by Dan Wilson
As the holidays approach and we look for things to keep us busy (and in denial about the cold and dark), movie-watching springs to mind. Of course, you could be a traditionalist and watch those old holiday standbys like It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn, and White Christmas. I, on the other hand, will be spending my Christmas with some alternative titles.
HARDWARE This film takes place during Christmas. In a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by war and UV radiation, Dylan McDermott plays Mo, an ex-soldier, returning home for the holidays from “the Zone” with a canvas sack of scavenged junk. He plans to give a metal skull to his girlfriend, who uses such objects in her sculpture. Little do they know that the skull is from a self-replicating Terminator-style military robot. Predictably, the robot revives and all hell breaks loose as it tries to kill every living thing in sight. For me this film is an impressive example of what you can do with a lot of ingenuity on a limited budget. Sets are minimal, the design aesthetic isn’t nearly as slick as that of the Terminator series, and the director has mastered the art of building suspense through creative editing and performance rather than relying on the few prosthetic and blood effects. I like to think of the film as Terminator with a brain. William Hootkins (Wedge from Star Wars for all you film geeks out there) plays Lincoln, one of the creepiest voyeur neighbors you’ll ever see on screen, and Iggy Pop is the radio voice of “Angry Bob.” The film’s got a great soundtrack composed by Simon Boswell and includes tracks by Public Image Limited and Ministry.
BRAZIL Brazil is considered by many to be Terry Gilliam’s (Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) finest and most sophisticated work. It’s the story of Sam Lowry, a mid-level bureaucrat “somewhere in the 20th century.” Bored by pushing paper, he loses himself in fantastic dreams. After seeing the woman from his dreams in real life, he gradually slips away into his fantasy world in an effort to find her. Throughout the film, there’s a darkly comic undertone to the portrayals of the paperwork-heavy bureaucracy that requires receipts and receipts for receipts. This is another film with masterful art direction, exquisite camera choreography, and fabulous performances from Jonathan Pryce, Jim Broadbent and Ian Holm. The director’s cut of the film is significantly different than the regular video release, so hold out for that if you can. Why is this film on my Christmas list? This film also takes place at Christmastime, a wonderfully ironic counterpoint to the bureaucracy run amok.
Last, but certainly not least, David Lynch’s Eraserhead rounds out my perfect Christmas Eve. This cult classic, Lynch’s first feature length film, is the story of Henry and his girlfriend, Mary, blessed with an unexpected bundle of joy. The film is dark and disturbing, featuring many wonderfully surrealistic Lynch-ian moments. Rich black and white cinematography and very deliberate sound design help round out the mood, as Henry comes to terms with the changes that a new baby brings to his life. Frequently, David Lynch is asked about this film and its meaning, and always counters with “What do you think it means?” He listens to the answer, nods, and says, “That’s one interpretation. But not my interpretation,” and stays deliberately vague. I’ve not had the opportunity to ask, but I wonder if his reaction would be any different if I proposed my theory that his film was the Nativity story from Joseph’s point of view. Hardware is the hardest of these films to find, but well worth the hunt. Both Eraserhead and the director’s cut of Brazil are available at Riverwest Film and Video. WARNING: If you are looking for uplifting, kid-friendly films, you may want to look elsewhere. Hardware can be ordered on VHS (used) from many sellers on Amazon.com for about $2.00. The DVD has a 1-2 business day wait. -ed.