There’s no denying that Terry Gilliam has a vast imagination. But is that a good thing for his films and those who have to watch them?
Brazil (1985) has long been dubbed a masterpiece, a sentiment I do not fully share. Sure, it’s a presciently satirical look at an Orwellian society that relies on ineffective, out-of-date machinery and governmental procedures, but it also succumbs to excessive art direction and a lack of narrative clarity, a problem that has reared its head on a number of Gilliam projects — most acutely on Brazil’s follow-up, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (1988), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), a surreal adaptation that was better left on the page.
On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed the company of Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), The Fisher King (1991) and 12 Monkeys (1995) enough to watch each multiple times. In fact, I took in back-to-back screenings of 12 Monkeys the second day of its initial theatrical release on a snow- and ice-laden January afternoon that resulted in what was essentially a private viewing of a public screening.
The difference between these two groupings of three, each featuring films from across Gilliam's four-decade career? The latter trio seems tempered by a visual and narrative restraint the former lacks.
All of which brings us to Gilliam’s latest, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which opens this week (and which I've yet to see). In typical Gilliam fashion, it was a troubled shoot — Heath Ledger died during production, forcing the director to cast three different actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law) to finish Ledger’s scenes.
It also promises a smorgasbord of visual effects, a fact that’s not exactly reassuring — the advent of CGI has done nothing but exacerbate Gilliam’s penchant for indulgence (see Fear and Loathing or 2004’s lackluster The Brothers Grimm), which can no longer be reigned in by the limiting presence of handcrafted sets.
Yes, there is now literally no limit to what Gilliam’s imagination can conjure for the screen. But is that a good thing?
DAYBREAKERS — Sibling Australian filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig flip Hollywood's teen-friendly vampire trend on its head with Daybreakers, a gory sci-fi world run by a majority population of bloodsuckers. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: B-
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS — For the first time in a decade — since 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — Terry Gilliam has made a film that delivers on his reputation as a master of cinematic fantasy. He takes us on a journey we're happy to take for every surprise, large and small, that the film has in store. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — CS (Rated R.) Grade: B
LEAP YEAR — Amy Adams continues her perky routine in this romantic comedy about a woman who goes to Dublin in an effort to marry her longtime boyfriend (apparently ladies are permitted to propose to men on a Leap Year date in Dublin). Anand Tucker, the guy who brought you Shopgirl and Hilary and Jackie, directs. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.
YOUTH IN REVOLT — Director Miguel Arteta adapts C.D. Payne's 1993 novel to predictably comic, if not full-blown, outrageous effect. Michael Cera is well cast as Nick Twisp, the precocious lust-driven teenage son of separated low-life parents played by Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart. He might not be Holden Caulfield, but in this day and age Nick represents a fresh breeze of youthful rebellion. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — CS (Rated R.) Grade: B