THE FIFTH ELEMENT - CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION
BROKEN ENGLISH - NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN

THE FIFTH ELEMENT

Every 5,000 years a door opens between the known dimension of life within the Universe and the unknown, anti-life, which can only be resisted by the mythical combination of earth, air, fire, water and a mysterious Fifth Element, whose secret is guarded and passed along by earthly priests in collaboration with alien beings. In 23rd century New York City, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a cabbie with rapidly dwindling driving credits who rescues a beautiful alien being, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich of "Chaplin" and "Dazed and Confused") from the police and finds himself in cahoots with the rather odd Father Cornelius (Ian Holm) to save the known world.

Laura LAURA:
French director Luc Besson ("The Big Blue," "La Femme Nikita," "The Professional") has taken a comic book tale he wrote as a teenager and brought it to the big screen as the most expensive French film ever produced. Although "The Fifth Element" draws ideas and images from such films as "Star Wars," "Blade Runner," "Stargate" and "Who Shot Roger Rabbit?," it's such a zany, eye-popping roller coaster ride that it manages to stand on its own. "The Fifth Element" stands to be one of the most truly originally entertaining of the big summer blockbusters.

"The Fifth Element" is one of those films that will have its detractors, but for fans of Besson and the fantastical, it should become richer with repeated viewings. While the story itself is fairly basic stuff, there's so much visual detail, weird character shadings, in-jokes and overlapping loopy dialogue that it's tough to take it all in on one sitting.

New York City is presented as a vertical grid - vehicles fly about on multiple horizontal levels and we're presented early on with a truly spectacular chase scene where the pursued and pursuers swoop up and down amidst the traffic tiers. The art direction is superb catapulting the audience into 23rd century air travel where travellers are depositted into sleep tubes on their way to the delights of Philoston Paradise, an amalgamation of exotic luxury destinations. Costume by French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier (most famous for designing the costumes for Madonna's Blond Ambition tour featured in "Truth or Dare") is futuristically outrageous. The soundtrack is also unique, featuring such sounds as Middle Eastern inspired dance music.

Bruce Willis hauls out his tongue-in-cheek everyman hero to solid effect. The real acting delights are found with some of the lesser known stars, though. Milla Jovovich, the amazingly accomplished singer-songwriter, model and actress, finally makes a splashy mark as Leeloo, convincingly babbling away in a fictious language that really sounds like a language. Chris Tucker ("Dead Presidents") is manic as Ruby Rhod, a cross-dressing, constantly broadcasting DJ with a chipmunk voice and physics defying movements who makes women swoon. Tucker's performance knocked my socks off. Gary Oldham plays bad-guy arms dealer Zorg like a cross between Adolph Hitler and Bugs Bunny. Ian Holm's Father Cornelius is ineffectively but sweetly righteous.

There aren't many films that can have one laughing at the nagging phone calls of the hero's mother, enjoying the inadvertent morphing of dog-like thugs from human form, and then being moved by an opera aria sung by a diva who bears more than a passing resemblence to one of Jabba the Hut's dancing slave girls. "The Fifth Element" is bound to become a cult classic.

A-

ROBIN:
Luc Besson, who created the visually stunning "La Femme Nikita," and the excellent thriller, "The Professional," takes on the mega-budget science fiction epic, "The Fifth Element," starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, the embodiment of the fifth element - the element of life. Leeloo is brought to earth to save the planet from destruction by the evil anti-life force that has returned after 5000 years, and Willis is recruited to help.

Besson has done a solid, if not outstanding, job in bringing his story, written as a teenager, to the big screen. He, obviously, derives much of his imagery from some of his predecessors in sci-fi films, like "Blade Runner" and "Stargate." This is not a bad thing, but hurts the film by not allowing it to define its own world, borrowing pieces of other films, instead.

Bruce Willis does his standard everyman character, taking his lumps, but giving back when he can. Unfortunately, he adds nothing to the role and the character, so the sympathy/empathy level is low for his Korban Dallas. I would have loved to have seen Jean Reno in the role.

My favorite thing in "The Fifth Element" is the title character, Leeloo, as played by Milla Jovovich. Jovovich is wonderfully attractive, even with the bright orange hair, and is physically lithesome, lending the movement and grace required of a character as important as the savior of the world. For about the first half of the movie, Leeloo speaks in the "ancient tongue," a language lost to the modern world. Between Besson's creation of the alien "language" and Milla's believable delivery, it has the cadence and sound of a real language. Milla's portrayal of Leeloo is the best thing in the film.

The major supporting actors are well cast and do some good work. Chris Tucker, as the futuristic, transvestite DJ, Ruby Rhod, provides the bulk of the film's comic relief. He's loud and brash, just like a real DJ, and is decked out in the most outrageous costumes. I've heard others complain that a little of Ruby goes a long way. I think Tucker is fun in the role.

My perennial favorite character actor and bad guy, Gary Oldman, once again lends his own unique brand of villainy to his character, Zorg. As with the other bad guys Oldman has portrayed - Drexel, the crazy, white Rastafarian in Tony Scott's "True Romance," and Norman Stansfield, the narcotics-popping US Drug Enforcement agent in Luc Besson's "The Professional" are just two examples of Oldman's ability to put a completely different spin on every one of his characters - Zorg is a unique individual. With his hillbilly accent and plastic-domed pate, he oozes corruption - he'd sell his own mother to the Mangalores for a few space dollars.

The rest of the supporting cast, led by Ian Holm as the guardian of the secret of the Fifth Element, are serviceable, without being notable.

Now, to get to the thing that makes a megabuck science fiction film a science fiction film - special F/X. Unlike the usual Hollywood effects extravaganzas, Besson and visual effects coordinator, Mark Stetson (Academy Award nominee for his effects work in "2010"), have designed a flashy, clever future world that is more orderly and bright than the similar looking "Blade Runner." There is a concerted effort by the filmmakers to take up the challenge to use, principally, miniature effects supplemented with computer-generated work, where necessary. The result is a nicely constructed film that uses its special effects as a tool in telling the story, not the reason for the whole movie, a la "Independence Day," "Twister," or, the more recent "Volcano." The effects are an integral part of the overall movie effort. This is refreshing to see in a big-budget film.

Costume design by Jean-Paul Gaultier is original and varied, with Milla having a wardrobe that is provocative, yet, somehow, unrevealing. Chris Tucker is nicely decked out, too, in a trashy sort of way.

Tech credits are first rate, with long-time Besson collaborators, Thierry Arbogast (director of photography) and Dan Weil (production designer), among others, providing the visual canvas for Besson's creation.

The weakness of the film is the story. The screenplay is slickly adapted by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, but the story shows its post-adolescent origins. Its disjointed and abrupt. For example, the introduction of Ruby Rhod is so abrupt that a member of the screening audience shouted "What the hell's going on?!" Still, it's not an bad story, just weak. Idealistic, but weak.

I give "The Fifth Element" a B+


CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

"Children of the Revolution" starts out in 1989 Australia, with the country on the brink of civil war because of the efforts of one man - Joe Welch.

Flashing, immediately, back to 1949, we meet Joe's mother, the beautiful, radical, firebrand, communist activist, Joan Fraser (Judy Davis), a true daughter of the Revolution. Joan's idea of a peaceful demonstration is to, by force, take over the Australian House and Senate. In the midst her radical activism, Joan has composed letters to her idol, the leader of the Communist world, Josef Stalin (F. Murray Abraham) - letters than will change both Joan and the world.

ROBIN:
Stalin, moved by Joan's prose, invites the young idealist to visit him at the Kremlin. The trip proves more frenzied than expected, with certain uncertainties ending in Joan's pregnancy. The enigma of whether or not Stalin is young Joe's father colors the young man's outlook on life in ways quite contrary to Joan's left-of-left wing views.

For the first hour of "Children of the Revolution," I was totally captivated. Judy Davis as the beautiful, but bored with her beauty, radical extremist is captivating to watch. She exudes the ardor of her conviction, living and breathing every day as a devout communist, while tossing aside her bevy of admirers, including a colonel in the KGB (Sam Neill).

"Children" actually gets to be quite funny as Joan brings her young son to her demonstrations, gets arrested, and opens a hidden interest, in the boy, for law enforcement - a potentially funny concept. Unfortunately, when the adult Joe comes on the scene, the film takes a downward turn as the satire and wit of the first half are dropped and an angst-ridden drama of Joe's political rise and fall takes over. The last 30 minutes of the film are unrelenting and heavy handed with fascist symbolism.

This switch, from humor - in one scene, Stalin calls Beria, Malenkov and Krushchev, "The Three Stooges," in another, the Stooges do a comical dance number when they learn of Stalin's death - to heavy drama is so unexpected, sudden and disconcerting that it pulls the rug out from under this film. I came out of the theater less than satisfied with the film as a whole.

Acting, besides Davis, is fair to good. Sam Neill, as the KGB Colonel who could also be Joe's dad, gives an amusing turn as a Communist who can, when required, become a capitalist on a moment's notice. His acting and character are convincing through the film, especially as his character ages.

Geoffrey Rush is solid as the blue collar carpenter who joins the Red cause for the sole reason to be close to Joan. He's a sensitive character, but a schmuck. I agree with others that the presence of Geoffrey Rush is the sole reason this film is even getting distribution in the US. If not for his Oscar publicity, no distributor in his right mind would even attempt to play this strident failure here.

It's too bad the second half fails so horribly. The first half, especially Davis' participation, is really first rate. It's a shame, really, but "Children of the Revolution" is like two different works glued together.

I give "Children of the Revolution" a C-

Laura LAURA:
"Children of the Revolution," by first time Australian director Peter Duncan, is unfortunately, a noble failure. It features a terrific cast and is based on a great comic idea, but once the idea comes to fruition, writer-director Duncan loses his way miserably.

Judy Davis stars as Joan Fraser, an ardent but ideological communist who fascinates men but only shows devotion to Josef Stalin. She's all pale beauty with a red-lipsticked gash of a mouth and wavy red blunt cut. Geoffrey Rush (this year's Best Actor Oscar winner for "Shine") is Welch, the sweet cabinet maker who attends Joan's communist meetings for love of her rather than her cause. Sam Neill is Nine, a man whose loyalties hilariously sway between the Austrialian police and the Russian KGB.

Joan writes daily letters to Stalin (F. Murray Abraham of "Amadeus") which bring his assistants to tears. In an effort to bring some life to the declining dictator, one of them arranges for him to 'mistakenly' see a picture of the crusading Joan slip out of her file. Stalin is smitten and invites her to Moscow. After dinner with Stalin and his 'three Stooges' (Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev, who perform "I Get No Kick From Champagne"!), a seduction begins. The next morning, Stalin is dead, Joan is pregnant and besotted Nine, now in Russian uniform, reluctantly helps send her home.

She returns to Australia and belatedly accepts Welch's marriage proposal without ever telling him that the baby she's carrying is that of his arch-rival. Young Joe (Richard Roxburgh) grows up to become a hippy with a fascination for prisons and handcuffs (especially when they're put on him by a black leather-garbed cop Anna played by Rachel Griffith ("Muriel's Wedding"). Naive mom proudly bails her son Joe out after his contrived acts of rebellion. Meanwhile Nine has become an odd part of the family, although he belatedly realizes that he was responsible for the death of Anna's grandparents while in his KGB guise.

Roxburgh doesn't seem to have the acting chops to stand up to the rest of the cast, which is unfortunate, as the last act of the film shifts to focus on his increasingly Stalinish behavior as he gains political power. One tragedy after another ensues and all the humor is chucked out the window and the film comes crashing down.

"Children of the Revolution" features great aging makeup on the three principles and Joan's wardrobe not-so-subtlely reflects her political leanings. The rest of the tech credits are fine.


BROKEN ENGLISH

In "Broken English," a young, independant Croatian woman, Nina (played by newcomer Aleksandra Vujcic) has escaped the war in her homeland to settle with her family in her mother's homeland, New Zealand. She'll soon be facing war of another type when her fiercely jealous, overly protective and racist father Ivan (Rade Serbedzija of "Before the Rain" and "The Saint") refuses to accept her love for a native Maori, Eddie (Julian Arahanga of "Once Were Warriors").

Laura LAURA:
"Broken English" is being marketted as from the producers of "Once Were Warriors," a truly powerful film. Except for the central focus of family conflict, the New Zealand setting and a couple of shared actors, the resemblance ends there.

"Broken English" is essentially yet another telling of the 'Romeo and Juliet' story with only one family at war both amongst itself and with all outsiders. It's most significant problem is a completely unlikeable heroine. Nina is selfish, sluttish and two-faced. In the first five minutes of the film, she breaks apart two love-making couples in order to protect them from her father's wrath, and yet, the very first time she brings her Maori boyfriend into his house during a family celebration, she wastes no time doing the same thing herself! On her first date with Eddie, Nina gets staggeringly drunk, makes light of the war in her homeland as an excuse to get stoned, and insults Eddie's heritage. This all left me wondering why on earth Eddie would ever come back for more, let alone become the other half of a supposed pair of star-crossed lovers.

Rade Serbedzija portrays Ivan as brutish and abusive - a man who uses his son as his idiot henchman and thinks little of using physical force to impose his will on his women. Not a likeable guy, which Eddie quickly realizes, but Nina loves her Ta-Ta.

Julian Arahanga is truly the only appealing thing in "Broken English." His Eddie is handsome, kind and complex, only becoming somewhat stupid when Nina's around. He finally declares her crazy and leaves, but unfortunately, he comes roaring back after his brother informs him that Nina's pregnant, but 'is too good to tell him.' This mysterious proclamation is made after Nina swims with dolphins, a feat that supposedly shows the complete craziness and wildness of her character. Spare me.

Nina is literally imprisoned in her room by darling Ta-Ta to lure Eddie in for a viscious beating. Eddie plants a tree in Ivan's yard and proceeds to get the better of Ivan's thuglike son - when he turns tail in defeat, the characters all make eye contact and some understanding is come to - your guess is as good as mine. The final coda makes a point of Nina declaring her love for her father.

"Broken English" simply has some of the silliest characters and dialogue to come down the pike in a while. I guess even the independents have to have their share of dreck.

D

ROBIN:
It's nice to see films from Down Under making it in the US market. I wish, I hope, that we, in the US, are privy to the best from the region. Upon seeing the recent Australian film "Children of the Revolution" and the New Zealand effort "Broken English," I have my doubts. Either, we are being given the dregs of their film industry, or the film industry down there is kaput!

"Broken English," touted as 'from the producers of "Once Were Warriors",' is a trite "Romeo and Juliet" wannabe that holds none of the emotional angst of Shakespeare's classic love story. Instead, it deals with the ambiguous emotions of disparate cultures in New Zealand. The Croatian community (there, apparently, is one in New Zealand) survives and exists among the native Kiwi without making any social inroads. The cultures remain separate with little crossover between Croatian and Maori.

This separation of cultures is the catalyst for the story of Nina (Aleksandra Vujcic) and Eddie (Julian Arahanga, "Once Were Warriors"), a Croation emigrant and Maori native who fall in love in modern day Auckland, New Zealand. Their love is questioned, nay, denied, by Nina's bigoted, racist father Ivan (Rade Serbedzija), who won't allow the couple to openly declare their love. Eddie and Nina are culturally challenged, not star-crossed, lovers.

Ivan, as played by Serbedzija, is really a loathsome character whose sudden acts of violence tag him as anything but a loving father. A total lunatic, maybe. There is nothing in Ivan to like, especially by the end of the film. He's a sad substitute for Montague and Capulet.

Newcomer Aleksandra Vujcic, though quite pretty, does not have the acting experience to carry her end of the film. She seemed too taken with herself on camera, so came across ringing a false note. Maybe, with experience, she'll get better. We'll see.

The best thing in the movie is Julian Arahanga as Eddie. He played the elder son in "Once Were Warriors" and I noted him then. He gives a subtle performance (compared to the rest of the cast) as a young man who has grown up with racial prejudice. With Ivan, he's just facing a different brand of what he fought against all his life. Arahanga has a good presence on the screen, which helps raise my rating a bit.

The screenplay is weak, kind of like an adaptation of a major literary work based on Cliff Notes. There is a shell of a story that I guess can be compared to "Romeo and Juliet" (the play). If the press kit didn't tout the comparison to that classic, I would have missed it.

Tech credits are no better than fair.

Note that "Broken English" is rated NC-17 due to its sexual content. I don't understand the rating except that, maybe, the actors appeared to be enjoying themselves too much. This is the continued treatment, by the MPAA, against films with graphic (or, no-so-graphic) sex. Violence is OK. You can show a human being blown to bits and still earn an R rating, but making love? Go figure.

I give "Broken English" a C-.

It almost makes last year's silly "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" worth another look. On second thought, no.


NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN

Longtime director Sidney Lumet has adapted the novel, "Tainted Evidence" by Robert Daley, and stars Andy Garcia as assistant DA Sean Casey and Ian Holm as his father, detective Liam Casey, in a story about corruption within the NYPD in "Night Falls On Manhattan."

ROBIN:
Longtime director Sidney Lumet ("Twelve Angry Men" (his debut directorial effort), "Fail Safe," "The Verdict") has adapted the novel, "Tainted Evidence" by Robert Daley, and stars Andy Garcia as assistant DA Sean Casey and Ian Holm as his father, detective Liam Casey, in a story about corruption within the NYPD in "Night Falls On Manhattan."

From the start, a drug bust by New York City detectives Liam Casey (Holm) and Joey Allegretto (James Gandolfini) against big-time drug dealer Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey) goes drastically wrong, with Liam taking three bullets at the outset. The following "manhunt" for Washington results in three cops killed (one by friendly fire) and the target escaping in a stolen police car.

When Washington is surrendered to the police by defense attorney Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss), the resulting trial opens the legal floodgates, unveiling police corruption that plagues three precincts - a corruption that resulted in a conspiracy to kill the drug lord and cover up the liberal payoffs made to certain member of the these precincts.

"Night Falls on Manhattan" is a solid entry in the catalog of Sidney Lumet's filmography, convincingly telling the story of the main character, Sean Casey (Andy Garcia), a man torn between idealism and reality, learning, the hard way, the cold necessity of compromise for the sake of survival. In order to attain and maintain his loftier goals fighting corruption, Sean must give in on the other, less "important," concerns and look the other way, at times.

Andy Garcia, as an actor, has the advantage of having a character that is fully written. He simply has to wear the cloak of the character, Sean, and do it justice. Garcia acquits himself well in balancing Sean's exuberance for the purity of the law with his understanding of the mean streets of the city. Garcia's handsome presence does at that bit of glamour to the proceedings.

Ian Holm, a terrific character actor who made his mark as the Anglo-Italian running trainer, Sam Massabini, in 1981's Academy Award-winner "Chariots of Fire," and a slew of other films. He is one of those capable actors who can do all manner of accents. Here, as Sean's detective father, Liam, he pulls off a convincing New York Irish-American accent and gives a good performance. His is truly an excellent role model for his son, despite the corruption running rampant around them.

Richard Dreyfuss as defense lawyer Sam Vigoda, though the makeup job is distracting, provides a good character, almost the truthsayer of the story, defending the slime of society while working to uncover the insidious corruption inherent among members of the NYPD. His motivation is his honest desire to ensure the efforts of good cops in enforcing the law. Dreyfuss pulls off portraying Sam, a lawyer who makes his money defending drug-dealing slimeballs, as a sympathetic and, believe it or not, honest lawyer.

James Gandolfini, as Liam's partner Joey Allegretto, gives a notable performance as a cop who is torn between loyalty to his partner and the enticement to make an easy, though corrupt, buck.

The rest of the main supporting cast are fair, without a lot added to the proceeds. Ron Leibman as the DA "Morgy" Morgenstern, starts out strong, but his character falls by the wayside fairly early in the film. Colm Feore as Morgy's second in command and arch rival, and Lena Olin as Sean's love interest are not fully developed as characters. Olin, in particular, seems out of place.

Storywise, Lumet adapts the novel in a straightforward manner, letting the complexity of the plot unfold, building the story from a simple tale of a botched drug bust to one of deep corruption across several precincts in the NYPD. Told from the viewpoint of Sean Casey, there is an inherent naivete, with him expecting only the best from those around him. As he becomes more embroiled in the case, Sean is shaken by matters of corruption and human weakness in those close to him. Sean has always turned a blind eye to the seamier side of police life, mainly because of his honest, courageous father. Liam, all his life, set an example that Sean lived by, naively believing that everyone else did the same.

My only complaint about the screenplay is the perfunctory manner in Sean's rise to power. He goes from lowly assistant grunt in the DA's office to front running candidate for that office - buda-bing, buda-boom, he's there. Unfortunately, to give this part of the story more depth would have made the main story suffer, if the run time is to be kept reasonable. This is a relatively minor, but notable, problem with the film. It would be interesting to read the novel to see how it's handled there.

Photography by Oscar-winner, David Watkin ("Out of Africa"), is varied and well suited to the film. One scene, I noted, is shot entirely from the back of the courtroom, giving a very different perspective to the legal proceedings - camera as observer kind of thing. Some other cinemagraphic efforts are less successful. Overall, good, solid, cinematography.

Editing by three-time Oscar nominee Sam O'Steen ("Chinatown," "Silkwood," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") moves the overall low-key action of the film along well.

All in all, I like "Night Falls on Manhattan." It's a good, solid, drama with interesting story and characters and I give it a B+. LAURA:

"Night Falls on Manhattan" is veteran director Sidney Lumet's ("Twelve Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico," "The Verdict") 40th film and he is still tackling themes of the law, corruption and personal morality.

Andy Garcia is Sean Casey, possibly the most idealistic New York City street cop turned junior Assistant DA in the Big Apple's history. His Dad Liam (Ian Holm) is a 37 year veteran of the force who's gunned down by a notorious drug dealer when he and his partner Joey (James Gandolfini) attempt to go in for an arrest. District Attorney Morgernstern (Ron Leibman) appoints the green Casey to prosecute the supposedly open and shut case in an attempt to bring an emotional triumph to the public just as he's up for reelection. They're both thrown for a loop when liberal defense attorney Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss) pleads self defense for his client, claiming police corruption and a protection money bidding war made the dealer fear for his life.

Laura LAURA:
"Night Falls on Manhattan" is the type of movie where you know at the very beginning that by the end a well-intentioned pure young man will have had his eyes opened and be forced to compromise himself in an effort to see justice, if not the law, upheld. It's a tribute to Lumet and his crew that the film remains compelling due to its constraint and terrific performances. It plays a lot truer than last year's more flamboyant, similarly themed "City Hall." The film's few flaws lie in the total initial innocence of Casey's character as well as his somewhat unbelievably meteoric rise to the DA's office.

Ron Leibman is a standout as the heart-attack-waiting-to-happen, highly charged, basically decent but hugely political New York City DA. Richard Dreyfuss is also great in the smaller role of Vigoda, another strong man who knows how to play politics for a personal agenda. They may be on opposite sides, but they're both Casey's mentors - a nice touch. James Gandolfini is also very good as the senior Casey's partner, a bad cop, but one you can have empathy for. The British Ian Holm gives a believable turn as a Queens cop who's proud of his son and a decent guy, but who has lived and learned what his son has yet to discover. Although Holm seems an odd casting choice to play Garcia's father, the film tries to explain the physical difference at a graveside scene where we learn that the Caseys deceased wife and mother was named Maria Nunez Casey. Garcia gives a solid, if non-spectacular, introspective performance. Lena Olin is Casey's love interest, a lawyer working for Vigoda. She's around for plot purposes only and frankly, if refreshingly, seems a bit old for the role.

Technical credits are fine and include darkly atmospheric cinematography which is nicely complemented by Mark Isham's bluesy score.

B


Next Show Previous Show

Home | Review and ratings archive | Top 10 | Video | Crew | Article | Links