WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 47

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 47th WWW:

1) The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor:
Twice was enough for this franchise, and I didn't even mind The Scorpion King prequel. But still, they went to the well a third time and, rather than repeat themselves with the same mummy, tried for a different story about a resurrected Chinese emperor, played by Jet Li. The tale of his character is not a bad one, as he conquers and gains power and ultimately seeks immortality with the help of a witch(Michelle Yeoh) who ends up cursing him when he kills her lover and his general in a fit of jealousy. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes, this isn't a bad movie, just radically different from its predecessors. So it becomes an odd hybrid when Brendan Fraser shows up again as Rick O'Connell, a dashing adventurer/explorer in the tradition of Indiana Jones. And though I was prepared for the recasting of his wife Evy, I still struggled with Maria Bello as she put on an accent and did her best impersonation of Rachel Weisz. I like Bello, but she's not an actress of the same caliber as Weisz. And it was very jarring to go from a serious Eastern mythology to Western humor about a married couple bored now that their life of adventure is behind them and their son is supposedly off at college. Alex, now grown-up and played by Luke Ford, has followed in his parents' footsteps. Instead of being at school, he's in China on a dig, and has unearthed the emperor's undead remains. When his parents show up on a coincidental errand, they end up being forced to reanimate the emperor, and now must join forces with Yeoh and her daughter to stop him from raising his army. John Hannah also returns as Evy's brother and the comic relief, now operating a bar in China named after the first mummy they defeated. Motivated by possible personal gain as well as helping his family, he goes along for the adventure, but it took some time for me to adjust to his character after seeing a very different side of Hannah in the 10 or so episodes I've seen of Spartacus so far. It's funny; I had the opposite problem when I first started watching that show and couldn't take him seriously. At any rate, pursuit of the dragon emperor leads to snow covered mountains, and assistance comes in the form of computer-generated yetis. Yeah, I know. It's best to just move on. In the end, it all wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, probably due to my low expectations going in, but it definitely wasn't as good as the first two. There are a lot of tongue-in-cheek acknowledgments that this is just another movie to make more money off the franchise. Rick defends his son's criticism that he's only defeated one mummy, spitting out, “Same Mummy....TWICE!” And Evy, reading from books she's written inspired by their adventures, tells her fans that the heroine in the previous stories is a “completely different person”. Yeah, no kidding. It was also hard to buy Ford as their son, as he only looked a few years younger than Fraser. Still, it was a good popcorn flick for what it was, and I'm more forgiving with a rental than I would be if I saw it in the theater.

2) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus:
As a storyteller, Terry Gilliam has a history of wandering about down different paths, with a cohesive plot lost as the focus shifts to the surreal environments and characters he's making. Here, he achieves a nice balance between the story and the visuals, and everything makes sense at the end of the ride. Christopher Plummer is the titular Parnassus, a former monk who has fallen far after repeatedly losing bets to the devil(Tom Waits). Parnassus was granted immortality, and travels with a small theater troupe consisting of the dwarf Percy(an enjoyably sarcastic Verne Troyer), a street boy named Anton that he rescued(Andrew Garfield), and his almost 16-year-old daughter Valentina(Lily Cole), whom he affectionately refers to as “Scrumpy”. They travel in a wagon with a false mirror that, through Parnassus' power, has the ability to transport anyone into a realm of his or her imagination. There, an individual is presented with a choice, moral high ground or the self-destructive path of giving in to the devil's temptations. Anton is in love with Val, but unknown to either of them, Parnassus really is over 1,000 years old and, thanks to the last bet he lost, the devil is entitled to claim any of his children at the age of 16. Desperate, he gives in to another wager, that if he can find five good souls in his mirror before the devil claims five corrupt ones, Val will live free. As the troupe travels in their wagon, they happen upon a mysterious man hanging under a bridge, and rescue him. Played by the late Heath Ledger in his final screen appearance, we're never quite sure of what to make of the amnesiac Tony until the final moments of the film. He helps the troupe, and in doing so helps Parnassus get closer to winning his bet and saving his daughter. But he also acts as a threat to Anton where Val is concerned, and he seems tempted by Parnassus' powers. When Tony finally does cross through the mirror tot he Imaginarium, Gilliam is able to explain the absence of Ledger, who died during filming, by having different actors portray different facets of Tony. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell all stepped up to honor their friend and see his final film finished, with Depp being the strongest of the three. It worked out pretty well, and the Tony character was really the fulcrum on which the fate of everyone else rested. Would Val and Anton ever escape to have a life together? Would Parnassus ever best the devil? Given a choice, is man more likely to give in to greed and the temptation of the easy road, or take a more difficult path? This movie goes to some very dark places and some very bright ones, and offers complex characters, some of which keep us guessing right until the very end. Though definitely an ensemble effort, the end titles credit the film as being from “Heath Ledger and Friends”, in recognition of his contribution and the world's loss. And it left me wondering what choice I'd face if I ever stepped through a magic mirror.

3) Sherlock Holmes:
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law play the legendary duo of Holmes and Watson like a buddy cop action comedy, and a good time is had by all. I think part of the reason RDJ is enjoying a career resurgence right now is because he's clearly having fun immersing himself in whatever character he plays, whether it be Tony Stark or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective creation. Guy Ritchie makes some great stylistic choices as well, from catching the old-time grunge and grime of cobblestone London streets to his depiction of how Holmes' thinks everything through, even physical action. On more than one occasion, we're privy to his thoughts as he works out in slow motion in his mind the best way to disable a superior opponent. Seconds later, things rapidly play out exactly as he planned. We also see him employ his deductive reasoning and figure out just how an adversary(Mark Strong) accomplishes apparently supernatural feats. The real fun is in his banter with Law's Dr. Watson. Watson is engaged, and on the verge of moving out and leaving his partner-in-crimefighting behind. As best friends and brothers in emotion if not blood, Holmes is having difficulty saying goodbye, and keeps manipulating Watson to assist him one last time. There's some great verbal sparring and timing between the two. Rachel McAdams portrays the lovely Irene Adler, Holmes' one weakness, Catwoman to his Batman. The man manages to be a master of disguise and stay five steps ahead of his allies and enemies, but this woman still manages to manipulate him. Elements of Holmes definitely served as the inspiration for Batman, and this film definitely feels like Batman Begins. It's not an origin story, since we join Holmes after he's firmly established as a detective with a long history of helping the police along with his physician friend and sidekick, but it does feel like the first movie to bring the character in to the present, and teases an archenemy in a way that's surely setting up a sequel. And here I am, an adult in 2010, just as excited for the next movie as I was as a boy 25 years ago when I first read the original Doyle short stories.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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