Ice Queen

Do you remember that string of massive Pixar hits, and how we all kind of wrote off the traditional Disney film model at the time? The culture essentially decided that a new era of animation had begun, and the old-school type of animation we were all so used to could comfortably be consigned to history. Well, I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but Disney has been doing its damndest lately to prove that assumption wrong, and they've been killing it. The Princess and the Frog was a really enjoyable movie for their 2D division, and while I didn't love Tangled as much as everyone else, I did really like it. And let's not forget Wreck-It Ralph, which wound up being my favorite movie last year.

The streak continues with the latest movie, Frozen, which is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen". It's about two royal sisters: The elder (Elsa) has ice powers that are growing, and that she doesn't have control over, so she shuts herself away from her sister and subjects. The younger (Anna) is an irrepressible adventurer who wants nothing more than to enjoy the close bond with her sister she once had, and to get out and interact with the people. When Anna meets a suitor and falls in love, the announcement of her engagement causes Elsa to fly off the handle and accidentally cast an eternal winter over the kingdom. She flees into the mountains, and so Anna goes on a quest to find her and undo the spell, aided by a loner ice deliverer (Kristoff), his reindeer companion, and Olaf, a goofy, sentient snowman.

While it doesn't quite reach the heights that Wreck-It Ralph did, this is a terrific movie. The animation and 3D are top-notch; at one point I actually though water was leaking from the theater ceiling for a moment. The songs are fun and catchy. Olaf has a hilarious ditty about his looking forward to summer, and Elsa's powerful number about her acceptance of the ice magic in her veins reminded my friend and me of Wicked (and not just because she's voiced by Idina Menzel). This is also another much-needed film where the women are strong characters with actual agency. None of this mooning around hoping the boys come rescue them; both Anna and Elsa are fully in charge of their own destinies.

The movie also has a Mickey Mouse short in front of it, notable mostly for its impressive animation, so be sure to catch that in 3D, if you can. It'll be a good excuse to see Frozen in theaters, which you really should do. Olaf will delight the kids, and for us adults, there's a well-written, well-acted story about a love much more powerful than kisses that wake up sleeping princesses.

Frozen: A-

Going Whole Hog

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 8

It's often said that the biggest roadblock to people becoming vegetarians is that they don't want to give up pork, and after seeing this week's episode, I believe it. I won't be lining up for butchering classes anytime soon, but I'd be more than happy to dine off of any section of someone else's boucherie.

Pozole Verde with Fried Chorizo Tacos

What's a boucherie, you ask? Head on over to What'ere, Jane Eyre for Episode 8 and find out! And while you're at it, let me know if you have any good hot sauce recommendations.

Butterfly in the Sky

It's been a while since I've written an entry for the Books category, but that isn't because I've taken a break from reading. Far from it, actually - I've been tearing through library books at a pretty good clip. There are the usual recent (or at least relatively so) titles that I managed to snag, of course, but there were also one of those cast-off books I'll deal with at the end of the year, and a childhood favorite that I was curious to revisit.

Let's start with that last one, which was Secrets of the Shopping Mall, written by Richard Peck, and originally published in 1979. I'm sure I read it in the early or mid-'80s at my sister's behest. She's also the one who put it back in my head a few weeks ago. All I remembered was that it was about a couple of runaway kids who hide out in a mall, and discover that the mannequins come to life at night. The only one I remember by name was Betty, who liked to cattily gossip about everyone else. It's no wonder she's the one I gravitated to. The story surprised me on the re-read; it's a lot more bleak than I remember. The protagonists are dealing with bullies at school, and with absolutely no protective presence at home, decide to just take off and live in a department store. Spoiler alert: They stay there, happily. Forever. The living mannequins are also runaways who somehow magically acquired the ability to freeze into dummies during the day, though how ostensibly normal kids learned how to do this is never addressed. And that's not even getting into the gang of other children who hang out in the parking lot, and go to war with the mannequin gang. I can see why I liked this book so much as a kid, but I can also see why "You can't go home again" is such a pervasive phrase. This story is definitely of its time.

I rejoined the 21st century by mixing it up with a novel, a collection of short stories, and some non-fiction. The novel was Karen Thompson Walker's 2012 book, The Age of Miracles. As I'm sure I've mentioned, I like books that have an interesting gimmick of taking the world and changing one important facet of it. In this case, it's that the Earth's rotation is starting to slow, making both days and nights longer, and having catastrophic effects on things like crops and power grids. But rather than an omniscient narrator relating what's going on, Walker makes the smart decision to tell this story through the eyes of a pre-teen girl. Sure, the entire world is changing, but her entire world is changing anyway. What the boy down the street thinks about her is as important as endangered foods, if not more so. If there's a big flaw in the story, it's a rushed subplot about societal tears that take place between people who follow the clock and people who follow the sun. Sure, humans will find any excuse to fight, but if your characters are going to exact mob justice against a woman who has the nerve to garden when the sun is out, you're going to have to justify it with something better than an assumption that such a thing would happen.

Up next was Simon Rich's 2013 collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend on Earth - And Other Love Stories. You know you're in for a fun ride when the first story is told from the point of view of a condom a teenaged boy has stuffed in his wallet. And you know you're in for a good read when that same story manages to pull off a lot of emotional resonance. The other stories are similarly off-the-wall in all the best ways. "I Love Girl" peeks in on a relationship between a caveman and one of the half dozen females he's aware of. In "Center of the Universe", even God himself cannot free himself from relationship drama. There isn't a disappointing story in the whole bunch, and overall, it was a really delightful, clever book. I highly recommend it.

I rounded out this reading binge with Mary Roach's Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I've heartily enjoyed Roach's explorations of how we deal with dead bodies (Stiff), ghosts (Spook), and sex (Bonk), though I haven't read Packing for Mars yet. It is the title with more than one word that's throwing me? Get your shit together, Roach! Speaking of shit, I was anxious to dive into her latest book, which is all about the glories of our digestive systems, from chewing to pooping. I'm not easily grossed out (at least when things are handled academically rather than for horror effect), so I found passages about fistulated stomachs and the stretch capacity of a rectum fascinating rather than off-putting. Roach is a funny writer, and her breezy style is well-suited to the topic. She makes jokes, but she never condescends. She has a respectful, but frank curiosity about things like the stool hardness scale and the ability to taste differences in various olive oils, and makes for a pretty good read. It perhaps wasn't as good as her earlier books, but that's purely a matter of personal taste. Ha! Taste! See what I did there?

Secrets of the Shopping Mall: B (Averaging the A- I'd give this as a kid, and the C+ I'd give it if I read it for the first time as an adult.)
The Age of Miracles: B
The Last Girlfriend on Earth - And Other Love Stories: A
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal: B

Theme Music

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 7

Just last week, I said that this season's chefs missed out on a quintessential Midwestern dish that they could have elevated for their cream cheese challenge. And now I'm forced to say the same thing about this week's potluck challenge. Barramundi and red durum fricassee? Semolina gnocchetti? These are not potluck dishes! These people desperately need to make friends with a Missourian.

Togarashi Fried Chicken with Bee Pollen and Ponzu

Still, there are some items that looked pretty tasty this week, so head on over to What'ere, Jane Eyre for Episode 7, if you're so inclined. See how I'm leaving it up to you? Midwestern friendliness!

Sorry to Burst Your Bubble

In looking at the upcoming movie calendar, I find myself torn about Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese is rightly considered one of the all-stars of filmmaking, but I confess that I sometimes find his more recent movies to be homework. It's not that I dislike The Aviator or Hugo, but I did find them to be kind of bloated, and frankly, over-praised. Still, the premise of a wealthy stockbroker's implosion does appeal to me. No matter what I decide about that film, thinking about it made me realize that I had a couple of other financial-based dramas sticking around my Netflix queue.

Much like what happened with Pina vs. Girl Walk//All Day when I watched them in rapid succession, I couldn't help but compare and contrast 2011's Margin Call with last year's Arbitrage the same way.

Margin Call puts a thin, fictional shell around the real life events surrounding the housing market bubble burst and resulting financial crisis of 2008. Zachary Quinto plays a risk assessor at a large financial firm who realizes what is about to happen to the market. When he informs the company's higher-ups, a scramble to escape with jobs and reputations intact begins immediately. Far from portraying Wall Street fat-cats as straight-up villains, writer/director J.C. Chandor does a terrific job at showing the shades of gray in the market collapse. There's plenty of blame to spread around, after all. Still, the characters who work at the firm are not let off the hook, as they dispassionately end careers with a handful of keystrokes. You'd think a movie made up of nothing but tense conversations would be a chore, but Margin Call is pretty gripping from beginning to end, even though the audience is well-aware of where events must lead.

Soon after I finished Margin Call, I tackled Arbitrage, for which Richard Gere earned raves for his performance as Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager in the mold of Bernie Madoff. Miller is a charmer who is able to bend pretty much anyone to his will, be it his clients, his employees, or his demanding mistress. He's got a lot of plates to spin, and when he's in a car accident that causes his mistress' death, everything begins to crash around him. His attempts to cover both the accident and his financial schemes become increasingly desperate as the net tightens around him, but he does his best to paste it over with the slick charm and glib assurances he's always employed to get his way.

If I had watched Arbitrage in a vacuum, who knows how I would have felt about it? Coming on the heels of Margin Call, though, it gravely suffers in comparison. Miller becomes hysterical whenever he feels threatened, and I began to wonder how this person built a fortune based on a wildly shifting market, since he responds to every obstacle with willful blindness and shallow glad-handing. Several characters agree to his requests and demands based on nothing more than him basically saying "C'mon...trust me!" a dozen times. There are plenty of good stories about the destruction of a financial charlatan and his loved ones - we had a great one just this year - so why did the plotlines in Arbitrage have to be so contrived? Were vehicular manslaughter and police corruption really necessary?

Both of these movies want to make points about the vast class divide in America. In Margin Call, two company executives who have been sworn to secrecy about the firm's plans casually discuss their strategy in an elevator, literally across the head of a cleaning woman who is in there with them. It's not that they haven't taken their pledge of secrecy seriously; to these Wall Street bigwigs, the custodian doesn't even register as a person. It's a subtle and very discomforting reminder about the income gap disparity in this country. In Arbitrage, that point is made by a working-class black character who announces that he's being forced into a bad position because he is a working-class black character. Thanks for explicitly explaining that, sir. I am, after all, dumb. No wonder I'm one of the have-nots.

Margin Call: A-
Arbitrage: C

There's No Place Like Home

Up until not that long ago, video games followed the same dozen scenarios or so. Solve this puzzle. Or kill these enemy soldiers (zombies, monsters). Or win this sports game. Recently, though, there's been an explosion in ideas about the types of things a video game can explore. The lines between gaming and other forms of creative fiction are getting blurrier by the day. It's an exciting trend, and I've stumbled across some great titles that are more like interactive short stories than a traditional game.

I just wrapped up this past summer's release, Gone Home, which is a good example of this wave of games. The game is set in 1995 Oregon, and the player is college-aged Kaitlin Greenbriar, who is arriving back home after a yearlong trip abroad. In Kaitlin's absence, the family (mom, dad, and younger sister Sam) have moved into a big, creepy old house willed to them by a great uncle, so Kaitlin is seeing it for the first time. When she arrives, she finds the place empty, and a cryptic note from Sam begging that Kaitlin not try and find her. For the rest of the game, you/Kaitlin explore the house, tracking down clues that explain where everyone has vanished to.

At first, the game seems like jump-scare horror. A big, empty house. A raging storm outside. Missing people. Flickering lights. As I walked around the ground floor, I kept expecting an undead abomination or crazed psycho killer to leap out and grab me. But no such thing ever occurs. The story unfolds with Kaitlin finding scraps of notes and Sam's journal, which are told in voice-over.

But that main story is only part of the appeal. If there's one thing that this game nails, it's atmosphere. The mid-'90s setting is exemplified not only by the VHS and mix tapes strewn around the place, but by the notes and cartoons and hand-drawn maps Kaitlin collects in the house. This is well before text messages and snapchats, and the game is really enriched by all the tactile remnants of the Greenbriars' lives.

Since this is more of a story than a game, the replay value is not terribly high. Once you discover where Sam and your parents are, is there really much point in going through it again? But replay and big action scenes aren't the point of this game. The point is to immerse you in the deep, complex story of a teen girl's dreams and heartaches, and at that, it succeeds admirably.

Gone Home: B+

Philly of the Valley

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 6

If you're not from the Midwest (or haven't read Gone Girl), you may not know about the delightful little snack people always bring to social gatherings: Chunks of pickle spear cemented to cold cut meat by a layer of cream cheese. It's not a recipe that will be gracing the cover of "Cook's Illustrated" anytime soon, but they certainly liven up a Superbowl party.

"Philadelphia" Steamed Egg Custard with Macerated Blueberries

If only the chefs had known about that for this week's challenge...they probably still would have blown it. But come on, there's only so much that can be done with cream cheese. To see what was actually attempted, drop on by What'ere, Jane Eyre for Episode 6. The chefs with the ability to adapt to the show's wacky challenges are really starting to distinguish themselves from the pack, but let's not name names. We wouldn't want Travis to know he's not on the list.

Fast Forward

I've been reading some alarming news lately about Netflix's push to do away with their disc rental service. I watch plenty of their streaming offerings, but the catalog isn't terrifically vast by any measure. I'm not too worried that certain titles will become completely unavailable, but whatever the next platform is for getting your hands on titles that aren't available in streaming form, there are going to be some irksome growing pains. All this is to say that I've kicked up the pace on getting through movies I've been avoiding in my disc queue. And that's led to some interesting movie juxtapositions. Normally, I'll watch a movie, let it sink into my brain for a couple of days, then move on to the next one. But with a sudden burst of viewing efficiency, I knocked out an action movie, a drama, and a kids' movie in rat-a-tat succession.

The first was Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, which was released in 2011. I haven't been the biggest fan of this franchise, but haven't minded them, either. They're inoffensive action flicks; the last thing I'm looking for them is any sort of complex, coherent plot. This latest one got surprisingly good word-of-mouth reviews, though, so I tossed it onto my queue... Where I promptly started ignoring it, mostly due to its 133-minute running time. I finally forced myself to sit down and watch, and found myself enjoying it more than the previous three put together. What changed? The director, for one. J.J. Abrams is really good at concepts, but can get bogged down when it comes to execution. This movie was Brad Bird's live-action directorial debut, and though the running time is long, he kept it going at an economical pace. This movie has a compact story that actually makes logical sense, and could be followed. There are still gadgets and stunts aplenty, but the plot isn't being wholly supported by people ripping latex masks off their faces every three minutes.

Next up on the stop-avoiding-this list was Martha Marcy May Marlene, which also came out in 2011. I remember Elizabeth Olsen getting raves for her performance when the movie was released, but I wasn't anxious to dive into a tense movie about cults at the time. But no more procrastination! The movie cuts back and forth between scenes of Olsen's character's days living at the compound of a cult she once belonged to, and scenes in the aftermath of her escape, when she crashes with her sister and brother-in-law and attempts to readjust to a normal life. There are a lot of really fascinating themes that are well-developed throughout. Normally, an audience can't understand why a character would want to join a cult, but this movie shows how magnetic a supportive "family" could seem to a lonely soul. And how a "normal" existence can seem empty and pointless. Still, I wasn't as in love with this film as the critical community was. Maybe I would have felt differently if I had seen this while its praises were still thrumming across the internet, but as it is, I found that it crawled up its own ass a little bit. The script is simple and spare to the point of ridiculous at a few points. Scenes of deliberate ambiguity seem to shout "Look how artistic I am!" when straightforward, concrete resolution would have been more effective. There's more to like than dislike about Martha Marcy May Marlene, but I'm not surprised that I viewed it as homework for so long.

Finally, I wrapped up my week of cinematic gorging by catching up with Disney's 2009 animated offering, The Princess and the Frog. I'd been curious to see how the once-powerful 2D animation studio was doing ever since Pixar redefined what a kids' movie has to be these days. I'm not going to go too much into plot, because it's a standard Disney progression of a girl achieving her dreams and true love after overcoming dangerous obstacles. You know the structure by now. But there are a couple of interesting things that set this princess movie apart from the ones that have come before. Tiana is the first African-American heroine in a Disney cartoon, but beyond a callous jab from an unsympathetic character (a jab that will fly over any youngster's head), her race is never an overt issue in any way. Even though the movie takes place in '20s New Orleans, Tiana's best friend is white, and her intended prince is an unnamed European-ish meld (he looks vaguely Hispanic or Arabic). Tiana is also the first Disney heroine who works, and works hard. Sure, Cinderella had to scrub a castle, but Tiana has to hold down actual jobs. Pocahontas notwithstanding, she's really the first heroine who embodies American characteristics, and I really like how it comes off.

The wild and freewheeling nature of Jazz Age New Orleans is incorporated well into the plot, as is voodoo, used for both good and evil. Unfortunately, the music isn't as memorable or catchy as in other Disney movies, but it's one of the strongest stories in the entire canon. And at the end, Tiana may be a princess, but she's still American; no kicking back on a castle throne for her. It was an entertaining movie, and I think Disney did an admirable job creating a modern character with agency and goals that reach beyond kissing a handsome boy, so kudos to them for that.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: B
Martha Marcy May Marlene: B-
The Princess and the Frog: B+

The Pantheon: Can't Hardly Wait

What separates a movie that I simply like from a movie special enough to deserve inclusion in The Pantheon? There are a bunch of criteria, but one of the big ones that can bump a movie into hallowed status is that it's a perfect representation of a particular genre. You'd think a topic like high-school-kids-throw-a-party wouldn't be broad enough to be considered a genre, but there are more than enough entries to consider.

John Hughes naturally ruled the classic era, with iconic party scenes in Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and so on. I loved those movies, but was too young to really relate to the characters. Parties with peers that didn't include parental supervision and birthday cake were still a long way off. Once I became an actual teenager, though, high school party movies took on a new dimension. The '90s marked the beginning of the hyper-precocious teen character, which got overused in a hurry. The idea of how teens act needed skewering, and thankfully, along came 1998's Can't Hardly Wait.

It's tough to recommend this movie to people, not because it isn't great, but because people stop listening when you tell them the "main" character is played by Jennifer Love Hewitt. I know, I know. But hear me out. Yes, Hewitt's Amanda Beckett is an idealized version of the popular girl (mercilessly and hilariously mocked later in Not Another Teen Movie), but she detracts very little from the fun of this movie. The sensitive writer (Ethan Embry) pursues her. The wannabe (Seth Green) pursues sex. The nerd (Charlie Korsmo) pursues revenge. Most of the other party guests are just pursuing a drunken stupor.

EVERYONE is in this movie. Ready to hear who puts in at least an appearance? Lauren Ambrose. Sara Rue. Jason Segel. Selma Blair. Clea DuVall. Donald Faison. Breckin Meyer. Freddy Rodriguez. Eric Balfour. Amber Benson. Jennifer Elise Cox. Jenna Elfman. Melissa Joan Hart. Jerry O'Connell. Leslie Grossman. Jaime Pressly. Peter Facinelli. Sean Patrick Thomas. You really need to have this movie in your back pocket when you're playing connect-the-actor.

Is it a deep, touching sociological portrait of teenage life in the '90s? Hell, no. But Can't Hardly Wait is hilarious, and easily one of the most insanely quotable movies I've ever seen. You know you've got a friend for life if you meet someone who knows what you're talking about when you describe someone as "Kind of tall. With...hair. And wears T-shirts. Sometimes."

Bloodless Chew

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 5

It's been a busy week, so I'm just now getting around to addressing the Halloween episode of Top Chef, which was terrifying...in that it was a vegan challenge. Vegan plus cheese, of course, because rules are haaaaaaaaard. I don't mean to imply that all vegan food is gross. Some of it is plenty tasty (see below), but it doesn't exactly lead to the most delectable or varied dishes in a stressful reality competition challenge.

Goat Cheese Fondue with Fried Zucchini and Vegetable Ceviche

The chefs gave it the old college try, so stop by What'ere, Jane Eyre to consume Episode 5. No animals were harmed in the making of this episode, except for the eliminated chef. But I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that nobody's losing much sleep over that one.

Fall Movie Preview: November 2013

I always think of the autumn film season as containing the heavy hitters of the year. No matter what I see or don't see, I'm pretty guaranteed to be attempting to catch up on movies released around this time before an Oscar pool lands on my desk next February. So imagine my surprise when I skimmed through the articles about November's movies in the Entertainment Weekly Fall Movie Preview, and found almost nothing to sink my teeth into. Weird! Even the ones worth mentioning below are maybes (or in one case, an outright no). It's been a fairly weak season for both movies and television, but I have no complaints about that - it gives me a chance to finally catch up on older things I've been meaning to get to. Martha Marcy May Marlene, here I come!

November 1

About Time: This didn't make much of an impact on me the first time I read about it, but every piece of internet chatter I've seen since then has made me more interested. It's about a young man who learns that the men in his family are able to skip through time. But this is no Looper-esque thriller. It's apparently a lot more philosophical, and raises good questions about the things in life that really matter to us. I doubt I'll see it in theaters, but it sounds like a great rental.

Ender's Game: This is the outright no I mentioned above. And it's not just because of the loathsome Orson Scott Card, who wrote the book the movie is based on and serves as producer on the movie (though that's the biggest reason). The word "boycott" is thrown around too much these days. I think it should signify an organized group who pledges to avoid a product/service, and encourages others to do the same. Me choosing not to spend my money on any Card-related property is not a boycott. But even setting aside Card's personal politics, I still wouldn't be interested. I'm seemingly one of the few people who didn't really care for the book, I found Asa Butterfield kind of grating in Hugo, and the early reviews of this movie agree that it's fairly bland and generic. At this point, it's got about six strikes against it, and I won't be going anywhere near it.

November 15

Great Expectations: Watching a film adaptation is certainly not equivalent to reading the book it's based on, especially if that book is an enduring classic. However, it can be a good way of introducing yourself to the story, if the film is made well. My only exposure to Bleak House was the miniseries, and here we are at another Dickens masterwork that I was somehow never exposed to in high school. Mike Newell is an adept director, and I'm sure Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes will acquit themselves well, so if this gets any sort of decent reviews, I look forward to settling in with it some snowy evening.

November 20

Her: A lot of movies pull me in simply by virtue of an intriguing premise. In this one, Joaquin Phoenix plays a writer who buys a computer operating system whose voice is so engaging and sympathetic that he begins to fall in love with it. Scarlett Johansson provides the computer's voice, which is inspired casting. Her rasp is half the reason I sat up and took notice of her in Ghost World. Amy Adams and Rooney Mara play the women in the protagonist's life, so it's a solid cast all around. Add Spike Jonze in as the director, and I'm officially interested.

November 22

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Middle entries are usually the weakest points of trilogies, but judging from the trailer for this movie, it'll be plenty exciting. Though I dislike most of the dystopian YA fiction that joins The Hunger Games on the shelves, I did enjoy this series. Some of the casting of the other fighters in this return to the arena has me scratching my head, but I'm more than willing to give the newbies a shot. I still think Lenny Kravitz was a terrible choice for Cinna, though.

Nebraska: I really like Alexander Payne's movies, and this upcoming one has some interesting facets to it. It's the first movie of his that he directed from a screenplay that he didn't write. It stars Will Forte in a non-comedy role. Nebraska is a black and white drama about an old man (Bruce Dern) and his son on a cross-state road trip to collect a sweepstakes prize. Dern has already won an award at Cannes for his role in this movie, and I haven't read a thing about it that doesn't suggest I'll quickly be adding it to the list of Payne's successes.

November 27

Frozen: The characteristics of animated movies that will or will not grab my attention seem so arbitrary. Why does this musical version of "The Snow Queen" appeal to me so much, when things like Turbo and Epic pass by with a shrug? The female leads may provide a clue. In this movie, Idina Menzel voices a queen that has accidentally cursed a land with eternal winter, inspiring her sister (Kristen Bell) to go on a journey to break the spell. I have seen no indications of this movie's quality; it could be be delightful, insufferable, or anything in between. It's definitely on my radar, though. Anyone want to loan me a kid I can pass off as my niece so I can go see it without seeming creepy?

Horror Fanatic

Halloween is my favorite holiday, but as has been well-covered on this page and many others, I can't handle gory movies. It's a total bummer. Thankfully, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining is more about atmospheric horror than guts and torture, so I don't have to have that glaring blank in my film viewing experience. It's a fun movie to watch, but not the one I'm writing about today. Nope, today is all about Room 237, Rodney Ascher's 2012 documentary about the various theories that Shining obsessives have about the film's underlying meaning.

Kubrick was a meticulous director with an eye for detail, so according to the interview subjects in Room 237, there can be no such thing as an extraneous prop or continuity error. Everything must mean something. Is The Shining about mistreatment of Native Americans by white settlers? Is it about the Holocaust? Is it an extended confession that Kubrick helped fake the moon landing footage? Did he plant a subliminal "Fuck you!" to Stephen King in a traffic scene? Each of the interviewees takes one of these tacks, and holds so tight to their perceived solution to a code that only they have cracked that they can't see anything else. The documentary makes some clever choices in outlining these people's hypotheses.

For one, we never see them. All of the theories are explained in voice-over as we see the relevant scene they're discussing. There are no slick editing cuts; at one point, one of the subjects has to step away from the microphone to talk to a fussy child. And although some of these ideas are laughably cuckoo, the film never goes out of its way to either endorse nor ridicule them. At one point, one of the interviewees insists that Kubrick has photoshopped his own visage into the clouds, and Room 237 merely plays the scene without bothering to point out where this supposed face is meant to appear. Needless to say, it's just clouds. At no point does this film ever point out the outlandish nature of the interviewees' claims explicitly, preferring to just present them as-is.

These people are all interviewed separately, of course, and it's amazing to hear how confident they are as their conflicting theories are put forward. After all, this movie can't be about American Indians and the moon landing, and watching the interviewees cherry-pick "evidence" to support their individual arguments is fascinating. That's not to say that nothing of value is gleaned from the interviews. One subject has done extensive work into the architecture of the Overlook Hotel, and points out that it's actually an impossible structure. There are windows displayed in what should be interior rooms. People turn corners that lead to hallways that should be on another floor. This may have been done to amp up the confusion and tension of the movie's atmosphere, or perhaps it didn't enter into Kubrick's calculus at all. What it probably didn't mean is that we're all trapped in a mythological maze that is symbolized by a ski poster on the wall that may or may not look like a minotaur if you squint at it hard enough.

In many ways, Room 237 could be subtitled Confirmation Bias: The Movie. If all you're looking for are scenes featuring multiples of 7, then that's all you're going to find, even if the most important number in the movie isn't one. By focusing so intently on individual elements of the film, these would-be academics completely miss any sort of big picture. So by not verbally outlining any sort of concrete thesis, Room 237 is actually able to put forth a really interesting one: Consider your source.

Room 237: B+
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