Titan A.E.

Directed by: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Written by:Ben Edlund, John August, Joss Whedon
Starring: Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, John Leguizamo, Janeane Garofalo, Nathan Lane, Ron Perlman
Released: January 4, 2001
Grade: B+

The year is 3028 A.D. and it will be the last for Earth and most of its inhabitants.  An evil race, known as the Drej, fear the humans will one day become a universal super power and intend it remove any chance of it.  In a colossal barrage of arsenal, the Earth is obliterated with only a lucky few escaping into the atmosphere and beyond.

15 years pass and memories are starting to fade of a world that once was.  Cole (Damon), one of the survivors, is now a reckless 19-year-old working on a space colony.  His father also escaped Earth but the two were separated and no word has been heard of him since.  Cole's father piloted a vessel known as the Titan to the far reaches of the galaxy with the power of regenerating and saving the human race.

Cole knows nothing of this until informed by space traveller Korso (Pullman).  Korso has in his possession a magic ring that when placed on Cole's hand, shows the way to where the Titan is hidden.  Together with another human crew member, Akima (Barrymore), and a bizarre alien crew, they venture into the unknown to await their destiny.

Titan A.E. is the second film from the newly formed 20th Century Fox Animation following the 1997 release of Anastasia.  Times sure have changed in the animation world.  I can remember Anastasia's release was much anticipated as it represented the first company other than Disney to create a big animated blockbuster.  Titan A.E. cost a rumoured $75m with its high-tech computer animation but sadly has recouped little at the box-office.

As always, the animation is high-class and the voices well cast.  It seems your aren't a Hollywood star these days unless you've done a voice in an animated flick and adding their talents to this film are the likes of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Janeane Garofalo and Nathan Lane.  The only major problem with the film is that it doesn't appear to have a target audience.  It is violent and complex (including a few subtitles) which makes it inappropriate for small children and yet it's hard to see adults paying $12 when the likes of Meet The Parents and What Women Want are screening in the cinema next door.

The script has depth.  Whilst it doesn't rival recent hits such as Toy Story 2 and Chicken Run and doesn't feature an array of musical numbers, the story will hold your attention.  It borrows from a mixture of science fiction classics including Star Wars and Alien and there's plenty of action and galactic chases.

Bound to gather a cult following rather than perform at the box-office, Titan A.E. shows that computer generated films can be targeted at an older audience.  But just like we've asked ourselves before, is anyone really watching out there?


Coyote Ugly

Directed by: David McNally
Written by:Gina Wendkos
Starring: Piper Perabo, Adam Garcia, Maria Bello, Tyra Banks, John Goodman
Released: January 1, 2001
Grade: C+

And so another film year begins.  Assessing the first movie of the year is always tough as it sets the benchmark.  Every film that follows is indirectly compared and it’s an unenviable position.  Like any contest, no one wants to go first but for 2001, Coyote Ugly has drawn the short straw.

Violet Sanford (Perabo) lives in New Jersey with her father Bill (Goodman) but has decided it’s time to move on.  She’s found a small pad in New York City where she can establish herself and try to make it as a songwriter.  Violet can sing beautifully but suffers from stage fright, as did her late mother, and her phobia limits her opportunities.

Desperate for a job, she sees three beautiful girls in a cafe laughing, giggling and flashing around $50 bills they had made the night previous.  She overhears they’re waitresses at a bar known as Coyote Ugly and a position will be available within a week.  Too good to be true?

Approaching the bar’s owner, Violet gets the job but it’s not what she expected.  The girls sing and dance on the bar, shower customers with water and ice and stay open until dawn.  She soon catches the drift though, fits right in and meets the dream guy.  You can’t have a movie however without adversities and yes, they’re just around the corner...

Very disappointing is an apt description for Coyote Ugly.  Every time I felt the film getting on track, it derailed yet again - it just couldn’t get passed second base.  John Goodman stands out like a beacon as the only cast member who can truly act.  He has less screen time than anyone but manages to produce the most laughs, if the audience at my screening were anything to go by.

Of the remaining cast, Piper Perabo indicates that she will be a leading actress of the future.  The first question that came to mind though was whether that was her singing all those songs in the movie? Sadly, the answer is no.  In fact, the songs are performed by LeAnn Rimes.  In hindsight, it explains why Rimes has a cameo in the final two minutes.  Perhaps they should have found an actress who can sing to play the leading role.  Think back to Jane Horrocks performance in Little Voice.

Australian Adam Garcia plays the boyfriend in what can only be described as a mind-numbingly awful performance.  So many of his lines are forced and appear as if they’ve been read straight of an auto cue.  Perhaps he felt the same dissatisfaction with the script as I did.

Coyote Ugly is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer - the same guy who made Bad Boys, The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon and Gone In 60 Seconds.  Whilst it’s a step away from his traditional “action” theme, not much has changed in terms of quality (that’s bad).  Let’s look at the film’s PG rating as an illustration.  Despite half the movie being set in a bar, there is no bad language whatsoever.  I’m not sure what world Jerry Bruckheimer is from but it ain’t this one.  His softening of the film from an M to a PG rating has done nothing but expand the number of possible audience members.  To jeopardise the whole movie for the sake of a few bucks - that takes a lot of class.


Little Nicky

Directed by: Steven Brill
Written by:Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler, Steven Brill
Starring: Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette, Harvey Keitel, Rhys Ifans, Rodney Dangerfield, Reece Witherspoon
Released: December 26, 2000
Grade: B

Having made cameos in The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy, Steven Brill pulls on the director’s cap in Adam Sandler’s latest mindless comedy, Little Nicky.  Hell is currently in a time of conflict with Satan (Keitel) ready to retire after 10,000 years on the throne.  He has three sons - Adrian (Ifans), Cassius (Tom Lister Jr.) and Nicky (Sandler).  Both Adrian and Cassius dream of the title but Nicky wants nothing to do with it.

When Satan decides to sit for another 10,000 years, Adrian and Cassius are furious.  They ascend to the surface in a plot to overtake and rule Earth.  In doing so, they have blocked the passage that takes people to hell which threatens to destroy it.  In desperation, Satan sends Nicky upworld to try to capture Adrian and Cassius and bring them back to hell to solve the problem.

Things aren’t going to be easy for Nicky as he’s unaccustomed to the human lifestyle.  Led by a talking dog (a friend of his father), he’ll meet a bizarre assortment of characters which each rivalling the last.

Certainly different, Little Nicky is an unusually entertaining film.  Personally, I question its M rating and suggest the censors were a little lenient given the subject material.  I mean would a 14-year-old kid understand why Satan is sticking a large pineapple up Hitler’s ass?  That’s the kind of humour you should expect.

The liveliest part of the film came from the numerous cameos.  Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Rob Schneider, Quentin Tarantino and Rodney Dangerfield all make surprising appearances.  The best of the bunch was Reece Witherspoon as a “laid-back” angel from heaven who enjoys talking with her friends on her mobile and drinking the odd daiquiri.

Sandler films are an acquired taste and apart from The Wedding Singer, I haven’t been a fan.  It’s tough to see a good comedian limited to the same stupid scripts over and over.  At least Little Nicky is original enough to break some new ground.

Actors like Tom Hanks and Jim Carrey have broken the shackles and moved from comedy to drama but one feels Sandler doesn’t have that ability.  Yet as I speak, Sandler has just signed with one of Hollywood’s leading directors, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), to star in a top-secret movie.  Given the class of Anderson and the lack thereof from Sander, that will be a movie worth seeing!


102 Dalmatians

Directed by: Kevin Lima
Written by:Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White
Starring: Glenn Close, Gerard Depardieu, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans, Tim McInnerny
Released: December 26, 2000
Grade: B-

Yay!  It’s time for another Disney rehash.  Cruella De Vil (Close) has been rehabilitated and released from the penitentiary.  She no longer poses a threat to dogs around the world and in fact has developed a love for them.  Chloe (Evans), her parole officer, is far from convinced and with several dalmatians of her own, is being cautious.

Soon after her release, Cruella helps develop a business known as “2nd Chance” with two other dog lovers.  It’s a place where dogs that have been rejected can stay before new owners are found.  Soon, Cruella on TV and magazine covers with tales of her remarkable transformation.

Of course that wouldn’t make much of movie?  Cruella’s evil side resurfaces and with the assistance of fashion designer Le Pelt (Depardieu), she plots to create a lavish coat made entirely out of dalmatian puppy fur.  Only this time, she’s added a hood to the garment and an extra dalmatian, making the total head count 102.

As with the original 101 Dalmatians, the star of the film is not Glenn Close but rather the adorable dogs that leave audience members giggling.  Throw in a bird that thinks it’s a dog (voiced by Eric Idle) and you’ve got everyone suckered.  All we needed was a baby and the audience stood no chance.

Following tradition of recent sequels, it’s the script that disappoints 102 Dalmatians and most of the original cast did not return as a result.  Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson, Joan Plowright and Hugh Laurie all did not reappear.  The significant addition to the cast comes in the form of Gerard Depardieu but I cannot understand why he agreed to co-star.

The film has its moments with elaborately crafted action sequences combined with creative costuming and set decoration.  Kids will be kept amused but adults may find themselves a little weary.  With the other strong list of Christmas releases (including The Grinch and Chicken Run), 102 Dalmatians may struggle to find an audience.  You need more than just cute dogs to maintain the attention of this viewer.


Meet The Parents

Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by:Jim Herzfeld, John Hamburg
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Nicole DeHuff, James Rebhorn, Owen Wilson
Released: December 26, 2000
Grade: B

They’ve been dating for only 10 months but already, Greg (Stiller) is ready to pop the question to Pam (Polo).  He’s created a wonderfully romantic way of asking her but just before the moment presents itself, Pam gets a phone call from her sister, Debbie.  It seems Debbie has just gotten engaged herself with the husband-to-be asking permission from her father, Jack (DeNiro).  Greg wants to do it right and knows that before anything continues, he’s going to have to meet the parents.

Right from the start of the three-day trip to the parents’ home, Greg knows that Jack is out to crucify him.  He pounces on every false move he makes and when he discovers that Jack worked in the CIA for over 30 years, he knows he’s met his match.  At one point, Jack even has Greg on a lie-detector machine asking questions like “have you ever watched any pornographic material?”

Meet The Parents is a situational comedy from director Jay Roach (Austin Powers).  Believe it or not, it’s actually a remake of a low-budget film made in 1992.  Original writer and director Greg Glienna helped make the 2000 version.

On face value, the film is very entertaining.  Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller work effectively together and create incredibly squirming situations.  This is best illustrated when Greg tries to tell a joke that Jack doesn’t get - you can’t help but feel uncomfortable.  I was not a fan of DeNiro in Analyze This (although a lot of people were) but I’m much more appreciative of his comedic talent following Meet The Parents.  Blythe Danner (mother of Gwyneth Paltrow) is also great as the mother and her quirkiness is really funny to watch - you don't what she’ll say next.

Disappointingly, the movie did not at all flow well.  On one hand, there were two great scenes that ended rather abruptly - the urn and the lie detector and both I feel could have been taken much further for more laughs.  On the other hand, there were scenes that seemed childish and out of place with particular emphasis on the bogged car in the back yard.  Frankly, the last half hour spoilt much of the previous work as it tries to tie up loose ends with sentiment - completely unnecessary.  All in all it adds up to a film with promise that doesn’t fully deliver.

Soaring high above the American box-office charts for four weeks (the most of any film this year) and bound to debut atop the Australian charts, Meet The Parents will be talked about as a must see film of 2000.  If there’s one thing I’ll remember the film for, it’s Greg’s surname that seems to pop up from time to time and is spoken so nonchalantly and casually.  I won’t spoil it for those yet to see it but it makes room for several jokes that are the highlight of the film.


Dancer In The Dark

Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Written by:Lars Von Trier
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Udo Kier
Released: December 26, 2000
Grade: A-

The most prestigious honour that can be bestowed from any film festival worldwide would have to be the Palm D’Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival.  It is the grand prize and has been won recently by films including Secrets And Lies, Pulp Fiction and The Piano.  It seems every year the award is shrouded in controversy as it is selected by a 15 member jury whose opinions tend to differ from the general public.

Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark was this year’s Palm D’or winner and as always, critics were at loggerheads.  Some claimed the film the film was deserving but others claimed it was redemption for Von Trier not winning in 1997 for Breaking The Waves, a personal favourite of mine.

Dancer In The Dark is the story of Selma, a Czech mother with a 12-year-old son who migrated to the United States.  Both suffer from a birth defect in that they are slightly retarded and have failing eyesight.  As we discover, Selma has less than a year before she is totally blind.  In that time, she is working flat out at a factory to save money for an operation that can prevent her son from succumbing to blindness also.

Selma lives in a caravan rented from local police-office Bill (Morse) and his wife.  Bill inherited a large sum of money but through his wife’s lavish spending, the money is all gone and the bank is to repossess their house.  When Bill finds that Selma has over $2,000 stashed in her home, he steals the money and claims it is his own.  Who’s going to believe a retarded Czech mother over a local police officer?

Unbelievably painful to watch is the most apt way of describing Dancer In The Dark.  To take advantage of the disadvantaged is a callous act and it’s impossible not to be affected emotionally.

Singer turned actor Bjork, is strikingly brilliant as Selma as are the supporting cast members.  Von Trier uses many moving camera shots and close-ups and with the help of the cast, creates a “documentary-like” production adding to the realism.  I should have read the posters for the film before seeing the film as it contained a warning - “Dancer In The Dark commences with a four minute musical overture, accompanied only by a blank screen”.  Sure enough, many were left confused and one patron even complained to the staff indicating that there was a problem with the print.

The film would easily have been up with the best of the year had Von Trier not insisted on weaving unusual musical numbers into it.  I’m not sure what they are intended to indicate but distract from the main show - sort of like ad breaks.  Bjork may be a great actress but her singing technique is not my style and given she sings eight songs during the film, it becomes very annoying.

Certainly not for everyone, Dancer In The Dark again illustrates the talents of Lars Von Trier whilst also showing that he is human.  Clearly the big winner is Bjork with her performance and one wonders whether she’ll stick with singing or acting.  I’m hoping for acting.