Who's In It:
Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer, Tom Waits, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law
The Basics: Dr. Parnassus (Plummer, wrapping himself back up the same old coot persona he wears in The Last Station as Leo Tolstoy) rolls a rickety sideshow on wheels through blasted-out modern London, inviting customers to come inside and take a mind-trip through all of their most fantastic and/or frightening dreams. Or else they're Dr. Parnassus's dreams. Or maybe they're the dreams of devil-in-waiting Tom Waits; it's never really clear. Satan Tom is waiting for Parnassus's beautiful daughter (seemingly conceived in the 1920s but only now turning 16) to come of age so he can take her soul, thanks to a foolish pact the doctor signed before her birth. Of course if his imaginarium were really that strong, you'd think he could dream-wish her away from that cruel fate. Not that it matters. This movie is about as coherent and logical as Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
What's The Deal: I don't think it's such a big heresy to say that Terry Gilliam is both a genius and an annoyingly full-of-it director who's coasting on the goodwill he earned with Brazil. This movie, when it tries to be about anything at all, is stuck in a retro-outrageous cultural radicalism that thinks it invented punk rock. He's using cutting-edge CG tech stuff but in the service of a dated set of shock tactics and Benny Hill-like comic interludes. There's even a very small man (Verne Troyer, giving the worst film performance of the year) running around delivering sarcastic asides to remind you that this is a trippy scene, man. You can tell Gilliam is excited to be set free to show you anything he wants. It's just nothing you haven't seen from him before.
Who Deserves Better: Heath Ledger, and his substitutes Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. The way the surviving three actors have been inserted into the movie is the most interesting thing about the whole setup. They give you the most emotionally affecting moments, reminding you that there actually people inhabiting this otherwise useless universe.
2009, The Year Bodies Of Water Turned Into Scary Creatures: In this movie, a river morphs into a menacing snake, my favorite moment when I wasn't busy dozing off. (Four times, by the way, a new personal best for me, surpassing the three times I fell asleep in The Legend of Bagger Vance.) In the superior Japanese animated film Ponyo, the ocean becomes an enormous school of fish. And it's the latter movie that psychedelically trumps this one. Easily.