Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Prisons and Imaginariums; Hardy and Heath

Goodness me, May has been an especially dry month here at Your Movie Buddy. I feel I very rarely offer impromptu posts on this blog anymore, and mainly provide links to my published work (not that there's anything wrong with that). So, let's talk something cinematic, shall we? But only briefly, because I need to get back to work, as usual.

On Friday, I rented two DVDs, which I don't do nearly as much as I used to. It's not that I've upgraded to NetFlix or OnDemand (I've never used the former, and would get slapped if I used the latter); it's that the only Blockbuster in my area that hasn't rolled out the GOING OUT OF BUSINESS signs isn't exactly close enough to guarantee not paying late fees. And we all know Blockbuster is the only movie rental store left on the planet. *Sniffle*

Anyway, I picked up "Bronson" and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," two 2009 titles filed under "Never Got Around To It." "Bronson," the much more anticipated of the two, was, as my colleague Pete Croatto so aptly put it, a raging disappointment. You can imagine my shock when a film that looks as though it's capable of creating the sensation of pumping Red Bull through your veins was barely able to keep me awake. This is the kind of movie I fear so many filmmakers of my generation will create. Writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn clearly has a handle on stylized hipness, but in favoring that, he blows the chance to really dig into this beefy true story. The result is a pretentious bore of an artistic experiement. Its savage, saving grace is British actor Tom Hardy, who underwent one of the most drastic transformations in recent memory to play the lead character, and gives a feral, captivating performance. Practically through its entirety, "Bronson" makes you wish the performance was being showcased in a nicer package.

"Parnassus" was pretty much precisely what I expected it to be: a darkly whimsical, moderately entertaining fantasy with handsome art direction and garish visual effects. Picture, if you can, HBO's "Carnivale" linked, by Alice's looking glass, to the heaven scenes in "The Lovely Bones." The "anything goes" aspect of the Imaginarium (when you enter, the environment changes to accommodate your fantasies) somewhat validates the low-level CGI, but that really sounds like a cop-out. And hell if I gave a hoot about any of the characters, so abstract are the film's emotions. Again, salvation lies in the acting, especially that of rising star Andrew Garfield (the "Red Riding" trilogy) and fallen star Heath Ledger in his final performance. I don't think too many people realize how special Ledger was, and how profound a loss was his death. This guy wasn't just another handsome It Boy, he was the real deal -- a chameleon who perished while hitting his professional prime. In "Imaginarium," he speaks in a thick and dirty UK accent, and while the work isn't on par with his "Dark Knight" and "Brokeback" personae, it teases us with his metamorphosis capabilities. Had he lived, could he have grown to become the male Meryl Streep? It's a tantalyzing and tragic thought.

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