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*Also starring: Michael Palin, Kim Greist, Ian Richardson, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Peter Vaughan

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Welcome to "somewhere in the twentieth century." It seems that our future soon will be heating and air-conditioning ducts. Your walls will be filled with them like human intestines. Don't cut open the walls or the guts will spill onto the floor.

Forget those LANs, you need pneumatic tubes. And that big monitor on your personal computer, get rid of it too. The future is an old typewriter hooked to a six inch TV screen made to look bigger by putting a magnifying screen in front of it. Yes, welcome to the wonderful world Terry Gilliam (TWELVE MONKEYS, THE FISHER KING, and the MONTY PYTHON films) created in 1985 and called simply BRAZIL.

One week at the Science Fiction Festival at San Jose's Towne Theatre, I saw THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and the next it was BRAZIL (1985). How visions of the future do change. To be fair, the former was a serious treatment, and the latter a black comedy. Very black.

I am quite partial to the writings of George Orwell, especially his 1984. Although there is a lot to admire in BRAZIL, it plays as MONTY PYTHON VISITS BIG BROTHER. The technical aspects of the film are a delightful assault to our senses, but the script by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown and Tom Stoppard is too derivative, and it is a mess. The show is hard to follow and plays as if they are ad-libbing the plot as they go. Perhaps this is supposed to be the charm of it, but I think they should have concentrated more on structure and less on the bizarre happenings. Actually, one could argue that the show is nothing more than the sets (Norman Garwood) and the costumes (James Acheson).

One day, through a glitch physically caused by a house fly, the government arrests a Mr. Buttle (Brian Miller) when they should be taking in a terrorist named Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). In this society based on forms, the police tell Mrs. Buttle (Sheila Reid), "this is your receipt for your husband, and this is my receipt for your receipt."

Jonathan Pryce (Juan Peron in the upcoming EVITA) plays Sam Lowry. Sam is a low level government worker and big time day dreamer. He has great fantasies where he is a Lohengrin-like figure but with wings so he can fly through the clouds. His dreams have him battling both figures with doll faces and a large mechanical shogun. He fights them so he can save the love of his life, an unknown woman who turns out to be Jill Layton (Kim Greist - the mom from the HOMEWARD BOUND film series). Jill becomes a fugitive from the law, and he helps her on her escapades.

Along the way, Bob Hoskins shows up playing Spoor, a member from the hated Central Services organization that is charged with fixing those ducts. Sam is befriended by Tuttle who is a terrorist and a rogue repairman. He quit Central Services because he refused to fill out the forms. Now he lives an existent on the fringes of society. He carries a gun and dresses like a Ninja warrior. Actually some of the customes are so outlandish that they look like rejects from WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

When Sam gets promoted, his new boss is Mr. Warrenn (Ian Richardson who was sinister prime minister Francis Urquhart in the TV series "House of Cards" and its sequels). Mr. Warrenn shows Sam to his tiny office with the congratulatory remarks, "There you are, your own office with your very own door." Working in Silicon Valley, the land of the cubicles, these remarks are easy to understand. In some parts of the country having your own office is no big deal. The newspaper cartoon character Dilbert could certainly understand it. Later Mr. Warrenn is not pleased with Sam's office clutter, and tells him, "What is this mess? An empty desk is an efficient desk."

The best scene in the show is the one where Sam fights for control of his desk. To save money the government has given one desk to two employees with part in one office and part in another. Sam and the other owner of the desk engage in a tug of war to see who can get the larger half.

I particularly liked the way the film dealt with security. Most buildings are so secure you have to get forms to get forms just to be admitted, but when he gets promoted to the most sensitive building, it has no security. This reminded me of my first job in the Silicon Valley. I worked for a successful company who had a receptionist by the front door. If you took equipment in or out of that door, you had to sign forms in triplicate. The backdoor was never locked so people totally ignored the receptionist.

The movie is a cornucopia of images and events. It is Christmas time, and one person carries a "Consumers for Christ" banner through a department store. Next to her a little girl sets down on Santa's lap so he asks, "What would you like for Christmas?" The quick reply is, "my own credit card." Gilliam seems happy only when he is throwing everything he can think of into his films. Restrain is a word with which is not familiar.

Since this is basically a convoluted remake of 1984, the eventual torture scene has the torturer threatening with, "Don't fight it son. Confess quickly. If you hold out too long, you could jeopardize your credit rating." Except for the pie in the face gag, Gilliam includes every other possible scene in this farce. Although the good outweighs the bad, the film is, nevertheless, one big muddle.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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