25 May 2008

Terry Gilliam (addendum)

2002 | Lost in La Mancha (directed by Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe)
The directors of The Hamster Factor return to shoot another fly-on-the-wall documentary, this time for Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. As fate would have it, they have the incredible luck to be rolling as this film completely falls apart before their eyes within the short space of 6 days. Though plenty of films have been started and never finished, as far as I can tell this is the first behind-the-scenes documentary that actually captured the unmaking as it happened.

Fortunately, the timidity displayed during their previous documentary is gone here. Fulton and Pepe capture the anguish of all involved as they struggle to preserve their film. Ailing Jean Rochefort tries and fails to hid a grimace of pain as he dismounts his horse. A.D. Phil Patterson tries to single-handedly keep everything together before quitting in utter frustration. Gilliam tries to keep his game face on while shooting -- which he pushes to do as often as possible despite accumulating production issues -- but his eyes betray that he's all-too-aware he's in the middle of another Munchausen.

Worth watching for the biblical monsoon/hail storm scene alone. (7/10)

Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

1998 | Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I hate the 1960s. Growing up in the 1980s, Boomer-controlled pop culture incessantly declared the "greatness" of their favorite decade. Seemingly paralyzed by their nostalgia, Boomers were incapable doing much beyond reminiscing over Woodstock, Kennedys, war protests, free love, tuning in and turning on, the summer of love, and the music of their youth. It got old.

Enter Hunter S. Thompson. Just four years after the summer of love, he's already figured out that flower power just ain't enough to fuel a cultural revolution. Drugs aren't a shortcut to enlightenment; at best, they're a way of making the absurd world we live in tolerable and at worst, a great way to annoy the hell out of the swine not using them. The protests and insistence that "all you need is love" aren't going to accomplish much: Vietnam lasted more than a decade with over 58000 Americans killed and the ultimate authoritarian square -- Nixon -- got elected twice (and once in landslide victory). The "high water mark" speech from both the novel and the film sums this up better than I could ever:

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
As for the movie itself, here Gilliam joins Cronenberg in the exclusive club of successfully filming an "unfilmable" film. The script is great at extracting the best film story from the novel. It wisely cuts, for example, the "preparing for the trip" chapters from the beginning of the book and dumps us directly on the road to Las Vegas during the bat-infested desert drive. It also changes just enough to make the story work visually. Towards the end of the novel the narrative becomes disjointed, with the in-book excuse that the editor is transcribing Duke's tape verbatim without any editing. Though the film could've done the same thing -- editing the final days of Dr. Gonzo in Las Vegas randomly -- it might've come off looking like a bad college art film. Instead, they construct it as an adrenochrome flashback. In addition to allowed Gilliam to cut the ending as a mixed-up drug trip, it functions as a sort of ur-drug to cap off the film's journey. After all of the alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, LSD and ether, the mythically powerful adrenochrome has to be the only way for Duke's experience in Vegas to stop.

Complementing the script, Gilliam's shooting style on the film is perfect for the subject matter. The camera drunkenly bobs and weaves when the duo are high on ether. Patterns on carpeting flow like snakes and people's faces mutate during Duke's acid trip. Fish eyes lenses, stedicams and quick cuts make the Circus Circus-ish casino several times more insane and surreal than it would be otherwise. At a bare minimum, this is the best drug movie ever made. Happily, the story has some ideas worth chewing on as well, for those who make the effort.

"Let's get down to brass tacks: how much for the ape?" (9/10)

Watched: NTSC 2-DVD set released by Criterion in 2003. Good picture and sound. I wish Criterion would've put together a real documentary to go with the movie, though the 1978 BBC one was a lot of fun.

23 May 2008

Guest OLR: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Basically, this is the B-Movie that he thought he was making when he did Raiders of the Lost Ark. (4/10)

d. Steven Spielberg

OLR: Up in Smoke (1978)

It doesn't really matter what was going on in the movie as the characters were all hilariously entertaining. (7/10)

d. Lou Adler & Tommy Chong

22 May 2008

OLR: Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006)

Ignoring Powers Boothe's brain damaged Luthor and Lance Henriksen's "bwah-hah-hah"ing Brainiac, there's some nice animation and neat fights to enjoy. (6/10)

d. Curt Geda

13 May 2008

Guest OLR: Speed Racer (2008)

Faithful to the point of retaining what made the original cartoon so irritating. (6/10)

d. Larry Wachowski & Andy Wachowski

09 May 2008

Guest OLR: Crash (1996)

Cronenberg's way of saying 'Go ahead and have sex during this film.' (5/10)

d. David Cronenberg

05 May 2008

OLR: Masters of Horror: "Dream Cruise" (2006)

Bits and pieces were very good, but not enough of this extra-long 86 minute episode worked. (5/10)

d. Norio Tsuruta

04 May 2008

OLR: A History of Violence (2005)

I realized watching this again that Cronenberg is still making body horror pictures, except they're outside-in. (9/10)

d. David Cronenberg