Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Directed by Terry Gilliam & Written by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown.

Preconceptions (my follies): Terry Gilliam, it's been so long since you made a movie I liked. The Brothers Grimm looked interesting but turned out to be him doing a pretty standard movie: playing ball? Too much studio interference, I dunno. I had high hopes for his next movie, Tideland. I thought to myself: well, he did what the studio wanted for the Brothers Grimm surely it must have been to make money for this! Ah, that wacky Gilliam! And this might have been the case, but it didn't make Tideland one iota more bearable. It was the magical adventures of a young girl's imagination without the cut aways to the magical adventures in her imagination. This means two hours of watching a neglected girl play with broken dolls. It managed to be unequal parts dullness (lots) and sadness (some).

I don't want to just harp on about things he's directed that I didn't care for (a bit late for that). The reason I sat through them was because he's made so many flicks that I loved, not to mention Python. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was a childhood favourite and the Fisher King very nearly made these tear ducts of stone well up. More than any other director he's able to capture that Quixotic fantasy and tragedy (but not literally since his version of Don Quixote has the Mummy's curse). And just like I gush about how much I've hated some of his movies, I'm now dribbling about how much I love his other movies. Lets sum up here by saying I had some unrealistic expectations in both directions.

General Review (I'm not even sure how I'd spoil this, even if I tried): I'm certainly not the first person to mention that Terry Gilliam seems to work on a catastrophe curve. He does his very best stuff when opposed on all sides. But only just enough to make it look like his vision might be crushed or that the movie will be shmaltzy and terrible but not quite enough to be out into the utter vacuum of it never being released. I don't know if this is what made this movie far better than anything I've seen of his in years, but it was.

Having different actors playing the same character in the imagination world (which part of the movie is set in) should have been jarring, confusing and irritating. It wasn't. I can't say whether it was solid acting, scripting or directing, but I followed it and it didn't bother me a whit. And believe me, I'm not the type to say this out of respect for the dead, love of a director or because I'm afraid people who are smarter than me will mock me behind my back (except Doomwench, I live in fear of her quiet mockery).

If you'll allow me to drool on myself just a tad more this had everything I've grown up loving about Gilliam (him writing with Charles McKeown for one). It was beautiful, strange and funny. And, if I may be honest it hurt my heart (which is notoriously difficult to even find, let alone pin down) a little bit. It was emotional but not sentimental.

The cast was great, from the obvious gets like Johnny Depp to the surprisingly good Tom Waits. But here endth my salivating because boy oh boy did Verne Troyer bomb. Swapping actors for a main character didn't take me out of the moment, but just about every line delivered by Troyer did. He was almost never funny and completely without charm. He stands out as simply not being in the same acting league of the rest of the cast. This reminded me of Katie Holmes being thrown in with Morgan Freeman and Christian Bale. I suppose I shouldn't complain, at least I didn't have to watch him try and be a believable love interest to Johnny Depp.

I know a lot of you out there felt the same way I did. You thought Gilliam was a cherished childhood memory and that you should plug my ears and say la la la when confronted with his new, sucky movies. Ah-HA, then! I have fooled you, because you haven't closed your eyes yet and you've read my review. Give him this one. I think you'll be surprised. It made me think of Stardust and Going Postal all wrapped up in one silky bow.

Random Thoughts: Christopher Plummer (who I always forget I like) would make a great Prospero. Also I'm pretty sure his voice turns into warm bath water when he's done with it. If he ever gets tired of making movies I probably won't see, he can find work reading books to me while I do boring tasks.

And while I'm losing my internet street cred (tube cred?)by being a bit wistful, keep an eye on Ledger in the scene pictured below. I certainly don't claim that I was any great fan of his before his death, I actually had very little opinion. But I never knew he could do the smolder-y thing that I saw in this scene. His overall performance makes me wonder what else he might have done if he'd had more time to grow as an actor.

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