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Wild and wooly Imaginarium an unfulfilling trip
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Imaginarium
of Doctor Parnassus
Now Playing


After Heath Ledger's tragic and untimely death, it was widely assumed director Terry Gilliam's fantastical effort The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus would never get finished. Thanks to a quick bit of re-writing on his and Charles McKeown's (Ripley's Game) parts, as well as the unpaid assistance of actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, this wasn't the case, everyone coming together to make sure the Oscar-winning The Dark Knight actor's final performance would indeed see the light of day.

While I am glad this happened, and while everyone involved (including the superstar trio) does superlative work, sadly I'm not altogether sure this whimsical modern day morality play was worthy of all of their collective efforts. As eye-popping and as visually imaginative as it is, as a whole this minor curiosity plays more like a series of Gilliam's greatest hits, elements of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, The Fisher King and even The Brothers Grimm referenced within.

The story is a total mishmash of concepts and ideas that frustratingly never come together. At its heart, the movie concerns itself with Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a strange old codger with a penchant for making bad bets with a mysterious man named Mr. Nick (Tom Waits). His latest involves his 16-year-old daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), and if this immortal conjurer can't capture six souls for the powers of good before his opponent does the same for the opposite side he'll end up losing her forever.

How does he do this? Apparently Dr. Parnassus has the power to enter a person's psyche and guide them on a journey testing their moral fiber, a magic mirror granting both them and him access into a weirdly surreal world that would make Willy Wonka proud. It really is a place of pure imagination, and while everyone has to make their own choices as to which path they'll choose it's not like they can't be politely nudged in one direction or the other.

Ledger plays Tony, a frazzled young man who Valentina and the rest of her father's crew of vaudevillians save from hanging. Why is he here and what part does he play? The answer to that is better left alone, not so much because to reveal it would be a massive spoiler but more because I have this feeling every individual viewer is going to interpret his importance in a different way. For my part, while I liked the character and found him amusedly eccentric that doesn't mean I thought he was particularly necessary, Gilliam and McKeown not exactly going out of their way to give the guy three dimensions.

But then, that's my problem with the whole movie. Everything here looks, sounds and acts far more important than it actually is. I get that this is a fantasy fable but Gilliam seems more interested in making things visually arresting than he does in having them make any sort of sense, things happening because they can not because they drive the plot forward in any emotionally fulfilling sort of way. It's all razzle without the dazzle, and no matter how great it looks I still spent the majority of the film wishing for more.

Not that I am going to dismiss the film completely out of hand. Anastasia Masaro's production design is beyond remarkable, while Nicola Pecorini's (Tideland) cinematography is suitably dreamlike. The acting is universally excellent - Verne Troyer a surprising standout playing Dr. Parnassus' right hand man and voice of reason. I also really enjoyed Waits' devilish bad guy, and although he didn't do much every time he showed up I discovered I couldn't quite take my eyes off of him.

As for Ledger, his work shows once again how great a talent we sadly lost. I may not have been a total fan of the character but that doesn't mean I still wasn't impressed with just how fully the actor threw himself into the part. He runs the gamut of emotions, sprinting out of the box with hyperactive exuberance only to slow back down into brotherly tenderness whenever the situation calls for it. Ledger is, in a word, wonderful, and I can't help but wonder what this film would have looked like had he been able to finish it.

Having Depp, Law and Farrell step in for him inside the Imaginarium works much better than I had anticipated, but like I said before I'm not quite sure their efforts were warranted. While the film looks amazing and is full of ocular delights, the dramatic ones are sadly way too few and much too far between. Worst of all, the climax does not work, everything reeking of re-writes and re-thinks that don't do justice to the time and effort I spent trying to decipher and ponder the plot's first three-quarters.

Maybe I'm taking all this too seriously. Maybe I should cut Gilliam some slack and give him props for just being able to make sure this thing even got finished. Maybe I should do a lot of things, but even so I still can't stop the feeling that I've seen way too much of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in the director's other works too many times before. As impressive as much of it is, and as wonderful as it is to have Ledger back up on the silver screen where he belongs, the been-there-done-that quotient is far too high, visual wizardry only taking you so far when the dramatic tank sadly runs on empty.


Cera channels Belmondo in Youth in Revolt
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Youth in Revolt
Opening January 8


Michael Cera is a terrific comedic actor with superb timing. He wields the pregnant pause like a samurai slices warm butter. And just when you think his career has been compromised beyond repair due to typecasting as the awkward teenage nice guy he goes and channels Jean-Paul Belmondo in the better than average teen romp Youth in Revolt.

Nick (Cera) is sixteen, a budding intellectual, and the product of California suburban malaise. On a trip to Northern California, Nick falls for Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), the pretty blonde offspring of the worst kind of born again Christians (i.e. ones that live in double-decker trailer homes).

The teenagers find they have a lot in common. Namely, a love of literature, Frank Sinatra, and everything French, especially French movies. They also share a healthy disdain for their parents.

As Nick heads home to suburbia, he realizes the only way for the lovers to be together is to get his dad a job in Ukiah and get kicked out of his mom's house. But Nick is too nice, too morally centered, to do the nasty kind of stuff a kid must do to get kicked out. Thus Nick's alter-ego Francois Dillinger, a suave car thief with an evil streak and no capacity for remorse, is born.

Okay, Cera doesn't capture the extreme sexual energy that Belmondo oozed onto the screen in 1960. I mean, how could he? Belmondo's fast talking car thief is the sexiest male character ever to grace the cinema (and I stand by that superlative).

Still, Cera takes a fun turn as Francois, alter ego to nice guy teen, Nick Twisp, and he takes a baby step toward playing a different character than we saw in Arrested Development, Superbad, Juno, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. He's also pretty cute in skinny white Euro-trash pants and sockless white loafers.

Portia Doubleday may have the best actor name I've heard in a while, but she gets eclipsed by Cera and the ensemble of veterans including Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard, and the ever irascible Steve Buscemi. Doubleday is fine; she just has little to do other than be a pretty prick-tease who dreams in French and can't make up her mind between two vastly different boys.

High praise goes to the bevy of veterans in flat thankless roles. They make the most of what they're offered. Willard had me rolling as the aged pinko commie activist who aids and abets illegal immigrants. His tripping on mushrooms scene should go down in history. Buscemi is always fun to watch in everything he does. We haven't seen enough of him lately and I'd prefer to see him in better material, but he takes what could have been a cliché and turns it into something more.

This is a decent film that's a tad bit smarter than most in the genre (hey, two characters know who Jean-Paul Belmondo is). Cera is a great actor within his narrow element and could be interesting in other roles as he gets older. For now, I encourage him to make a bazillion dollars doing as many insipid teen flicks as he can line up before that cherubic face grows whiskers and lines and his shtick starts to look like Woody Allen redux.


Talking with A Single Man's Nicholas Hoult
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

In A Single Man, George (Colin Firth) is a man grieving for the loss of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode). On the day the film takes place, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), a student of his, starts paying attention to George, chatting him up and eventually seeking him out at home, where the two men develop a bond that may become sexual. Hoult spoke about his role, working with Tom Ford, and skinny-dipping with Colin Firth.

Gary Kramer: What attracted you to the role of Kenny?

Nicholas Hoult: I liked his outlook on life. As I read [the script] I got a sense of Kenny and his voice. I hadn't read the book when I read the script.

Kramer: What do you think attracts Kenny to George? This is a bit of an inappropriate student/professor relationship&.

Hoult: It's an intellectual thing. Nobody understands Kenny, or thinks on his level. He thinks there is a connection with George. He's striving for that [bond], and there are undertones of sexual curiousness. He wants to connect with George who [is mourning] a connection with someone.

Kramer: Do you see Kenny as George's savior?

Hoult: He's a guardian angel. He is someone who is interested in George, and the only person who picks up that something's not right with him. He looks out for him. Kenny is an acute observer of character. It can be seen that Kenny's naïve and that he does not know what he's doing, or he is out to seduce George. People can take what they want from the film.

Kramer: Do you prefer doing period pieces like A Single Man and your previous film, Wah-Wah? How do you create a character that is far removed from your life and your experience?

Hoult: [Laughs.] I'm not a fan of technology and how it's all advancing. I'm nostalgic. I do research to learn about the environment, no matter when it's set. I do like doing period pieces.

Kramer: What kind of research did you do for Kenny?

Hoult: I started a week before filming began. One of the key things was the book The Power of Now, about not worrying about the past or fretting about the future, but living in the present. A lot of the [details] are in the script. You don't have to say George is lonely sitting in glass house to know that he is.

Kramer: What about doing an American accent? It's said that British actors can do American accents well, but Americans can't do British ones well. Though Julianne Moore acquits herself quite nicely in the film.

Hoult: It's tough to say. I don't know. Did it sound right? I didn't have any complaints. The accent comes with the character. I talk in it all day. I find that if you worry too much about it, you start to get into trouble. You can't think about it in the moment.

Kramer: You were dressed fabulously in the film. What did you think of the costumes? Were they close to your dress sense/style?

Hoult: [Laughs.] The costumes were fantastic. Kenny is very light - he's a shining light/guarding angel. I don't think I could get away with all the white [he wears] with my pale skin. I'd look like a snowman.

Kramer: You are also undressed fabulously in the film. What can you say about doing the nude swimming scenes?

Hoult: I don't find it awkward in the moment. The awkwardness comes when they say cut and you're yourself again. It's like normal life, the moment is fabulous and after it passes, it's awkward. For the skinny-dipping scene, the water was very cold. I got ash in my eye on the third take, so we stopped filming. Colin thanked me, because he didn't want me to go back into the cold water.

Kramer: Speaking of Colin, how did you work with him on the relationship between your characters?

Hoult: The process between Colin and I was very natural. If you plan too much it feels like you are manipulating the audience. The contrast between them was great - you can feel George is attracted to the vitality in Kenny.

Kramer: What was it like working with Tom Ford?

Hoult: Tom was obviously, very precise [in] the script. We shot it in 21 days. He had a great vision, and understands how to portray this. It's so personal to him. It's a love letter to his partner, Richard Buckley. You can feel the passion. He had a perfect method of helping out the actors and letting them be free to experiment - take a different emphasis on a line, or a look or a beat. He wasn't in over [directing].

Kramer: You have an exchange with George about life's little gift. What do you appreciate in life?



Hoult: I take from the film, what George is experiencing - that he is noticing things more vibrantly than normal. I try to pick up things you take for granted, and appreciate the little thing in life, such as the sense of smell. Smelling the roses, as it were.

© 2009 Gary M. Kramer




Lip Sync Contest with Gaysha Starr at Neighbours
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Celebrating the Winter Olympics and WinterPride in Vancouver and Whistler
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5th Avenue Theatre's South Pacific and Legally Blonde
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Bridges makes Crazy Heart sing
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Jazz vocalist, Jackie Ryan, warms up a chilly Northwest winter
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A Dyke About Town: New Year's Eve and a White Christmas
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VIDEO MSNBC's Rachel Maddow - guests David Boies and Ted Olson as plaintiff's attorneys in Prop 8 trial
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Wild and wooly Imaginarium an unfulfilling trip
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Cera channels Belmondo in Youth in Revolt
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Talking with A Single Man's Nicholas Hoult
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Native Hawaiian artists, Phoenix and Kathy Griffin kick off 2010
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Soundgarden, Grammy Awards, Silversun Pickups
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Northwest News
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Thanks for a helluva ride!
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Deep Inside Hollywood - Romeo San Vicente
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Book Marks
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