Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Obtuse Paranoia and Room 237



You look at a cloud, rolling slowly in the clear sky. If your head might be as clear as the dome above, you can begin to look at the white mass and see that its shape is first, say, of a boat, but just as suddenly you see that the boat was not a boat, but really a submarine, or a couple of aquatic bodies wrestling: mythical creatures that can then as easily drag you into obscure, anthropological reverie on ancient cultures and dichotomies. And then, if you happen to be happily accompanied, you ask the person next to you whether she sees the fantastic creatures too, but are astounded at her reply: she sees a banana.

Something akin to the scenario described above comes to mind when watching ROOM 237, a documentary on, well, the act of looking at clouds and guessing their shape. Except the cloud here is Kubrick's THE SHINING, and ROOM 237 is not just about what shapes Kubrick's film can take, but of the people behind these shapes/theories.

The film presents interviews with various people who have fallen under the spell of Kubrick's film and in one way or another have obsessed over its existence. One thing every person interviewed seems to share with each other is that each treats the film as a world created, a world with its own will, reason, logic, and therefore they must figure out its phenomenology, its very origin. Figuring out the meaning of the film, its code, is in a sense to figure out its origin in Kubrick's mind.

The makers of ROOM 237, in order to show this obsession, make an interesting move. The film is made up of clips from THE SHINING and other Kubrick films (plus a few clips from other non-Kubrick films such as the fantastic DEMONS), over which different characters posit their theories through voice over. The effect goes to the heart of the matter, for the voices seem to appropriate the images from Kubrick's films to themselves. There are many strange moments when the characters depicted in front of us (be it Tom Cruise from EYES WIDE SHUT, etc.) become some sort of impersonation of the narrating voice. We never see the real faces behind the voices, and are therefore treated to different perceptions of a world, where the very subject of study (THE SHINING) broken into different versions, each with its own movement, logic and reality.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fan Service



And lo, across the land, a mighty bluff was called. With nothing to lose, Warner Bros. made a curious wager with fans, giving them thirty days to put $2 million into a Kickstarter fund in order to allow for the production of a film version of long-canceled cult series “Veronica Mars.” Not only did the money come, but they had reached the mark in less than a day, a massive success that dwarfed any prior accomplishments made on Kickstarter, a system designed to fund undernourished artists and troubled independent projects.

Why “Veronica Mars”? I confess to have only watched the first season of the series on DVD. The stories involved Kristen Bell as a plucky high school P.I. who found herself in some very dangerous situations within mysteries way above her ostensible maturity level. It was interesting, never predictable and with unusual warmth, mostly due to the rapport between Mars and her father (Enrico Colantoni). There would be two more seasons after that, the third abbreviated and a fourth season teased, but never filmed. Having a passing familiarity with the community established by the series, I had interest in a potential fourth season, which planned to age Mars ahead considerably, turning her into an FBI recruit and, I would assume, changing the series concept entirely. It speaks well of creator Rob Thomas (not the Matchbox 20 guy) that I imagine this approach would have avoided becoming just another network procedural.


So I suppose I’m on the outside looking in, but aside from those that appreciated the series, it never seemed to have popularity beyond the “cult.” It aired on the CW, with ratings that would’ve gotten a weaker show canceled, and I recall they really hung on to get to that third year. Anecdotally, I understand the sales for the DVD were modest, suggesting the fans’ demand for future adventures was derived from but a passionate few. A passionate few who, I admit, I cannot relate to: the series made it to fifty episodes, each an hour long. That’s an extensive commitment that seems to have yielded greater rewards: why do we want more?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Walter Hill And Economy Of Storytelling



In Walter Hill’s “Bullet To The Head,” Sylvester Stallone’s Jimmy Bobo is a hitman who makes what I’m guessing is the unusual choice to never switch his weapon of choice, a particular handgun of a make I would know had I any expertise in guns. He picks up other weapons over the course of the film, but he keeps returning to his old standby, until it’s taken away from him in a third act clash that, for the first time in the film, challenges him.

His forced partner, a cop investigating the death of a former associate, is played by taciturn Sung Kang. He utilizes several weapons over the course of the film, though taking a backseat to the confident Bobo, his chief accessory appears to be his Blackberry. As he trades young/old barbs with the sixtysomething Bobo, his assistance in the case derives exclusively from his ability to dial up information. Later, he’ll remove the bullets from Bobo’s gun at a key moment, foreshadowing the emasculation implicit in his seduction of Bobo’s daughter.