Tag: 5 stars

Movie Review: Brazil (1985)

After my housemate expressed interest in futuristic dystopian movies, I immediately prescribed Brazil, one of my absolute favourite movies. I have a lot to say about it. Remaining Terry Gilliam’s greatest and best-known work, it deals with bureaucracy, terrorism, insurgency, and love on a grand scale. Somewhere in the 20th century, a typo leads to an arrest warrant for Archibald Buttle, shoe repair operative, to be issued instead of one for Harry Tuttle, heating engineer. This one incident sparks a chain of events escalating in one man’s rebellion against England’s totalitarian bureaucratic government. In a role written just for him the incomparable Jonathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry, an unmotivated but highly capable employee of the Bureau of Records, who dreams of rescuing a beautiful blonde (Kim Greist) from robotic captors while he toils away at his thankless job.

By following Sam around, Gilliam establishes a detailed and technologically complex satirical world, inundated with myriad official forms, plastic surgery, government surveillance, and sporadic terrorist bombings. Sam must reimburse the family for Buttle’s wrongful arrest, and while visiting their apartment he glimpses the girl from his dreams, Jill Layton, and works desperately to find her again. He accepts a promotion engineered by his socially active and conniving mother (Katherine Helmond) so that he can access Jill’s file with the help of upper-level interrogator and old school chum Jack Lint (Michael Palin), but she shows up at his office building in an attempt to locate her neighbor Mr Buttle. Under the pretense of arresting her as a suspected terrorist, Sam persuades her to drive away in her awesome tank-like delivery truck and tries to convince her he’s trustworthy. She cautiously lets him hang out while she runs a mission, and eventually grows to trust him.

Sam’s apartment is unlivable due to a takeover by government repairmen (Bob Hoskins and Derrick O’Connor) after he’d secretly allowed rogue heating engineer Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) to fix his air conditioning. Therefore he hides Jill in his mother’s apartment (she’s on holiday with her plastic surgeon) while he hacks into a high-level office computer to delete Jill from the system. However, the inner workings of the government, while convoluted by forms and middle men, are nevertheless highly effective at getting wanted men and women, and Sam and Jill’s rebellious bliss can’t last long.

doesn't this set-up look just like Cerebro?God, I love this movie. It’s complex and often nonsensical and hilarious and frightening and surreal and so many other things all at once. Of course my first point of ardor is its visuals: epically scaled, brushed with deep greys and foggy lighting. The sets are richly detailed, filled with retro-futuristic gadgetry, interwoven ducts, and office supplies. Sam’s dream sequences range from his winged form dipping in and out of bright clouds to fighting a towering metal samurai in a dark alley. The final twenty minutes delve into a surreal and harrowing state of mind that has remained one of my favourite sequences ever filmed. Helping the visuals along is the fantastic score by Michael Kamen, based around Ary Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil“.

The characters and performances are extraordinary. Naturally Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Sam, earnest, unassuming, funny, and a little schlumpy: an endearing and unlikely romantic hero. Michael Palin, Robert De Niro, and Katherine Helmond get less screen time but are still incredibly memorable. Co-writer Charles McKeown is hilarious as Sam’s paranoid office neighbor Harvey Lime, while Ian Holm is adorable as his inept boss Mr Kurtzmann. Every character stands out in some way- not even the smallest part fades into the background (Sheila Reid, in her only speaking scene, screaming “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIS BODY?” is one of the most affecting parts of the film). You can easily see the care writers Gilliam, McKeown, and Tom Stoppard placed in writing these roles; this is a satire, but that doesn’t make its characters any less rounded or significant.

The story is admittedly complicated and confusing, and sometimes it seems like Gilliam assumed a certain amount of knowledge in his audience impossibly gained prior to viewing. However, I’ve found that the more I watch it, the more I understand or appreciate, so really it’s an advantage. There are little lines or scenes that seem throwaway but turn out to be important later, and you only realize after the third or fourth viewing. For me, one of the marks of a great movie is its re-watchability factor.

Brazil has everything I could want in a dystopian comedy/drama set in England (yes, it is inspired by 1984, but really so much better). I love pretty much everything about it, and my love for it grows each time I watch it. Now, be warned there are multiple versions of the movie, but I have only seen the Director’s Cut, aka the correct version. Other cuts of it have a happier ending or just a shorter running time (the director’s cut is 142 min), but after the debacle they put Gilliam through I wouldn’t count them at all. Film for the Soul has been doing a focus on Brazil, and has a lot of the historical background that I don’t feel like writing about (you have suffered through my words enough on this day) and some detailed interpretation. It’s really interesting, so check it out!

5/5 (the first one!)

Brazil“- Geoff Muldaur (after countless listens I eventually figured out how to play this on my tenor sax! It was an example of Progress.)

Movie Review: Dark City: The Director’s Cut (1998)

So to start off everyone should know that I seriously love this movie- it is one of my favorites. And depending which version of the film you’re watching, there may be an iota of spoilers ahead. I’m talking about the director’s cut. Set in an isolated urban landscape without a time, without a sun, and without an escape, Dark City follows amnesiac J. Murdoch (Jack? Jerry? Jason?) (Rufus Sewell) as he attempts to piece together his forgotten past. In his search he unwittingly stumbles upon a greater mystery engulfing the entire city itself.

He soon finds he’s wanted for the murders of several prostitutes, had left his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) three weeks ago, and is being followed by a doctor (Kiefer Sutherland) with questionable motives, an earnest detective (William Hurt), and a group of ghastly mysterious figures (“The Strangers”) led by Richard O’Brien (in a role specially written for him). As Murdoch discovers more and more about himself, largely through a reconnection with Emma, things get more and more complicated. The city’s denizens keep falling asleep simultaneously, and daylight never seems to come. No one’s memory is completely intact, though no one reflects on the past enough to realize. Murdoch dedicates himself to uncovering the Strangers’ secrets, mysteriously developing unhuman powers within himself. It’s awesome.

This movie is a really interesting mystery if you watch the director’s cut- you follow Murdoch for almost the entire story, unearthing the same things he unearths and confused by the sames things that confuse him. It can seem complicated but most of the plot points come together in a way that makes (awesome) sense. Unfortunately it was deemed too cerebral for mainstream audiences so the theatrical release features an opening narration that explains a lot of the set up before you’re given a chance to find out for yourself. But no matter what it is an enthralling, imaginative film. The imagery is gorgeous: costumes and buildings spanning multiple decades, deep blues and industrial yellows collide in the sunless setting, rooms suddenly increase in size while skyscrapers spurt from the ground. There are thrilling chase scenes, magic powers, sultry jazz tunes, identity crises, a believable central romance, and even a climactic badass final battle.

The cast is stellar- why hasn’t Rufus Sewell become a bigger leading man? And Richard O’Brien is delectable in any context (you may know him as Riff Raff in Rocky Horror, which he also wrote, just in case that’s not common knowledge). The story and atmosphere combine to create a unique dystopian noir that never fails to entertain, even after multiple viewings. My only criticism is Jennifer Connelly’s performance: essentially the only female role in the film, she played it flat and boring. Admittedly some of that can be blamed on her dialogue, which is often rather stale (I guess Proyas isn’t good with female characters? I haven’t seen most of his other movies). It is noticeable enough, to me at least, to slightly affect my enjoyment.

4.5/5 (if a different actress had played Emma, it would probably be a 5)

UPDATE: Fuck it, I’m watching this movie again right now and I love it too much to not give it a 5, and I kind of love to hate on Jennifer Connelly’s dull, whispery performance and substantial eyebrows. It’s all part of the experience. This is all a long way of saying: BAM! 5/5

Movie Review: Clueless (1995)

I saw this in a good used DVD deal at Blockbuster and couldn’t help myself, because Clueless is awesome and I am rarely not in the mood to watch it. This modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma focuses on privileged Beverly Hills teenager Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her life as a popular, fashionable student trying, along with her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) to use her lofty status and considerable persuasive skills to help others, often in the form of matchmaking. She sets up her teachers (Twink Caplan- who also produced- and Wallace Shawn) to secure better grades for her classmates. She spots impressionable new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) and, after a makeover, seeks to set her up with hot shot Elton (Jeremy Sisto). She even tries to snag a man herself when slick Christian (Justin Walker) rolls into town James Dean-style. When not busybodying she hangs around the house with her snarky ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd), a college student helping her lawyer father (Dan Hedaya) with a case. Of course ultimately her matchmaking and makeovering backfire, and we learn that even rich people have to deal with regular teenager problems. But everyone finds love in the end!

As shallow as it seems at first glance, it is actually a very smart and funny adaptation of a classic story. The characters are exaggerated for satirical effect, but still manage to be relatable. The cast is swell, with most of the teen characters actually played by young adults. Amy Heckerling wrote a wonderful script, with great interactive dialogue (especially, of course, any conversation with Paul Rudd), plus the 90’s lingo and fashion are always fun in retrospect. There are jokes about art (Claes Oldenburg, he’s way famous!) and jazz music (Do you like Billie Holiday? I love him!) and cosmetic surgery (She died when she was young- a freak accident during a routine liposuction). There are people of different lifestyles and backgrounds. It doesn’t shatter teen-comedy standards or cause any great revelations, but it’s a really enjoyable, easy-to-watch movie with a very sweet center.


In the 4 years since I wrote this Clueless has turned into one of my absolute favorite movies, so it’s easily a 5/5 by now. Maybe I should write a better review of it. Some day…

My original poster design for this film is for sale.