Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Brazil (Terry Gilliam)


(contains spoilers)

The problem with Sam Lowry is that he is genre savvy, but starring in the wrong genre. Time and again, we see the daydreamer imagine events as more mythical than they are and in those sequences, like Don Quixote and the windmills (well, this is Gilliam), he sees the route to personal glory and whats more, escape. Lowry is a normal man within the decrepit system, who thinks he is the hero of his own action movie, complete with random damsel in distress to save. So little does it occur to him that Brazil isn't that type of film, so brazen are the risks that he takes to make reality of his own dreams, that its clear in his final moments before insanity that only right at the end did he twig he'd got the whole genre wrong entirely. Not that he's the only one, as Brazil is essentially all about people trying to make their dreams reality, and reality doing its best to crush them, with copious amounts of paperwork. Jonathan Pryce is perhaps not the best man to play a big lead role, but as Sam who thinks he's the lead in his own film, but blends so easily into to the faceless mob, it is better casting than it sounds on paper.

Speaking of which, Michael Palin. Robert De Niro wanted the role of Jack Lint, which shows how good a role it is, and how much De Niro has misjudged it. You can easily imagine De Niro as Jack Lint but then it's played as a De Niro role. The steel behind the grin is less subtle, people take on face value he might be hiding something. De Niro's career was built on tough guys. The character needs the opposite. For the true horror to seep in, you really needed a nice clean cut family man. And Michael Palin, who for all his National Treasure status is still woefully underrated as an actor, is bloody brilliant as this most normal of Nazis. The family man who takes his kids to work, and holds amiable chats with old friends, while clocking in and out as State Torturer. The scene of him, coated in blood, chatting to Sam and entertaining his own daughter at the same time is the best in the film by far. I'd rather an entire film based around Michael Palin: Nazi Torturer and Family Man. People tend to think a horrific regime is full of Hitler, or Trump types, but really it needs thousands of Jack Lints casually going about their work.

Lots of good actors spend flitting moments with us, and in the end flit away as if their presence was a dream itself. Some of those with 5 mins or less of screen time include Bob Hoskins, Simon Jones and the wonderful late Ian Richardson. The continual meddling in the film from all quarters does lead to an un-even and slightly disjointed film, with a jarring right turn from family and bureaucracy into explosions and girl even within its own framework. And given his dreams of action hero status, and his knowledge of the system, Sam's final solution to their problem seems a bit naive and trusting of a system he knows is bollocked by inefficiency, but then, that's paperwork for you. And dreams.

In short, Brazil has all the pieces for success, but the presentation winds up rather disjointed. So this stream of thought has something in common with it. And even if its not the film in our dreams (how apt) it still produces Jack Lint, one of the great screen villains. Which instantly makes it a far better film than one without Michael Palin's Jack Lint, like, for example, a Brazil with Robert De Niro's Jack Lint.



(contains spoilers)

I recently saw Aliens for the second time in my life. The first was when I was four, and watched parts of it with my Auld Yin. To his parental credit, he had assumed I was asleep at the time, the flat in Allison St being a kids bedroom/living room 2 in 1. In fact, the moment where a toddler loudly announced, at a pivotal moment, “I don’t like these dragons, dad!” might have made him jump more than the film.

But then, this tells me how weird memory and experience is. When I saw Alien for the first time, it was also with Dad but I was in my late teens, so while it was thrilling, it didn’t linger as a particular terrifying film. (I really like the film Alien, for the record, great cast and cinematography, but I saw it too late…) Whereas the incidental music and some of the dialogue from Aliens is seeped into my subconscious from the age of 4. This is my excuse for the fact that while Aliens is in every single way an inferior film to the original, I found watching it more of a tense experience than the Ridley Scott film.

Mind you, the parental aspect does play on one more now there is a Sarah about. If the first film tells that if anyone listened to Ripley, they’d still be alive, then the second tells us that all of these crack troops should have listened to the wee girl with actual experience of the colony siege. Carrie Henn has no previous (or further) acting experience, but her portrayal of Newt is at the heart of this film. In fact, she takes a brief veterans can struggle with – cold but sympathetic – and pretty much knocks it out of the park. The relationship between her and Ripley blossoms on screen with no small credit to their chemistry, to the point that when a terrified Newt, surrounded by xenomorphs, calls out “Mummy!” to Ripley, what might have looked trite in lesser hands comes across as a natural progression of events. Ripley has lost a child through the Weyland Corporation’s nefarious schemes and a nightmarish creature (and that nightmare scene in the hospital is quite unsettling for how out of the blue it appears) but through standing up to the Corporation, and facing her own nightmare, she’s gained another. (Let’s just gloss over Alien 3 here…)

Really, she’s the mirror image of the Alien Queen, the big bad who seems to be more fussed with how her young are doing, rather than fight Ripley, until Ripley goes mental on them right in front of her. She’s like the alien version of the mum from Malcolm in the Middle, really. Seemingly, after the Queen shows mercy, it’s Ripley’s actions that spur on the climax, as who else taught the Alien Queen the concept of vengeance? Also, note, the terror brought upon the survivors is caused by… Ripley herself, in a fury of panicked button smashing, giving the Queen a route to freedom. Everyone makes mistakes in this film.

Elsewhere, Bill Paxton’s mood swinging Private is a quote-a-meme standout, and it’d have been nice to see Vasquez live. James Cameron’s direction is good at keeping a verve and pace to a film when there’s action scenes to be had, so the Alien scenes are dealt with quite well. He’s less good with the nuts and bolts, however, and that’s where Aliens starts to drag. As does the fact that nearly every character seems to have a sort of idiot ball attached to them. Really, there are times when it seems the only thinking characters in the film are the Aliens themselves, and that point, you are almost tempted to root for them. Those dragons, eh, whit they like?

Assault on Precinct 13


There's a thesis out there somewhere correlating the inverse budget of a 1970s thriller and it's quality. Now I like Freidkin's infamous flop Sorcerer (4 men, 4 secrets, 1 killer, 1 truck in the middle of Colombia) much in the same way I dislike Heavens Gate, so you know, outliers and all that. But it does seem that the more money thrown at a project, the flabbier and more, dare I say, pretentious it gets. Which is how The Deer Hunter is a decent 90 minute film disguised by 3-4 hours of flab. 

This isn't solely a knock on Cimino, honest, but it brings us to his antithesis here in John Carpenter. John Carpenter is a director who flourishes under pressures and small budgets - The Fog, They Live and even The Thing all had remarkably small budgets compared to their contemporaries, and all are great. Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter's first "big" film, takes this to the extreme: no budget at all. In fact, all the money used on the film was raised by Carpenter and his friends asking their parents for dosh. Even the eerie incidental music is his own work.

But where issues show, genius, if it exists, also reveals itself. And Assault on Precinct 13 is a brilliant film. The casting, from Austin Stoker's hero cop to Laurie Zimmer to Darwin Joston's Napoleon (who in a remarkable feat makes a multiple murderer sympathetic in context) works across the board. The latter two make a simmering chemistry work through saying little and stares, and it works. The setting works its claustrophobic qualities to the best, even with scenes set in broad daylight in LA. We have a gang laying siege to a police station in revenge for some gang members dying. Carpenter makes the gang multi-racial so that the usual sorts can't make a direct political statement. He also films it as though he was filming a zombie film. All the same tropes, beats and moments, but with human villains. If you believe that the evil men do is worse than any imagined monster, then this is the film for you, and it bloody works.

Elsewhere Martin West does a decent shot at PTSD (and the reasons for that are legit one of the more shocking moments in cinema history, even if JR's review spoiled it and this spoiler free review will make it obvious when you do watch...), and Tony Burton is the conflicted death row inmate with star quality - you can see his route to Rocky.

In short, this is fantastic, and I'm glad it existed, because between St Elmos Fire, A Good Day to Die Hard, and those James Cameron films, man have been stuck on a rubbish run of first time film viewing lately.