Joe's Movie Reviews

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Sound Of WHAT?

Speaking of "Oops", I just typed this entry almost in its entirety, then accidentally deleted all of it and had to start all over again. AARRGGHH!!

1. "The Constant Gardener". John LeCarre has had an up-and-down history in the movies, mostly down... his low-key spy thrillers often being jazzed up beyond all recognition. In "The Constant Gardener", the movies have gotten it right for once.

This is the story of a quiet, nondescript British diplomat who falls in love with a woman dedicated to taking dangerous chances with radical social causes. When she is killed (this happens at the very beginning of the film) while investigating some unsavory doings involving a huge pharmaceutical firm's handling of distributing AIDS drugs in Africa, he takes up the case himself, and definitely does not like what he finds.

Ralph Fiennes is one of our very best actors, capable of giving great performances even in schlock like "Red Dragon" and "The Chumscrubber", and when he has a decent script and director he can be positively riveting. He has both in this film, and creates a character of an amazing number of levels who fascinates on each one. As he grows from a quiet man who doesn't like to make trouble into a courageous crusader who has to make a great deal of it in order to bring some very bad people to justice, he makes every step of his journey believable. Freed from the chains of movies like "The Mummy Returns", Rachel Weisz is also terrific as his wife, a passionate crusader for social justice that might even make Dick Cheney sympathize with her plight. Well, okay, maybe not Cheney, but you get the idea.

Being such an accurate reflection of LeCarre's work, the film gives us a story that will disappoint those expecting the typical car chases, explosions and gadgets of, say, a Bond movie. But stay with its low-key but relentless style, and you'll find a film that slowly builds to a conclusion with far more impact than any action movie, that takes you far more deeply into the lives of its leading characters than any other commercial film in a long time, and that tells an edge-of-your-seat suspense story without ever losing track of the film's message about what a lot of multinational corporations are doing to third world countries in the name of profit. You'll remember "The Constant Gardener" long after the last ten action films you saw are nothing but faded memories.

2. "El Crimen Perfecto." A lot of people believe that comedies should be sweet and light and not deal with the dark side of human nature. Clearly, the people who made this Spanish import are not amont that number.

This is the story of the manager of the Women's Wear department of a prominent department store who dreams of being promoted to floor manager. He has only one serious rival, a number reduced to zero when a heated arguement between the two escalates into murder. But there was a single witness to the crime, and that witness begins making trouble in the life of our protaganist such that complication piles on top of complication until it seems as if another murder might be the only way out.

What's that, you say? This doesn't sound like the typical comedy premise? Well, no, it certainly isn't "typical." But it is hysterically funny for anyone who laughed at the woodchipper scene in "Fargo" and thought that the constant but futile attempts to hide a corpse in Hitchcock's "The Trouble With Harry" were the height of humor. The film manages to take the basic ingredients of classic farce and turn them on their head, resulting in a twisted version of slapstick that Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd never imagined.

It also contains not one single character who is genuinely likable, and nobody with whom most audience members will be able to identify or sympathize. This will be an insurmountable barrier for some. But the film is a warped masterpiece of dark comedy, with pitch-perfect performances. It's very difficult to create a genuinely funny and well-acted farce decades after the form reached its peak of perfection, but for those with a willingness to take a walk on the dark side to find some laughs, "El Crimen Perfecto" ("The Perfect Crime") makes it worth the trip.

3. "A Sound Of Thunder." Well, you knew they weren't ALL going to be good, didn't you? Ray Bradbury has an even more up-and-down history at the movies than John LeCarre, and this is not one for the "up" side.

In the year 2055, a time travel technique has been developed that allows travellers to journey back to the time of the dinosaurs on unique hunting expeditions. But the hunters must be very, very careful not to do anything that might disturb the fabric of time and change the "future" as a result, and even the smallest things can make major changes... as one hunting party finds out when they return to a world very different from the one they left... and the changes keep escalating to the point where their world has become a nightmare.

Okay, I grant you, the original Bradbury story was a short story that, if filmed straight, would have made at most a 30-minute short, so obviously changes and additions had to be made. But the memorable emotional impact of the original story's conclusion is extended into a boring, technically inept and badly acted attempt at ripping of "Jurassic Park" as prehistoric creatures find their way into a futuristic Chicago in their attempt to rid the world of wooden performers like Ed Burns and a slumming Ben Kingsley. When you're not laughing at the horrible acting, you're laughing at the unintentionally funny dialogue, and I can't help thinking that's not the effect the film-makers were after.

In a film-making environment were CGI can achieve startling realism for the most unlikely creatures, it's also shocking how totally unrealistic much of the film looks. The actual time travel device bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a car was, the semi-prehistoric creatures that seem to be a cross between a dinosaur and a baboon are downright embarassing, and for anyone familiar with the actual architecture of Chicago, it's bordering on hysterical to see the combination of many of the actual present-day Chicago buildings standing side-by-side with obviously phony futuristic versions thereof, the latter not the least bit convincing. Nor, for that matter, are several scenes with clearly fake backgrounds that make the old 1940's "rear projection" technique look like the height of authenticity.

Ray Bradbury has been one of my favorite writers since I was about 12. A large part of his appeal is not just in his plots, but also in the specific words he uses... his prose is often like poetry, which is certainly something difficult if not impossible to get across in a movie. But it has happened occasionally, and it's obvious that the makers of "A Sound Of Thunder" weren't even trying. They were too busy trying to create a cheesy dinosaur movie that could have been made exactly as is fifty years ago. At least in that one thing, they have succeeded.;