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The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Black Dynamite

January 7, 2010 8:49 a.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Black Dynamite

Related Story: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Black Dynamite


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS-FM Film Review: “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” and “Black Dynamite”
By Beth Accomando
Air date: January 7, 2010

This weekend if you don’t want to hit the mall theaters you can escape reality with a pair of indie films. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando is here to tell us why.

LANDMARK(ba).wav SOQ 3:50

(Tag:) “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” opens Friday at the La Jolla Village Cinemas, and “Black Dynamite” plays this Saturday at midnight at the Ken Cinema. You


This weekend, Landmark is the place to be with the opening of Terry Gilliam’s new film and an homage to blaxploitation cinema.

CLIP Listen sucka I’m blacker than the ace of spades and more militant than you and your whole damn army put together.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has the scoop on the weekend movies coming up on Morning Edition.
Filmmaker and former Pythonite Terry Gilliam always seems to be facing some kind of obstacle. On “Brazil” he had to fight a studio that wanted to change his ending; on “Don Quixote” his star got sick and storms washed away a set; and on “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” his star Heath Ledger died before shooting was complete.

But Gilliam is nothing if not infinitely adaptable. So he overcame the tragedy of Ledger’s death by rewriting the script and inventing a plot device that would allow Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to be Ledger’s alter ego in a series of fantasy sequences. After all, the story does deal with something know as The Imaginarium, a magical realm where people are presented with a moral choice that places their souls in jeopardy.

Woman: Excuse me but how does this work? What does it cost?
Tony: Cost no. The Imaginarium doesn’t cost a thing.
Woman: How long does it take?
Tony: That depends.
Woman Well I’m running late.
Tony: Late, late for a very important date. Gosh I can’t tell you how many times I heard that in my life. Can I ask you a question? Do you dream? Or should I say, can you put a price on your dreams?

For Gilliam there is no price on your dreams. His films are all -- in one way or another --about dreams, fantasies, and fighting personal demons. He and his alter egos are always the Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills. In “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” he is essentially the title character. At one point Parnassus explains that it’s his duty to tell the eternal story, the story that sustains the universe. But the Devil isn’t buying that.

Devil: You mean if you stop telling the story the universe ceases to exist?
Parnassus: You make it sound so simple.
Devil: You believe it?
Parnassus: We are ordained for this task.
Devil: It’s amazing that you believe something can be so easily disproved.

But that’s the thing with dreamers. You can’t disprove something that they believe in. So Gilliam, like Parnassus, he has bee ordained to keep telling the eternal story even if no one is listening or no one cares. Gilliam needs to spin fantastical tales to survive and we reap the benefits of his wild imagination. Both Gilliam and Parnassus create something from nothing and fight off the darkness of the real world by placing their hopes in the power of imagination. Gilliam identifies all too painfully with how ineffectual Parnassus can sometimes be since Gilliam the artist constantly finds himself at the mercy of the money men he needs to finance his cinematic dreams.

Gilliam’s identification with Parnassus may be what gives this film its edge. We sense this film is about Gilliam’s personal battles and his attempts to get attention and backing for the ambitious projects that consume him but don’t always interest the masses. But no matter how beaten down Gilliam or Parnassus get, they display an amazingly resilient spirit and keep coming back.

A fighting spirit is also on display in the film that re-launches Landmark Theaters midnight movies: “Black Dynamite.”

CLIP “Listen sucka I’m blacker than the ace of spades and more militant than you and your whole damn army put together.”

Damn. If that doesn’t make you think about blaxploitation cinema of the 70s than I don’t know what will. Scott Sanders has concocted a loving and spot-on homage to the low budget black action films of the 1970s, playing off of everything from “Shaft” to “Superfly.” Michael Jai White is Black Dynamite a former CIA operative who’s now a one-man army fighting the man.

CLIP Dynamite: I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna fight. Ever since I was a boy all I did was fight and now that the man has our backs to the wall I’m not gonna let them hurt the kids, I’m gonna take them all down.

“Black Dynamite” is fast and furious fun and the perfect thing for a midnight movie outing.

So whether you’re looking for art or pop entertainment, Landmark has both this weekend.

For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.