Posts Tagged ‘film’

Iron Man 2 Review

‘Sequels never better the first film,’ says the movie bible. Sure, there are rare exceptions – Aliens, Terminator 2, Hannah Montana 2: Crimson Massacre, etc – but the rule remains true. This rule, however, does not seem to apply to comic book movies, where the sequel – freed from the shackles of the origin story – is nearly always better than the first film. Iron Man 2 keeps this proud tradition alive.

Just a few short months have passed since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) revealed himself as Iron Man and the world has never been more peaceful. However, dark forces are gathering against ol’ tin head. One the one side, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of the man who helped Tony’s father Howard invent the original Arc Reactor. Bitter and vengeful, Vanko creates his own Arc Reactor and electric whips, becoming the villain Whiplash. On the other side, the defence department, who demand the Iron Man suit be turned over to the military. If Stark refuses, they are more than willing to turn to industry rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

But that’s not the end of Stark’s troubles. The palladium core that keeps the shrapnel from entering his heart is now poisoning his blood. Faced with his own mortality, Stark goes off the rails, making Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) the CEO, alienating Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and drinking heavily. There’s also the small matter of Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), Pepper’s new secretary who seems to know a surprising amount of martial arts…

If that synopsis sounds overstuffed then that’s because it is. Iron Man 2 is packed to the gills with new characters, new situations and more things going on. Even director Jon Faverau’s cameo as bodyguard Happy Hogan is extended to four times the length it was in the first film.

In spite of that, Iron Man 2 is a consistent delight, providing spectacle, action, warmth, wit and humour in a tidy package that manages to avoid outstaying its two hour long welcome. The story moves along with the speed of a freight train, cramming in a ridiculous number of ideas and scenes with style and aplomb. One minute Tony Stark is single-handedly defeating the defence department with a few carefully chosen words, the next he’s battling Whiplash in the middle of the Monaco Grand Prix. The pace of the scripting, incredibly, manages to keep everything in check and simultaneously hit all the plot points that a film should – acts 1, 2 and 3 are all very clearly defined.

The downsides are many, unfortunately. The sheer number of things going on in the film means that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow doesn’t actually have anything to do until the very end, while Whiplash’s backstory and reason for hating Stark is given an incredibly brief five minute explanation in the prologue. There are also only two fights with Whiplash in the entire film and both of those are pitifully short. The few memories Stark has of his father feel a little ham-fisted and lightweight in their attempt to add depth to the drama and really needed expanding. Also, Samuel L Jackson’s appearances as Nick Fury are too few and too short – he needs to have a much bigger role in the expanding universe.

Still, for all of those complaints, there are just as many incredible things to like. Tony Stark is still the only superhero just as interesting outside the costume as he is in it, there’s twice as much humour on offer and about ten times the action. Jon Favreau is clearly a director who can direct ballsy action scenes and the weight of the cast beneath him are talented enough to carry the human drama.

It might not be close to perfect, but Iron Man 2 has a lot to like about it. Bigger, badder, tougher, funnier and more exciting than the first one. Perhaps the rule should be changed to, ‘sequels never better the first film – unless the film is a comic book adaptation.’

4 stars

How to Train Your Dragon 3D Review

Dragons and films don’t tend to go together very well. Just look at the evidence – Dragonheart, Reign of Fire, Dungeons and Dragons and Eragon – all rubbish and mostly featuring Jeremy Irons. It seems that up until now, cinema and dragon-based adventures are incompatible. Luckily, How to Train Your Dragon is here to make a case for the defence.

Hiccup is a young, accident-prone Viking, living among his people on a remote island that suffers from a dragon problem. In order to prove himself a man, Hiccup must slay a dragon, but he doesn’t want just any old beast, he wants to bring down the Night Fury, the most legendary lizard of them all.

However, in his attempts to capture the Night Fury, Hiccup accidentally wounds it, leading to an unlikely friendship and a shocking discovery – that the entire Viking way of life is totally wrong.

What starts out as an affable kids’ film about a buffoon and his loveable dragon companion, there’s a hell of a lot to like here. For one, the animation is superb throughout. How to Train You Dragon might not be the most visually stunning animated film ever, but what’s on offer is great – visual expressions, dragon design, the Viking’s fur coats – all topped off with some of the best animated action in any movie.

The film’s real strength is that the characters within it are really good, with just enough depth in them to get by. Hiccup’s journey is totally believable and the way his changing attitude towards dragons alters the minds of those around him is also convincing. There’s just enough time between big aerial flight scenes and friendship montages to squeeze all this in, creating a film that can sometimes feel too crowded and ambitious for what it’s trying to do.

While most of the characters are pretty good and the visual look of each dragon is staggeringly varied, the dialogue can be horrendously clunky. There’s too much of a tendency for characters to say what they’re feeling, which leaves the rest of the story disappointingly predictable.

While it’s not as funny as it could be, there are a few laughs here and there to be had, but most of the time you’ll be busy marvelling at the excellent action scenes, an effect that is magnified with the use of 3D technology. It creates a great illusion of being close to the combat – quite an achievement for a kids’ film about a buffoon and his dragon.

Kids will love the fantasy, adults will like the animation. If the characters were slightly deeper and the laughs were more frequent, this would be one for everyone. As it is, it’s just going to have to settle for being a crowd-pleaser.

3 stars

Avatar

In 3D, this is a cinematic spectacle the likes of which will never be seen again. Sadly, the story sucks seven ways to Sunday and it’s got predictability stamped all over it in big letters. Still, if you can watch it in 3D, do it.

4 stars

Sherlock Holmes

A cast so strong they could lift buildings with their talent combine on a story that’s so rich it could feed a whole continent. However, Rachael McAdams and Mark Strong are both completely underused, while some of the sleuthing is relegated to the background for the sake of looking smarter than it actually is. Sequel now.

4 stars

Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson stars in a revenge thriller where all the mysteries have obvious answers and everyone is a massive dick. Tries to have the emotional depth of The Constant Gardener, wants to have the action-tastic pace of Taken, ends up as messy and bloated as The Departed. Written by the same guy, too.

3 stars

Princess and the Frog

Nice to have an old-style animated film once in a while, but this is unlikely to restart a craze. A few good characters and a couple of decent jokes, but too many songs and too much lag in the script weigh the whole thing down. Still, retro’s nice now and again.

3 stars

Valentine’s Day

A portmanteau film where everyone is somehow connected to everyone else, starring a huge number of talented actors, as well as Jessica Alba. A few neat twists manage to elevate it up above crapness, but the film is too mushy and preachy for its own good. Bradley Cooper is one to watch out for – clearly the thinking woman’s Robert Pattinson.

2 stars

Kick Ass Review

Superheroes wouldn’t survive long in today’s world. It’s fine for Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men and the like to preach about not killing their enemies, but it wouldn’t solve anything. Evil should be eliminated, not scolded – maybe the Punisher got it right.

Here to evolve the idea of a superhero is Dave Lizewski, (Aaron Johnson) a high school student whose only reaction to crime is to want to kick its arse. After having enough of being robbed at school, mugged on the street and standing by as the same is done to others, Dave buys a wetsuit online and becomes the superhero vigilante Kick Ass.

Unfortunately for Dave, the only real powers he has are courage and a slightly elevated pain threshold – he can’t even weild his baton weapons effectively. However, that doesn’t matter after he’s filmed standing up to a group of thugs – Kick Ass becomes an instant internet hit, a symbol of truth in a world of lies.

Sadly, this is just the beginning of Dave’s problems as there are already two superheroes operating in secret – ex-cop Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and his arse-kicking daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). The two are sworn enemies of drug baron Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a loner who chooses to become supervillain Red Mist. Worse still, Dave’s love interest Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) believes him to be gay.

There is no part of this film that doesn’t work. Absolutely everything is pitch-perfect – the casting, acting, directing, editing, writing, costumes, sound, music, design – all of it is completely brilliant, utterly hilarious and one hundred percent convincing.

Every character is fully three dimensional, with depth, personality and traits oozing out of every pore. It’s a story made up of stories, with all the cast combining to form a wonderfully satisfying whole. The good guys are likeable and sympathetic, the bad guys detestable yet motivated and even non-costumed characters Clark Duke and Even Peters provide non-stop laughs with their very presence. Particular stand-outs include Big Daddy’s twisted and hilarious, yet ultimately believable and loving relationship with Hit-Girl, as well as Chris’ utterly convincing character arc. Massive props, too, to the burly bouncer played by wrestler Nelson Frasier Jr, whose every line is hysterical.

The plot is mature and intelligent, seeing Kick Ass accidentally getting dragged into a world he’s not ready or prepared for. Everything in it makes sense and it rattles along with the speed of a runaway freight train – not bad for a film weighing in at just under two hours.

The best part is the sense of realism that surrounds the whole thing. The best shot, the best fighter, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest always win, no exceptions. A child, couldn’t fist fight an adult in real life and the same is true here, only much funnier and more violent.

It’s an examination of what it really means to be a superhero. Is it about standing up for what’s right or is it about killing those that do wrong? The film suggests that both answers are right, depending on the severity of the crime. It’s a thoughtful note, one that aids to deepen the intelligence of a movie that, on the surface, doesn’t appear to have many brains about it.

If there is one small complaint to make, it’s that some people might be put off by the hyperviolence commited by children. But then again, if the sight of an eleven year old girl slaughtering legions of goons doesn’t tickle you, then the glory of Kick Ass is not for you.

Funnier than most comedies, more exciting than most actioners, this is Kick Ass, hands down the film to beat this year.

5 stars

Shutter Island Review

A film directed by Martin Scorsese, the World’s Greatest Living Director (™), is always cause for celebration, and this is something entirely new – Scorsese’s first proper attempt at making a true horror film (not including Cape Fear).

US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to the remote mental asylum facility of Shutter Island to figure out how child murderer Rachel Solonda managed to escape from a locked cell. Unfortunately for them, all they meet are brick walls in the guise of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). The Marshals are very quickly forced to ask questions of what is really going on behind the scenes. Where is the missing patient? Why are the patients afraid of the lighthouse? Why is a Nazi scientist present at the institution? The answers are extremely troubling.

If that plot summary didn’t sound like anything like a horror, then that’s because it isn’t. in fact, Shutter Island isn’t remotely frightening, terrifying or psychological. Whether this is because of the source material, the director’s relative inexperience with the genre or simple mis-marketing, it’s not clear. The truth of the matter is that Shutter Island is a mystery film with horror framing – merely used for decorative purposes, instead of the focus.

The film still packs a mighty punch, expertly layering mystery upon mystery, clue upon clue, weaving a delicate pattern of intrigue designed to keep the viewer guessing for the duration. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as clever as it thinks it is and thus most – but not all – of the mystery can be unravelled well in advance of the climax.

As you’d expect from a film carrying the Scorsese (™) brand, the film is often visually stunning and breathtakingly beautiful. Daniels’ many terrible flashbacks and haunting dreams are given incredible power via the director’s eye for detail. Indeed, after some of the scenes featured here, it might be wise for Scorsese to consider a World War Two picture as his next film.

The acting, too, is exemplary throughout, with every scene, every question, ever nuance and mystery completely depending on the earnestness of the actors. As always, Leonardo DiCaprio is nothing less superb while Mark Ruffalo provides equally stellar support. Ben Kingsley manages to claw back a huge amount of respect after Thunderbirds, Bloodrayne and The Love Guru. Jackie Earl Hayley makes the most of a single scene as a chance to prove why he’s one of the fastest-rising names in film at the moment.

But despite the wealth of incredible talent on offer, the film is missing something crucial: emotional investment. There’s a strange sense of detachment that pervades most of the film and seeps through every frame, distancing the audience from the characters. Even though Daniels has seen unimaginable horrors – all of which are handled with expert precision – it still feels weirdly unreal an inaccessible.

Overall, not a bad experience, but not a scary one. As good as the names in it, but not as deep as it should be.

3 stars

Jennifer’s Body Review

There are three things that are completely unwelcome in horror films: voiceover narration, a rawkin’ soundtrack and witty teen dialogue. There are three things this film has in abundance: voiceover narration, a rawkin’ soundtrack and witty teen dialogue.

Coming off the back of the critically acclaimed Juno, a witty teen story about a witty teen with buckets of witty teen dialogue (are you seeing a trend here?), scriptwriter Diablo Cody has set about crafting a teen horror to prove her range of writing prowess. In addition, Megan Fox wants to prove herself as more than just the atypical sexy female lead in shitty movies. What a shame she’s chosen to play an atypical sexy female lead in a shitty movie.

The town of Devil’s Kettle is rocked to its core when a fire burns down their only bar and kills everyone inside. But it’s only a diversion – travelling band Low Shoulder started the fire in order to snare virgin Jennifer (Fox) and sacrifice her to the devil. Unfortunately for the town, Jennifer is not a virgin (no, duh?) and a succubus takes over her body, forcing her to feast on the flesh of boys to stay young and pretty. This means it’s all up to her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried – Lily Kane in Veronica Mars, the greatest TV show of all time) to send the bitch back to hell before her own boyfriend falls under the demon’s sexual spell.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Jennifer’s Body is complete and utter bullshit. It’s hard to pick out a single point for any kind of praise, so it’s probably best just to say that the dialogue – when not doing its best to halt the tension – is pretty good. You see, the issue with dialogue in horror films is because suspense is wordless. That slow skin-crawling feeling of fear and dread is not caused by watching teens be witty at each other and speak in such self-referential terms your parents will get confused. The defining moments of any horror film you can think of will, nine times out of ten, be purely visual in nature. Therefore a film that attempts to crowd practically every scene with dialogue in place of genuine tension will be shooting itself in the foot.

The CGI is atrocious, the acting is awful (with the exception of Amanda Seyfried), the story is abysmal, the horror is absent and the only reason anyone would seriously watch this is because Megan Fox’s character is a slutty nymphomaniac who plays tonsil tennis with Needy. It’s such a pathetic attempt to try and lure dumb teenage boys and their dads into seeing a shitty film that it’s genuinely insulting. It’s like the filmmakers actually loathe their audience.

If that’s not enough to put you off watching Jennifer’s Body then you may need your head examined. But you can’t say you weren’t warned – after all, it’s a movie as dumb and easily manipulated as Megan Fox’s own fan base.

1 star

District 9 Review

Posted: December 8, 2009 in Review
Tags: , , , ,

District 9 Review

First-time feature director Neill Blomkamp takes a chance re-envisioning his own short film that caught the attention of producer Peter Jackson. Selfish wish fulfilment or inspired work of art?

The answer is very much in the latter camp waving flags, dancing around the fire and screaming aloud – District 9 is, quite simply, a goddamn masterpiece.

It begins so simply with a documentary explaining that in the 1980’s, an alien mothership suddenly appeared over Johannesburg and the aliens inside were allowed to live on Earth in a camp set up underneath the vessel, in the titular District 9. Flashforward to the present day and District 9 is a war-torn slum controlled by vile gangs, while Multi-National United (MNU) has assigned the optimistic young ladder climbing Wikus the duty of informing all the aliens that they are to be evicted to a new camp under stricter control. Whilst doing his job, Wikus is accidentally sprayed with a strange fluid that begins to change him and his entire world…

It’s here that complete credit must be given to actor Sharlto Copley. The entire film is built upon his earnest, convincing, moving portrait of a career man completely broken and his performance is, quite simply, flawless. Neill Blomkamp’s direction is also outstanding, allowing the maximum amount of human drama to bleed through where necessary and then totally ramping it up for the mind-blowingly impressive and spectacular all-out action pieces.

It’s essentially a film in three stages: the opening documentary effortlessly turns into a human drama/ horror in the manner of The Fly which then morphs into a war movie. What’s most impressive is that the whole thing is nothing less than believable, heartbreaking and compelling.

The CGI is flawless throughout – another stunning achievement for a film that cost a ‘mere’ $30 million to make. The aliens are distinctive and memorable and the ones you are supposed to follow are even coloured differently to stand out – take that, Transformers. It’s a powerful, moving slice of cinema with sympathetic heroes – both human and alien – and some of the most despicable villains to ever appear in sci-fi. Seriously, look in the dictionary under ‘bastard’ and you’ll see these guys.

If there are nits to pick then it is that the political message is as subtle as a punch in the genitals, the final action sequence is slightly too Hollywood given the stunning build-up and that the talking heads are distracting and unnecessary after the documentary footage has ended. That said, reviews are entirely opinions of individuals and this individual is too busy collecting his jaw before it gets caught up in his shoes to care for the complaints.

Epic cinema, epically told, with human drama more unflinchingly honest than most kitchen sink dramas and action that will make Michael Bay cry himself to sleep. If there’s any justice in the world, this will be considered as one of the best sci-fi films of the decade, if not one of the best films of the past ten years.

5 stars

Monsters Vs Aliens Review

As mouth-watering concepts go, the idea of pitting a team of monsters against an alien invasion is pretty great. Unfortunately, the result is not quite as good as the initial idea sounds.

When a meteor lands on Susan (Reese Witherspoon) on her wedding day, she is transformed into a seventy foot tall monster and removed from society by the government, led by General Monger (Kiefer Sutherland). Whilst in solitary she meets The Missing Link (Will Arnett), Dr Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), B.O.B (Seth Rogan) and Insectosaurus all of whom assure her that she’s never getting out. All that changes, however, when the villainous Gallaxhar sends his alien robot probe to earth to try and find ‘quantonium’, the very substance that turned Susan into Ginormica.

If it sounds very complex for a knockabout animated comedy, that’s because it is. The opening twenty minutes set up Susan and her life before removing her from that and throwing her in with the monsters. After this, it’s not entirely clear where Susan’s story is going or even how her character is evolving. At one point the film comes to a shuddering halt while the monsters discuss how Susan has developed. That’s when you realise that actually, no, she hasn’t and that the entire arc of her character has been bolted onto the existing (great) idea of monsters battling aliens.

And that’s another flaw in the film. There is no monster/ alien battle. There’s one alien who unleashes a robot and then clones himself later on for a small rumble. Even for a child-friendly movie, that’s pretty weak.

On the plus side, some of the voice acting is phenomenal. Stephen Colbert, in particular, as President Hathaway, is truly exceptional and Seth Rogan’s B.O.B is as great as could be expected. The Missing Link and Doctor Cockroach are good supporting characters but could really have done with some more development, while the Kiefer Sutherland-voiced General Monger is so perfect it’s almost weird.

The animation is also brilliant, easily the most gorgeous film to yet emerge from the Dreamworks Animations studio to date, which is lucky, because most of the film’s humour is hidden in wonderful facial expressions and slight gestures.

All in all, it’ll entertain the children but even they might feel something’s lacking from the final product. On paper it’s great, on screen it looks more like an extended advert for the game tie-in. Slightly disappointing.

3 stars

I never wanted to update twice in one day, but I don’t want to have to reshuffle all the scheduled posts just to attempt to keep current. Screw it, this one’s for free. It’s more than worth it. You’re welcome.

New Moon Review

This is probably going to be the toughest review any critic has had to write, ever. On the one hand, New Moon is an abomination against God and no words will do it justice. On the other hand, New Moon is absolutely hilarious and no words will do it justice.

Love is blossoming for the world’s least charismatic couple, Bella (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). Unfortunately, they’ve forgotten that he is a bloodsucking demon and that she is a happy meal on legs, only pastier, skinnier and moody as hell. After nearly getting torn a new blowhole by Harpo Marx, Bella is somehow surprised when Edward dumps her whining arse and leaves town with his family, you know, for her protection. This leaves Bella in a catatonic state where the only way she can be happy is to put herself in extreme jeopardy in order to see visions of Edward. Over the course of doing this, she becomes closer to Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who turns out to be a werewolf, the sworn enemies of vampires. Will she mend her broken heart with renewed friendship or will she instead spend a year leading Jacob on relentlessly before breaking his heart and running off to Edward again like a hateful attention whore? Too obvious?

First off, absolutely nothing happens in this film. There is no conflict, no resolution, the start and the end are exactly the same and nobody changes at all in this film. Author Stephanie Meyer throws her utterly hateful Mary Sue character into so many laughable situations that the only people who could possibly believe this travesty is remotely realistic are the tween fanbase who have no knowledge of life. If Bella is an acceptable and accurate representation of young women today, then taking a shit on a dying relative is an acceptable and accurate way of bidding them farewell. For a supposedly strong female lead, she is nothing – nothing! – without her man, going into a catatonic state for three months, not eating, sending emails to an address that doesn’t exist, ignoring her friends and spending all night screaming in such agony that her poor father sleeps downstairs to avoid putting a tire iron through her dense skull. To be fair, after three minutes of that soulless harpy trying to guilt trip everyone into caring about her pathetic problems, you’ll be reaching for the blunt object yourself.

This is a film that puts forward the ideas that domestic violence is an acceptable thing to happen to women; that women need men to survive; that high school crushes will last forever; that gay people should be shunned from society and that suicide is the only answer to being dumped by your first fleeting taste of love. It’s a film as dangerous as nuclear warfare – there really are kids out there now genuinely believing this horseshit and wanting to go through the experience.

As if to prove that Stephanie Meyer doesn’t have a single original bone in her worthless body, the entire story is a copy-paste job of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, although anyone having the balls to actually think the two stories as comparable should be dangled from a tree by a hate mob and have their insides torn out by hungry weasels. From the opening shot of Bella sleeping next o a copy of Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece to the ending, where a hysterically ill-thought-out series of events leads to Edward believing Bella is dead and attempting to commit suicide, everything in this is a straight rip-off without any of the good stuff brought forward.

There could be dozens of jokes littered throughout this about how gay the vampires are, or how gay the half-naked werewolf boys are, but, honestly, it’s just not worth it. It’s too easy a target. So let’s take the high road instead and mention that the vampire council, the Volturi, are the most inept, useless and camp collection of queers ever to skip merrily down the Hershey highway. Michael Sheen is a fantastic actor, but here he is literally doing his best to try and out-gay everyone on screen by coming off as the worst giggling, prancing, preening queen ever to fail a Bond villain audition. Even the idea of the council is retarded – there’s one rule: never reveal yourself to a human. So what do they do when they discover that the Cullen clan have a human in their midst, in love with one of their brood? Absolutely sod all! They just stare at the wall, look at bit bored and go back to seeing how much forearm they can fit up each other.

There’s nothing in the film commendable, save maybe for Billy Burke’s long-suffering Charlie Swan, the only remotely likable character in this travesty. Seriously, after you see the endless stream of effluence he has to put up with from his vile daughter, you’ll cheer when he tries to get her to move out. You’ll want to buy him a beer when Bella’s horrific meddling in police business leads to his one and only friend getting killed. This man does not deserve that daughter. Honestly, dude, nobody would ever miss that shit-filled, troll-like, attention-seeking, cock-teasing, boy-chasing, thrill-seeking, demon, whore, slut. Just do the job and leave her in a shallow ditch in those woods. Please.

The actors can’t be bothered. The director doesn’t give two shits about anything on screen. The writer isn’t being paid enough to make Stephanie Meyer’s eye-searingly bad source material work on screen. The special effects team knocked off early for lunch. And you know what? The morons who actually think this is good are going to love it. It’s porn for prepubescent girls too afraid to go online and look at penises. And it’s the funniest film you’ll ever see… until the devil finishes work on the next film. Watch it with like-minded people and get some beers in. Move over, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, New Moon is the best worst film ever made.

1 star (5 stars)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Review

A film by near-legendary filmmaker Terry Gilliam is a lot like eating out at an expensive restaurant – it doesn’t happen as often as you’d like and when it does you want to savour every exquisite moment.

Happily, this is one of those times where it’s absolutely well worth the wait and by the time the credits roll, you’ll be glad Gilliam stuck with the film through all the troubles on set – the death of star Heath Ledger, the death of producer William Vince and Gilliam himself breaking his back in a traffic accident. It really is a film that struggled against all the odds just to get made – and that makes this even more special.

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is in a bind. He’s a gambling addict with one huge problem – the man he keeps making bets with is none other than Mr Nick, the devil himself (the sublime Tom Waits), and now he has come to collect the fee for his latest gambit – Parnassus’ own daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole). However, the devil decides to up the stakes one last time: if Parnassus can win over five souls through the Imaginarium before the devil can claim them, she can go free.

Complicating this task are the members of the Imaginarium’s travelling troupe – dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer) is becoming frustrated with Parnassus’ heavy drinking, while Valentina is blind to affections of sleight-of-hand expert Anton (Andrew Garfield). Adding to this is the sudden arrival of amnesiac assault victim Tony (Heath Ledger), a man who may or may not decide the fate of the entire group.

It would be foolish to say that Ledger’s performance is as remarkable or as incredible as his portrayal of the Joker. Instead, it is simply as enjoyable as all the other characters on screen, each one as deep, as complex and beautifully drawn as most whole protagonists and all deserving of their own film. It is disappointing to note that the only three scenes Ledger did not get to finish are the most important three his character has in the film. Thankfully the always reliable Johnny Depp, the wonderful Colin Farrell and the passable Jude Law step in, adding another dimension onto Tony’s fractured character.

Like going through the Imaginarium’s door, delving beneath the surface of the film reveals far more than what at first seems so straightforward. Parnassus is a representation of Gilliam, a man desperate to tell the world amazing stories, while Mr Nick is the Hollywood studios – constantly interfering and influencing the tales in a different way. It’s an ensemble piece of the greatest variety; the titular Imaginarium – a horse-drawn double-decker carriage – is possibly the closest thing to a protagonist, a storyteller in a world that simply doesn’t care for its own imagination anymore.

Add to this some of the most incredible CGI visuals in recent cinema history and a film so heaving with imagination it’s in danger of collapsing under the weight of its scope. The only real criticism to be made is that the final twenty minutes feel slightly dragged out, as if Gilliam couldn’t bear to finish a film that cost two and a half people to make.

Wonderful, spellbinding, intoxicating. Take a dip in Gilliam’s mind once more, but be warned – this time you might not want to come out.

5 stars