Volume 4, Number 11
This Week's Reviews: Ice Age, Harrison's Flowers.
This Week's Omissions: Big Bad Love, Resident Evil, Showtime.
BY: DAVID PERRY
A trio of prehistoric animals headline the latest CGI animated feature to come out of Hollywood with Ice Age. This, the first completely CGI film from Fox (their only other work was on parts of Titan A.E.), joins Disney/Pixar's Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and A Bug's Life, DreamWorks' Antz and Shrek, Paramount's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and Columbia's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. And, when all the dust clears, it stands as the least satisfying of the group.
Ice Age is a ludicrous exercise in kiddie pacification -- it is a movie devoted to giving children the easiest pleasures to ensure that it can have their attention and their devotion when it is released into video stores. I find it perfect that next week sees the reissue of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, one of the best family films that not only enlightens the minds of the children, but also never panders to them.
For what seems like an eternity, Ice Age moves glacially through plot points that could be mapped out by anyone who has seen more than a couple animated films in their lives. Two works I liked last year -- Shrek and Monters, Inc. -- worked with similar plots without going into the lowest common denominator in children's narrative storytelling. Yeah, we've already seen the dueling pair of odd creatures and the journey involved in returning a cute tyke to his or her parents. But Shrek, with its ogre and donkey duo, and Monsters, Inc., with its bedroom frighteners trying to return a small child, precedes Ice Age in both release date and artistic credibility. Also next week commemorates the first Best Animated Feature Academy Award, where the two aforementioned films are nominated -- here's hoping that the nominating group in the category who somehow missed out on the achievement of Waking Life, will not fall for Ice Age like they did with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
For this film, the fight is between a mammoth named Manfred (Romano) and a sloth named Sid (Leguizamo) who are intent on returning a human baby to his tribe. They are joined by Diego (Leary), a saber tooth who brought about the initial abduction of the child and is only helping them so that he can bring the hulking mammoth to his tiger den. All this happens while the group walks into the snowy glaciers cascading across the open terrain.
The film opens with the exploits of an antediluvian mammal called Scrat (Wedge), part squirrel, part rat, who puts the events together that allow the next ice age to occur in the film's opening scene. This sequence, as well as the couple other moments with Scrat throughout the movie, could have made some terrific short films like the occasional products of Pixar (like the Oscar nominated For the Birds, which came out with Monsters, Inc.). As part of Ice Age as a whole, though, it serves as a mere reminder of what the filmmakers are equipped to do, even if they are unwilling to do it with the main story.
Much of the movie falls flat with the movie's incorrigible sentimentality that screams of contrivance. There's nothing wrong with some sentiment, but this movie seems determined to have some that what is there feels incredibly forced. A back story for Manfred is especially worrying, as well as some scenes involving the relationships between the animals and the humans.
The actors delivering the voices also fail to bring in the
needed appeal of Nathan Lane or Billy Crystal. Leary is too cold, Romano is too dull, and
Leguizamo is too annoying -- this is a trio of actors who have never really proven
themselves in any capacity beyond their comedic niches. Perhaps the most telling of all
this is that they most likable and interesting character is Scrat, and he has no dialogue.
BY: DAVID PERRY
The past century has already been referred to as the "Bloody Century." The 19th came with two scores of European revolutions, an American Civil War, and various fights of manifest destiny. And yet, the 20th proved to eclipse the previous century with two World Wars, constant proxy wars between capitalist and communist nations, and various attacks based upon racial and ethnic differences. Mao, Stalin, Amin, Khomeini, and Hitler all helped to create the atmosphere needed to give the 1900's that name. The last addition to the group would be the former president of Yugoslavia, the currently indicted Slododan Milosovic.
His term in office brought one of the bloodiest armed conflicts in recent decades. Both warring factions, the Serbs and the Bosnians, saw constant fighting that killed millions, not only of the two ethnicities but also from the Balkan neighbors and United Nations peacekeepers. One group often not mentioned amongst the casualties in Sarajevo are the photographers sent in by Western news services. The new film Harrison's Flowers dramatizes the story of these men and women who went into "no man's land" for photographs and lost their lives for the efforts.
The film follows Harrison Lloyd (Strathairn), a fictional Newsweek photojournalist sent by his publisher (Armstrong) to Yugoslavia circa 1991 for his final assignment. Wife Sarah (MacDowell) does not worry too much, not only is her husband a pro at going to battlefields, but the war in Yugoslavia does not seem to big based upon the CNN news coverage.
But, like the police officer on his last day before retirement, the final trip for Harrison is not as simple as everyone had thought. A couple pf days into his tour, Sarah received a phone call with muddled, unintelligible noise on the life. She believes that it must be Harrison letting her know that he is well. The next day, though, she finds that he has been presumed dead by Newsweek after a catastrophic building collapse. Nevertheless, Sarah will not believe that Harrison is dead since she thinks she spoke to him on the phone the day after the building collapsed.
Sarah is not going to merely sit back and wait for him to arrive home and prove the world wrong about his death -- she thinks that it is her duty to head into Yugoslavia and save him from the so-called war going on. Atrocities be damned, she's a housewife with a bone to pick; it cannot be that hard, the war is just a sidebar in CNN's nightly news.
Quickly she finds that simply driving through Yugoslavia is a dance with death. People are shot mere inches from her, her rental car is destroyed by a tank, and the roads to Vukovar, where she thinks Harrison is, are closed by army roadblocks. Yeah, Milosovic may have killed millions through "ethnic cleansing," but he has also turned the transportation infrastructure into a mess for the well-meaning but out of her element widow. Through the companionship of three other photographers -- young Turk Kyle (Brody), his British companion Stevenson (Gleeson), and Harrison's best friend Yeager (Koteas) -- Sarah dons a camera and begins trekking through the countryside in hopes that Harrison will be waiting for her when she arrives.
Harrison's Flowers is one of the most well meaning films of the year, with important issues and a tie with history lost on many Americans, but that does not free it from the huge cinematic gaffes throughout. Director Elie Chouraqui knows how to set up the camera, but when it comes to piecing everything together, the Frenchman is lacking. This is a movie that begins with character simply playing off of each other to dull the lackluster exposition involved to get them there.
One of those actors is the terrific David Strathairn, who
has been out of the spotlight since his 1999 performance in A Map of the World, A
Midsummer Night's Dream, and Limbo. Strathairn gives realism to all his
roles, whether they are effete like in A Midsummer Night's Dream, an everyman
like in Limbo, and smarmy in L.A. Confidential. Here he gives
credibility to a role that has been so poorly strung together that the emotional
investment could have been lost had a different, less talented actor taken it. Once
Strathairn leaves the film, though, his absence is horribly felt. Andie MacDowell is not
much of a performer and soon she collapses under the pressures of carrying the movie. With
MacDowell fiddling around and Chouraqui aimlessly trying to put the film together, at
least the audience is also deeply intent on the possible reemergence of Harrison -- not
only does that bring a happy ending (the film's actual ending, by the way, is little more
than a contrivance), but also brings some of the needed support from the always dependable