May 4 2010

Europa and the Pirate Twins

Currently, I’m in the midst of a large book which I probably won’t finish until sometime in June. Rather than let this fabulous blog languish until then, I’ve decided to begin something new. Of all the categories I initially proposed to write about, “Music” has been the most neglected. So here then, is the first entry of Dennis’ Favorite Songs. The crowd goes… well, let’s face it… there’s no crowds here, so I will bask in the warm glow of the internet’s indifference. Ahhh… sweet anonymity.

I originally toyed with the idea of creating a Top 10 favorite songs list but the more I wrestled with it, the more I was convinced that it couldn’t be done. I like too many songs. Instead, I’m going to write about those songs that I’ve given a 5-stars rating in iTunes. What does 5-stars mean? I give 3-stars to songs that I don’t mind listening to. I give 4-stars to songs that I enjoy (would listen to more than once, in a sitting). I give 5-stars to songs that stand out, for one or more reasons. These might be particularly evocative, reminding me of some time or place in my past. They might be very upbeat, with a reliable track-record of being able to lift me from whatever funk I might be in. They might be terribly downbeat, with the ability to bring me back to center when jumping around just doesn’t seem appropriate. Whatever personal or magical reason it might be, some songs just overshadow the rest. For me, Thomas Dolby‘s 1983 hit “Europa and the Pirate Twins” is one of those songs.

I’m not a huge fan of pop music. Growing up in the Eighties, I promised myself I wouldn’t look back in the years to follow and get all nostalgic about the crap spilling out of the radio and MTV. That being said, not everything was crap. “Europa and the Pirate Twins” hit a chord with me early on. Here was a song about childhood friends growing-up, going their separate ways, and never being able to reclaim the imaginative adventures they once shared as children. To me, this was a song about the death of youth’s insouciance. I used to listen to it again and again on my Walkman as I mowed the backyard, reluctant to let go of the only life I’d known, and terrified that my imagination would wither with age. Were my fears justified? In some ways, yes. In other respects, I can’t remember a time when I was carefree. At least I still have my friends.

“We swore a vow that day: We’ll be the Pirate Twins again…”

5 out of 5

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