Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Complicated Imaginarium of Watchmen Broncos

This week's theme seems to be the difference a director can make. Two of the movies ("Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" and "Gentlemen Broncos") have directors that are less mainstream, but are very focused on an idea of what they want their movie to be and who it will appeal to. The other movies ("It's Complicated"  and "Watchmen") have more mainstream directors that more or less have churned out two predictable, mediocre movies. As for my pick for the week, I enjoyed Gentlemen Broncos more, but feel that Imaginarium was a better overall pick in terms of a "must-see movie" due to circumstances surrounding the movie.

As many people know (and if you don’t, you do now) this is Heath Ledger’s last movie. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell were called in to finish up bits of his role so that his final work would see the light of day. This ends up being one of the hardest things about this movie. The last time we saw Ledger, he was devouring the scenery as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” So going into this movie after that tour de force is a little bit of a let down. It’s not a bad performance, but the Joker is a tough act to follow.

The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusDoctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) believes that the world is kept in motion due in part to the stories we tell and our imagination. It is this belief that leads him to meet ‘The Devil.’ I want to pause here and say that while I enjoyed the performance of Tom Waits here, he wasn’t exactly the “root of all evil” kind of person you would expect, although this could have been the intention. ‘The Devil,’ or Mr. Nick as he is referred to by Parnassus, loves a good wager. It is through these bets that Parnassus gains immortality and eventually his Imaginarium, a place where ones imagination manifests in a fantasy world that ends in a choice between good (Parnassus) or evil (Mr. Nick).  The problem is that Parnassus, who is a definite candidate for Gambler’s Anonymous, has inadvertently wagered his own daughter. Losing hope quickly, things begin to look up when Parnassus and his motley crew discover a mysterious stranger who may be able to help turn things around (Ledger).

The prevalent idea throughout the movie is choice. Everything that occurs is the result of one or another person’s choice. More often than not the better choice is also the more difficult one. “Imaginarium…” is a fantastic looking movie. Due to the extraordinary nature of the Imaginarium, Terry Gilliam was able to utilize Depp, Law and Farrell as Ledger’s “through the looking glass” alter-ego. This dynamic works amazingly and improves the fantasticality of the movie. While there are many things that work, there are also many that do not. The story is very convoluted and it is very likely you may walk away from the end a bit befuddled. However, the movie lends itself to another viewing if only to peel apart some of the various layers of the movie’s message and narrative.
(Netflix) (122 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking - 2009)

It’s Complicated – (2 Stars)
It's ComplicatedJake (Alec Baldwin) and Jane (Meryl Streep) have been divorced for 10 years. They have finally reached a point of catharsis in their relationship. But when something rekindles the long-lost passion in their relationship, an affair ensues. “It’s Complicated” is everything you’d expect it to be. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve more or less seen the movie. The movie has its funny moments, but just isn’t anything special or new.
(Netflix) (121 minutes - Rated R for Some drug content and sexuality - 2009)

Gentlemen Broncos – (3 ½ Stars)
“Gentlemen Broncos” is the latest zany comedy/coming-of-age story from Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre). If you are familiar with Hess’ campy, low budget, dry as a bone humor style of filmmaking you will know what to expect from this movie. Hess’ movies are not for everyone but if you enjoyed his previous two entries, then this one will more than likely appeal to you as well.

Gentlemen BroncosBenjamin (Michael Angarano) is a homeschooled loner who enjoys writing Science-Fiction stories. He is meek and mild-mannered which tends to lead to him being taken advantage of by others. Benjamin’s only real friend is his mother, who designs and sells nightgowns for a living. When Benjamin steps out a bit to go to a writing workshop, he gets a chance to meet his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). However, Benjamin quickly discovers that Chevalier is full of himself. To make matters worse, Chevalier steals Benjamin’s story “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years” and sells it as his own.

Benjamin is definitely a likeable character and it is because of this that “Gentlemen Broncos” works. The viewer gets to ride along with him on his journey of self-discovery and meet all of the strange characters he meets along the way. Characters that you come to expect from a Jared Hess film.
(Netflix) (89 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Some crude humor - 2009)

Watchmen – (2 ½ Stars)
Watchmen“Watchmen” is based on the graphic novel of the same name and is directed by Zack Snyder (300, the unnecessary Dawn of the Dead remake). The graphic novel is a darker, grittier version of a super-hero story full of well-woven storytelling, moral dilemmas, philosophical ponderings and a lot of interesting visuals. Snyder’s version is more of a copycat eye-candy version of the story. It manages to wonderfully capture the imagery of its source, but without really capturing the essence of it. In many cases the movie seems to be trying too hard to look just like the graphic novel that it’s painfully cheesy. Snyder just doesn’t seem to understand what exactly he was working with and the immense scrutiny he would face by fans of the graphic novel (which is definitely worth a read).
(Netflix) (163 minutes - Rated R for Strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language - 2009)

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