Friday, 22 January 2010

Today's Viewing - Now With Added Review!: The Fisher King + Tokyo Drifter

The Fisher King

This might be, and most probably is, old news to those who’ve seen it but this is probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year, and it’s bloody ancient. I struggle to fathom why The Fisher King has eluded me for so long. Irrespective of the 18 years already passed since its release, it has sat on my DVD shelf for well over a year without ever prompting the desire to watch it. I can’t grasp why that is as I’m a huge fan of Terry Gilliam. I would wager the main reason I’ve been put off watching it is attributable to an assumption of over-sentimentality, personified as about 5’8”, long of nose and with hair on his upper torso like an adult, male Silverback. The ‘former-shock jock turns his life around with the help of a deranged homeless man’ synopsis does nothing to allay that fear.

I’m glad I have now watched it. It’s probably Terry Gilliam’s most well-rounded film. It would be easy to say it was because it was his most mainstream, or at least most accessible, but it still does have the unmistakable feel of A Terry Gilliam Film. He reins in his sensibilities just enough to let the movie play out without collapsing under the weight of the fantastical elements which, when left unchecked, can overbear/derail his films. Those fantastical elements are still there in abundance but they never dominate at the expense of character.

The Fisher King contains (and this is high praise indeed) some of Mr Gilliam’s most striking visual images. The train station dance and, in particular, The Red Knight as it rampages by firelight on snorting steed through NY’s streets (and Robin Williams’ mind) is both astonishing to look at and a heartbreaking metaphor all at once. Gilliam’s trademark unorthodox camera angles, set design and wondrous practical effects are all present and correct and it’s so refreshing to look back on a time when a film set in the Big Apple was actually filmed there. An authentic sense of place really does make a difference.

Jeff Bridges (who I could watch pluck his nostril hair, and still sit fascinated) is equally at ease as the arrogant asshole as he is the soul-searching schlub. Robin Williams adopts a slightly more dramatically heightened version of his then-contemporary shtick – and it works. Even when prancing, basked in moonlight, with his chap out he never becomes an irritant. The massively underappreciated and all-but-forgotten Mercedes Ruehl does the spunky Noo Yawk broad thing better than any other, staying just the right side of going all Rosie Perez.

It’s a tale of redemption without ever resorting to tropes. The chemistry between Bridges and Williams is what sets this film apart, never quite leading you where you expect it to. The quirky/kooky romance between Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer surely serves as inspiration for a lot of the indie romances propping up the screens today.

Twelve Monkeys notwithstanding, this is maybe Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece.


Tokyo Drifter

Swinging sixties Japan is a combination of time and place I’ve never visited, film-wise. The criminal underbelly of it, even less so. As such, Tokyo Drifter is my first foray into that particular subculture. It’s very much a product of the 60s and its legacy is apparent throughout. The colours are, as you would expect, vibrant and enliven the film to no extent. The music is all crashing cymbals and horn sections. The eponymous balladeer is caught between rival gangs and spends the film lurching from one action set-piece to another but I just never found myself particularly drawn-in. There’s a lot to like but something just wasn’t quite there for me.

Visually effervescent but never quite compelling.


NB – These are straight-off-the-bat, get-‘em-out-there, not-fully-considered reactions. They’re more initial responses than full reviews.

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