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Film Club: Twelve Monkeys

Friday 25 January 2013, 13:32

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

The Kermode Uncut Film Club is back with Terry Gilliam's brilliant sci-fi thriller Twelve Monkeys. Watch the intro and the film and let me know what you think.

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    Comment number 61.

    Really enjoyed re-watching this. I wonder if, were the film remade today, or one like it, whether they would cast two people of the age that Mr Wills and Ms Stowe were (around 40 and late 30s respectively). I find it hard to believe. Still a powerful experience.

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    Comment number 62.

    I remember this feeling like a breathe of fresh air when it was first released. Considering it came out around the time of the 90s disaster movie craze it was great to see a science fiction film that traded in big budget effects for ideas. Nowadays we're spoilt with directors like Duncan Jones, Christopher Nolan, Neil Blomkamp and Rian Johnson turning out intelligent sci-fi set in the present (or near-present) day with a real-world feel but anyone else remember what The big science-fiction movie of 1995 was? Waterworld. It would be another four years before The Matrix came along and help pull sci-fi out of the B-movie quagmire it had waded into, but it's feasible to say it was really 12 Monkeys that really started the ball rolling.

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    Comment number 63.

    Always been a favourite of mine too. I cant think of many modern films that credit the audience with the patience to absorb the slowly unfolding riddle whilst plying them with bizarre imagery and concepts that a less brave writer/director would shrink from. Maybe only Chris Nolan and Inception, but even that has chases and explosions to leaven the more thoughtful stuff, Gilliam kept his nerve all the way through and still made a very accessible and easy to watch film.
    I would like to see more leftfield directors have a go at sci fi as it seems like a place where the more imaginitive types can flourish, am looking forward to Lynn Ramsey's Mobius if it ever gets made.

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    Comment number 64.

    Yes, great film. The one that proved that Willis could act, Pitt was going to be more than just a pretty-boy and how under-rated is Madeleine Stowe. Suffice to say that any Gilliam fan will buy the whole disorienting dystopian vision he revels in, but here the "madness" does work. Gilliam's films are ones where the detail is one of the things that brings you back, seeing something new every time - not sure that's true of Looper.
    I do love The Fisher King, mostly as it has Jeff Bridges in and it's one of the few films where Robin Williams' crazy/mawkish shtick works to the benefit of the film. Whatever happened to the Oscar-winning Mercedes Ruehl?

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    Comment number 65.

    I usually only watch films on airplanes and having just returned from New Zealand on a 26 hour Air New Zealand flight found a wonderful film hidden among the foreign language offerings, Tenchi Meisatsu (Tenchi: Samurai Astronomer) (2012). It was sub-titled so I didn't even have to get the headset out but this wonderfully gentle film had romance, scenery, drama and even a bit of educational content about Japanese and Chinese calendar-making in the 17th century. Worth making an effort to see it!

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    Comment number 66.

    Great pick (for a change) Mark, but I'm disappointed that you failed to mention Gilliam's first (and best) film about 'time, death and madness' (and a lot of other things). That first film being Time Bandits, of course (http://crashlanden.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/time-bandits-1981-short-review/). That one has more crammed in its corners than any other of the director's films. I have seen that one dozens of time and have never failed to have found something that I had not picked up on before. I think it also best captures what has been one of the director's reoccurring themes of interest: the power of the imagination to liberate the individual from whatever oppressive reality they exist in. It's a work of genius and I am shocked... SHOCKED I say, that you once again ignore it when talking about Gilliam's best work.

    As for 'Monkeys', I agree completely that it IS a great film with one of the better red herrings in the history of cinema. As much as I like Bridges, it would not have been nearly as good without Willis. Willis basically plays a somewhat cartoonish thug akin to 'Marv' from Sin City (that's not a jab at him at all), and I don't think I could ever believe 'the Dude' to be the somewhat dimwitted lout that Willis portrays (again, that is NOT a jab at Bruce). He's brilliant in this movie and he has to be applauded I think, for working with directors that were not exactly in the mainstream. Gilliam's work has not really appealed to the masses (which is a shame, really) at least when they're not released. This is one of his films that feel much more restricted because of 'studio expectations'. It's not a typical mainstream film, but it

    You also mentioned Pitt possibly being the biggest draw of the film at the time, but I disagree, at least here in America. If I remember correctly, Pitt was still being regarded as a 'pretty boy' by most male moviegoers even if he had already been in several movies that contradicted that image (like Kalifornia, for one). I also remember a number of his rabid fans (mostly female) being extremely taken aback by Pitt's 'Twelve Monkeys' performance consisting of many tics and facial contortions. It greatly amused those of a certain age.

    I liked Looper, also, but I think it's far more flawed than 12 Monkeys (and there's no Frank Gorshin... Things were always better with Frank).

    And one comment on the choice for the Film Club. I get that you came up with the choice of Twelve Monkeys by someone mentioning Looper to you, but I think a better choice would have been a Gilliam movie that few people have seen, like Tideland, for instance. I also would have liked to hear what you thought about (I couldn't find anything on youtube other than you asking Gilliam about it, sans an opinion).

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    Comment number 67.

    This is what movies are all about. SO many good things as covered by previous posters. Gilliam's best, no doubt.
    Awful DVD version (non-anamorphic), so get the Blu-ray.

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    Comment number 68.

    Definitely one of a rare breed of films - it becomes more satisfying with each viewing.

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    Comment number 69.

    Twelve Monkeys is amazing, though it isn't as good a Brazil... a film that, without doubt, gets more enjoyable with every watch. Everyone should be forced to watch it at least 3 times!! :-)

    Looper, also brilliant, but it's like a 'greatest hits' from a number of films... that doesn't make it bad but it's definitely not just inspired by Twelve Monkeys

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    Comment number 70.

    I really enjoyed this film. At least Brad Pitt is not playing one of the pretty boy roles he usually plays and the twist at the end was very interesting, and Bruce Willis' character compelling. A great film but I think I like Brazil better because, while 12 monkeys has some humour in it, it is not as sharply ironic or critical as Brazil so that's why the latter is still my favourite Terry Gilliam film.

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    Comment number 71.

    I went and saw 12 Monkeys 4 times at the cinema. It completly blew me away, Gilliam's vision is awesome. The acting from eveyone was superb. Willis suprised me with his acting, it was a huge step away from his previous films. Brad Pit stole the show for me, with his twitching madness and rantings.
    Looper I enjoyed but it's got nothing on 12 Monkeys.

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    Comment number 72.

    I first saw "Twelve Monkeys" on its theatrical release in 1996, and it almost moved me to tears. I never actually cry at films (seriously, never), but there are some that make me well up, and "Twelve Monkeys" was one of them. The final sequence when everything that has been building across the film comes to a crescendo, which is a hopeless, stupid death, left me moved and disturbed.

    More recently, I watched the film again in with all the knowledge and understanding that (hopefully) comes from a PhD in Film Studies. It moved me again, and I appreciated the temporal twists of the plot, the great set design that made time travel and the future look grungy and horrible, more like "The Terminator" than "Back to the Future". The performances are still great, Bruce Willis doing an early version of the more vulnerable side to him that he developed in "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable", and Brad Pitt displaying every movie psycho tic in the book yet still coming across as fresh and interesting.

    I agree that "Looper" is a descendant of "Twelve Monkeys", due to its low-tech treatment of sci-fi and emphasis on time travel sci-fi as psychological drama. Hopefully Rian Johnson won't be the only filmmaker to take a tip from Terry Gilliam.

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    Comment number 73.

    When I first saw 12 Monkeys I loved! Now on a second, or possibly third viewing, I still feel it is sci-fi cinema at it's best. I also believe it is Bruce Willis' finest work on screen. I still don't feel it is as good as The Fisher King, which I feel is Gilliam's most under-rated film, and a good subject for a future film club.

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    Comment number 74.

    Eeeeeeh what's up, Doc?
    Hadn't seen it for awhile! Somehow when I was younger I found it one of the more boring movies of Bruce Willis, even if it was still watchable. However this time around I really like it. Taking the comparison with Looper, I think the time travelling consequences are better written or more cohesive in there logic in Twelve Monkeys, id est less plot holes, but aside from that one is dark action and the other dark comedy. Interestingly enough, both end with the death of their main character.
    Found the documentary The Hamster Factor very interesting. Cool to see a director getting so involved that manages to get as confused as his main character mid shooting!
    Next?

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    Comment number 75.

    Mark:

    It's great to see 12 Monkeys crop up for film club discussion, as it is one of my absolute favourite Gilliam films, and arguably one of the five or so best science fiction films made in the past two decades. Which is why I must implore, nay, BEG you to select, as one of the
    future entries in this fantastic series, Gilliam's TRUE masterpiece: Tideland. I have watched the film multiple times since it's release and my feelings towards it have varied with each subsequent viewing, ranging from mortified disbelief, to ambivalent horror and (upon the most
    recent viewing) an almost stifling sense of moral outrage, not at Gilliam, but at the deeply disquieting truth that his vision uncovers. The murky landscape of the film is a truly demented Wonderland of sights and sounds, simultaneously tragic and transcendent, in fits vulgar and downright offensive. It's performances are fantastic across the board, especially that of it's young lead actress, Jordelle Ferland. Through her eyes the viewer is taken on a journey into a border world of life and death, innocence and corruption, neglect and salvation; a world which our adult eyes are tempted to shy away from, simply because we lack the strength of will, the strength of a child, needed to overcome it's horror. A truly remarkable, if difficult film, which - much like the brilliant Fire Walk With Me - was completely misunderstood and abused upon its initial release. I think it is a film begging for reappraisal and understanding, and I hope I'm not alone in my fondness for it.

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    Comment number 76.

    I first watched Twelve Monkeys about ten years ago and absolutely hated it. As a huge fan of La Jetee I found Gilliams film to be nothing more than just another inferior remake. However, having just watched the film a second time, I have no idea what I originally hated about the film so much, I found it be a gripping, thought provoking masterpiece. Had I the chance, I would apologise to Giliam for bad mouthing the film all those years ago.

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    Comment number 77.

    Wow film intro's take me back! Growing up I always enjoyed films but it never became a passion until I saw Mark introduce films on TV. This is a fab fab film btw remember not understanding it at all first viewing and immediately rewinding the vhs and watching it again!

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    Comment number 78.

    I remember seeing this at a preview somewhere in London, and was blown away by it - I mean quite literally! Terry has never made a bad film: he has a very fastidious approach to his work - which is commendable. Bruce Willis delivered his finest performance, along with Pitt - never been bettered! Gilliam doesn't pander to the conformities of the studio, and this affirms his ability to make quality, unrequited (not including, "Brazil") films that have an abstract view on life.

    He takes a long and arduous attempt to get his vision on screen, but when he does, it becomes an epochal event; i await "The Zero Theorem" as a Gilliam film - that, fortunately - has not been met with angst and trepidation.

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    Comment number 79.

    An outstanding movie, probably my favourite second to 'The Fisher King'. We can talk about the fine performances from the leads, but we forget how it also features an performance from the man who is now one of my favourite actors, David Morse. My favourite moment of the movie is a simple one, basically down to one tiny tick from Bruce Willis when he says the word, "fruitcake". Everyone should watch again now and laugh as I do every time!

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    Comment number 80.

    Dr. Kermode,

    So glad you picked this film. I have been a long time fan of this film and have tried to convince many people to watch it. I think at first glance the movie looks a like a low-budget standard sci-fi movie. However, as you put it, you get more and more out of it when you watch it again. In fact, on further glances, I realized that the movies low-budget look actually enhances the overall theme of the movie. Much like Usul added above. The movie covers so many interesting things and handles the tricky plot devices of time-travel very well (much like T2). Brad Pitts role is so incredible and fun to watch. Also Bruce Willis does an amazing job, especially in the scenes where he seems to be going crazy.

    Could not agree more that this movie is incredible. I must now go watch it...

    - Mike in the US

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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