Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Blandtasia

By Chris Davis

JUNE 26, 2000:  In the original Fantasia, conductor Leopold Stokowski explains to viewers how music creates images in our mind. He then makes clear Disney's intent, which is to ease our mental burden by supplying those images for us. In 1941 the idea was novel enough, and though Fantasia wasn't exactly a blockbuster, it went on to become an extremely influential film. While the original maintains all of its mystique, in the post-MTV world the concept of supplying concrete images to augment our personal experience of music seems a little threadbare. The fact that classics like Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" have been used to sell everything from used cars to electric shavers makes it extremely difficult to supplant the vast data base of images already associated with such well-known tunes.

For both narrative and sheer visual whimsy, Fantasia/2000 is inferior to the original, and clocking in at just over 70 minutes (at least a third of which consists of lame celebrity introductions), it seems unfinished.

After an irritating say-nothing monologue by Steve Martin, the screen lights up and the speakers begin to blare the most famous four notes in history -- "dumb dumb dumb Dahhh." The creators of Fantasia's opening sequence describe (for reasons that can only be imagined) Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" as "a battle between good and evil." To illustrate this epic struggle, they developed a psychedelic chase scene between stylized butterflies who are "drawn to the light" and evil bat-like thingies that want to stop the butterflies from reaching the light. The critters (both good and evil) look like flying Dorritos, and the abstracted animations are nothing that hasn't been done (and done better) on countless episodes of Liquid Television.

Ottorino Respighi's muscular piece, "The Pines of Rome," begins with a bang. It makes perfect sense that the accompanying animation would begin with a supernova. It does not make sense, however, that the exploding star gives whales the ability to fly. But fly they do -- through fluffy peaceful clouds and through thunderstorms. Eventually the soaring whales burst free of Earth's atmosphere and splash about in the ozone against a backdrop of stars. The whole thing looks like a cover illustration for an L. Ron Hubbard novel.

Fantasia/2000's one truly ingenious sequence is set to "Rhapsody in Blue" and appropriately placed in Depression-era New York. The lives of doormen, construction workers, a pampered little girl, and an out-of-work slob all collide in the most incidental ways, making one another's dreams (large and small) come true. The flatly drawn characters are done in the style of Al Hirschfeld, the 96-year-old illustrator famous for his line-drawings of New York theater folk. Finding a happy medium between Max Fleisher's Jazz Age animations and Warner Bros.'s "Merry Melodies," this nostalgic, and blissfully non-digital piece works because the music fits the story so very well.

In yet another variation of the popular good vs. evil motif, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" is set to the music of Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102." This piece, which depicts a battle between a one-legged toy soldier and a wicked Jack-in-the-Box for the hand of a beautiful music-box ballerina, has all of the trappings of a Disney classic. It is unfortunately too abbreviated to be effective. The rich hues and the colorful music are at odds with a narrative that is flat black-and-white.

Balletically inclined hippos make for a funny juxtaposition. Flamingos with yo-yos don't. That is the bottom line on the aptly named segment, "Flamingos with Yo-Yos." Fortunately, this piece, set to the finale of Camille Saint-Saens' "Le Carnaval des Animaux," is extremely short, and followed by Disney's famed take on Paul Dukas' ballet "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and a '40s-style retelling of the Noah's ark story, featuring Donald and Daisy Duck.

The New Age themes return with Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite," when a lovely water sprite (representing spring), awakens a dormant volcano which in turn decimates the land. The heartbroken sprite then brings everything back to life again. The overly simplified images of birth, death, and re-birth, as observed by a lone stag seem less like a spiritual journey than a commercial for the Hartford Insurance Company.

As a member of Generation X, I would like to be the first one to apologize. I'm sorry. Sincerely. From the bottom of my heart. I'm sorry that we have lowered the bar for the movie-making industry. I am sorry that we don't have the courtesy to turn off our cell phones during the viewing of our crap output. I'm sorry that we covet and endear "future stars" that shouldn't be but are mentioned in the same breath as Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. I'm sorry for the MTV movie awards. I am sorry that we rob other motion picture successes of their premises, then spit out a condensed, perforated depiction that should never make the screen. I'm sorry that we hide behind the cop-out: "It's just like, uh, the way we are. It's, uh, just our generation." I'm sorry that mediocrity is our striving point. And, lastly, I'm sorry I had to rant like this.

The movie: Boys & Girls. The verdict: utter crap. More specifically, it's a cliché on film. It's a moist, tender combination of When Harry Met Sally and Can't Hardly Wait. If you think those two movies shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence, you're on the right track. The entire film should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Not knowing where to begin, I'll just give you the basics and try not to bust in frustration. Jennifer (Claire Forlani) -- homecoming queen. Ryan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) -- team mascot. The two of them meet on a plane as kids, then in high school, and once again in college. They somehow become great friends. They break the pallid monotony and get together for the last 15 minutes of the movie, because as the hook so poignantly puts it, opposites attract (ughhh!).

Jason Biggs (American Pie) and Amanda Detmer (Drop Dead Gorgeous) provide the supporting roles of Jennifer and Ryan's wacky roommates, leaving me to question the meaning of "support." However, Biggs does make the most of his underdeveloped character by proving he is by far the better actor of the two males.

If forced by gunpoint to find a highlight, I would have to say it's Forlani. Besides arguably being the most beautiful woman in modern film, Forlani shows some (not much) acting prowess, despite two goose-bump-I'm-completely-embarrassed-for-you monologues on love that make it understandable why the screenwriters used a pseudonym (the Drews). -- Jake Lawhead

Somebody call Guinness, for Shaft must have set a new world record for the most times in the shortest amount of time that the word "motherfucker" is said.

It's like that, Shaft -- free and easy with the foul language and the bloody, just-doing-it-'cause-I-can violence. It's director John Singleton's way of saying I love you to the legendary, 1971 original.

And Shaft is fun. Its bad-to-the-bone action is too jiving to be taken to heart; it's a casual thing, like when the hero promises sex to a lonely waitress -- no commitment, just a good time with cuddling plus the theme song by Isaac Hayes.

The premise of the new Shaft has Jackson as the nephew of the original. This Shaft is a cop, while his uncle (played by the first Shaft, Richard Roundtree) is a private eye. As the film begins, Shaft is called to a crime scene in which a young black man is prone on a sidewalk, bleeding from the head. As Shaft makes his way around, the crime upgrades from assault to murder as the man dies strapped to a gurney. A bloody finger points Shaft to the smirking Walter Wade (Christian Bale), the proudly racist son of a big-time real-estate developer who dares Shaft to do something about the carnage that the rich kid has wrought. Turns out, that money is on Wade's side, and he disappears for two years on an extended vacation to Switzerland.

But that's not all she wrote. Wade comes back to the U.S. to take care of some unfinished business in the form of Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette), the woman who saw the whole thing and has been paid to become invisible. To track her down, Wade enlists a small-time drug dealer and full-time thorn in the sides of the law, one Peoples Hernandez (the hilarious Jeffrey Wright). Wade gets Peoples to agree to snuff Diane, and in turn, Peoples farms out the gig to a pair of crooked cops.

So it's racism and a rotten system that Shaft has to do battle with, and he gives them both a mean whooping. As the title character, Jackson is all-around tough and so bad that a whole new adjective should be invented for this man so comfortably in touch with the thug inside but with enough intelligence to burn it in the right direction.

Shaft serves as the vehicle for the racist to get bitch-slapped and a punk drug dealer to get pistol-whipped into humiliating submission. It's not so much a race thing (though there's that, too) as a stand-up-and-act-right thing. Shaft by no means stretches the boundaries of genius. It's just action-giddy entertainment, and there's nothing at all wrong with that.

Human Traffic is the Brit rave film, in which five kids desperately drop Ecstasy and bounce to the beat before they're too old to do it anymore.

Leading the charge is Jip (John Simm), a nice enough guy who loves his friends, but has a problem with intimacy when it really counts. Backing him up are LuLu (Lorraine Pilkington), the student who's been burned by men; Koop (Shaun Parkes), the braided deejay-wannabe, with jealousy issues; Nina (Nicola Reynolds), a chubby Natalie Wood and Koop's girlfriend; and Moff (Danny Dyer), the baby-faced party-guy burning it at both ends.

What the five have in common is living in a dead-end town with dead-end jobs (save Moff, who refuses to be miserable by working). They all live for the weekend and the raves and Ecstasy -- the rest of life is just something to endure until it's quitting time on Friday.

Human Traffic, written and directed by Justin Kerrigan, is a light comedy that acknowledges the pointless meandering of the five, but with a kids-will-be-kids, it's-harmless-fun sort of wink. From time to time, Kerrigan goes off on tangents for a bit of comic flair -- a smoking ass, the politics of passing a joint. Through it all, Kerrigan manages to explore nothing new about his young people and those like them. He dabbles in serious topics (some of the characters have real troubles), but never lets them evolve. As a result, Human Traffic is a flimsy document that kids always, and always will, just want to have a good time. -- SE

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