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MOVIES | Alternate Screen

Technical Stroke

In 'Brazil,' Terry Gilliam weaves a twisted love story with bleak, fascinating futuristic environments.

November 05, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Halloween has passed, but movie fans can still find strange and dark entertainments locally.

For the strange, try Chapman University's ongoing science-fiction series, which screens Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" on Monday. For the dark, there's "In a Lonely Place," showing tonight as part of Chapman's continuing film-noir program.

Despite its Orwellian overtones (Big Brother lurks everywhere in this futuristic flick), "Brazil" is basically a love story filtered through the twisted imagination of former Monty Pythoner Gilliam.

The hero is Sam (Jonathan Pryce), a beaten-down worker in a drab hive of fascist bureaucracy. Sam may be restricted by the world around him, but he finds time to fantasize, imagining himself as an armor-clad Icarus, flying through the clouds above the techno-city.

In his dream, he sees a beauty (Kim Greist) waving in the distance. Dream Sam never reaches her, but seeing her look-alike in real life sends him on an adventure.

What makes "Brazil" interesting is Gilliam's delight in creating environments both bleak and fascinating. Even when the story gets tedious or confusing, there's something curious to look at in almost every frame.

The visuals in "Brazil" are dense and complicated, the touchstone of the 1985 film. Sam's existence under totalitarianism is so complex that even the simplest act, such as making a telephone call, turns into a trial. Only through love, or at least the fantasy of it, is there release.

Some of the surprises come from the actors. Watch for Robert De Niro in a brief role as a terrorist, Bob Hoskins as a mean government functionary and fellow Python alumnus Michael Palin as a cruel interrogator. Playwright Tom Stoppard helped Gilliam (and Charles McKeown) write the screenplay.

* Argyros Forum, Room 208, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Monday at 7 p.m. Free. Rated R. (714) 997-6625.

Flammable Bogart

Humphrey Bogart stars in "In a Lonely Place" as Dixon Steele, a screenwriter with a temper that's pure nitro. When a female acquaintance of Steele's is murdered, the hothead instantly becomes a suspect.

This is a nervy, often odd film noir by Nicholas Ray ("Rebel Without a Cause," 1955). In "In a Lonely Place," made five years before "Rebel," Ray gets a vivid performance from Bogart, who plays Steele as just short of crazy, a guy so paranoid that anything is apt to incite the demons in him.

The plot begins simply, with Steele agreeing to write a screenplay based on a trashy novel. Unable to bring himself to read it, he pays a hat-check girl (Martha Stewart) to come back to his apartment and tell him the story. Next thing, she's dead and Steele is brought in for questioning.

His later relationship with Laurel (Gloria Grahame) forms the bulk of the movie. Although the romance seems to grow, Laurel wonders if Steele killed the woman. His outbursts don't help as Ray ratchets up the psychological intensity, and the audience shares Laurel's doubts.

* Argyros Forum, Room 208, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Tonight at 7. Free. Not rated. (714) 997-6765.

Karate and Cross-Dressing

Something lighter, and a lot more kicky, is Corey Yuen's "The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk." The 1993 movie, showing tonightas part of UC Irvine's From Zen to Now: Hong Kong action-film series is a hoot, mixing martial arts with romance and cross-dressing.

The straightforward story centers on a kung fu contest in which the prize is marriage to a beautiful woman. But Yuen isn't satisfied with just punches, kicks, leaps and kissing. Among other things, he tosses in the bride's mother (Josephine Siao), who's into kung fu fighting while convincingly masquerading as a man.

"Even in the exuberant fantasy world of Hong Kong martial arts movies, the contest that sets in motion [this] lively comedy-adventure is hilariously outrageous," wrote Times reviewer Kevin Thomas. "The real accomplish ment is in [the film's] moving effortlessly from knockabout slapstick as broad as an Abbott and Costello comedy, to pathos."

* Film and Video Center, Humanities Instructional Building, Room 100, Bridge Road, near Pereira Drive, UC Irvine. 7 p.m.. $4 (students, seniors and faculty) and $6. (949) 824-7418.

A Piece of Godard

Also at UCI is Jean-Luc Godard's "First Name: Carmen," playing Friday as the latest installment in the Cinema: A World of Fragments program.

The 1983 film, described by some critics as one of Godard's more personal and sophisticated works, centers on a filmmaker (Godard) recruited to make a documentary. But the movie is actually a cover for a bank robbery orchestrated by Carmen (Maruschka Detmers), the gang's leader.

* UC Irvine Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium, near Pereira Drive and West Peltason Road. Friday at 7 and 9 p.m. $2.50 (students), $3.50 (faculty, seniors and non-UCI students) and $4.50. (949) 824-5588.

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