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Hilarious Satire, Existential Nightmare, Visionary Masterwork
Terry Gilliam's films are often battles, in the case of 'Brazil', Universal Studios, being led by Sid Sheinberg, wanted to change the film to make it more appealing for a commercial audience, but Gilliam resisted. Indeed, it was always meant as a cult film, with several people walking out during test screenings. Gilliam even went as far as to put up an ad saying "Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film?", and put up a photo of Sid Sheinberg on television to show everyone what he looked like, and showed illegal screenings to critics. He nearly had it entirely his way, although a dream sequence in which eyeballs stare up at Sam Lowry from the ground had to be deleted from the film. Perhaps it's Gilliam's uncompromising defiance that made it such a great film.
In the tradition of Orwell's '1984' and the collected writings of Franz Kafka, 'Brazil' is a chilling dystopian sci-fi, a satire on bureaucracy, an existentialist horror in the guise of an absurdist farce, and a celebration of the imagination, which blends the comic, tragic, and visionary. It clearly comes out of the 'Monty Python' films, but is much darker, and leaves a powerful and lingering impression. Gilliam's vision is a vivid, bizarre, and madly inventive representation of a bureaucratic hell, which uses absurdity and black humor to portray an oppressive and frightening existence, yet this does not to lighten or diminish the films nightmarish horror, but rather makes it more plausible and multi- dimensional. These comical elements include a hilariously cramped office, chaotically disarrayed pipes and wires, and administrative errors. The protagonist is a dreamer, someone whose ideals are completely at odds with the oppressive world he's living in, and his dreams represent his explosive imagination breaking free of the shackles daily life imposes on him, yet always get impeded by the oppressive horror of Sam's existence, and turn into nightmares, with some truly strange, creepy, and sad imagery. If you find the film incoherent, than perhaps the whole thing's an impressionist nightmare, in which it's the fundamental images, feelings, and ideas that prevail.
The final act is where the film takes a turn for the dark, sinister, and dangerous. It fuses symbols of childhood and innocence, with oppression and torture to chilling effect, such as masks of baby faces, and Santa Claus. It suggests that evil can come in the form of your best friend, a common family man, just ordinary people working for a bureaucratic system. It also features a gripping chase sequence, where you feel the options closing in on our doomed protagonist. The ambiguous and thought-provoking ending, while disturbing in a sense, is Gilliam's most definitive statement on imagination triumphing over reality. It will have people debating over whether it's tragic or triumphant, in a way I think it's a metaphor for what Terry Gilliam does for a living, creating gloriously imagined alternatives to our current reality. In fact, the whole film can be seen as an allegory on Gilliam's 'David and Goliath' battle with Universal Studios to get the film released the way he wanted, the small man against the big system.
Quite Possibly Terry Gilliam's Masterpiece
'Tideland' was the reverse of 'The Brothers Grimm', Gilliam at his purest, least restricted by studio interference. There are people who found this film too dark, strange, and twisted; the critic's consensus even calls it unwatchable. It's been called impenetrable, but then there are people who've merely been disappointed, found it dull and uneventful. However, Terry Gilliam himself, and a few others, consider this to be one of his best films, as well as Mark Kermode claiming it was a completely different experience the second time round.
It is his most provocative, uncompromising, and idiosyncratic film to date, one that's challenging and uncomfortable for many adults, yet it's remarkable in its portrayal of innocence, resilience, and imagination, triumphing over the harsh, ugly truths of life, just like in 'Brazil', where imagination is a freedom in which we can escape, and make what we want to of our surroundings. Ultimately, it asks us to let go of our rigid, conditioned sense of morality, and see the world with the innocence and wonder of a child.
It also shows the flip-side of imagination, how it can exaggerate events, making them more threatening than they really are. It's telling that when Jeliza-Rose goes downstairs and sees Dickens in a blonde sitting in a rocking chair, it creates this mysterious, creepy unease, but when she sees it's him, this feeling dissipates. Dickens' mother Dell, initially appears to be a wicked witch, but in the end just turns out to be a concerned, protective mother. The final shot of the film even reaches a poetic beauty, which lets us know that Jeliza-Rose has come through the whole experience unharmed. Perhaps part of the success of this film is due to restraint, Gilliam not going wild with flights of fancy, or lavish set pieces, but keeping it stripped back to its bare essentials, and showing how strange life can be on its own, by focusing on the oddball characters, unpleasant situations, and the resilient spirit of the protagonist.
Terry Gilliam believes that the critical dismay of 'Tideland' is due to the fact that they were too afraid to confront the subject matter, and there's not a lot of evidence in their reviews to refute that. There are films which were shocking and controversial at the time, such as 'Peeping Tom' (1960), and 'Freaks' (1932), which have since gone on to develop classic status. I imagine that someday, 'Tideland' will be looked upon the same way we see those films today, a great film that was misunderstood at the time.
The Zero Theorem (2013)
Gilliam aims big on a small scale
This is Terry Gilliam's third existentialist science-fiction movie, after 'Twelve Monkeys' and 'Brazil', which explores the idea of trying to find meaning amongst chaos. In those movies, the off kilter art direction felt more restrained, as well as more symbolic of the underlying themes being explored. Here, the visuals are as loud, eye-popping, and inventive as ever, but come close to self- parody, and begin to look gaudy, cluttered, and ludicrous. It's a world that's harder to believe in, as it looks more transparently staged than any other Terry Gilliam film. This is partly the result of Terry Gilliam lacking the budget that was needed in order to invent a world that looked truly futuristic or dazzling.
The philosophy fits into the world Gilliam's created, but falls flat when removed from its context. Much of the film consists of ham- fisted discussions on the meaninglessness of life, inside a decaying junk shop chapel which Quohen spends most of his time in. Maybe that's it; the meaningless of life is more just talked about, rather than delivered, and leaves it feeling like a theoretical exercise. The threat, danger, and tragic, inescapable conclusions in some of Gilliam's best films are absent here. There just doesn't seem to be much at stake and thus less reason to become wrapped up in Quohen's search for meaning. The other thing is that unlike Gilliam's earlier films, the attempts at humor in this film rarely land. However, there's a great metaphor about searching for meaning, which involves Quohen Leth piecing blocks together on a high-tech computer system, only for them to explode apart, leaving him to start back over again.
Where the film does succeed, like the Imaginarium in Gilliam's previous feature film, are the sequences set in a virtual reality system, which includes a tropical beach where the sun doesn't set, and a void in outer space. Although still highly stylized, these moments elevate the movie, giving it a romantic, dreamlike, and magical air, and feel like the intimate, refreshing antidote we needed to the zany clutter of Quohen's otherwise existence. However, although it opens up the possibility of unlimited imagination, it lacks the ever changing excitement of the Imaginarium, as these two environments are the only places that seem to be featured in the virtual reality system.
Another point where the film succeeds is the romantic, emotional, human elements of it, which are as ever handled with subtlety and a lack of sentimentality, although the breakup seemed too abrupt and forced. Terry Gilliam has always known how to wrap a story up and this is no exception. The film ends on a peaceful, optimistic, and quietly touching note, leaving a tinge of aching loss, and as ever, asks the viewer to decide what's real or imagined, it also features a droll cover of 'Creep' by 'Radiohead'. It leaves with a message, which seems to be that it's only when you fully embrace chaos and emptiness that you find peace.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Tense Thriller, but fails to keep itself restrained, thus losing plausibility
'10 Cloverfield Lane' is about a woman held captive because her captor is convinced he's protecting her from a virus outside. She meets another man there, who's also being held captive. Throughout the movie, you're wondering whether the captor's insane, or if he's protecting them from a lethal disease outside.
It's a movie that invites comparisons. I'd personally compare it to 'Take Shelter', a film about a man who predicts a storm and hides him family in a bomb shelter, but throughout it's never clear whether he's right or if he's just imagining it. Another comparison is 'Misery', a story about a man being held captive who attempts to escape.
It's a tense, scary and gripping thriller focusing on their attempts to escape and uncover the truth about their captor. John Goodman who plays the captor, is fierce and intimidating, not a guy to be messed with. When the other two characters attempt to mess with his plans, this creates for great conflict and tension.
There's a subplot about a dead relative of the captor, which leads to interesting mystery investigation, but doesn't get fully developed.
Toward the end, it jumps the shark, forgetting to keep itself restrained, and gets a bit over the top, losing its plausibility.
The Mist (2007)
Dark and Riveting Suspense Thriller with a Brutally Bleak Ending
'The Mist' (2007) was directed by Frank Darabont and is based off a short story of the same name by Stephen King which can be found in the collection 'Skeleton Crew'.
It's about a bunch of people who get trapped in a supermarket by a mist containing deadly creatures that rips anyone who goes outside to shreds. It's also about how the people in the supermarket are affected by this. Different people respond in different ways. People are distressed and becoming frequently more irrational as the film progresses. There's the main character, David Drayton, who's the calm and rational person who's trying to do the right thing. There's also a crazy religious woman reminiscent of the mother in 'Carrie'. She riles things up by trying to convince everyone that this is an act of a vengeful God. She becomes crazier as the movie progresses.
The monsters look obviously computer generated, therefor not as convincing as I would've liked, however, they would've looked amazing if they'd looked realistic. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There's even a scene which plays on our common phobia of creepy-crawlies.
'The Mist' is a tense and riveting suspense thriller with vivid characters and despite an impending sense of dread manages to be scattered with funny moments throughout.
The biggest punch of all is in the ending, which is one of the most brutally bleak endings I've seen, partly because it's so unexpected and comes as a visceral shock to the viewer. If they had all been killed by the mist, it would've seemed almost happy in comparison. Though the ending made a huge impression on me, it left me with a bad taste and is not an ending one wishes to linger in the imagination.
The soundtrack is great, adding to the film where needs be. At the end, it uses a song called 'The Host of Seraphim' by 'Dead Can Dance', which makes its tragic ending all the more haunting.
Bold, Ambitious and Controversial. The Requiem for a Dream of Blockbusters
After the commercial and critical successes of 'Black Swan' and 'The Wrestler', Darren Aronofsky has gone for something more ambitious. Darren Aronofsky has managed to make a film on an epic scope whilst also remaining true to himself. It's both epic and fantastical whilst also being intense and emotional, intimate and thought-provoking.
This film is receiving a lot of harsh criticism, mainly from religious fundamentalists which I feel is unfair. Noah isn't originally a bible story anyway. The bible was just one of the several sources this film was inspired by. I was watching this film with a friend, and we both loved it. I predict the rating will go up and this film will become a cult classic once the initial shock dies down. For any atheists thinking of missing this film, I suggest you see it. The film hardly bares any resemblance to the bible.
If people have certain expectations about a movie, then they want it to fit into those expectations. The thing that's alienating about 'Noah' is that it tries to be everything, an action, adventure, epic, disaster, war, thriller, horror, romance, drama and fantasy.
There are a lot of ideas thrown into this film, some of which work better than others, but it held my attention from beginning till end. Even its flaws are interesting.
Some of the CGI looks a bit comical and unconvincing such as the rock creatures and the snake. There's a silly scene where Noah's grandfather is on the ground searching for grapes right in the middle of a massive flood and battle. It's arguably forced towards the end.
Before they build the ark, not a lot happens. It's basically just setting the scene and the characters. There are flashbacks and visions of people drowning in the flood which are horrifying and convincing.
There's an amazing dream sequence where the forest is on fire, and some other visually amazing scenes throughout the film which I won't spoil for you.
After they build the ark, the villain, Tubal Caine plans to invade the ark with an army. First he gives a monologue, followed by an epic battle and flood sequence which is really tense and exciting. There's a huge army trying to invade the ark as the flood is happening and Noah with the help of the rock creatures tries to fend them off. As the flood waters are rising, water shoots up from the ground and destroys the land. There's a terrifying image of people clinging onto rocks for their lives as the waters are rising.
You'd think the flood would be the climax of the movie, but it's when it really gets going. Once they get on the ark, Noah tells his children a story involving a stunning animated sequence of the creation of the universe and the evolution of man.
From here on, the film becomes really dark and intense, almost like a horror. I won't tell you what happens, but I was on the edge of my seat. With a thunderous score and an unsettling performance by Russell Crowe, it has the intensity of 'Black Swan' and 'Requiem for a Dream' mixed with the raw emotion of 'The Wrestler' and 'The Fountain'.
The score's fantastic, at times tense and exciting, and at times emotional or inspirational.
Darren Aronofsky has created a bold, controversial and ambitious film that pushes the formula for a big studio blockbuster and left me with loads to think about once it was over. You could say this is the 'Requiem for a Dream' of blockbusters.
Action/adventure popcorn movie for the masses
Peter Jacksons 'The Hobbit' trilogy is really way behind 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy in terms of quality. Firstly its being stretched out as long as 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy, which is way too long for such a short book. It misses important points in the book and replaces them with over blown, drawn out action sequences. Way too much use of CGI. The sets look really fake and plastic, like a theme park. The soundtrack is uninspired as well.
Ideally 'The Hobbit' would've been made as one film before the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy as a prelude to 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy.
Overall, this film really lacks the magic, adventure, epicness and emotional depth of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy and I feel that Peter Jacksons uninspired and just in it for the money.
Fight Club (1999)
If you judge this by its title and think it's just about fighting then you're wrong, this is so much more. It's a complex and intelligent psychological thriller with a brilliant twist and a great soundtrack. It just keeps getting better and better as the film moves on. This is easily one of the best films, if not the best film I've ever seen in my life. I'm sure enough people have gone into the plot so I won't need to do that, but it's definitely an exciting and thrilling experience as well as making a big impact and goes beyond where most films go. it was on my mind all day the day after I watched it. Whatever you do, watch this film.