I hope that if alien cultures are monitoring our entertainment they take a pass on the film Planet 51. It may reverse the human/alien traditional roles by having the human astronaut be the fish out of water on an alien planet but xenophobia stopped being a funny or useful plot device by the mid-'80s. Any mildly cognizant alien intelligences would take one look at this movie and decide to check back on the human race in another hundred years.
Justin Long plays Lem just another awkward teenager a role Long is too long-in-the-tooth to play in person anymore but shortly he could (and very well may) make a career out of doing it in voice work. Lem wants to be an astronomer and is vying for a job at the local observatory. He wants to score with neighborhood hottie Neera (Jessica Biel) but he can never quite muster up the confidence to make his move. His friends obsessed with comics and science fiction movies of the googly-eyed alien invasion ilk aren’t helping either. The catch is that these are all green-skinned tentacle-haired no-genitaled aliens on a distant planet who without a hint of explanation are living their lives parallel to Earth’s 1950s.
Lem is finally starting to get his game on when his life is turned upside down by the inconvenient entry of Captain Charles “Chuck” Baker (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson). Chuck is a human being and an astronaut who has landed his ship on the titular planet expecting something more barren only to find himself on the run from a culture living in fear of invasion because of a popular series of alien invasion films. His only help to get back to his module and dock with his mother ship in orbit before his countdown runs out (?) is Lem and his group of nerdy friends. Adventure ostensibly ensues and lessons are eventually learned by all: The cowardly Lem learns self-confidence the arrogant Chuck learns humility and we’re all supposed to learn tolerance towards those different from us. Unfortunately the only lesson actually imparted here is to be more careful when choosing an animated sci-fi film on which to spend your money.
While the premise here -- turning a cliché on its head -- shows promise Planet 51 has only switched the players. Every dumb alien joke since E.T. flew in front of the moon (and of course that’s here too) is included in the unimaginative script penned by the presumably sleep-writing Joe Stillman (Shrek Beavis and Butt-Head Do America). There’s not even anything fun and fast-paced here to take advantage of the animated CG format and make up for the crushing boredom. Why even do this sort of thing without an eye-candy chase scene or two?
The cast members as talented as they may be fare no better with the nothing they’re given. Johnson sounds as if he was reading a children’s book out loud to kindergarteners and it’s exhausting listening to him pander. Long is going through the same ol’ motions that have made up the majority of his career thus far and Biel is ridiculously unnecessary since she is given practically nothing to say or do. You’d think appearances by John Cleese as an alien scientist or Gary Oldman as the general leading the search for Chuck would bring some creative juices or some (sadly lacking) clever humor to the affair but they never manage to get past the tedious nature of the material written for them.
If there was ever an animated film that needed a clever punch-up team it’s this one. Planet 51 lacks both style AND substance which is surprising given the wealth of opportunities you’d think would be presented here. Perhaps first-time Spanish director Jorge Blanco and new Madrid-based studio Ilion Animation were overconfident about making a children’s film. All I can think is that they must have assumed this was going straight to DVD anyway and no one would notice. Planet 51 deserves to be packed up in a dusty crate in a corner of the Area 51 warehouse never to be seen again.
Finally a brilliantly told fractured fairy tale for children and adults alike that does not feature a grouchy green orge anywhere. Once upon a time a young man sneaks into the mysterious magic kingdom of Stormhold that’s walled off from his quiet English village. He soon meets a lovely young lady who just so happens to be a princess enslaved by a not-so-wicked witch. Nine months later a basket is dropped on his doorstep. Yes this baby boy is the unexpected result of his one-night liasion with the royal lass. The boy grows up blissfully unaware of his regal roots so when he reaches manhood Tristan (Charlie Cox) doesn’t understand why he so drawn to the land on the other side of the Wall. He finally hops over the Wall when a star falls out of the sky and lands deep in the heart of Stormhold. His goal: to bring back the star as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). Too bad this scheming temptress doesn’t think too much of the penniless and mild-mannered workingclass stiff. This being a fairy tale the star isn’t just a star. The star’s actually a beautiful celestial being named Yvaine (Claire Danes). And she fell to earth as part of a devious plan by Stormhold’s dying king (Peter O'Toole) to determine his successor. But the king’s scheming sons (Jason Flemying and Mark Strong) are not the only ones seeking Yvaine. The oh-so-wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) needs Yvaine to help her restore her youth. So that means Tristan must become the hero he’s destined to become—and take on witches princes airbourne pirates (Robert De Niro’s Capt. Shakespeare) and shady black marketeers (The Office’s Ricky Gervais)—so he can return home to Victoria. But Cupid has other plans for Tristran and it’s not hard to guess what those are. If all stars took on the human form of Claire Danes many more of us would probably pursue a career in astronomy. But it doesn’t take a working knowledge of the Hubble telescope to see how relaxed and luminous Danes is when she’s not carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And sparks definitely fly between Danes and Charlie Cox even when they’re at hurling hilarious insults at each other. Newcomer Cox makes a smooth transition from ill-at-ease lovesick puppy to swashbuckling hero. He also doesn’t seem to be intimidated at the prospect of staring down Robert De Niro. There’s always concern whenever De Niro takes on a comedic role for a big paycheck. He usually gets by with pure talent and nothing more. And when De Niro’s pirate crosses paths with Cox and Danes you immediately fear that he’s going to offer yet another variation on his tough gruff Alpha males from Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But he blindsides us by instead going all Jack Sparrow on us—that is if the old sea dog had no interest in the ladies—to deliriously campy effect. What with Hairspray and now Stardust Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback seems to be predicated on getting in touch with her inner bitch. She’s splendidly nasty and scary as Lamia. And the uglier and older she gets the meaner and funnier she gets. Equally cruel—though more cheerfully so—is Sienna Miller. Providing small but amusing cameos are Gervais once again revealing an unparallel mastery of toadying and Peter O'Toole who kicks the bucket quicker than John Cleese’s King Harold does in Shrek the Third. There’s legitimate reason to question whether Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn has what it takes to direct a big-budget effects-driven summer blockbuster. Remember after making his name producing or directing relatively inexpensive British crime capers Vaughn walked away from X-Men: The Last Stand. Judging by Stardust though Vaughn would have done a masterful job leading those misunderstood mutants into battle. Then again he couldn’t have done worse than Brett Ratner. Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Stardust possesses both a big heart and an uncommon adventurous streak. Unlike the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which was too long and too cumbersome for its own good Stardust moves nimbly and confidently through a strange and wonderful land populated with noble heroes to cheer for fiendish villains to boo at and gorgeous damsels in distress to sigh over. Vaughn keeps us on the edge of our seats whenever Tristan must think or fight his way out of danger. But he invests as much time in making believe that Tristan and Yvaine are made for each other. He also strikes a fine balance between honoring the sword-and-sorcery genre while playfully sending up its many cliches. The humor’s a lot more risqué than the bedtime story that was The Princess Bride but most of the sexual innuendoes will zoom over the heads of those still too young to pick up on many of Shrek’s pop-cultural references. Clearly Stardust cannot escape all other comparisons to The Princess Bride but Stardust boasts more than enough magic and daring-do to win over those who remained enthralled to this day by Cary Elwes’ brave efforts to rescue a kidnapped Robin Wright Penn. So this is one fairy tale that richly deserves its happily ever after--and for that matter so does Vaughn.
February 26, 2004 8:49am EST
Top Story: Judge To Settle Dispute With Michael Jackson, Ex-Wife
According to court documents made public Tuesday, Michael Jackson and his ex-wife Debbie Rowe have agreed to let retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Lachs mediate an unspecified family dispute. The papers, published on the Smoking Gun Web site (www.thesmokinggun.com), do not specify the nature of the dispute but according to the syndicated show Celebrity Justice, Rowe, a medical assistant who was married to Jackson from 1996 to 1999, is seeking formal custody of their two children, Prince Michael I and Paris. Celebrity Justice reports that Rowe decided to seek custody of the children in part because members of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim group, were advising the 45-year-old singer. Jackson is charged with seven counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14 and two counts of giving the boy alcohol in order to seduce him. Lachs and attorneys for both Jackson and Rowe declined comment on the dispute or the documents, which were signed by Rowe and Jackson, Reuters reports.
Janet Jackson Won't Play Lena
Janet Jackson and the producers of a planned ABC TV movie about the life of Lena Horne bowed out of the project after the singing legend balked at Jackson's casting. "Janet is no longer part of the (project) because Lena didn't want her in it," Jackson spokesman Stephen Huvane told Reuters Tuesday. "ABC and the producers were supporting Janet, and Janet realized this wasn't going to change, so she needed to bow out, and then the producers bowed out with her. According to published reports, Horne, 86, a veteran entertainer who helped break Hollywood racial barriers in the 1940s, was offended by Jackson's infamous halftime show performance with Justin Timberlake during the Feb. 1 Super Bowl.
Justin Timberlake Out of Motown Special
Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, is out as co-host of ABC's upcoming Motown 45 special. According to Billboard.com, Timberlake's camp cited a scheduling conflict, but the announcement follows a campaign launched by a coalition of black organizations protesting Timberlake's involvement in the special. "The selection of Timberlake as co-host of this Motown special is a cultural insult to the black community," Project Islamic HOPE executive director Najee Ali said in a statement last week. "This special, celebrating the success of the legendary music label, should not be compromised in the pursuit of a crossover audience." But Motown 45 executive producer Jeff Margolis said Timberlake's commitment to the feature film Edison forced him to withdraw. It was not immediately clear whether Timberlake, who was to have co-hosted the show with Lionel Richie, will be replaced.
William "She Bangs" Hung To Make Idol Appearance
American Idol hasn't seen the last of William Hung, the most famous contestant who never made it to the stage. The Associated Press reports Hung, who attracted national attention with his "She Bangs" audition and has since landed several gigs, is slated to guest-appear on American Idol: Uncut, Uncensored & Untalented, a Fox special that will also feature yet more show outtakes, bad auditions and live appearances by contestants and wanna-bes. The one-hour special hosted by Ryan Seacrest airs Monday on Fox.
Jolie To Carry Olympic Torch
Angelina Jolie's latest role is one of Olympic proportions. The Lara Croft star has agreed to be one of the final torchbearers at the Athens Olympics the day before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony on August 13. Jolie, who is also a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, will carry the Olympic torch for a few hundred meters on the afternoon of August 12, as the international relay comes to a close in the Greek capital after crossing all five continents, Reuters reports. Jolie, 29, is the first high-profile torchbearer to accept an invitation to run in the relay on its return to Greece.
Sex Finale Big for HBO
The series finale of HBO's Emmy-winning comedy Sex and the City nabbed 10.6 million viewers when it aired Sunday night--the biggest audience of the show's six-season run, Reuters reports. The episode also drew the highest household rating on HBO (21.8) since the September 2002 premiere of the fourth season of mob drama The Sopranos, which averaged 13.4 million viewers to then rank as the most watched original program in the history of the cable channel. The 45-minute telecast, however was paled in overall audience by ABC's return of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, with 17.5 million viewers overall, and NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which garnered 14.5 million viewers overall.
Prince Returns to Pop Life
Let's go crazy! Maybe it was his performance of Purple Rain with Beyonce at this month's Grammy ceremony that inspired him--the Purple One is returning to the stage with his first national tour in six years. According to the AP, the 45-year-old Prince, who dropped out of the mainstream in the '90s, will perform classic hits including When Doves Cry and Little Red Corvette. "It's older music, but it's going to be played in a newer way," Prince said Tuesday. The normally media-shy singer followed his announcement with a half-hour concert in Los Angeles backed by his eight-piece group, the New Power Generation Band, and performed the title song from his upcoming album Musicology. Prince is currently in negotiations with various record labels since parting with Warner Bros. in 1996 after a highly publicized feud. The tour begins March 29 in Los Angeles and will hit at least 38 cities.
Role Call: Downey, Kilmer in Kiss, Kiss; IFC Acquires Metallica Pic
Lethal Weapon scribes Shane Black and producer Joel Silver are reuniting for Warner Bros.' Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, a buddy actioner to star Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan. According to Variety, Down