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Reviews for December 25th, 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Directed by Terry Gilliam.

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) runs a travelling theater show with his a dwarf, Percy (Troy Vernon), Anton (Andrew Garfield) and his 15-year-old daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole). A thousand years ago, he made a series of bets with the devil, Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), which gave him immortality under the condition that he gives away his daughter to him as soon as she turns 16. Now that her birthday’s approaching, he strikes another deal with Mr. Nick: whomever collects five souls first will end up with Valentina. Doctor Parnassus must now find a way to persuade five people to enter through a portal in the form of a mirror at his special attraction, the Imaginarium, which transports participants into a magical world where their dreams come to life. With the help of a Tony (Heath Ledger), a stranger suffering from amnesia whose life they save when he hangs from a rope on a bridge, Anton, Percy, Valentina and Doctor Parnassus set out to boost the Imaginarium’s business. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell substitute for Heath Ledger almost seamlessly about an hour into the film during the scenes inside dream world of the Imaginarium because, as you may already know, Ledger died in the middle of production. Director/co-writer Terry Gilliam combines the genres of fantasy, drama and mystery with somewhat mixed results. While none of the characters are well-developed enough for you to care about them on an emotional level, at least they don’t come across as uninteresting or annoying for that matter. There’s more to them than meets the eye and as the plot gradually progresses you discover a little bit more about them, especially the shady Tony. Gilliam does a great job on interjecting bit of dark, offbeat humor that appropriately balances the darker elements of the plot. The very bizarre, trippy visuals inside the Imaginarium look quite awe-inspiring and filled with wacky sights that need to be seen to be believed. It’s during those scenes that the film truly comes to life and had Gilliam maintained that level of captivating, clever zaniness throughout the scenes outside of the Imaginarium, you’d be consistently engaged and exhilarated. At a running time of just over 2 hours, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus manages to be a delightful, visually splendid slice of brilliant madness that’s occasionally uneven and too emotionally hollow to reach the heights of a true classic.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at the AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

It’s Complicated

Directed by Nancy Meyers.

Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) works as an owner and chef at a bakery in Santa Barbara, California. She has three adult children, namely, Gabby (Zoe Kazan), Harley (John Krasinski) and Luke (Hunter Parish), while still on friendly terms with her ex-husband, Jake (Alex Baldwin), who has been divorced from her for ten years. Since the divorce, he had married a younger woman, Agness (Lake Bell), and now has a five-year-old son, Pedro (Emjay Anthony). Jane and Jake bump into each other again in a hotel while attending the graduation of their son, Harley. Soon enough, they’re having a sexually-charged affair with one another and contemplating the idea of getting back together again. The situation gets even more complicated when Jane meets her architect, Adam (Steve Martin), a divorced man who falls in love with her the more time they spend together. Writer/director Nancy Meyers, who also directed the romantic comedies The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give and What Women Want, has essentially written a very witty screenplay with the kind of mature, honest and fearless dialogue that you would expect to hear in a sophisticated French romcom, but not in the vast majority of American romantic comedies. Just because many scenes play out in a sitcomish style doesn’t take away from their entertainment value or their truthfulness for that matter. Each member of the cast seems to be having a great time in their roles, but Meryl Streep shines here with a genuinely touching and raw performance and skillfully masters a wide range of emotions throughout the course of the film. Alec Baldwin is simply hilarious, full of energy and charisma while Steve Martin seems relatively with the exception of a scene where he and Jane let loose after smoking some weed together. It’s very rare to find a romantic comedy these days with such funny and wickedly smart banter along with complex and, most importantly, true-to-life adult roles. At a running time of nearly two hours, It’s Complicated is refreshingly mature, funny and endearing with a terrific cast and razor sharp dialogue. Meryl Streep sizzles in a sexy, bold and honest performance. It’s an intelligent American romcom with a very French sensibility.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Sherlock Holmes

Directed by Guy Ritchie.

Detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), who’s about to get married to his fiancée, Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), reunite to solve a new case in London. Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) somehow succeeded in coming back to life after he was hanged for murdering women. He has a diabolical plan to establish a New Order by taking down the British Parliament and eventually ruling the city of London. As Holmes and Watson investigate the case further, more and more mysterious deaths occur, so it’s up to them to connect the dots. Meanwhile, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), Holmes’ old flame, shows up and may or may not be linked in some way to the murder mystery. The mystery starts out intriguingly with some suspense as you’re wondering about the events surrounding Lord Blackwood’s death, but it quickly loses steam and turns too pedestrian when it should have been at least remotely fun and thought-provoking especially in hindsight. The screenplay by co-writers Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, could have used a lot more witty and clever bits of dialogue which, instead, sounds awkward and even silly at times. They also unevenly combine mystery, drama, action and comic relief. Robert Downey, Jr. gives a lively performance that adds some much-needed pizzazz while director Guy Ritchie includes very stylish, fast-paced action sequences which provide a rush of adrenaline. Unfortunately, there’s such an overabundance of action sequences from the very first scene until the last that you barely have a chance to catch your breath and you’ll probably find yourself feeling a bit nauseous rather than exhilarated. Moreover, some of the transitions between action and dramatic scenes seem too abrupt, distracting, confusing and also have unforgiveable leaps of internal logic. At an excessive running time of 2 hours and 8 minutes, Sherlock Holmes manages to be a visually stylish rush of adrenaline with an amusing, engaging performance by Robert Downey, Jr., but there’s too much nauseating action and not enough palpable excitement while the mystery itself lacks intrigue and suspense.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

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