REVIEW: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

6 09 2010

With the sense of wonder of a child and the intelligence of an adult, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a truly dazzling film. From the mind of Terry Gilliam, this Faustian fairy tale indulges our imaginations, often growing dusty from years without activity and becoming more seldomly used with each technological advance and each passing year. I feel like I saw in this movie what the multitudes saw in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but I found the bubbly exuberance on display here was ultimately much more winning.

The titular Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is traveling England doing an antiquated theater and magic show in a horse-and-buggy. He has sold his soul to Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), an incarnation of the Devil, to counteract the immortality he won from the big red guy down below in a bet several hundred years before. Parnassus soon has to give back his 16-year-old daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), to Nick, and he’s especially dreary given those circumstances. It doesn’t help that his “imaginarium” has become somewhat of a laughing stock.

But everything changes when they rescue a hanging man (Heath Ledger), later discovered to be a philanthropist named Tony. Parnassus’ crew discovers first, though, that Tony has a true knack for the theatrical, and he revolutionizes their marketing approach. Soon enough, all sorts of high-class mall shoppers are entering their mysterious mirror into a world of untapped imagination. But soon enough, they find out that Tony was involved some shady dealings, and the troupe is subsequently brought into this world of danger along with their newest member.

The movie has the unfortunate distinction of being Heath Ledger’s final role. As it was widely publicized, he was still in the middle of filming this movie when he passed. While his performance as the anarchical The Joker will forever make him an icon and legend in cinematic history, it was a role that certainly did not represent Ledger’s off-screen personality. As the mysterious Tony, all the charm and artistry that made him one of the movies’ golden boys is on display. It’s really comforting to know that Ledger’s final movie shows us the Ledger we want to remember.

I was worried that the movie would be too much of a memorial to Ledger and that Gilliam couldn’t figure out a way to downplay his death. His solution is executed with poise, having Ledger play Tony in the real world and three capable actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) play different incarnations of him inside the mirror. Depp, Law, and Farrell are all great, bringing their distinctive acting skills to the role while also keeping in line with Ledger’s version of the character. It’s also nice to know that their dedication extends beyond the screen as they all donated their salaries for the movie to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.

But let’s not dwell on the past too much because this movie gives us a great opportunity to look forward to the future. “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is one of the first roles for Andrew Garfield, recently cast in the reboot of the Spider-Man series. Audiences will probably look back and see “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network” as the movies in which they discovered him, but here we get a very nice introduction to the actor who is poised to make a big splash in Hollywood. With charisma, nobility, and sensibility, not so unlike Ledger, Garfield should be a welcome addition to Hollywood’s A-list.  A- /

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What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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