I’d love to have been in the studio executives office to hear the pitch for Bubble Boy: “Okay so basically Jake Gyllenhaal is this kid who lives in a plastic bubble, he’s on a road trip and there’s also a travelling freak show owned by Mini Me from Austin Powers, a singing cult led by Fabio, Asian mud wrestling, twin incontinent geriatric pilots named Pippy and Pappy, a motorcycle gang headed up by Danny Trejo, an Indian who drives a food truck serving ‘Ice cream… and curry’” …if I were the exec in charge I’d have no choice but to green light the thing just for the balls they had to bring it to me. Like how do you say no to all that? Real talk though, this film was actually pretty special, and I mean that sincerely. Yes, it’s this kind of surreal, John Waters-esque parade of uproarious and seemingly arbitrary commotion anchored only by Gyllenhaal’s naive, oddball hero but there’s a message sewn into all that madness too that’s actually really sweet and astute. Born without a self generated immune system, Bubble Boy is kept at home in a pristine plastic environment by his overbearing, Jesus freak mom (Swoosie Kurtz), until he falls in love with the girl next door (Marley Shelton). When she runs off with plans to marry a preening douchebag (Dave Sheridan), he constructs that amazing bubble suit and and it’s off on a bizarre cross country race to find her and fix the misunderstandings of their relationship before she gets married. Things get a little… random along the way and his mom takes hot pursuit with his dad (John Carroll Lynch, excellent) in tow. It may all seem like noise and confusion but there’s a real theme of escaping one’s own personal prison going on beneath the surface. Gyllenhaal has left his eternal quarantine and headed out into the great unknown but in a sense each character he meets is in their own bubble of sorts, stunted by belief, circumstance, past trauma or just lunacy. Trejo is terrific as the rambunctious biker who pines for his lost love and will do anything for Bubble Boy, who he considers his ‘Vato.’ The circus show and all its members (which include the varied likes of Matthew McGrory and Lester ‘Beetlejuice’ Green) are a self ostracized bunch who don’t value their own worth until put to the test. Hell, even a cross country bus ticket vendor played by Zach Galifinakis sits resolute and awkward inside his booth, perplexed at sights he observes around him and unable to engage with the world. When mom catches up to Bubble Boy just when he’s about to reach Niagara Falls and wants to yank him home, Carroll Lynch as his dad gets the subtly subversive, beautiful line of dialogue: “What if Neil Armstrong travelled all that way just to *not* walk on the moon.” This is a balls out comedy peppered with delightfully weird shit but it’s also a film about questioning one’s reality, breaking boundaries imposed by whatever system governs you and finding a place in this world, which I promise you is far more strange than anything any screenwriter could ever dream up. Absolutely great film.
Hard Cash, aka Run For The Money in some regions, is a silly piece of junk, with its low budget passport grasped firmly in hand. Every actor doing the hammy shtick, every pulp B movie cliche present and accounted for. Christian Slater seems to have peppered his career with a bunch of such flicks, and he’s front and centre here as the Robin Hood-esque leader of a buncha’ thieves. He’s a bit of a legend, and goes for one job too many, a job that lands corrupt, scheming FBI Agent Val Kilmer straight in his lap when he lifts some marked bills. Kilmer wants it only to take them down, but a giant piece of the loot for himself and basically is just a greedy bastard, while Slater wants to break even and get away with his crew. It’s okay-ish stuff, decidedly low brow but that’s the arena. Kilmer is actually really fun in a candid, often improvised take, and his description of himself when he gets to little sleep is priceless. The cast is fairly strong, with work from Bokeem Woodbine, Sara Downing, Vincent Laresca, Balthazar Getty, Daryl Hannah, William Forsythe as a nastily racist fence and the late Verne ‘Mini Me’ Troyer as Slater’s most valuable lil’ asset as he can fit in tight spaces the rest of the crew can’t. It’s breezy trash, decent enough for what it is.
Terry Gilliam films almost always feel a bit slapdash and chaotic, it’s just the guy’s calling card to have a modicum of organized mayhem filling the fringes of whatever project he delivers. With The Imaginarum Of Dr. Parnassus, that is probably the case more so than any other film he’s made, and despite letting the clutter run away with itself a bit too much, it’s still a dazzling piece. Of course, your movie will always have a disjointed undercurrent when your lead actor passes away halfway through production, but that’s just the way it goes, and Gilliam finds a fascinating solution to that issue here. Imaginarium is in many ways a companion piece, in spirit, to The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, a film he made decades earlier, both containing a sort of baroque, Da Vinci-esque splendour and sense of fantastical wonder. Christopher Plummer hides behind a gigantic Dumbledore beard as Parnassus, a magician extraordinaire who travels the land with his daughter (Lily Cole, that bodacious Botticelli bimbo) and circus troupe, including Verne ‘Mini Me’ Troyer. Years earlier he made a pact with the devil (Tom Waits, an inspired choice) using his daughter as collateral, and now Old Nick has come to reap the debt, causing quite the situation. The story is a hot mess of phantasmagoria and kaleidoscope surrealism thanks to the Imaginarium itself, a multi layered dimension-in-a-box that accompanies them on their travels. Things get complicated when they rescue dying lad Tony (Heath Ledger) who somehow ties into the tale as well. Now, this was Ledger’s very last film, its future left uncertain after his passing, but help arrived in the form of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, swooping in to play doppelgänger versions of Tony as he bounced from one plane of the imaginarium to another with Cole in tow, always one step ahead of Waits, who is a rockin’ choice to play the devil, smarming and charming in equal doses. It’s kind of a huge melting pot of images and ideas hurled into creation, but it’s a lovable one, the fun you’ll have watching it reasonably eclipses lapses in logic, plotting and pacing.