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Review: Two Lovers, My Sister’s Keeper, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus and A Christmas Carol

By November 18, 2009August 10th, 2010No Comments

Two Lovers posterAt what point in a man’s life does he decide to become a dry clean­er? For Joaquin Phoenix’s char­ac­ter, Leonard Kraditor, in Two Lovers that day is nev­er and yet he still finds him­self to be one. He’s a sens­it­ive soul whose men­tal health issues have res­ul­ted in sev­er­al sui­cide attempts, a per­man­ent rela­tion­ship with med­ic­a­tion and a need to start again with his lov­ing par­ents in their small apart­ment in Brooklyn.

His fath­er intro­duces him to the daugh­ter of a busi­ness asso­ci­ate (Vinessa Shaw) in the hopes that a pos­it­ive rela­tion­ship might heal his son and also be a prof­it­able devel­op­ment for the dry clean­ing busi­ness. At the same time, Leonard meets and falls for the beau­ti­ful and mys­ter­i­ous upstairs neigh­bour, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, whose own rela­tion­ship with a wealthy mar­ried man is doing her no good.

Two Lovers is writ­ten and dir­ec­ted by James Gray, the icon­o­clast­ic and uncom­prom­ising inde­pend­ent film­maker respons­ible for the gritty New York dra­mas Little Odessa and last year’s We Own the Night , which also starred Phoenix. It’s a care­ful and sens­it­ive pic­ture about how so often love is about want­ing to heal and pro­tect someone – Shaw wants to heal Phoenix and he wants to heal Paltrow and none of them real­ise the extent to which they have to heal them­selves first.

Two Lovers is one the very best films of the year, open­ing invis­ibly in this coun­try and infam­ous world­wide for being Phoenix’s sup­posedly final screen per­form­ance before retir­ing to the world of hip-hop music. I com­mend it to you for the superb per­form­ances: from a Brando-like Phoenix, an unrav­el­ling Paltrow and a saintly Isabella Rossellini as the moth­er; and for a nar­rat­ive choice at the end that is so per­fect (and so unex­pec­ted) that I left the cinema very sat­is­fied indeed.

My Sister's Keeper posterA rather less sat­is­fy­ing exper­i­ence can be found at Nick CassavetesMy Sister’s Keeper, a Grade‑A tear-jerker about a fam­ily torn apart by their young­er daughter’s leuk­aemia. The biggest prob­lem here is that every dir­ect­ori­al choice seems to be telling you what to think and feel – this seemed to work on the people around me who respon­ded duti­fully with rivers of snotty tears and if you are happy to be manip­u­lated in this fash­ion then all power to you – but I felt that the film simply left no room for the audi­ence to bring any­thing of their own to the party.

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus posterTerry Gilliam’s last film Tideland was so dark that it didn’t even get a cinema release in New Zealand and his latest, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, rides into town on the notori­ety of the late Heath Ledger’s death dur­ing pro­duc­tion. Like all Gilliam it is mad and vibrant and uneven, but still enter­tain­ing. Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a drunk­en old trav­el­ling show­man, his horse-drawn show wheel­ing through mod­ern day London with assist­ance from his daugh­ter (the strangely beau­ti­ful Lily Cole), orphan jug­gler Andrew Garfield (Boy A) and right-hand little man Verne Troyer.

Parnassus is in fact the real deal – a genu­ine immor­tal who was giv­en the secret of etern­al life after strik­ing a deal with the dev­il, played with suit­able slip­pery strange­ness by the great Tom Waits. With his daugh­ter about to turn 16, the Devil turns up to claim his prize and only enig­mat­ic stranger Tony, played by Ledger (with posthum­ous help from Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell) holds the key to their salvation.

It’s all about the power of story-telling and the ima­gin­a­tion and there is no great­er example of that power on dis­play at the moment than the hand­some 3D anim­ated ver­sion of A Christmas Carol star­ring Jim Carrey. Directed by Robert Zemeckis in the motion-captured style of his Polar Express and Beowulf , this ver­sion is totally true to the Dickens’ spir­it and will be too scary for the very littlest. The anim­a­tion is strik­ing but the more real­ist­ic humans don’t always work. However it is remark­able to know that Carrey plays Scrooge (at all ages) and all the Ghosts (Christmas Past, Present and Future) and that Gary Oldman plays both Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim and that com­puters these days let you do that.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 November, 2009.

Extra thoughts: It’s sad that Nick Cassavetes is mak­ing tur­gid stuff like My Sister’s Keeper and giv­en big mar­ket­ing budgets to ensure an audi­ence when James Gray is mak­ing films that Cassavetes’ fath­er John would be proud of – and they are disappearing.