A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 178 – Time Bandits

Time Bandits – August 25th, 2010

We’ve got a bit of a problem. Or rather, we will, if we’re not careful. You see, I work two evenings a week. It’s in my contract. I don’t get out of work until 9 in the evening. And Andy works all days. So on my evenings we either have to watch a longer movie separately, or a shorter movie together after 9. And we looked through our movies and determined that if we go for another year, we’ve got just enough shorter ones to last us. But that means we need to not squander them on nights when we have more time. When I came up with this project I had no idea it would end up requiring this much planning. It makes things more complicated that we enjoy recognizing birthdays and holidays and the like sometimes. For example, today is Sean Connery’s birthday. We’ve already done The Rock and Zardoz, so we considered Highlander. But we own three Highlander movies (there aren’t any others and don’t try to tell me otherwise), so that would set us up to watch one tomorrow and another Friday. But Friday’s would be a short one! And we have time on Friday! Oh no! So, this tonight. A movie with Sean Connery that’s not too short.

Not that Sean Connery’s in the whole movie. But he does get a section. The way this movie works is rather episodic, which makes sense given the plot. A young boy, Kevin, ends up caught up with a group of bandits who’ve stolen a map that shows holes in time. So they all travel through different time periods and places, stealing stuff as they go, all the while trying to keep ahead of the Supreme Being, whom they stole the map from. He’s sort of like God, but the bandits do point out that they don’t know him well enough to really call him that. They meet Napoleon, putting on a stage act for him before robbing him. Then they meet Robin Hood, who nicks all their loot. Kevin spends some time in Ancient Greece, being proclaimed the heir to Agamemnon’s throne (that would be Sean Connery, once more wearing a loincloth and giving me Zardoz flashbacks). Then off they go again, this time to the Titanic, where they don’t meet Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet, so we don’t have to see anyone being king of the world. There’s an ogre and his wife, a giant who crushes a house where a very Gilliam-animation-esque character lives, and finally the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, where the Evil Genius lives. He’s evil, you know. And played by David Warner (though no double role for him in this movie). There’s a big battle, of course. And a bizarre ending. Because this is Terry Gilliam we’re dealing with here.

Now, in the hands of anyone other than Gilliam, this would simply have been an adventure movie through time. Sort of like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure but British, and without Keanu Reeves, and with a main cast of little people. None of whom are Warwick Davis, by the way, so if you meet the man, remember, he wasn’t in Time Bandits. Anyhow, it could have been a fun adventure for kids. But this is Terry Gilliam’s movie. Gilliam and co-writer Michael Palin weren’t ever going to make a simple kids’ adventure flick. There’s a decidedly Pythonish flavor to the whole thing. Certain lines just felt like they could have been said in a Python sketch or movie. In particular, Shelley Duvall and Michael Palin as an ill-fated couple in two time periods, the barrel of arm wrestling arms in Robin Hood’s camp, Kevin’s family at the beginning with their obsession over kitchen appliances. And let’s talk about some of those things. I suppose some of it would go over kids’ heads, or strike them as funny for a different reason as they might strike their parents as funny. But it’s not all kid-level humor. It’s strange and tongue-in-cheek in places and just plain odd in others. But all in a good way, in my opinion.

Sadly, a lot of the effects show their age fairly clearly. The monster Agamemnon fights is pretty laughable, as are the Evil Genius’s henchmen, dressed in fake horns and what look like plastic bags. By today’s standards, it looks a little threadbare in places. But you sort of have to expect that. And it doesn’t really take away from the fun and inanity of it all. It helps that the cast is so fantastic. The bandits themselves are all excellent, and the kid who played Kevin was certainly well cast, but then there’s a whole host of rather famous actors playing what amount to bit parts. Sean Connery as Agamemnon, John Cleese as Robin Hood, Ian Holm as Napoleon, just to name a few. I rather like that these Big Name Actors played the Big Name Characters, but ended up with far far less screen time than the bandits. And I think they more than deserve credit. David Rappaport did a wonderful job as Randall, who is certainly not their leader! And of course Kenny Baker was awesome as Figit. But Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis and Tiny Ross were fantastic as well. I was saddened to read that Rappaport, Purvis and Ross have all since passed away. I’d have loved to see a sequel, but it’s a credit to the actors that I don’t think any others could have filled their roles.

Overall, it’s a film that wants to be fun, and in large part it succeeds. Yes, the ending is an odd one, and yes, the movie is too. But it’s funny and over the top and a great bit of fantasy that could all be in Kevin’s history-obsessed imagination or could really have happened. It’s never made clear and it doesn’t have to be. It’s not like the movie needs to make sense. It just needs to make you laugh. It’s fairly obviously a Gilliam movie, and so I sort of pity anyone who goes into it without prior knowledge of him. But if you enjoy his work, obviously you have to see it.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Time Bandits

August 25, 2010

Time Bandits

For Sir Sean Connery’s birthday we decided to watch a movie with Sean Connery in it. But we’ve already watched Zardoz and The Rock, we don’t want to start yet on Highlander or Indiana Jones, and we don’t have any of the older James Bonds. But wait! Sean Connery had a small role in Time Bandits, that great Terry Gilliam fantasy film. (He is second billed behind John Clease.)

I have what might be a worshipful respect for this movie. I first saw it in theaters when it came out in 1981, and it left an indelible mark on my nine-year-old psyche. Which, of course, is exactly the reaction that Gilliam was going for I think. I was already a fan of his strange animations on Monty Python’s Flying Circus of course, but it was this movie that really introduced me to him and his wonderfully twisted worlds.

What’s so subversive, to my mind, about this movie is that it masquerades so well as a children’s movie. It’s an exciting tale of a young boy named Kevin and his adventures when a group of thieves break into his bedroom by way of his wardrobe and carry him off through a series of holes in time and space. They’ve got this map, you see, created by the Supreme Being that shows where all the holes in creation can be found. They’ve decided that rather than repair the holes in the universe (which is what the Supreme Being told them to do) they’re going to exploit them to steal treasures from all kinds of points in time.

The time bandits themselves are a colorful crew of little people. My favorite has always been Fidgit, played by Kenny Baker, who is sort of the kindest of the lot. He’s the one who most often sticks up for Kevin and shows some compassion. The self appointed leader is Randall, played by David Rappaport. Randall is the so-called brains of the operation, and tends to get his way by bossing the other guys around mercilessly. David ends up being pretty much the star of the movie, because it is his character who drives the plot, and because Randall has the most lines. There’s also Og (the dim one,) Vermin (who eats anything) and Strutter and Wally, who seem more sensible. (There’s a credit for Horseflesh, who actually made the map, but I don’t think he’s in the movie. Relegated to the cutting room floor I guess.)

As the group goes about their quest through space and time they traipse through a variety of historic moments and encounter a range of eccentric characters, which allows Gilliam to bring in a big ensemble of wonderful actors to play them. Ian Holm’s role as Napoleon defined him for me for years after I watched this movie. Seeing him in Brazil or Fellowship of the Ring I found myself constantly thinking “Oh! It’s the guy who played Napoleon.” The truth of the matter is that he’s a wonderful and eclectic character actor who makes every role he plays fresh, but this was the first thing I saw him in and it stuck with me. As a Python fan of course I was happy to see John Cleese (who plays Robin Hood as a fairly dim upper-class twit with a very silly hat) and Michael Palin (who plays a pair of guys who are besotted with Shelly Duvall in different time periods.) There’s David Warner (who just keeps cropping up in unexpected places in our collection) as Evil incarnate. And there’s our birthday boy himself, Sean Connery, as the dashing and charismatic hero who completely fails to save Kevin on more than one occasion.

What sets this movie apart from the vast majority of cinema aimed at youths is the slightly warped and unsettling nature of the way things play out. I’m not just talking about the way that the movie ends so unresolved, but about the general tone of the whole film. Kevin and the bandits are surrounded by violence and death much of the time. And throughout the film things very rarely go well for them.

It could have been just a cool adventure story for kids, had it not also been a Terry Gilliam film. Particularly when the band goes into the time of legends, with its ogres, giant, invisible barrier and fortress of ultimate evil, you can feel yourself falling into Gilliam’s fevered imagination. He fills the movie with vivid and unforgettable images, cool miniatures, and strangely human monsters. This is one of those movies that I just love watching. It’s unsettling and creepy, but entertaining and humorous as well. The perfect vehicle to twist a young nine-year-old’s brain for life.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment