Rewind Review: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus 

The Imaginarium of Dr. Panassus is a vexing and perplexing film. It is most definitely imaginative. It’s most definitely Terry Gilliam; however, a lot of the positives that can be said about it end there as unfortunate as that is.

It is rare when simulacrum, in the form of real life events, can have a true impact on a film. The untimely death of Heath Ledger did affect this film, however, as shocking as it sounds to say it, perhaps not in a negative way. No disrespect intended, as Heath Ledger did a fine job in this film. As a matter of fact he had this critic quite convinced that he was one type of character then he ended up being another entirely. Think of it this way, however, had Ledger’s character not been played by other actors, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell there would’ve been very little which was noteworthy about the film.

Yes, it’s incredibly inventive but it’s the kind of tale that takes so long to unwind itself that by the time you have it all sorted, one you may not have it sorted correctly and two you start to wonder why is this story being told in the first place. Gilliam is a tremendous visual artist and the irreverence and surrealism so gleefully on display in this film is admirable and on occasion quite funny but at times things just didn’t click, in fact more often than not.

Heath-Tony-3-the-imaginarium-of-doctor-parnassus-11156998-800-450

One of the bigger problems is Andrew Garfield as Anton. Yes, his character is supposed to be somewhat annoying yet he is supposed to be right and the guy we pull for but he just ends up being annoying and in what was a very good cast he ends up sticking out like a very, very sore thumb.

The film centers around a bet between Dr. Parnassus, a god-like character if not God Himself, and the Devil, played by Tom Waits. Yet towards the end the terms of that bet become very muddled. Mr. Nick, as the Devil is called in this venture, invariably changes the terms of the bet to make it more sporting as he tends to do but then it becomes near impossible to figure out what “having gotten a soul” really is and even barring all that after all is seemingly lost Mr. Nick lets Parnassus off the hook.

Obviously, things can be read into the bartering of souls and gambling with the devil and what the Imaginarium ultimately signifies in the bigger picture of things, however, when a film fails to entertain on the surface digging becomes a tiresome venture. The best thing about the aforementioned tale is that it seems destined to repeat itself when we see the characters at the very end but the film seemed to be building towards some sort of finality so that’s not nearly the coup it should be.

imaginarium-of-doctor-parnassus-review-1

There was a fabulous concept in a flashback where Parnassus was with the monks about a story constantly needing to be told and that was never followed through neither were some of the more intriguing paths this film could have taken.

Sadly, instead of giving us a lot of food for thought or sharp, biting satire the emotion associated with this film is more aptly stated as flummoxed for just as the Imaginarium itself the image may be pretty but there’s not nearly enough substance behind it.

5/10

Rewind Review: The Social Network

The Social Network. I’ll put it this way: I think it was probably the best possible execution of a concept doomed to fail. The overwhelming question that kept occurring to me as I was watching it was “Why?” Why is this a movie and why am I watching it? My time may have been better spent playing Farmville, something I rarely if ever do.” I exaggerate only to highlight the doldrums this film dwells in for far too long to call it anything but a bad film. The film’s first scene is a fascinating interplay between Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). This is the apex of the film sadly it comes very early in the proceedings. You get a perfect illustration as to who Mark is but he doesn’t really change.

The film will toy with time going from one deposition in either of the two lawsuits and back in time to illustrate points and there are several cuts that will remind you of Citizen Kane aside from the fact that, you know, Citizen Kane was about something and larger than life and not about a new hybrid between jerk and nerd- a nerd-jerk. Zuckerberg has no “Rosebud” at the end he just realizes maybe I was a jerk and tries to add the girl he offended on Facebook and obsessively hits refresh waiting for her to accept. He hasn’t changed. Thanks.

It’s a film that after a certain point lacks a necessary ebb-and-flow. The question is how the accusations that he stole Facebook come about, once that comes out the question that remains is “if.” In my estimation it’s very clear that he did which is why much of the rest of the film is very academic and uninteresting, just details. It didn’t really hold any surprises.

The-Social-Network-andrew-garfield-17372274-1920-800

The performances help elevate the film to a level which makes at least tolerable. Andrew Garfield is fantastic as Eduardo Saverin and what’s most impressive is his mastery of a Brazilian accent which is not one that registers in the realm of stereotype so he did some serious research it would seem. Justin Timberlake is surprisingly very good in the role of Sean Taylor. It is also worth noting that thanks to some movie magic and really good acting Armie Hammer plays the role of both Winklevoss twins tremendously.  As for Eisenberg what can be said? He plays the character very well it’s just the character that’s a turn-off but judging by the body of work he has you can see he does have the range to play both very likable and unlikable characters.

The film is at times stimulating intellectually and others emotionally but never both at the same time. All too frequently it is neither.

While I didn’t care for it and was on more than one occasion bored I won’t actively lobby against people watching. It’s definitely the kind of movie you shouldn’t take someone else’s word on, but I was resoundly unimpressed and can only accurately convey my opinion. At times I can try and surmise what an audience might feel but I won’t here.

The Social Network

It seems all the defining of generation talk and the importance of the film is being discussed by those who are older than the characters in the film but furthermore the social import of this film is being inferred by Facebook and its impact, whatever you think it may be, and not by the film itself. The film is nothing more than a glorified docudrama full of sound and fury which signifies nothing and not a good nothing like Seinfeld but just nothing. It’s a wasteland, the epitome of cinematic existentialism: why is this here and why am I watching it?

As I stated at the beginning as much as the experience was displeasing just based on the inherent flawed mechanics of the narrative I can only down-grade it so much. Make no mistake about it this film, much like the real Facebook, has no dislike button, but if it did I’d click it.

5/10

Hero Whipped: Why This Spider-Man Amazed Me

In this series of posts I tend to discuss comic book characters and my unique relationship with them since my fairly recent return to reading them again and I usually find a way to connect them back to movies somehow. However, since I decided that my posts may be a little different from hereon in, these posts may have a slightly different vibe to them.

Sure enough after that post The Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first things I saw. Now, in spite of my recent tendency to like superhero movies either a lot as the case is with say The Avengers and X-Men: First Class or somewhat as is the case with Thor or Green Lantern, the new Spider-Man hearkens me back to the original trilogy which were all released during my hiatus. Thus, this will be a heavily filmic post but it’s perhaps the most unique perspective I’ve yet had on a character.

It may be possible that I knew less about Spider-Man going into that first movie than I’ve known about almost any superhero before seeing their film. It was released at a time where I was typically attending films in a group so the selection process was fairly democratic. Going alone or with at least one other person, I could take it or leave it. To give you a sense of my lack of knowledge, after having seen it I was informed that in the books Peter created a web-shooter and it wasn’t a biological side-effect of the bite. So that frames it a bit.

However, I was a fairly blank slate. I didn’t have expectations I was just reacting to what I saw on the screen and what I saw there was something I didn’t care for much at all. In the post-film powwow I was the only dissenting opinion who chimed in “Well, I thought it really sucked.” I’ve never really had the urge to revisit it and the bad taste in my mouth kept me from seeing the other two.

I could identify easily enough with the elements of the story. Few and far between are the heroes whose archetypes that have a major variable. It was really a letdown in my eyes aesthetically, technically and viscerally. With regards to the viscera a lot of that boiled down to the casting of the leads. There is a certain alchemy in all of filmmaking but perhaps where it’s most present is in acting. Yes, there is a lot of technique and things that are good acting and bad acting just like in any aspect of filmmaking, however, an effective performer who doesn’t excite you in anyway is likely to be less engaging than a less technically skilled actor who is gripping, who has a presence. Tobey Maguire is not a bad actor and neither is Kirsten Dunst. I don’t find them interesting in any way, shape or form though. They bore me more often than not. It’s really a casting issue. Maguire is going to be seen in The Great Gatsby next. That’s great casting. He belongs in that film, here I didn’t care for it.

The casting and the actors get no help in the story department I remembered feeling it tepid and trite, nothing out of the ordinary, and getting back to the alchemy thing you have actors I felt were miscast, not particularly dynamic and then no chemistry too? Brilliant.

I was also not in the camp that ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the CG. Good effects work, truly good effects work is timeless. I doesn’t just stand up against contemporary expectations but stands the test of time too. I felt they were lacking in 2002, much less now. Whereas there are shots in Jurassic Park that are still astounding almost 20 years later.

It really seems in superhero cinema that much of it boils down to character, in the better ones performance, and spectacle. Very few are those films that will also make you legitimately, consistently, and even spontaneously, feel strong pangs of genuine emotion (Teaser: I got a lot of that in the new Batman and that’s the next in this series!).

Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of watching any movie ever was the first time I saw Batman. You know the 1989 one, back when Tim Burton was Tim Burton.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” And thus, the crap was scared out of me and I was in love with that movie.

With Spider-Man you do have a basis for many emotions in the construction of his origin. As superhero films proliferate there will be more and more merit to the arguments about the viability of origin stories, however, in rebooting a series I have no problem with retelling. Similarity by itself is not cause enough for ridicule. Take the Psycho remake for instance (please?), if Van Sant had merely done the story over again: same place, same time, same characters, names; that probably would’ve been fine. However, he took it a step further into cinematic photocopying, which just felt flat.

I can stand a retelling, as I think I’ve stated before: I am fine with multiple versions of stories existing (and when I like the story I seek them out). I clearly wanted to be re-told this story based on my reaction to the first film. So, what was it in this new Spider-Man that worked for me? In short, practically everything.

However, as you may have guessed, it starts with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Just by looking at Andrew Garfield you may not imagine he’s the dynamic performer, but if you watch him you soon find out. I first saw him in The Red Riding Trilogy and I was a fan. There are quite a few things that perturbed me about The Social Network, but he wasn’t one of them, at all. Robbed of an Oscar nomination, is what he was.

Then there’s Emma Stone. I think everybody loves Emma Stone at this point. If you don’t you probably aren’t watching that many movies.

There’s a certain quietness and introspection to this film that allows the emotion to be wrenched out of it. I spoke of spectacle above, spectacle is very external. In many of these films there is rarely introspection. This film manages to do that, build these characters but also steadily build the intrigue. The characters arc, you see what makes them tick, you see and understand their decisions and I felt for them.

Now, the dynamic was changed in this film by bringing Gwen Stacy into the mix rather than Mary Jane Watson. Now, in my return to comics I haven’t delved into Spider-Man really. I’ve only really gotten to know and like him from his teaming up with The Fantastic Four after The Human Torch’s temporary demise, so Gwen was new to me and I think involving her is a great story decision that just makes this film that much better and resonant.

On a technical level, not only do scenes tend to be intensified by occurring at night but the filmmakers figured out that the web-swinging looks better then. Another interesting aesthetic note to me was that the camera was very much controlled, not an over-abundance of motion. The shots look good and composed and it hearken back to earlier superhero films, but are made with newer toys.

All those proclivities aside here are the two true litmus tests for superhero movies as I see them: One, do I want to see the inevitable sequel? Two, does the film make me want to seek out the character in print? The answer to both those questions is a a resounding hell yes. And that is why this Spider-Man amazed me.