THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS: Heath Ledger is the draw here (it’s his last movie) but Terry Gilliam’s visual trips are what you’ll remember. At times they’re like the comic montages he used to create for Monty Python. Sometimes they’re giant expansive vistas, sometimes intimate fairy tale sets, all created in a studio here in Vancouver. They’re on the other side of a magic mirror that’s the centerpiece of a rundown travelling show led by Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). He’s immortal but shows no gift for showmanship. Heath joins up, starts hyping the trippy mirror and brings in the customers. In real life, though, he died and three pals filled in. So whenever Heath leads anybody through the mirror, Johnny Depp, Jude Law or Colin Farrell become him on the other side. It works remarkably well, although you can’t help thinking what Ledger would have been able to do had he lived, especially in the climactic sequence staged in the Orpheum Theatre where the truth about his character comes out. There’s also a secondary plot about the devil trying to collect an old debt. Tom Waits is terrific in the role and upstages everyone else when he’s on screen. The film is unfocussed and somewhat scattered but quite fun. (Tinseltown and three Cineplex theatres). 3 out of 5



SHERLOCK HOLMES: The legendary detective is both updated and dumbed down in this new version. The familiar old hats and quaint language of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett are gone, replaced by a much speeded-up Sherlock for today. Robert Downey Jr. plays him as a streetwise eccentric and a bare-knuckle fighter. He’s still a whiz at deduction but like everything else in this film it all now happens so fast that it’s hard to get involved in how his mind works. Some nice bantering dialogue between him and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is edited so tightly that it sounds like they’re talking over each other. The story about an occult conspiracy against the British government is also remote. The film is entertaining but you have to like chase scenes and action set pieces. One plays out on the girders of the unfinished tower bridge; another in an abattoir, where Rachel McAdams, in a clever variation on an old theme, is being pulled towards a giant saw. The real stars here may be the designers and crew who’ve crafted a marvelous vision of London of 130 years ago. (At 8 Cineplex theatres)  3 1/2out of 5



THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD: Not quite, but in Copenhagen this month they did manage to embarrass Canada. They issued a fake press release about our climate change plans. For a while the world press believed it. That’s how Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno go about mocking governments and corporations for their failures. This is the second movie about their stunts and includes their greatest. Five years ago they told BBC-TV, and therefore the world, that Dow Chemical was finally taking responsibility for the gas-leak that killed 10,000 people (maybe as many as 25,000) in Bhopal, India. The company’s stock took a $2 billion hit before the hoax was exposed. This film shows every detail of how they managed to pull it off. There are several others too, including a tasteless one at an oil conference in Calgary. They were briefly arrested for trespassing over that one. Their exploits are funny (if you endorse their take on the issues) although there’s a nagging unease. After all, their central tactic is to spread false news. They plan to take on the Alberta tar sands sometime soon. (Starts Jan. 4 at the VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5  


Also playing …

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAQUEL: There are so many really good childrens films these days and yet parents take their kids to stuff like this. The original made oodles of money. This follow-up has more of the cute factor, more flatulence jokes and for the more sophisticated of the toddlers allusions to other movies (like that fava beans and chianti reference). The squeaky trio finds both competition and a stirring of love interest in a rival group called The Chipettes. Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate provide the voices. I haven’t seen it but The Washington Post raved that this film “isn't entirely awful.” (Playing at 12 theatres around the lower mainland including Tinseltown and Oakridge).
 
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