Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles seemingly came out of nowhere to make his mark on international cinema with the powerful City of God, and its nice to see that he hasnt cut himself any slack with his follow-up feature. Strong enough that it should have been held for year-end release rather than tossed away during the waning days of summer, The Constant Gardener is a gripping film that somehow manages to make its central romance even more compelling than all the attendant global intrigue. Based on the novel by John Le Carre, the film stars Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, a mild-mannered British diplomat living in Kenya with his outspoken activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). They dont seem like the most compatible match, and after Tessa is murdered, further details emerge that cast a dark spell on her fidelity and paint their marriage as a troubled one. Unfazed, Justin is nevertheless determined to solve the mystery of her death, and what he uncovers is a scandalous affair involving pharmaceutical conglomerates, low-life assassins and high-ranking British officials. With its unblinking (and accurate) examinations of the soulnessness of corporations and the grotesque manner in which the western world continues to ignore the plight of impoverished African nations (an angle it shares with Hotel Rwanda and The Interpreter), The Constant Gardener reverberates with a torn-from-the-headlines urgency. Yet whats most startling about the movie is the gale force of its love story, featuring characters so vividly brought to life (both Fiennes and Weisz are terrific) that you leave the theater with a lump in the throat to accompany the fire in the belly.
A SOUND OF THUNDER
Half the pleasure in time-travel flicks is the opportunity to engage in post-screening discussions in an attempt to straighten out the pretzel plot, but this only works when the movies internal logic makes sense (see: Back to the Future, The Terminator, Twelve Monkeys). In the case of A Sound of Thunder, its apparent that even the films creators have no idea what sort of drivel theyre spewing, thereby making a hasty retreat to the parking lot the best post-viewing option. A loose adaptation of Ray Bradburys decades-old story, this casts Ben Kingsley (atypically hamming it up in a desperate attempt to make his presence known) as a billionaire who, in the movies setting of 2055, runs an outfit that for an exorbitant price enables its clients to journey back to prehistoric times to shoot their very own dinosaur. The leader (Edward Burns) of the expedition presses the rule that nothing in the past can be changed lest it sets into motion events that could alter the course of history. Of course, something goes wrong, and soon the future world of 2005 is overrun with all manner of deadly creatures, including ones that look like baboons dipped in shellac. From the manner in which the evolutionary changes come about to the hasty (and illogical) denouement, theres very little in this Jurassic dork of a movie that works -- least of all the laughable CGI critters.
Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, whose seemingly catatonic existence receives a much-needed jolt -- not so much from the departure of his fed-up girlfriend (Julie Delpy) as from the arrival of an anonymous letter claiming that he has a son whos been kept hidden from him for the past two decades. Broken Flowers is a movie of wry humor and wry observations, yet its precisely because of Murrays approach that the film works as well as it does: Rarely has an actor conveyed so much by doing so little. Yet Murrays not working alone, thanks to the contributions of the women playing his former flames.
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN PPP1/2
The summers most unexpected surprise mixes honest sentiment and raunchy humor in a manner thats more satisfying than in just about any comparable modern comedy, including the current hit Wedding Crashers -- in fact, not since Theres Something About Mary has a movie combined these disparate elements so seamlessly. Displaying a spark of comic invention in small roles in Bewitched, Anchorman and Bruce Almighty, Steve Carell catches on fire here, playing a sympathetic character that he created with director Judd Apatow (both men are credited with the screenplay). Carell plays Andy, a man-child who sports an impressive collection of comic books and action figures (all in mint condition, of course), rides a bicycle to work every day, and never has even come close to knowing the joys of a relationship, let alone the attendant carnal pleasures. His three co-workers at the electronics store (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) make it their mission in life to hook Andy up; he eventually bumps into a few prospects, the most promising being Trish (excellent Catherine Keener), a divorcee with three kids and a flailing Internet business.
The most interesting moment in this turgid film is the revelation at the end that of the 53 Dickin Medals given to animals for bravery during World War II, 31 of them went to pigeons. That sounds like a compelling subject for a live-action documentary (March of the Pigeons?), but instead, the topic has been tossed away on a rigidly rote cartoon that features the usual mix of audience condescension, uninspired computer-animated graphics, obvious morals aimed at small children and, oh yeah, flatulence gags. Ewan McGregor, in his second 2005 tour of duty in a mediocre cartoon (following last springs Robots), provides the voice for the title character, an undersized pigeon who gets to prove his mettle by delivering important messages as part of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service.
THE BROTHERS GRIMM P
Theres still enough summertime left for one more financial mega-flop to clear out movie houses and studio coffers (see also The Island and Stealth), so why not , an $80 million stinkbomb that also has the dishonor of being the seasons worst release? (Well, keep in mind that I didnt see Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.) Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python member whose peculiar brand of genius doesnt always translate comfortably to his motion picture endeavors, has concocted an overstuffed boondoggle thats miles removed from the mind-bending highs of Brazil or Twelve Monkeys. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are cast adrift as the title characters, con artists whose ability to fool the local yokels of Germany with their fabricated yarns gets put to the test once they encounter genuine monsters.
RED EYE PP1/2
Wes Craven's delight in filming the twitch of the death nerve is second only to his fetishistic tendency to focus on women in extreme peril and undergoing unspeakable torture. Yet Red Eye marks that rare occasion in which the put-upon female protagonist never seems like a helpless victim as much as a headstrong heroine just waiting for the right moment to make her move. For that, credit writers Carl Ellsworth and Dan Foos, but reserve the biggest cheer for Rachel McAdams. McAdams delivers a strong performance as Lisa Reisert, whose flight home to Miami turns into a terror trip once she discovers that the charming guy (Cillian Murphy) sitting next to her will manipulate her into helping him assassinate the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security (Jack Scalia).
Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book, Hidden Figures places Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) at the forefront, relating how she was tapped for her skills as a mathematician to help NASA’s Space Task Group (headed by Kevin Costner’s tough but fair director) crunch the numbers needed to successfully send astronaut John Glenn (winningly played by Glen Powell) into space and have him safely return to Earth.