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The Bottom Shelf #121

08.16.2007

Terry Gilliam is one of those directors that most people either love or hate. Most of his films are filled with a large amount of smoke and mirrors, oddball expressionism and imagination in Technicolor. Personally, I think that's kinda cool. I also love the fact that in light of all of the crappy movies geared at kids these days, two of his contributions (26 and 18 years old at that) remain the best family fare around.

TIME BANDITS (1981)
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Starring: David Rappaport, Craig Warnock

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I loved this movie when I was a kid. My 6 year old daughter took to it as well, more emotionally involved in a movie that was made 26 years ago than many of the films that have been released this summer. The movie, while filled with antiquated special effects, hasn't lost any of the magic or power behind it. I attribute a great deal of that to Gilliam's ability to tell a good story and to recognize that certain themes are timeless. The idea that very little changes over the years is something that is represented in not only the film's storyline but in its appeal more than a quarter of a century after its release.

Following an 11 year old boy's run-in with a band of little people who have possession of a map of the universe and are claiming to be partially responsible for its creation, the movie zig-zags across popular stories in time, from the middle ages and Robin Hood (played with glee by John Cleese) to Greece and King Agamemnon, a character oddly enough described in the script as "looking exactly like Sean Connery" and played by Sean Connery. (This was something that was unplanned by Gilliam and carried out by Connery who got ahold of the script and had his agent contact the filmmaker to state his interest in the role.) There is Evil in the form of David Warner, smirking as he lures the group into his web in order to get the map and take over the world.

There's something about little people that fascinates me, even as an adult. When I was a child it was because I could see a bit of myself in their stature and live vicariously through their triumphs. The movie's underlying message that it is the little man who must fight against the bigger, corporate evil (the fact that Kevin's parents are killed by their affection for consumerism and their deaths signal the end of the flick, highlighted with a George Harrison song, says it all) is one that still resonates to this day. The fact that Craig Warnock, the boy who plays Kevin, isn't all precociousness and cutesy-pie dimples and shining teeth is also a favorite aspect for me. I long for the day when children are used in movies like this more. To be the temporary hero figure and not to become yet another product for us to consume. This movie is certifiably Gilliam, odd figures and fanciful images, yet free of foul language or other scintillating aspects, making it the perfect starter Gilliam for your kids. Because the world needs more fantasy and imagination in it and the only way to infuse it is to start doling it out to the kiddies when they're young.

Favorite Scene:

When the Bandits come back for Kevin in Greece and are dancing for the king and his court, pretending to be magicians.

Favorite Line:

"God isn't interested in technology. He cares nothing for the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time, forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men!"

Trivia Tidbit:

Terry Gilliam supposedly wrote a screenplay for a TIME BANDITS 2 movie, but decided to forgo the project owing to the deaths of Jack Purvis and David Rappaport - the two little people in the Bandits featured the most in the first film.

See if you liked:

LEGEND, ICE PIRATES, WILLOW

THE ADVENTURES OF
BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1989)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Starring: John Neville, Uma Thurman

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This movie was originally released at the time that Columbia Pictures fired Arnon Milchan, the president of the company at the time. When they brought on Dawn Steel to head the company, many of the movies that were being made during the change-over were simply not given the advertising budgets or promotion that the later films received. Consequently, when my family went to go see this film in the theaters, we were 5 of about 10 people in the theater. We had to fight to find it when it was released on VHS and have always felt like we were ahead of the times in appreciating the greatness of the picture since there are so few people who had heard about it. That is, until Uma Thurman became a household name and people went searching back through her resume to discover that she'd appeared nude as the Goddess Venus. Can't say I blame them for wanting to check that out.

Since then the only time that I think the name Munchausen has been mentioned more prominently was in Eminem's "Cleaning Out My Closet," in reference to his mother trying to pretend that he was sick in order to gain attention for herself. That's the backstory on the character. A man known for his tall tales, all designed to get people to pay attention to him. It makes the perfect fodder for a Gilliam movie, chock full of flights of fancy and characters of infinite delight. A little girl follows Munchausen around as he proves to her that he was the start of the war being waged against her town by the Turks (that little girl has since grown into the woman Sarah Polley, quite the artist in her own regard). There are visits to the moon, visits to see gods and goddesses and visits inside the belly of a large fish. Everything that a little kid could hope for in a movie.

Oddly enough, the major drawback to the film was considered to be its length. Running at 2 hours and 7 minutes, many people don't believe that their children are capable sitting still for that long. But with the HARRY POTTER series each running at well over 2 hours, I have to criticize those parents for not giving their children enough credit. Especially when it comes to tales of imagination. This movie has long been regarded by Gilliam fans as being the capper to an informal trilogy as represented by TIME BANDITS and BRAZIL. (This being the imagination of the elderly, the first representing the imagination of youth and the middle of middle age.) I just like to think of it as a movie with high spirits, a big heart and Uma Thurman nude. What more can you really ask for?

Favorite Scene:

The Gilliam trademark of having a horse burst onto the scene at precisely the most opportune moment has to be my favorite highlight in this flick.

Favorite Line:

"No, let me go! I've got tides to regulate! Comets to direct! I don't have time for flatulence and orgasms!"

Trivia Tidbit:

Robin Williams played the King of the Moon. The credits list "Ray D. Tutto". This is the English transliteration of the Italian phrase "Re di Tutto", meaning "King of Everything." This is how the King of the Moon introduces himself to the Baron.

See if you liked:

THE FISHER KING, THE DARK CRYSTAL, LABYRINTH

Now that I think about it, most people think that I've got a rather skewed perception of what is good for kids. I think we should tally the votes again in 15 years and see where everyone stands.

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