Monday, July 24, 2017

The Gas Cooker Movie

You know... when stuff blows up in a Monty Python sketch or movie, it's usually a funny thing, a comedic affair.  Quite the opposite in Terry Gilliam's masterpiece 1984 1/2... I mean, Brazil.  It's not currently in his IMDb Top 4, but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is pretty good too.  In Brazil, as you probably know, after a brief introductory jaunt in the clouds, we end up upon a group of TVs in a shop window.  After the Central Services' spokesman's message is complete, KABOOM.  Up the shop goes in flames.  After the neon title, and the arguably obnoxious musical introduction courtesy of Michael Kamen (more genius, BTW), we go back to the TV: burning, but still able to show a picture.  The TV is on its side, so the camera swivels the picture so that the TV appears to be right-side up.
This is but one of the many small bits of genius of what's in store.  I recently re-watched my new Blu-Ray copy of the film.  Now, it's just the middle cut of the film, mind you.  It's not the butchered "Love Conquers All" edition, and it's not the version with all the extra scenes.  (Saw that once at a college screening!  It may have been the one featured briefly in Cameron Crowe's Singles, in fact...)  I hate to say it, but what little bit of extra narrative is lost without the extra scenes probably wasn't necessary.  This is the go-go Internet Era, after all.  On to the next cute cat video!
Really, my opinion's probably not the most interesting one.  I hear what Berardinelli's saying when it comes to Time Bandits vs. BrazilTime Bandits is a childhood favourite of mine, and feels like the more accomplished of the two films... and of course, both feature the floating cages and probably other similarities.  But Brazil is clearly for the adults among us who've often fantasized about blowing up the Ministry of Information building that looms over our town.  And as my trusted viewing companion said, after we saw the film in theatres a mere 32 odd years ago, "Man!  You feel like killing yourself after seeing that!"  Today, he wasn't as interested... okay, it's my dad... now it's on to the chores in between the highlights, but he did quip "Oh... so this is his (Terry Gilliam's) big movie to show he just doesn't work with cut outs?"  DAMN RIGHT IT IS!  Of course, you don't actually say that to your dad.
But Gilliam is a visual artist, and most of the joys of the film are like an early episode of "The Simpsons" when they were young and hungry and were about to change the comedy landscape for good, packing the screen with little asides and some big ones as well.  One of my favorite posters is one that says "Suspicion Breeds Confidence" and "Don't Trust a Friend... REPORT HIM!"  (...I'm going to, in a completely dignified way, of course... skip over the tape over the dog's butt, thank you very much)  While Brazil is probably not as packed with symbolism and irony as, say, Kubrick's The Shining... yes, I saw Room 237 recently.  See, I've been too busy watching sh... stuff to find any time to write!... I think Brazil is nevertheless, like The Shining, one of those films that gets in your brain and breaks out every once in a while like mental herpes and you think to yourself "...damn!  I need to get me some Valtrex!... I mean, that Brazil film's got something!  I gotta watch it again."  In my case, that means getting it on Blu-Ray.  Even though I'm a "film critic," I don't get studio freebees.  Poor me : (  For a pretty close, new friend of mine, it's Repo Man.
...oh, right!  The plot.  Well, just as the film kind of has the look of a noir from the '40s, so too does the plot have a bit of a Chandler-James M. Cain-Hammett feel to it.  It's a little bit bigger than a love triangle, however.  There seems to be more of a dodecahedron connecting the main character to the various other characters that move in and out of his life: there's the meddling yet aloof upper class mother of the main character, there's a "terrorist" that comes into his life, there's the embodiment of his dream girl, there's the powerful yet blissfully ignorant boss of the agency he may or may not join... okay, just those four characters, but still.  It's a little unfair to compare Brazil to Time Bandits because the central character of Time Bandits is the kid, who's basically along for the ride (in his own dream?), whereas the central character of Brazil is in charge of his own destiny... at least, until love makes a mockery of that.  You know, some movie titles say that love laughs at locksmiths... and also at the occasional pencil pusher. I tend not to look at a lot of other reviews, but I'd be very surprised indeed if someone tried comparing Brazil to Baron Munchausen, which is kind of a bloated mess to me.  It's just one of those Sisyphean movies that feels like a chore to watch.  But maybe a free Blu-Ray of it will change my mind?... nothing?  Fine.
Which brings me to some brain farts about Jonathan Pryce, another one of those guys that Hollywood knows is talented and all that, but Hollywood just doesn't know what to do with.  For me, it was Something Wicked This Way Comes that was his big American introduction... even though I wasn't aware of it at the time.  I guess it was the tarantulas, mostly.  Or maybe Jason Robards, one of the two.  You know, the tarantulas were riding high after Raiders of the Lost Ark and all that, but just kept getting typecast to appear in one scene, and in a big group.  How's a tarantula supposed to break out and become an individual star?  Hah!  Phat chance.  Anyway, Pryce in such a plum role?  The cojones on this Gilliam character!  But on reflection, all these years later, a theatre guy like Pryce is what the doctor ordered, as the character is a complex one: steadfast for the cause of defending his dream girl, and downright complicit most other times.
Arguably,... and I came to this conclusion after reading a Gilliam interview... the character of Sam Lowry's not a terribly relatable and/or likable character.  He's a low-level government pencil pusher, living in a tiny, crappy city apartment just to be far away from his mother, who presumably comes from old money.  We never see the exterior of his mother's house or apartment, just the winding, oval staircase that leads to it... probably a fancy apartment then.  Mother is trying to pull some strings to get her son a more prestigious job at Information Retrieval, which apparently is a combination of the FBI, the CIA and Homeland Security.  Sam, however, prefers being Kurtzmann's go-to guy in the lowly Department of Records under the wide Ministry of Information umbrella.  At one point, when he's having a conversation about terrorism with his dream girl, he says "It's my first day!"  Sure, as an Information Retrieval agent, but what about all the time spent in the Dept. of Records?  And when he actually meets the "terrorist" that MOI's been hunting for... well, he's torn, because the guy, Archibald ("Harry") Tuttle, has come to fix Sam's heating problem.
Then, of course, there's the whole matter of Sam's botched courtship of his dream girl Jill.  I'll leave the Kim Greist vs. Ellen Barkin discussions to better blogs than mine.  Because Kim's the underdog in this story, even and especially getting thrown under the bus by Gilliam in poison, I'll take her side, because apparently Hollywood didn't know what to do with her, either.  The much put-upon mom in Houseguest was hardly one for the ages; but hey!  On the bright side, she wasn't hit by a train!  Anyway, thinking his dream girl's in league with the terrorist, if not the mastermind proper herself, Sam gets a little reckless himself.  For example, she's got a small house on the back of her truck.  Sam's in the cab with her.  They slow down at a checkpoint.  Thinking they won't get past it, Sam puts his foot down on the gas.  A thrilling chase ensues, but it's a little hard to enjoy, knowing he's the cause of it all.  But that's how love goes, most times.  The girl has to put up with the doofish nature of the boy who's doing all the wrong things to try and impress her.  She's not impressed with Sam at first, but she softens a little bit after she thinks she's run him over with the truck.  My trusted viewing companion, incidentally, likes to play a game with me whenever we watch a movie.  I guess you could call it, "What Does That Scene Remind You Of?"  In the case I just outlined, not one or two sentences ago, it was the big truck sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark... which we also just saw on Blu-Ray, all incidental like!  But as Maxim Magazine might quip, and to a lesser extent, FHM and Bizarre... Indiana Jones owned his truck sequence, whereas Sam barely wussed his way through it.  On a side note, I also thought of the truck sequence in Lethal Weapon 2 where Riggs appears to roll off the front of the tow truck that the bad South African is driving... a little too over the top, even I have to admit.
But I should probably talk about some of the other actors.  I haven't seen all of The Long Good Friday, but it's probably Bob Hoskins' best starring role.  Who knows what his favourite was... probably Darky in The Raggedy Rawney, of course.  But it's almost worth it just for his recurring role here in Brazil.  Gilliam always tries to give a shout out to his homies in unionized labor: recall, if you can, the scene with Oliver Reed in Baron Munchausen where he's negotiating percentages with an angry mob.  "You had that scab Tuttle here?" barks Hoskins (Spoor) at Sam at one point.  But I should probably mention Michael Palin as a fella named Jack Lint.  He's apparently close friends with Sam; at least, that's what they say up top.  But Sam doesn't even know that Jack has triplets, and there's a terrifically awkward scene where Sam says to Jack about his wife... who's STANDING RIGHT THERE, by the way... "I always wondered if they were real!"  Sam beats himself up about it afterward.  Maybe that's the highlight of the movie.  We the audience find out incidentally that Jack isn't quite the character he seems.  Sam goes to the 50th floor to see Jack, and Jack emerges from his workroom floor into his nice office, wearing a blood-stained white coat.  Jack is furiously massaging his temples with his hands, and his hands have vibrating metal devices on them to make the skull massage go a little faster.  All the Pythons are terribly silly, of course, but I think Palin is probably the best actor of the lot.  Idle and Cleese fancy themselves to be the matinee idols of the bunch, while Terry Jones is the compulsive nudist... but sometimes I wonder if he just does that for either the cameras or the attention.  And even though Palin seemed to have a predilection for the smarmy game show host on many a Python TV sketch, well... consider his turn as the stuttering bank robber in A Fish Called Wanda.  The way Kevin Kline tortures him throughout the movie is probably the only reason for going back.  I probably shouldn't go so far as to say his performance in Brazil was chilling, but damn close!
...damn.  I don't take notes while watching a movie, to my detriment.  I forget what other brilliant insights I had.  But I think I started to appreciate Brazil anew when I finally realized the ridiculousness of Sam Lowry's phone.  Its ring is rude, and apparently not the kind you want to use if you get woken up by it.  It's like a little miniature switchboard, and you have several jacks, and you have to make sure to plug in the right one to get the phone to work.  It's these kinds of things that make a film like Brazil one that you may never stop going back to.  I'll probably have to get it on Ultra Blu-Ray at some point.  Gilliam's made interesting films after Brazil, of course, but I don't think he's been able to do better.

Okay, just thought of the last brilliant thought.  SPOILER ALERT: in Sam's dream as the flying metal warrior, he finally defeats his nemesis: the giant masked warrior with the big metal and electric suit.  He goes to take off the dude's mask and... yup.  You guessed it.  Same thing happened to Billy Crystal in Throw Momma from the Train (also with Kim Greist... it was a good couple years for her!) and in one of the later Death Wishes... the fourth one, I think.  Well, it was a couple years after the other two films, and even Bronson occasionally dreams of electric Oscars(TM).

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

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