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March DVDs!

| February 28, 2006

The Constant Gardener

There’s no denying the price of prescription drugs is out of this world. What is often overlooked is the cost to bring those drugs to the market. Sure, it may cost the pharmaceutical company pennies to make the pills it offers, but it costs upwards of half a billion to bring it to the public in the first place with research and testing. The Constant Gardener suggests a scenario where the total is much greater.

Based on the novel by John LaCarre, Gardener takes an important subject and deftly turns it into an engrossing spy thriller. Instead of a techno-thriller or psychological thriller, call it the message thriller.

The first half of the film takes place in flashback. Mild British diplomat Justin (Ralph Fiennes) tends to his plants and generally tries to stay out of the way while his activist wife Tess (Rachel Weisz) investigates a drug company’s questionable testing of a new tuberculosis drug in Africa. Naturally, she gets too close, ruffles the wrong feathers, and is killed.

The scene of their meeting, however, is one of the more improbable in recent films. After Justin gives a lecture at a university, Tess stands up in the Q&A to vehemently question the government’s role in the invasion of Iraq (a device that itself seems tacked on, as Iraq is never mentioned again). Five minutes later, they’re in bed pledging undying love. Granted, this may happen all the time to British diplomats, but I doubt it.

The second half finds Fiennes in spy mode, getting to the bottom of what really happened and who’s to blame. What’s nice about the film is that Fiennes doesn’t change. He doesn’t suddenly gain super powers or know every detail and intricacy of being a seasoned, professional spy. He relies on friends, makes clumsy attempts to use a false name, and never shoots a gun. How many thrillers would do that?

Despite one too many plot details, the film maintains is impact by not only providing a first-class story, but by making you think about that pill you’re taking.

Special features include deleted scenes, an interview with John LaCarre, and a behind-the-scenes segment.

Film: ***1/2 DVD Features: ***

The New york dolls:
All dolled up
Music Video Distributors
In the world of early ’70s glam-rock, the discussion generally revolves around Bowie and T. Rex. The red-headed stepchild that doesn’t get as much attention has always been the New York Dolls. They get credit when credit is due, but with only two studio albums, they’re not the first ones that come to mind. To most, they came across as simply the Stones in drag.

Before David Johansen morphed into lounge lizard Buster Poindexter and Johnny Thunders methed into the ground, filmmakers Bob Gruen and Nadya Beck followed the band around from 1971-73 capturing them in places like Max’s Kansas City in New York and the Whiskey A Go-Go in L.A.

While the quality of the footage ranges from ghostly to surprisingly clear and the sound mix is shoddy at best, there are some worthwhile moments. However, the huge amount of backstage footage grows tiresome quickly, and the film runs about an hour too long. Really, there’s only so much backstage buffoonery that you care to watch.

The best moment comes early with a clip of a local New York reporter Joel Siegel (now “Good Morning America”‘s resident film hack) wondering what all the fuss is about. He goes on to decry the sorry state of modern music, musing that the whole thing can only lead to violence, such as an act he’s seen by the name of Iggy Pop cutting himself onstage.

The disc features commentary tracks by Gruen, Johansen, and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, as well as complete performances of 12 songs

Film: **1/2 DVD Features: ***

Also Available. . . Deep Purple: Live In California ’72 finds the AOR behemoths playing to a crowd of 200,000 at the California Jam Festival. Guitarist Richie Blackmore nods his way though the set, until it’s time to destroy some equipment and a camera. Perhaps he knew years later the footage would be used for a DVD with sub-par video quality and decided to take action. If you’re not a Deep Purple fan, this disc isn’t going to change your mind. If you are, it won’t change yours either.

Timothy Hiatt

Category: Columns, Monthly

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