Up on the A.V. Club today is another of those AVQ&As, the topic this week being “What Entertainment Did You Unfortunately Inflict on Your Parents?” It got me thinking, as two films I regrettably showed my parents (and then a third) immediately sprang to mind. As it gave me a laugh I figured I’d share.
I will never forget showing (or rather, trying to show) my parents Tank Girl. As I recounted years
what was i thinking
and years ago when Jesse and I were still doing Films of High Adventure, I saw a piece on probably Good Morning, America! or some shit about Tank Girl, wherein Lori Petty told the tale of how when she looked a the script she immediately shaved her head, went in, and screamed “I am Tank Girl!” at the casting director or whatever. I was breathless watching the clips; drooled during every preview. But I was not of age to see Rated R movies and there was no effing way my parents would take me to see Tank Girl in the theatre. But when it came to VHS I rented it.
They turned it off right after the scene where Malcolm McDowell quotes some poetry at an unimpressed Tank Girl. “No,” I remember my father saying. “No way.” My mom did not argue. She was sort of shell-shocked by what we’d watched, if memory serves, and as an adult I can’t really fault her reaction. I mean, I still love you, Tank Girl, but… damn.
I finished it the next day, on my own, as I had been completely enchanted by everything about the film. And really, I’m pretty grateful we didn’t finish it, because the sexual weirdness of watching Lori Petty and Naomi Watts getting sexy with kangaroo men was nothing I really needed to experience with my folks.
don’t get strung out
The second film I recall “unfortunately inflicting” on my parents was more of a success with them, which in some ways was far worse. I really, really wanted to go see a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show because that was what one did in the 90s in West Palm Beach, FL. My mom and dad wanted to vet the film before agreeing, and in my early teenage desperation I agreed, having really no idea what it was about, just that going to see it was supposed to be cool, and I wanted to do it. So we rented it.
Uhhhhh… yeah! So, sitting through that, with my parents, at maybe 14 years old… it was agonizing. I was mortified by the content, as any teen might be sitting on a couch next to one’s parents, watching Tim Curry strut erotically around the cheap sets in fishnets. I was perhaps more mortified, however, by the fact that my dad in particular thought the film was SUPER AMAZING. Maybe it was that he, too, used to watch crappy old scifi films at the late night double feature picture show, but he got really into it. I distinctly remember him jumping up, delighted, to put on the subwoofer and the rest of his expensive enormous mid-90s sound system to get the full effect of the music, which he thought was “a scream.” He even did a little dance, as it was during “Time Warp” I believe. Yeah… I’m re-embarrassed remembering this, even though it brings a smile to my face. Miss you, dad.
In a fit of madness, even after watching the film my parents agreed I was allowed to go to the midnight showing, where I was promptly shoved on stage by one of the handlers and forced to chant an obscene song and then eat whipped cream off of an inflatable sex doll’s breasts before the movie went on, as will happen. I remember enjoying that viewing much more, as I was surrounded by anonymous creeps and weirdos, not my parents.
Oh jeez, writing this I now remember I also went to see Interview with the Vampire in the theatre with my dad. That was hella awkward, as well, as you might imagine!
Saturday at 3 PM I’ll be paneling on “Women and Gender Roles in Dark Fiction” along with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Scott Connors, and Robert Price
Saturday at 8 PM I’ll be paneling on “Writing New Horrors” with Cody Goodfellow, Edward Morris, Jay Lake, and Andrew S. Fuller
Sunday at 3 PM I’ll be doing a reading alongside Andrew S. Fuller. I’ll likely read something from A Pretty Mouth, the title novella for my collection forthcoming this fall from Lazy Fascist.
The rest of the time I plan on being at various screenings, bars, and restaurants, along with my husband John. I’m excited about seeing The Whisperer in Darkness on the big screen, as well as a bunch of other crazy stuff such as new footage from a lost Jeffrey Combs film called of all things The Evil Clergyman.
So anyways, if you’re there, say hi! My hair is brown again, though, so don’t look for some blond lady.
Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. This week I know I talked up the film and that’s always a recipe for everyone on the internet being like “it’s not so bad! wtf?” but I don’t care. I hated this movie.
The Film: Ladyhawke (1985)
Also known as: The Movie That Broke Molly (2010)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Story by Edward Kharma (The Quaid epic Enemy Mine), screenplay by Kharma and three co-writers who boast such credits Blade Runner (David Peoples), The Hunger (Michael Thomas), and the Dragnet movie (Tom Mankiewicz). Oh, and Michael Thomas also co-wrote Molly’s favorite movie ever, Countryman, so check that out if you get the chance and remember to pass it on. Direction by Richard Donner of The Goonies fame, which could explain Molly’s allergic reaction to Ladyhawke. Painfully dated soundtrack by Alan Parsons Project alum Andrew Powell and, well, Alan Parsons, of all people. We were specifically warned about this element by Clint Harris and it still kicked our brains in the genitals, if you can imagine such a thing. Just awful. Oh, and acting by Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), Lothos from the Buffy movie (Rutger Hauer), the super-genius-turned-hermit from WarGames (John Wood), Number Two from the old Prisoner show (Leo McKern), and a rather grungy looking Doc Ock (Alfred Molina).
Quote: “This is not unlike escaping mother’s womb. God, what a memory.”
Alternate quote: “Do you know that hawks and wolves mate for life? The Bishop didn’t even leave us that. . . not even that.”
Molly’s reaction to hearing both of those lines, and most others: “What? What?! FUCK!”
First viewing by Molly: Last week.
First viewing by Jesse: Probably around seven years old.
Most recent viewing by both: Last week.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Blissfully unaware of its very existence.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. Even as a kid I think I subconsciously recognized that the concept was much cooler than the execution and so my Ladyhawke make-believe was far superior to the actual thing. I mean, when you’re seven year old Jesse I don’t know if it’s possible to get a cooler scenario than knight-in-black-armor-with-rad-sword-who-is-also-a-werewolf-and-also-is-Michelle-Pfeiffer’s-boyfriend when it comes to running around the woods stabbing trees with a stick.
(Molly Aside: I keep saying this to Jesse but he won’t fucking listen: RUTGER HAUER IS NOT A WEREWOLF. He might be a gentlemanwolf or maybe a knightwolf but he is sure as fuck not cool enough to be a werewolf.)
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: I admit I was intrigued. Several years ago a friend alleged this movie was pretty cool. I like falconry. Whatever could go wrong? OH, WAIT. EVERYTHING.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: There’s a reason I hadn’t gone back and re-watched Ladyhawke since I was a kid, and that reason is that I suspected it would not withstand the test of time. I couple of times I’d come across Ladyhawke DVDs in the bargain bin at stores retailing for $1.99 and always put it back down, thinking it best to leave this particular film as a fond memory instead of a painful contemporary viewing experience. But Molly had never seen it, and when she heard the premise there was no going back—I suspected she would hate it, but hoped the nostalgia factor would be high enough to keep me from gouging my eyes out.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Fuck. Fuck and shit. Fuck and shit and I hope everyone involved with this movie got bunions. I loathed this movie. I loathed it from the moment I heard the inexplicable and troubling musical score during the opening scene. My loathing grew when Ye Olde Matthewe Brodericke showed up onscreen. I still loathe it, a week after watching it. Jesse was not exaggerating: this movie broke me. It hurt something precious inside my heart and soul that I don’t think I’ll ever get back.
For starters, it is criminally miscast. Matthew Broderick is goddamn wretched in it—he is exactly everything I despise in a movie character (twee-ly annoying, wisecracking, cowardly, comic-relief-that-isn’t, ugh). His phony stupid accent made me want to die. His haircut made me want to break things. Michelle Pfeiffer is terrible, as well, starring as a classic MPDG, and, as I have now learned, this trope is even more repugnant when placed in a fantasy setting. And then we come to Rutger Hauer, an actor I have a distinctly love/hate relationship with: I love him as the creepy vampire Lothos in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and I fucking hate him as I do everyone/everything that was involved with Flesh and Blood, a movie that is definitely another candidate for Most Hated Film in The Book of Tanzer. Let me just say this: I don’t mind adventure-movie dudes who are, you know, slightly less ‘roid-raged out than Conan. I mean, honestly, the standard of all adventure-movie dreamboats for me is Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, dirtstache and being unable to actually fight the badguy at the end and all. I only mention this because I don’t want to be taken amiss if I say that Rutger Hauer’s character Etienne Navarre in Ladyhawke is such a god damn do-nothing wusspot boring piece of garbage that he makes Bow from She-Ra look hard. Jesus. What the fuck is he even doing in this movie?! Fuck, fuck, FUCK! I mean, OK seriously, seriously, when his fucking trueloveomgforeverz girlfriend—the titular and inexplicably old-timey extra e-ed Ladyhawke—is wounded by an arrow and needs medical attention, what does our brave knight errant Navarre do? OH SHIT. Well, fuck, instead of taking her for some first aid himself, he decides, for no reason whatsoever, to send her away with his coward dipshit sorta-squire Matthew Fucking Broderick. Really? How fucking noble! I’m sure she appreciated it! I’m sure she understood that he was just too goddamn busy hanging out in a field or something! And also! His character can’t fight good unless he has his dad’s sword! Call me crazy, but I’m really more awed by heroes who can pick up just about anything and kick ass—I’m not sure who Navarre’s swordmaster was, but he seriously dropped the ball.
And that’s just the casting—the plot sucks so hard I think all the trees around Jesse’s apartment are now permanently angled toward his windows. Fuck. NOTHING HAPPENS. I was so disengaged while watching this movie that it never even occurred to me that Navarre was disappearing at night and turning into a wolf (wolfe?)—when we see Ladyhawke (who has a name but I’m not going to look it up because I don’t care and I remember it sounding stupid) kinda petting the black German Shepard they cast as a wolf I just thought she had a way with animals cuz she’s the ladyhawke, after all. Nope, it turns out he’s cursed, too. So, OK. Whatevs? Gawd.
So here is the plot, for the record: Matthew Broderick (AKA “the mouse”) is a crappy thief who escapes from Azkaban, but he’s being pursued by an Evil Abbot (what other kind of religious figure is there in a fantasy movie, other than an affable drunken priest? Don’t worry, he shows up laterz). The Evil Abbot is sorta-kinda in charge of Azkaban and wants Broderick back because otherwise. . . uh. . . other people? Will try to escape? Or something? But things become even more “complicated” when Broderick falls in with Hauer/Ladyhawke because it turns out that Hauer/Ladyhawke are. . . both, uh, under a spell. . . that the Evil Abbot put on them? With the help of (really!) the devil. The spell is that she is a hawke in the day and he is a wolfe at night. For the middle part of the movie Broderick/Hauer/Ladyhawke run around for a while doing absolutely nothing, and then Ladyhawke is injured and they take her to the Drunken Affable Priest who has decided that there’s a way to break the curse when. . . an eclipse happens? Because it’s a day without a night and a night without a day? FUCK AND SHIT. So they go to confront the Evil Abbot, and fucking Hauer tells fucking Drunken Affable Priest to straight-up murder Ladyhawke if he fails to slay the Evil Abbot. This is, of course, the best part of the film, because ol’ Ladyhawke definitely never really mentions she’d rather die than live without Hauer’s milquetoast bargain-basement wannabe-Lancelot angst-filled bullshit; in fact, she seems to think that Broderick’s character is pretty OK and I’m guessing she would prefer to live a long and happy—if nocturnal—life together if Hauer got iced, instead of, you know, being murdered and stuff. But oh fucking noes Hauer can’t fight anyone adequately because Broderick lost his special sword in a ridiculous icy-lake scene I’ve forgotten, but it turns out that OH SHIT the sword is actually still around because Broderick just. . . hid it? Instead of giving it back? For no reason? So, using the ol’ fantasy-movie “I’m wearing a robe and thus no one notices I’m not really a priest” trick he retrieves the sword. . . from under their cart. . . and throws it to Hauer, who then throws it through the abbot’s chest because that’s all he can do as a hero and everything is OK because Ladyhawke turned back into a Lady instead of a Ladyhawke during the eclipse and she and Hauer kinda spin each other around and it’s OK! THE END! EVEN THOUGH ALL THE OTHER PRIESTS ARE HANGING AROUND JUST SORTA STARING AT THE PEOPLE WHO MURDERED THEIR ABBOT AND YOU THINK THEY’D BE PISSED! But they’re not! And also everyone kisses and touches Matthew Broderick on the face and it’s weird and uncomfortable to see Broderick and Hauer having A Moment Between Men while Ladyhawke looks on all like wheeeeeee my boyfriend told a priest to murder me but it’s OK because he’s handsome (?) and I’m not a bird!
I hated this movie.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: As it turns out the nostalgia factor was high enough to keep me from gouging my eyes out. My ears, however, were not so lucky—whoever thought fusing Gregorian chants with an Alan Parsons jam session should be publically flogged. That said, the movie itself was, while decidedly not good, really not so bad. In all fairness, I was paying more attention to Molly’s reactions than to the movie itself because it was far more interesting but the snatches I caught of the film between Molly’s outbursts looked like they were shot on location, which is cool, and Alfred Molina was looking all kinds of skeezy, which is also cool. Plus I think Kintaro Miura modeled young Gatsu’s armor on Rutger Hauer’s, which is maybe a point in its favor. Maybe?
Ladyhawke apparently has a large cult following, which makes less sense than the actual movie itself. It’s way too tame to appeal to the flesh and blood/Flesh and Blood audience, and seemingly way too fucked to appeal to a more romantic crowd—as Molly pointed out, the scene where Hauer orders Number Two to murder Ladyhawke if Hauer’s quest fails is downright creepy. Nice romantic lead you got there.
So the dialogue was spotty, the plot nonsensical, the motivations baffling/nonexistent, the soundtrack dreadful, the pacing slow, the action boring, and the overall tone dull. . . big deal. I’ve seen worse; I’ve seen a lot worse. And really, witnessing Molly’s suffering was both a hoot and a holler, as they used to say back in Pennsyltucky—though it did stretch a two hour movie into a four hour one as Molly kept pausing the film to scream at the television. Trust me, the diatribe above is positively restrained compared to the IRL meltdown this movie brought on. So while I agree with all of her points, I must say that re-watching it was a helluva lot of fun. Now, if I’d watched it by myself I might have a different opinion but this project is all about the experience of viewing it together.
High Points: None at all, according to Molly. Jesse liked the sets and filming locations, and Hauer’s sweet double-action crossbow.
Low Points: Every element of the film, according to Molly. Jesse would like to single out the music. The music, oh the music. For example, check out the opening credits, where the first minute or so is strictly whatevs but by minute two yours ears will be rupturing:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70_3pFmlpKE
Would you send a thief to guard your treasure?
Final Verdict: A split! Jesse says he’s seen far worse and the movie is made of flesh and spirit, whereas Molly says it is made of pure sorrow (actually, I said “pure shit” but apparently Jesse’s on a cussing diet).
Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” fantasy movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. We’ll be posting one every Friday. . . at least, that’s the goal.
hoist and spread, both of you!
The Film: Conan the Barbarian (1982)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS???: Robert E. Howard source material, script by Oliver Stone and John Milius, directed by John Milius (Red Dawn), score by Basil Poledouris, acting by James Earl Jones and Mako, hackting by Arnold and Sandahl Bergman
First viewing by Jesse: ?
First viewing by Molly: A couple of weeks ago
Most recent viewing by both: A couple of weeks ago
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. Released the year of my birth, which has to mean something.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Negligible. Aware it existed, not much else. I’d read some of Howard’s short stories, never saw the film.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: The majority of movies watched in one’s youth cannot live up to the false memories of awesomeness we imbue them with, especially films made in the 80s. Not so with Conan. The prospect of re-watching this quintessential barbarian epic filled me with equal parts joy and horror—joy to again watch such an amazing film, and horror because I knew exposing Molly to the movie would result in her joining the cult of Cimmeria. . . and insisting we watch those other Howard adaptations of the 80s, Red Sonja and Conan the Destroyer. No matter. A strong man does not fear such things as pain, even when said pain is pretty goddamn severe.
I actually came to Conan the Barbarian a little later in my development than some of the movies we’ll be covering here, but I made up for lost time by going on a huge Conan kick in high school thanks to my friend Jimmy. In true snob fashion I eschewed the L. Sprague de Camp stuff and went for pure Howard with most favorable results. I wrote an article for the school paper titled “Why Conan is Better Than You” and in my senior year created and successfully snuck into the final product a yearbook page for Conan—I’ll see if I can’t dig it out and scan it at some point in the future.
Being older and presumably a little wiser, I went into the re-watch both anticipating good action movie times expecting to possibly cringe a bit, both at the movie and my own youthful fondness for such a testosterone-dripping, beefcake picture.
Molly’s thoughts prior to initial viewing: I had heard the soundtrack a few times during various role playing games (hell yeah, I’m awesome), and I had seen the first 45 minutes or so of the film, I think up until the scene where Conan and Valeria start doing it and being all rich and stuff after their heist. I remember being impressed with the opening sequence with James Earl Jones rolling up on the village and just being a total piece of shit with the best weave in the ancient world, but not much else. I don’t think I was in the right state of mind. For years I said I’d finish it, especially when Jesse and I watched some Russian movie called, I think, Grey Wolf of the Clan of the Greyhound Wolves, which just doesn’t even pretend to do anything other than plagiarize the Conan-as-a-kid-watching-his-parents-die verbatim, but it was never the right time. Then the other night, it was The Time. I asked Jesse if we could just real quick re-watch Conan’s mom get iced, he obliged. . . then beauty began. We watched it the whole way through, occasionally whooping with admiration and high-fiving one another like two nerds who’ve lost their old role-playing group. . . wait.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: HOLY SHIT THAT MOVIE IS EVEN BETTER THAN I REMEMBERED. By Crom’s mullet, I was a fool to ever doubt this movie in any way. Wildly offensive, dumb as a sack of warhammers, and beautiful, beautiful beyond words. This holds up perhaps better than any other childhood fantasy movie, with elements from disparate Howard stories and mythoi all jumbled together into the quintessential barbarian movie.
Highlights: Mako’s voiceover at the beginning. The soundtrack. Any time James Earl Jones opens his mouth—any time. The fierce look on Arnold’s face as/immediately after he kills some random goon. The Wheel of Pain! The Tree of Woe! James Earl Jones’ Spinal Tap refugee sidekicks! Conan reminiscing about picking berries as a child with his father!!! FUCK YES!!!!! Hell, this even got me excited to watch Red Sonja and Destroyer again.
a few years ago, they were just another snake cult
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: God damn! God damn! What the fuck was wrong with me that I didn’t immediately love this film? I am, at this point, completely convinced that if Jesus truly reigns in Heaven, He is pissed as hell that Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t play Him as a sword-wielding savior in The Passion of the Christ, laying waste to the Pharisees and shit. Barring that, I’m certain He is mad that they didn’t at least get Basil Poledouris to do the score, because there is nothing better than the Conan score.
So here is the long and short of it: this movie is awesome. Mako’s voice-overs are fucking spectacular (“HE WAS BRED TO THE FINEST STOCK.” Who wrote that line and thought it was OK? SOMEONE AWESOME), and just the overall scriptwriting is amazing. I actually got a little emotional when they’re burning Valeria’s funeral pyre and Subotai says the line about weeping for Conan because Conan will not weep. I also loved the non-Western aesthetic of everything, even if it is questionably racist at times. The sheer size of the swords alone was fantastic, especially after that twee bullshit that was Narsil/Anduril in The Lord of the Rings movies. FUCK YES. Eat it, elves.
Also, just to class up this review, holy fuck, gender in this movie! Is actually pretty awesome! Mostly. The sex-witch. . .whatever, and I know one could chalk up Conan’s mom’s sword-wielding as maternal devotion, but it’s still bad as fuck. Additionally, Valeria. Though Sandahl Bergman’s acting leaves something to be desired (that “something” is quality) it doesn’t matter, because she is so awesome! She doesn’t do anything but kick ass and have sex with hot dudes and steal shit and call bullshit on hare-brained Conan schemes. Then when she comes back to help out and stuff, during the orgy scene. . . okay. When she fell behind Conan and Subotai I fully expected some bullshit where she’s captured and they have to come back and save her, but NO OMG SHE TOTALLY FUCKING SAVES HERSELF and then is taken down by the ultimate cheap shot that is James Earl Jones magicking a snake into an arrow and shooting her. And then comes back as a valkyrie, grinning cuz she just saved Conan’s sorry ass. I mean, “sorry ass” in the sense that he and two other dudes just took down an army of goons, but still.
Well, at any rate, I loved it. I’m going to re-watch it again soon, probably. The gloriousness cannot rest after a single viewing. I’ve been quoting it at people in the most tiresome manner for days now, especially the scene Jesse already commented on where Conan goes all Robert Bly on Subotai and talks about his dad and stuff, and also I am half-considering getting the runes from Conan’s sword tattooed down my arm, for shits and giggles. We’ll see.
Final verdict: a big old FUCK YES from the both of us.
. . . is a movie. That I watched. It’s an old Hammer Horror film from 1971, and it was awesome. Really. I mean it.
In this version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a passionate young man who wants to cure every disease (okay), but when some older friend/professor/doctor person reminds him that such a task would take far longer than a normal man’s lifespan, Dr. Jekyll becomes obsessed with cheating death. In his search for the Elixir of Life, he begins investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties. I believe in order to explain the “huh?” moment surely every single reasonable person must have when hearing the phrase “investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties,” Dr. Jekyll poses a question along the lines of “what is it that gives a woman’s face that extraordinary bloom, the softness of her hair?” which, you know, is probably a good theory, and explains his scientific reasoning thoroughly.
But the problem for the good doctor is, of course, how to get those pesky hormones. At first he cuts glands and stuff out of bodies from the morgue, which is pretty cool because the guy with giant sideburns and a top hat who works at the morgue (coroner? gravedigger? WHO KNOWS?) gets to make some classy necrophilia jokes.
Alas, there just aren’t enough dead ladies for Dr. Jekyll, so he’s forced into doing business with the body-procurers Burke and Hare, who apparently travelled from Edinburgh to London, and through time as well, to supply him with the goods. When they’re caught (Burke is hung, Hare is thrown in to a lime pit, which dissolves his eyeballs) Dr. Jekyll has only one recourse, which is to become Jack the Ripper and start murdering prostitutes to get their hormones, which is a medical process involving a big shiny knife, just so you know.
But that, ah, plot is not the only fine thing about this film, oh no. Instead of creating the Elixir of Life, it turns out that the Ecto Cooler-hued substance Dr. Jekyll has distilled from cut up ladyparts is actually a means of changing a man into a woman, with titties, and yes, you get to see them. It also extends the life of a fly (after turning it from a male into a female) but the movie never really goes back to that particular plot point, instead choosing to focus on Dr. Jekyll turning into a woman– an evil woman, natch— and committing the murders as her, since everyone who’s out looking for the Whitechapel murderer is looking for a man.
Meanwhile, the nice family living upstairs is starting to worry about the workaholic Dr. Jekyll. The family consists of a matronly widow and her two adult children, a comely young lady of quality and her coxcomb brother. The girl falls hard for Dr. Jekyll for no reason other than he seems to be the only man she sees around apart from her horrifying brother, and she gets all plucky and stuff, bringing Dr. Jekyll dinner and looking mad when he won’t pay attention to her. Then the horrifying brother mentioned above sees Mrs. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll’s sister, as Jekyll hastens to explain) and is captivated by her, possibly because the first time he sees her she’s doing the maneuver illustrated on the left, though her hand isn’t in front of the goods, and the second time he sees her, I swear to god, after realizing she lacks proper woman’s clothes, she wraps a scarlet curtain around her body like a Greek goddess and sort of slinks about evilly while making bedroom eyes at everyone she sees, including herself, in the mirror.
Gender-bending high jinks ensue, especially when Mrs. Hyde starts taking over Dr. Jekyll’s body even when he’s a man, including a hilarious scene (outside a corsetry shop, again, natch) where Dr. Jekyll reaches for the brother’s face and whispers his name passionately. YEAH! Then it all culminates in a supremely lackluster chase sequence and a simply awful final effect. But up until the last 10 minutes, it’s a really weird cool little movie. I recommend it heartily, if you can find it, and I’m sure it implies a lot about topics that I’m not going to talk about right now because after 7 months in Boulder, I finally bought some homeopathic medicine (Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy) for my stress issues, and it’s actually working. So basically I’m feeling too relaxed to really engage with the fact that of course the split personality is a lady and she is evil and she is sexual and it emasculates Dr. Jekyll to have a stronger woman be a part of him and this probably says something about gender attitudes. Usually I’m all over that stuff, but not now.
I agree mostly with Nick Mamatas’ review of Doctor Parnassus but I’d like to do some of my own raking-over-the-coals because I just wasted a buy one, get one free pass to see it. Actually, scratch that– I didn’t waste a buy one, get one free pass, because this way, Terry Gilliam, who I was already loath to fund out-of-pocket because he signed the Free Roman Polanski petition of ’09, got less of my money.
Well, whatevs. The whole thing is essentially a carnival redux of Lady in the Water, in that Lady in the Water was a pointless, onanistic allegory about how misunderstood– nay, how veritably Christ-like– M. Night Shyamalan is for making movies as brilliant as Signs and, uh, The Village. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is basically the same movie even down to its hilarious racist stereotypes, except that it was vastly more boring, and also it casts Christopher Plummer as Terry Gilliam instead of Gilliam playing himself, which I suppose is a level of allegory-hiding I should appreciate since such, ah, nuance wasn’t deemed acceptable by Shyamalan.
The movie as a whole was bloated beyond excusability, coming in at 122 minutes according to the IMDB, and saying the film had 90 minutes of adequate material would be a stretch. There was not a single scene that couldn’t stand trimming, most notably anything involving CGI, because damn, even such films as Dragon Wars: D-War and Van Helsing looked better, if memory serves. There is a scene featuring a CGI Tom Waits as a sort of naga-ish thing that looked barely passable enough to be a villain in Charmed, and there is a scene featuring a CGI Christopher Plummer that would’ve been better-looking if they had gotten the animators from Monty Python to just draw the damn thing and just stuck it in there without rendering it. Jesus.
Moving from general problems to more specific ones: well, since I already mentioned the fact that Gilliam signed the Roman Polanski petition, let’s just say I was reminded unhappily of last summer’s traumatizing news cycle when shortly into the film the young-looking heroine proclaims loudly that she’s “16: THE AGE OF CONSENT” (direct quote). Awesome! Actually, best part is that as far as I could tell she was actually turning 16: THE AGE OF CONSENT, which would make her only 15, slightly under THE AGE OF CONSENT for most of the film, but that doesn’t stop Heath Ledger and Andrew Garfield leering over her.
So, that. And also: midget jokes, jokes about “politically correct” terminology for midgets, racist stereotypes of Russians, a midget in blackface, sexist stereotypes of women (what do women want? SHOES; also, to be home-makers), midgets cracking wise, a white dude playing an “Eastern” (?) sage, midgets making midget jokes, the age-old hilarity that is a man in a woman’s dress (a fat woman, no less!) and some incredibly subtle political commentary when a bunch of police officers roll up in miniskirts, fishnets, and high heels singing and dancing about how the racist Russian stereotypes should “join the police, [they] love violence.” Good fucking times.
On top of that, there’s an even weirder moment when the just-deflowered-by-Colin-Farrell-on-her-16th-birthday heroine proclaims angstily that “it’s a child, not a choice!” when looking at some sort of orphan. WTF? Was that a joke, or is Terry Gilliam sincerely a member of the pro-life movement? Neither option is particularly appealing, frankly.
What this all boils down to is that the film falls epically flat for a number of reasons. One, Gilliam spectacularly failed to make me care about any of the characters, thus why would I be invested in the deal-with-the-devil, the sacrifice of the shrill daughter, the romantic outcome? Two, the entire allegory of “a lovely man with such wonderful visions is tragically ignored by the masses because they just don’t appreciate what he has to offer” made my teeth hurt because Gilliam deserves pretty much every single piece of negative criticism he’s received regarding this film and much of everything else he’s done (my intelligence is still kind of hurt after the insults Gilliam hurled at it during The Brothers Grimm). And, given his uneven track record, he also kind of deserves to have studio executives be wary of giving him millions of dollars to make movies like, oh, say, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS because he has shown himself to be completely willing to blow fat wads of cash doing things like hiring Robin Williams to ruin The Adventures of Baron Munchasusen which was otherwise a perfectly lovely little confection of a film as far as I recall.
I really think Gilliam needs to wake up to the fact that racist stereotypes aren’t as amusing as I imagine they were felt to be during the Monty Python years, along with but not exclusively: shrill portrayals of women, cross dressing, slapstick, Robin Williams, people with lisps, people with limps.
I also think Gilliam needs to wake up to the fact that he is completely brilliant when it comes to set design, to spectacular visuals, baroque costumes and sight gags and lavish whimsical concoctions of sparkling, ethereal beauty. Doctor Parnassus had these, but it also had no plot, wooden characters, and a host of other problems. It hurt, because I was rooting for him. I wanted to like it, and I want Gilliam to do better than this because I know he can.