The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

24 05 2010

“This world we live in is full of enchantment for those with eyes to see it.”

That is a quote from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Terry Gilliam’s tenth film as sole director. It is also the thematic thread that ties all his work together, from the childhood fantasy of Time Bandits (1981) to the supernatural wonderland of The Brothers Grimm (2005). For over 30 years, Gilliam has been bringing old-fashioned magic to the screen, despite audiences becoming increasingly cynical and jaded over that time.

If the veteran storyteller was once Sam Lowry, battling a faceless system in order to keep his dreams alive, he’s now Doctor Parnassus (Christoher Plummer), an aging showman whose magic mirror fails to spark the interest of a public captivated instead by the bright, shiny objects of consumerism. And yet he persists because he must—it’s too depressing to think that most people will choose cheap thrills over the power of the imagination, given the choice.

In the film this is depicted via a series of bets between Parnassus and Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), each vying for the chance to win human souls. Parnassus’ Imaginarium offers anyone who steps into his mirror a choice between the rewarding challenges of their higher purpose in life versus the baser delights of ol’ Nick himself. For an alcoholic, this is the choice between a “12 x 12 x 12 step program” on the one hand and a lounge bar on the other, and for each person who enters the Imaginarium, the choice is just as personal.

And so Parnassus travels through the streets of London with his accompanying show and troupe, hoping to prove himself right—that people, at heart, want imagination and magic—despite all evidence to the contrary.
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Blade Runner

15 01 2008

Blade Runner1982 was a good year for science fiction on film: on the one hand you had Steven Speilberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which was one of those inescapable blockbusters that was as much an event as a film; on the other hand we were given John Carpenter’s The Thing, which seemed to be the cinematic inverse of Spielberg’s offering. Transcending that dichotomy, however, was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a futuristic film noir that is arguably the most important science fiction film of the 1980s — certainly, it was one of the most influential.

It is Los Angeles in 2019, and within the urban decay are four rogue “replicants” — sophisticated androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a former blade runner — a detective charged with tracking down and “retiring” (i.e. killing) rogue replicants — and he’s brought back on the job to retire the current four who are still on the loose.

Blade Runner is an important film for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped to define the “cyberpunk” subgenre: its world was a grimy, sprawling urban landscape fused with high-tech industry, and this became the paradigm upon which so much science fiction was later built. Secondly, its themes of humanity, creation and the nature of memory are dealt with seriously but never in a heavy-handed manner. And finally, it’s yet another case of a film that was relatively unsuccessful at the time of release but whose influence was so marked that it’s now regarded as a classic almost by default.
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The Fountain

2 12 2007

The FountainThe Fountain has a troubled history as a production: originally cast with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as the leads, the project was eventually shelved, only to be resurrected two years later with a scaled-back budget (less than half the initial budget of $75 million) and a new cast. To see the finished product, I can’t help but feel this was all for the best.

Hugh Jackman plays Tommy Creo, a research oncologist whose wife, Izzi (Rachael Weisz) is dying from a brain tumour. Parallel to this are two other stories: in one, Jackman plays Tomas, a Spanish conquistador who aims to assassinate Grand Inquisitor Silecio in order to protect his Queen (also played by Weisz); in the third, Jackman is Tom, a man hurtling through space in a spherical, translucent spacecraft. How these three stories relate to each other is one of the delights of The Fountain, and something that is best left for the film itself to reveal.

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) has given us a film that possesses a depth of emotion and spirit few achieve. Its themes of mortality and grief are interwoven masterfully through its cinematic triptych as visual motifs recur again and again — the golden palette of the nebula featured in the third story, for example, is scattered throughout various scenes to remind us that these three stories are part of a larger whole.
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The Good German

28 11 2007

The Good GermanAs I’ve mentioned previously on this site, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh have a history of collaborating on as many fringe projects as crowd-pleasers (though even their less mainstream films still have some sort of appeal for wider audiences). Falling more into the former camp is The Good German, Soderbergh’s attempt to recreate the film noir genre.

Of course, most filmmakers would be content to stick to using lighting, camera angles, editing and maybe black and white film to help set the tone, but Soderbergh has gone all-out, reverting to the technology of the era, including mics, lighting and lenses, to create a truly authentic experience. Couple this with the acting style and the dramatic film score by Thomas Newman, and the illusion that this is indeed a film from the ’40s is almost complete.

Yet somewhat incongruent to all this effort on Soderbergh’s part is a script that includes sex scenes and swearing. It’s not that Paul Attanasio’s screenplay is bad — it’s actually very good — but for this purpose it just doesn’t suit.
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Transformers

16 11 2007

TransformersMichael Bay is not the most hated filmmaker amongst film geeks — that title goes to the hapless Uwe Boll — but it’s a close call. Bay is the man who brought us such cinematic gems as Bad Boys and The Rock, both of which are the sort of movies that are slick but empty, providing the focus group-driven ingredients for blockbusters without supplying any kind of soul or vision. In short, Bay’s style epitomises crass commercialism at its most artistically bereft.

So it’s an incredible irony that Bay seems to have redeemed himself with Transformers, a film based on a line of toys of all things. Bay’s film not only delivers on its promise of a fun popcorn movie, it revels in its frivolity; this is the film that the abysmal Independence Day wanted so desperately to be, all those years ago.

As the Transformers mythology goes, two warring factions of giant alien robots — the benevolent Autobots and the evil Decepticons — left their homeworld of Cybertron for Earth, where their eternal battle continues. Here they take the forms of ordinary vehicles and devices: leading the Autobots is Optimus Prime, a heroic figure who transforms into a truck and gets to pontificate about freedom and the virtues of humanity, while heading the Decepticons is Megatron, who used to transform into a gun but in the film appears as a jet.
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