Monday, January 18, 2010

Viva Doctor Parnassus

Two more movies I've seen recently...

Viva is a very strange animal, a newly made film that is a tribute to the softcore sex movies of the 1970's. A woman named Anna Biller wrote, directed and starred in the movie which has a typical period plot of an abandoned housewife deciding to explore her wild side and get sexually involved with all sorts of period characters like nudists, madams, "art" photgraphers, swingers and other assorted weirdos. Biller also did the set design and costuming for the film, wrote a few original songs and even created an animated drug trip sequence. She really captures the cheesy garish look of those movies and actually goes beyond the genre to toss in references to Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, Blow-Up and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. 

Despite all her hard work, though, the movie left me asking "Why bother?". Although there are some intentionally humourous moments arising from that period's ideas about "liberation", it's not really a spoof. nor is there enough dramatic meat to take seriously. It all seems a loving tribute to something that was never inteneded to be taken that seriously.

It's a shame that at this time of the year, in the so-called "awards season", all the films released the previous year are boiled down to a few highly touted movies battling for Oscars. This season it lloks as though everyone is expected to bow down and worship at the feet of Avatar while much more imaginative films like Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus get completely forgotten about. What liitle notoriety the film has comes from the fact that Heath Ledger passed away while making it, and that Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell were all called upon to replace him.

Outside of the stunt casting though this is a really impressive fantasy about a wager between an immortal man and the devilthat involves the man's daughter and an amensiac stranger with a shady past. It's a wild and impressively realized film with all sorts of bizarre fantasy landscapes and a psychedelic "Pilgrim's Progress" take on the choice between good and evil. It has good work from Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus and Tom Waits as the Devil, and the use of Ledger and his celebrity stand-ins is well worked into the story. Hopefully the DVD edition will give some insight as to how Ledger's death may have changed the  plot.  It's a visually rich, crazy film with strong philosophical ideas. Pity no one is paying any attention to it.

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