Reviews

Battlefield Earth


Directed by: Roger Christian
Written by:L. Ron Hubbard, Cory Mandell
Starring: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates
Released: September 28, 2000
Grade: C+

It was impossible to give this film a fair chance given the reviews that preceded it from the United States.  Here’s some examples: "A million monkeys with a million crayons would be hard-pressed in a million years to create anything as pretentious as Battlefield Earth." (Washington Post),  "A bloated sci-fi monstrosity...we are now spared the sleepless nights of wondering which gobbler will dominate the next Razzie Awards for worst turkey of the year." (Toronto Star),  "[The script is] deeply dumb, depressingly derivative." (USA Today), and "In the post-apocalyptic adventure genre, Battlefield Earth makes Waterworld look like a masterpiece." (Los Angeles Times).

Where do I start?  It’s based on a best-selling novel by L. Ron Hubbard that has quite a cult following.  The problem with the film is not the storyline.  In fact, there were moments I enjoyed which showed particular strength in the screenplay.  It may be similar to the standard sci-fi thriller about saving mankind from alien domination but at least it was mildly amusing.

What is severely lacking is any direction and help from the cast whatsoever.  Roger Christian has turned in one of the worst directing efforts I have been forced to witness.  The action scenes are edited very quickly which is annoying for two reasons: (1) you can’t really see or understand what is going on, and (2) it’s a cheap way to cut corners.  For example, when a guy’s head was blown off, the camera cuts away just as it’s about to happen and we see nothing.

The special effects are mind-blowingly unspectacular.  I’ve seen Playstation games with better graphics.  The first scene we see of the big dome and it’s enclosure is clearly a model and it’s a wonder how a film costing $73m could use such mediocre effects.  Every shot I saw of an alien transport vessel was yet another reminder of the distraction the effects provided.

Why John Travolta was cast I will never know.  Paying his standard $20m seems pointless given he’s hardly recognisable with make up on and that goes for the whole cast.  Clearly he is used as the big-name drawcard appearing on posters and TV ads to lure the customer in.  Based on its performance in the U.S., few people were sucked in.  The film made $11m in the first 3 days of release before finishing with a grand total of $21m.  That is a big loss.

Battlefield Earth is a sad tale where everything went wrong.  It’s like a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle with 490 pieces missing.  I think for everyone’s sake (especially Travolta’s) we’ll all just forget this ever happened and never speak of it again.

    

The Kid


Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Written by:Audrey Wells
Starring: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Chi McBride
Released: September 28, 2000
Grade: B

Bruce Willis’s career was on the crossroads in 1997.  Through 1994 to 1997, his major roles included North, Color Of Night, Last Man Standing, The Jackal and Mercury Rising.  In other words, he was struggling.  Willis was set to star in a big action film of 1998 but massive financial problems caused production to cease and the film was never finished.  To bail Willis out of jail, Buena Vista stepped in and offered him a deal.  They would pay his way out of the troubled film if he agreed to star in three of Buena Vista’s films.

The first film was Armageddon, which grossed $201m in the U.S.  They had made their money back and then some.  The second film was The Sixth Sense, which earned $293m and received 6 Academy Award nominations.  The final film was The Kid, which managed a not-so-sluggish $67m and capping off one of the best deals in Hollywood history.  Buena Vista made more than one billion dollars worldwide and Willis had his career back.

The Kid is simple family entertainment.  It’s the story of an image consultant, Russ Duritz, who is about to turn 40, is unmarried, and has few friends due to his grizzly nature.  Then in a bizarre twist of events, he finds an 8-year-old boy in his house that looks strangely familiar - it’s himself at age 8.  He’s definitely real but the question remains - what is he doing here?

Newcomer Spencer Breslin takes all the laughs from Willis but they make a funny duo.  The film is designed to have us reflect on our own childhoods and how much we miss them and wish we could return to them.  There are some touching tear-jerking moments near film’s end but not quite enough detail to carry the film for the full length.

Backed by a strong film score by Marc Shaiman, The Kid is a film that will provide entertainment for all ages.  Just don’t go expecting spiritual enlightenment.

     

Supernova


Directed by: Thomas Lee (aka Walter Hill)
Written by:William Malone, Daniel Chuba
Starring: James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, Wilson Cruz
Released: September 21, 2000
Grade: C+

The most honest way of judging a film is to disregard any previous news or reviews of the film in question.  With Supernova, this is a very difficult proposition.  The film was in trouble from when production began.   Director Walter Hill left the film during post-production and asked his name to be removed from the credits.  Thus, the pseudonym Thomas Lee appears as the director’s name in the film’s closing credits.  Incidentally, Francis Ford Coppola, who didn't want the credit either, finished the film.

The film opened to very poor reviews is the United States and the public were in agreement.  A check of the Internet Movie Database reveals over 800 people have cast a vote on the film with the average score being 3.9 out of 10.  Rumoured to cost $60m, the film made a total U.S. gross of $14.2m creating a massive write-off for the struggling MGM Studios.

So with all this negative publicity, there’s nothing I can really do to improve it as I was equally disappointed.  It’s a rip-off of all previous science fiction films.  The crew of a rescue ship travels to a distress call only to find that the person rescued carries a hidden secret and wants to kill the inhabitants of the ship.

The special effects look very mediocre, the acting is poor and the script is lacking interest beyond recognition.  This is the sort of film that should never have received a release in Australia and would have been best suited to a straight-to-video release.  It super...sucked.

     

Urban Legends: Final Cut


Directed by: John Ottman
Written by:Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Starring: Joey Lawrence, Matthew Davis, Jenny Morrison, Loretta Devine, Anson Mount
Released: September 28, 2000
Grade: C-

At 1pm on Monday, February 17, 1997, I went to the Birch Carroll & Coyle cinemas at Maroochydore and saw one hell of a film - Scream.  It was sharp, witty, scary, original and worthy of the praise it received.  However, if I was to know of the utter garbage it would spawn, I feel we’d all be better off if Scream had never been created.

Long ago I’d never heard the term “teen horror film” but now those three words make me cringe in my seat.  I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, Halloween H20, Phantoms, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, Disturbing Behaviour, Idle Hands, Urban Legend, Jawbreaker, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Cut, Final Destination, Scream 3, The Skulls...  That’s a lot of movies in a three-year stretch and a lot of bad memories to go with them.

I have spoken of and written about all of the above films with contempt.  I have used every negative adjective that both my mind and this computer can imagine and I have nothing left.  There are no words that can express my feeling for this film so I feel the best thing is to just leave it at that.  I know it stinks, you know it stinks, end of story.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.  A girl at an exclusive film school comes up with an idea to make a movie - one about a serial killer who kills people based upon urban legends.  So, she makes the movie and one by one, her crew are killed off and you’ll never guess how - by an actual serial killer who kills people based upon urban legends.  Wow!

Now make sure you brace yourself for the big finale.  Like most every other teen film, the ending defies all logic with a ludicrous motive created to make the killer seem like the last person you’d expect.  There’s no thinking involved because the motive is so convoluted, it’s impossible to both predict and substantiate.  I’m tempted to tell you right now who the killer was just to spoil the movie so you can avoid the trauma of having to see it.

If I can say one thing for the film - I enjoyed the interesting twist in the final 20 seconds.  To save you the trouble, the movie ends with the killer being escorted around a hospital in a wheelchair by a nurse who happens to be Rebecca Gayheart (the killer from the first Urban Legend).  A nice touch but it’s the only one.

This is as low as we can go.  There is no coming back from here.  This film has set filmmaking back so far, it must surely lead the demise of this genre.  This is a farce.

     

Centre Stage


Directed by: Nicholas Hytner
Written by:Carol Heikkinen
Starring: Amanda Schull, Ethan Stiefel, Susan May Pratt, Shakiem Evans, Ilia Kulik, Sascha Radetsky, Peter Gallagher
Released: September 14, 2000
Grade: B+

Jody Sawyer (Schull) has dreams of being a dancer and at a local tryout is given a wonderful opportunity -an offer to train at the American Ballet Academy.  As teacher Jonathan Reeves (Gallagher) says to his students on the opening day, not all will go on to be a success.  The training will culminate with a gala workshop presentation in four months and from there, only six lucky people will be offered a full-time position with the Academy.

From here the story follows the standard method.  Jody struggles at first and is almost booted out of the Academy before finding her true self.  There is the guy she lusts after, Cooper (Stiefel) and the guy who lusts after her, Charlie (Radetsky).  There’s the gifted, yet uptight Maureen (Pratt) whose mother pushes her hard to get results.  Throw in a few other notables - the foreign student, the gay student, the wild student and all stereotypes are covered.

Although this gives a negative impression, Centre Stage is a very entertaining film for one main reason - the musical numbers.  There are many of them during the film with emphasis on the big finale and the choreography is reminiscent of classic musicals that these days are seldom seen.  It must have taken weeks of effort to pull off the two wonderful stage productions prominent in the film’s final climax.

The producers have not succumbed to casting Hollywood big names and have selected their cast from Ballet schools across the United States.  Schull is a member of the San Francisco Ballet and Radetsky hails from the American Ballet Company.  In an even bigger surprise, Ilia Kulik, who won the men's figure skating gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, plays Sergei the Russian student.

Having a cast with such a wide knowledge of the subject material helps the film immensely and creates passion for the characters.  You get the impression they’ve all felt these pressures before and can strongly relate to what this film has to say.

 

A Pornographic Affair


Directed by: Frederic Fonteyne
Written by:Phillippe Blasband
Starring: Nathalie Baye, Sergi Lopez, Jacques Viala, Paul Pavel
Released: September 21, 2000
Grade: A-

Culture is something one never fully appreciates until you experience that of another.  We sit and watch the constant surge of movies from home and the States and comment on their freshness and originality.  A Pornographic Affair is from France and is indicative of what we in Australia are missing out on.

The film stars Nathalie Baye as a lady in need of having her fantasy fulfilled.  She’s been with many men in the past but none have satisfied her ultimate dream.  Determined not to let it escape her, she submits an ad is a pornographic personals magazine and waits for a reply.

That reply comes from Sergi Lopez and the two agree to meet at a cafe.  After small introductions, the two head to a nearby hotel room where they disappear.  The two continue for months, meeting every week and escaping to the seclusion of the hotel.  Everything was “good”, until things got complicated and the two find themselves falling in love.

A Pornographic Affair is a superb film for what it doesn’t tell us rather than what it does.  Hollywood films are always compromised by studio executives thinking the public has a single digit IQ.  Movies are oversimplified, contain no thought process and wrap up in a nice neat package.

It is the intrigue factor that makes this film worth watching.  There is a man who interviews the two all during the film and listens to them as they comment on the relationship.  We never see who he is or why he does what he does.  The names of the two lovers are never revealed as they never during the whole film refer to each other by name.  And then, there’s the question of the fantasy...

This is what storytelling in the real world is all about.  Two characters dominate the entire 80 minutes and there is no room for any other characters.  Romance stories are churned out every week in cinemas but this is totally different - it’s enchanting.

Winner of the best actress award at the 1999 Venice Film Festival, A Pornographic Affair is a film to be seen to be completely understood.  Disregard the misleading title because this film has more plot than any “porno” could provide.