Not New Movie Roundup II

Once again Hollywood is taking the weekend off, so it’s time to clear out the DVR and get some added value out of those screeners now that awards madness is over. The following films should be available to rent or own if you want to follow up.

Winter’s Bone

If you were wondering what this was when it showed up on the list on Wednesday, you’re right — I didn’t review it earlier. I didn’t catch it on its brief run in St. Louis but I did get around to seeing it last month and, well, better late than never.

Jennifer Lawrence gives an award-worthy performance as Ree Dolly, a young woman trying to hold her family together in the armpit of the Ozarks. Her father has jumped bail and gone missing. If he doesn’t turn himself in soon, the family will lose their home.

With a catatonic mother and two little siblings to care for, Ree must go out on her own to find pa. Unfortunately, pa was involved in the booming southern Missouri meth industry, and no one wants to help Ree discover the truth about her old man’s whereabouts.

Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, “Winter’s Bone” is stark, bleak and yet totally compelling thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. Her determination — both to finding her father and keeping her family together — make the mystery she’s trying to unravel feel more real.

The movie was shot in southern Missouri and, well, you know how some movies make you want to travel to where they were filmed because you’re so taken in by the scenery and beauty of the location? This is not that film. I’ve never been to Forsyth and I see no reason to ever go there now.

Did it work for me? Would I have put it in my Top 10 if it didn’t?

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I’m just a year behind on this one, but I’m confident I’m not the only one who wasn’t rushing out to see it opening day.

Better known as “that movie Heath Ledger was making when he died,” “Imaginarium” is the latest film by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. Gilliam was the guy responsible for all those surreal, whacked-out animated segments that ran between sketches.

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is the surreal, whacked-out tale of a  monk who makes a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) and becomes the head of a traveling theater company. I think. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.

Doc Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) and assistants Anton (Andrew Garfield) and Percy (Verne Troyer) travel the countryside with some bizarre act that usually ends with someone falling into a magic mirror at center stage. If you enter the mirror you come out the other side in a live-action version of those surreal, whacked out animated segments Gilliam used to do on Monty Python.

One night the troupe discover a man (Heath Ledger) hanging from under a bridge. They take him in and, oh hell, the plot doesn’t matter — even if it made sense. “Imaginarium” is dark, weird, wildly imaginative, gloriously incomprehensible and featuring spectacular visual effects.

You know, your standard Terry Gilliam film. Par for the course for the man who gave you “Time Bandits,” “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys.”

In addition to wonderful visuals, a fine cast help make the confusion compelling. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell step in to replace Ledger in the final scenes. The conceit they use to get around this is that Ledger’s character appears different when he’s in the mirror world. It’s the kind of think you can get away with in a Gilliam movie.

Did it work for me? Worth it for the visuals and the cast, but a bit slow and plodding. Not one of my favorites by this director.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Animated feature films usually require a large dose of Suspension of Disbelief. And for the most part, I’m cool with that.  You want me to believe that toys talk to each other and have adventures when we’re not watching? Fine. A rat gourmand turns a dork into a top chef by pulling his hair? I’ll buy that. Heck, I’ll even accept a panda bear learning kung fu.

But a sword-and-sorcery epic starring owls? To borrow from Stephen Colbert — That’s the Craziest F&*#ing Thing I’ve Ever Seen.

Now maybe — and this is a big maybe — I could get into a movie about birds wearing armor and fighting each other and going on about honor and whatnot if it was a compelling story. But “Legends of the Guardian” is so cliché and predictable that I would have hated it even if it had starred human beings. Or dogs. And I love dogs.

I don’t even want to get into it much. There are good owls and evil owls and the evil owl wears a Darth Vader mask and there are two brothers and one joins the good owls and one joins the evil owls and they have cute little siblings who are tiresome and there’s a bunch of other characters that fill out all the roles you’d expect. It’s a walking, talking, flying cavalcade of tired clichés — in feathers.

I will give the movie props for this: The animation is first-rate. If I were judging this film purely on its look, it would fare much better.

But I’m not.


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