Guest reviews from sometime contributor Lillian Parker (aka Ukelilli)… Enjoy. -JO

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The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

In my unrealistic mad dash to get every 2009 movie seen before the Oscars (a dated ritual for me, but at this point, it’s as good a deadline as any), I went to see two movies this weekend, which was quite refreshing as it’s been a while since I’ve been to the cinema! Saturday I took in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Sunday it was Tom Ford’s A Single Man. I liked Imaginarium less than I expected and A Single Man more than I expected, so that was some wacky outcome right there.

I’m a huge Terry Gilliam fan and have followed his career, even through the thick and very thin of Tideland (although I cannot say I was a fan of that…). I dare say I’ve liked, nay LOVED every other Gilliam film! His visual creativity is incredibly stimulating, his stories are strange and sweet, the acting he is able to pull from actors is unique, and his dialogue is catchy. For this reason, I was slightly disappointed in Imaginarium because it all felt, frankly, like TG recycling himself, and that’s never good. In all of his movies, although they definitely have a Gilliam feel, they are clearly different movies. This one though, each scene I seemed to say to myself, “Wow, this is right out of Baron Munchausen” or “Wow, this was completely stolen from the Fisher King.”

I’m not sure what to even try to tell you about this movie without giving stuff away, but basically Christopher Plummer plays Doctor Parnassus, an anciently old man who has a circus troup sort of traveling show which travels across London. His troupe is comprised of his daughter, Valentina (the freakishly beautiful Lily Cole), a player, Anton (Andrew Garfield, a British young man, who I will discuss more later), and a midget (Verne Troyer – can’t really play Gilliam very well, but we all know TG needs his midgets!). They are vaguely being chased by the Devil (Tom Waits) who enjoys a constant betting game with Parnassus, and, I suppose if it revolves around anything, this story revolves around Parnassus winning the bet to keep his daughter.

This movie had its touching scenes (father/daughter, unrequited love) and dazzling scenes (Terry Gilliam is basically giving us permission to go inside different facets of HIS imagination – sounds awesome!).

It was interesting to see Terry Gilliam with computer effects. One of the fun things about his films is how many of the effects are practical. But it’s the 21st century now, so such silliness cannot be abided. There was a lot of obvious digital stuff in here (the black river/most of the imaginarium stuff), and also a lot of well-hidden effects (some of the imaginarium stuff – the ladders for example), and sometimes he did stick with the real (their traveling stagecoach, for example). This movie could not have been made as it was without the aid of computer technology, and I think all in all Gilliam coped well with it. All of these visuals, after all, still came out of that mind. And, as he started off animating for the Monty Python boys, I get the sense that he knows how to make images look as real or fake as he wants.

I was frankly surprised how little of Heath Ledger there was, but he was awesome and I was very impressed by how Gilliam did the necessary cut and pasting to make it all seamless. Ledger’s unexpected absence surely may have taken its toll on the film as well. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell did decent work handling the takeover of his part, and Gilliam did a great job making it unquestionable that these different people would be portraying him in different scenes.

The best surprise for me was Andrew Garfield, who played Anton, the player, who is in love with Valentina and yet is always rejected. He played Gilliam’s lines with the fabulous wackiness that they sometimes require and incredibly natural ease at other times. I had seen him twice before this (in a two-part Doctor Who ep in season 3 of the latest series, and then in a pre-screening of a new Carey Mulligan film called Never Let Me Go) and was never really taken by him before. I’d hasten to say, in fact, I particularly disliked him. Andrew Garfield, if you are reading this, I take it back and feel horrible for ever thinking such things, because I adored you in Imaginarium and really look forward to what you bring me next!

So, in general, I liked it. It was just such a shame to see a work by a man with SUCH creativity feel a little second hand (even if it’s from his own previous works). But, as I say all the time about a handful of truly great filmmakers, a mediocre Terry Gilliam film is still leaps and bounds above most movies that come out of Hollywood. And I did enjoy this movie. I would highly recommend it to Gilliam fans and really everyone should see it, but no need to rush out for it, add it to the queue.

A Single Man

That was my Saturday matinee, and Sunday I enjoyed a delicious-as-always lamb gyro at El Greco followed by A Single Man at the Los Feliz 3. I went into this movie knowing very little about it (in fact, with a few mistaken bits of information), and that’s how I think I’d like to leave it for you. I think the discovery was a part of what made this movie so great for me.

So, without talking about plot, or really characters, I’ll just give a few basic notes on this one. I went in worried that a fashion tycoon’s movie might be…well…like a really long Ralph Lauren ad. And, while there were many scenes in this movie that could be mistaken for such a thing upon cursory glance (and several of the actors in the smaller roles were clearly models), those scenes were still moving and the imagery added to them, without question.

Colin Firth deserves an Oscar for his performance. By 15 minutes into the movie I was feeling everything he was, pressed by the difficult decisions that he was, haunted by the memories that he was. I always love Matthew Goode (Match Point) and he was great. I like Nicholas Hoult a lot (About a Boy, Skins) and he was – well perfect for what he was cast as (despite his at times shaky American accent). I can take or leave Julianne Moore, and she was quite good as well.

There was one little visual effect (or big and overused visual effect, depending upon your perspective) that I really loved. The scenes would literally gain color and contrast as they progressed, which is just an awesome use of the film medium, and it’s always nice to see that. It was cool for a couple of reasons. When the scenes start the color is kind of spot on like an early ‘60s filmstrip, which is great in terms of the setting of the film. Then as George, Firth’s character, starts to open his senses a bit more to whatever it is we’re seeing, the colors become brighter and it’s like the clouds part. We can feel the changes that are going on in his head. A really fabulous technique.

Also, and not surprisingly again considering the director, the costumes and production were near perfect. They were timely, but also interesting and cool! So please by no means take my under-play of a review as reason not to see A Single Man! As I said, just want to keep you nice and sheltered, so you can unpeel this film like the delicious orange that I did. If you are going to see only one of the movies I’ve just reviewed, see A Single Man. It might have to fight its way onto my top 10 of 2009. (But, I’d of course vouch for seeing both – I’d vouch for seeing everything you can.)