Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)


Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law
Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenwriter: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
Rating : PG-13 for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking.

Terry Gilliam is an artist. And like any artist, he stays true to his vision, no matter how extravagant or bizzare. And, as is the case with any artist’s work, we the audience, reserve the right to love it, or hate it, just as the artist reserves the right to not really care what we think. That’s how I’ve always pictured Terry Gilliam’s affair with cinema. Some might call it arrogance or self-sufficiency, but I wouldn’t go that far. His vision is sometimes so outrageous, that a second viewing would be out of the question for almost any viewer. I particularly felt this way when I saw his “Tideland” (2005), a movie that to this day I can’t be sure if I hated or loved, just that despite its originality, before the rising of Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”, I don’t think I’ll be seeing it again. On the other hand, he can only submit his will to his vision, so what I, or anyone else, thought of that particular movie, whether loved or despise, is completely irrelevant.

So, I was more than a little suspicious as I started watching “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”. I was, of course, aware this was Heath Ledger’s very last (incomplete even) movie, and that Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law accepted to complete Ledger’s part, with the help of some very clever rewrites, so the first time Ledger appears on-screen, it felt extremely eerie. A feeling that could only serve a film like this.

Though bizzare in a very Gilliam kind of way, the story is actually surprisingly straight-forward. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is an immortal monk, who travels in a horse-driven sideshow caravan along with his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) and his two aides, sharing the beauty of imagination to the world. He carries a terrible burden though, that of having gambled with the Devil (Tom Waits) and lost. The price is the soul of his daughter, which he must surrender to the prince of darkness on her 16th birthday. His luck seems to change when they encounter Tony (Heath Ledger), a charismatic swindler, just in time for a new wager with the Devil, which Parnassus hopes will save his daughter.

The gimmick of the story is the Imaginarium, a world which Parnassus can conjure, a world of dreams and imagination (with lots of help from a modern director’s best friend, CGI) tailored around the fabric of the person who enters it. The visual effects are a lot of fun, particularly because there’s a smart concept behind them. As a way to work around the fact that Ledger never finished his scenes, the script was altered so that whenever Tony enters the imaginarium, he appears as a different person each time (Depp, Farrell, Law), him being a swindler, thus a man of a thousand faces, none of them real. I would dare say the script works even better this way, though it is unfortunate that Ledger did not complete his work.

As far as Gilliam’s overall vision is concerned, I was expecting something wildly excentric, but as I mentioned before, the story, underneath the usual visual extravaganza and Oscar-nominated art direction, is quite pleasant and easy to sit through. It has the feel of a modern fairy tale and is a lot of fun to let yourelf carried away by it. The acting is top-notch, with Ledger apparently still bearing echoes of the Joker (little gestures and some line delivery). Plummer is particularly impressive, and after such a long carreer, it’s nice to see he’s still got it (he also nabbed an Oscar nom this year for The Last Station).

“The Imaginarium…” is great imaginative fun, full of everything that makes a movie a great thrilling ride. If from seeing the trailers you feel the movie is just too bizzare or just for kids, fear not, for this is Terry Gilliam’s most fun and easy movie, yet still creepy in a way that I don’t think children might enjoy.



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Trailer : Predators (2010)


“Predators” is a direct sequel (not a reboot, as initially thought) to the the first Predator movie. Written and produced by Roberto Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and directed by Nimrod Antal (“Armored”, “Kontroll”), the movie removes itself from the failures of the awfull “Alien vs. Predator” flicks and pulls closer to the spirit of the original. A genuine fanboy feast !

Trailer : Robin Hood (2010)


Ridley Scott returns to what he does best : historical epics. Following in the history spin-off tradition of “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Robin Hood” will probably be another risky move for Scott. “Kingdom of Heaven” flopped at the box-office, under the pressure of studio quarrels and hightened expectations. The Director’s Cut (extended by aprox. 1 hour) for that one mended many of its shortcomings and proved it was a worthy cinematic achievement (and one of my personal favourites). I hope “Robin Hood” won’t end up with a corrective DVD extended version. It certainly looks promising, but I would rather they didn’t use the “story of the man behind the legend” marketing strategy. “King Arthur” used that same approach and it was a terrible underachievement.

Trailer : Iron Man 2 (2010)


Iron Man will be back on the big screen, in full gear, this summer, bringing along for the ride a new set of characters from the comic book. For the connoisseurs out there, they are Black Widow, Whiplash and Nick Fury. For the rest of use, they are Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson. Favreau returns to direct from a script penned by promising new talent Justin Theroux, who also co-wrote “Tropic Thunder”. Looking good on all accounts, promises the same mix of furious action and witty laughs. Will it deliver ? We shall see.

Edge of Darkness (2010)


Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenwriter: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell
Rated: R for strong bloody violence and language.

Remaking his own 6 episode BBC mini-series, director Martin Campbell attempts his reboot skills, this time not for a fictional character, as was the case with James Bond (twice even, in 1995 with Goldeneye and 2006 with Casino Royale), but rather one made of flesh and blood, Mel Gibson. “Edge of Darkness” is an attempt at a comeback for the 80’s violent conspiracy/revenge/Mel flicks. And it sort of works that way too.

Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston homicide detective. When his daughter is killed right in front of him, he begins an investigation which leads him into the murky corporate underworld, complete with nefarious government cover-ups, silenced witnesses and henchmen driving around in black SUVs. His daughter was working for Northmoor, a company she discovered was secretely manufacturing nuclear weapons. Now, it’s up to Mel to avenge his daughter, plow through the bad guys and bring down Northmoor executive Jack Bennet (Danny Huston). What a great set-up for a trailer. You can even imagine that deep trailer voice announcing all this stuff.

The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding to watch this movie, is the fact that it’s throwback to the 80s conspiracy thrillers. It doesn’t always make sense, and the fact that a 6 episode plot was condensed to a two hour movie leaves a lot of the story feel rushed. While the mini-series was supposed to be a dark mistery with a slow pace, this one is supposed to be just as dark, but more action oriented, and tailored to Mel Gibson’s brand of intense performance. Indeed, Mel is back into his “Lethal Weapon” game, chewing scenery whenever he can, but, as you can imagine, in a way more appropriate for his age. I was afraid they would have him do James Bond stunts, but, thank God, there’s none of that.

Besides Mel, there’s another interesting character, Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who describes himself as “the man who stops you from connecting A to B”. His job was to take out Craven before he would become a nuisance for the government, but something about Craven intrigues him. They share a couple of lengthy conversations, and in a separate scene, we find out Jedburgh is terminally ill. All these will lead to a puzzling final scene I will not spoil. His motivations are a mistery, much like the character himself. There’s a certain depth to him that doesn’t feel fully developed. Just, intriguing.

The whole film is full of little contradictions. It has a deliberately slow pace, that ends up conflicting with the condensed and rushed plot. It throws in shocking, unexpected scenes of graphic violence that fit the revenge plot, but remain nothing more than shock tactics in an otherwise tame movie. It shows us the promise of a psychological thriller, but by the end it’s nothing more than a shoot’em up. Everything shifts and turns. The only constant and dependable things are Mel Gibson’s overacting and Danny Huston’s weasely villain. It’s the kind of movie that can be enjoyed especially if you aknowledge and accept these facts and savour them for what they are. If this is your kind of fare, then you’re going to love “Edge of Darkness”, like I did.

Trailer : Prince of Persia (2010)


Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer shake hands once again to recreate the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. A video game adaptation, “Prince of Persia” is a similar attempt at using a vague historical setting mixed with pseudo-mythology as a setting for a kids-friendly adventure movie filled with humor and epic action. Definitely the most eagerly expected trailer of this week.

So far, the trailer reveals loads of CGI  and Jake Gyllenhaal doing a bad british accent. I find it funny that a british accent is quintessential to envisioning the middle east in a movie, so much so, that an american actor has to fake the said accent in order for everything to be “authentic”. Not that I’ll let stuff like that prevent me from enjoying some good ol’ fashioned mindless action. I’m sure it’s going to be a fun crowd-pleaser (Mike Newell behind the camera is a big plus), though not as successful as “Pirates…”, and probably less likely to spawn a franchise…though I have been wrong before. Lower expectations and take in all that eye-candy.

Couples Retreat (2009)


Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman, Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis
Director: Peter Billingsley
Screenwriter: Jon Favreau

Ok, I knew I would not like this one. There was no way in hell that a
comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau would interest me in the
slightest. I also am not a heterosexual man so that the hotness of Malin
Ackerman or Kristen Bell or Kristin Davies would blind my rational
judgment. I saw the trailer and I thought it was a nice way for some A
listers to earn some money while getting a natural tan in an exotic location.
I knew well ahead what was coming and my masochist side was pleased to
see I was all I hoped it would be.

The plot revolves around four couples: Malin Ackerman and Vince Vaughn, Kristin Bell and Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis and Jon Favreau, Faison Love and a 20 year old post divorce rebound girlfriend. Every one of these couples
has ONE problem and everything they do is connected to that one problem
and/or is totally out of character but serves an one line unfunny joke. They
try to solve their problems by going on a vacation that includes, among
scuba diving and massages, couples therapy. I KNOW, this is so original
and so not cliché at all!

The trailer lies like a well oiled marketing device: it presents this movie as a
raunchy comedy with a stelar cast, great panoramic views and a love
centered story. If you actually buy tickets, you will be met by some bored
individuals who are trying to sell you some figments of candy wrapped
Hollywood “love” that should make you believe that these are good people
who deserve to be happy. I’ll give them this: they deserve each other. The
stories are one dimensional, predictable and quickly resolved, and there are
not enough helicopter shots of crystal blue sea water in this flick to make
anyone forget what impossibly contrived situations they try to pass as real
couple problems.

When I read some reviews about this movie, I realized that many people said that it was a shame that “such a talented cast” was “dragged into this horror fest”. I disagree. These people have not one, but several people watching every move they make, every contract they sign, every role they pick. They read the script, compare it to the check and decide if it’s worth it. So my conclusion was that Vince Vaughn deserves all the bad press he can get, because he wanted to become this mediocre romantic comedy lead with zero appeal. He is almost Kutcher level for me, only worse especially because he had things going for him that the ladder did not, mainly talent. Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell are basically two sides of the same character but at about half way through the movie, she becomes another person so they can fight and “communicate their issues”. It’s all bland and pointless, not to mention unintentionally funny. They are likable actors, but somehow this movie makes them annoying and I’m very happy because maybe that will make Bell stop with the “cute as a button” type roles. Malin Ackerman is underappreciated by her husband and remains that way even after the credits roll, although the script tries to tell you otherwise. And Faison Love is embarrassing, but luckily the bar can go lower to poor Jon Favreau (who also co-wrote this wreck) and Kristen Davis where there.are.no.words.

While watching this movie, the painfully true line uttered by Roeper when trying to explain using words the awfulness that is “What Happens in Vegas” was floating through my head: “The cast said they had so much fun during the making of this movie, THEY should have to sit through it”.