Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Rhoades)

“Imaginarium” Sparks Your Imagination
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yesterday I watched a marathon of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” episodes plus the 6-part documentary, “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut).” My ribs hurt.

The six members of the comedy troupe introduced a new form of British humor. Terry Gilliam was the brash American member of the group. It was Gilliam who was responsible for all those weird little animations that accompanied their popular TV show.

When the Monty Python guys moved into movies, Gilliam helped with the directing chores. As co-director of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” he found it difficult to share the duties with chum Terry Jones. After all, he was a man with his own unique vision.

Eventually, Gilliam began directing his own films. “Brazil” is one of his best, a satiric sci-fi fantasy about futuristic bureaucracy. “The Fisher King,” a modern-day Arthurian fable, is another worth watching on a Saturday afternoon. And his cynical “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” chronicled the adventures Key West regular Hunter S. Thompson.

This time around he gives us “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” a visually stunning fantasy about a traveling theatre troupe led by Doctor Parnassus, an old humbug who offers unsuspecting members of the public a chance to enter a magical mirror to strange worlds of almost hallucinatory beauty. He calls this other side of the looking glass “the Imaginarium.”

But it turns out that Parnassus’s magical powers were granted by the Devil, who’s now back to collect on the bargain. The price: His daughter Valentina.

Despite all the subplots, the film is really about Parnassus’s mission to save Valentina from the Devil. Gilliam sums it up as “simply a man looking for his daughter.”

Gilliam’s cast is fascinating: Christopher Plummer as the aforementioned Dr. Parnassus. A pencil-thin-mustachioed Tom Waits as Mr. Nick, the devil. Andrew Garfield as the annoying Anton. Lily Cole as the beauteous Valentina. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell as Imaginarium Tonys #1, #2, and #3. And Heath Ledger as Tony on this side of the mirror.
Gilliam insists this is not Ledger’s film, it is about Dr. Parnassus. Perhaps that’s a bit of expectation control, given Ledger’s masterful performances as the gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain” and as the maniacal Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

When Ledger passed away (a sensational National Inquirer-style death), he had only filmed one-third of his scenes, none of them within the Imaginarium. But Gilliam came up with an imaginative solution: Every time Tony steps inside the magic mirror, he looks just like Johnny Depp, Jude Law, or Colin Farrell.

Plummer plays Dr. Parnassus like “a washed-up Prospero, a brilliant dreamer who has lost his ability to mesmerize and charm” – an obvious metaphor for Gilliam himself. It’s been a long time since his last hit.

While very entertaining, in its own hallucinatory way, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” unfortunately won’t break that unlucky streak at the box office.
[from Solares Hill]

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