Archive for Terry Gilliam

Quixotic/Chaotic

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2020 by dcairns

What’s wrong with Terry Gilliam? Just as he’s supposed to be promoting THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, his decade-in-the-making dream project as it finally comes to home video — and after its merciless critical thrashing, it NEEDS some promotion — he comes down with a kind of ideational Tourettes, trashing his reputation with a cascade of ill-considered jibes and blurtings aimed at pc culture and the #MeToo movement.

A central plank of the sunken sloop that is Gilliam’s “argument” reminds me of an awkward moment in Bologna when Kathryn Sermak, Bette Davis’s former PA, made a similar embarrassing statement confusing rape and assault by producers with the old-fashioned casting couch. Everybody had turned up prepared to adore this woman who was the Great Bette’s confidante, and then we kind of didn’t know where to look or what to say. Nobody picked a fight over it, because we still wanted to hear about her recollections, and we now wanted to hear as little about her opinions as possible.

I don’t know what it is — are people schooled in the workings of Hollywood so inured to the casting couch concept that when they hear about producers taking unfair advantage of actors, they can only process it in terms of a transactional sex-for-stardom arrangement? So, when they hear the word “rape” they assume what we really mean is “woman sleeps with producer for role and then feels bad about it”? But I think the accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior are fairly unambiguous.

Gilliam says he could tells stories about actresses who got ahead by bedding the engorged mogul, and I have no doubt he could — he was forbidden to cast Samantha Morton, perhaps because she hadn’t shown Harvey the proper obeisance. But just because sometimes Harvey slept with women and gave them roles, or failed to sleep with women and denied them roles, doesn’t mean all of his activity was consensual. (And even here he took things beyond the usual limits, trash-talking women who had rejected him to sabotage their careers even at other companies.) Insiders like Ben Affleck and Quentin Tarantino apparently knew he was an abuser. (Hey, one might observe that the scene in GRINDHOUSE/PLANET TERROR where Tarantino and Rodriguez joke about raping Rose McGowan hasn’t aged well, but it was horrible THEN.) People generally in the industry but not tied to Miramax or the Weinstein Company knew Harvey was a bully, but not the depths of his viciousness.

It’s possible Gilliam doesn’t really believe in rape as a thing. Which would make him very reactionary indeed. Is he nervous about his own past behaviour? I’ve never heard anything against him so I don’t see why he should be taking the part of sex pests. He seems certainly to be arguing that the #MeToo movement is worse than the crimes it’s sought to expose and prevent, which is an odd one. Perhaps there are some men who have been unjustly accused and had their careers damaged? Perhaps, but not that many. The doubtful Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are still making films. I don’t know about James Toback, but he’s escaped legal consequences for the multiple offenses he was accused of. Geoffrey Rush has certainly suffered some distress, but if you read the Wikipedia account of his trial, he seems to have been cut every possible form of slack, and anything further from a witch hunt is hard to imagine.

I would like to be able to argue that Gilliam is being true to the contrarian spirit of Monty Python by alienating his own constituency (aging liberals who like films and comedy and care about humanity) but it feels more like he’s made that sharp turn to the right that crepuscular revolutionaries are always performing.

Does this matter? I have the Blu-ray of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE in my Amazon shopping basket. I haven’t bought it yet because I’m annoyed with Gilliam, and because I wonder if someone so seemingly incapable of coherent thought, so mindlessly contrarian, can make a good film?

Gas Giant

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2018 by dcairns

JUPITER ASCENDING! I had a vague hankering to see this, partly since I collaborated with the Wachowskis on CLOUD ATLAS (i.e. since I directed ten seconds of the bottom left-hand corner of a splitscreen montage in that film), partly because it sounded like it might be bonkers.

Sadly, only Eddie Redmayne is proper mad in this film, essaying a husky-voiced characterisation punctuated by Sudden Random SHOUTING that betrays the influence of A. Hopkins in particularly fruity mode. So he’s bringing the entertainment, or embarrassment, depending on your viewpoint. Some said the role would cost him the Oscar he might have otherwise clasped for THE DANISH GIRL. My friend and co-writer Alex Livingstone disagreed, insisting that it was the role of Balem Abrasax in the Wachowski space opera that he should in fact have been nominated FOR.As for the other actors, Mila Kunis does OK with a role that’s basically just asking questions about cosmology (while wearing nice frocks). Look at Linda Fiorentino, an equally poised and forceful actor, floundering horribly in Kevin Smith’s DOGMA to see how difficult this kind of exposition-speak can be. But then look at Sean Bean, who is SO good that he actually seems like a human being while talking this crap and hampered with the name Stinger Apini. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum is part-wolf, but he also used to have wings, but he can still fly without them thanks to his science skates, so that’s OK. Or is it? Seems kind of… NEEDLESSLY COMPLEX.

So is everything in this bloated yet wafer-thin pulp. The small greys are from such-and-such a system, says Tatum, but they’ve been modified to serve as OH SHUT UP CHANNING TATUM. Everything is needlessly complicated to disguise how simplistic it is, including the characters’ looks. Fiona complained that all the extras had pointless bits stuck on their faces. I blame Lobot. That guy with the tin ears in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. He’s Lobot. I know these things because I’m a film critic.“So… I play a guy with a stripey chin…”

We get an explanation of how the aliens cover up their activity on Earth, after a big chase trashes half of Chicago, but since the film goes on to spend zero time with ordinary humans, they might as well have not bothered. The MATRIXesque phildickian “something’s going on but you don’t know what it is, do you, Jupiter Jones?” thing simply has no reason to exist in this movie.

The brave thing about J.A. is that it’s not a sequel or a superhero movie, but that scarcely matters when it delivers the same boilerplate characters and “thrills” as every CAPTAINIRONBATSUPERWONDERBLACKTHORHULKSPIDERPANTHERMANWOMAN film out there. We get distinct nods to Mike Hodges’ FLASH GORDON and David Lynch’s DUNE, but the subversive and strange qualities of those movies are absent. Might as well have gone for broke, in retrospect, since this movie tanked anyway.The Terry Gilliam cameo is hugely enjoyable for this reason — they hired a non-actor for jokey reasons and let him do the same mugging and nonsense he’d do in the background of Monty Python sketches. Also, he doesn’t give us his thoughts on the #MeToo movement. The movie really needed about 400% of this sort of thing. Get Richard O’Brien! Get Martin Short!

Alternatively, the action scenes would need to be brought off with the kind of enthusiasm and cohesion and imagination the Wachowskis manages just once, in the original MATRIX. Well, the sequels had some eye-catching bits, I guess. But SPEED RACER had no flow, and this one has a bit so damn busy that the screen just disintegrates into particles. Some little spaceships called “Warhammers” were attacking a bigger spaceship. “I have no idea what I’m looking at,” protested Fiona, “except it’s shit.” I put forward that the theory that what we were looking at was pixels. To save money, the siblings had dispensed with computers and just poured a bunch of pixels all over everything. Really, if the second-hand disc had been damaged and started artifacting, we wouldn’t have known it.

Examples ~ It’s NOT any clearer when it’s in motion. It’s either a space battle as envisioned by Michael Snow or its the last image to pass before George Lucas’s mind’s eye as he gets dragged through the waistline of a radioactive hourglass.

Finally, Mila Kunis does get to do some acting, make some choices for herself, and have a fight scene, where it suddenly turns out she has the ability to fall for about a mile and then grab hold of something, which is odd as she’s not supposed to be superpowered. But at least she’s DOING SOMETHING rather than inviting other characters to dump information on her, The Wachowskis, as we now from the later MATRICES, have a real weakness of explanation.

But it’s too little, too late, in a film which is otherwise too much, too soon (rather than using its protagonist’s experiences to introduce the weird space characters, the film can’t resist splurging and flinging them at us right away). Jupiter is an expository device like CITIZEN KANE’s Thompson, leaving Tatum to drive the plot — but he’s not the title character, and he’s viewed as an object of desire. It’s nice when the Wachowskis mix up gender roles, but not nice when they sabotage the drama. At the climax of the film, Tatum has to fight a crocodile man, but I was struggling to get worked up about it. “I don’t dislike this crocodile man,” I found myself saying. “I think he’s OK.”Still, in the film’s one really neat bit of sci-fi action, Tatum drops the reptilian fellow through a portal in a glass floor and snaps it shut on his neck. Nasty.

Also oddly reminiscent of maybe the most startling gag in Buster Keaton’s career ~The tragedy of the Wachowskis, or maybe tragicomedy since they’re probably quite happy, is that they are authentically left-field talents (BOUND is still their most satisfying movie) who got boosted into superproduction mode by THE MATRIX and fundamentally don’t belong there. And maybe they’re not quite clever enough to either escape or turn the situation to any artistic advantage.

Ark Shadows

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2018 by dcairns

Are thirties cartoons strange because the sensibilities attracted to motion picture cartooning at that time were inherently odd people, or because the years have aged the films in unexpected ways, or because the medium was still in its relative infancy and so rampant experimentation predominated, or something else, or some combination of all three.

At the Fleischer Bros studio, we seem to have a peculiar worldview that’s beautiful to watch (as long as they stayed with shorts: GULLIVER’S TRAVELS and HOPPITY GOES TO TOWN exhibit a very different manner), whereas the lesser studios, it seems to me, often produced work that’s bizarre but doesn’t seem to WORK.

Witness Terrytoons’ jug-band rendition of the deluge, purportedly as Aesop’s Fable according to some title cards, while others (the film has been released with various hot-spliced main titles over the decades since its manufacture) don’t bother with this band-aid alibi and leave the blasphemy to stand on its own merits.

I don’t think the Old Testament mentions anything about a mouse playing a toenail xylophone, so the picture gets off to a flagrantly apocryphal start. Noah’s modern dress overalls suggest this is an updating of the apocalypse, something like TAKE SHELTER.

Then we get a plotless stretch of musical farm animals which is disturbing in a classic early thirties way, especially the la-la-la cow who ought to be rendered into sirloin ASAP to preserve sanity. So things are already a bit upsetting before the single black storm cloud starts a storm that engulfs the entire planet. The giraffe with windows in his neck, and down his right leg, is an unwelcome invention also. Co-star him with the Frankenstein monster from VAN HELSING, the only other character I can think of with windows in him, so I can avoid both at the same time.

OH GOD NO MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP

Mouse seems to be riding a toy horse, it has puppet-like joints on its legs and is too small to be a real horse, but then it gets struck by lightning and becomes a skeleton. What. And then it gets chopped in half but keeps running, like Baron Munchausen’s steed. (Terry Gilliam had to leave this passage from the novel unfilmed, due to budget problems on THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “I cut the thing that made me want to do the movie in the first place.”)

Various equally appalling gags show more exotic animals boarding the ark two by two. Toons of this vintage often have a nice/scary quality of BLACK GLOW, where the ink-lines are somehow underexposed or badly duped, resulting in an antimatter aura of darkness bleeding from the dark figures. This one is kind of washed out, but the lightning bolts are interesting: they’re so over-exposed they just look like some kind of print damage or error, blinding fluctuations in the brightness.

But the ending is the thing that makes this one worthwhile. You should really watch it before reading further, but I do want to write it down so I can see the words in cold black and white. So stop reading now and watch at least the last minute of the toon if you haven’t already, then come back and read on after this happy image ~

YES. Like the freed prisoners of Bunuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, the happy menagerie give thanks to the Lord for their deliverance — and He strikes them down again, for no reason. Noah ends up with a frozen lightning bolt through the seat of his dungarees, as it rains cats and dogs (more than two by two, them critters breeds FAST). In a cartoon, God is a capricious, cruel, infinitely destructive demiurge, like Bugs Bunny tormenting Daffy Duck in DUCK AMUCK with nightmarish metamorphoses in a cel-painted Beckettian torture-show. The cartoonist hits on the perfect metaphor: if there were a God, this is the kind of guy He would have to be, randomly dishing out surreal punishments before returning us to the darkness of the inkwell.

And the Lord sayeth, “Ain’t I a stinker?”