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Moulin Rouge! (2001) [Review Re-View]

Released May 17, 2001:

Director Baz Luhrmann’s last project was the MTV-friendly William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (like someone else has a Romeo and Juliet) which was adored by the under 15 set that now buy N*SYNC merchandise. Luhrmann waited a long time for his follow up with Moulin Rogue, a manic musical that seems like candy for the eyes. It may have been a long time but it was well worth the wait.

The sparkling world of Moulin Rogue is around turn of the century France. Christian (Ewan McGregor), an aspiring writer, has traveled to this place against his father’s wishes. Christian believes in the beauty of love and the pull of the heart. Within minutes of setting foot in France he gets wrapped up into a production by a dwarf (John Leguizamo) and his cadre of assistants. Christian is sent to the most provocative club in town, the Moulin Rogue. Here he attempts to persuade the most famous showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman) to help push for their musical to get financial backing. Satine inadvertently confuses Christian for the man she is supposed to seduce for a large some of money, the Duke (Richard Roxburgh). And thus the merry band of misfits get their play the backing while Christian blossoms a love for Satine. But their love must remain hidden for the Duke is led to believe that Satine is his and his alone.

Kidman owns this movie, plain and simple. From her first shattering entrance being lowered from the ceiling to the last scene, she is absolutely magnificent. McGregor gives a nice performance as the dough-eyed lover. Jim Broadbent plays the Moulin Rogue’s owner, Zidler with howling delight in all his manic expressions. Even Roxburgh gives an underwritten antagonist the right amount of weasely twitch.

One of the more surprising features is how well the two leads can actually sing. Kidman gives a soft and sexy take on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and McGregor can belt out a tune with some admirably throaty pipes. As these two veer in and out of songs it’s a pleasure to watch and hear.

Luhrmann has crafted a musical with ADD, but I say this as a compliment. Moulin Rogue‘s pace is fast and pounding. People twirl above the sky, the camera zooms wildly through town streets, and dump trucks worth of confetti fly through the air. Moulin Rouge is exploding with glitz and never lets up. The editing and visual artistry is stirring. By about ten minutes into the proceedings when a green fairy starts singing a seductive version of “The Hills Are Alive” you know you are in for something else. And what a something else the film delivers. There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.

Moulin Rogue could be described as a musical for people who dislike traditional musicals. In traditional musicals people go along stuffy formula, then break out into great choreography song-and-dance. With Lurhmann’s musical is a breakneck of pomp where the characters zip around to exaggerated Hanna-Barbara sound effects and start chiming away with 70s and 80s pop songs that we all know. After the initial shock/humor of hearing characters belt out renditions of “Roxanne” and “Like A Virgin,” a familiarity sets in and it blends in to produce a surprising artistic addition.

The story of the movie is nothing new or extraordinary; it’s well worn territory. But where Moulin Rouge breaks apart and shines are with its style and exposure. The visuals are astoundingly lush and lively, the music is game and pumping, and the movie is just screaming to be seen. This was a true work of love.

The movie is bursting to the seams with life. I loved every single second, every single frame, every single moment of Moulin Rouge. I can’t wait to go see it again.

Nate’s Grade: A

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WRITER REFLECTIONS 20 YEARS LATER

This was a movie I was looking forward to revisiting and was partly dreading. With the movies that I loved in my past, there is more at stake revisiting them and finding that some of the luster, some of that original magic that enchanted me twenty years hence might be missing. Nothing is lost by re-learning that something like Freddy Got Fingered is still as awful today as it was in 2001. I had this same nagging concern with several of my favorites of 1999 and 2000, and not all of them held up (these re-reviews cannot help being partly biographical). Moulin Rouge wasn’t even a movie I had much interest in seeing back in 2001. I went at the behest of my friend Kevin Lowe and I remember my expectations being low, or maybe I wasn’t in the greatest mood, but within ten minutes that all changed. Moulin Rouge is a movie I unabashedly loved at 19 years old and watched repeatedly through my early 20s and consider a personal favorite. I was caught up in the razzle, the dazzle (especially the dazzle), but the sumptuous and crazed artistry of it all, where it could simultaneously be nostalgic and modern, irreverent and deeply serious, hopelessly romantic in the squarest of terms while being so quizzically weird. It could have been a spectacular disaster but it ended up being a spectacular spectacular. I’m happy to report that Moulin Rouge retains its charm and soaring passion even twenty toe-tapping years later.

This has and will always be a love-it-or-hate-it film. I don’t think there are many people who can watch this movie and remark, “Eh, it was okay I guess.” The opening act is relentlessly paced, anarchic and antic, bouncing all over the place, exploding with information, humor, colors, and bawdy and bizarre imagery, intending to shake you from your doldrums of what a modern big screen musical experience can entail. Under the mad genius of co-writer/director Baz Luhrmann, the movie is bracingly transporting and takes you for an immediate rush, and just as it slows down, you’re hooked. Or, if you’re in the hate-it camp, you’ve found the movie to be a scattershot, self-indulgent, ADD-addled, exhausting ride you’re eager to depart. An amusement park ride is a fine analogy for Moulin Rouge, a movie reverberating with energy and movement; it really does feel like it can’t possibly stand still. There’s a seductive green fairy line dancing, and a singing moon performing opera, and a narcoleptic Argentinian, and John Leguizamo as a dwarf, and plenty of ribald sexual humor and goofy slapstick comedy. It is, to put it lightly, a lot to handle.

With apologies to modern poets, for most of us, the poetry of our modern culture is the songs that have shaped us and our biographical experiences, the soaring ballads, the friendly singalongs, the bangers to shout at the top of your lungs, the love songs to swoon along to and melt away. Moulin Rouge is a major musical that only has one original song, the modern wedding staple “Come What May,” which was actually written for Luhrmann’s prior movie, 1995’s Romeo and Juliet, and thus declared ineligible for the Academy Award for Original Song (sorry Randy Newman, but your Monster’s Inc. song cannot compete). It is a musical composed of renditions and snippets of hit music, cementing its amalgamation as a pop-culture chimera. In many ways it previews the viral Glee music mashups and remixes, the effortless blending of one song into another, the melodies gliding like dancers and then becoming something excitingly new. It’s a different kind of creativity because it’s one thing just to hit “play” on some Greatest Hits CD and it’s another to make sure the songs track the emotional journeys and perspectives of its primary players. Early on, as Christian (Ewen McGregor) belts tunes from The Sound of Music, captivating his peers with his apparent genius, we immediately understand the instant appeal this man would have, seeming like a musical prophet to those lucky enough to listen in 1899 Paris. It’s a clever shorthand and another reflection that modern music has enough vitality and depth to serve as the romantic poetry of our age. Moulin Rouge also predates the sharp rise in jukebox musicals, using the songs of the past, usually limited to one artist, as part of the infectious fun.

The singing and song renditions are luscious and odd and beautifully re-calibrated. The introduction of Satine (Nicole Kidman) is a bold move, lowered on trapeze, her pale skin practically glowing, as she breathily sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” It’s like the movie perceives Satine as an angel being lowered to the mores of man. A male duet of “Like a Virgin” between club owner Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) and the villainous, twitchy, possessive and foppish Duke (Richard Roxburgh) is hilarious and at points unfathomably creepy. Watching “Roxanne” performed as a sultry tango is so good that you’ll never want to hear it any other way. The singing by the famous stars is remarkably polished and without the advent of Autotune, especially from McGregor who belts his tunes with impressive range. The blending of this sonic soundscape, especially McGregor inter-cutting with that “Roxanne” number, can be overwhelming to fully process, like the movie is trying to reach you on a pure emotional, elemental level where you feel it before you can fully process it intellectually. I think that sums up the movie and its lasting appeal well, because I can logically pick apart certain artistic choices, like the exaggerated cartoon sound effects that could have been pared back, but the movie is a messy, joyously messy, exuberant love letter to big messy emotions and cheesy romanticism even to the point of mockery. This is a big screen musical for our modern age, and it’s meant to tap the right combination of buttons to make you fall in love, and I do every time.

It’s amazing to me how Moulin Rouge feels like a crossroads of the old and new, reaching back to the big movie musicals of old but with the hyper-kinetic style of modern music videos. It’s immediately fresh but also familiar, and that clever construction most notably extends to its very specific use of music. It’s not trying to erase the old school musical but drag it into a new century, drafting off of modern music hits to reach a new audience waiting to feel that same heightened reality that those old musicals might not capture for a younger generation. The movie also begat a resurgence of big screen musicals like 2002’s Chicago, 2004’s Phantom of the Opera, 2005’s Rent and The Producers (also co-starring Kidman), 2006’s Dreamgirls, 2007’s Sweeney Todd and Hairspray, and on and on to recent musicals like 2019’s Rocketman (jukebox musical) and 2020’s The Prom (also co-starring Kidman). Everything Chicago did, I felt like Moulin Rouge did better the year before, and I’m convinced Kidman’s Best Actress Oscar for The Hours was a makeup award for being overlooked for her superior performance in Moulin Rouge a year prior. I don’t know if Kidman was ever better than she was here at this moment in her career, fresh off her divorce from Tom Cruise. I feel strongly that Broadbent should have won his 2001 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this and not Iris. The movie was nominated for eight Oscars and justly won two for Best Art Direction and Costumes, both going to Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin, who would also win two Oscars for her husband’s equally lush and anachronistic 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The electric editing, glittering cinematography, and all the bravura technical elements blend into a rare artistic vision so complete and so extravagantly bold at this budget level.

It should also be noted that Moulin Rouge was adapted into a Broadway stage musical in 2019, updating with more twenty-first century hits like “Crazy in Love” and “Firework” and “Toxic” and “Bad Romance” among others. Its stage run was postponed because of COVID although a national tour is planned for 2022.

From my original review back in 2001, many of my same points still hold up and it was difficult to perfectly capture the spell this movie can have, the same difficulty I’m running into today in 2021 to try and convey its unique hold on me. Regrettably, it’s another review that I felt I needed to take a potshot on “teenyboppers” from my oh so dismissive position as critic. It’s nice when I find myself agreeing with my twenty years younger self. I especially agree with this one summative statement: “There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.” Moulin Rouge is one of my happy movies and twenty years later my stupid face is still smiling.

Re-Review Grade: A

The Happening (2008)

M. Night Shyamalan is still reeling from the beating he took over 2006’s Lady in the Water, a colossal misguided attempt at a modern fairy tale. The man is trying to retain his cozy relationship with audiences that adored his earlier works like The Sixth Sense and Signs. Shyamaln’s latest, The Happening, isn’t going to dissuade the detractors. This man is a talented filmmaker and I think it’s finally time that he starts thinking of focusing on one creative job and one job only, either writing or directing.

There’s a pandemic sweeping across the Northeast United States. It first starts with disoriented speech, then moves to disoriented movement, and ends with people committing suicide. Nobody knows what is officially going on. High school science teacher Eliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) tries to flee Philadelphia with his estranged wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel). They travel out into the suburbs when their train stops. The conductor says that they’ve lost contact with everybody. Eliot eventually theorizes that what’s causing this pandemic isn’t terrorists, or the government testing some biological agent, but plants. Yes, plants. In their defense, the plants are releasing an airborne toxin that flips a neurological switch in human brains. Instead of self-preservation the brain is pushed toward immediate self-destruction.

The Happening is no Lady in the Water, thankfully. The premise is pretty interesting in a feature-length Twilight Zone kind of way. Shyamalan does know how to spin an interesting idea and watch social paranoia explode. The best moments of The Happening take place during its beginning where confusion and panic reign. Shyamalan then takes a page from 2005’s War of the Worlds and follows the perspective of a handful of normal folk as the experience an apocalyptic event. We even spend the third act hiding out in the home of a crazy person (the creepy Betty Buckley). Unfortunately, we in the audience feel no involvement with the poorly written main characters. Once again Shyamalan utilizes a horrific and unique encounter as the impetus for reconciling the pains in a marriage. At a scant 99 minutes, there isn’t much time set aside for building characterization. There is not a whiff of personal connection to this tale.

Shyamalan doesn’t seem to explore the psychological ramifications of his premise. Suicide is very traumatizing and it would have swept over the East Coast in waves; millions would be dead. Yet the characters and Shyamalan never seem to focus on this point. Perhaps they’re in shock but no one seems to actually react realistically to the possible end of the world. Normal people would be freaking out. I would be freaking out. The idea that the country goes back to normal after three months is preposterous. Would anyone want to live on the East Coast again after all that death? People would be finding bodies for many months after the “happening;” just look at the slow recovery of New Orleans. Never mind the hit the economy would take from millions of people expiring.

The ecological message can also be incessantly heavy-handed. Characters run past a sign for a housing development that advertises the slogan, “You deserve this.” Oh, gee, I get it. A TV host at the very end interviews a scientist theorizing that what happened was a warning from the environment to shape up and change our ways. The TV host is so incredulous that he actually says, “Well, I’d like to believe you doc, but maybe if it just happened somewhere else again, maybe then I could believe you.” You idiot, millions of people died and there are how many witnesses? I know exactly what message Shyamalan is trying to say (wake up, we can’t ignore the signs) but having a character denying the obvious is too ludicrous given what happens in the story.

But the story does invite further inquiries. How exactly do the plants communicate with each other? I can understand root structures but how does a bush talk to a tree unless they share root structures? Do plants speak different languages? Can a bush talk with a tree, and do French bushes speak differently than their English brethren? The plants seem to react to large numbers of people, but how do they know when there’s say enough folk running around to kill? Do they smell people? That toxin seems to not affect animals but I don’t see how that could be possible given that, as far as I know, animals inhale the air as well. Of course, if all surrounding animals and insects were to keel over then that would irrevocably harm the ecosystem and endanger the plants. This must be why the “happening” lasts a little over a day, coincidentally ending just when our protagonists are about to give up. And if Mother Nature, as a form of population control, triggers this toxin release then wouldn’t it stand to reason that some place like China or India would be hit first instead of the Northeast United States? Shouldn’t a science teacher know that still air would be filled with more toxins than when the wind blows? I’ll give Shyamalan this — he was able to make me fear a tree. There was one moment where a little girl was on a swing that was bolted into a tree limb and the constant creaking made me nervous that they would anger the tree.

Despite the flaws in storytelling, this narrative still could have worked as is if it just had a better director at the helm. Shyamalan lets everyone down on this one. Much of the marketing angle was how The Happening is Shyamalan’s first foray into R-rated material, but you can tell he doesn’t feel comfortable showing more than implying. One sequence follows a police officer’s gun as different individuals take turns shooting themselves in the head. Shyamalan shoots this sequence like the camera weighed 800 pounds, so the shot never rises above people’s feet. We see the gun fall on the ground, feet walk over to the gun, hands pick it up and lift it off screen, then a very unconvincing gunshot sound effect, then the process repeats. By not actually seeing the deadly aftermath Shyamalan risks the sequence becoming unintentionally funny and it almost happens. This directorial technique does not raise suspense, and in fact, Shyamalan botches most of the potential suspense in The Happening. Given the premise, Shyamalan doesn’t find too many sequences that make the audience squirm. A man wandering around in a lion’s cage is so fake and played in the wrong tone that it just becomes goofy even when his arms get ripped off. There’s only one protracted horror sequence that shows true gore, where a man lies down in the path of a giant lawnmower and we start to see the machine ride over him and whirl its blades. However, even this scene could have gone longer to fully draw out the shock and terror. Shyamalan just doesn’t have the temerity for R-rated material, and as a result the movie could have been a lot more terrifying had the man embraced the gruesome potential of a more mature rating.

Shyamalan’s visual storytelling is pretty rote. I kept thinking to myself how poor everything seemed to be looking. The cinematography is lackluster and the shot compositions are rather bland. Part of what makes a horror movie effective is clever visual setups that slowly leak tension like air from a balloon. Shyamalan’s idea of drawing out tension is to watch tress blow in the wind. After a while, when you realize this is the one trick Shyamalan has, it gets old and extremely boring. The Happening would have benefited from a stronger visual storyteller who could also goose the narrative with better-constructed scares. It’s disappointing because Shyamalan was able to elicit top-notch suspense in 2002’s Signs with simple sounds and the imagination. Now, when he’s given the chance to show terror he falls on his face.

Another dent to Shyamalan’s direction is the fact that the actors all give bad performances. Wahlberg and Deschanel have given great performances in other movies so I know they are capable of more, and the blame must lie at the feet of Shyamalan. They overact with gusto and always seem to never be fully immersed in the reality of the drama. Even Wahlberg’s first line delivery raises your eyebrow because it seems too amateurish and flat. Deschanel is even worse and whatever emotion she is playing in a scene is the wrong emotion. She’s whiny and overly childlike when she should be reflective and contemplative, she’s wide-eyed and weepy when she should be tender, and she’s bad with just about every line. Alma is a weak character and seems to turn everything back to an injustice against her, even when people are killing themselves en mass. Part of the actors’ woes is complicated by Shyamalan’s wooden dialogue, which includes gems like, “We’ve just got to stay ahead of the wind” (how exactly does one do that?) and, “We’re not going to stand around like uninvolved bystanders” (who says that?). The most shocking aspect of The Happening is that Shyamalan totally betrays the trust of his very competent actors.

M. Night Shyamalan would be best served in the future by focusing on one role. He could direct someone else’s material or he could write and have someone else direct. If he had gone the latter route I’m convinced that The Happening would have worked even with a flawed script. The movie is too timid to push the horror boundaries available to a mature rating, the suspense is minute, and Shyamalan completely leaves his actors hanging out to dry. There is some laugh out loud moments of unintentional hilarity (like when Wahlberg calmly says “Oh no” upon hearing suicidal gunshots), but the movie also has moments of intrigue amidst its heavy-handed environmental message. Statistically, if there were a killer toxin there would be those who would be genetically immune to it, much like the scenario in I Am Legend. I have to say that if I was fortunate enough to survive I would whisper some threatening words to some choice flora and then I would set lots and lots of fires out of revenge. Take that, you stinking vegetation!

Nate’s Grade: C

Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

It seems that in American cinema, we have a long history of people being holed up in one location and fighting off outside forces. There’s instant drama in fending off forces that outnumber you, and Hollywood knows this. There are historical dramas (The Alamo), fantasy flicks (Lords of the Rings), and nearly every other horror movie (Night of the Living Dead) that have a central conceit of the good guys being outnumbered and with no place to go. Assault on Precinct 13 (a remake of the 1976 John Carpenter cult film) is the latest in this mini-genre. The film has big stars like Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Bryne and a mustachioed Brian Dennehy (there really should be no other kind) but even star power with facial hair can’t stop Assault on Precinct 13 from feeling run-of-the-mill.

On New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Sergeant Jake Roenick (Hawke) is left to tidy up precinct 13, which will be shut down in days. The precinct secretary (Drea De Matteo) and seen-it-all veteran Jasper (Dennehy) will keep Roenick company. But alas, they have more company than they expected. A bus transporting prisoners makes an emergency stop at the precinct because of a blizzard. The bus has three small time criminals (John Leguizamo, Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds) and one very big fish, crime kingpin and cop killer Marion Bishop (Fishburne). Late in the night the precinct is besieged by a team of dirty cops led by Marcus Duvall (Byrne). It seems Duvall and his squad of corrupt cops have had many deals with Bishop, enough that they can’t let him live. Jake takes command of the precinct’s motley crew, prisoners included, and attempts to have everyone work together to fight off the invading forces.

Hollywood upped the budget for this remake but they also upped the plot holes to match the firepower. How are the bad cops going to explain all those dead police officers in commando outfits? There’s likely enough forensic evidence everywhere to point a finger at the long arm of the law’s involvement. I suppose they could have burned the whole place down when they were done, but to paraphrase that great philosopher Ricky Ricardo, “Luuuuuucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

The acting is a non-issue. Hawke and Fishburne get to trade cool glances, Matteo gets to shake her Sopranos Joisey accent, and Dennehy gets to eat any scenery that isn’t bolted to the ground. I have no idea what Leguizamo was going for. His disturbed junkie performance reminded me of Mr. Ed, because whenever he spoke it looked like Leguizamo’s lip was being pulled up by an invisible string. Some may call this acting; I call it fun to watch.

Assault on Precinct 13 is constructed from so many familiar action elements you may think you’ve seen this movie before. Hawke plays a cop haunted by a bust gone wrong that, surprise, killed his partners. When the siege does go down, of course everyone can pick up a weapon (even a 1920s Tommy gun) and instantly become a trained marksman. There’s the whole “who can we trust” plot element that spurs Mexican standoffs between the cops and the crooks. All the characters are stock types, from Hawke’s reluctant hero, to Matteo’s saucy secretary, to Dennehy’s single-minded hothead to Fishburne’s calm and collected criminal mastermind badass. When a character opines a theory that someone on the inside is really working for the dirty cops, you should be able to immediately follow the falling anvils.

Even when it comes to the action, Assault on Precinct 13 is too familiar. Because nothing interesting is going on inside the precinct, the audience relies on the spurts of action for their money’s worth. It all gets a little bland after awhile. Cops try breaking in. They get shot. They try breaking in with more cops. They get shot. Granted, replace “cops” with “monsters” and you have 30% of horror movies. There needs to be escalating action and some overall cause and effect with the plot, especially with action movies set in one isolated locale. In Assault in Precinct 13, rarely does the previous moment matter because both sides seem to shrug and move on. The only notoriety director Jean-Francois Richet brings to the action is a peculiar fetish for long takes of fresh head shots. He does enjoy the slow trickle of blood out of a bullet to the cranium (I counted 5 times; turn it into a drinking game at your own danger).

Assault on Precinct 13 is indistinguishable from what Hollywood pumps out every day. The characters are stock, the dialogue is short but stale, the plot holes seem to swallow the film whole, and, most tragically, the action seems meaningless except when paring down the cast (there’s a ten-minute whirlwind that cuts the good guys in half). People hungry for action might find something worthwhile but most will probably walk out of the theater with the same shrug the actors seem to exhibit. Assault on Precinct 13 is a routine action flick that replaces escalation with excess.

Nate’s Grade: C

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Director Baz Luhrmann’s last project was the MTV-friendly William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (like someone else has a Romeo and Juliet) which was adored by the under 15 set that now buy N*SYNC merchandise. Luhrmann waited a long time for his follow up with Moulin Rogue, a manic musical that seems like candy for the eyes. It may have been a long time but it was well worth the wait.

The sparkling world of Moulin Rogue is around turn of the century France. Christian (Ewan McGregor), an aspiring writer, has traveled to this place against his father’s wishes. Christian believes in the beauty of love and the pull of the heart. Within minutes of setting foot in France he gets wrapped up into a production by a dwarf (John Leguizamo) and his cadre of assistants. Christian is sent to the most provocative club in town, the Moulin Rogue. Here he attempts to persuade the most famous showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman) to help push for their musical to get financial backing. Satine inadvertently confuses Christian for the man she is supposed to seduce for a large some of money, the Duke (Richard Roxburgh). And thus the merry band of misfits get their play the backing while Christian blossoms a love for Satine. But their love must remain hidden for the Duke is led to believe that Satine is his and his alone.

Kidman owns this movie, plain and simple. From her first shattering entrance being lowered from the ceiling to the last scene, she is absolutely magnificent. McGregor gives a nice performance as the dough-eyed lover. Jim Broadbent plays the Moulin Rogue’s owner, Zidler with howling delight in all his manic expressions. Even Roxburgh gives an underwritten antagonist the right amount of weasely twitch.

One of the more surprising features is how well the two leads can actually sing. Kidman gives a soft and sexy take on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and McGregor can belt out a tune with some admirably throaty pipes. As these two veer in and out of songs it’s a pleasure to watch and hear.

Luhrmann has crafted a musical with ADD, but I say this as a compliment. Moulin Rogue‘s pace is fast and pounding. People twirl above the sky, the camera zooms wildly through town streets, and dump trucks worth of confetti fly through the air. Moulin Rouge is exploding with glitz and never lets up. The editing and visual artistry is stirring. By about ten minutes into the proceedings when a green fairy starts singing a seductive version of “The Hills are Alive” you know you are in for something else. And what a something else the film delivers. There was not a moment I didn’t have a smile glued to my stupid face.

Moulin Rogue could be described as a musical for people who dislike traditional musicals. In traditional musicals people go along stuffy formula, then break out into great choreography song-and-dance. With Lurhmann’s musical is a breakneck of pomp where the characters zip around to exaggerated Hanna-Barbara sound effects and start chiming away with 70s and 80s pop songs that we all know. After the initial shock/humor of hearing characters belt out renditions of “Roxanne” and “Like A Virgin,” a familiarity sets in and it blends in to produce a surprising artistic addition.

The story of the movie is nothing new or extraordinary; it’s well worn territory. But where Moulin Rouge breaks apart and shines are with its style and exposure. The visuals are astoundingly lush and lively, the music is game and pumping, and the movie is just screaming to be seen. This was a true work of love.

The movie is bursting to the seams with life. I loved every single second, every single frame, every single moment of Moulin Rouge. I can’t wait to go see it again.

Nate’s Grade: A

Titan A.E. (2000)

In the year 3000-something an alien race of blue figurines known simply as the Drej pretty much obliterate Earth. There’s your starting point for a movie – a few billion deaths. The last survivors drift through the ends of the universe at the bottom of the interstellar ladder. One survivor (voiced by Matt Damon) is later visited upon by a rag-tag ship led by Korso (Bill Pullman) and the shapely purple-locked Akima (Drew Barrymore), survivors of Earth as well. They rescue Damon and inform him that in his hand he holds the key to reaching a ship his father hid long ago that could create a new home world for all the drifter humans. And the Drej don’t like this idea and will stop at nothing chasing him until they find the location of this ship, the Titan, for themselves.

Sure, the effects and painted backgrounds are nice but the animation is choppy at times and the constant rotating of sets incorporated with traditional 2-D animation rates high on the annoyance scale and only shows how the 2-D stands out even more. To learn how to mix and match these styles effectively watch The Prince of Egypt. There are some sequences that are truly visionary, most notably a cat-and-mouse chase through a cluster of gigantic reflective ice crystals. But a movie is not made or saved by one scene.

The most disappointing aspect of Titan A.E. is the flat and tired script from three incredibly talented writers I admire very much (the creator of The Tick, Joss Whedon – creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and John August – writer of Go). The story owes many debts to ‘Star Wars’ but even more to ‘The Wizard of Oz’. The Drej are merely faceless pop-up bad guys with zero personality or development. They wish to destroy humanity but no explanation as to “why” is ever given. They’re clouded in lifeless ambiguities. As a result you can never really care for the heroes when you could care less about the villains.

Why is Titan A.E. rated PG? Well despite its lack of fear to show some blood, and gun shots for that matter, it features the animated posterior of Damon with some light sexual banter that will thankfully fly over most kids’ heads. A quibble of mine is for equal opportunity for animated nudity. If I can see a cartoon male ass in a PG-flick, or on prime time television even, why must female nudity be slapped with an R? Let’s erase this gender double standard and let all sexes be equal under one animated nudity.

Titan A.E. may have the look but it never can maintain the feel of good sci-fi. Often times it’s either heavy-handed or overly dull. Everything is “been there, done that” but set to a non-stop playing of a soundtrack that just keeps screaming “BUY ME! BUY ME! BUY ME!” For those hoping for Disney to take its stranglehold off animation and entertainment, this picture isn’t your fabled messiah. You’ll have to wait… again.

Nate’s Grade: C

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