Killer's Kiss (1955): Urban drama more of a photographer's exercise than a valid film. Boxer tries to keep girlfriend out of the clutches of a mobster. Stilted dialog. Amateurish acting. Interesting chase over New York roof-tops. Ending stand-off with axes in a mannequin storage facility (!!) Great work with natural and patterned light.
The Killing (1956): Film noir/caper movie of a racetrack heist notable for its fractured story-telling technique. First we see the planning. Then we see the plot's planner ensuring the pieces coming together. Then we see each participants part to completion, then roll back to another section. Robbery actually comes together, but despite all efforts, Fate spoils the plot. Stars Sterling Hayden and a great cast of B-movie actors. A large leap from the previous film. And one can see the beginning of Kubrick themes--its hero supervises the planning and execution of a brilliant robbery, but is ultimately undone by elements he has no control over. Kubrick would tell the same story many times.
Paths of Glory (1957): Kirk Douglas stars in this WWI drama of a french troop sent on a suicide mission, and when it fails, three of its surviving members are executed for cowardice. Lots of chess metaphors, lots of double-dealing, lots of cynical politics that allows for justice but still leaves dastardly deeds done. The war goes on. Contains a staggering battle sequence done in two tracking shots. The trench warfare makes very convenient something that would become a Kubrick staple--the reverse tracking shot. Ends with as close to a sentimental ending as any Kubrick film.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): 'Nuff said. Despite mixed reviews (no doubt inspired by expectations generated from "Strangelove," "2001" slowly built an audience, and is now considered a science fiction classic, and a ground-breaking film. This movie, in particular, cemented Kubrick's reputation and led to two significant career-posts: It prompted Warner Bros. studio to offer him an exclusive contract for the remainder of his career; his next two films would make him fear for his life.
Full Metal Jacket (1987): Kubrick didn't want to make an anti-war film about Viet-nam. He wanted to make a war film about Viet-nam. The choices inflicted. The breaking down of boys (unformed men) into soldiers. The cohesion of a group and the trap of cameraderie. Oliver Stone had covered a lot of the same ground in "Platoon" (mixed in with his parental conflicts and delusions of grandeur), but Kubrick added more (with Gustav Hasford's slim novel "The Short-Timers" as guide, funneled through the sensibilities of John Milius and Michael Herr******), such as the sloganeering that stands in for values (in the film's finale, the remnants of the squad march through their "world of shit" to the cadence of "The Mickey Mouse Club" song), and though there's strength in numbers, it's every man for himself. Kubrick touches on many facets that made Viet Nam a unique war from others, and doesn't shy away from the atrocities or the exhilaration. Plus, it captures Hasford's loopy language for the phony-tough and the crazy-brave.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999): You wanna know what power is? Power is chaining two of the hottest stars of the time to an exclusive contract and keeping them beholden to you while you make a relationship movie FOR TWO YEARS. Two years of filming. But Kubrick's films had such skeleton crews, he could afford to do it, and still come out with a modestly budgeted film, despite the salaries of Cruise and Kidman (and Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who were bought off due to schedule conflicts). I have a hard time saying this is a finished Kubrick film. His first cut was done, shone to the studio and stars, then Kubrick, after three years putting it together, died. Had he lived, he would have cut it down, probably eliminating redundant dialog (there's a lot of it "Really? A Lot of it?") and generally trimming fat as he did with "Strangelove," "2001," "The Shining" and presumably "Full Metal Jacket." But what there is, is intriguing, if far less mysterious than he probably wanted. A casual argument turns into a wife's confession of wishful lust, and a too-complacent professional******* finds himself adrift and part of a world he never knew existed and avoids life-changing consequences--just barely. For once, Kubrick spares his competent man the humiliation or destruction. Cruise feels like an adult here, for once. Kidman is sphynx-like. But the emotions feel raw, and only a too-pat (and badly-scripted) ending destroys the denouement. Not as sexy as hyped, it is Kubrick dealing with relationships of everyday life that spin out of control and reality. It's still too early since its premiere to have cracked all its secrets. But, I just know one day I'll be walking down the street and a stray piece of dialogue or image will float into my consciousness and I'll go..."Wait a minute....he did that because..."
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001): The Kubrick-Spielberg love-child that nobody loved. Kubrick called it his "Pinocchio" movie, and quite rightly decided after years of development to hand it to Spielberg, which, after Kubrick's death, he was eager to complete. But in the transition from Kubrick outline to Spielberg screenplay there's a lot of gear-grinding from cold fantasy to sentimentality. And unfortunately it suffers a fate that too many sci-fi movies suffer - it asks us to absorb too many concepts too fast, and the casual movie-goer has a hard time accepting global warming, robot love, and an ice-aged Earth inhabited by your PC's descendants. Throw in a Blue Fairy and a dying robot's last wish and the audience is in stitches. But...it dares to ask that question rarely asked (except by Hitchcock in "Vertigo") What is love, really?" And the answer was "Love is what audiences didn't feel about this movie." Still, there's some definite mind-stretching going on here. And it gave Jude Law a star-making turn, at last. Plus, the kid is simply amazing.
Ouvre-view: The Conventional Wisdom is that Stanley Kubrick was a hermetic, mysoginistic, deranged, misanthropic control freak--ask any of the New York fashionista.
Well, he was a control-freak. It's the chess-thing. You make preparations for all eventualitites.
But my view of Stanley Kubrick was that he built a career, a life, and a world that perfectly suited him and his family and saw little reason to venture out of that world, except when absolutely necessary. That's the advantage of getting everything you want.
I may be a bit of a depressive, but, curiously, after "Lolita," I've never found a Kubrick movie depressing. Shocking, yes. Disturbing, boy, howdy. But look at it from Kubrick's view. In "Dr. Strangelove," mankind (and unkind) will suvive (albeit to certainly commit the same mistakes as before). In "2001," man transcends (with a little help from our friends). In "Clockwork Orange" free will defeats fascism. In "Barry Lyndon," a title card (not the snarky narrator) informs us that "they are all equal now," Barry has achieved a equitable station in death. But the promise of life after death pervades "The Shining." The squad of "Full Metal Jacket" have survived the pincers of their impossible situation and live to march another day. Love triumphs over infidelity and indifference in "Eyes Wide Shut."
Yeah, but...despite all the perfect systems that can't fail (but do), and despite the clever, competent, supremely well-informed Masters of the Universe (in the Wolfe-ian sense) with the flaws they can't seem to recognize and are helpless to ignore, that Universe ticks inexorably on, mindless of the plight of its supposed "Masters." And the answers, if you're conscious enough to seek them, lie not in our stars, but our selves.
Leave it to a control freak to come up with something like that.---------------------------------------------------------------------------