Short Takes: Daybreakers and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Ethan Hawke talks about playing a vampire

Daybreakers **1/2

When Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society, Reality Bites) was approached about playing hematologist Ed Dalton in Peter and Michael Spierig's (Undead) vampire flick Daybreakers, he wasn't interested, because it was a "genre film." But once he read the script, set in 2019, he changed his mind. "I think science fiction always has something relevant to reality," says Hawke. "It's not just futuristic. There's a metaphor there, and it's rich in texture. That's what I like about the movie." The film's old-school European sensibility comes through in its dialogue-free opening scene, which follows Dr. Dalton as he goes to work, driving a black high-tech vehicle that protects him from the sun's harmful rays.

The film's twist is this: Vampires have overtaken the world, and humans are such a minority that a crisis has ensued. The vampires are running low on blood, and Dalton is trying to find a blood substitute. But he's more sympathetic to humans than his vampire peers, particularly his money-loving, human-hating boss Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) and his human-hunting brother Frankie (Michael Dorman). So when Dalton has a chance encounter with a group of refugee humans led by a guy named Elvis (Willem Dafoe), he decides to help them out, especially since they have seemingly found a way to transform vampires back into humans. While the film's bloodbath finale doesn't entirely add something new to the genre, Hawke maintains that Daybreakers, which started filming two years ago in Australia, was ahead of the game. "That little fad caught on after we started making this movie," he says. "This is an old-school genre film. I think the movie is a tremendous amount of fun. It's not only scary, but it's also funny and thought-provoking." — Jeff Niesel

Opens Friday areawide

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus **1/2

The sensation of watching fabulist extraordinaire Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is akin to devouring an entire pound bag of M&Ms in one sitting. While you're absorbed in their chocolatey goodness, you can't stop eating them. But when the bag is finally empty, all you're left with is a massive belly ache. Or, in the case of Doctor Parnassus, a doozy of an Excedrin headache. Better known as the late Heath Ledger's final film (he died in the middle of production, necessitating a quick rewrite by Gilliam and co-writer Charles McKeown), Doctor Parnassus is a smorgasbord for the senses. The cinematography, art direction and costumes are to die for. Yet the movie never engages you on an emotional level. It's all mind-numbing spectacle with precious little substance to back up Gilliam's wacky flights of fantasy. Doctor Parnassus feels like ex-Monty Python-er Gilliam leafing through a scrapbook of his greatest hits.

The cast is certainly impressive. Besides Ledger, there's Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law (essaying multiple versions of Ledger's Candide-like Tony character), and the great Christopher Plummer as the Prospero-like Parnassus. Unfortunately, Gilliam hasn't given anyone an actual "part" to play. They're mostly just interchangeable chess pieces to be moved about at whim on Gilliam's Candyland-style set. Still, Farrell shows some sparks of individuality, and Plummer has some amusingly hambone moments that sporadically brighten things up. The shaggy-dog plot is as stitched together as everything else. Tony escapes death and helps Parnassus win a sucker's bet with the devil (slickly incarnated by Tom Waits' dapper Mr. Nick). A pair of besotted ingenues (Andrew Garfield from Boy A and the comely Lily Cole) and even a midget (ubiquitous little person Verne Troyer) are along for the ride. Of course, the real star is Gilliam, who never met an antic set piece — or a visual non sequitur — he could resist. Your tolerance for his dog-eared bag of tricks depends upon how much eye candy you can consume in two hours without retching. — Milan Paurich

Opens Friday areawide

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