‘Imaginarium’ takes viewers on giddy, enjoyable ride

22 02 2010

Photo courtesy of Thescorecardreview.com

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield & Verne Troyer

Release Date: Jan. 9, 2010 (wide release)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus never was going to have a chance to be a film released in its own right and judged on its own merits. From the moment the news broke that one of its main characters died from an accidental drug overdose on Jan. 22, 2008 this movie was always going to be known by its one defining factor – it’s the last movie Heath Ledger ever filmed.

And then the main question arose – What happens to a film when your star passes away with only a third of filming completed?

Filming was temporarily suspended as Gilliam quickly worked to reconfigure the script to keep Ledger’s role intact but also complete the movie.

In the end, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped into the role at different points in time during filming and the three, in an act of chivalry, donated their salaries to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.

Once the cast details were worked out, a second question arose – Just how does four actors portraying the same character work?

And the answer to that question is – quite well.

The movie, quite obviously, surrounds Dr. Parnassus (Plummer), a man said to have seen 1,000 years, and his troupe of actors who travel London trying to entice people to enter a mirror into the world of their imagination. The troupe consists of Percy (Troyer), who has been with Parnassus since the beginning and knows his darkest secret, Anton (Garfield), a sleight of hand expert, and Valentina (Cole), Parnassus’ almost 16-year-old daughter.

And there’s the rub. Parnassus made a deal with the devil, Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) for everlasting life once upon a time, but when he was old and fragile he met the love of his life and returned to Mr. Nick for another shot at youth, which he spent with Valentina’s mother, who died in childbirth at the miraculous age of 60. But that youth came at a price and Mr. Nick was to take possession of any child Parnassus fathered upon their 16th birthday.

As his daughter is very close to this deadline, Parnassus is understandably concerned and jumps at Mr. Nick’s new wager (for they are both ever-betting men) that whoever claims 5 souls first will gain possession of Valentina.

The troupe, however, has fallen on hard times and can hardly induce people to travel into the world of their imagination – in which they are offered a choice between a challenging task which will reap a reward at a later point in time which Parnassus sets up to claim their soul or the instant gratification of offering their soul to Mr. Nick. That is, until they meet Tony (Ledger).

Tony, who eerily enough was found hanging underneath a bridge, but is not dead because he lodged a golden pipe in his trachea to keep the rope from crushing it, completely overhauls Parnassus’ show and leads the troupe to an upscale mall where he woos a wealthy lady through the mirror and follows after her to see what all the fuss is about.

And here the audience is introduced to Gilliam’s solution to Ledger’s death. As the imaginarium transforms the imagination of its first entrant into reality, Ledger’s Tony is no longer necessary. Instead, the woman has transformed Tony into Johnny Depp – who plays the role much like he plays any other slightly comedic role with a mixture of Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands.

Each time Tony steps into the imaginarium he becomes a different person. His second trip leaves him looking like Jude Law – who effortlessly steps in to fill Ledger’s shoes with the most organic of the “other Tony” performances – while the third presents Colin Farrell in the role – who falls into the role only a little less seamlessly than Law.

With Tony’s help, Parnassus manages to capture 4 souls, but Mr. Nick has kept up with 4 souls of his own.

Parnassus finally decides it is time to tell Valentina about her fate, which causes her to lose faith in her father and reject his side of the imaginarium. After a scuffle, she, Tony and Anton end up in the mirror together living out Tony’s fantasy and dealing with the consequences of his decisions.

The movie is beautifully staged and shot as Gilliam has an eye for design, and the sets and costumes – both of which are up for Academy Awards – add dynamic value to the message of the film.

In addition, Plummer, who’s Parnassus is overshadowed by the Ledger legacy, is wonderful as a man seeking redemption, as are Cole and Garfield in their roles which call for an innocence tinged with disbelief.

The only dull spot in the entire film is Percy, who proves that Verne Troyer might actually do his best work when he’s silent a la Mini Me in the Austin Powers series. It’s unclear whether the glaring interruptions in action each time Troyer speaks is due to his underdeveloped character or a miscast of his role, but either way his lines grate against what is otherwise a good, if not a little trippy, movie.

As a whole, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is an astounding tribute to Heath Ledger and his acting ability. As he came off of an Oscar-winning role as The Joker in The Dark Knight it would have been easy for him to stay on the course of dark and twisted souls as Tony fits the bill as well, but he instead backs off to play Tony with an air of irony and light-heartedness as he is given what he thinks is a second chance with the troupe in the face of dismal circumstances. It is clear that he had not yet realized his full potential as an actor when he left us.

Still, Dr. Parnassus is an appropriate send-off to the man who brought us the Joker, Ennis del Mar (Brokeback Mountain), Gabriel Martin (The Patriot) and Patrick Verona (10 Things I Hate About You). Bits and pieces of each of his performances are seen through Tony and while one could pinpoint the exact moment Patrick Verona burst through in Tony’s skin it does not overpower Ledger’s final bow across the big screen.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a fantastic representation of how to incorporate multiple actors in one role, as well as a giddy jaunt into the off-kilter mind of Gilliam – who began his career as a member of Monty Python. Aside from the lackluster performance by Troyer, the film benefits from strong performances by veteran actors and new comers alike, and the brilliant colors of the imaginarium world offset the bleak and dismal London side of the performance, reminding viewers that an escape is as close as closing your eyes and passing through your own mirror.

Final verdict: Good


Can Jersey Shore Rescue Leno?

4 02 2010

I’m trying not to beat The Good, The Bad and The Really Crappy’s readers over the head with my Jersey Shore love. Much of my JS commentary has moved to another blog, “Hairpoof“, but as my latest post over there is about the late night drama we decided to post it over here.


The Jay Leno Show – Bad

Conan O’Brien on The Tonight Show – Bad

Conan O’Brien on Late Night – REALLY GOOD (unfortunately he’s not there anymore)

Jay Leno’s Tonight Show – Was good, now borders on bad due to politics.

But can Jersey Shore bump Leno’s reclaimed tonight show back to Good?

Were you Team Leno or Team Coco?

For the past month one of the hottest things in pop culture, aside from JS of course, is the drama surrounding NBC’s late night schedule.

For those who have been living under a rock, NBC and Conan O’Brien signed a deal in 2004 that would move O’Brien from Late Night to The Tonight Show once Leno retired in 2008 (as was the plan). In October 2007, Leno reevaluated his retirement plan (potentially in light of the fact that he held the number 1 spot in late night TV) and began to drop hints that he might not want to leave the entertainment world. O’Brien took over Tonight in July 2008 and Leno twiddled his thumbs until December when NBC announced that he would get his own primetime talk-show at 10 p.m. M-F. The Jay Leno Show premiered in Sept. 2009 and immediately begins to tank in ratings which hurts all of NBC’s late night shows (including local news at 11) as they no longer have a strong 10 p.m. lead-in. By Jan. 2010 there were rumors of pulling the plug and the masses reacted to the fact that there was talk of pulling O’Brien from The Tonight Show and giving it to Leno again by creating teams (which is also a hot commodity in pop culture due to Twilight’s Team Jacob or Team Edward, though the idea really originated as a phenomenon in 2005 with Team Aniston and Team Jolie during Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s break-up over Angelina Jolie).

And then the inevitable happened, NBC chased ratings and O’Brien was out for good on Jan 21 with the news that Leno would host again once the Winter Olympics ended on March 1.

Team Coco isn’t happy though. And Team Coco is predominantly the golden age for advertisers – 18-49 – with an emphasis on the younger end.

I can’t remember a time when I never heard the dulcet tones of the red-head coming from at least one dorm room in college, and Late Night was a staple of the newsroom at our student newspaper. However, Team Coco didn’t necessarily accept The Tonight Show Conan. Moving O’Brien to 11:30 might have caught a few of the older ages in the demographic but college students have set late night schedules and those schedules more often than not include Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report at 11 and 11:30.

Coco worked at 12:30 because we always inevitably remembered to change the channel to NBC sometime between Colbert and O’Brien and we enjoyed Coco then. Moving him to 11:30 screwed up the college student late night schedule. But we’re not here to argue that point.

The fact of the matter is that Team Coco is pissed at Team Leno and NBC. They believe NBC didn’t give O’Brien enough time to come into his own as The Tonight Show host and they cut him off at the knees by not providing a strong lead-in at 10 p.m. They also believe that Leno pulled a douche move by even thinking about moving back to Tonight, let alone doing so and forcing O’Brien out. Their overall disgust with how Coco was so unceremoniously thrown aside for Leno has left them with a bad taste in their mouth. A taste that NBC is afraid will cause them to change the channel and catch Letterman on CBS.

So, what can’t the young end of the 18-49 spectrum get enough of?

Jersey Shore, of course.

MTV announced yesterday (and the cast has subsequently tweeted at a near constant rate) that our favorite reality show cast (minus Vinny who isn’t feeling well, according to Zaptoit.com) is headed to LA today to film Leno. They’ll be broadcast on March 3, the third episode of his reclaimed Tonight Show.

Undoubtedly, NBC is trying to woo miffed Team Coco fans back to the Leno/Tonight Show-fold by providing them with glimpses of the cast before they begin filming for Season Two. It’s a move that has the potetial to work, I know I’ll be watching next month, but it also has the potential to be very flawed.

Why film now? The episode won’t air for over a month. Maybe NBC thinks people will forget about Sammi Sweetheart and the others during the Olympics? Not likely. And there’s no way that anything the cast or Leno says today won’t be leaked to the blogosphere by March, so where will the surprise be?

Even with the proliferation of probably everything the JS cast says on Leno to every internet news source out there won’t stop all of the fist pumping fans from tuning in. And that’s exactly what NBC hopes.

So now it’s up to the viewers? Can Jersey Shore save Leno?

Photo credit: Facebook’s “I’m With Coco” group