The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Sony) – Terry Gilliam dives back into his diabolical imagination for this carny sideshow of a Faust tale, which he drops into the blurry boundary between the material world and the dream world. Christopher Plummer’s Doctor Parnassus could be an alter-ego for Gilliam, a showman fantasist trying to jump-start the imaginations of a modern world with his unique and eccentric theatrical spectacles and phantasmagorical dream worlds. For all the rough edges and dark patches, it’s a joy to get lost in. My feature review is on Parallax View here.
The DVD and Blu-ray editions are filled with a wealth of supplements. Gilliam overflows with stories and observations and background details to every scene in his solo commentary track (including the adjustments made after Heath Ledger died), which is marked by a mix of enthusiasm and modesty: he doesn’t always understand his creative impulses, but he feels the accumulation of the details. There’s a single deleted scene (with unfinished special effects) which can be viewed with optional Gilliam commentary, a handful of short featurettes and tributes to Heath Ledger (including a brief audio interview from 2007). Exclusive to the Blu-ray is the six-minute “The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam” and a breakdown of a major special effects sequence in four stages, from animated storyboard to finished film.
Yes, there still are movies made for grown-ups in Hollywood, few and far between they may be. It’s Complicated (Universal), Nancy Meyer’s comedy of love after divorce is not as sophisticated as it pretends to be but it’s still a couple of hours in the company of articulate adults having fun (and having sex). I review it for MSN here.
District 13: Ultimatum (Magnolia), the sequel to the French action blast District 13/Banlieue 13, doesn’t come close to replicating that film’s nearly perfect balance of B-movie exploitation, pulp social commentary, non-stop action and cinematic momentum. What’s on screen is marginally fun and certainly fast-paced and energetic, but awfully silly. See my review on MSN Movies here.
In Five Minutes of Heaven (IFC), two men whose lives have been scarred by a brutal 1975 murder in Northern Ireland—the convicted killer turned peacemaker (Liam Neeson) and the younger brother (James Nesbitt) of his victim who helplessly watched the killing—are brought together decades later so the scarred survivor can confront his brother’s killer. The murder presented in the prologue is based on a real life incident but the subsequent events are fiction, a kind of speculative exploration of a program of truth and reconciliation for a culture where the cycle of violence is as personal as it is political. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a well-honed script by Guy Hibbert (whose Omagh explored similar issues), the film puts issues of violence in Northern Ireland and the cycle of violence that leaves nothing but victims in personal terms. There are no histrionic confrontations, no Shakespearean speeches, no dramatic breakdowns of confession and forgiveness, simply an emotional atmosphere so volatile that a spark could set it off. Hirschbiegel’s earlier Das Experiment covered similar ground, but twisted it into a psychothriller where a manufactured social pressure cooker pushed already unstable personalities into full-fledged mania, and his direction was all focused on creating tension at the expense of characters. This is far more human and vulnerable, about real people shaped by real situations and experiences that echo through their being long after the events are over.
Neeson is all dignity and restraint as a man who has spent his life trying to redeem himself by helping others while Nesbitt is a bundle of raw nerves on the verge of panic while he uses the program to get his “five minutes of heaven,” payback the hell he’s lived since the murder. Hibbert’s emotionally jagged screenplay and Hirschbiegel’s intimate direction shows the damage not simply of violence but a culture that nurtures division and hatred and teaches its young that violence is a legitimate answer. For all the guilt and anger and vengeance-fueled violence, it holds out hope for healing but is keenly aware of the price paid by all victims and the scars that may never fully heal. Provocative, intelligent and uncompromising.
Naked Ambition (Phase 4) – “This project is the portrait of a culture,” explains director Michael Grecco, former photojournalist turned celebrity photographer, of his latest project. To wit: a coffee table book of portraits of adult film performers, entrepreneurs and fans. This film documents the making of the book and his experience shooting it over the three-day AVN Show, the largest adult convention in the world (it gets its name from Adult Video News, the magazine that sponsors the event), culminating with the AVN Awards, the “Oscars of the Porn Industry,” as the nominees like so call it. Grecco, who subtitled his book and his movie “An R-Rated Look At An X-Rated Industry,” isn’t out to shoot porn. He’s genuinely intrigued by this culture of exhibitionism, industry and uninhibited sexuality and uses his camera to capture the personalities rather than the bodies. There is some nudity to be sure, but surprisingly little considering the subject matter, and none of beyond an R rating. The camera roams the convention floor to watch the starlets sign autographs and the salesmen hawk their sex toys and movies, and between shoots Grecco profiles two rising stars up for the Best New Starlet award. But the film never looks beyond the show-biz fantasy of the porn business to investigate the seedier aspects of the adult film world. This is practically a love letter to the industry, an upbeat portrait with a bouncy, high-energy soundtrack and cheery ambassadors for the industry telling us how much they love their work. It’s less a documentary than a promotional video for his book, featuring some terrific images but no insight or perspective to the industry or the people involved in it, just a romp through the colorful figures on display.
Hal Hartley’s short 1991 feature Surviving Desire (Microcinema), originally made for the PBS showcase American Playhouse, is back on DVD after being out of print for years. The offbeat romantic drama of a burned out college professor of Russian Literature (Martin Donovan) who falls for one of his students (Mary Ward) and enters into a doomed affair is one of less ambitious efforts but still zings along with his usual wit and wisdom. The DVD also features Hartley’s 1991 short comedies Theory of Achievement and Ambition, a pair of made-for-PBS films made in a more playfully arch, slogan-spouting style, like a parody of French New Wave art cinema (he even has New York indie director Nick Gomez wander around like the ghost of Jean-Luc Godard), plus the 2005 interview film Upon Reflection: Surviving Desire with Hartley, producer Ted Hope, and actor Martin Donovan. Also from Microcinema is Possible Films Volume 2 (Microcinema) featuring five now shorts by Hartley.
Criterion releases a longer “Director’s Cut” of Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil (Criterion) and a newly remastered special edition of The Fugitive Kind (Criterion). I review them here.
I also review The Barbara Stanwyck Collection (Universal Backlot Series) (Universal) elsewhere on my blog here.
Also new this week: Disgrace (Image) with John Malkovich, The Descent 2 (Lionsgate) without director Neil Marshall and the documentaries William Kunstler: Disturbing The Universe (New Video) and Milton Glaser: To Inform And Delight (New Video).