Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gilliam's "Imaginarium" Suffered Tradegy, and is Better For It

Terry Gilliam is known for being a co-founder of one of the most influential comedy teams in history. His Monty Python troop was, at the time of its inception, and is now the epitome of satiric wit and dry British humor. Of late, he's been known for his visually spectacular, if not odd, style of filmmaking. His latest film, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is a story of morality, love and imagination.

Christopher Plummer stars in the title role. He is the leader of a traveling troop who offers people the option of stepping into the "Imaginarium", a world that is powered by his mind, and offers it's inhabitants two choices, absolute happiness, or certain doom. Dr. Parnassus is cursed with a dark secret. He claims to be over a thousand years old. Years ago, he made a deal with the devil, known as Mr. Nick, and he is now immortal. But there's a catch. He begs Mr. Nick to give him his youth, so he may father a child. Once the good doctor becomes a father, his child, upon his or her sixteenth birthday, becomes the property of Mr. Nick. The doctor's young daughter, Valentina (played excellently by the stunning Lily Cole) is nearing her sixteenth birthday, and the doctor, who has been dreading this decision for years, realizes that Mr. Nick cannot pass up a bet. He decides to bet the devil that whoever collects five souls will take Valentina and claim her as their own. Along their journey, with a midget named Percy (played by Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer) and Dr. Parnassus' assistant Anton, they discover Tony (played by the late Heath Ledger), who has had an attempt on his life by the Russian mob. Tony joins the traveling group, and falls in love with the beautiful Valentina. But in his jealousy, Anton vows to uncover Tony's past and win back Valentina.

Typically, Gilliam's films are not that appealing to me. As I began watching this film, I had the same feeling. But what makes this film different is the casting. As everybody may know, Heath Ledger met his untimely death while filming this movie, prompting Gilliam to fill his role. Ledger was absolutely a gifted actor who was well deserving of his posthumous Oscar win as the diabolical Joker in the latest Batman film. This film is set in the present day. During the parts of the film in the present day, the role of Tony is played by Ledger. As he enters the imaginarium, scenes which were filmed after Ledger's death, his role is filled by three equally gifted actors (in order of appearance), Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. This added a whole other layer to an already multi layered and complex film. While it may have not been the filmmakers' original vision, it made it all the more interesting to see the transition between imagination and reality. Each actor played his respective role differently, yet effectively, despite being the same character. Depp plays Tony very lightly, with his signature brand of off-beat comedy. Law is slightly more diabolical, perhaps tapping into more of Tony's past. And Farrell represents Tony as he's falling in love with young Valentina. His performance is a combination of the two former, yet his own is heartfelt.

I highly enjoyed this film. Despite being marred by a tragic death of a incredibly gifted actor, the filmmakers and actors perservered and each turned in excellent performances. Gilliam is a great director with a unique vision. This film is not for the young kids. There are some disturbing images, but for the older kids, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Good Night and Good Luck" is an Excellent Example of Story Telling and Acting

In the 1950s, there was a air of paranoia running rampant through America, caused by the people's fear of Communism. To make matters worse, Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin rose to fame by perpetuating this fear. Upon his induction to the Senate in 1946, he introduced a list of 205 supposed Communist sympathizers, many of whom weren't actually part of the Communist party. The practice of "McCarthy-ism" is using personal threats as a type of character assassination, which is exactly what he did. Many of the people whom he claimed to be Communists were not, hence their personal and professional relationships were ruined.

At the same time as the famous McCarthy hearings, Edward R. Murrow, a broadcast journalist, and his producer, Fred Friendly made it their mission to exploit McCarthy and put a stop to his detrimental practice, whatever the cost was to their personal and professional reputations.

David Straithairn stars as Murrow, whose portrayal is excellent, well deserving of his Oscar nomination. George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote, plays Friendly. The film also sports an excellent supporting cast, including, Tate Donovan, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr, and Frank Langella (who later was nominated for portraying another controversial political figure, President Richard Nixon).

Clooney is not only an excellent actor, he's an amazing director and filmmaker. The film is shot in black and white, very appropo for the era portrayed in the film. He often puts himself in small roles in his films, i.e., "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." The best part of the film is Straithairn's portrayal of Murrow. His performance is such that, as you watch it, you believe that he is the legendary journalist. However, he doesn't have a large scale of emotion. In fact, he can be, at times, monotone. But it's not boring, as you would expect it to be. He doesn't have to be euphoric in one scene, then melancholy in the next. Straithairn has very expressive eyes, and they portray what he's feeling when his words may not. This role was certainly made for him, and he's mesmorizing in it.

I highly recommend this film for anybody who enjoys a historical drama, or anyone who just likes a great film.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Logan's Run" is Wildly Inventive for it's Time

Imagine living in a post holocaust world where you are free to enjoy all the pleasures it offers. You don't have to worry about the sun or the rain, as your community is protected over head by a dome. However, there is a catch to living in such a place. You have implanted, in the palm of your hand, a life crystal. Once you reach the age of thirty, your life crystal blinks red, and for the reason of simply controlling the population and scarcity of resources, your life is over. Your death is witnessed by everyone in the city in a ceremony known only as "Carousel." If you so choose, you can run. As a runner, you risk being hunted by the "Sandmen" who's sole purpose is to track down runners and kill them. Made in 1976, directed by Michael Anderson, and written by the two authors of the novel by the same name, "Logan's Run" is a story of adventure, romance, betrayal, and is full of amazing special effects for the time.

Michael York stars as the title character. He is a sandman who, upon finding a symbol which controls the city's computer system, is given a special mission to find "Sanctuary" a city outside the dome where it's inhabitants have fled to avoid death. He is to pose as a runner, find Sanctuary and enact his duties as a sandman. However, in order to achieve this, four years are added to his life crystal, increasing his age to thirty. Now truly on the run, he and a beautiful young sidekick, known as Jessica-six, and with other sandmen on their tail, they escape from the dome and into an outside world. What they find there is very foreign to them, so naturally they have many questions. They end up in the ravaged city of Washington D.C, where they find an old holocaust survivor, who's only other interaction is to several feline friends. The three then begin their journey back, as part of a promise to the old man, who wants assurance that he's not the last man on earth.

There were many things that I enjoyed about this movie. The first were the special affects. Most people would consider them hokey and out of date by today's standards, which they are, but they were amazing for a film made in the early to mid years of the 1970s. Secondly, the story of a futuristic world is intriguing. This movie was made years after the first incarnation of "Star Trek" was seen. As in "Star Trek" this movie brought viewers into a futuristic world that fascinated and astounded them. It was different and cutting edge. This movie also garnered an Academy award for best special affects, which was very much deserved. Finally, the writing itself was excellent. York played a hit man of sorts. But he was a hit man with a conscience. All of the actors in the film played their roles with expertise.

Some comparable films have their moments of droll dialogue that may be superfluous to the main story line, thus making them hard to watch. This was certainly not one of them. I highly recommend this film to sci-fi and action fans alike.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Bonnie and Clyde" is well acted, sloppily written

"Bonnie and Clyde" stars Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman, and is directed my Arthur Penn, one of the most visionary directors of the 1960s. With Penn's excellent pedigree, I was expecting more of this 1967 Oscar winning film. However, for me, it fell short.

The film tells the true story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, two people from different worlds who are brought together during the depression era of the late 1920s. As the film opens, Clyde is newly released from prison, a life that is all too familiar to him. I believe that his intentions are noble. He's only trying to make times easier for himself during hard economic times. It's the way that he goes about it that is questionable, to say the least. While passing through a small town in the mid-west, he attempts to steal a car. During his attempted heist, a small town waitress named Bonnie is watching him through her bedroom window. What ensues is Bonnie is swept off her feet by Clyde's charm (something that paralleled Beatty's own notorious personal, some would say womanizing life of the time) and the promise of excitement away from her droll, sleepy town and life. So begins a life of excitement and unpredictability. This eventually leads to small bank robberies. While their crimes may not be grandiose by any means, it adds the unpredictability that both crave. On the run, they use their ill-gotten gains for hotels, groceries, and gas for the various cars that they steal, seemingly in conjunction with every robbery. As the film progresses, the duo turns into a trio with the addition of a small town gas attendant named C.W., and finally into a quintent with the addition of Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche, the daughter of a preacher. When robbery turns into murder after a botched get away, and ensuing outings cause the death of Buck and blinding of Blanche, the law is hot on Bonnie and Clyde's trail. This adaptation of the true story of Bonnie and Clyde may be one of the more personal, brutally honest, not to mention violent adaptations of their story ever made.

As I was watching this film, I couldn't help but make comparisons to one of my new favorite films, James Cagney's 1949 "White Heat". In this film, the women (Virginia Mayo and Margaret Wycherley as Cagney's wife and mother, respectively) were strong willed, and I got the feeling that they could take care of themselves, and hold their own against their male counterparts. While Bonnie did her share of brutal slayings, she had her moments of absolute helplessness. Blanche was probably my least favorite characters in the film. Bonnie characterized her as a shrill angry shrew of a woman, something that I would certainly agree with. I couldn't help feeling that with every scene, I got stuck in a loop of deja-vu. Each scene began with a robbery, a moment of euphoria, then there would be the inevitable depression, and finally, nearly getting caught by the law close on their heels.

I went into this film with high expectations, only to finish disappointed. While the acting in the film was excellent (ironically the only Oscar win for an actor in the film went to Estelle Parsons, who played Blanche), the writing could have been more substantial. Instead, each scene was seemingly duplicated from its predecessor, only having slight details changed. This was a good film, not great.