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Saturday, March 28, 2009

TIMECRIMES -- DVD review by porfle

When H.G. Wells wrote "The Time Machine", just the idea of a guy traveling back and forth in time was interesting enough. But when people started thinking about all the different variables and screwed-up timelines caused by it, this opened up a whole new area of story possibilities. One of the most recent of such stories is Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's TIMECRIMES, aka Los Cronocrímenes (2007), a wonderfully intriguing tale of how a man out of time can become his own worst enemy.

The film starts out slow as we find the super-ordinary Hector (Karra Elejalde) bumbling through his everyday life. He's happily married to perky Clara (Candela Fernández) and they're just settling into their secluded new home in the woods, which is still under construction, when one day Hector notices something strange as he scans the forest with his binoculars--an attractive young woman (Bárbara Goenaga) slowly removing her clothes. When he hikes over to investigate, he finds her lying naked against a rock, either dead or unconscious. Suddenly a sinister stranger whose head is wrapped in bandages stabs Hector in the arm with a pair of scissors and starts to chase him. Hector runs for his life, unaware that it has already been disastrously changed, and from this point onward TIMECRIMES becomes relentlessly exciting.

Stumbling upon a compound of buildings in a clearing, Hector enters and meets a young scientist (director Vigalondo) who seems to be conducting some kind of experiment. The young man tells Hector to hide in a large circular chamber which turns out to be a time machine. Hector reemerges from it having traveled back in time one hour. Which doesn't seem like much, except now there are two of him--his present self, and his hour-earlier self whom he can see in the distance, still sitting in his backyard scanning the forest with his binoculars. What does he do now? And who the heck is the scissor-happy psycho with the bandaged head?

I love stories like this because time travel can be so fascinating when you start playing around with all the various plotholes, inconsistencies, and anomalies inherent in the concept itself. (I'm still waiting for someone to make a film out of David Gerrold's novel "The Man Who Folded Himself"--now that would blow some people's minds.) How do you restore the timeline and end up back where you started, with only one of you and all the damage repaired? As you might guess, Hector's attempts to rectify things only make them worse, and the scientist, whom we assume should know what's going on, turns out to be pretty much in the dark about it all himself. Thinking on his feet, Hector comes up with a solution that hinges upon his hour-earlier self doing exactly what he did the first time and ending up in the time machine, where the present Hector will take his place. But of course he screws this up by changing the past and must then scramble to stick the pieces back together as best he can.

It's all delightfully frantic and difficult to follow--I'm still not sure I got it all right--with Hector improvising new strategies at every turn and running into one unforeseen obstacle after another. Things get even more complicated when he runs into the girl in the forest and discovers her part in the whole thing. And then there's the guy with the bandaged face--his role in the jigsaw puzzle will eventually lead to the possible death of Hector's wife Clara and the final collapse of his entire existence.

Karra Elejalde plays Hector with an endearingly bland and somewhat comical demeanor. The character deals with what's happening to him with a dogged determination, rarely giving in to his emotions because, ironically, he doesn't have the time. Rather than shrinking from danger and accepting his fate, Hector will eventually become ruthless. Nacho Vigalondo is good as the young scientist, having already proven his acting skills in his Oscar-nominated 2003 short, "7:35 de la mañana", which is included as a bonus feature. Playing the women in Hector's life, Bárbara Goenaga as "the girl in the forest" and Candela Fernández as Clara are both appealing.

Another bonus, the 45-minute documentary "Making of TIMECRIMES", gives us a day-to-day look at Vigalondo and company putting this film together with just a few outdoor locations, limited sets (some of which are destroyed by a tornado at one point), and lots of imagination and ingenuity. His style is simple, save for a nice crane shot or two, and efficient, smoothly propelling the story along with no distractions. I like the fact that this is a small film with a tiny cast and few locations, yet brimming with interesting twists and turns.

The DVD image and sound are good, and the extras are fun. In addition to the aforementioned making-of documentary, Vigalondo's 8-minute short film "7:35 de la mañana" is a brilliant, delightfully funny and strange little vignette in which a woman sitting in a cafe' is suddenly confronted with a roomful of diners putting on a bizarre song-and-dance number for her against their will. There's also a series of cast and crew interviews, a makeup featurette, an extensive look at the creation of the TIMECRIMES Internet Game, a photo gallery, and trailers for this and other films in the Six Shooter Film Series. The film comes with both the original Spanish soundtrack with subtitles and an English dub.

As most fans of James Cameron's TERMINATOR saga will readily admit, his time-travel scenario makes no sense when you think about it. That is, how can future events come back to affect us when we've done nothing to set them into motion in the first place? It's a time loop with no beginning. And you'd expect a movie like TIMECRIMES to finesse its way around such things--yet it makes exactly the same mistake! But, I'm willing to suspend disbelief in both cases since each is so entertaining. And once you get over that basic speed-bump of illogic upon which rests the entire complicated plot, TIMECRIMES is one of the most intriguing, stimulating, and exciting time travel thrillers ever made.

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