Tag Archive | Jude Law

Bidula’s Last Word: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

I have to admit that my expectations weren’t incredibly high going into The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Even though it was a Terry Gilliam film and would, more than likely, be completely awesome. Even though it had Tom Waits billed as the Devil. Even with the promise of Heath Ledger’s final performance, the replacement cast of Johnny Depp, Colin Farrel, and Jude Law, I still doubted.

Shame on me.

Dr. Parnassus was an extremely enjoyable movie in a way that you don’t really hear about much anymore – whimsical. Darkly whimsical, sure, but most whimsy has a more-than-obvious twisted dark side. This flick puts both together to give you the sweet and the salty at the same time.
The plot revolves around Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and the slyly named Mr. Nick, aka, The Devil (Tom Waits) and their constant wagering with each other. The first of these wagers, a thousand years ago, resulted in a win for Dr. Parnassus and his subsequent gift of immortality. This, of course, leads in to an eternity of not-so-friendly competition between Dr. P and Mr. Nick. Dr. P is a compulsive gambler and Nick, of course, is the ultimate in temptation.
As the movie begins, we’re lead quickly to believe that Dr. P has made a deal with the devil involving his daughter, Valentina, played wonderfully full of teenage angst by relative newcomer Lily Cole.
This deal, in which the devil gets custody of Valentina at the stroke of midnight on her 16th Birthday, is thrown into contest by a side-wager: the first of the two betters to collect 5 souls wins. If Dr. P is able to collect 5 souls before the devil, he keeps Valentina.
This battle is played out through Dr. Parnassus’ gypsy-like travelling show which rolls around modern London drawn by four horses in a collapsible stage/rolling house which seems to be larger on the inside than it should be.
In his show, Dr. P goes into a trance which allows people to pass through a harmless-looking stage mirror and into the world of their own imagination (which, strangely, takes place inside Dr. P’s mind). While there, they are given a chance at their wildest fantasies. These fantasies, however, can be achieved in the difficult yet correct way of Dr. P, or the quick and easy way of Mr. Nick, whose domain seems to cut through the imaginarium (the world inside Dr. P’s head which, strangely, looks like the world inside Gilliam’s head due to some appropriately Monty Python style art) like a hard border (day into night, grasslands into badlands, that kind of thing).
When the customer (for lack of a better word) chooses their fate, it decides who has won their soul. Dr. P stands in for purity of heart while Mr. Nick stands in for quick fixes and earthly temptations.

Heath Ledger’s role in the film is that of an “amnesiac” transient whose life the small troupe of performers wind up saving. As a result, this sales-minded man is welcomed to the show as its main barker. His performance is done completely in the “real world” of the movie with the stand-in actors subbing for him in the green screen world of the imaginarium causing their substitutions to actually make a great deal of sense within the plot.
The trio of back-ups do nothing but add to Ledger’s original performance, as they seem to have made a great observation of the footage of Ledger’s performance in order to perform as if he were wearing them as make-up. This is more to the credit of the other actors rather than Heath Ledger, but it was nice to see these things fit seamlessly with the rest of the movie.

My favorite part of the movie was the fact that they’ve given more than just a cameo role to two character actors. One being, of course, the always awesome Tom Waits, who has been known to appear in some sort of twisted capacity in some movies, but only for a few brief seconds or lines. His turn as the playful and taunting Mr. Nick was absolutely fantastic and seemed tailor-made for his attitude and his always awesome I-gargle-every-morning-with-hydrocloric-acid, six-pack-a-day voice. You have to love it when the comic relief and the villain wind up being the same guy.
The other is Verne Troyer, who shows up in an actual speaking role which adds a fair amount to the plot. He’s not screaming “eeeeeeee” and aping Mike Myers through the whole flick, which is a huge step up for the tiny actor. He doesn’t do too bad of a job in his part, either, which surprised me.

All in all, this is a solid entry into director Terry Gilliam’s portfolio. Not necessarily his best work, but certainly a good one and one worth watching (if you can find it in its limited arthouse release). Definitely surreal and definitely fun, as you’ve come to expect from a Gilliam picture.

The last thing I’ll say is, though this was billed heavily in the press as Heath Ledger’s last movie, it is not overshadowed by such a stigma. It serves as an epitaph, the same way The Dark Knight does, of a great young actor who died before his time. This does not, in any way, take away from the movie being good. In other words, it’s not a pity watch for Ledger fans. This is a legit flick. Check it out if you can.

Bidula’s Last Word: 8/10

Keep fighting the good fight.
Down with Leno!
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Bidula’s Last Word: Sherlock Holmes

Initially, I had planned to brush up on my Arthur Conan Doyle before heading out to the theater to see Sherlock Holmes. I have read a few Holmes tales here and there, as well as Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen whose first story arch is mired heavily in the Holmes Mythos.

Turns out that this was actually more than enough knowledge to appreciate this movie.

Sherlock Holmes is, for all intents and purposes, set up for beginners. Though it isn’t an origin story, as you’re left to assume that many of Holmes and Watson’s adventures have occurred, it resembles other franchise-invigorating new offerings. Though it’s not technically a reboot, as there have been many versions of the Holmes franchise made into film (mostly made for TV), this certainly gives new life to an old and very popular work and sets the scene for a possible series of sequels.

Holmes is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., now in the second titular franchise role of his grand comeback, with all the sarcasm and wit that one would expect of a super-genius. His performance and the way he plays off of his supporting cast is possibly the most entertaining aspect of the film. If it were anyone else in this role, I’m convinced the movie wouldn’t have been half as fun.
Watson in this offering is played by Jude Law (looking rather un-Jude Law-like) who, along with Guy Ritchie’s direction, brought a fresh look to a character who is classically portrayed as nothing more than a bumbling and easily amazed sidekick. Of course, Watson would still be nothing without Holmes, and vice-versa, but he stands much stronger as a character in this film. He often challenges Holmes and is shown as just as much Holmes’ keeper as Holmes’ friend and partner.
Also along for the ride is Rachael McAdams as Irene Adler, Holmes’ long-time flame and femme fatale. McAdams, though looking quite the part in Victorian garb, could have been easily replaced by any actress. Her performance was lackluster, but was bolstered only by her banter with Downey Jr. I think this would be the effect on any actress in the same scenes, however. I can only thank the director for casting her in the main American role of the Holmes series, as I’m sure her attempt at a Victorian British accent would have been horrifying.
Mark Strong rounds out the main cast as Lord Blackwood; an Alastair Crowley-inspired villain who uses science masked with the occult to achieve his ultimate ends. He has a very sinister way about him and seems to be an ideal casting choice for this sort of role. He sells the “magic” he produces as much as the character itself.

I am very thankful that Guy Ritchie strayed from the prototypical Holmes in this film. No swooping pipe (he uses a standard straight black model), no ridiculous hat, no giant magnifying glass, nothing to make you think that anything about this story is stereotypical of the previous depictions of Sir Doyle’s work. This, like many other big-hero movies, is striving to seem more realistic. Also, unlike many depictions of the detective before this, they clue you in on Holmes’ substance abuse, frequently showing quick cuts of him drinking strange fluid from a non-descript bottle, referenced by Watson in one scene with the line, “Do you realize that you’re drinking something that’s used for eye surgery?” with Holmes offering a dismissive wave afterward.
Very interesting were the slow-motion scenes describing how, exactly, Holmes will dismantle an assailant. This is the most notable Guy Ritchie fingerprint, but is used quite well in this film.

Though the technological aspect is made nearly believable, you’ll still have to suspend your ultimate disbelief in the end to make the entire plot work. Things like “chemical weapon” and “wireless switch” being uttered in the Victorian Era seem more a nod to the modern crowd than a bow to the ever-pressing spirit of industry and pseudo-science typically associated with the time period.

The movie is fun, plain and simple. It’s not Oscar-quality, by any means, but like most Guy Ritchie flicks, it’s fun to watch and you’ll get a few good chuckles in at the expense of some of the lesser characters. For Holmes fans, there’s a tease for a sequel throughout the movie in the form of one shadow-shrouded Napoleon of Crime whose face is never seen. It seems they’ve taken the Joker route and saved the biggest baddie for the second movie. My hat’s off to you. Having this new Holmes universe established before you really throw us into the mythology is smart. It gives time to the average audience to read and possibly catch up on what to expect from the sequel.

The only other observation I have is this: The TV show House, of which I’m a devout viewer, was modeled from Sherlock Holmes. House is Holmes (get it? Get it?) and Wilson is Watson. Never before has this been more evident than watching this movie. At times, the movie plays like a two-hour Victorian Era episode of House with more expensive actors playing the parts. Downey Jr. must have done some of his research by watching Hugh Laurie berate and analyze week after week to get that cynical edge he needed to fully pull off Holmes.
Seriously, if you’ve ever doubted the similarities or if this would be your first experience with Holmes coming off watching House, then you’re going to see it. From the scruffy, scrawny figures to the issues with substance abuse, it’s all in here.

Still, it’s a good watch. Worth the cost of a ticket to see it in the theater. It feels like a long time since I’ve said that.

Bidula’s Last Word: 7.5/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

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