The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug-Related Material

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael

(based on the novel DREAM STORY by Arthur Schnitzler)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Serbedzija, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Leelee Sobieski & Alan Cumming

Stanley Kubrick had a long, storied career in cinema. Kubrick is known as one of the greatest directors who ever lived and he also directed three of my favorite films of all-time (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET). Kubrick’s final film arrived four months after his death, but it’s worth noting that he completed his final cut a mere six days before his passing. EYES WIDE SHUT opened to lots of mixed reception from audiences and polarized critics. Having seen this strange film for the first time, I love it and at the same time know that there’s lots of themes that I haven’t even uncovered yet. Also, this is technically a Christmas movie, so consider this to be 2017’s Christmas review!

Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are part of the upper-crust crowd in New York. After visiting a Christmas party where they both get hit on by other people (Alice by a much older man and Bill by two sexy younger women), Bill and Alice decide to smoke some potent pot. Their casual night of getting stoned results in a heated argument about sex and Alice reveals that she once contemplated cheating on Bill. As a result, Bill goes to take a house call and winds up on a strange night-long journey that takes him into the seediest areas of New York. Curiosity and perversion quickly land Bill in the clutches of a secret society…and he slowly realizes that his life and family may be in very real danger from this mysterious masked group.

As far as the technical side of EYES WIDE SHUT goes, Stanley Kubrick continued to demonstrate his skills as a master filmmaker. The Christmas setting doesn’t just add a touch of irony to the very adult-oriented story, but simultaneously provides an excuse for lots of beautifully lit settings. Apparently, Kubrick used natural lighting and drew off of the many random Christmas decorations for the atmosphere in certain scenes. This colorful effect provides an almost dream-like quality to the entire film that seems appropriate, especially given the surreal nature of the story.

At the time of this film’s production, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were married and their chemistry definitely comes across on the screen as the film’s main married couple. Kidman plays her seductive role very well and the viewer never quite knows what she has on her mind, especially during the argument scene that really thrusts Cruise’s protagonist onto his torrid journey across a sex-filled New York. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise almost shows shades of Jack Nicholson in his performance as Bill, especially when he flies off the deep end in moments. Even though Cruise and Kidman clearly have obvious chemistry, there are hints that they are fooling themselves to stay in love. This relationship dynamic directly parallels other (more suspenseful) plot developments and is further highlighted by the film’s title (referring to the willful deception of someone, in this case, these two main characters).

EYES WIDE SHUT’s supporting cast mostly seems like means to an end, but that’s not necessarily a flaw in this film. Each character has a distinct purpose and that purpose benefits the story arc that Cruise’s character ultimately goes through. The fairy tale atmosphere is further heightened by the ridiculous nature of a few of these folks. Alan Cumming is a colorful hotel clerk who delivers verbal clues in a single scene. Rade Serbedzija is a crazy costume store owner, whilst Leelee Sobieski has a soft-spoken part as his promiscuous daughter. Vinessa Shaw has a few minutes of screen time as a prostitute, but makes a big impression. Todd Field plays a loud-mouthed pianist who tempts Cruise to venture further into dangerous territory. Finally, Sydney Pollack serves as Cruise’s best friend and ultimately drives forward the film’s bizarre dialogue-filled finale.

Speaking of the finale, this paragraph may dive into minor spoilers. If you want to go in spoiler-free, then skip to the next paragraph. The final third of EYES WIDE SHUT plays out like a bizarre paranoid thriller and the viewer ultimately doesn’t receive many concrete answers by the conclusion. Instead, Kubrick places us into the exact same position as Cruise’s main character and leaves us to decide if want to accept one explanation over another. There is an explanation given to Cruise’s main character in a speech, but it doesn’t exactly seem completely believable. However, the alternative explanation is far more sinister and leaves vague possibilities open for interpretation. Personally, I choose to go with the latter choice, but some viewers might find themselves frustrated by the ending’s sheer ambiguity.

It goes without saying, but EYES WIDE SHUT is filled with sex. However, Kubrick doesn’t simply focus on the pleasures of sexual acts. He also dives into darker territory. The crazy costume owner and the single-scene prostitute’s storylines are both briefly returned to after the initial night’s journey, with disturbingly tragic results. Also, the masked orgy sequence that earned the film an NC-17 from the MPAA seems far more creepy than it does sexy. Maybe it has something to do with the bizarre masks, but it seems like the unsexiest orgy to ever hit the big screen and that sort of seems to be a point that Kubrick was aiming for in this film.

EYES WIDE SHUT is definitely an acquired taste film. Even diehard Kubrick fans seem split down the middle on whether this is a misunderstood masterpiece or an ambitious misfire. I fall on the side of loving this film. It left me with a lot to think about and the nearly three-hour-long running time rushed by. From a sheer technical standpoint, Kubrick’s directing is flawless in EYES WIDE SHUT. From a narrative standpoint, the ending is unsatisfying in the best possible way (if that makes sense)…as we’re placed into the exact same position as the main character. If you want an unusual Christmas flick for adults or just want to dive into another bizarre journey from one of cinema’s best directors, then definitely give EYES WIDE SHUT a look. Just be prepared for lots of nudity, sex, bizarre moments, and an appropriately uncomfortably brilliant viewing experience.

Grade: A+

THE SHINING (1980)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson

(based on the novel THE SHINING by Stephen King)

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone & Joe Turkel

“Here’s Johnny!” That line of dialogue is instantly recognizable, just like many other scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING. Though it differs considerably from its source material, Kubrick’s only horror movie has cemented its place in the annals of cinema as one of the greatest horror films of all-time. There’s no beating around the bush on this one. THE SHINING is a chilling masterpiece that functions on timeless terror, great performances, and a claustrophobic atmosphere of dread that supplies just as many scares as the Overlook Hotel’s ghostly inhabitants.

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Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has been hired as the caretaker at the isolated, scenic Overlook Hotel. Surrounded by mountains and hours from civilization, the Overlook functions as a party location in the summer and is closed during the winter. Jack, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) will be living at the Overlook, but the beautiful location is not without some unique quirks. Quirks in this case meaning that there are ghosts lurking in the large hotel, many of whom have sinister intentions towards Danny, who happens to be gifted with a psychic ability called “The Shining.” As time passes, the Overlook’s apparitions become more sinister, Danny’s shining begins to show him dark visions, and an increasingly unhinged Jack starts eyeballing a nearby axe.

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THE SHINING is not a faithful adaptation towards King’s novel and that’s a very good thing. Kubrick took creative liberties that changed the book’s spookhouse scares into cinematic psychological frights, created a nightmare scenario, and made a horror masterpiece. In the transition from page to screen, Kubrick excises the more sentimental parts of King’s novel, completely changes the ending for the better, turns the hedge animals into a foreboding hedge maze, and swaps Jack’s weapon of choice from a laughable croquet mallet to a far more threatening axe. King was so unsatisfied with Kubrick’s take on his material that he made a true-to-the-novel six-hour SHINING miniseries in 1997 with Steven Weber…and it’s terrible. In a rare case, 1980’s THE SHINING is a movie that’s far better than the book.

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Kubrick masterfully constructs a claustrophobic atmosphere and lets it naturally build to a point where the film becomes the stuff that nightmares are made of. The stakes are laid out early on with morbid history being revealed during Jack’s job interview. It’s obvious that this spooky bit of exposition will come back in a big way as the plot moves forward. The film has some ghostly encounters in its first third, but those are few and far between as the family dynamic of Jack, Wendy and Danny is front and center. This character development makes the rest of the film more intense as Jack becomes one of the scariest movie villains to ever hit the big screen.

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To say that Jack Nicholson’s performance is amazing would be an understatement. His unique brand of nuttiness is sure to elicit a few giggles (he’s definitely having fun with it) and then serious scares. Everything about his physical tics, downright psychotic facial expressions and over-the-top line delivery make him the most memorable part of this nightmarishly eerie film. Nicholson got so into character and became so good at chopping down doors that Kubrick replaced the stunt doors with real ones, making the iconic bathroom scene seem even more real and terrifying.

Though she isn’t exactly known for great acting abilities, Shelley Duvall is perfect in the role of distressed wife and screaming victim Wendy. The production footage and stories say that Kubrick psychologically tortured Duvall into giving the fantastic performance we see on the screen, going as far as to make her reshoot the same scene 127 times and driving her to a point where she spent hours crying. Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall was monstrous, but it’s impossible to imagine the character of Wendy without her…much like we can’t picture anyone besides Jack Nicholson in the role of the axe-wielding Jack Torrance. Meanwhile, Danny Lloyd gave one of the best child performances seen on film as psychic Danny and was told that this movie was a drama about a family living in a hotel (only to discover the actual plot later on).

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Scatman Crothers makes the most of his brief supporting role as the hotel’s “shining” cook. Meanwhile, THE SHINING gives us some of the creepiest ghosts ever, including: sinister bartender Lloyd (Joe Turkel), mysterious Delbert Grady (Philip Stone), a memorable woman in Room 237 and the scariest little girls you ever did see. THE SHINING also contains some of the most frightening scenes ever shown on the big screen. Personally, I think the film’s biggest scare is the bathtub sequence, which gave me nightmares as a kid and still holds a psychologically scarring effect on me today. The Overlook Hotel was a construction of sets and, yet, it seems remarkably like a believable real-life location. This isolated setting, a thoroughly unsettling score, and Kubrick’s use of steadicam (making for long, unbroken tracking shots to further elevate suspense) all add to the film’s downright “evil” atmosphere.

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THE SHINING is a masterpiece. It’s the best cinematic adaptation to come out of Stephen King’s work, even with creative liberties that actually improve upon the source material. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd will all be remembered for their roles in this film. It stands out as Kubrick’s best movie, which is quite an impressive feat when you consider the man’s career. From a claustrophobic atmosphere of suffocating dread to some of the scariest scenes ever put on film, THE SHINING is a timeless horror epic that is sure to terrify audiences forever…and ever…and ever. This is one of the best (if not, the best) horror films ever made, period!

Grade: A+

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 16 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick

(based on the novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess)

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, John Clive, Adrienne Corri & Carl Duering

At one point in this film, ultra-violent droog leader Alex DeLarge describes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as “bliss and heaven!” Those very same words can also be used to describe Stanley Kubrick’s disturbing masterpiece A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Based on the already controversial novel by Anthony Burgess and made even more notorious for its unabashedly dark content, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is a beautifully crafted tale of ultra-violence, twisted psychiatry, and corrupt politics. The film can be read any number of ways, but purely enjoyed for its brilliantly written storyline of crime and punishment, followed by more punishment.

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Set in futuristic London, CLOCKWORK ORANGE follows juvenile delinquent Alex DeLarge. He frequently skips school, hangs out with the wrong crowd, and commits nightly bursts of ultra-violence (sipping drugged milk, beating hobos, robbing unsuspecting rich folks, raping pretty women, etc.). After one of his already heinous crimes accidentally goes too far, our teenage thug finds himself facing a long stretch of prison time. In an effort to lessen his sentence, Alex becomes the subject of an experimental treatment that intends to “cure” him of all bad behavior. However, this “cure” comes with unintended consequences…

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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is an understandably controversial piece of work. The film’s unflinching view of a dark dystopian-like future is grim and filled with all sorts of violence and corruption. The former comes from the nature of Alex himself, while the latter erupts in various forms during the film’s second half. Malcolm McDowell gives the best performance of his career as Alex DeLarge. He’s amazing to watch as the central antihero, becoming both frightening and fascinating in equal measure. McDowell’s Alex frequently addresses the audience through narration that makes the tale seem terrifyingly relatable and even borderline sympathetic (frequently addressing us as his “only friends”). Side characters (Alex’s parents, fellow droogs, authority figures, and victims) pop in and out, but only to drive certain plot points forward. Like it or not, Alex becomes our twisted protagonist to root for. It would probably be fair to say that stories like AMERICAN PSYCHO exist because of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

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CLOCKWORK’s world comes alive through elaborate set design, bringing creativity to every nook and cranny of the screen. Small touches include: cufflinks that resemble bloody eyeballs, sexually explicit artwork everywhere, colorful hair styles, gang-related eye-makeup, oddly shaped furniture, etc. One of the film’s most noticeable characteristics is the appropriately bleak atmosphere hovering over the whole damn thing. The attention to detail is staggering in that this doesn’t feel like a far-off future, but rather an alternate timeline that could easily exist within our world. There’s never a moment where the sun shines in this movie that I can recall, but this merely adds to the suffocatingly grim feeling that serves its subject matter so well.

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It should also be noted that, over four decades later, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE retains every bit of its shock value. There are valid reasons for this film being so controversial at the time of its release (receiving an X rating in the USA and being temporarily banned in the UK). This movie was a prime example of emerging levels of violence and sexuality on the big screen, which is a good thing as cinematic censorship was slowly dying off. There are a number of scenes that still manage to turn my stomach a bit (something that’s extremely hard to do). One particular moment (involving a depraved use of the song “Singin’ in the Rain”) actually caused a family of unprepared viewers to furiously walk out of the Cinemark Classic screening. You have to be slightly prepared to take this movie head on, but it’s absolutely worth it!

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The soundtrack and pacing round this film out as a masterpiece. Classical music combined with dark extremities make for an interesting (often entertaining) contrast. I would have a hard time believing that this film runs over two hours as well, because it moves so fast for me. The viewer gets lost in Alex’s plight-filled adventure and then has a lot to think about once they’ve left the theater or turned off their TV screen. Who is the actual villain of the story? One could easily argue that it’s not Alex. What message should one take away from the movie? There are plenty of possible, totally valid interpretations that are all equally interesting and fascinating. Though these questions may not have easy answers and will vary from person to person, one thing is certain: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is unforgettable!

Grade: A+

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack & Robert Beatty

There’s a reason why I haven’t reviewed too many classics on this site. Giving your honest opinion on a film that’s been acclaimed and celebrated for decades brings a certain level of anxiety with it. However, the ongoing Cinemark Classics series offers opportunities to catch these well-regarded films on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen. I had previously watched/reviewed 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for a first-year college film class and really didn’t care for it at the time (it’s worth noting that my cinematic taste was nowhere near as diverse and developed as it is today). As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to see Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic on the big screen and figured that I might like it more with a movie theater setting. While that’s true, I can’t deny that I still find faults in this movie. The pacing, writing, and final ten minutes underwhelm, but the sheer scope and beauty of the visuals on display make for an interesting (if one and done) viewing.

2001Space 1

The film begins in the Stone Age as a group of man-apes struggle to retrieve their watering hole from an enemy tribe. The narrative then jumps millions of years into the future, where we have space planes and outposts on the moon. Dr. Heywood Floyd has been called out to investigate a mysterious object found in a lunar crater. Eighteen months later, five astronauts make a treacherous voyage to Jupiter…with a seemingly perfect computer companion, called the HAL 9000, on board. A big black monolith connects these three plotlines, though the storylines themselves don’t necessarily come to satisfying conclusions. At the very least, one can appreciate 2001’s epic scale and certain moments that feel like cinematic poetry.

2001Space 2

First, I’ll speak of the positives. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY offers unintentionally cheesy camp value in the obviously 60’s vision of the distant future. We get goofy outfits, intergalactic flight attendants (complete with more goofy outfits), ground up food eaten through a straw, and gravity-enhanced space shoes. Director/co-writer Stanley Kubrick clearly had a distinct vision in mind when making this movie and he revels in every second of it…to a possibly annoying degree. While showing a spacecraft landing in a station, Kubrick lets the action play out in slow real-time. There are probably 20 minutes of this film that could have easily been cut out through some tight editing, but Kubrick wanted to wow us with the deep space intricacies of this technologically advanced future. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when paired with a fantastic soundtrack that fits the film perfectly, but it does get a tad tedious when watching a crew member press every button imaginable to operate a control panel.

2001Space 3

As far as the three clumsily connected plotlines go, the man-ape segment opens things up with impressive effects work, grand music and an easy-to-follow narrative. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome. The same cannot be said for the second segment which is a lot of build-up to…absolutely nothing. I was interested in seeing where this storyline would go and it pretty much served as a second prologue to the most interesting plotline in the film: the mission to Jupiter! This third segment is the longest and could have made for a feature film all by itself. The slowly rising tension between the two main astronauts and the borderline malicious HAL 9000 is great entertainment.

2001Space 4

Speaking of which, the HAL 9000 is possibly one of cinema’s most memorable villains and easily the best thing in 2001. He’s an unfeeling machine driven purely by logic and a desire to preserve his own existence at any cost. The cold voice of Douglas Rain perfectly matches up with this mechanical antagonist. As awesome as the conflict between the HAL 9000 and the crew is to watch, the conclusion to this story thread (and overall film) is a bit confusing for the sake of being confusing. The movie goes from having a coherent story to a ten-minute acid trip that ends in a giant question mark. I have no idea what Kubrick meant to accomplish by this and it certainly came across as mind-boggling…in a bad way. I’m sure that plenty of fans have their own interpretation for exactly what the hell happened, but it simply didn’t work for me and somewhat soiled the overall experience.

2001Space 5

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY comes recommended, if only so you can say that you’ve actually seen it. I love most of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, but 2001 is far from his best work in my honest opinion. The film is a technical wonder in its visuals, effects, and scope. There are brilliant moments in this epic-length science-fiction tale, but they barely balance out the unfocused narrative and underwhelming pay-offs. Still, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is technically good and worth watching once, but I’d recommend A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET over it!

Grade: B

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