Jan 12 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Last night (at the request of a friend), I went to see Terry Gilliam‘s new movie, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” (2010). This movie will be long remembered as the last project that the late Heath Ledger worked on before his death by “accidental” prescription drug overdose. He actually died during the making of the movie, so some of his parts had to be completed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law (who I enjoyed in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (2004)), and Colin Farrel (who I liked in “In Bruges” (2008), and that’s about it). If it wasn’t for the tragedy and collaboration that followed, I think the movie would be shortly forgotten. As it is, it will probably be remembered only on Trivial Pursuit cards as: “What was Heath Ledger’s last movie?” to which everyone will answer, “Didn’t he play the Joker in The Dark Knight?” Do you see how I’m using my review to talk about other movies? Yeah, I just noticed that too…

About the movie. Ummm… What does it mean if I’m not sure what the movie is about? Let’s recap. Doctor Parnassus is an old man (like, Methuselah old) and rides around modern-day London with a small troupe of misfits putting on a sideshow. The sideshow isn’t particularly compelling, so most people just blow them off as kooks. Anyone who does accept an invite onto the stage is directed through a flimsy stage mirror and deposited into a fantastical world stemming from their imagination. The portal only works while Doctor Parnassus (an ancient monk) is on stage (or nearby) in a trance. Once in the fantasy world, the visitors are somehow “reborn” by this experience, exit the mirror on a giant swing, and happily give all their possessions to the traveling troupe. While all this is going on, Doctor Parnassus is trying to make good on a bargain he made with the Devil (played wonderfully by Tom Waits), who wants to claim his Betty Boop look-alike daughter Valentina upon her 16th birthday. That’s the set-up and we haven’t even got to Heath Ledger’s part… *deep breath* Heath’s character is initially an amnesiac that the troupe rescues from a hanging who (come to find out) is a great salesman, and is fine with being hanged so long as he’s swallowed a fife beforehand. He helps lure unsuspecting women onto stage to help Parnassus claim five souls per the bargain with the Devil. I think the only thing that Imaginarium and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988) offer are evidence that Terry Gilliam has far better drugs than the rest of us. Did I mention that the movie includes dwarf-actor Verne Troyer dressed in a monkey outfit, talking smack about midgets?!

The Imaginarium is in many ways like the freak show it portrays. You’re drawn in by beautifully painted panels and tapestries, promises of mystery and magic (or a friend who really, really wants to see the movie), and you leave feeling like you’re $10.50 poorer with nothing to show for it.

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”  – Edgar Allan Poe, because the movie wasn’t particularly quote-worthy

2 out of 5


Nov 24 2009

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like AliceLast night I finished Nevil Shute‘s 1950 novel “A Town Like Alice“. I had very little idea what the story was about before opening the book, which is perhaps the best way to start any read. I’m not even certain how I found my way to this book. It might have been something as stupid as having heard the catchy 1982 The Jam song, “Town Called Malice” (which has nothing to do with the book). Whatever the reason, after seeing a great deal of positive reviews on Amazon.com, I got a copy and proceeded to read. I’m glad that I did.

The story revolves around a woman named Jean Paget, who comes into a large some of money when an uncle (that she met once as a child) dies alone in Scotland following WWII. The trustor, an older gentleman named Noel Strachan (who drapes a melancholy pall over the entire book), finds the sole heir and takes her under his wing. As the paperwork is settled, he befriends the young woman and learns about her harrowing past during the war, where she partook in a death-march around Japanese-occupied Malaya. It was during this period that she met an Australian prisoner-of-war named Joe Harmon, who did his best to steal food for the starving women and children on the march, but ultimately paid the price for his efforts.

There is a great deal more to the story, but I’d be doing readers unfamiliar with the book a disservice by revealing anything more. I will note however that the book wanders a bit. I guess this is inevitable since it follows a person’s life across a number of years but there are long sections (it’s not a very big book) that had me wondering “how does this add to the story?”. I can only assume that Shute included more than he needed as a testament to the real-life people that he’d met and modeled the characters after, e.g., Carry Geysel and Herbert Edwards. The hardships endured by the story’s main characters are impressive; the fact that they fall shy of the events that inspired them are astonishing.

“You won’t know if [your time] was wasted until you come to the end of your life,” I said. “Perhaps not then.”

4 out of 5