Brazil (1985)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Kim Greist

Awards: Nominated for Oscar for Best Art Direction and Best Writing/Screenplay and Hugo for BestDramatic Presentation(1986), Won BAFTA for Best Production Design and Best Special Visual Effects (1986)

Self described as 1984 1/2, Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s take on an Orwellian vision of a retro-future. The government controls everything as the populace is held hostage to overpowering bureaucracy. Sam Lowry is an everyday man who gets tangled up in the wrongful death of a man mistakenly killed for being a suspected terrorist. As he tries to unravel what has occurred, he crosses paths with a woman who he has been dreaming about, gets branded a terrorist himself, and soon becomes a victim of the system he has long been a part of.

Brazil, like most of Terry Gilliam films, is a dark comedy wonderfully realized through art direction and style. Sets made up of old buildings retrofitted with ductwork, typewriters and old televisions converted to computers, and a society that is obsessed with the perception of image are all just a few of things that make up this fantasy. Gilliam suggests in the commentary that everything that occurs in the film was based on real life events during the eighties and was meant as a social commentary about overindulgence and corruption in America. I think it is safe to say that the film rings even more true given the current state of our political government and lifestyle. Everything is mocked in the movie ranging from obsessions with plastic surgery, slave-like devotion to remedial jobs, and blind obedience to overbearing laws and regulation without question.

Notoriously known for having trouble on his films, Brazil was no less a mess for Terry Gilliam. The film was held back for a year from being released in the United States due to Universal re cutting the film for a happier ending. Gilliam fought back by showing the film without the studio’s consent for two weeks at in LA to movie critics and film students. Pressure from them and rumors of attempted pre-release Oscar nominations eventually forced the studio to put out the original version of Gilliam’s film. While the visual effects are somewhat dated by today’s standards, the film is still fun to watch and serves as a chilling warning to a future that may yet come. All from a film that came about from a wish by Gilliam to do a movie where a man losing his mind ends up being a happy ending.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981), Twelve Monkeys (1995)


Midnight Run (1988)

Directed by Martin Brest

Starring Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin

In honor of a recent madcap midnight run I just had through the city the other night, I thought it apropo to review one of my favorite road movies. Part action, part comedy, this film is 100% entertaining from start to finish with strong comedic performances by De Niro and Grodin. The on-screen anti-chemistry between the two places them among the top comedy duos in cinematic history alongside Martin and Lewis, Lemmon and Mathau, and dare I say Shatner and Nimoy (STVI: Voyage Home)? Yes I dare.

The story follows tough-as-nails ex-cop Jack Walsh (De Niro) who is tasked with bringing in mob accountant John Mardukas, aka the Duke (Grodin). What seems like a simple job at first explodes into twisted imbroglio of double-crosses, betrayal, and mishap as Walsh is beset on all sides from completing his mission. There’s the mob boss that wants the Duke’s head and Walsh dead, the FBI and cops who want the Duke for themselves, and the rival bounty hunters that want the payday for bringing in the fugitive.

What makes this film click is the constant nagging banter from Grodin’s character and De Niro’s dry sarcastic one-liners. The interaction between Agent Mosley and Jack is also hilarious, Walsh constantly stealing Mosley’s cigarettes and sunglasses. The action is great, the dialogue funny, and the plot plays out with a satisfying conclusion that ties all the warring factions together…and they say “fuck” 132 times. Just…try to ignore the fact that Brest went on to make Gigli 15 years later.

Other Notable Films by this Director:WarGames (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Scent of a Woman (1992)

Stardust (2007)

Directer: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller

Awards: Won Empire Award for Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy (2008).

Every now and then a movie comes along that tends to give the marketing department some difficulty. Stardust is one of those film which not only was difficult to market, but also has an interesting history. Based upon the novel written by Neil Gaiman, Stardust was first conceived as a “story with pictures” and published as four part comic book series with illustrator Charles Vess. Gaiman was later convinced to release a novel version without the illustrations. Described as an adult fairytale, Stardust tells the story of young man named Tristan Thorn who lives in an English town called Wall. Wall is named after a nearby old stone wall that unbeknown to the general populace divides our world from the a magic filled world of Faerie. Seeking to win the heart of the town beauty,Victoria, Tristan vows to cross over the wall to find and return a fallen star in exchange for her hand in marriage. Tristan discovers that the star is really a woman named Yvaine and soon finds himself on a quest that will cross paths with evil witches, sky pirates, and feuding princes.

The movie differs slighty from the novel in several ways. The tone was changed from being dark natured with more sex and violence to one that is more whimsical and humorous. The director, Matthew Vaughn, stated that his vision for the film was “to do Princess Bride with a Midnight Run overtone.” Gaiman approved of the changes stating that he would rather people see a good interpretation of the story instead of a failed attempt at being loyal to the book. Being a large fan of Neil Gaiman, I absolutely adored Stardust. It is a fun movie with plenty of heart and an underlying message that love is not something that one should have to earn. On a side note, if you are a fan of Ricky Gervais, there is a wonderful little scene that pays homage to his Extras persona. If you are in the mood for something that is a little more light-hearted with plenty of beautiful locales and enjoyable characters, than give Stardust a chance to shine.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Layer Cake (2004)