Movies released today, South Africa: Letters to Doctor Parnassus

Although I'm sure all South Africans will be glued to their TV screens today to watch the opening ceremony and first game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup (which we're the first African nation to host for those who don't know), in the coming days and weeks I'm sure many locals will be seeking escape from soccer fever in the soothing darkness of the cinema.

Today, 6 new movies debut. Considering 5-week long school holidays have kicked off you may want to amuse the kids for a few hours with this year's Garfield, family film Marmaduke, based on the decades old Great Dane comic strip (11% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). For older audiences, meanwhile, there's District 13: Ultimatum (73% Fresh) a French action thriller from writer-producer Luc (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, Taken) Besson; British drama Endgame (83% Fresh), focusing on the peace talks that finally ended Apartheid; and a filmed production of The Pharoah's Daughter, as performed by the Bolshoi Ballet.

I'm afraid that doesn't leave a particularly amazing choice for my movie picks of the week. However, if I was choosing from the new releases, my preferences would be as follows:

1) Letters to Juliet: This romantic drama chiefly made my list because it stars Amanda Seyfried, one of my favourite young actresses. And it features one of my favourite Taylor Swift songs in the trailer. Anyway, Letters to Juliet seems to be channeling The Notebook ever so slightly. The film centres on a young American woman, Sophie, who, while holidaying in Verona, Italy, joins a group of volunteers who respond to letters addressed to the town's most famous historical resident, Juliet (as in Romeo & Juliet), asking for relationship advice. When Sophie finds a letter dating back to the 1950s she takes it upon herself to help its sender, an elderly woman (Vanessa Redgrave), find her long lost love.

Letters to Juliet is 44% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That's not a fantastic score, but it still makes the film one of the better reviewed recent entries in the romance genre. Apparently Letters to Juliet is safe and predictable, but also bittersweet, beautiful looking (the film is chiefly set in the picturesque Italian countryside), and unashamedly swoony stuff. Guys, I think you'd be better off if your significant other dragged you to see this one as opposed to Sex and the City 2. At least you'd probably get laid afterwards.

2) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: It's taken 6 months for the latest Terry Gilliam fantasy film to reach us in South Africa. This said, Parnassus isn't so much known for coming from the visually imaginative director of Brazil, 12 Monkeys and Brothers Grimm (and a former Monty Python for the record). Parnassus is more famous for being the last movie Heath Ledger made before accidentally dying of a drug overdose. Ledger's death, a third of the way through filming, meant some crafty rescripting, with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepping in to play transformed versions of Ledger's character at different points in the film.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has a rather complicated plot synopsis to begin with - something to do with a traveling theatre group, headed by the title character (Christopher Plummer) who has made a bargain with the Devil. Ledger's character joins the troupe, which has the ability to guide the imaginations of contemporary London residents when they become involved in the show.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is 64% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. By the sounds of it the film is as visually stunning, dark and surreal as expected, but like most of Gilliam's films the end result is highly uneven... and not exactly the best final entry on Ledger's filmography. This said, Gilliam's work is definitely an acquired taste, so the degree to which you enjoy this one may depend on your ability to succumb to spectacle, and just appreciate the imagination that went into creating the cinematic acid trip you're witnessing.


Dante said…
Why am I so excited about marmaduke? I am a sucker for dog movies! :D
Pfangirl said…
I dunno about this one, Dante. Plus, it's a dog movie and I almost always get all soppy and teary watching dog movies, no matter how much I'm enjoying them:)

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