Gorillas. Man’s best friend, or our greatest enemy? Both? Neither? Well, we won’t be answering that today, but we will talk for a while about Gorillas in the Mist and Congo and tell you if we liked them or not, which is almost the same thing. Join us!
Gorillas in the Mist
This is the tale of occupational therapist turned naturalist Dian Fossey, played by Sigourney Weaver, who moved from Kentucky to the Congo to survey and study endangered mountain gorillas, a six month sojourn that extended to her life’s work.
Arriving in the Congo, she enlists a local tracker, John Omirah Miluwi’s Sembagare to set up a camp and track down the few remaining gorilla families, eventually meeting with success only for the civil war to catch up with her and see them booted out of the Congo. Ultimately she is undeterred and starts again in Rwanda, where she’s able not only to catalog the gorillas but to study and document their behaviour more closely than anyone had previously dared to, including very up close and personal interactions.
It’s not without difficulty, particularly when her efforts to conserve the gorillas and their habitations clash with local poachers, but the profile of her work is raised when National Geographic send photographer Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown) to document her work. The two become lovers, although we’re left with the impression that Dian is married mainly to her work.
It does rather skip quickly through twenty years of dedicated work, during which if the film is to be believed she became rather possessive of the gorillas and the territory, through to her untimely murder in 1985, an ultimately unsolved crime although one with some fairly obvious suspects.
We’re left in no doubt of the remarkable nature of Fossey’s work and character, and Anna Hamilton Phelan’s script and Michael Apted’s direction back up a highly commendable turn from Weaver. The production design is also very accomplished – on a first viewing I certainly couldn’t tell where the real gorillas end and the prosthetics begin, at least without going on to consider the insurance implications of what’s happening on screen.
It is, I suppose, a question raised by every biopic – is the subject’s work or the subject more important, or perhaps just more interesting? I’m not 100% sure the creators hit quite the correct balance here. Certainly it seems to be more focussed on the work for the middle hour and change, and doesn’t quite give as much of an insight into Fossey’s character as I’d prefer. It’s not really all that noticeable until the back stretch, but as she starts throwing around the possessives – my gorillas, my mountain – to, y’know, the people actually native to that country, there’s certainly room for a bit more probing than the film seems to want to get into, just settling back into the earlier established “she’s strong-willed” explanation and showing us some more gorillas.
Which, to be fair, works well enough to make this a worthwhile and worthy watch, and a fitting tribute to a remarkable character. I don’t know if this has had quite the cultural impact it deserves, outside of Ice Cube’s Now I Gotta Wet Cha, but if like me you’ve passed on this until now it’s well worth tracking down.
What’s better than making friends with a gorilla? Making friends with a talking gorilla, of course! In the wake of Jurassic Park, author Michael Crichton was suddenly hot property again, and it was only a matter of time before more of his properties were optioned by Hollywood, and sure enough in 1995 we got Congo. Fancying itself quite the rollicking adventure, it follows an expedition to the rainforests of the titular country in search of “blue diamonds,” magic space lasers, and an opportunity to re-home a gorilla. Who can talk.
Laura Linney plays Dr Karen Ross, a scientist working for a telecommunications company who seek the rare blue diamond for its properties which turn normal lasers into improbably powerful mega-lasers capable of cutting down trees at a flick of the wrist. Because, y’know, telecoms. Ross’ ex-fiancé has just gone missing on a diamond search deep in the Congo, and his father (played by Joe Don Baker), the boss of said telecoms company, is totally keen to totally find his son and totally not interested in totally the diamonds totally. Off Ross goes on a promise that the diamonds are of secondary concern (totally), dragging with her Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry), a globe-trotting Romanian philanthropist, and Dr Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), a talky-gorilla expert who wants to take his talky gorilla Amy back to the jungle for a better sleep. Trust me when I say it’s better not to ask.
Upon reaching the Congo their party is further expanded by Captain Monroe Kelly (Ernie Hudson), who will be acting as their guide, helping them negotiate angry ghost tribes, heat-seeking missiles, Tony Pants and an uncredited Delroy Lindo as a rogue army captain who gets really upset if you do and don’t eat his sesame cake.
And this is before we are introduced to the grey murder gorillas who live in the volcano temple…
Let me get this out of the way now: if you hadn’t guessed it from my summary, you should know that Congo is an absolute mess of a film, and everyone involved frankly needs a good slap. Director Frank Marshall, whose better work has been evidenced via his role as a producer, had at least directed Arachnophobia and Alive prior to this, so you’d be forgiven some modicum of surprise at just how bad this movie is. Nothing that happens on screen makes any sense, every second line of dialogue is clumsy exposition, and no two actors appear to understand they’re performing in the same movie.
At least with Tom Curry you know what to expect, but even by his own standards he’s pushing the boat out here, prone to taking his jewelled ring out of his pocket just to stare at it and gurn at how much double-crossing he is no doubt contemplating. His character introduces himself as “formally of Romania, finally free from the reins of Chauchescu,” a freedom he uses to act precisely as he does in every other role I’ve ever seen him in, which is to say like a particularly ripe ham.
Dylan Walsh didn’t get a lot of work after this, and it’s not hard to see why; the last time I saw a blanket this wet was when I forgot to bring the bedclothes in off the washing line one night last year when the UK had those really bad rain storms. Simian and simp, Walsh spends most of the movie floating around ineffectually with his talking ape like a fart in a slice suit, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the reason he can’t get funding for his research is that he’s the only person in the room not to notice he’s hanging around with a child in a gorilla costume.
And points to anyone who can tell me what accent Ernie Hudson is supposed to be doing. Mae West?
It’s Linney who really gets the shitty end of the stick, though, as the only members of the main cast who entered the room with some discernible talent. It’s truly painful to watch her scenes with Joe Don Baker early in the movie; two accomplished thespians who have proven their virtue on the boards, choking on lines such as “tell me you’re sending me to find your son and not for the diamonds!” At least she gets to cut some unconvincing angry gorillas in half with a bad-ass laser and then watch even more unconvincing confused gorillas inexplicably throw themselves into lava for no apparent reason. Yay!
And the damned thing is this: for the first hour of this movie I’m having a whale of a time because it’s batshit bonkers and so bad it’s good. Most of that first hour is on par with a mid-2000s Asylum Studios production both in the value in screen and the choice in performances, but I had a total epiphany this viewing at the point where Grant Heslov utters the line “this is pure Kafka!” Now, Kafka it most assuredly is not, but watching Marshall’s choice of camera angles and the performances of Heslov and his interrogator I suddenly became aware that this movie is actually trying to be humorous, a fact I’m confident is borne out minutes later by a line I’d never noticed before when Delroy Lindo’s character leans against the fourth wall and announces “Everybody in my country is so afraid of being seen in an American movie being cruel to a gorilla.”
That’s a hell of a line of you care to stop and think about it, and I am as grateful for it as I am the obsession with sesame cake, and a gorilla who knows how to smoke a cigar and adopts an aloof affectation as she does (“don’t inhale, Amy”). It’s a real shame the last half an hour of this film is just agonisingly bad as opposed to genuinely insane, because it would make Congo one of the best stoned watches imaginable.
Can I recommend Congo? Jesus Christ on a hover board, no. Do I think you should watch it? No comment. I somehow roped these two into it, so my work here is very much done and it’s of no consequence to me if you do. But if you do, I ask you first to pour yourself a large one and dream of me, my loves.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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