June 17, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Today's movie: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by fantastical director Terry Gilliam; and despite his movies being notoriously hit-and-miss, I still find it interesting to see as many of them as I can (in fact, this is my eighth of his eleven "major" films).

The reality: Er...miss. In fact, I was just complaining about this yesterday over at Facebook, of why it is that Gilliam can many times offer up some of the most striking and unforgettable visual images in all of cinematic history, yet have so many of his films feel so flat and boring by the end? I mean, this is certainly the case with Parnassus, which gets off on the wrong foot right at the start by being literally a fairytale, a convoluted and unusual one that is told to us out of order, which I'm still confused by but has something to do with some shaman or something who I guess has an imagination that people can literally step into or something like that, and who for some reason makes a bet with the Devil (cleverly played by Tom Waits) over who can harvest the most souls or something like that, a barely congealed plot that literally breaks down into nonsense during the last half-hour of the film's running time. Then add the famous fact that lead actor Heath Ledger actually died about halfway through filming this, necessitating a hasty change to the script that now allows a series of three high-profile actors (Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell) to take his place during the "land of imagination" scenes; and then add the schizophrenic tone that Gilliam takes with the movie, veering wildly between heartbreaking drama and slapstick comedy; and you can soon see why the audience for this film collectively shrugged their shoulders and muttered "meh" when it first came out, and why even I myself had completely lost interest in anything that was going on to the characters long before the movie had actually ended.

Bleh. Gilliam is always at his best when coming up with a unified vision and tone for one of his projects, and especially when that project is at least halfway grounded in the pedestrian aspects of the real world -- see for example the two greatest movies of his career, 1981's Time Bandits and 1985's Brazil, which I think is no coincidence that they came at nearly the beginning of his career, before his reputation started allowing him to get away with bigger and bigger indulgences in his evermore befuddling scripts. Although definitely fascinating in small doses, Parnassus barely holds together as an actual two-hour movie, and it comes recommended today to only the most hardcore Gilliam fans out there, as well as undergraduates on drugs in the middle of the night who weren't going to be paying too much attention in the first place.

Strangest piece of trivia: Although a box-office disaster in the US, the movie was a surprise hit in Europe, eventually generating $42 million there and having the third-best opening weekend of any film in Italy last year.

Worth your time? Kinda

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:23 AM, June 17, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |