Movie reviews: Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, Couples Retreat, Triangle
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS * * *
Cert 12A, 122 mins
Heath Ledger was in the middle of making this film when he died suddenly in January last year.
He had only completed half his scenes, but director Terry Gilliam decided to finish the movie by drafting in three other actors to fill in for the 28-year-old Australian.
This works surprisingly well. Heath’s friends, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, pitched in to make sure the film is a fitting tribute to him, though he will probably be remembered best for playing the Joker in Dark Knight.
The real star of this film is Christopher Plummer, who finds himself in great demand at the age of 79 (he also lends his voice to the current hit movie Up).
He plays centuries-old Dr Parnassus, who tours his magic show around modern-day London in a horse-drawn caravan. Everyone who steps through his special mirror enters an extraordinary surreal world, where they can take on a new persona – hence the different actors bringing out different sides of Heath’s character of Tony.
Parnassus, his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) and his assistants Anton (Andrew Garfield) and Percy (Verne Troyer) stumble across Tony hanging from a London bridge and save his life.
Valentina is about to turn 16, at which point he has to hand her over to the Devil, Mr Nick (Tom Waits) to make good on a bet he made.
We have come to expect amazing visuals from Gilliam and he doesn’t disappoint, though this film offers a strange mix of the fantastical and the pedestrian. Computer generated images of an exploding opera house and a monastery held up by elephants are juxtaposed with Parnassus parking his caravan in a Homebase car park.
I applaud the imaginative and witty touches, but it becomes a little too frustrating to watch by the end. The story is just too confusing and bizarre for me, and isn’t substantial enough to sustain the film all the way through two hours. RL
COUPLES RETREAT * *
Cert 15, 113 mins
What would you do if your marriage was in trouble? Persuade three other couples to go on holiday with you at an all inclusive resort so that their presence would make your own trip affordable?
Hardly, but the idea might not be quite as daft as it sounds since near-to-divorce couples in Thailand are now apparently being offered the chance of free, patch-up holidays.
This laboured comedy is about how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – even if you invade a neighbouring singles’ camp with your mates.
Couples Retreat was filmed on the beautiful Pacific island of Bora Bora, where it was clearly hard work for the likes of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau to hang out after each day’s shoot.
Nice work if you can get it. But if they make a sequel on the banks of the Mersey, perhaps the wind chill factor will freshen things up a bit since Liverpool-born Shaun Of The Dead star Peter Serafinowicz is the only actor on real form here.
As Stanley – “with a c” – he steals every scene from a cast which includes Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Leon’s French star, Jean Reno. GY
TRIANGLE * *
Cert 15, 98 mins
Waitress Jess (Melissa George) goes out sailing for the day on a boat called Triangle owned by her friend Greg (Michael Dorman).
There are four other passengers, but they are of no consequence as we don’t care about them.
Out in the ocean, a storm blows up and the boat capsizes. They manage to scramble on board an apparently deserted cruise ship which happens to be passing.
Then people start getting shot at, bizarrely by Jess – or actually another version of her.
Events keep replaying, but each time a new Jess is created, in a kind of Groundhog Day but with a lot more blood.
There are a couple of surprise moments and the dark ending sort of works, but I’d lost patience with it by then.
George’s permanent open-mouthed, wide-eyed gormless look quickly gets boring. The plot is full of holes and moments when you’ll go ‘why on earth did she do that?’.
The poor script and performances are bad enough the first time round, we don’t need to see them over and over again.
Personally I preferred the 1980s TV soap Triangle with Larry Lamb. RL
ONG BAK – THE BEGINNING * * *
Cert 15, 98 mins
The excitement of watching a great stunt probably began with a house falling down around Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr (1928).
Connoisseurs of today’s rather more jaw-dropping 21st century upgrades might recall the car chases in The Bourne Identity or The Matrix Reloaded, the extraordinary car bonnet scene in Tarantino’s Death Proof or even this year’s tanker opening to Fast & Furious.
Or, on a more individual level on foot, the ‘parkour’ stunts in Luc Besson’s District 13 take some beating.
Then there was Thai star Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak (meaning ‘daredevil’), a wire-free 2003 film which featured his best stunts repeated from several angles to make up for the duff script.
Six years later, The Beginning bears no relation to its predecessor, but also includes one stunt you’ll never forget.
The action is set in the 1431 and all you need to know is that Tiang (Jaa) has to overcome a series of brutal challenges to prove that he’s a man.
Watching Jaa running across a herd of stampeding elephants certainly blows Roger Moore’s 1973 crocodile stunt in Live And Let Die clean out of the water. It’s one of greatest stunt scenes of the decade.
But, for good measure, Jaa even takes on a croc, too.
Now that’s respect! GY