Chicken Run

Directed by: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Written by:Karey Kirkpatrick
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jane Horrocks, Timothy Spall, Miranda Richardson
Released: December 7, 2000
Grade: A

So who is Nick Park?  Few would know he’s won three Academy Awards for his short films, Creature Comforts, Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers and Wallace & Gromit: A Close Shave.  All three films were made using the time-consuming process of “claymation”.  Every part of the film is moulded from clay and altered slightly frame by frame to create the movie we all see.  This worked effectively for shorts but is it possible to create a full length feature entirely out of clay?

Welcome to Mr and Mrs Tweedy’s chicken farm in 1950s England.  It’s a tough lifestyle for the poor chickens - either lay eggs or get the chop.  As leader of the chickens, Ginger has orchestrated many escape plans from the pen but all have backfired and hope seems lost.  That is until Rocky Rhodes the Rhode Island Red Rooster comes flying through the air landing in the chicken pen.

Under the impression that he can fly, Rocky is taken in by the “chicks” and seems the answer to their prayers - he can teach them all the secret to flying.  Time is fading fast though with Mrs. Tweedy purchasing a new pie making machine and intending to use it as soon as possible.

This is a rare film that is impossible to dislike.  Rotten Tomatoes is a popular website that takes all the leading critics from across America and gives the film an approval percentage based on the number that liked the film compared with those that did not.  Chicken Run scored 100% from all 55 critics - the only film to do so this year.

Its jokes are very witty, including everything uttered from the mouth of Babs.  There’s plenty for both adults and kids to be entertained and it all wraps up in quick time.  It’s amazing to see such creativity in animation - just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes something new.  Animation is clearly the wave of the future.

Featuring voices of Mel Gibson, Jane Horrocks and Miranda Richardson, Chicken Run is the must-see kids film of the year.  Prepare to be left with a smile on your face.


Red Planet

Directed by: Anthony Hoffman
Written by:Chuck Pfarrer, Jonathan Lemkin
Starring: Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Benjamin Bratt, Tom Sizemore, Simon Baker, Terence Stamp
Released: December 7, 2000
Grade: C

The year is 2057 and man has overpopulated the Earth.  The decision has to be made to colonise Mars but it’s an effort that will take time.  Algae has been planted on the surface of the red planet to create oxygen and a colony established through robotics technology.  Still, no one has actually set foot on Mars until now.  When the algae starts disappearing, a team of six are forced to take the six-month journey to solve the mystery.

When the spacecraft encounters a meteor shower on entry, the mission collapses.  Team commander Kate Bowman (Moss) is left aboard the depleting ship as her five crew members take the emergency launch vehicle to the surface.  Chantlias (Stamp) is fatally injured in the decent leaving just four survivors.  They have just 8 hours of oxygen to find the colony and then there’ll be the matter of finding a way back to the ship and there’s no guarantee that it survived the shower unharmed.

I am so very tired of reviewing films like this on a weekly basis.  I need to create a template where I just enter the name of the film and the actors and let the computer do the rest.  The words I’m looking for are formulaic, predictable and uninteresting.

Screenwriters Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin have borrowed from many other science-fiction films to create the standard story.  The dialogue is dreadful and the many impossible situations they find themselves in before miraculously escaping are done to overkill.

No money was spent on extras and there are just the six crew members making up the entire cast.  You think they’d have spent the savings on better effects.  First time director Antony Hoffman makes nothing of his opportunity in the director’s chair nor does all the cast.

Filmed in Australia, there was a major fallout between Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer during shooting which became public.  Both never want to work together again and their lack of interest in the product shows through in their performances - these characters are so boring.

Red Planet is the second film this year to base its story on man’s first landing on Mars (following Mission To Mars) and this raises several questions.  Why in both movies does the mission go wrong - is this what we really hope will happen?  Why in both movies do they find life on Mars without any previous indications?  I loved The Dish because of its compelling yarn and the numbing feeling I was left with watching mankind accomplish the unthinkable - putting a man on the moon.  In Red Planet, I couldn’t care less.  It’s just trashy science-fiction garbage.


Autumn In New York

Directed by: Joan Chen
Written by:Allison Burnett
Starring: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Mary Beth Hurt, Sherry Stringfield, Elaine Stritch
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: C

Will Keane (Gere) is a food connoisseur with his own high-priced restaurant earning him cover shots on exclusive New York magazines.  Never married, he has the reputation of being a “womaniser” having romanced so many women and never taken the next step.  He’s only recently dumped his latest girlfriend with the “it’s not you, it’s me” routine.

It doesn’t take long for Keane to find someone new when he sights a dashing young lady, Charlotte Fielding (Ryder), celebrating her 22nd birthday in his restaurant.  Even more surprising is that she is the daughter of a former flame from many years ago.  Will’s friends are joking with him regarding the age difference but both seem to like each other and soon they find themselves falling in love.

Love in movies is never easy and soon we find Charlotte is suffering from a tumour in her heart and has less than a year to live.  This comes as a shock to Will and his theory of loving and leaving women is going to put to the test...

Romantic dramas are designed to move people but I can honestly say my facial expression did not alter for the entire 105 minutes.  Evidence of romance between Gere and Ryder was lacking and it seemed a poor casting choice.  The supporting stars, including Anthony LaPaglia, Sherry Stringfield and Mary Beth Hurt, offer little to help the story.  The subplots that have been accommodated into the main story and equally less interesting and confusingly resolved.

Joan Chen is an accomplished actress and has shown directorial ability before (in The Sent Down Girl) but this is a very weak effort.  All the picturesque shots of New York are mundane and of particular note, the big romance scene between Ryder and Gere in the bedroom is bewilderingly shot.

When released in the United States, MGM refused to screen the film to critics prior to its release and in anyone’s book, that’s a bad sign.  If the film was worth recommending, the studio would be dying for critics to see it to generate positive word and Oscar hype.  When a film costs $40m and has even the studio running scared, you know you’ve got problems.  At least now, I know for sure.


The Grinch

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by:Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambour, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Anthony Hopkins
Released: November 30, 2000
Grade: A

“The Mayor grabbed a tom-tom.  He started to smack it.  And, all over Who-ville, they whooped up a racket.  They rattled tin kettles!  They beat on brass pans, On garbage pail tops and old cranberry cans!  They blew on bazookas and blasted great toots, On clarinets, omm-pahs and boom-pahs and flutes!”

Theodore Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Suess) was a brilliant writer responsible for many books and poems read, remembered and loved by kids around the world.  The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and The Cat In The Hat are perhaps his best-known works and who can honestly say they’ve never read them?

The town of Who-ville treasures each Christmas as a time to celebrate and give gifts.  Legend has it that an old “grinch” lives high in the mountains and hasn’t been seen since spoiling Christmas many years ago.  When it’s time to present Mayor May Who’s annual Christmas award to the person most in need of Christmas cheer, young Cindy Lou Who nominates none other than the Grinch.

Cindy climbs high in the mountains to bring Christmas cheer but the Grinch is unmoved and has plans to spend the holiday wallowing in his own misery.  But the thought of an award grabs his attention - if he’s the winner than that means there must be losers.  Perhaps Christmas may not be so bad after all.  Returning to the town proves a bad idea and the Grinch is ridiculed and left grinchier than ever.  There’s only one way of making sure something like this never happens again - to steal Christmas.

I was stunned by the beauty Ron Howard (Apollo 13) has drawn from Dr Seuss’s writings.  The costumes, sets and cinematography are unrivalled on screen this year.  Head make-up artist Rick Baker has won 5 Academy Awards and will be a 100-1 on favourite next year - it’s amazing the detail he has gone to.  Baker has signed on to Tim Burton’s new Planet Of The Apes remake in 2001 - he sure likes picking tough challenges.  No cast member is recognisable and more time must have been spent in chairs rather than filming this production. 

It cannot be denied that Jim Carrey has the broadest range of any current actor.  If you told me that Ace Ventura, The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, Man On The Moon and The Grinch all starred the same actor, I say you were a Liar, Liar.  Every time I review a Jim Carrey movie I say that I couldn’t see any other actor playing the role and not to reiterate myself but ditto again for The Grinch.  Just how does he do it?

With Christmas just weeks away, it’s the perfect movie to take the kids and spread some Christmas cheer.  It’s not a dark film by any means and children will love The Grinch as he is won over and changed by young Cindy and her message that Christmas is not just about giving presents.

As the best family movie in years, don't pass up a chance to see The Grinch.  Just take the kids, it’ll be a cinch.  Beautifully narrated by Anthony Hopkins and filled with lyrical rhyme, for the first time this season I felt in festive chime.  So take the opportunity and answer the call.  To end, I wish a Merry Christmas to all.


Charlie's Angels

Directed by: McG
Written by:Ryan Rowe, Ed Solomon, John August
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, Tim Curry, Kelly Lynch, Luke Wilson, Sam Rockwell, Matt LeBlanc, Tom Green
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: B

Charlie’s Angels stands for everything I loathe in cinema and given the trailers, I was primed to dish out a lethal review.  It’s been rehashed from a TV show, has a screenplay cornier than Batman & Robin and requires no consciousness to understand.  Yet, with is fast pace, dazzling colours and luscious ladies, it was a compelling viewing experience.  I dare not look yet I cannot turn away.

It kicks off from the opening scene when we see Natalie (Diaz), Dylan (Barrymore) and Alex (Liu) defuse an impossible situation aboard an airliner.  They come from varied backgrounds but have been recruited by the reclusive Charlie to carry out world-saving assignments.  Their contact with Charlie is through “middleman” Bosley (Murray) who is little more than an aging womaniser.

The latest assignment will be a tough one.  They are approached by vixen Vivian Wood (Lynch) when a millionaire scientist, Eric Knox (Rockwell), is kidnapped.  Knox had developed a revolutionary computer program with the ability to remember and replicate any voice it hears.  In the wrong hands, it could be used to manipulate global satellites and throw the world into chaos.  Oh no!

The Angels’ are hungry for some lovin’ but have to forego relationships with their boyfriends (Tom Green, Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc) until they track down the kidnappers and generally “kick ass”.  If you wish to continue, please read on.

Bottom line, you can’t describe Charlie’s Angels without using “popcorn” and “movie” together in the same sentence - you know exactly what you’re in for when you buy that ticket.  The strongest feature comes from the brisk pace it sets.  Action is prominent and time is not wasted on trivial side characters, awful dialogue and attempts to bring authenticity to the script (a pitfall many recent action films have fallen victim too).

Diaz, Barrymore and Liu must have had a ball and their effervescence shows.  Instead of playing perfect tough gals, they show a hilarious ditsy side in many scenes with particular praise going to Cameron Diaz.  They know it’s all for fun and don’t try to take it any further.  Disappointingly, more wasn’t made of Bill Murray.  The comedic genius seemed too tightly bound by the script and Murray wasn’t given the flexibility to show his great talent, improvisation.

First-time director Joseph McGinty Nichol is simply known in the credits as McG and I’m at a loss to understand why.  His direction of Charlie’s Angels shows he has talent though and his boldness should be rewarded with future projects.  Credit is also due to the special effects team and editors Peter Teschner and Wayne Wahrman who have created the best action sequences since The Matrix.

This is not the sort of film I endorse nor would I see it a second time.  Still, if tacky action films need be made you may as well go the whole way and Charlie’s Angels fits the bill.  Given its huge success in the United States and the lack of decent scripts, one feels a sequel will be just around the corner.  I may save my scathing review for then.



Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by:M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark
Released: November 30, 2000
Grade: A-

“Why are you looking at me like that?” 

“There are two reasons why I am looking at you like this.  One, because it seems in a few minutes you will be the only survivor of this train wreck.  And two, you don’t have a single broken bone or a scratch on you.” 

After a discouraging job interview in New York, security officer David Dunn (Willis) is returning home on train 177 to Philadelphia.  The next minute he finds himself waking up on a hospital bed talking to a doctor and asking what happened.  The train derailed, 131 people were killed and Dunn is the sole survivor.

At a memorial service for those killed, an envelope is left on Dunn’s windshield asking the question “How many times have you been sick?”  Dunn can’t seem to remember so does some searching.  He asks his wife, he asks his boss but no one can seem to remember a cold, a sore throat, anything.  The only injury of any kind came from a car accident in college that wrecked his football career.

The envelope was left by Elijah Price (Jackson), an obsessed comic book collector with his own art gallery, Limited Edition.  Elijah suffers from a rare medical condition - a severe brittleness of the bone and has spent a third of his life in hospital.  It has occurred to Elijah that if there is someone like him, there must be someone who is the exact opposite?  Every day he has scoured newspapers looking for the elusive phrase “there was a sole survivor”.  Has the riddle been solved in the discovery of David Dunn?  Is he truly unbreakable?  Just what does Elijah want with Dunn now that he has been found?

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) will make you wait for the answers.  Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable is deliberate and pieces of the puzzle are revealed ever so slowly.  There was a moment midway through the movie where I knew he had me.  The film had turned in a way I didn’t expect and there was no way of predicting where next it would go.  Attention should also be given to Shyamalan’s use of colour - the movie is very grim but colours on certain characters do stand out.

Roles are purposely underplayed but the cast could be better with emphasis on the role of Dunn’s son played by Spencer Treat Clark (he sure ain’t no Haley Joel Osment).  It is the story that makes the film however and can best be described as creatively brilliant with only a few minor qualms.

Once again I was fooled by the twist ending which doesn’t quite have the impact of The Sixth Sense.  Be prepared but don’t expect a revelation that puts everything preceding it in a new light.  Rather, prepare for an ending that will foretell the future.  It is not a well-publicised fact that Unbreakable is rumoured to be the first in a trilogy.  This will make more sense after you see it.

Craftily told and directed, Unbreakable will again make you sit up straight and pay attention.  Part of the new breed of filmmakers, Academy Award nominated Shyamalan will have us all awaiting the next instalment.  Are you ready to take that first step?  Are you ready for the truth?