Tag Archives: Terry Gilliam

15 Directors Meme

I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

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Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films


Hollywood Fantasy Draft: Taking History

I’ve been participating in a wee game over at Anomalous Material called Hollywood Fantasy Draft. Simple rules; you pick your director, you pick your stars, and then you pitch your movie idea. It’s been fun! Here’s my rough pitch, written on the back of a napkin in some L.A. eatery. Sort of.

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Taking History

(Time Bandits 2)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

Written by Richard Lamb’s insane twin

Starring: John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Paul Giamatti, Angelina Jolie, Brian Cox, Audrey Tautou, Sir Ian McKellen

Logline: Who needs dwarves?

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Cast and Characters

John Cusack is Kevin, the boy who travelled with the dwarves in Time Bandits. Now a day away from turning 40, Kevin has moved on as best he can. He lives in New York and suffers only minor personality disorders as a result of his experiences. Mood swings, depression, the urge to check his closets every night, paranoia, nightmares involving the combustion of his parents, that sort of thing. No biggie.
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Jodie Foster is Sally, Kevin’s boss at the museum where he is curator. She is bookish, a little awkward, but clearly finds Kevin fascinating. They have had a connection for a while but never really pursued it. Sally is passionate about her museum but sometimes a little too reserved.
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Paul Giamatti is Leonardo da Vinci. Master painter, sculptor, inventor and all-round smart-ass. Da Vinci has forgotten more about everything than most people will ever know, but he still can’t get that damn smile right.
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Angelina Jolie is Cleopatra VII, last Pharaoh of Egypt. She is beautiful, smart and will kick your ass if you so much as look at her the wrong way. A little flattery will go a long way, though. Nice nose.
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Brian Cox is King Henry VIII. Big guy with a big appetite and a love for the ladies. Like the Tudor era’s Barry White, but without the singing voice and white suits. Just don’t flirt with his girl.
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Audrey Tautou is Joan of Arc. She’s angry for God, but she can get away with it because she’s angry in a cool accent. Not big into campfires, but give Joan an army and she’ll give you a crown.
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Sir Ian McKellen is Moses – God’s PR agent and go-to guy. Miracles not a problem. Oceanic crossings made easy. Just do as you’re told.
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The Plot

It’s been 29 years since Kevin’s adventures through time and space with a bunch of thieving little dwarves, which ultimately resulted in the explosion of both his parents after they touched the burnt Sunday roast which was, in fact, all that was left of the being known as ‘Evil’ ™.  Kevin never lost his fascination with history, and now works as a curator in a modest museum, a quiet and peaceful job where he has limited contact with the outside world, which is probably for the best.  His only real interaction is with the museum’s Director, Sally, a bookish woman who finds Kevin fascinating, if only in the way most people find tsunamis and earthquakes fascinating; that is, from a safe distance. Still, the two of them have an awkward connection and are both trying to find a way to pursue it.

Meanwhile, their museum is on the rocks and attendances are dropping. The artifacts are lame since all the best stuff ends up at the bigger museums. Kevin and Sally need to come up with a way to draw in the crowds. Preferably a plan that doesn’t involve spending money.

On the morning of his 40th birthday, Kevin wakes up to find a rolled up piece of paper next to him on the bed. Next to it is a badly scrawled note which reads ‘Happy Birthday brat, from Randall’. Kevin unrolls the paper and recognises it straight away; it’s the map of space and time that the dwarves used to pilfer their way through history. After running around his apartment to check all the cupboards and closets and finding nothing, Kevin determines that his old friend has left him a solution to his problem. Of course, Kevin uses the map. The problem is, no-one ever really told him how to use it properly. The apartment shakes as Kevin opens a hole into black space and leaps through, throwing the door to his apartment wide open.  The last thing we see is Sally, bottle of wine in hand, taking a tentative step into the apartment.

Florence, Italy, 1505

Kevin lands with a thump in the cluttered studio of Leonardo da Vinci. He hears voices and carefully peers from behind a table to see the master standing at a canvas. Before the canvas sits a familiar looking woman, hands crossed. Kevin notices some loose sketches on the table and grabs them, inspecting them more closely. They are preliminary sketches of the Mona Lisa, currently being painted in front of him. Something is very wrong, however. Her gappy, gormless smile is hideous. Kevin leans forward to get a better look at the subject of the painting. That’s her smile! She’s missing half her teeth! Da Vinci is cursing in Italian and Kevin can see that the mouth remains unpainted. What a find these sketches are! Kevin sticks them in his bag, rolls out the map, studies it for a second and opens a portal to his next destination, kicking over an easel as he goes. Da Vinci turns around to see the hole in the wall of his studio.

Egypt, 31 BC

Kevin finds himself appearing in Cleopatra’s bed chamber during the middle of the night. Unfortunately, the Queen wakes up to find Kevin helping himself to a few juicy artifacts and raises the alarm, expertly knocking him to the ground with a flying kick and then holding him in a headlock until the guards arrive. Kevin is arrested, the map and his bag confiscated, and he’s thrown in a cell. A few hours later, the cell begins shaking and Kevin is astonished to see Leonardo da Vinci land with a thump in his cell. Surprisingly unperturbed by his sudden journey through space and time (he claims it merely proves a theory he devised in the bath last Saturday), da Vinci immediately begins demanding Kevin return the stolen sketches. Kevin points out that a few stolen doodles of the ugliest smile in history are the least of their problems. A point confirmed when the guards arrive to bring them before the Pharaoh.

Cleopatra, who was expecting one prisoner rather than two, demands that da Vinci explain how he got into the cell. The grand master seems to be far more interested in Cleopatra’s face, framing it in his hands and exclaiming that he has finally found his answer. Da Vinci takes a pencil and scrap of paper from his pockets and begins sketching Cleopatra, offering her a stream of fawning adoration. Completely won over by the wily Italian, she smiles, enigmatically. Da Vinci claps his hands with joy, sketching away. Kevin, meanwhile, is using the distraction to retrieve the map and bag. And a few choice trinkets, too. Job done, he tells Cleopatra that he can show her how da Vinci got into the cell. They take her there, where the portal is still open, and make a dash for it, leaping through it.

Hampton Court, England, 1530

Arriving at the court of King Henry VIII, Kevin and Leonardo land in the middle of a huge banquet, being held to honour the Queen of Brooklynia. The fact that no-one has ever heard of Brooklynia doesn’t seem to be an issue for anyone, least of all the King, who is starry-eyed. Kevin learns to his dismay that the Queen of Brooklynia is actually Sally, who has been stuck here since going through the portal in Kevin’s apartment and doing the best she can to blend in. The King is enraged by Sally’s pleasure at seeing Kevin and flies into a jealous rage; a rage that even Leonardo’s sketching and flattery won’t temper. He challenges Kevin to a jousting match. Of course, Kevin cheats. He gets the girl, the trinkets, and the Italian Renaissance master.

Orléans, France, 1428

Not the best place for a holiday, but a great place if you want Joan of Arc’s sword. Kevin, Sally, and the Italian grand master (who simply refuses to go home), land in the middle of the siege of Orleans. After avoiding being trampled by horses, shot with arrows and drenched in burning oil, they finally manage to meet the Saint in the making.  After some desperate attempts to distract her and pinch the sword, Sally decides that negotiation is the best way forward. Joan, who has a bizarre passion for men’s clothes, agrees to swap her sword for Kevin’s Levi jeans. The priceless artifact is more than adequate compensation for having to continue his journey in his underpants.

Mount Sinai, 1440 BC (give or take)

That is, until he finds himself face-to-face with Moses in only his tighty whities. That’s Kevin, not Moses. Who is this guy, and what’s with the girl in a strange dress and the bearded guy drawing pictures? Not even God saw this one coming. Anyway, Moses has more important things on his mind than this weird guy hanging around the bottom of Mount Sinai, offering to help him with those heavy looking tablets.  He’s got laws to lay down to the naughty throng. Luckily, Kevin is there to help with the clean-up operation, after he’s tripped up Moses who then drops all the tablets. With his piece of stone commandment, the piece that says ‘…ou shalt not steal’, Kevin and his comrades make their escape before the shit really hits the fan.

New York, Present day

Having convinced Da Vinci to go home and finish his painting, Kevin and Sally return to present day New York. The Museum is saved and they finally admit their feelings for one another, albeit in a clumsy way, over a cabinet of roman coins. All they have to do is ignore the fact that the Mona Lisa, a poster of which is now hanging in their apartment, has an enigmatic smile. After all, it’s history.