Sunday, January 19, 2014

Two Christmas Stories and an Oscar

Brazil: written by Charles McKeown, Terry Gilliam, and Tom Stoppard; directed by Terry Gilliam; starring Jonathan Pryce (Sam Lowry), Robert De Niro (Harry Tuttle), Katherine Helmond (Ida Lowry), Ian Holm (Mr. Kurtzmann), Bob Hoskins (Spoor), Michael Palin (Jack Lint), and Kim Griest (Jill Layton) (1985): What's left to say about this scabrous, bleak, and jaunty sideways look into a dystopian future that looks a lot like the past? I don't know. Don't watch the studio's recut 94-minute version, for sure, with its bizarre happy ending.

How about the role of Christmas in this dystopia? Everyone's celebrating it throughout the movie, funny enough given the paranoid, joyless state of the State. Secret policemen carol in the basement of the Ministry of Information Retrieval (which is to say, the Torture Ministry). Everyone's got stacks of gifts on their desks to hand out to anyone who comes in. Everybody's shopping. Keep consuming, and put on a happy face, even if you need plastic surgery to do so.

This is Gilliam's masterpiece, filled with great performances by almost everyone (Kim Griest as the love interest is a bit weak, but she also doesn't have a lot to do). Jonathan Pryce, with his Stan Laurel face, makes a terrific bureaucratic Everyman, his daydreams making him also Walter Mitty in Oceania. Robert De Niro is amazingly loose and funny as a renegade duct repairman (there are a lot of ducts and tubes and pipes in the world of Brazil).

The whole enterprise gives us a burned out, crummy future in which the incessant terrorist bombings are really just another control method of the State. Weird motivational posters appear everywhere in the background. The mined-out countryside hides behind endless billboards covered with scenes of verdant nature. Pryce's daydreams give him a way out, but his fears of the State invade even them from time to time. Is there any escape from this particular Inferno? Highly recommended.


Iron Man Three: written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black; based on comic-book material by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Leiber, Warren Ellis and Adi Granov; directed by Shane Black; starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian) and Ben Kingsley (The Mandarin) (2013): Much better than the woeful second Iron Man movie, mainly thanks to co-writer/director Shane Black, of Die Hard fame. The whole movie seems to have been constructed around the problem of having Iron Man armor and Robert Downey Jr., unarmored, appear on camera as much as possible. The solution really boils down to Iron Robot and His Amazing Controller, Tony Stark. The movie is probably the campiest big-budget superhero movie since Batman & Robin, though here the lines are a lot funnier. Lightly recommended.




Klute: written by Andy and David E. Lewis; directed by Alan J. Pakula; starring Jane Fonda (Bree Daniels), Donald Sutherland (John Klute), Charles Cioffi (Peter Cable), and Roy Scheider (Frank Ligourin) (1971): Melancholy character study/film noir about a private detective (Sutherland's Klute) and the prostitute (Fonda's Bree) who may know something about the disappearance of Klute's businessman friend. Fonda deservedly won a Best Actress Oscar for her work here. Sutherland is also very good as the stoic, laconic Klute. Alan J. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis construct a film world occasionally dominated by looming shadows and a sort of run-down crumminess out on the streets of New York. Recommended.

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