Movie Reviews: Skyfall, Room 237, The Shining

Skyfall ✩✩✩✩

Movie Reviews: Skyfall, Room 237, The Shining

It’s 50 years since Dr No (1962) introduced ‘Bond, James Bond’ to film audiences, and it’s to its credit that Skyfall (12A), the 23rd Bond movie, is one of the better big-budget thrillers of 2012. The superb opening credits give way to a thrilling action sequence that appears to end with Bond (Daniel Craig) plunging to his death, the fatal shot courtesy of an order from M (Judi Dench). We know that the resourceful Bond will survive and return, but this is the conflict that sustains director Sam Mendes’ Bond: how does an old dinosaur of the Cold War resurrect his relevance in the ‘brave new world’ of computer hacking and shadowy international terrorist threat, while retaining those anachronistic values and skills that made him so useful in the first place? The balancing of the old and new Bonds is very entertaining, as Bond wends his way back to basics through casinos, yachts and the remote island lair of the villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), revs up his trusty old Aston Martin, and takes off on a mission armed only with a gun and a radio transmitter. For all the macho heroics, Skyfall is the most emotionally intense Bond movie since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). During a word-association game with a psychiatrist, Bond responds to the word ‘heart’ with the word ‘target’, and the back-story is his sense of betrayal at the hands of his country. Daniel Craig again proves he is the Bond closest to Ian Fleming’s creation, a ruggedly handsome sociopath who kills to order and suffers only the faintest qualms, while Judi Dench makes the most of an unusually extended role for M as she explores, in typically rambunctious form, her character’s multi-layered relationship with Bond. Beautifully shot, whether revelling in the exotic settings of Shanghai and Macau or the bleak surroundings of Silva’s deserted island and the godforsaken Scottish Highlands, Skyfall’s impact is slightly undermined by a protracted and convoluted ending. By then, it has long-established itself as the most thoughtful, intriguing and ambitious James Bond movie in many years.

Room 237, as every Stanley Kubrick fan will know, is the number of the room at the Overlook Hotel in which all manner of spookiness occurs during The Shining (1980), Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel that King, famously, despised. It’s fitting, then, that Room 237 (15A) is the title of a documentary that collates a host of theories about The Shining, some more oddball than others. Is the movie about the genocide of the Native Americans, for example? Or is the strategic positioning of a German typewriter, and the repetition of the number 42, enough to persuade us that Kubrick was constructing an allegory about the Holocaust? All of the contributors are serious about their theories, but movie fans will enjoy Rodney Ascher’s film more if they approach it as an intriguing exercise in ‘blurring the lines between what you want to see,’ as one off-camera voice says, ‘and what you actually see.’ And if what you want to see is conclusive proof - allegedly - of Kubrick purging his guilt at faking the Apollo moon landing footage on behalf of the American government in 1969, well, that’s in there, too. Leave your bullshit detector at home for the night, sit back and enjoy.

Regardless of whether you buy into any of the theories, Room 237 should whet your appetite for the digital restoration of a new cut of The Shining (16s), which opens at the IFI and selected cinemas nationwide from Nov 2. Jack Nicholson stars as a frustrated writer who takes on the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel while it closes for the winter, but soon his family — wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) — are feeling the strain as strange occurrences manifest themselves. One of the great psychological horrors, The Shining is a masterpiece in tension-building and benefits hugely from young Danny Lloyd’s precocious performance and Nicholson’s by now iconic unravelling. It’s arguable as to whether the additions have improved the film, however. You can only imagine that Kubrick, a notorious perfectionist, would be inclined to refer you to the original cut.

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