The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Posted on May 3, 2010. Filed under: Movies to miss, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Faithful followers will know that I was really looking forward to this films release. No doubt they will also have noticed the lack of review on this site.  The inconvenience of having a full time job mean that I never got to see Parnassus in the cinema, but the epic rain that washed out the Bank Holiday weekend allowed me to finally get around to watching the DVD.

Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way first. Yes, it’s weird. In fact it’s very weird.  But this is the mind of Terry Gilliam, where if you think it makes sense, you’re not getting it.  So put that aside before you start and you’ll get on a lot better.

Gilliam is essentially an artist, and it’s the visuals that make this film.  Each trip through the Doctor’s magic mirror takes us into a world beyond imagination that only Gilliam could create.  But unfortunately it has little else to offer.  I did enjoy the juxtaposition between the old-fashioned world of the Imaginarium and the modern world of it’s clientelle.  The opening credits set you up for a period piece, but then a drunk guy wanders into shot from a nightclub and you realise you’re expectations were wrong.  Just how Terry likes it.

I don’t want to call Parnassus a bad film, because it isn’t bad exactly.  But I’m not sure what it is.  The plot is as expected; convoluted and very hard to follow, but if you strip it down to the bare bones it’s actually relatively simple.  The problem is the characterisation.  I’m not really sure whose side we’re supposed to be on.  There isn’t really a protagonist story to follow, the plot just seems to meander around a group of people.

As for the actors behind the performances, Tom Waits does a great underworld Mr Nick and Verne Troyer proves he can do more than just be the funny little guy in his first proper acting role.  The focus however,  falls inevitably on Heath Ledger.  This is where it gets difficult.  Neither Ledger, nor alter egos Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, really get to stretch their acting muscles.  If anything, the only thing that caught my attention was Ledger’s wandering accent, which never seemed to get hold of a region (Farrell on the other hand carried off an impressively non-Irish dialect.)  It’s a shame to have four huge talents like that on screen and see them go to waste, but to be honest not many members of the cast get to do much.

The eponymous Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) spends most of the time asleep, and it’s hard to keep up with who bet what to who and why.  I’m still not actually sure who won.  Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield are good though as Valentina and Anton.  In fact, Garfield wins the prize for being the only character I actually cared about.

I’m so reluctant to criticise this film.  Not only because it is Heath’s last, but because it had potential to be really good.  Wishful thinking can’t rescue a film though, and I’m afraid I have to confine Dr Parnassus to the missable movies vault.  Maybe watch it once just to say you’ve seen it, but I fear that without the macabre draw of this being a film where the lead actor died during filming, few people would have given it the time of day.

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Up (3D)

Posted on October 31, 2009. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

So, I finally made it back to the cinema! This time it was to see the long-awaited Up, the first film I’ve ever seen in 3D.

I have to admit I was sceptical at first, I grew up in the age of those horrible green and red cardboard things and was a bit worried that seeing a film in 3D might be more annoying than exciting.  Turns out 3D glasses have come a long way, still not the most attractive thing in the world, but in the case of Up you end up looking quite a lot like our lead character which made me laugh every time I looked around the room.  As for the effects themselves, I think the jury is still out.  At times, the 3D was really cool, particularly in the wide angle shots of landscapes, and it did bring the action to life, but at other times I found it a bit distracting, and I couldn’t help continually taking off my glasses to see what the screen looked like without them. (Blurry, if you’re wondering).  I think with an animation like Pixar, 3D is a good thing, as it carries on what the computer has begun, but I’m not sure I’d like to see it spill into mainstream cinema too much.  There is a definitely increase in the number of films being released in 3D, so I guess it’s something I’ll be getting used to.  The trailer for the new Christmas Carol which came before was a clear example of 3D being just right, as the falling snowflakes really did look amazing in 3D.

Onto the film itself.  My first impression of Up is how shockingly sad it is!  We’re talking Bambi’s Mum here.  I’d seen a news report earlier about Up being one of the few films that has made men cry but kind of shrugged it off…turns out they were right.  It’s the opening montage that does it, where we find out how Carl Fredricksen goes from a cute little kid to a grumpy old man.  Up is an unusual film for Pixar, because it tackles some pretty adult content about loneliness and loss, and is one of the only films I can think of that centres almost entirely around a grumpy old man.  It might not quite stand up to some of its predecessors, but it is a good film, and I guess we should hand it to them for taking on a storyline you wouldnt expect in a kids’ film.

Once you get over the sad opening, there are some brilliant funny moments in the film, provided mainly by the counterpoint between Carl and cute boy scout Russell.  There were at least 3 things that had me laughing out loud, and the way that both characters are drawn adds to the contrast, with Russell pretty much ball-shaped, while Carl has an almost perfect square for a head.

The plot of the film is good too, there were a couple of times when I thought an obvious ending was approaching and was surprised to find the story heading in a different direction.  At 96 minutes it never drags, and is basically a fun ride from beginning to end.  One thing I did like was the new way Pixar has found for its animals to talk, stepping away from the Disney norm of all creatures great and small speaking perfect English-well, sort of.  There are actually very few characters in the film.  Apart from Carl and Russell, there’s comic relief dog Dug, quintessential bad guy Charles Muntz, and that’s about it.  Because of this, the film feels quite small despite the grandeur of its setting, with the floating house actually not having an awful lot to do with it in the grand scheme of things.  I think this works with a film like this which is really about the development of one character-Carl.  As I’ve said before, it’s unusual for any film, especially a kids film, to invest so much in a crotchety old man, but Pixar somehow manages to make him just loveable enough for it to work.  I’m betting that opening montage has a lot to do with it.

Also a departure for Pixar is the lack of all-star voice talent.  Apart from Christopher Plummer inhabiting our villain, the rest of the voices come from relative unknowns or one of the films directors (Bob Peterson).  At times, it can be distracting having a really recognisable voice in a film so it was nice to be able to only have one character with whom I associate the voice.

Altogether I think Up is a worthwhile family film with enough in it to keep the big kids (i.e. me) happy and lots of bright colours and flying about for the little ones.  I did kind of get the impression that this was a film for boys, (there’s really only one female character in the whole film, and she’s called Kevin!) and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that quite a lot of Pixar films are leaning more towards the male than female market.   In  Toy Story we have Andy with typical boy toys: cowboys and space men;  Finding Nemo is all about a boy and his father, Cars is just obvious…the only one I could think of with a more feminine air was Monsters Inc, and that’s just for Boo, because otherwise that’s quite a boyish film too.  It’s not necessarily a criticism, but I wonder if Pixar have noticed how many of their films centre around a young male character with, more often than not, and older male representing some kind of lost father figure.  I’ve mentioned before the Hollywood obsession with “Daddy issues” and it seems that Pixar, and all of Disney in fact, might be some of the biggest culprits. ‘Course if you’re like me and tend to prefer the boy films then it’s not really an issue.

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