Reviews

Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles


Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by:Matthew Berry, Eric Abrams
Starring: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Jere Burns, Jonathan Banks
Released: April 12, 2001
Grade: C-

Someone had to be desperate to come up with this.  Crocodile Dundee 2 was released back in 1988 (following the release of the original in 1986) and both were smash hits at both home and abroad (each topping $100m in the States).  Times have changed though and why Universal Pictures would revive this series is beyond me.

The script is pitiful and I will name both Matthew Berry and Eric Abrams as those responsible (along with Paul Hogan) in the hope they will never work in Hollywood again.  In this “adventure”, Mick Dundee (Hogan) and his long time companion Sue Charlton (Kozlowski) now own a pub in the Northern Territory outback.  Sue gets a call from her father asking her to come to Los Angeles for a few weeks.  It seems an employee at his publishing company has died and he needs Sue to fill in while he looks for a permanent replacement.

So off they head to L.A. with their son Mike (played by George Negus’s 9-year-old son Serge Cockburn).  Once there, Sue quickly picks up the pieces and uncovers a big story (believe it or not).  A string of really bad movies are being made by a new studio company.  The first film flopped, the sequel went straight to video and somehow a third movie is in the works.  Curious as to how the studio can remain open, Sue investigates, uncovers a conspiracy and with Mick going undercover as an extra in the film, she’ll soon find out the truth behind the mystery.

With every film like this I see, I develop an even bigger appreciation for the Austin Powers films.  I don’t know why film studios pursue with over the top supervillans given that Dr. Evil has taken the mickey out of all those that have gone before.  Somehow, these ludicrous storylines continue to haunt us as seen here and in the recent Miss Congeniality.

I am not taking this film too seriously.  Anyone who says “oh, it’s just a bit of fun” deserves a slap across the face and a good hosing down.  When someone makes a bad joke, you don’t laugh just because you’re supposed to.  I never laughed once and there were stages in the first half hour where I was tempted to just get up and walk out (for those that have seen the film, a scene in a spa bath caps off what I’m talking about).  The acting was dreadful and the jokes so lame.  Spontaneity has no meaning.

Don’t even get me started on the culture issue.  Australians do not walk around in akubras all day.  Australians do not wrestle crocodiles for a living.  Australians do not serve nothing but beer in pubs.  Australians are not idiots who cannot understand anything about America.  Do we feel satisfied portraying such an image to the world?  Maybe ten years ago but aren’t we better than that now.

If you need supporting evidence, check out the documentary, Cunnamulla, which screened recently in Brisbane.  Could you imagine how shocked Americans would be to find out what really goes on the outback.  Desolate towns filled with doll bludgers, deadbeats, criminals and 13-year-olds having sex.  That is our true culture, whether we like it or not.

That is all I have to say.  I am sorry to have wasted your time in having to read this but it serves a purpose - to make sure you don’t see Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.  I rest my case.

    

The Gift


Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by:Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, Gary Cole, Michael Jeter
Released: April 12, 2001
Grade: B

Police have been left no clues regarding the disappearance of Jessica King (Holmes), daughter of wealthy business man Kenneth King, who has now been missing for four days.  Her husband-to-be is local school principal Wayne Collins (Kinnear).  In desperation he has turned to the help of a psychic looking for any sniff of information to help track her whereabouts.

Annie Wilson (Blanchett) is such a person.  Her husband died over a year ago and she’s been left struggling to raise her three sons since.  Social security isn’t sufficient for her family to survive on and so she tells peoples fortunes using special cards to provide additional income.  Annie has little standing in the community with most believing her to be a hoax.

So when Annie unearths Jessica’s body in the lake of local womaniser Donnie Barksdale (Reeves) accusations start flying.  How did Annie know the body was there?  Did she have it in for Donnie as she knew he was beating his wife Valerie (Swank)?  How can you convict someone of the crime if the only witness wasn’t even there?

Everyone’s a suspect and the screenplay is designed to give you that impression.  All have a motive and it’s why the film is unsatisfying.  Once the killer was revealed, I felt cheated and disenchanted.  It’s a shame since The Gift was thrilling to watch in the lead up.

A captivatingly dark film, director Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan, The Quick And The Dead) isn’t helped by his cast.  Cate Blanchett stands out and proves she is the world’s best actress at the moment.  Having been robbed by Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars two years ago for her performance in Elizabeth, Blanchett has showed her range in Pushing Tin, The Talented Mr. Ripley and An Ideal Husband.  However, the remaining cast members are typecast play uncreative standardised roles.  Keanu Reeves is the bad guy, Greg Kinnear is the good guy and Giovanni Ribisi is the strange guy.

Katie Holmes shows intelligence for not succumbing to the fate of other young TV stars and starring in teen romantic comedies.  She will probably be remember most for bearing her breasts in this film but given her performance both here and in last year’s Wonder Boys add to the impressive resume of a 22-year-old.  Let’s just forget Teaching Mrs. Tingle ever happened.

Credit for the spine tingling score goes to Christopher Young (Rounders, Copycat) for it.  Few understand that to add to the suspense of a good thriller, you need to have the music peak and trough at just the right times.  Psycho or Jaws are famous examples.  Ever so subtly, Young increases the tension already generated by Raimi which makes it’s hard to look away.

The Gift is a spooky mix of reality and the supernatural.  The possibility existed for a uniquely spellbinding view but does degenerate by following Hollywood conventions and formulas.  It could have been and should have been much better.

    

The Emperor's New Groove


Directed by: Mark Dindal
Written by:Roger Allers, Mark Dindal, Matthew Jacobs, David Reynolds, Chris Williams
Starring: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, Wendie Malick
Released: April 5, 2001
Grade: A

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I love animation.  It's amazing how much better a movie can be when you don't have to worry about direction, cinematography, sets and even acting.  All you need is a funny script combined with Hollywood's top animators and you've got a winner.  In 1937, Snow White And The Seven Dwarves set a benchmark that few films have lived up to.  In the 64 years since its creation, animated films have not diminished and in fact, each new year seems to find a record number in release.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has introduced a new category into its annual Academy Awards starting in 2002 for best animated full-length feature.  It stems from the fact that so many good animations are created and aren't considered by Academy voters because they don't feature real people.  The only animated film ever to be nominated for best picture was 1991's Beauty And The Beast.  The award’s inception is sure to increase both the quantity and quality of animations in years to come.

Traditionally, Disney has monopolised the market but given their appeal, the last five years has seen most leading film studios hunting for a slice of the very sweet pie.  For the first time in a decade, Disney did not release an animated film in the last American summer (choosing instead to release the computer animated Dinosaur) and the viewing calendar was lacking.  Instead, December saw the release of the Emperor's New Groove and finally in Australia, we have the chance to check it out.

This fun-loving tale sees Emperor Kuzco preparing celebrations for his own 18th birthday party.  He's spoilt rotten and given his position, has everything his own way.  His adviser, Yzma, has been getting a little power hungry of late so she was promptly fired.  Yzma retaliates and prepares a potion that will kill the emperor but thanks to her idiotic husband/assistant, Kronk, he is transformed into a llama. 

Asked to take the llama out of town to kill, Kronk again makes a mess of things and the llama escapes on the wagon of a distant villager, Pacha.  Pacha isn't a fan of the emperor given that he intends to demolish his house to build a holiday home (complete with a waterslide) and is amused to see the emperor in his new condition.  This gives him an opportunity to negotiate a deal.  He'll help the emperor get back to his castle for the potion that can re-transform him but in return he'll have to find a new location for his holiday home.  And so, the adventure begins...

Narration of films is an often dangerous technique.  Some films are wrecked by voice-overs but for others, it adds to the experience.  David Spade voices Emperor Kuzco and also provides the narration throughout the film.  I can't recall anyone being as good as Spade in any previous film.  He’s side-splittingly hilarious and combined with animation, his character is one of the funniest Disney has created.  Other voices include Spade's Just Shoot Me co-star Wendie Malick, John Goodman, The Dish's Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt.

Judging by the laughter of both the adults and children at the advance screening I attended, The Emperor's New Groove hits the mark.  Many recent animations have had few jokes for the kids but this film had them laughing constantly at the idea of an arrogant talking llama and I too was laughing with them.  If you're thinking "there's no way I'm going to see a kids flick" then it is time to wake-up.  If it's that embarrassing, find some kid of a friend or relative and take them with you.  You'll score brownie points whilst having a great time in the process.  Who said babysitting was a chore?

    

Memento


Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by:Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior
Released: April 12, 2001
Grade: A

This may sound strange but there is nothing I can tell you about Memento without giving away the many surprises it contains.  All I will say is that it is the story of Leonard Shelby (Pearce), a man with a rare medical condition - he has short term memory loss.  Since the “incident”, he has been unable to remember anything for longer than two minutes and goes through life taking pictures and writing notes so that he can remember who he meets and what he does.

That’s all I’ll reveal.  I’d heard so little about the film and had never seen a trailer.  The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September and followed that up with a screening in Toronto.  It’s had a very limited release in the States and similarly in Australia, it’s screening on only a few selected screens.

I’m not sure why this is so because the film is brilliant and rivals the shocking twists and turns of The Sixth Sense.  The style is unique and you’ll know what I mean within seconds of the opening credits.  Never before has a thriller left me thinking throughout the entire film and just like Leonard, we too will be wondering about his past.  I thought I’d figured the mystery out after 34 minutes (I looked at my watch) but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It will leave you thinking many hours after you see it.

That is not to say the screenplay is flawless.  How can he remember he has a memory problem in the first place?  How does he remember where he’s going when he’s driving?  How does he remember to look in his pockets for photographs that help him remember?  The more you think about it, the more inconsistencies you’ll come across and unfortunately it stops the film from achieving “masterpiece” quality.  The concept, whilst fascinating, is just too difficult to make the story truly believable.

30-year-old Christopher Nolan is both writer and director and his first “big time” production will guarantee him a certain future.  He’s already signed with Warner Bros. to direct a thriller starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank which has George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh as executive producers.  That says something and shows I’m not alone in praising Nolan’s talent.

Memento is a simple story.  When you break it down, there are just a handful of characters at a handful of locations.  But like a good joke, it’s how you tell it that’s important.  Just wait till you see how this story is told.

“Don’t believe his lies.”

    

Save The Last Dance


Directed by: Thomas Carter
Written by:Duane Adler, Cheryl Edwards
Starring: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington, Fredro Starr, Terry Kinney
Released: April 5, 2001
Grade: A-

Whilst I constantly criticise actors, it's hard to deny the fact that they are all very talented.  People don't make it as far as Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts without ability.  What makes or breaks an actor are the roles they choose.  As good as an actor is, there are always some roles that suit their style which brings the best out of them.  The trick of course is finding the right part.

Naturally, it's not easy.  When an actor signs on the dotted line they often don't know who else will star or even who will direct.  All they have in front of them is a screenplay which is bound to go through thousands of rewrites.  Actors use their instinct in picking roles but most always they'll need advise from agents and those more experienced in the biz.

Several weeks ago, I spoke about Sandra Bullock being a perfect example of a great actress who can't find the right film.  She makes truckloads of money and always gives 100% but critics agree that most of her flicks are woeful.  What if Sandra Bullock had all of Julia Roberts' roles and vice-versa?  Who would be the bigger star in Hollywood today?  I'd bet on Sandra.

Why I've begun my review like this is to comment on the intelligence shown by Julia Stiles, the star of Save The Last Dance, in choosing her own roles.  Despite opening with a few small parts, Julia burst onto the scene with 10 Things I Hate About You - one of the few teen flicks that doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't propose to answer life's problems.  In the two years since its release, Julia has featured in the critically acclaimed Hamlet and David Mamet's State And Main (both which are yet to be released in Australia).  Later this year, we will see her starring beside Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity.

Stiles makes the movie.  It's the story of Sara, a 16-year-old whose mother was killed in a car accident whilst rushing to see her audition for a place in a prestigious ballet school.  Forced to move to Chicago to live with her estranged father, her life has been turned upside-down.  She now attends a local school where most of the students are black and fitting in is a big problem.  She falls for classmate Derek (Thomas) and despite his mutual affection, their love is strained by constantly having to defend their inter-racial relationship to everyone.  The two compliment each other as Derek helps Sara rediscover her ballet and Sara helps Derek put his shady past behind him and look to a future at college.

Most of director Thomas Carter’s experience has come from television but his skills are an asset.  No time is wasted in the introduction and I loved the way he showed Sara’s past with quick flashbacks as she took the train to Chicago.  I was also impressed at how he captured the action of the nightclubs and Sara’s big dancing finale.  Screenwriters Duane Adler and Cheryl Edwards effectively capture the difficulty of being “white” in a “black” world.  So many current films show the opposite perspective and don’t do a very good job for that matter.

Aside from Stiles, the best performance comes Terry Kinney, a small-time actor who you may recognise from films such as The Firm and Sleepers.  Like most of the cast, his character shows human qualities and doesn’t degenerate into a stereotype.

I’ve been a sucker for “dancing” films following my affection for Centre Stage, Bootmen and Billy Elliot.  When you mix great choreography with great lighting and cinematography, it’s just as good as being part of a live theatre audience.  This story though is about more than just great dancing - it has a soul.  The best way of summing up what Save The Last Dance has to say (and I love that title) is to simply read the catchline from the poster and remember - The only person you have to be is yourself.

    

Say It Isn't So


Directed by: James B. Rogers
Written by:Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow
Starring: Heather Graham, Chris Klein, Orlando Jones, Sally Field, Richard Jenkins, Eddie Cibrian
Released: April 12, 2001
Grade: C

Perhaps toilet humour has reached the bottom of the bowl and it’s time for a good flush.  The last six yeas have seen the release of Dumb And Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, Outside Providence and Me, Myself and Irene.  The Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) have played a part in all the above films (either as director, producer or writer) and one could say they have defined the genre.  Say It Isn’t So goes to show they may have also killed the genre.

In this story, the sweet and innocent Gilly Noble (Klein) is just looking for that perfect girl who’ll give him goosebumps all over.  At the local hairdresser, he meets Jo Wingfield (Graham) and they are a perfect match.  That is until Jo accidentally chops off Gilly’s ear when giving him a haircut.  Oh well, all is forgiven and six months pass before they take the big plunge and consummate their relationship.

Things go askew when a friend of Gilly believes he’s finally tracked down his natural birth mother and her name is Valdine Wingfield (Field), Jo’s mother.  Given that she’s just “poked” her own brother, Jo flees to Oregon to be with her wealthy ex-boyfriend Mark (Cibrian).

Time passes and out of the blue, a mysterious gentleman arrives on the Wingfield’s doorstep who has validation that he is the Wingfield’s lost son.  Now that the horrible misunderstanding has been cleared up, Gilly tries to track down Jo to tell her the good news but just about everyone is standing in his way...

This is cheap, tiresome crap that isn’t close to being funny.  There’s a great scene at the start with the family around the dinner table but that was the lone moment bringing a smile to my face.  Other “jokes” include Gilly mistakenly getting a blow-job from a cat and Gilly getting his arm stuck in the ass of a cow.

Say It Isn’t So is lacklustre and like a broken coke machine, takes your money and gives nothing in return.