09 June 2008

Terry Gilliam (The Brothers Grimm | Tideland)

2005 | The Brothers Grimm
Stale. That's the word that pops into mind when I think of this movie. If Gilliam were a chef and Brazil was the best steak you've ever eaten, Grimm would be something approaching soda crackers and 7-Up. The spark of life usually present in his films is neigh-absent here, replaced by poorly computer-animated creatures jumping all over the place. At times -- and this might be an extraordinarily cruel thing to write -- I felt like I was watching Van Helsing.

The story of supernatural scam artists who run into the real thing isn't particularly original. Gilliam has already explored the collision of evil French rationalists with heroic German dreamers much better in Munchausen. Hell, I'm sure Gilliam was well-aware of this: he cast Jonathan Pryce in essentially the same role from that movie. The performances -- with perhaps the exception of Heath Ledger -- were either lifeless or, in Peter Stormare's case, spastic and almost unintelligible (a Swede trying to do an Italian accent in English?).

According to Wikipedia (and according to the DVD commentary), Gilliam didn't like the script, but had no other projects to direct at the time. Fair enough. This was something for him to do because -- due to an undeserved reputation as a madman -- no one wants to give him money to direct his own projects. It worked. Not only did Grimm make a respectable $105 million worldwide -- presumably helping his rep a bit -- but it also helped him line up the financing for Tideland, which was something he really did want to direct. A film technically directed by Terry Gilliam, but not really a "Terry Gilliam Film," I figure. (5/10)

Watched: Blu-ray released by Miramax in 2006. Worst video quality I've seen on a BD so far. Embarrassing.

2005 | Tideland
On the DVD before the movie begins is a short introduction by Gilliam. He predicts that some people will love the film, others will hate it and many won't know what to think of it at all. I think I fall into that latter category. I know I don't hate it, but I'm not sure if there's much to take from this film other than some excellent performances and cinematography.

I've owned the DVD for a year and the movie was released over two years ago. During that time -- patiently waiting to watch the movie at the end of this chronocinethon -- I fastidiously avoided spoilers about the story. Still, I kept seeing one word popping up in reference to the movie: "disturbing. Coupled with the knowledge from the trailer that it was about a girl with a drug-addicted father who escaped into her fantasies, I was prepared for the worst. Memories of Ketchum's sledgehammer-to-the-gut of a novel, The Girl Next Door -- easily the most disturbing work I've ever read or seen -- danced in my head. What horrors were going to befall that poor little girl? What did madman Gilliam have in store for me?

Nothing too bad. I forget, as a horror movie fan, that my definition of "disturbing" is about thirteen levels beyond the general public's. My guess is that normal folks were most bothered by Jeliza-Rose preparing her father's heroin, cuddling with his dried-out, taxidermied corpse and having innocent kisses with a retarded man twice her age . Nothing new for horror fans in the first two instances.

For the latter, J-R and Dickens' relationship certainly had the potential of going the wrong way. I'll admit I felt some tension while watching them, hoping that Dickens' man-body would not overpower his child-mind. I think this tension was a part of Gilliam's intentions for the pair. He mentions in an interview on the DVD that the hysteria in recent years over pedophilia bothers him; that it forces adults to view everything -- no matter how innocent -- though a lens of sexuality. In the end, J-R and Dicken relationship really was purely childish and innocent; Gilliam gets to say to the viewers: "see, you're the one who is corrupt, imaging the evil that wasn't there to begin with."

The film is beautifully shot. The prairies really do look like golden seas as Dickens scuba dives through them. Jodelle Ferland gives what is probably the best child performance in the history of film. She's in nearly every scene of this 120-minute movie and never falters a step, as far as I can see. Guiding a child actor through nearly every single scene of a 2-hour movie while dealing with her limited working hours is also a strong testament to Gilliam's directing prowess. Brendan Fletcher as Dickens is equally as good; he's far more deserving of an Oscar nomination than Brad Pitt was. I enjoyed the world Gilliam created and wouldn't have minded an even longer cut.

But, what's it all amount to? I'm still not sure. Basically, we view a few very odd days (weeks?) in a girl's life. She watches both of her parents die (peacefully) of drug overdoses and sublimates her grief though fantasy and semi-insanity. She stumbles upon a pair of rather improbable characters nearby, who create a sort of substitute family for her. There is a musical cleaning montage. Her substitute family also falls apart, due to the instability of the improbable characters, and she is delivered into the caring arms of a woman who's survived a train explosion. "If you drop them, they bounce," says Gilliam of children. Is that all there is to this film? That kids can survive the damnedest things thrown at them? I don't know. I do know that the more I think about this strange, unique film, the more I like it. That is the damnedest thing. (8/10)

Watched: NTSC 2-DVD set released by THINKFilm in 2007. A failure of a DVD release: these morons present the film in the wrong aspect ratio. It's 1.78:1 on the DVD and Gilliam's intended ratio is 2.25:1. Though they promised they would release a corrected version, it's been a year without any news on this. I'm guessing the real reason for the botched release was a misguided idea that it would make the movie more palatable to the mouth-breathers who "hate them black bars." Embarrassing.