Montreal Film Journal


Killer's Kiss 73
[ The opening credits clearly show that even this early in his career, Kubrick was thoroughly in control of his movies. He wrote, produced, edited, photographed and directed "Killer's Kiss", the story of a washed up New York boxer who rescues a gorgeous blonde dancehall hostess from her sleazy boss, unaware that he bit off more than he can chew. This is a simple but effective noir tale, propelled by expressionistic black & white photography and a complex soundtrack mix of voice–over, music and background noise. It's not a major work, but it's exciting to find that Kubrick doing terrific little genre flicks before he turned to 3 hours long "Important" pictures. ]

The Killing 85
[ Kubrick once again makes brilliant use of B&W cinematography and dry voice-over, but this is a much more elaborate story, dazzlingly told out of chronological order. Almost 40 years before "Reservoir Dogs", Kubrick was making his own non-linear crime movie about 6 unrelated men brought together by an imposing gangster to pull a big job. There's an ex-con, a sniper, a Russian wrestler, a barman, a crooked cop and one of the cashiers at the racetrack they're knocking off. But unlike Tarantino's film, there's room here for a woman, a manipulative and money-hungry hateful bitch of a femme fatale who throws off the balance of their meticulously planned robbery. "The Killing" is one hell of a heist flick, full of hard-boiled dialogue and suspense. ]

Paths of Glory 65
[ The first of Kubrick's anti-war movies goes into the trenches of World War I to find Kirk Douglas ordered to take Ant Hill from the Germans, even though it will mean sure death for at least half his men. When the mission fails indeed, the asshole General who ordered it tries to distract attention from himself by sending three random soldiers to martial court for cowardice, which prompts Douglas, a lawyer in civilian life, to rise to their defence. "Paths of Glory" and its crisp B&W photography are technically impeccable, but this time Kubrick is after more than an exercise in style. Here's a film that suggests that patriotism is "the last refuge of a scoundrel" and that the army is a place where being an idealist is something to be pitied. This is commonplace in this Michael Moore era, but to say these things in the 1950s while people were being blacklisted left and right was mighty gutsy. ]

Spartacus 87
[ In 73 BC, Rome is at the peak of civilisation in many ways, but it's also deep into decadence, suffering notably from that most despicable of diseases: human slavery. Spartacus has been slaving away in mines since childhood, then he's sold to a gladiator school but eventually enough's enough, and Spartacus leads a massive slave uprising... This is a true epic, with huge sets, countless extras and spectacular action scenes. It also has depth and resonance – everyone knows about the homoeroticism ("Do you eat oysters or snails?"), but the film also shows how power corrupts and how the powerless need to fight for their freedom. Kirk Douglas' performance is a bit one-note, but that one note does burn up the screen even when he goes full scenes without saying a word. Sir Laurence Olivier and Charles Naughton are unsurprisingly great as conniving politician bastards, Jean Simmons is lovely as Spartacus's romantic interest and Peter Ustinov is a hoot as a slave trader. This might not be Kubrick's most distinctive film, as it's the only project on which he didn't have full control over the script and he had to struggle with Douglas (who also produced and, incidentally, fired original director Anthony Mann), but it remains a powerful picture. ]

Lolita 70
[ Vladimir Nabokov himself adapted his classic novel about the confounding attraction power of nymphets. Of course, having been made in the last years of the Production Code, the film is rather chaste as compared to the current overflow of teenage flesh that fills our screens, but sometimes working into guidelines inspires one to find more subtle way to suggest lust and it's all the more erotic. Well, subtle might not be the right word to describe the talk of "cherry pies" and Camp Climax for Girls (!), but through the whole film the nature of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and Lolita (Sue Lyon)'s relationship remains ambiguous. I also love the fluid B&W cinematography, the very ‘60s lounge score and especially Peter Sellers, hilarious as devious "genius" Quilty. ]

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 97
[ review ]

2001: A Space Odyssey ???
[ What am I supposed to do with this film? Is it a masterpiece or a bore? Could it be both? In a way, it is indeed truly great. The storyline is very ambitious, attempting to tell the story of humanity from the Dawn of Man to the future, into deep space. Kubrick's direction is brilliant, the camerawork is inventive, there are countless beautiful shots, and the special effects are excellent for the time. But... It's so slow! I think it's the most actionless, even motionless film I've ever seen! Then again, I haven't watched it since my late teens, so the wise thing might be to revisit it in the near future. ]

A Clockwork Orange 92
[ review ]

Barry Lyndon 86
[ The classical music, the storybook narration, the absolutely magnificent use of light and color... This is one of the most aesthetically pleasant films ever made, but it can also be sexy, sneakily funny and violently passionate. The 185 minute length is a bit straining, but I remained engrossed in the adventures of a poor Irish lad (Ryan O'Neal) with the English and Prussian armies, with eye-patched gambler Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee) and in marriage with a wealthy widow (Marisa Berenson). "I demand satisfaction!" ]

The Shining 84
[ review ]

Full Metal Jacket 75
[ review ]

Eyes Wide Shut 90
[ review ]