotten guy at the core, even when he hasn’t been drinking.  It starts with Wendy having a conversation with the police department in town using this CB radio.  And this scene never fails to make me laugh with how many times they say ‘over’ while talking on the radio.  I understand how saying ‘over’ when you're talking through a CB radio is something of a requirement, but for some reason, hearing them use that word so much in this scene strikes me as extremely funny.  But again, I digress.  
            During their conversation, the police officer tells Wendy that a bad storm is approaching, and instructs her to keep the radio on at all times, just in case.  After ending her talk with the police, Wendy comes in to visit Jack in his designated work room to see how he’s doing on his novel and tell him about the storm.  She even offers to bring him some sandwiches later on so he can eat while he works.  Perfectly innocent stuff like that.  But Jack responds by being downright nasty to her, verbally bashing her for even being in the same room as him.  He even straight up swears at her.  What makes this scene even more sickening is that Wendy just lets her husband get away with treating her like crap and basically walks off with her tail between her legs.  It just makes you wonder if Wendy is used to having her husband verbally abuse her like this.  She really comes across as a mousy and timid woman who willingly allows people to walk all over her and is incapable of standing up for herself because she’s spent too much time being dragged down.
            Anyway, during this time, we get two more scenes of Danny back on his tricycle, just pedaling through the hotel unsupervised.  In the first of these two scenes, Danny finds himself outside of Room 237, the room Dick told him to never enter.  Even though Danny gets off his tricycle and touches the doorknob momentarily, he heeds Dick’s warning and gets back on his tricycle.  It’s not until the third time we see Danny on his tricycle that we get that iconic scene of Danny turning around the corner and seeing the twin girls again.  The twins, utilizing that creepy talking in unison thing, ask Danny to come play with them 'forever and ever and ever'.  Even creepier is that during this scene, we get brief macabre flashes of the same twin girls lying in a pool of their own blood, having just been killed by the axe.  (Apparently, these twins are supposed to be the daughters of that Charles Grady guy.)  In horror, Danny covers his eyes, and when he looks again, the twins are gone.  Tony reassures Danny, reminding him that Dick told them it wasn’t real, and were just like pictures in a book.

            Time for yet another dialogue scene.  Danny goes into the hotel room he and his parents are occupying to get his fire truck, being very quiet so he won’t wake up Jack who had only gone to bed a few hours earlier.  Only, Jack is not even lying down and simply sitting on the foot of the bed.  It’s revealed that Jack is not sleeping because ‘he has too much to do.’  During this scene, Jack tells Danny he wants them to stay there 'forever and ever and ever,' (now where have we heard that before?) right before promising that he’d never do anything to hurt Danny.  However, Jack has this really creepy grin on his face that makes him look unhinged the whole time.  Yeah, that grin doesn't give this entire scene a creepy overtone at all, does it?
            Shortly afterward, Danny is playing with his cars in an empty hallway when a ball rolls up out of nowhere.  When he goes to try and figure out where the ball came from, he discovers that the door to Room 237 has been left open.  Forgetting Dick’s warning, Danny goes in.  But like most of the other scenes in this movie, this one also ends abruptly.  This whole entire movie is like a drive-by of randomness, with each scene switching to a new one as soon as they start.  Did the entire camera crew have ADD?
Anyway, Wendy, while checking on the Overlook’s boilers, hears Jack screaming and runs into his workroom to find him having a nightmare.  When Jack wakes up, he tells Wendy that in his nightmare, he ended up killing both Wendy and Danny.  As Wendy tries to comfort the shaken Jack, Danny slowly walks into the room, seemingly in a trace and sucking on his thumb.  To top it off, there’s a large bruise on his neck.  Wendy immediately accuses Jack of hurting Danny and runs off.  Now, the logical reaction would be for Jack to try to defend himself and insist on his innocence.  But, of course, we’re supposed to know that Jack’s gone completely cuckoo by now and he therefore just sits there, not saying a single word to refute the accusations as Wendy runs off.  He then walks off into the ballroom, where he has his first visual hallucination that we can see.  Out of nowhere, there’s a bartender standing there, and he serves Jack a drink of some kind.  Jack vents to the bartender about how his wife won’t just go of the incident mentioned earlier, the one when Danny’s shoulder was dislocated.  As if hearing Jack trying to defend his actions on that day and act like he was the victim in that situation wasn’t bad enough, he even refers to Wendy as a sperm bank.  Wow, this guy. Every word out of his mouth just screams abusive husband.
Jack’s crazed ramblings are interrupted when Wendy runs in, visibly scared.  She tells Jack that Danny told her a crazy woman had broken into the hotel, and it was this woman who hurt Danny.
            Immediately, we cut back to Dick, who is back in his home watching a report on the TV.  And as my friend pointed out when we saw this movie for the first time, his room is filled with pictures of naked woman with afros.  Umm, that seems like a rather weird decision by the people who designed the sets.  What exactly were they going for here?  Anyway, as Dick is watching TV, he gets a vision via the Shining, telling him what’s going on in the hotel.  Jack enters room 237, and enters into the greenest bathroom I’ve ever seen.  Out of nowhere, a young woman appears, stepping out of the bathtub, completely naked.  Jack, despite the fact that all evidence points to how this woman may have been the one to hurt his son, proceeds to make out with this naked woman, further proving how much of a vile person Jack is.  As he’s making out with this naked woman, she morphs into a horribly ugly old woman whose skin is well into the stages of rotting away.  In horror, Jack stumbles out of Room 237 and returns to his family’s room.  Jack tells Wendy he didn’t see anything, and suggests that maybe Danny gave himself the bruise around his neck.  Out of concern for their son, Wendy suggests that it might be best to take Danny away from the hotel so he can be seen by a doctor.  However, Jack gets verbally violent again, and begins to yell at Wendy for even suggesting leaving, accusing her of always ruining everything before storming out of the room.
            Okay, so let’s go to the checklist for this guy. Gets violent when he’s drunk, check.  Verbally abusing and slandering his wife, check.  Kissing another woman who may have tried to strangle his son, check.  Putting his own needs before those of his only child, check.  Ladies and gentleman, we officially have a despicable, deplorable man on our hands.
            After Jack marches off, he has another hallucination, which involves a grand party being held in the ballroom.  During this hallucination, Jack enters into a bathroom that’s been painted a very glaring shade of red. What exactly is up with the bathrooms being painted such vibrant colors in this movie?  First it’s the green bathroom with the naked woman, and now it’s the bright red bathroom. Are these colors supposed to be some kind of symbolism?  And why do the glaring colors only appear the bathrooms?

            Anyway, it’s in this hallucination that Jack meets a butler who identifies himself as Delbert Grady.  When Jack tries to get Delbert to admit how he’s Charles Grady, the caretaker at the Overlook who murdered his family, Delbert insists that Jack has always been the caretaker of the Overlook.  However, Delbert does inform Jack about how Danny is trying to use the Shining to call Dick back to the hotel.  In addition, Delbert talks about how his two girls once disliked the Overlook so much, they tried to burn it down with matches.  This led to Delbert ‘correcting’ them, also ‘correcting’ his wife when she tried to stop him.
            Back in their rooms, Wendy is giving herself a pep talk, hoping to encourage herself to stand her ground about leaving the hotel, deciding that she and Danny will leave without Jack if he refuses to go with them.  She’s interrupted by the sound of Danny, who has now been completely possessed by Tony, chanting the word ‘Redrum’ over and over again.  In spite of Wendy’s best methods, she cannot revive Danny, and Tony even tells her that ‘Danny’s gone away.’
            What follows are a few scenes that show Jack removing a few parts from the CB radio that connects the hotel to the outside world, as well as Dick attempting to return to the Overlook, fueled by his concern for Danny and his family, even if it means braving a harsh winter storm.
            Back at the Overlook, Wendy goes to talk to Jack, but in doing so, she finds that he has not been working on his novel this whole time.  Instead, he’s been spending this entire time writing page after page of the phrase, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ repeated over and over again, indicating that he’s been bonkers for a very long time.  As Wendy is making this discovery, Jack appears behind her and proceeds to intimidate, belittle, and patronize her before announcing his intention to kill her.

            And here is when we see that perhaps Wendy might actually have a backbone after all.  Even though she spends a long time whimpering and waving a bat around pathetically as Jack continues his threats, she eventually manages to connect with Jack’s head, knocking him out.  Before Jack regains full consciousness, she even locks him into the kitchen’s walk-in pantry.  Unfortunately, she’s too late, as Jack has already sabotaged the Snowcat, making it impossible for Wendy to use it to leave.  Jack even trashed the CB radio, so Wendy can’t even call for help.
            Sometime later, while Wendy is sleeping in their personal room in the hotel, Danny, who’s still possessed by Tony, uses Wendy’s lipstick to write ‘Redrum’ on the bathroom door, all while chanting that word repeatedly.  The moment he’s finished writing his message, he starts screaming ‘Redrum.’  As he’s screaming this, Tony’s voice is replaced by Danny’s, indicating that Danny is no longer possessed.  In addition, Wendy wakes up and is shocked to find Danny standing there with a large knife in his hand.  As she takes the knife from him and tries to tend to her son, she happens to glance at the mirror and sees the ‘Redrm’ message reflected in the glass.  It is only now that we see that ‘Redrum’ is ‘Murder’ spelled backwards.

            Meanwhile, Jack had managed to escape from the walk-in pantry with the help of Delbert Grady.  This makes you question if all those hallucinations really were hallucinations.  If Jack was only seeing those people in his head, then how could they unlock the door?  Come on movie, don’t leave us in the dark. 
The instant the ‘Redrum/Murder’ thing is revealed, Jack initiates his attack by chopping down the hotel room door with an ax.  Wendy and Danny make it to the bathroom in their attempt to escape, but only Danny can make it to safety as Wendy is unable to get through the bathroom window.  This forces Wendy to give us a second sign that she’s only meek because of the constant presence of her husband.  Just as it looks like Jack will manage to get into the bathroom, she attacks him with the large knife she’d taken from Danny.  Luckily, before Jack can retaliate, Dick returns to the Overlook.  As Jack leaves the hotel room, Dick wanders through the lobby, calling out ‘Hello? Anyone here?’ repeatedly every few seconds.  Okay, Dick.  I understand you’re worried, but it’s not as if you’re a stranded passerby whose car broke down, and you’re ducking into the Overlook trying to find a phone.  As the head cook and employee of the hotel, I’m sure you know perfectly well where the room that’s occupied by caretaker is located.  Wouldn’t the sensible thing be to go right up there instead of skulking around in the lobby?  I mean, unless I'm mistaken, this is either late at night or early morning, and therefore they might be in bed at that point.
            Unfortunately, Dick is killed by the axe-wielding Jack, and Danny, who is hiding nearby, witnessed the murder via the Shining and starts screaming.  Danny’s scream alerts Jack to Danny’s presence, and to try and avoid being found; Danny abandons his hiding place and runs off.  (Which would be fine if he didn’t abandon his hiding place in full view of his father!  Stupid kid.)
            And that brings us to the biggest piece of insanity in this movie.  While all this has been going on, Wendy’s off wandering through the hotel, seemingly aimlessly, looking for Danny.  As she searches, she comes across one of the most visually scarring scenes ever.  Upon reaching the top of a set of stairs, Wendy manages to bear witnesses to some guy in a bear costume, performing what appears to be oral sex on a guy in a tux.  You heard me right.  Guy in a bear costume!  And if that wasn’t shocking enough, the camera quickly zooms in, making sure we’re even more confused.  Not to mention scared on a lot of levels.

            Meanwhile, Jack has followed Danny outside, where the storm is raging.  Danny takes refuge in the large hedge maze with Jack in hot pursuit.  Danny manages to loose Jack by cleverly making it appear like his footprints have stopped abruptly while erasing the footprints that reveal he’s really hiding behind one of the hedges a little ways back. (I take back my stupid kid comment.)  Anyway, poor Wendy, who is no doubt scarred for life after coming across Dick’s bloody body, seeing a ghost with a gaping head wound, finding a roomful of cobwebs and skeletons, all before coming across that blasted blood-filled elevator, gets out of the hotel and reunites with Danny.  They escape together using the snowcat poor Dick had used to drive up to the Overlook, leaving Jack behind as he continues to wander through the hedge maze, screaming into the night.

Bwahhhaha!  That’s not an exaggeration, either.  That was my actual reaction to this scene upon my initial viewing of this movie, and all subsequent viewings as well.  That’s an even bigger derp face than the one that lasted 27 seconds earlier on.  Right after that image of the dead  frozen Jack, we cut back to the hotel, as we slowly zoom in to a picture taken at the hotel back in 1921s.  BIG SHOCK!  Jack Torrance is right there in the forefront, revealing, I guess, that he’s stuck in some sort of reincarnation loop, and returns to the hotel in each of his lives, with that Charles Grady person being one of those reincarnations.
            So that was The Shining.  Was it scary? Meh.  Was it silly beyond belief?  Yes it was.  Did I like it?  You bet I did.  The whole movie is just so bizarre, you can’t help but love it.  Half the time, you’re not even sure what it is you’re even looking at.  I get that it’s supposed to psychological horror and all, and we’re supposed to be left wondering if all the weird stuff was actually happening, if it was all just in Jack’s head, or a combination of the two possibilities, but good grief, there’s such a thing as using too much symbolic visuals in movies.  I really think that Kubrick put WAY too much effort into the artistry of camera angles and set design and not enough on the actual story. What's with the oddly-colored bathrooms?  What's with all the perfectly symmetrical set designs?  Horror movies kind of loose their scare factor when you need to constantly reference the movie’s cliff notes to understand all the nuances.  This is a horror movie, not an interpretive art exhibit.  Don’t be so artsy-fartsy about it, okay?
            Then, there’s the constant use of jump-cuts.  Kubrick must not have heard of the benefits of a seamless transition when he directed this film.  The entire movie was filled with quick scenes that were slapped right in the middle of longer scenes.  It’s particularly irritating when the quick scenes don’t even go anywhere.  Combine this with the scenes that just overstay their welcome, and it’s a wonder that the audience didn’t go completely bonkers like Jack.
Also, there’s the fact that the whole angle with Jack apparently loosing his mind due to the isolation and trying to murder his family in a state of madness doesn’t have the impact it was obviously intended to, especially since there’s more than enough signs to indicate that Jack was always an abusive timebomb, even before he set foot in the Outlook.  I mean, why else would Wendy take a passive backseat whenever Jack verbally assaults her, or act so terrified of standing up to him when Danny’s mental health is in question?  The only conclusion I can make is that she’s always been dragged down by her husband.  Hopefully, now that she’s free from him and his abusive influence and has to become a single parent to Danny, she’ll slowly start becoming a stronger woman.  (Remember ladies, if your husband starts trying to bring you down and attacking your self esteem, just pack your bags.  No matter what he might say to you, you do NOT deserve to be treated like that.)
            Anyway, despite all these problems, The Shining is still a movie that should be on everyone’s must-see list.  I guarantee that even if you’re only seeing it for the awesomely epic craziness, it’s well worth it.

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