The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) – [rate 4.5]

I love movies by writers and directors that aren’t just creating movies, but who are shaping an oeuvre – a coherent body of work that stands out from the crowd. Lynch, Cronenberg, Scorcese, Herzog and many more share this trait. Although it’s less obvious in the case of Terry Gilliam, after seeing his movies I do always feel he belongs in their ranks.

I suppose that Gilliam is not as clear cut (some would say obvious) as Cronenberg – who always explores the separation between reality and the absence thereof and often has the protagonist crossing the line in any way imaginable. In Existenz, the characters take place in an incredibly realistic virtual reality game that has a virtual game inside it and soon you start to doubt whether you know what is ‘actual reality’. In Dead Ringers, twin gyneacologists spiral out of a carefully balanced reality in which each has to see himself and see himself see him. Both living and observing their lives, they don’t like what they see. And you can go on, all his movies are about different perspectives or definitions of reality.

Gilliam is more like Lynch, in that he’s very true to a particular style and his stories are set in the everyday world. But they focus on characters that seem to live in this world, but aren’t a part of it at all. The world is their habitat, but their universe is Gilliam’s/Lynch’s fantasy and in their case, different rules apply. But where Lynch is paradoxical, dark, moody and a bit too weird for most tastes, Gilliam is more charming, enchanted, humorous and sooner silly than weird.

The Imaginarium is a typical Gilliam movie. Nothing is coincidental, but a lot of it doesn’t make sense if you look at it too closely. If you just allow the movie to carry you where it wants to take you, whilst observing the scenery, you can often deduce some of the inspiration for many of the details with hindsight. And if you take that approach to his movies, you won’t be distracted by plot holes or strange incongruities.

In the Imaginarium, you can complain about the wagon changing size and form between scenes, you can be annoyed by the unclear changes in apparent motivation of the characters, you can comment on differences in acting style between scenes, but does it really matter? The movie is not perfect, but it is unique and it casts a spell with a specific Gilliam signature – and I love to be enchanted by this old Python.

A final thing I like about Gilliam – or the way he presents himself and his work – is the serendipity and synchronicity of his enterprises. Whatever goes wrong with his movies and whatever personal problems he runs into in his career, it all appears to serve some purpose or affect his work in some mysterious way. The loss of Heath Ledger is tragic and surely some films in the future would have been better with him performing a key role, but for the Imaginarium it’s almost a blessing in disguise – and I do hope I don’t offend with that remark. It necessitates the performances of Depp, Law and Farrell as stand-ins for Ledger in the scenes beyond the mirror of Doctor Parnassus, but this works out so well, Gilliam couldn’t have imagined it better.

Stingray Sam

Stingray Sam (2009) – [rate 3.5]

Most of what’s really great about Stingray Sam was already featured in American Astronaut, which was one of my favourites in a previous edition of the AFFF. Still, the movie takes this zany universe of cowboy astronauts a step further and blends in Terry Gilliam-like animations to help the story along.

The movie was shot as a six-part series, intended for broadcasting on mobile phones. The quality of the images does nothing to betray this fact, everything looks crisp and ready for the theatre, but the pacing of each episode is clearly geared to keep the attention of the instant message-generation.

As black-and-white space opera western musicals come, this one has to be one of the best. It’s genuinely funny and though the style may seem a bit childish in some scenes, the humour certainly isn’t and its fake innocence only serves to increase the estranging effect of the setting and the utterly unlikely story.

The plot really doesn’t even matter all that much, it’s not what keeps your attention on the screen. This movie/series is about being transported to another universe, in every possible way, even though there’s a lot to recognize. Recommended for anyone with a sense of humour.

Edison and Leo

Edison and Leo (2008) – [rate 2.5]

The animation is right on target, the characters have plenty of character and the story isn’t just straightforward in this animation movie. Some scenes looked a little rushed and reminded me of Robot Chicken episode, but even that didn’t detract from the overall movie. So why the low rating?

Well, there really is no point in watching this well-made movie. It’s not a nice family picture, since there is some seriously graphic violence and sexual material in it that makes it unfit for the young. But the story doesn’t have the depth, background or sufficiently rich ideas to recommend it to your friends, more so since you’ll be sending them to see stop-motion animated puppets.

If such a movie is to succeed, it needs to tell a good story in an inspired setting like Strings (2004). Or it needs to have memorable and loveable characters like Wallace and Gromit (1995). Policital satire also works, as in Team America: World Police. But Edison and Leo is a somewhat simple story about the unknown (and fictional) side of Edison and his family background.

It’s well-made, with nice effects, sound and voice-acting, but I really can’t think of a reason to go see it and I would only recommend it if you really like animation or if you don’t care about brutality and (mild) sex in the movies your kids watch. They might learn something…

Burn after Reading

Burn after Reading (2007) – [rate 3]

After No Country for Old Men, this definitely feels more like a ‘classic’ Coen-brothers production. The characters all seem to be confronted with situations that are outside their ability to deal with things. Greed leads otherwise innocent characters down a dark path of punishment, which I think is a recurring theme in their movies and everything is soaking in a fairly bleak humorous light. Continue reading Burn after Reading

Thank you for Smoking

IMDb Logo Thank You for Smoking (2005) [rate 4]

This movie is about as good as it could have been and the only reason it’s short of the 5/5 mark are some details. Although it may be intentional, it seems strange not to have anyone smoke in a movie about Big Tobacco and it’s (evil?) marketing techniques. If it’s intentional, I would have expected the creators of Thank You for Smoking to play a little more with the idea. The only suggestion of smoking in the entire movie is the blueish tint of the air in some locations. The main character smokes, but this only becomes clear because of him grabbing a pack of cigs that happens to be empty when he does (in anotherwise great scene). Continue reading Thank you for Smoking