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Happy endings can be relative

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When the phone rings late at night, my initial reaction is to wonder who might have died.

Upon being asked "Can I talk to you?" I instinctively survey my surroundings and make a mental note of the exits.

And once I learn that a film like The Brothers Grimm has spent a couple years growing roots on a studio shelf, I become filled with the most petrifying sense of dread as I imagine how ghastly the movie could be.

Sure, it seems like a marriage made in Hollywood: Terry Gilliam, arguably one of contemporary cinema's most visual filmmakers, tackling a famously dark work whose fanciful imagery certainly lends itself to big-screen treatment. Throw in a couple of bankable stars (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) that have been known to ensnare the female audience, and count the minutes until the armored trucks show up.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

Damon, unfortunately falling into the foppish trap that ensnares most guys in period costume, plays Will Grimm, the ringleader of a group of charlatans who make a living roaming French-occupied Germany and fooling townspeople into believing that they're early-19th-century ghostbusters. When Will isn't duping Teutonic rubes he's browbeating his little brother Jake (Ledger, sporting a sad little beard that appears as if someone basted his jawline with maple syrup and then threw hair at him), a bookish sort who records these faux adventures in his trusty notebook.

A villainous French general (frequent Gilliam collaborator Jonathan Pryce) hears about their exploits and forces Will and Jake to investigate the disappearance of 10 little girls (including Hansel's sister and a young lady who wears a hooded crimson cape) from the town of Marbaden. The Grimm brothers are accompanied by the general's unctuous Italian minion (scenery chewer Peter Stormare, entertaining as always) and guided through an enchantingly sinister forest by Angelika (Lena Headey), a lovely fräulein who puts them on the trail of the Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci, without a doubt the fairest of them all).

There's always something to engage your eyes in Grimm, whether it's oddly hostile trees, a magical mirror, or that unpredictable boomeraxe. But Gilliam has never been lauded for his restraint, and in Grimm he seems to throw everything he's got at the screen. Occasionally it sticks (the clever evolution of an ultra-gooey gingerbread man springs to mind), sometimes it doesn't (slapstick should probably be funny), and the constant pummeling grows monotonous and ultimately cold.

Grimm is Gilliam's first theatrical release since 1998's overrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (sorry, hipsters, but movies about drugs are not automatically good), yet its delay is due more to studio politics than its quality. Gilliam's last moviemaking experience was not a pleasant one --- the spectacular implosion of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote having been documented in Lost in La Mancha --- and his battles with Dimension over budget, crew, casting (Gilliam wanted the superior Samantha Morton to play Angelika) should have been enough to sap the creative drive of any artist. Fortunately, during the time spent battling over Grimm, Gilliam shot another film, the soon-to-premiere Tideland.

But maybe you're just wondering about the requisite happy ending, since we are talking about a fairy tale. I can safely say that after nearly two hours of appalling accents, boring leads, and a needlessly complicated plot, I was very happy to see it end.

On Wednesday, September 7, at the Dryden Theatre, ImageOut will unveil the lineup for their 13th annual lesbian and gay film festival, taking place October 7-16, 2005. As part of the kickoff ImageOut and the Dryden are presenting Wild Side, a striking piece of lyrical filmmaking by Sébastien Lifshitz about family, both real and impromptu.

Stéphanie, a transsexual Parisian prostitute, returns to her childhood home in northern France after receiving word of her mother's failing health. The men in her life --- bisexual hustler Jamel and Russian immigrant Mikhail --- join her there, and the three of them form a loving triple (that's one more than a couple). The nonlinear story is told through set pieces and artfully composed shots that illustrate how these three people from diverse backgrounds came together to form their makeshift family.

The real star of Wild Side, however, is cinematographer Agnes Godard, as she is responsible for the exquisite images that draw you into the gossamer narrative. And that's Antony from Antony and the Johnsons in the opening scene, singing "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy" and making it clear why critics all over the world are consulting their thesauruses in search of new words to describe his otherworldly voice.

The Brothers Grimm (PG-13), directed by Terry Gilliam, is playing at Brockport Strand, Canandaigua Theatres, Culver Ridge Cinemas, Geneseo Theatres, Greece Ridge 12, Henrietta 18, Pittsford Cinema, Tinseltown USA, Vintage Drive-In | Wild Side (NR) screens Wednesday, September 7, in the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre, as a kickoff to the 2005 ImageOut festival. 18+ only

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