Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Movie Review – Chicken Run

Chicken Run

Directed by Nick Park and Peter Lord.

Starring the voices of Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson, Jane Horrocks, and Benjamin Whitrow.

I’ve always been a fan of stop motion animation and it’s sibling, claymation. With the rush to computer animation going on, it’s a medium that’s starting to get overlooked. That’s why I thought it was cool when I first heard about Chicken Run. Here, in this world of CGI shiny things, was a good old fashioned claymation film.

Things aren’t going that well for Ginger (Sawalha). She’s a chicken, and all her life she’s known nothing but imprisonment on Tweedy’s Chicken Farm. She longs for freedom, and dreams of what’s over that hill on the horizon. Sure, she could escape, but she fears what will happen to her fellow chickens who would get left behind: scatterbrained Babs (Horrocks), Scottish engineer Mac, old rooster/soldier Fowler (Whitrow), and all the others. So, all her escape plans involve everyone escaping. Things soon start to seem futile, but then Rocky the Flying Rooster (Gibson) drops in from the sky. Since he’s billed as the flying rooster, it seems that salvation is at hand: he can teach everyone to fly over the fence. Soon, it becomes a race against time. Mrs. Tweedy (Richardson) is frustrated over the dropping price of eggs, and wants to switch to producing the more profitable chicken pies. She has even begun building the pie-making machine. Can Rocky and Ginger save all the chickens before they all become pies?

Only one word describes this film: cute. The entire design of the chicken farm is meant to resemble a World War II POW camp, and there are lots of subtle references to POW films. Even the music is meant to conjure up memories of those films. Gibson does great as the cocky American rooster, and even manages to slip in a subtle reference to Braveheart. The film was mostly made in England, so you’ll find that dry, British wit underlying the whole movie. With cute characters, funny jokes, and a great reference to Star Trek at the climax, it’s hard to hate this film. Truly an animation treat this summer.

3 Nibs

Movie Review – Shaft

Shaft

Directed by John Singleton

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Bale, Jeffery Wright, Vanessa Williams, Toni Collette, and Richard Roundtree.

Another year older, another year wiser, and another traditional birthday movie. When it comes to the big-time action films of this summer, two were kind of sticking out: Gone In 60 Seconds, and Shaft. Shaft just seemed so much more…cool to me that I knew I had to see it. So, when asked what film to see on my birthday, I ran through the list of what’s been out the longest that I still want to see, and Shaft was at the top of the list. I had a hunch that even my Dad would like, being the kind of old-fashioned detective movie (i.e. Dirty Harry) that he grew up with.


Samuel L. Jackson plays Det. John Shaft, one of the finest on the NYPD. One wintry Christmas, he’s called out to investigate the murder of young black kid by a racist punk/spoiled white kid Walter Wade (Bale). Wade makes bail and skips the country for two long years, while Shaft waits for him to return. When Wade does return, Shaft promptly arrests him and hauls him downtown, where Wade meets up with Peoples Hernandez (Wright), a small-time drug dealer and another nemesis of Shaft’s. When Wade makes bail again, Shaft quits the force in disgust to go after Wade “his own way.” There is one way to bring in Wade once and for all: waitress Diane Palmieri (Collette) saw the whole thing, and only her testimony can put away Wade. But, she was frightened into submission and has been in hiding for the last two years. Wade, then, soon pays of Hernandez to silence Diane permanently, and the race is on between Shaft and Hernandez to find Diane. Of course, Shaft gets help from his former parner, Carmen Vasquez (Williams), and his uncle, the original Shaft (Roundtree).

This movie is…cool. Jackson, as Shaft, just oozes the kind of coolness required for a man to be on the lone pursuit of justice. We’ve got the right blend of typical action-hero one-liners and just plain attitude that makes a great action hero. And I feel that my plot summary does a dis-service to the villain of Hernandez. Hernandez is just so slimy and evil, that when Wade does deal with him, it’s essentially a deal with the devil. For most of the film, it is Hernandez who is the villain, and he’s so good at it. And the film is just so fast-moving! I hardly realized that the whole hour and 45 minutes had gone by! All in all, a very cool summer flick. (And if I say cool one more time, you can do ungodly things to me.)

3 Nibs

Movie Review – Titan A.E.

Titan A.E.

Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman

Starring the voices of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, John Leguazamo, and Jeannine Garofalo.

I’m sure, that like myself, your first exposure to Titan A.E. came during Episode I. Titan A.E. was lucky enough to have it’s teaser attached to Episode I. When we heard Matt Damon’s voice talking about how man had conquered space, and then the animation of Earth being destoyed, we all scratched our heads and went “What the hell was that?” Well, here we are, a year later, and we get to find out.

It’s the dawn of the 31st Century. Earth has been destroyed by an alien race called the Drej, because the Drej determined that humans were on the verge of becoming a threat. The surviving humans now live in giant starships called drifter colonies, are treated like second class citizens of the galaxy, and being hunted by the Drej. We soon meet Cale (Damon). He’s a young, rebellious sort, working in a salvage yard and thinking that there’s not much more to life. But he soon meets a space pirate by the name of Korso (Pullman), who needs Cale. Seems that Cale’s father was in charge of the Titan project, something which could save the human race. Only Cale’s genetic code can read the map to where his father hid the Titan. So, Cale joins Korso’s crew: babealicious pilot Akima (Barrymore), slimy navigator Preed (Lane), nerdy engineer Gune (Leguizamo), and weapons expert Stith (Garofalo), who gets just a touch of the bloodlust in battle. With the Drej hot in pursuit, they go off to find the Titan! Can they do it? Or is there a betrayer in their midst?

This film is something I’ve wanted to see American animators attempt: a hard-core sci-fi. For the most part, it succeeds. There’s this scene on a planet with hydrogen trees, and bat-like aliens that could only be pulled off in a live-action film with a gazilion dollars. And, there’s this game of cat-and-mouse in a planet’s ice rings, which is just beautifully animated. And I must give kudos to Nathan Lane. He’s played a lot of “flamboyant” characters, and he surprised me here by convincingly voicing a slimeball. But…. I found that the characters seemed a little hollow. When the betrayer is revealed, it just kind of came out of left field. The Iron Giant has become the gold standard for which I rate animated films, and compared with that, Titan A.E. just left me wanting more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but I so wanted it to be great. Oh, and I love that final joke.

2.5 Nibs

Movie Review – Mission: Impossible II

Mission: Impossible II

Directed by John Woo

Starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, and John Polson.

Way back in the summer of 1996, Mission: Impossible was one of the big blockbusters I wanted to see. But, sadly, I did not get to go see it. So, when it came out on video at Christmas 1996, I ran out and rented it. I returned to the floor lounge to find that the woman who hated me, Tara, had already laid claim to the TV and VCR. I begged her to let me watch it, and she said “Oh, like you’ve been dying to see it.” And I said “Actually, yes I have.” And she finally let me watch it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go through that much trouble to see the sequel.

Since a lot of people didn’t understand the plot of the first one, they decided to keep things nice and simple for the sequel. Sean Ambrose (Scott) is an IMF agent who’s gone rouge, and has stolen for himself the world’s most potent virus and it’s antidote, called Chimera and Belleraphon respectively. Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to get the virus and antidote back. To do this mission, he must first recruit Nyah (Newton), a jewel theif and former love of Sean’s. They hope that she can use her former relationship to infiltrate Sean’s gang. Padding out the team with computer expert Luther Stickwell (Rhames) and pilot Billy Baird (Polson), they go off to save the world! But, complications ensue when Ethan and Nyah fall in love. Can he complete the mission without putting her at risk?

John Woo is one of those directors with a distinct style. The dramatic slo-mo close ups, people letting loose with a gun in each hand, that kind of stuff. That style definatley adds to the film. This movie is all about the stunts. From Ethan’s rock climbing at the start, to the climactic motorcycle chase, it just doesn’t let up. Scott makes an excellent villain, and now I see why he was the original choice to play Wolverine. Cruise, of course, is Cruise. This is just a great way to spend 2.5 hours in an air-conditioned theater. But, if you’re forced to see it on video, I’ll understand.

One last thing that’s annoying me about other reviews for this film. Everyone’s saying it was written by Robert Towne. But, there were two other writers on this film: Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. Why are they being left out? Because the only other thing they did before this was Star Trek. So do me a favour. When you see this, cheer when their names come on screen.

3.5 Nibs

Movie Review – Dinosaur

Dinosaur

Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton

Starring the voices of D.B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Samuel E. Wright, Ozzie Davis, Alfrie Woodard, Della Reese, Max Cassela, and Joan Plowright.

You’ve got to hand it to Disney. Not content to let Pixar make animated movies for them, they had to go and make their own 100% computer animated film. What’s confused me though is, is Dinosaur really an animated film? I mean, the dinosaurs are animated, but all the backgrounds are real. So, is it animated, or special effects? I let you debate that while you read the review.

A long, long, time ago, the egg of a baby iguanadon was taken from its nest, and this baby was raised by a family of lemurs (voices of Woodard, Davis, and Cassela). This baby grows up to become Aladar (voice of Sweeney), a happy, laid back iguanadon. But soon, tragedy strikes. The first of those planet killers strikes, and the island that Aladar and the lemurs call home is wiped out. After treking through the mainland desert, they soon encounter a herd of dinosaurs of all kinds. It’s rumored that the breeding grounds are still untouched, and that they may find refuge there. Aladar and the lemurs soon befriend Eesa (Reese), a triceratops, and Baylene (Plowright), a brachiosaur. They are old, and bringing up the rear. Kron (Wright) who’s leading the herd, is a vicious dictator. His word is law, and if the weak can’t keep up, then their bones will feed the predators stalking them. Aladar’s work-together mentality doesn’t mesh with Kron’s survival-of-the- strongest, and they don’t like each other. Things even get more complicated when Aladar falls in love with Neera (Margulies), Kron’s sister. Can the herd outrun the carnotaurs to the breeding grounds? Will Kron’s attitude kill them all? Or will Aladar be able to save them all?

One thing’s for sure, the animated dinosaurs are good. I wouldn’t say “10 times better than the ones in Jurassic Park“, but just a smidge better. And at least they didn’t go with the Jurassic Park standard villains: velaciraptors and t-rexes. No, here we get carnotaurs. Think a smaller T-Rex with horns. At first, the mesh of real backgrounds and animated dinosaurs is a bit distracting, but it becomes less noticable as the movie goes on. The characters are good, if a little typical of Disney. And the story’s familiar, if you’ve ever seen The Land Before Time or read the Bible. But all in all, it’s a fairly entertaining film. Check it out.

3 Nibs

Movie Review – Gladiator

Gladiator

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Russel Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, and Richard Harris.

Now that I have a job, and tend to get just about every Thursday off, I figure it was time to do one of my double-feature days. And what better way to kick off this summer of double-features than with the first big summer blockbuster, Gladiator?

Maximus (Crowe) is the best general in the Roman Empire. But, he is also a man of simple tastes. He longs for his tour of duty to end so he can return home to his wife and son. But, things don’t go as planned. Marcus Aurelius (Harris), ruler of the empire, is dying. His son Commodus (Phoenix) is too corrupt, so he asks Maximus to make sure that rule is restored to the senate in a safe and orderly fashion. Commodus doesn’t like this idea one bit, so Commodus murders his father, and then orders the death of Maximus and his family. Maximus escapes, but is too late to save his family. He is soon picked up by wanderers, and sold as a slave to Proximo (Reed), who seeks to train Maximus as a gladiator. Maximus soon rises to be the best, and with the help of Commodus’ sister, Lucilla (Nielsen), soon seeks to gain vengeance for his family, and fulfill the final wish of Marcus Aurelius.

This movie is pretty good. The battle scenes are some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen (and definitely some of the bloodiest). Even the special effects are amazing! There’s this one shot of ancient Rome that looks like they actually flew a helicopter over ancient Rome to get it! Crowe, as Maximus, is everything a hero should be: devoted to his cause and family, and always fighting for what’s right. Phoenix makes Commodus a particularly slimy villain, one who’ll scheme and plot and just do whatever it takes to get the throne. All in all, a great way to start the summer.

3 Nibs

Movie Review – The Road to El Dorado

The Road to El Dorado

Directed by Bibo Bergeron, Will Finn, Don Paul, and David Silverman.

Starring the voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos, Jim Cummings, and Frank Welker.

So, I’m working now, and I figure what better way to celebrate my employment than to go see a movie? I’m sure you all know of my love for all things animated, so I went off to see The Road To El Dorado! Dreamwork’s first animated effort, Prince Of Egypt, was pretty good, so I wanted to see what they could for their second time out.

As always, here is our plot. We start off in Spain, during the time of the conquistadors. Cortez (voice of Cummings) is mountaining his latest expedition. Enter two con-men, Miguel and Tulio (voices of Branagh and Kline, respectivley). They just happen to get their hands on a map to the fabled El Dorado, the City Of Gold. So, they accidentally stow away on Cortez’s ship, and after a daring escape with the help of a horse (Welker), and some voyages through the jungle, they wind up in the paradise that is El Dorado. Here, they are mistaken for gods, and as such, get caught in the middle of a power struggle between the chief (Olmos) and high priest, Tzekel-Kan (Assante). So, they decide to play both ends against the middle, with the help of local girl Chel (Perez), who wants in on the scam. How long can they keep up the charade? Or will they get caught up in it all, and stay in paradise?

While no Iron Giant, this is a pretty good little animated film. I found it to be quite funny. The songs, written by Elton John, are OK. Nothing really memorable. This is a musical the way that Tarzan was: all the songs are sung in the background. The animation is wonderful, with Dreamworks once again showing off that they want to give Disney a run for their money. And some of the humor is a little more grown-up than Disney fair. (Tulio and Chel do it, for example.) While I don’t think that this is destined to be a classic, it’s not too bad. Go see it if you want a pleasing way to kill an afternoon.

3 Nibs

Movie Review – Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000

Directed by Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, Paul Brizzi, Gaetan Brizzi, Francis Glebas, and Pixote Hunt.

Starring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine.

When I heard Disney was doing a sequel to Fantasia, I jumped for joy. When I heard it was going to be an IMAX film, I just about wet myself. How would a marriage between one of the greatest animation houses on the planet and the ultimate wide screen be pulled off? Would it be a monumental achievement, or a colossal failure? Well, since this is a segmented film, it’s best to do things segment by segment.
Beethoven’s Fifth/Floating Triangles – Nothing but triangles floating around like butterflies, and hovering over something that looks like a pond. And, all set to the classic “da-da-da-duh.” Just nifty.

The Pines Of Rome/Flying Whales – Set to a piece called the Pines Of Rome, we are treated to the pure surealness of flying humpback whales. Although the premise is a little bizarre, it is spellbinding.

Rhapsody In Blue/Al Hirshfeld Cartoons – We follow through the city of New York four people who are longing for something more from life. This is my favorite. It’s just so bright and vibrant.

Piano Concerto #2/The Steadfast Tin Soldier – The story is based on the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale. We are presented with a one-legged tin soldier, who falls in love with a ballerina doll. But, the path to true love is blocked by an evil jack-in-the-box. Just too darn cute!

Carnival of the Animals/Flamingos with Yo-Yos – A flamingo plays with a yo-yo, much to the annoyance of his peers. The shortest segment, but the funniest.

Micky Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – The only segment returning from the original. A classic.

Pomp and Circumstance/Donald Duck on Noah’s Ark – Well, in this sequel, Donald Duck gets his own segment! Donald is Noah’s assistant, ushering the animals onto the Ark, all to the sounds of the Graduation Song. Along the way, Donald is separated from Daisy. Will true love prevail? A great companion to Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Firebird Suite/Death and Rebirth in the Forest – This time around, we are presented with a forest spirit, who unwittingly becomes prey to a fire monster. A show-stopping finale.

This is one of those films that isn’t seen, but experienced. It works if you’re an animation buff, a classical music guy, or just along for the ride. This film is magnificent on all respects. It’ll only be in IMAX for the next 3 weeks or so, so you must see it! You’ll love it. A lot of other critics have complained about the big celebrities who introduce each segment, but I didn’t find it that bad. Steve Martin was actually kind of funny. In the end, all I can say is WOW. See it. I hope now we don’t have to wait 60 years for the next one.

5 Nibs

Movie Review – Wakko’s Wish

Wakko’s Wish

Directed by Liz Holzman, Rusty Mills, and Tom Ruegger.

Starring the voices of Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Sherri Stoner, Nancy Cartwright, Frank Welker, and Paxton Whitehead.

I tend to shy away from DTV (direct to video) stuff. I mean, do we really need all those Disney sequels? But Warner Bros. tends to put out pretty decent stuff. Case in point: Batman: Sub-Zero, which many claimed to be better than the theatrical Batman & Robin. So, when I heard that they were doing a DTV Animaniacs movie, I knew I had to be first in line to rent it.

Things aren’t going well in the town of Acme Falls. Ever since that evil King Salazar took over, the poor townsfolk have been taxed to death. Hardest hit: the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister). The orphanage closed, and they have no home, and Dot needs an operation. Late one night, Wakko makes a wish upon a star. And, by sheer luck, it is the one, the only, wishing star! So, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot set out on a quest to where the wishing star landed so they can make their wish. (Wishes have to be made in person, you see.) Of course, word travels quick in Acme Falls, and soon the entire cast of Animaniacs, from Slappy Squirrel to Pinky and the Brain, are off to find the wishing star! And naturally, the evil king wants it for his own evil purposes.

This is one of the funniest animated films I’ve seen in a long time! The songs are also pretty good. The film starts off with a bang, but kind of slows down in the middle, where the jokes take a back seat to an endless stream of musical numbers. But, things pick up again, and it ends with some vintage Animaniacs humour. This is pure, inspired lunacy. If you want to laugh, go rent it. It won’t disappoint.

3 Nibs

Movie Review – Pokémon: The First Movie

Pokémon:  The First Movie

Directed by Kunohiko Yuyama; English translation directed by Michael Haigney.

Starring the voices of Veronica Taylor, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Addie Blaustein, and Phillip Bartlett.

I’ll confess, I’m a huge fan of the Pokémon cartoon. So, I said to myself, “When Pokémon: The Fist Movie hits the cheap theaters, I’ll go see it!” Well, it’s in the cheap theaters now. And besides, since I missed Princess Mononoke, this is my only chance to see anything remotely anime in a theater.

Actually, Pokémon: The First Movie is a bit of a double feature. First, we are presented with the short film Pikachu’s Vactaion, in which we follow the adventures of Pikachu, Togepi, and all our other favorites at their day of fun in a Pokemon-only park. Then, we get into the good stuff: Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. We are presented with Mewtwo. He is a genetically enhanced clone of Mew, the strongest Pokemon ever known. Mewtwo is confused about his creation. Why was he created? What is his purpose? Not wanting to be a slave to humans, Mewtwo destroys his captors and comes up with a plan: he will wipe out all humans and pokémon on Earth, leaving behind only him and his superior Pokemon clones. He invites the best trainers in the world, including our trio of Ash, Brock and Misty, to his island so he can clone their pokémon. Of course, it is then up to our heroes to save the day. Oh, and Team Rocket comes along for the ride.

Watching this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to that classic movie-based-on-a-fad, Transformers: The Movie. Since they were animated by the same Japanese studio, even certain shots look the same! And I am starting to truly love seeing anime on a big screen. However, unlike Transformers, the end gets awful, awful preachy. Put on your helmets, because you’ll be beaten with 3 messages! All in all, entertaining for Pokémon fans, all others beware.

3 Nibs (Hey, I’m a fan!)