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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aquarela do Brasil

I'm honestly quite surprised I haven't talked about this before, given that it the greatest dystopian film of all time, as well as being one of the best comedy films of all time. It was made in 1984 by Terry Gilliam and its visuals were described as "1980s from the 1940s perspective". It is a movie that delights in bureaucracy and was somewhat ironically muddled in it during production. It is the best kind of comedy because it doesn't state its jokes, they're just there if you care to pay attention, and if you don't well, you were none the wiser anyway.

The film concentrates on surreal imagery, and some of that was definitely the David Bowie-esque dream sequences involving that lovely flying man shown on the poster. The main character is stuck at the bottom rung of the government, and perfectly happy to be there, though everyone except his boss insists he's better than that, and his mother attempts to get him promoted through her overbearing parenthood. But enough about that the plot, after the dream sequence and an advertisement for ducts we cut to what begins the film, a typo. A silly person swats a fly which lands in the typewriter that issues every request for arrest resulting in once innocent man dying, another being driven insane, and a family being broken apart. Typos kill kids, it's the main message of the movie.

So we find our dream sequence guy late for work in the real world, because of his constantly breaking electronics, a theme which echoes through the film, as nothing ever quite works right. He rushes off and attempts to sort out the typo, by sending documents this way and that but the bureaucracy refuses to let him. So the typo resulted in a swat team assaulting the misprinted name, Buttle's, house but unfortunately the family was overcharged for their endeavor, so someone has to make sure that there is no error and this, and that someone will get some of the money back. Buttle is killed despite the fact that he was the wrong guy, but can't have a little money just lying around can we?

But this just segues into the main plot, our protagonist searching for the girl of his dreams, literally. To accomplish this he needs to accept a promotion, and move up to the ever imposing Ministry of Information. It's just as busy and muddled with paperwork and forms upon forms to fill out other forms, but he does get the information he wants with little trouble, though he is forced to contend with a fellow stealing his desk through the wall, and a seemingly deserted imposing building that suddenly filled with people before they moved off again. Like a horde of sheep, but the sheep have more brains.

So with all the paperwork signed, he can go off and find his dream girl, which he does but not after being kicked out of her cab, twice. Though his home has become the dawn of the new ice age, a friendly heating engineer played  by Robert De Niro can help out, and successfully fills the two thugs who had been tormenting him with shit. So sometimes it's not the most subtle movie, but it gets the point across. Now with this dream girl he manages to have one night of true happiness, after declaring her head.

Unfortunately some people didn't get the message, so were still looking for her, and managed to find and kill her, again. At least that's what the paperwork says, and if there's an error its not my department. So after being found guilty of numerous crimes, including but not limited to:iving aid and comfort to the enemies of society, attempting to conceal a fugitive from justice, passing confidential documents to unauthorized personnel, destroying government property, viz. several personnel carriers, taking possession under false pretenses of said carriers, forging the signature of the Head of Records, misdirecting funds in the form of a check to A. Buttle through unauthorized channels, tampering with Central Services supply ducts, obstructing forces of law and order in the exercise of their duty, disregarding the good name of the government and the Department of Information Retrieval, attempting to disrupt the Ministry's internal communicating system and worst of all wasting Ministry time and paper.

With that all said and done he gets sent to something like an insane asylum, where he is accosted by a previous friend dressed as Santa Claus in what is actually one of the less weird parts of the end of the film. Then he is sent to be tortured by a man dressed in a baby mask, in a sequence that would haunt the dreams of many a little boy or girl who saw the film. But then they are saved by Robert De Niro, who incidentally didn't get payed for the film because he was on contract for another. They shoot, kill, and eventually escape, before De Niro is literally swallowed by paperwork, and  Sam and his love interest escape and live happily in a land of sunshine and rainbows.

That is how the American cut ended, as well as about half an hour of other stuff, including the dream sequences and more negative images as well. The real ending of course shows Sam back in the chair, fantasizing his happy ending as he had gone certifiably insane. It's not that bad or dreary of an ending, because at least he gets to live a happy life somewhere, something he never previously had. So that's Brazil, a masterpiece featuring some deeper themes, including the very nature of bureaucracy and some small comments on the over focus on consumerism of society, what with everyone giving Sam the gift of the same Executive toy, one which makes decisions for him, what a nice gift.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say: Blade Runner meets Monty Python with a pinch of Alice in Wonderland as well. If that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then I may be insane, because that is what demented baby faces do to a person, any person, because they are terrifying beyond all sense. So with all that, see the film if you haven't, it's a classic for a reason, and if a Python directing and another one acting in it isn't enough, think of the demented babies screaming at you forever if you don't, because that is what happens.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

La Cité des enfants perdus

 English Title: The City of Lost Children

Normally I know exactly what to say about a film, I know whether it was good, know what and why the plot was, and know whether I liked it, often different from the actual quality of the film. But this is just strange. It's a french film with its own unique visual style and flair, and it just defies explanations in parts. Given a one sentence summary I guess I'd say Frankenstein (the novel) meets the Triplets of Belville (a french animated film which I highly recommend) and maybe some Terry Gilliam for good measure. I'm kind of weirded out by the style though, because it acts like a children's film at many parts, from just the cinematography to the prevalence of child actors, it seems like a kids flick, then a man gets stabbed in the eye and watches himself die. It's just beyond genres.

The film begins with a very familiar scene, Santa coming down the chimney to a little kid watching. Then another Santa comes down, and another and another, until the room is filled with them and the child begins crying. Children crying is a fairly common theme throughout the film, and I do have to wonder what they did to get the kids so miserable, did they rip up their toys? Did they tell them their parents were dead? I don't know, and I don't particularly want to. Anyway this is just a dream sequence, stolen from a kid because the main villain of the feature can not dream, being artificially created, and thus without a soul.

Some deep themes are kind of glossed over by the film, like the nature of clones, and the importance of being original, the whole dreamscape as a metaphor, and what family means, but like I said, they're mentioned in passing, with no real analysis or anything. Getting back to the plot their is a jump to a street in some kind of clockwork city, almost Steampunk but maybe a little more advanced, in that they seem to have a typical 9 mm pistol at one point, so I'm not sure just what they're going for. So throughout the story there are two parallel places, the main city with our protagonist searching for his lost little brother, and the island in the middle of the ocean, where kidnapped kids are used to give the antagonist dreams.

The protagonist is essentially a Frankenstein, whose name is One, who has lost his little brother to these dream-nappers. Throughout his journey to find him he finds a little girl named Crumb, and they go on a grand search. Eventually they arrive at the home of some cult, police thing, I'm not really sure and its never explained. All of them have one steam punk eye predator type thing, and have super sensitive hearing leaving them extremely vulnerable to anything that can scream, like the children they try to take. Then the duo is subjected to an extremely weird method of execution. Essentially it's a walk the plank thing, but with a huge basket of fish on one side so the gulls slowly make them walk the plank, with the executioners betting on who will die first.

The film has grim moments like this, but it also is quite idealistic, with all the bad guys being punished and no real good guys dieing, despite situations that would warrant it. So after this failed execution the duo are tracked down by a cruel orphan mistress (or mistresses, its two people connected at the hip) and their is some attempted homicide going down, especially cruel in that they try to make One strangle Crumb, and with all logic it should have worked, she should have been dead, but some Rude Goldbergesque antics trigger an enormous boat crashing through the dock to save them.

Another note about the film is all the women in the film are monsters, whores, or children. Not only are all the women portrayed negatively, aside from the little girl protagonist, but anyone with a speaking line is a villain, or at the very least an antagonist of some sort. In all likelihood it's just a coincidence, but nevertheless it's a weird one. So a guy from earlier comes by and pushes the evil women into a lake of oil they had been creating, and delivers some karmic justice? I don't know, it's not really ironic or anything, but it's made out to be that way.

So the duo is saved, and eventually reaches the island, where Grizzly Adams had been setting up explosives, and plans to blow the whole thing up, then he realizes that he had come there to save kids, not kill them. So Crumb heads up and goes into One's brothers dream, and saves him, as well as killing the antagonist somehow, or maybe he died from natural causes, again not really clear. Then they all row off in boats, leaving behind only Grizzly Adams, apparently the original scientist who created the whole island and what not to blow himself up. This is played for laughs, which is really weird as he begins begging them to let him go, and to come back for him before he blows up but then the film ends, so happy ending?

I don't know I just really don't. It was not really a happy film, or a sad one, it just kind of existed. There was some murder, some thievery, and occasional debauchery as well as a little bit of implied Pedophilia, but I think its meant to be a happy tale, with all the good guys alive and safe, and the bad guys dead or gone. Of course the orphans now have no means to get food or shelter because they killed the only one providing it, and there are a whole lot more now, as well as the evil "Cyclops" who are still around, so I guess it's kind of bittersweet. I like the visual design, that's what I know for sure. The characters are all exaggerated immensely, as are the environments, so it is a very artistically and aesthetically pleasing film, but the plot and the skirting of the big issues leave much to be desired.

See it if you prefer style over substance, but if you need a good, sensible plot and good character development, look elsewhere.