The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Last night, through an amazing and unexpected string of good luck, I ended up at a special screening of Terry Gilliam’s new film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus presented by Gilliam himself.

I should probably point out that I’m a huge, huge fan of Gilliam. To the point that I’ve said that I want to be buried with my Criterion Collection edition of Brazil. So bear with me if I start to nerd out a bit.

I thought Imaginarium was terrific. After The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, which were both dark, heavy films, this is a return to the lightness of his earlier films. Don’t pay attention and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a sequel to Time Bandits. Or maybe The Fisher King. Or maybe even The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. And hell, while I’m at it, there are a few shots there that made me think Gilliam has already cast Christopher Plummer in the lead of his currently-in-preproduction The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This film shines a spotlight on the leitmotif running through all of his previous work: the idea that imagination and invention can break the spell of monotony cast by the drudgery of ordinary life.

At this point, I should probably try to summarise the plot. Isn’t that how these things work? But in Gilliam films, this is easier said than done. And to be honest, I think this is the kind of film that works best when you come into it blind, rather than with a bunch of preconceptions about what the story might be. Or don’t. Read everything you can, if you like. Just go and see it. But before you do, just let me say that Tom Waits is incredible as the Devil ((Although I think this is slightly lazy, obvious casting, considering what a great job he did as Kneller in Wristcutters: A Love Story)), and Lily Cole is a surprisingly good actress. And the rewrites following the death of Heath Ledger work so well I’d bet that in 30 years, people will barely know they weren’t intentional. Like the malfunctioning shark in Jaws, sometime restrictions bring out the best in us.

There’s another aspect of Imaginarium that highlights this too: the special effects. Before CGI effects really took off, Gilliam was forced to limit himself using physical effects, which had a tremendous… well… physicality to them. Unbridled, his fantastical CGI dreamworlds look amazing and expansive, but they feel paper-thin. When people first enter the Imaginarium, they start in a pantomime forest, with cardboard trees which may have looked cheap and ridiculous, but they at least felt real and believable. As they moved further into the Imaginarium and hit the CGI-heavy landscapes, it made me wonder whether Gilliam made the right choice in prioritising epic verisimilitude over whimsy. Especially considering the film’s message of liberation through imagination.

One thing I should probably point out, which no-one has mentioned so far, is the similarity between this film and Angela Carter’s novel, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Both are about unbridled imagination (and the potential perils thereof), but also, and perhaps more crucially, both are about identity and choice. I dunno, maybe I’m completely off-base with this one, but I could have sworn that one of the gravestones in Imaginarium had the name “Dr Hoffman” on it. Or maybe my eyes were just playing tricks on me.

(Update: Over on imaginariumofdrparnassus.com, Dave Warren, the film’s art director wrote in (in response to a link to this review - whoa) to say that the actual name on the tombstone was “Bob Hollow”. That solves that, then.)

The film opens theatrically at the end of the month and I’ll be keeping my eyes open during this scene when I go back to see it again. For me, every one of Gilliam’s films improve on repeat viewings. Gilliam told Mark Kermode that his preferred tagline for Tideland was “Tideland - It’s a different experience the second time!” I’d bet a tenner the same thing is true for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Eden Lake

Director: James Watkins, 2008, 91' IMDB Keywords: Lake, Young Couple, Lost In Woods, Bleeding To Death, Bicycle

Sometimes it feels like my life is just a series of stupid decisions, strung together with crippling anxiety. For example, there’s the time we went camping in Tuscany. It was probably my favourite camping holiday yet - we pitched our tent on the beach. Not ‘beside’ the beach or ‘near’ the beach. We were on the beach. The waves were breaking not ten metres from our tent. It was stunning. Beautiful in almost every way. Except I couldn’t get to sleep. I was a bit restless and thought that watching one of the movies on my iPod Touch would help lull me to sleep. And so, instead of watching something like The Jerk or Anvil, I decided it would be a great idea to watch Eden Lake, a horror film about a couple who go camping on a beach and get brutally terrorized by a bunch of ASBO kids.

See? Stupid decision. I didn’t get any sleep that night.

It’s not like it’s a flawless movie. Even horror movies have a breaking point when it comes to coincidences - the screaming victim just happens to run into a cave which just happens to be the home of the big scary monster. Eden Lake gleefully ignores this breaking point and keeps layering coincidence on top of coincidence. Towards the end, Eden Lake actually felt as if it was taking the piss. Either the filmmakers didn’t get the memo regarding the suspension of disbelief, or they’re implying that this couple are the two unluckiest people in the world.

I’ll tell you what though, they’re definitely two of the smuggest, most self-satisfied cunts in the world. And this is where the film plays a blinder.

They’re so overwhelmingly unbearable that I actually started to wish them bodily harm. It’s a horror film, so you know they’re going to suffer and so I was kind of look forward to that bit of the movie. When all the bad shit starts happening, I felt better. It’s catharsis. Establish the heel, make them suffer, and everyone goes home feeling as if everything is right with the world. Did anyone go to see House of Wax to see Paris Hilton escape unhurt? No. They paid good money to see Paris Hilton get a pole thrown through her head. It’s catharsis, and everyone (including Paris Hilton, I bet) knows it. But Eden Lake isn’t quite like that, because it doesn’t stop there. It just keeps pushing through into a new level of discomfort that few films have taken me to. The brutality is so unrelenting that it’s hard not to feel bad for hating these people. I mean, I just wanted to see them get a few cuts and scrapes. Nothing that would leave any kind of permanent scar. And the film goes so much further. It was kind of like when everyone was all “Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who should rot in hell” and then they saw the video of his hanging and then they were all “Oh.” Eden Lake is like that. Only with less genocide.

And I don’t think that I can finish up without mentioning Jack O’Connell, who plays the leader of the ASBOs. He really is the star of the show, completely believable and terrifying. He basically plays a more sociopathic version of the character he played in Skins, which makes me think that he’s either a great actor who is in danger of being typecast as a grotty teen, or someone the police should genuinely keep an eye on.

Crank 2 DVD Commentary

Remember when DVDs first arrived on the scene and everyone was gushing about how great it was that they could record their own commentaries for their favourite movies? How did that work out?

Not so good, huh?

Know why? Because most people are boring as shit. When you get them talking about movies they love, they’re even worse. I’m not saying I’m above this. Put a microphone in front of me when I’m watching Kickboxer you’ll just get me either rattling off the entire screenplay or not saying a word because I fucking love that film so much.

Over on the AV Club, frequent commenter and the world’s biggest fan of ownage, Zodiac Motherfucker, has recorded his own commentary for his film of 2009, Crank 2: High Voltage. This is decidedly not boring. Imagine the forgotten love-child of Andrew W.K. and Kanye West screaming at the TV, swearing like a docker and whooping for blood, and that’s his commentary. Stupid and puerile? Sure, but so are the Crank movies, and that doesn’t stop them being some of the most entertaining movies of the last few years.

Either way, there’s no-one better to watch Crank 2 with than Zodiac Motherfucker.

Secret of the Incas

I don’t think anyone actually understands how psyched I am for the release of the new Indiana Jones film next year. When I was younger and my age was still in single digits, I used to wake up extra early so I could go downstairs and watch all of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before school. Every day. For about a year. And if I had my copy here with me now, I’d probably be watching it now.

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I came across a film called “Secret of the Incas”, a low-budget adventure movie from 1954 starring Charlton Heston which seems to be Indiana Jones' most obvious inspiration. Heston plays Harry Steele (fucking awesome name), a square-jawed treasure-hunter who is determined to find the treasure of Machu Picchu in Peru. Like Indiana Jones, Steele walks around in a big brown fedora and leather jacket.

The similarities aren’t accidental either. Rumour has it that before production of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Senor Spielbergo and George Lucas screened this movie (along with China, starring Alan Ladd) for the cast and crew, to give them an idea of the kind of movie they were trying to create.

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Youtube - Secret of the Incas (I) Youtube - Secret of the Incas (II) Youtube - Secret of the Incas (III)

These clips from Secret of the Incas should give you a good idea of how well Spielberg & co. managed to recreate the tone of the earlier movie. In fact, you could go further and point out specific sequences in Raiders that were influenced even by these three clips.

I’d love to see this movie completely, but it’s impossible to buy Secret of the Incas. Nothing on Amazon, nothing on eBay. Even nothing on Bittorrent. Some conspiracy theorists reckon the movie is being ‘suppressed’ by Paramount because of the similarities to Indiana Jones, reckoning that people would be up in arms if they could see how much this film influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark (although I personally think this is ridiculous: if people can’t that the Indiana Jones movies are nothing but a distillation of classic action movie staples, then these people should be banished to the wilderness immediately).

Whatever the reason, I can’t get a hold of it on the internet. Anyone got a copy of this lying around? I’d be willing to pay good (read: not ridiculous) money for it.

New J.J. Abrams movie →

This awesome teaser trailer is sometimes running in front of screenings of Transformers in the States. Now, as good as Transformers was, it would be hard to keep my attention after that trailer.

It’s probably a movie codenamed “Cloverfield”, which J.J. Abrams is supposed to have been working on for a while now. No real details exist except that it’s a big, dumb monster movie. Hooray! ‘Round these parts, we loves us some big, dumb monster movies. Even the Godzilla remake, but only for that one scene where Jean Reno’s does his Elvis impression.

Cute thing - the official site, which isn’t referenced anywhere in that trailer, or on any other official sources, is tracking visitors using Google Analytics. This word-of-mouth campaign is being dissected, one visitor at a time.

Update: High-res trailer on apple.com (including HD)

Harry Potter Theme Park →

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Girding my loins today is Universal Studios' announcement that they will be developing a “theme park within a theme park” based on the Harry Potter books and movies. Covering over 20 acres, ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ will be a themed ‘land’ (like “Frontierland” or “Tomorrowland”) within Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando Florida. Universal say this area will contain contain ‘state of the art attractions’ and ‘experimental shops’. Which sounds slightly ominous.

I’m a huge theme park nerd. As I said before, I don’t enjoy the rides as much as just walking around this completely artificial, fantasy world, soaking up all the simulacra. Combine this with the amazing production design of the Harry Potter movies, and you’ve got me hooked.

Click here to see the announcement video.

First picture of Heath Ledger as the Joker →

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Okay, so he may not have been my first choice of someone to play the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins, but I never though Heath Ledger would make a bad Joker. Now they’ve released the first picture of Heath Ledger in Joker make-up, and… my goodness, this is shaping up nicely, isn’t it? I really like the move away from the traditional demented clown look into a more gritty, Ichi the Killer-style scar.

Although I still think it’s a shame we’ll never get to see what Vincent Cassel could have done with the role.

(via empireonline)

Trailer for "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" online →

My girlfriend has a little lady-boner for Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. It’s where she gets her hard-ass attitude from. Except I can’t imagine she’ll be too thrilled about this - it’s a TV show based around the life of Sarah Connor between T2 (where she was awesome and kick-ass) and T3 (where she was dead). Full of embarrassing throwbacks to the movies, including “Come with me if you want to live”.

More clips here.

Breathtaking Irish short movie released online

Lonely Sky Nick Ryan, producer on Ruairi Robinson’s “Silent City”, has released the full version of his film “A Lonely Sky” online. Starring Keir Dullea (of 2001: A Space Odyssey) it tells the story of a pilot in 1947 trying to break the sound barrier.

As with Silent City, I’m completely blown away by the amount of work everyone seems to have put into this short movie and the scale and quality of the results. Congratulations to everyone involved.

While you’re at it, you should check out Nick Ryan’s portfolio, for videos of the ads and other short films he’s directed.

Danger: Diabolik →

danger_diabolik.jpg Danger: Diabolik could be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. Click on the image above to check out more stills from the film and tell me if you don’t wanna see it immediately. Is it a spy movie with a lot of kissing? Or a softcore porno with a really good plot? Either way, it’s features one of my favourite actors, Terry Thomas, so it’s okay by me.

And what’s more, it’s directed by Mario Bava and filmed in Dino Di Laurentiis' Roma studios, so it counts as part of my Italian cultural learning! Bonus!