THE SHINING who is the man in the bear costume? (Rob Ager’s work plagiarized)

On July 27th 2016 the Youtube film analysis channel Screen Prism published a video called “The Shining: Who is the man in the bear costume?” The video, which was credited to a writer named Jeff Saporito and which had since racked up over half a million views, offered a theory that the appearance of the bear suited guy in the mysterious bear scene of The Shining was a metaphor that lead character Jack Torrance had sexually abused his own son. But both the theory and the detailed arguments given in the video to support that theory were lifted straight from my own study of The Shining published in 2008, which is still viewable online today. Specifically the video plagiarized chapter 16 of my article, titled Danny’s Ordeal.

Two other online sources, who since featured the Screen Prism Shining video on their sites, offered their opinion that the video was basically a regurgitation of my work. Jon Fusco of the movie site No Film School said “The video leans heavily on cinephile Rob Ager’s analysis of the scene” and Jeffrey Potts of 52weeksofhorror stated the video was “Based heavily on Rob Ager’s analysis”. Those guys knew I was the source.

At the time Screen Prism posted their video the channel had only been running for a couple of months and they’d produced six previous videos, five of which still today have less than 10k views each.  The other video has now racked up 167k views, but the video which plagiarized my work, and has now been taken down due to my complaint to the owner of the site, had racked up over half a million views. So basically the channel’s first viral video was the very one that plagiarized my work and was almost certainly the one that built up the bedrock of their subscriber base, which has now reached 162k subscribers. It took them another 15 videos before they managed to create a video that acquired over 200k views and still today after 109 video released on the Screen Prism channel, their Shining video which plagiarized my work is still one of their top 10 most viewed items.

Screen Prism is a funded channel with a team of writers and editors producing slick corporate quality content, while my channel and site are a one man operation. I do everything from the researching and writing, to the site design, to the video narration and editing. The popularity of my work is driven by positive word of mouth and media coverage of my work, which I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire plenty of over the years. So to have a well-funded team rip off my work, pass it off as their own to the tune of half a million views … well as you can imagine, I wasn’t impressed at all.

Now rather than just fly off the handle and make a public accusation, I first contacted the credited writer of the video, Jeff Saporito, and asked him about the issue. He in turn claimed that a number of writers worked on the video and that he only provided the first draft based on an idea they wanted him to write about and agreed to provide the voice narration. And he was paid for the work. Frankly I didn’t believe his story and still don’t. His name is on the article, he narrates the video and he didn’t provide the name of any other writer involved in the project. It seemed to me that he was trying to pass the buck.

So I contacted Debra Minoff, owner of the entire Screen Prism site, being that Jeff Saporito said that she funded the project herself. Debra initially responded to my allegation by claiming that the video content was based on a number of sources, including my own work. I had to ask several times for these sources to be provided and it was only when I informed her I would publish my plagiarism allegation that she provided those sources.

Debra had claimed that academic professors were among the sources and I asked several times who those professors were, but when the list of citations was eventually provided no professors’ names were mentioned. She also provided a number of additional sources, but when I checked up on them all but one of those sources only talked about the missing back story of the bear suited guy scene that was in Stephen King’s novel of The Shining. They did not offer any sexual abuse interpretation of the scene. The one source that Debra provided that did include such an interpretation, itself cited my work as its source. It stated. “My central insight here has already been argued elsewhere, by Rob Ager of”

In other words all of the sources provided were red herrings. My work was the source. When I wrote back to Debra and pointed out these discrepancies, she responded by telling me she took the Screen Prism Shining video down. She also stated that Jeff Saporito had not told their staff that I was the source of the video idea, but if that was the case then why had she been trying to claim in her previous emails that the video was based on other sources such as university professors?

Now I must say here both Jeff Saporito and Debra Minoff were very polite in their correspondence and so was I. I approached them on the assumption that there might actually have been some other sources for their video and invited them to provide information to that effect, but I was given conflicting responses and no credible alternative sources.

So I’m left wondering who decided to plagiarize my work. Did Jeff Saporito approach Screen Prism with the video idea, having read it on my website, and pass off the interpretation as his own so he could get paid and take credit for it? Or did Debra Minoff or another member of staff at Screen Prism read my work, then approach Jeff and ask him to write about the issue and not tell him that my work was the key source?

I can’t prove which way it happened and I don’t think I’ll get to find out because I don’t think either party have been honest with me about the issue. Jeff claimed someone else rewrote his first draft, but if his draft didn’t copy my work then what was his initial draft about? Yet at the same time Debra Minoff gave me a series of red herring sources to make out that the video wasn’t plagiarism then said that Jeff hadn’t told her I was his key source. So why the red herrings?

Now the reason I’ve posted my allegation publicly is two-fold. Firstly, hundreds of thousands of people watched the Screen Prism Shining video and most of them still today will think that the interpretation offered in that video was the brainchild of Jeff Saporito at Screen Prism. So I’m posting this to set the record straight. If any of those people go looking for the Screen Prism video again, which they won’t find because it’s been taken down, they’ll instead find this article you’re reading (or my video version equivalent) which has the same title as the Screen Prism video plus corrective info.

The second reason I’ve posted publicly about this is to deter others from plagiarizing my work. Now I really don’t mind if someone else publishes reworded regurgitations of my publications if they cite me as being their source and if they bring something new to the table. For example Forrest Wickman of Slate took a short video I did years ago about animal rights themes in the movie A Texas Chainsaw Massacre and used it as a springboard for his own article. He cited me and included a link to my work, but he also went and hunted down some additional production information that supported the same interpretation of the film. And that’s great.

So if you’re a publisher and you want to reproduce some of my work then at the very least cite me as your source, and if you can expand my ideas to include new research or concepts then great. And if you’re not sure about it, just email and ask me. I can be contacted at newcreations10 at yahoo dot co dot uk.

I’ll probably follow this article up with my own short video about my interpretation of the bear scene in The Shining as well so if you’re not subscribed to me on Youtube and want to see it then hit that sub button. You can follow me on my FaceBook account, Twitter account and contribute to me on Patreon too. And if you want the really hardcore breakdown of the abuse themes in The Shining, then head to my site where you can download my 1hr 43 min video Jack Torrance: the Abusive Father. It’s really in depth and I’ve had a lot of ppl tell me it’s one of my best videos.

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Film analysis and why it’s important

Ten years ago I started posting short film analysis videos on Youtube thinking it would just be a short term hobby that would only capture the interest of film students and film makers. What amazed me is that so many non-film makers quickly took an interest in the videos and demanded more. I’ve since had probably over ten thousand email responses including many from academics and people working in the movie industry itself.  At the time of posting this article my main channel is just short of 50,000 subscribers – not a huge number, but not small fries either. There’s been about a hundred incidences of mainstream media and high ranking websites covering my work too, and usually with positive regard. I even earn my living from selling my offline vids and articles, which I never expected at all.

At the same time, other film analysis channels have been popping up on Youtube that cater to different types of film fan audiences. Some of these alternative channels are well funded enterprises with teams of technical staff producing eye candy graphics and fast-paced editing to capture the lower attention span audiences. Others are just individuals like myself, but with a general difference being that I’ve actually written, produced, directed and edit several fiction films. Overall, film analysis videos have become a small online industry.

Taking part in all this has made me realize that fiction movies and fiction TV shows are psychologically very important to the masses. For a lot of people it’s not enough to simply watch and enjoy a movie. They want to know how films are made and they want a deeper conceptual understanding of their favourite films. That’s why most movies are now released on home media with film maker commentaries, behind the scenes documentaries and so on.

So why are people so fascinated with movies to the point where individuals spend hundreds or even thousands of hours in a single year sat staring at an electronic box which, at a base practical level, does nothing more than display patterns of light and sound? They spend all this time watching fiction movies knowing that it’s all just a piece of perceptual trickery. They know the actors’ expressions are faked. They know that what they’re seeing never actually happened and never will. And yet the power that movies have over people is evident in a multitude of ways.

Pretty much all human emotions can be triggered by movies from belly aching laughter through to intense fear that triggers nightmares or even induces phobias (think Spielberg’s Jaws and the fear of sharks). Advertisers and PR companies are so convinced of the power of fiction movies to influence people that they put a ton of money and effort into product placement and various forms of propaganda to underhandedly sway our opinions and behaviour in the real world. There are huge fan clubs for specific movies and genres. Talented actors and directors are held in the highest public esteem, more so than most politicians and academics. And there are thousands upon thousands of people who strive to become film makers either through academic training or independent hands on experience.

Academics and journalists are generally in agreement that there’s more to movies than just escapist entertainment. They provide film theory classes and publish in-depth books offering their own interpretations of specific films. However, the written text format of those books is very limiting and that’s where the new video based film analysis essay has stepped in to fill a void. Video essays can show specific parts of movies, combined with narration, instead of relying on a reader’s limited memory of a particular movie. Ironically the academics of film analysis don’t edit film analysis videos to present their work.

Most people also have favourite movies that they keep watching again and again and don’t get bored of and they don’t get tired of discussing those movies with other fans. They know what happens at the basic plot level, they know the ending and sometimes have most of the dialogue memorized, but they keep re-watching. And this I believe is in part because certain movies are so complex, so multi-faceted, that the viewer simply can’t take it all in during a single viewing. So each viewing becomes a new experience depending on what is being paid attention to.

People even choose to watch movies where they already know what happens based on familiar genre formats. We know James Bond and Superman aren’t going to get killed or lose their battle, but we still watch those same generic stories across multiple movies. And that’s because the details are important. The variations in challenges faced by the protagonist make each journey distinct, despite the overall repeat formula.

Another reason I think people re-watch the same movies or the same genre formulas is because they like to think about what they would do if they were in the shoes of the characters. They like to think of a solution and then enjoy watching it work for the character, or they like the character to surprise them with solutions the viewer didn’t think of. And for that reason people tend to watch genres that relate to their personal world view. If you think that life is all just a big game of flirting, dating, social status and starting a family then rom coms and domestic soap operas will have you glued to your seat. If you think life is more of a survival of the fittest, dog eat dog affair then you’ll be watching horror or action thrillers.

This psychological use of fiction for organising our understanding of the world starts very early in childhood with fairy tales and nursery rhymes before kids start creating their own stories with character based toys and by drawing pictures and role playing with their friends. Stories help kids learn what to expect in given situations, to imprint and re-inforce understandings in their own minds and it safely teaches them ways of dealing with dangerous problems. And this carries on into adult hood with novels and fiction movies. It’s the same principle but with a lot more sophistication.

The power of movies is also communicated by the fact that we have age restrictions, censorship and outright bans on certain types of fiction content, far more so than with novels. And there’s the fact that individual movies can be incredibly controversial or can draw needed attention to specific social and psychological issues, thus spurring intellectual debate.

Yet there are still some folks who believe that films have no meaning at all. That it’s all just escapist entertainment that has no worthwhile meaning other than what the viewer projects into the movie. But if that were true then The Exorcist and The Jungle Book would be perceived in the same way by the same viewer. People who hold that dismissive opinion of films are almost never film makers and are the type of people who tend to watch a particular movie only once or twice.

Contrasting the dismissive view, novels, stage plays, architecture, famous paintings, and musical compositions are intensely studied and debated in and outside of academia. A single painting that lacks animation can be crammed with meaning. But by comparison with those other art forms movies are a lot more complex. They’re multisensory, they’re continuously moving, they incorporate a new complex medium called editing, and a single movie experience can last several hours or even longer if it’s a long running TV series with dozens of one hour episodes. Individual movies can take many years and hundreds or thousands of people to make. There are usually multiple concept changes and script drafts. Every line of dialogue is carefully considered. Every camera angle, costume element, prop, sound effect and piece of music is chosen. Very little is actually random. So to assume that movies and their effects on people are merely simplistic is to deny the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Art is an essential psychological facet of human civilization and its role in society goes back way before the industrial and technological ages and before our academic institutions existed. It exists in all our societies and it’s probably as old as religion, maybe even older. Art was almost certainly a valuable communication tool back when human languages were too basic to communicate complex thoughts. Still today children learn to recognize basic artistic renditions of objects before they learn to brand them with verbal labels.

But through academia and the onset of mass literacy, verbal descriptions of reality have come to dominate the modern conscious mind-set to the point that we over-rely on it. We begin limiting our world understanding to verbal descriptions, not realizing that words and calculations and the letters and numbers they’re comprised of are in themselves just symbols. If language was truly the highest and most advanced form of human thought and perception then art would disappear from our society, but that hasn’t happened. Commercial quick-fix entertainment markets may currently be dominating what kind of art becomes mass distributed, just as religion once did the same, but the basic human appetite for art continues. Art has always been both an expression and a reflection of those parts of the human condition that we don’t have sufficient words for. That’s true for us individually and as a whole society.

Being that movies are the most complex and multifaceted form of art available to us, the studying of movies allows us to gain insights into the hidden psychological undercurrents that exist in our society. But being that film making is, in historical terms, a very young art form (just over a century old) it’s generally been perceived as being like a fad, gimmick or a new toy. So, like with children not consciously realizing the purpose or effect of stories told to them, adults mostly don’t realize the power of the fiction movies and TV shows that they watch. They feel the effects emotionally and subconsciously, but mostly they watch and listen to films with intellectual blindfolds (and earplugs). Some people naively assume that by not thinking deeply about what they watch they somehow can shield themselves against being psychologically influenced, but that attitude actually makes them a lot more gullible to misleading ideological propaganda and product placement. It’s a simple fact that if you can spot product placement consciously then you’re less likely to be affected by it right?

So film analysis helps us understand what we’re watching and how it affects us. It can help us to understand important themes expressed or encoded by film makers that would otherwise be missed. And the perceptual trickery of film in itself, the fact that it’s all fake yet we react so strongly to it, means that movies are a fantastic opportunity for us to understand our inner selves. Because out of all the different art forms, movies are the ones that come closest to matching the complex thoughts and emotions that determine our own identities and behaviour in real life. There are very few areas of human experience where fiction movies can’t provide valuable reflection.

Maybe the biggest benefit of film analysis is that once a person has been shown the intricate depths of just a handful of their favourite movies, they develop an enhanced understanding of other movies without being handheld through the process. And that kind of enhanced perception can cross over into everyday experience as well. I’ve received many emails over the years where viewers of my videos have spoken of this generic knock on effect in their own experience.

So those are the reasons I consider film analysis important. And that’s why I’ve personally taken what began as an unusual hobby and now treat it as a serious line of work, which I consider just as important as any other line of work I’ve ever been committed to. That’s why I approach the subject with as much determination and methodology as you’d expect in the worlds of business and academia.

So with all that said, it’s back to the grind stone for me.

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It Follows … slowly and to an empty-destination

I’ve only just finished watching this movie so this is a very quickfire review, not a proper film analysis.

Having read from a few sources that last year’s movie It Follows is one of the best, if not THE best, horror movies to come out in ten years I went out of my to watch this one. And, having now seen it, if I had to give it an out of ten rating I’d go for a seven at best, more likely a six. I certainly agree that It Follows is one of the best American horror films for many years being that so few decent horror movies now come out of America, but I don’t think it’s as good as the fun, but effective, Drag Me To Hell or Cabin In The Woods. And at the international level I’d say it’s not up there with those very cool Japanese horror movies like The Ring, The Eye, The Grudge and the very special Audition (note that I didn’t include Dark Water there) and I don’t think it’s in the same class as Triangle (British), The Babadook (Australian) or Rec & Rec 2 (Spanish), the latter two of which are not the deepest of movies but are good solid entertainment.

So, positives first. I certainly hold hope for the future works of David Robert Mitchell because with It Follows he avoids several of the done-to-death horror movie tactics such as the very boring jump scares which, even when they aren’t predictable, fail to make a movie genuinely engaging. The characters in the movie aren’t the extremely annoying drama queen type teens we tend to get in a lot of horror flicks. They feel natural, but they’re also a little bland. The direction is slightly unusual and at times very creepy – nice use of symmetry and POV. There are a couple of nightmarish images and some highly effective scenes that burned well into my psyche. The use of 360 degree rotating camera movements and wide angle lenses is very good in places. And the originality and simplicity of the plot and supernatural enemy is the real star of the show, not least because it allows for a very small budget.

Now for the negative. Beneath the very simple plot are occasional details that possibly hint at deeper social themes to do with sexuality and death, but in all honesty I didn’t enjoy It Follows enough to be bothered watching it again, never mind doing a full blown film analysis. The first and foremost problem is in its pacing.  It’s just too slow. It buys into the art house cliche of having long stretches of silence and non-event, on the assumption that somehow the audience will perceive or project something of interest. And it doesn’t matter how nice and smooth the shots are in those moments. The edit could probably do with at least a ten minute trim to alleviate the boredom factor. I also think there are extensive missed opportunities to take the very good basic concept of the film and add layers of additional, non-verbal, communication to enhance those ideas. Especially in the long, silent sequences I kept hoping to at least find some visual and sound effect clues hinting at something extra. The film is also very limited in its emotional range. The initial relationship disappointment of the lead character could have been more sophisticated and could have carried stronger emotional punch. And the generalized reactions of the group of kids fighting the mostly unseen enemy is too played down in my opinion. They’re all just too polite, too nice. More umff please.

These are just my first impressions, but I’d certainly like to see a remake or sequel that significantly expands the basic premise and plays it out with more power.

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House (1986) … it’s aged well.

Last week I obtained a now rare DVD of the 1986 horror-comedy movie House … and a very nice trip down memory lane it was. Like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the Thirteenth, Hellraiser and other classic horrors, House was popular and successful enough at the time of release that it spawned a succession of sequels. However, unlike those other sequel-churners House is now a largely forgotten film.

Spoiler Alert: The film tells a fairly simple story of a horror fiction writer, Roger Cobb, whose son is missing. The boy has been taken captive by supernatural beings haunting the family house he has inherited. Cobb instinctively knows the boy is somewhere in the house and decides to spend time there writing his new book, an account of his personal experiences of the Vietnam War. The film becomes thematically interesting in that Cobb’s re-accessing of painful war memories coincides with a series of violent hallucinations he experiences in the house. Is he crazy? Is his son really being held captive by ghosts of the past? And … does the loss of his son represent the loss of his own innocence in Vietnam?

The first half of the film finely balances the possibilities of Cobb having a mental breakdown vs the house is really haunted. Surrealist paintings left behind by his suicide-committing aunt contain visual clues that suggest he isn’t alone in his hallucinations. It has overtones of The Shining in its story progression. Unlike The Shining, House’s climax takes away several of these mysteries, which may have served the film better if they’d been left more open to interpretation. Regardless, the film is still really fun to watch. It’s well edited, scored, and shot, is driven by a surprisingly good performance from underrated actor William Katz, who really ought to have taken a career boost from House, but never quite did. And of great help to the film is its humour, which ranges from Slapstick situation gags to well-scripted character subtleties.

I only saw the first House sequel and it was so poor I didn’t even consider the rest, where as with a lot of other horror franchises there’s usually the odd sequel that keeps the flame of inspiration from the original alive rather than stamping it out – Elm St 3 & 4 were good fun, the Friday the Thirteenth sequels were perfect for the late night six pack and pizza gang, and Hellraiser 2 was one of the most viscerally intense gore experiences I’ve encountered in cinema.

Perhaps a decent House sequel might have cemented the reputation of the original, but the film’s biggest weakness is one that has only shown up worse with time – the inconsistent quality of its special effects. One scene has an excellent stop-motion skeletal bird attacking the lead as he dangles in darkness on a length of rope – it still looks good today – but the fat zombie woman with a shotgun looks awful. Some of the other creatures in the movie are fairly well depicted (including a 7 foot tall zombie soldier), but the film makers should have taken a leaf out of John Carpenter’s The Thing, by darkening the sets a little. When rubber creatures are over lit we may get to see them in glorious detail, but it’s often at the expense of just …. looking like rubber. Also rather fake looking, even at the time of release, is the depiction of Vietnamese jungle territory in Cobb’s flashbacks. The foliage appears to be made up of plant species found in the Americas, but it’s a minor gripe.

House very clearly is underpinned by a theme of war-related PTSD and it’s a theme taken quite seriously in parts. I’d be interested to know if screenwriter Ethan Wiley had some personal experience in this respect.

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Cryptically dull – Enemy and Under The Skin

Both of these films have been many times recommended to me by email as being worthy of deeper analysis so in the last couple of weeks I managed to watch both.

While I’m not the type of viewer who demands to be led by the hand in terms of how a plot is presented to me, I do expect to be at least moderately entertained by an unconventionally told narrative. Both Enemy and Under The Skin failed for me in this respect. The modern art house cliche of being sluggishly slow-paced for the sake of it is present in both films. Part of the problem is that particular shots start or end by lingering for a good five to ten seconds on something that doesn’t need to be watched for more than two seconds. There simply isn’t enough going on in the visual frame or the soundtrack to maintain interest. Another problem is that certain plot or character revealing events in the film, while being told unconventionally, are repeated four or five times when just once or twice would easily do the job.

In Enemy the lead character’s identity confusion is put across far too many times – I felt like the film had too little to show so was simply padding itself out to reach the standard minimum run time for a feature. At least a half dozen such scenes could have been edited out and replaced with something else, such as expanding the opening sequence, which generated interest and then was largely abandoned for the next hour of the film. A few more of those interesting spider metaphor clues might have been better too.

In Under The Skin the alien in a human disguise is devoid of empathy for human beings … and the point is made over and over and over and sometimes in the least subtle ways. She abandons a crying infant boy on a murky beach after his father has drowned trying to save an older sibling. The child will clearly die alone. This easily establishes the lead character’s lack of empathy in a way that barely needs any further reinforcement. A good half dozen other “she has no empathy” scenes could have been dropped. There were also too many scenes of men being led to their deaths in a mysterious black liquid. Just one would have done the trick more powerfully.

As readers will know from my film analysis articles and videos, I’m perfectly willing to take the time to sit down and study a cryptic film to try and figure out what isn’t being told outright, but I find it hard to be motivated to do this when I find myself bored by repetition in my very first viewing.

Both of these films are also based on novels, neither of which I’ve read. According to the Wikipedia write up, Under The Skin simply offers more information than the film does. If that’s true then the film is likely a 108 minute advertisement for the novel and would probably be inefficient to stand alone as a story that can really communicate its ideas. A shame because director Jonathon Glazer’s film Sexy Beast is my favourite British film of the last twenty years (not that it has been up against much worthy competition).

The novel of Enemy apparently lacks the film’s spider metaphors, so at least on that level I feel I can take the film on its own merits. Forrest Wickman of Slate magazine offers an interesting and plausible interpretation of Enemy. Normally, with a film like this, I would seek my own interpretation before reading someone else’s, but Enemy didn’t quite stimulate me enough to make me want to watch the film again.

Unfortunately, for me Enemy and Under The Skin are both standard examples of a type of misguided “alternative” film making that too many film makers are drawn to. Cryptically interesting communication that is then spoiled by unnecessary repetition and snail-paced editing. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll give these two films another visit, but for now I’m not inclined.

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David Cronenberg’s lack of understanding for Stanley Kubrick and The Shining

Based on some of his mid-career works such as Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Naked Lunch and Existenz (several of which are on my to do list for future film analysis) David Cronenberg has long been a permanent figure among my top twenty-or-so favourite film directors of all time. I’ve found many of his interviews about his better films, and the psychology behind them, incredibly informative and, in particular, his most surrealist works have provided partial inspiration to me as a film maker working outside of the lame dialogue / exposition form of storytelling commonly referred to as the “screenplay”.


So it came as a surprise and a disappointment to me today to read in the Guardian newspaper about Cronenberg’s recent dismissal of Stanley Kubrick as a primarily commercial film maker compared to himself and his assertion that The Shining is a poor horror film that supposedly reveals Kubrick’s lack of understanding of the genre. Despite my great respect for Cronenberg’s better works, I’m compelled to respond with a number of relevant observations of my own about the comparisons between the films of Cronenberg and Kubrick.


In 1983 Cronenberg released his film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, which was four years after Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s The Shining was released. Unlike Kubrick, Cronenberg’s effort was very faithful to the source novel. Compared to his preceding three films (The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome) Cronenberg seemed to suppress his own “body horror” aesthetics to make a simple, commercial supernatural horror film. The result was a competent film adaptation of a competent, but not particularly special, novel by the supposed “master of horror” Stephen King (I prefer Clive Barker personally). Cronenberg played down his own artistic leanings so much that if his name had been removed from all marketing materials for The Dead Zone, then we could just as easily assume it had been directed by, say, Brian DePalma.


It’s arguable that, in the light of preceding successful film and tv adaptations of Stephen King books (Salem’s Lot, Carrie, The Shining, Creepshow a pattern that has since bred finance for dozens more, mostly pathetic, easy money film adaptations of King novels), Cronenberg saw in The Dead Zone an opportunity to make an easy commercial hit. Tobe Hooper, Brian DePalma, Stanley Kubrick and George A. Romero had laid the ground work with their successful adaptations of King novels and Cronenberg was next in line. Unlike Kubrick’s efforts with The Shining, Cronenberg appears to have made little effort to expand his version of The Dead Zone artistically beyond King’s source novel or technically in terms of film making craft. Let’s compare the two films in a little more detail.


Kubrick’s Shining involved pioneering use of the steadicam in combination with incredible set designs. Cronenberg’s Dead Zone is an assembly-line, by-the-numbers affair in terms of cinematography and set designs, perhaps with the exception a few images such as the long shot of a wet tunnel murder scene that looks, possibly by intention, somewhat like a spider web.


Kubrick’s Shining plays with concepts of the past and future throughout – Danny’s horror visions of the dead twins, ghostly hag in the bath tub and river of blood are striking and have etched themselves in cinematic history as great horror moments – and the cryptic moments of Jack Torrance talking to ghosts of the past and showing up in an end photo still stimulate interpretational debate today. By poor comparison, Cronenberg’s Dead Zone’s only significant non-dialogue feature is the occasional appearance of the central character within the past and future events he experiences telepathically, but it’s purely cinematic and has little effect on the story.


Christopher Walken’s central performance in Cronenberg’s Dead Zone is competent, but does not stretch the actor’s abilities in any sense, while Kubrick extracted one of Nicholson’s most intricate and renowned performances for The Shining, achieved through large numbers of takes and a great deal of on-set experimentation.


David Lynch and Martin Scorsese have referenced their admiration of Kubrick’s Shining by including music from The Shining score in their own movies (Inland Empire and Shutter Island, respectively) along with visual references/homages to Kubrick’s film. Scorsese has, in interviews, also voiced his admiration for Kubrick’s only horror film. The Shining also consistently appears high in critics’ choices of all time best horror films, while Cronenberg’s Dead Zone scarcely gets a look in.


In summary, Cronenberg’s Dead Zone is an efficient, and unimaginative, straight adaptation that reveals almost everything it has to offer in a single viewing, while Kubrick’s Shining virtually rewrites King’s novel for increased cinematic impact and rewatch value … and it succeeds. Anyone who thinks Kubrick was wrong to make so many alterations in his adaptation should check out the faithful, Stephen King endorsed, tv mini-series of The Shining released 17 years after Kubrick’s version – it isn’t a patch on Kubrick’s version. If it was, people would be raving about it.


Could it be that Cronenberg feels a little bias against Kubrick’s The Shining, being that his own film adaptation of a Stephen King book has not achieved comparable cult status? Despite Cronenberg’s claim that he is the more personal and less commercial film maker, the difference in stature between Kubrick’s Shining and Cronenberg’s Dead Zone suggest the opposite. Kubrick stamped his own personality on The Shining in a way that prompted initial, and misplaced, rejection from several critics and particularly angered hardcore Stephen King fans, while Cronenberg played it commercially safe and artistically restrained with the Dead Zone. Kubrick took risks. Cronenberg didn’t. Kubrick had statements of his own to make. Cronenberg didn’t.


Cronenberg has, admirably, made some very challenging films that break the standard rules of cinematic storytelling, such as Videodrome and Naked Lunch, but this is in stark contrast to movies like The Fly, The Dead Zone, and Eastern Promises, which are quite straight forward. With the exception of The Fly, Cronenberg has never really been able to successfully combine his trademark personal “body horror” films (his early background in biological sciences are frequently cited as the source of this) with his ability to direct by-the-numbers commercial genre films. Despite strong special effects and what some might perceive as exploitation gore, surrealist Cronenberg films like Videodrome and Naked Lunch were box office failures. Naked Lunch was, in fact, such a huge financial disaster that Cronenberg has only made one venture into “body horror” since (1996’s Crash, also a box office flop). Even his sci-fi film, Existenz, which included interesting “body horror” elements, was a commercial bomb.


By contrast, Kubrick’s The Shining is very light on gore and has just one “body horror” scene (the rotting hag in Room 237) and was a commercial hit. Kubrick didn’t fail to understand the horror genre at all. It’s quite the opposite. With his one attempt at the genre he made a movie that, artistically and commercially, was superior to virtually all of the eight or ten horror films Cronenberg has made, despite horror being Cronenberg’s speciality. If anything, I’d say Cronenberg has a limited understanding of most genres, demonstrated by his less impressive work outside his own “body horror” forte. Whereas Kubrick’s filmography is one of the most thematically diverse of any film maker in history … Dr Strangelove (comedy, nuclear politics), 2001: A Space Odyssey (sci-fi, technology), Lolita (drama, relationships), The Shining (horror), Full Metal Jacket (war), Eyes Wide Shut (conspiracies, relationships, sexuality), Barry Lyndon (historical drama), A Clockwork Orange (sociology, politics, violence, propaganda) and all of these films are still socially relevant.


A key element in Kubrick’s repertoire was what I call the “double narrative”, meaning that a film can have a commercially accessible surface story to satisfy broad audience tastes, while also containing subtle clues hinting at an alternative narrative of a more personal nature to the film maker. It’s a type of film making that requires a level of effort and imagination that, to date, I have not seen at work in Cronenberg’s films.


Rather than taking his own box office failures as awards for “personal” film making, Cronenberg ought to recognize that a great film maker doesn’t need to alternate between making unimaginative commercial films one year and alienating audiences with full on surrealism the next. It is perfectly feasible to be artistic and commercial at the same time. This is one yardstick where Kubrick surpasses Cronenberg. After getting his commercial flops out of the way early on, Kubrick had a run of nine commercially successful films from 1960 (Spartacus) through to 1999 (Eyes Wide Shut). Most of those films, such as Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, have triggered intense public debate of social issues that Cronenberg’s personal films have never matched outside of the limited horror genre audiences they appeal to.

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Rob Ager’s take on the Room 237 controversy

A couple of years ago director Rodney Ascher contacted me to ask if I’d like to record an interview for a documentary film he was planning, which would showcase a variety of people’s interpretations of The Shining. The one thing that all of the interviewees had in common was that they believed that Stanley Kubrick had encoded hidden messages in his famous horror film, though these interpretations varied wildly.


We discussed the project further and Rodney seemed like a really genuine guy, but I eventually decided not to be interviewed for the film. My first and foremost reason was that I’d have no control over how the sections of the movie relating to my interpretations would be edited. When I publish a new film analysis of my own the information is carefully sequenced and I usually try to anticipate and respond, within the analysis itself, to the majority of key questions and points of disagreements that might be raised. But to let someone else edit the presentation of my work would most likely distort it, and I didn’t know Rodney Ascher well enough to trust his judgment.


Another reason I didn’t take part was because, having already studied how journalists and media organisations operate, I knew that a lot of reviewers would simply pick out the most ridiculous interpretations by the least credible interviewees featured in the Room 237 film and prominently showcase them as a straw man way of discrediting all interpretations of hidden messages in The Shining.


And a third reason I didn’t take part is because, being that the structure of the film itself would supposedly be neutral as to whether any of the interviewees claims were true, the film would inadvertently promote the idea that all interpretations of movies are equal in validity, which would essentially mean that they’re all worthless – the idea that art is never about what the artist is communicating and is only about what the viewer projects into it. I call it the blank canvas theory, but as an artist and film maker myself I know that some people do get some of the messages in my work while other people misinterpret them, and most often it’s based on how much they managed to observe and cross reference when viewing the film. For example, if someone said that my feature film Turn In Your Grave was an allegory of Pretty Woman they’d be categorically wrong. However, if they said that the film was partially a commentary about how people often act like they’re in a movie without realizing it, they’d be right. I know this because I wrote and directed the film and encoded hundreds of clues to that effect. Movies are not blank canvases. If they were then people would happily sit and look at a plain white screen for two hours and enjoy it as much as the latest action-packed superhero blockbuster.


Regardless of my not taking part in Room 237 I did actually enjoy the film, even though most of the theories in it are at odds with my own published analysis of The Shining. Just because I disagree with some of these interviewees doesn’t mean I have to dislike the film. And it doesn’t mean I have to categorize those people with the boringly predictable label “conspiracy theorist”. A film director encoding hidden messages in his work doesn’t even qualify as a conspiracy because a conspiracy requires that two or more people engage in something intentionally secretive. A director is one person. So a more accurate term would be “hidden message in a movie theorist”, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue so well, does it?


My favorite part of Room 237 was the section about John Fell Ryan superimposing the film backwards over itself. I don’t personally think there was any intended meaning in it as far as Stanley Kubrick’s direction is concerned, mainly because the film has been released in at least three different run times, which would create three differing versions of the forward backward edit, but nevertheless I found the superimposed footage hypnotic to watch from a purely experimental view.


One issue I had mixed feelings about was that it wasn’t always made clear in the film which interviewee was being interviewed at which point. Anyone not familiar with the interviewees could have easily assumed that, say, Jeoffrey Cocks was theorizing that the film was about the moon landings, when it was actually Jay Weidner who gave that interpretation. In that respect I’m glad I wasn’t interviewed for the film, but at the same time the mixing up of the ideas sort of allows viewers to judge each theory on its own merit rather than the identity of the speaker.


Interviews aside, I actually enjoyed Room 237 more in terms of how the film was pieced together visually. And I’ve been impressed by the broad selection of highly symbolic posters and trailers made for the film. The trailer involving a river of blood and cassette tape coming out of a VHS recorder was a nice little nod to my video Something In The River of Blood. The film makers also used lots of footage from different movies, many of which are among my favourites. There was also a very frequent visual implication of a fractal narrative, of movies within movies, even though I didn’t hear any of the interviewees talking in such terms. And, amusingly, it’s something I’ve hardly heard commented on in reviews of Room 237. To me it was like director Rodney Ascher and producer Tim Kirk were the hidden interviewees, communicating their ideas visually, which is something I approve of because one of the best ways to teach people is to actually do what you’re talking about as you’re talking about it.


Overall I personally felt that maybe 20 to 30% of the interpretations in Room 237 were plausible and I am biased in that respect in that some of the interpretations overlap with my own. And, like most people who’ve reviewed Room 237, there are things in it that I think are plain ridiculous, but those details don’t make me angry, as they do some reviewers, and I don’t feel the need to respond with spiteful attacks on the interviewees.


And this leads into the key issue I wish to explore in this article, which is the fascinating subject of how the media have responded to Room 237. Frankly, I was surprised that the Cannes film festival agreed to show the film, so well done to them for breaking the mould. From the initial reports I read, Cannes was a bit of a dull event in 2012, which made it easier for Room 237 to stand out among the other films.


The big marketing bonus for the film has been that it has divided critics and audiences. Positive reviews tend to cite that you don’t need to believe all the theories presented to enjoy the film. The theories are interesting anyway in that they show how powerfully movies can affect people and how differently that affect can be from person to person.


But something I find very interesting about both the positive and negative reviews of Room 237 is that the majority of reviewers tend to favour certain theories over others, which goes completely against the idea put forth by the negative reviewers that all of the interpretations are ridiculous. As an example, David Hagley wrote a piece for Slate magazine titled Yes, Super Fans of The Shining Are a Little Nutty. As is often the case in journalism, all Hagley has done is rehash an article from a major newspaper that appeared the day before. In this case he is referencing David Segal’s New York Times article, in which Kubrick’s personal assistant Leon Vitali is quoted stating that the majority of the theories in Room 237 are gibberish. However, toward the end of his rehash article Hagley goes against Leon Vitali’s dismissal of Room 237, stating his own opinion that it’s quite plausible that The Shining has a hidden theme regarding genocide of Native Americans. He’s admitting that The Shining may have hidden themes, which goes completely against the title of his article.


Ironically, other authors at Slate magazine have written positively about my own interpretations of movies, one regarding 2001: A Space Odyssey and, in another, journalist Forrest Wickman put forward his interpretation, inspired by one of my short videos, that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is, beneath its horror film surface, a statement against animal slaughter house cruelty. So it’s not just individuals posting on the internet who perceive deeper themes in movies. Journalists sometimes do as well.


Regarding the NYT article by David Segal, I’d like to share some observations. The first, and this should be pretty obvious to all concerned, is that Leon Vitali is neither a screenwriter nor a director. He may have been present on The Shining set as a logistical assistant, but it doesn’t mean he knows why Kubrick made each directorial choice that he did. For example, Vitali claims that Jack’s “three little pigs” line was made up on set in a discussion between he, Stanley and Jack Nicholson. However, as a director myself, I’ve often made thematic use of improvised lines and spontaneous on set script changes, and I don’t always let my crew know why I accept or reject certain ideas. If I did, I’d have to spend 80% of my time on set explaining my decisions to the crew and 20% actually directing. The truth is that a director makes dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny, unspoken aesthetic choices when shooting an individual scene and the majority of those decisions are not explained outright to the crew. So I think Vitali is wrong about the “three little pigs” line being nothing more than incidental. The Shining film is actually full of cartoon references (including several dialogue references such as Danny watching Road Runner cartoons and being referred to as “Doc”, and Wendy talking to Halloran about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find her way around the kitchen). Kubrick did the same thing in his next film FMJ, which included multiple instances of Mickey Mouse related props and dialogue. Regardless of Vitali’s attempted dismissal, it is actually very plausible that Kubrick used these cartoon reference in relation to Jack Torrance being a symbolic big bad wolf chasing a road runner Danny Torrance.


As another example of Kubrick thematically using something that is reported to have spontaneously been made up on set, we have the scene of Jack throwing the tennis ball in the Colorado lounge. This is widely accepted to have been improvised by Jack Nicholson, but I spoke to Joan Honour Smith, who spent a lot of time on The Shining set. She explained to me that Kubrick saw the young actor Danny Lloyd playing with a tennis ball and decided to incorporate it. So, was it Jack Nicholson or Danny Lloyd? Which rumour is true? Either way, Kubrick went on to use the tennis ball again in the scenes of Jack looking at the table top model of the maze and Danny entering room 237. And here’s a quote from the film’s composer, Wendy Carlos, which I found in Vincent Lobrutto’s biography of Kubrick. Note the additional thematic use of a ball.


“There were great gobs of scenes that never made it into the film. There was a whole strange and mystical scene in which Jack Nicholson discovers objects that have been arranged in his working space in the ballroom with arrows and things. He walks down and thinks he hears a voice and someone throws a ball back to him.” – Wendy Carlos discussing production of The Shining score, P447 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto


Also note that this unused scene includes arrows, which fits with the Native American genocide interpretations of The Shining.


So to say that the tennis ball, or any other detail in The Shining, can be proven meaningless because it wasn’t pre-scripted is ridiculous. It’s a non-argument. People create metaphors spontaneously and subconsciously every day in their choice of clothing, facial expressions, body language, choice of words and tone of voice. This is also true of film directing.


The NYT article ends on an important note. Vitali admits that he never spoke with Stanley about the meanings of The Shining, which is also true in the majority of reports I’ve read from Kubrick’s other collaborators. Vitali then says that he thinks Stanley “wouldn’t have wanted to listen to about 70, or maybe 80 percent of Room 237”. Why only 80%? Why not 100%? It seems that Vitali either suspects, or knows, that some of the interpretations in Room 237 might be true after all.


A relevant side note is that Leon Vitali also played the mysterious Red Cloak character in Kubrick’s final film EWS and he is actually named in a newspaper within the film as a fashion designer who had an affair with the prostitute character Mandy, who dies during the course of the film. Considering that Vitali played Red Cloak, the implication is that Mandy had an affair with Red Cloak (click here to see my short video on the subject). Did Vitali even know that Kubrick was going to utilize his name in this way in the final cut of the film?


Something else that conflicts with the complete dismissal of Shining interpretations featured in Room 237, a dismissal which is now often attributed to Vitali’s comments for the NYT, is this interview with Jan Harlan for the Guardian. Harlan, who was the exec-producer of The Shining and Kubrick’s brother in law (which means he is even more likely than Leon Vitali to have some idea about Stanley’s intentions), stated outright that The Shining is not Stanley’s apology for faking the moon landings, but then stated that the spatially impossible layout of the Overlook Hotel was deliberately done to disorientate the viewer. The spatial disorientation theme was featured in Room 237, as outlined by Julie Kearns. If Jan Harlan’s statement is correct then it casts serious doubt on Leon Vitali’s complete dismissal of Room 237. Either Vitali didn’t mention to the NYT reporter that the spatial disorientation theme was true, or he simply didn’t know about it because Stanley didn’t tell him. More likely it was the latter.


Now there’s one particular critic whose response to Room 237 I believe exemplifies the negative, small-mindedness typical of those who are afraid to accept the intellectual challenge of complex, multi-layered movies. His name is Jim Emerson and his review is posted on the website of America’s most famous film critic, Roger Ebert, who sadly died the day after Emerson’s review of Room 237 was published. Regardless of Ebert’s death, I must take strong exception to the childishness of Emerson’s review. He uses hostile terms like “Room 237 conspirators” and tries to attack director Rodney Ascher for having made the film in the first place and even attacks him for taking a neutral stance on the content of the interviews. So let me get this right; Emerson would consider Room 237 a more mature film if Rodney Ascher had set out to blatantly discredit his interviewees instead of allowing the audience to make up their own minds? Predictably, Emerson’s review uses the straw man approach, focusing primarily on the moon landing hoax theories to tar all of the theories in the film with the same conspiracy theory brush. And he finishes with this:


“In the end, once the film is released, the filmmakers’ intentions don’t really matter anymore because it belongs to the audience.”


What a stupid statement. If his blank canvas theory is true then that would render his job as a film critic redundant. Why would we need film critics if films inherently have no meaning other than that which we project into them? Jim Emerson’s response to Room 237 is typical denial from people who don’t want to entertain the idea that some movies might be a lot deeper than they realized. It scares them because it makes them doubt their own perceptual abilities, particularly if film critique is their paid profession – a profession that is now under fierce competition from independent, internet based, film reviewers and analysts. This motive on the part of Jim Emerson, and a handful of fellow “professional” film critics he chooses to quote, is quite evident in another article he wrote, attempting to brand the Room 237 interviewees as crazy “conspiracy theorists” by debunking the film’s featured theories in succession. It comes as no surprise that he does not attempt to debunk the theory that the Overlook Hotel layout was intentionally designed to be impossible (here’s my own version of that theory posted a year before Harlan’s confirmation, and which also generated considerable debate and controversy), nor has he updated the article to include Jan Harlan’s confirmation of that theme in a Guardian interview. He also contradicts himself, just like David Hagley of Slate magazine, by tentatively admitting that there may actually be some truth in the theory that The Shining includes a theme of Native American genocide. Does this mean Emerson now includes himself in the “conspiracy theorist” category?


Roger Ebert apparently didn’t even bother reviewing The Shining when it was released. According to one of the Wikipedia references on The Shining, he stated he was unable to connect with any of the characters. Since when do popular film critics avoid reviewing major film releases because they don’t particularly like those films? The standard approach is for the critic to review the new release and explain why they don’t like the film. It took 27 years before Ebert eventually did review The Shining in 2006, but he was still baffled, stating in his review that there are no characters whose perceptions can be relied upon – he describes them all as “unreliable narrators”, even though they weren’t narrating.


In his review Ebert asks dozens of questions about the mismatching elements of the story, such as why we see twins who were described as different ages by Mr Ullman and why Jack’s body was never found (a detail that was present in a scene deleted from the end of the film shortly after its release), but offers little in the way of answers. But he did actually get close to unraveling some aspects of the film in that he suggested, after noting the volume of plot changes between Kubrick’s film version and Stephen King’s source novel, that The Shining may not be a ghost story at all – that all of the supposed ghost visions might just be hallucinations as perceived by the different family members. Ebert was actually proposing that Kubrick had taken King’s novel and covertly transformed it into something else, which is exactly what the interviewees in Room 237 are saying. So, considering that Ebert put forward an interpretation of that nature in his review, Emerson’s use of the Roger Ebert website in posting a hostile attack on the Room 237 interviewees as “conspiracists” was both misleading and unprofessional.


Emerson may actually be interested (or disappointed?) to learn that Roger Ebert actually contributed to my own interpretation of The Shining by pointing out that when Jack sees ghosts there’s always a mirror of some sort present. (Yes, there are no ghosts. Jack is talking to himself.) Ebert’s comment also led me to notice Jack’s reaction to mirrors, left screen, as he makes strangling gestures, while contemplating having being blamed for strangling his own son.


Roger Ebert’s published review of The Shining, 27 yrs after its release, reveals that he knew the film wasn’t the ghost story it appeared to be. He tried to unravel what lay beneath the surface, but was unable to do so, at least within the word count limits of his review. According to Jim Emerson’s logic, Ebert’s speculations about The Shining would place him in the category of “conspiracist” alongside the cast of Room 237.


For all the artistically ultra-cynical Emersons out there who believe it is impossible that Kubrick, or any other director, have encoded hidden themes and messages in their movies, I offer two more, highly significant, pieces of information.


First, code encryption and decryption was a major topic of personal interest to Stanley Kubrick. Anthony Frewin, personal assistant to Kubrick for over twenty years, describes on page 518 of the Stanley Kubrick Archives book that the 1967 book The Code Breakers: The Story of Secret Writing, by David Kahn, was considered by Stanley to be one of the greatest scholarly works of the 20th century. The Code Breakers is a detailed history of message encryption and decryption, and code breaking was a central plot point in Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove.


Second, and again this is referring to Dr Strangelove, which Kubrick released 15 years prior to The Shining, on page 359 of the Stanley Kubrick Archives book are photocopies of two letters that previously sat for decades among Stanley’s collection of catalogued correspondence with fans and critics. The first is dated March 20th 1964 (two months after the film’s release). It is a letter from Mr Legrace G. Benson of the Dept of History of Art at Cornell University in New York. In it Mr Benson identifies and praises Dr Strangelove’s subtly encoded sexual themes. The second letter is a response from Kubrick on April 6th of the same year. Kubrick wrote:


“Dear Mr. Benson:


Thank you very much for writing such a flattering letter. I am sorry such a well thought out analysis of the picture has to be confined to personal correspondence. Seriously, you are the first one who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intermission to the last spasm.


I will be in New York for the next few months and if you happen to come down from Ithaca, I hope you will give me a ring and perhaps we can have a drink together.


Yours very truly


Stanley Kubrick”


There you have it. In at least some of his films, Kubrick did encode hidden themes that went over critics’ heads.


So if you’re interested in the deeper side of Kubrick’s The Shining then I recommend you give Room 237 a watch. Even if 80% of it is rubbish, why ignore the 20% that’s worthwhile? And if you wish to delve even further, being that Room 237 only scratches the surface of the interpretations that are on offer, then you can check out the more detailed online analysis’ of the film posted by those interviewed in Room 237. And you can check out the essays by myself and Kevin McLeod, who also politely declined to be interviewed in Room 237, in addition to the multitude of other “professional” film critics who have, over the years, written their own varied interpretations of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece. And of course, don’t forget to carefully re-watch The Shining yourself. Who knows what you’ll pick up on?


Rob Ager

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Skyfall – To the bat cave Mr Bond!!!

After hearing all the mega hype about Skyfall being the best Bond film ever (hype that I frankly didn’t trust) I finally viewed the film this evening. So, initial thoughts …

The intro action sequence was decent enough, followed by a beautifully captivating title sequence. Cinematography was stylish throughout – no shakey cam rubbish like in Quantum of Solace (my personal choice for worst Bond film ever). Some scenes had particularly well-written dialogue for a Bond film. Javier Bardem is great as always in a fairly well written villain role. And … well, that’s the positives for me.

I like Daniel Craig well enough as an actor in general, but he’s never felt or looked right for me as Bond. Though, in his defence, it’s as much to do with how the character is scripted today. Craig era Bond comes off as a guy with an unspecified chip on his shoulder who vents his frustrations against whatever “bad guys” his bosses choose to unleash him on. And he’s largely humourless. I sorely miss the charm and warmth of the Connery and Moore era.

Fans of the more recent Bond style will undoubtedly claim, as I keep hearing, that the old Bond films are cheesy and unrealistic and not dark enough. My retort to that is that the new Bond films are every bit as silly and unrealistic as the old ones, while attempting to appear “realistic” by being largely humourless and gadgetless. Skyfall seemed to be a film that wanted me to take it seriously, but I couldn’t because it’s crammed with ludicrously implausible plot twists and cheesey action. It’s no more realistic than the average Steven Seagal no brainer shoot-em-up. The big evil enemy is a mastermind hacker and ex-agent who just happens to have endless moles planted everywhere in British intelligence agencies and even the British police force – moles who pop up here, there and everywhere to render self-sacrificing assistance to their mastermind leader. We’re given little indication of how he recruited them or why they are loyal to him. All we know is he just has them on his side. It’s ridiculous and seems to have been lifted from The Dark Knight, but it didn’t work very well in that film either imo. Personally I find the over the top styles of the old Bond film more honest, they are pure fantasy/entertainment and don’t pretend to be anything other. I also feel the same about Batman. Give me the hilarious 1960’s series any day … Yes, you read that right. I want hilarious villains, “heroes” wearing leotard’s with their underwear on the outside and flashes of “pow” and “wham” splashed on the screen whenever someone gets hit. I love that stuff. “Realistic” violence is messy, disgusting and not enjoyable … think Goodfellas, Taxi Driver or a more recent little Australian film called Snowtown.

Then there’s the politics. Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism … is the premise of the new Bond and Batman films, which isn’t helped by the simple fact that the war on terror in the “real” world lost it’s credibility years ago. Terrorism plots aren’t engaging anymore. They feel like either propaganda or lazy writing. How about having Bond oust a bunch of crooked international bankers or thwarting a political coup by a group of business plotters? That would feel more real and relevant.

I spent about 50% of Skyfall twiddling my thumbs and asking myself “When’s it going to get interesting again?” and even worse “When is this going to end?” (it is unnecessarily long). The other 50% I was moderately entertained. Like almost every other Bond film of the last fifteen years this feels like a watch once affair.

On some levels there was a very concerted effort to revamp the series with this film. The centerpiece of the plot is a complicated attempt to kill Bond’s boss, but I found this emotionally unengaging. She’s just one person and is even more humourless and cold than Bond himself – I didn’t care one way or the other about her fate. We also get a glimpse into Bond’s orphanage background, which for me made him come off as a guy who works for British intelligence out of an insecure need to belong to, and serve, something larger than himself without regard as to whether that something is actually worth fighting for.

In summary, I found Skyfall technically excellent and moderately interesting, but only fleetingly entertaining. At the moment I can’t even see myself giving it a second viewing.

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Big Man Japan – artificial superheroes and a dash of social commentary.

I seem to be in the minority in terms of my complete and utter boredom with the onslaught of “superhero” movies Hollywood has been churning out in the last ten years. Spiderman 2 had some great scenes and not too bad a storyline, Hellboy 2 was awesome fantasy / action / comedy, and  … well that’s it for me in positives. Especially boring is the trend of trying to make superhero movies “dark” and “realistic”. I can’t take a guy in a red suit jumping around on strings of silk as being anything more than comic fun – and, wisely, Sam Raimi made sure to include a lot of good-hearted humour in the Spiderman films to off-set the essentially ridiculous superhero premise. The same thing worked very well in the first three Superman movies. But, Hellboy aside, the sense of fun is being quickly lost. The makers of the recent Batman movies have over-estimated their source material and tried to make something more out of it than it is – it’s an idiot in a f***ing bat suit and a cape and I cannot take him seriously as he talks in his gruffest Clint Eastwood imitation voice with a pair of bat ears sticking out above his head. Please, please, please bring back the comic humour from the 60’s tv show. These are kids’ movies.

… And thus my wish was granted in foreign aid this week by Hitoshi Matsumoto and his 2007 film Big Man Japan. This insane movie tells the story of a socially inadequate loser who leads a superhero double life, growing to a height of around 100 feet to fight off Godzilla-sized creatures that occasionally attack Japanese cities. The special effects are poor compared to what we’ve come to expect from say the Hellboy series, but the film compensates with mind-boggling and surreal creature designs and the inevitable humour they generate. Balancing this are the ironically emotional mockumentary scenes presenting the lead character’s every day life as a nobody. The contrast is jarring and it works.

But underlying Big Man Japan is a more complex web of social and political messages. This becomes very apparent in the last ten minutes of the film, though I’ll reserve my detailed opinion on it for a possible film analysis video.

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The Man Who Haunted Himself – Roger Moore’s dark side

This old psychological drama movie from 1970 was a pleasant little surprise. Roger Moore plays a company executive who, for reasons unknown, begins driving like a mad man on the streets of London, resulting in a crash and a spell in a coma. After waking up he begins to encounter clues that someone is impersonating him in his work place and social life. Is he suffering memory loss?

The basic plot isn’t particularly fantastic and the ending is pretty lame, but there are many very good scenes in this film that crank up the schizoid feel to Hitchcock levels. Like the main character, Roger Moore is allowed to show his rarely seen alternative side – as in not James Bond or equivalent – and he’s actually a really good actor, playing both Mr stiff-upper lip executive with marital / sexual problems and Mr evil boardroom shark / gambler.

Add to all this a parallel plot of Moore’s evil double infiltrating and manipulating a large company to secure a strong takeover bid of his own company and you have a film that craftily weaves a message about the self-imposed split personality paradigm which hungry businessmen often seek to inhabit.

Although this film was made three year’s before Moore first played James Bond in Live and Let Die, there’s a crystal ball gag in which his character jokes that the world of espionage isn’t all James Bond and gadgets.


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