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The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Black Dynamite

Indie Choices This Weekend

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Above: "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"


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


This weekend if you don’t want to hit the mall theaters you can escape reality with a pair of indie films: "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" (opening January 8 at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas) and "Black Dynamite" (playing midnight at Landmark's Ken Cinema on January 9). You can also listen to my radio review.

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.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Johnny Depp is one of three actors who completed Heath Ledger's role in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"

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?"

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Mr. Gilliam himself

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.

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Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Tom Waits as the Devil and Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus

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.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Apparition

"Black Dynamite"

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

Black Dynamite: “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.

Black 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.

Companion viewing for "The Imaginarium of Dr, Parnassus": "Brazil," "The Fisher King," "Lost in La Mancha," "That Obscure Object of Desire"

Companion viewing for "Black Dynamite": "Shaft," "Superfly," "Dolemite," "I'm Gonna Git you Sucka," "Undercover Brother"

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