Tag Archives: Terry Gilliam

Time Bandits (1981)

Time Bandits Movie Poster

Release Date: November 6, 1981

Original theatrical trailer here.

Directed by Terry Gilliam; Written by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin

Starring: Craig Warnock (Kevin), David Rappaport (Randall), Jack Purvis (Wally), David Warner (Evil), John Cleese (Robin Hood), Ian Holm (Napoleon), Michael Palin (Vincent), Sean Connery (Agamemnon), Ralph Richardson (The Supreme Being), Shelley Duvall (Pansy), Peter Vaughan (Winston), Katherine Helmond (Mrs. Ogre)

Anyone who knows me knows that Terry Gilliam is one of my favorite directors, with several of his films on my list of all time favorites, particularly Monty Python and the Holy Grail (co-directed with Terry Jones), The Fisher King and of course Brazil.  But another one of my personal favorites is his 1981 fantasy film Time Bandits.

By 1981 my brother and I had watched every episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and were familiar with Gilliam’s animation on the show, but Time Bandits was my first introduction to Gilliam as a feature filmmaker (it would be several years before I would see Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Jabberwocky for the first time).

We caught Time Bandits at our local movie theater a week or two after it was released, and I don’t think there were more than 15 or 20 other people in the audience that Saturday afternoon.  I didn’t know too much about the plot going into that first screening, but at the time I was under the mistaken impression that it was a Monty Python film.  I was confused as to why John Cleese and Michael Palin only had minor roles, and a little disappointed that the other Pythons weren’t in the film, but that thought quickly disappeared as the story progressed.  By the closing credits I wanted to stay in my seat and watch it again.

Terry Gilliam wastes no time getting the story going.  Ten year old Kevin (played by Craig Warnock) is woken up in the middle of the night when a knight on horseback charges out of his closet and into a forest that only a moment earlier was his bedroom wall.  Cut to the next night: he dozes off waiting for the knight to return, but instead of the charging knight he’s woken up by a group of little men sneaking out of his closet.  Before Kevin can figure out what’s going on, the band of thieves is discovered and chased by an ominous figure, ordering them to return “the map.”  With Kevin’s help, they push through the bedroom wall into a tunnel leading to a black abyss.  Barely ten minutes into Time Bandits, the adventure is in full swing.

The under-sized Time Bandits (Randall, Wally, Fidgit, Strutter, Og and Vermin), international criminals by their own definition, have stolen a map of “time holes” that allow them to travel to different eras in history.  According to their leader Randall (played by David Rappaport), they were employed by the Supreme Being to repair the time holes but realized they could have a more lucrative career as time traveling thieves.

I loved every minute of Time Bandits when I was nine, and continued to enjoy it with every subsequent screening over the years.  One of the protagonists may be a ten year old, but it’s more than a kid’s film.  Gilliam and Palin’s script had wit that adults could appreciate.  They packed a lot into the story, and it’s an amazing ride for both kids and adults as the gang of thieves take Kevin on a time traveling journey that includes the Napoleonic era, the Middle Ages and ancient Greece.  But each step of the way they’re chased through time by both the Supreme Being (in a cameo by Sir Ralph Richardson), and his nemesis the Evil Genius (played by David Warner).

Every set, costume and camera angle in Time Bandits has Gilliam’s touch of the fantastic.  The effects are low tech by today’s standards, but that adds to the charm of this film.

The cast is as strong as any in Gilliam’s films, highlighted by Ian Holm (Napoleon) and Katherine Helmond (Mrs. Ogre), two favorites of Gilliam that would have significant roles several years later in his critically acclaimed Brazil.  But David Warner, Ralph Richardson and Sean Connery (King Agamemnon) take it to a higher level.  The cast is clearly shown on the movie poster, but each introduction of their characters leads to unexpected turn in the story.  This could easily have been a kid’s movie, but the film’s humor and cast of incredible actors (that didn’t take the story for granted) elevate Time Bandits to a fantasy film that’s still fun to watch over thirty years later.

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Grand Central Terminal on Film

February 2, 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of one of New York City’s architectural treasures, Grand Central Terminal.

In my opinion, it’s the most  beautiful structure in New York City, and even after ten years of living here I’m still in awe each time I walk through this iconic station.  At one point after I moved to Manhattan I reverse commuted from Grand Central Terminal to Connecticut every day for four years, and the highlight of each day was taking that first step back into the Main Concourse after a long day at work.

I first started taking the train into Grand Central from the suburbs back in the early 90’s.  It was grungier back then, and after several years of cleaning and maintenance the station was returned to its pristine former glory in 1998.  In honor of that rebirth, the MTA provided a set of commemorative post cards on each seat of each train that departed from the terminal that day.  I still have mine.

One of my favorite memories of GCT was during the 1994 World Cup when the MTA set up a large screen TV in the Main Concourse.  Keep in mind, there are no seats in the Main Concourse, so everyone watching was simply standing near the TV as they waited to board their trains.  I forget which teams were playing that first round game, but the crowd gathered around the TV was enjoying the game and showing emotion as the teams battled it out.  And then out of nowhere some schlubby guy, completely clueless, walks up to the TV and changes the channel!  A riot almost broke out and he’s lucky he got out of there alive!

Grand Central Terminal is incredibly cinematic, and I’m a sucker for a movie that’s shot in that station. IMDB lists about sixty films that have been shot in Grand Central, but I have to think that there have been more.  Some of my favorites over time include The Freshman, Carlito’s Way, Midnight Run, Seconds, and Amateur.  However when I look back at some of these films, the first thing that crosses my mind is how under-utilized Grand Central Terminal was in most of them, particularly one of my favorite indie films, Hal Hartley’s Amateur.  But then I have to remind myself that I’m biased by the fact I walk through Grand Central Terminal a couple of times a week and still can’t get enough of it.  And while there’s an incredible amount of beauty in every corner, stairway and path in the station, too much of it just for the sake of showing it on film can disrupt the flow of a scene.  But when done right, just one shot from the right angle of the Main Concourse is enough for someone to remember a scene shot in GCT.

There are three films in particular that stand out the most in my mind for their directors’ use of Grand Central Terminal.  These are the films I’m reminded of every time I walk through Grand Central.

North By Northwest (1959)

North By Northwest Movie Poster

Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest is a great example of how a director can utilize Grand Central Terminal to give the audience the experience of the Main Concourse at rush hour.  Cary Grant’s walk from a phone booth on the East end of the Main Concourse, past the information desk, and to the ticket booth on the Vanderbilt Avenue side captures what thousands of people go through on a daily basis.  This was the second film Hitchcock shot in Grand Central Terminal, the first was 1945’s Spellbound with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

Superman The Movie - Poster

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you would know that Superman: The Movie is one of my favorite films of all time and the comic book movie that I measure all others against.  In the film, New York City was Metropolis, and Lex Luthor’s underground hideout was built on a soundstage, but several sequences were actually shot in Grand Central Terminal.  One of the shots of the Main Concourse (with the giant Kodak Colorama photo) may ahve actually been my first introduction to Grand Central Terminal, and I always enjoy seeing what GCT (and New York City) looked like back when Superman: The Movie was shot during the summer of 1977.

The Fisher King (1991)

The Fisher King Movie Poster

I’m a huge Terry Gilliam fan, and The Fisher King is my favorite of his films.  It was released in 1991, and this was the Grand Central Terminal that I walked into to the first time I took a Metro North Train in from the suburbs.  Gilliam’s amazing sequence in the Main Concourse as Parry (Robin Williams) follows Lydia (Amanda Plummer) as hundreds of commuters break into a waltz is in my opinion the greatest depiction of Grand Central Terminal on film.  Ever.  That scene changed how I saw Grand Central Terminal, and I still think of that sequence every time I walk past the information booth in the Main Concourse and wonder how Gilliam and cinematographer Roger Pratt were able to get the light to reflect off of the clock in that amazing scene.

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Interview: Terry Gilliam on “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”

In December 2009 I had the honor of conducting an on-camera interview with cinematic genius and Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam to discuss The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus for SundanceChannel.com.

In the weeks leading up to the premiere, Heath Ledger’s death during the production of Parnassus dominated the press coverage.  My line of questioning focused mainly on Gilliam’s creative, casting,  and production processes but inevitably led to a question of how he was able to complete production of the film after Ledger’s untimely death.  Sensitive to this, I kept the question based on how it affected production, rather than ask Terry to repeat (as he already had in other interviews) what went through his mind when he first heard that Ledger had died.

A special thanks to Terry and the camera operator who kindly gave me some additional time for some non-Parnassus questions that I hope to include in future posts.

All three parts of the interview as well as press clips from the film can be seen here.

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