new releases

Chicken Run

(U) 85 mins tr tr * * The opening scene is superb: a hulking man and two slobbering hounds patrol the perimeter of a wire fence. As they pass a clutch of chickens make a dash for the fence, and begin burrowing under it. They’re discovered; one of them is caught and thrown in a compost bin. The same chicken attempts to escape again and again, each time ending up in the bin. And then the chicken starts bouncing a rotten turnip off the wall . . . just like Steve McQueen's cooler king in the RO.W. classic The Great Escape.

'The Great Escape with chickens' is how Bristol-based Aardman pitched Chicken Run to Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks studio. Ever since Nick Park won the first of three Oscars back in 1990 for Creature Comforts - and later The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave - Hollywood has courted Aardman, and public expectation of a full length feature has snowballed. Then, one day, Park doodled in his sketch book - a picture of a chicken digging under a wire fence with a spoon and the rest, as they say, is history.

History indeed. The World War II prisoner of war experience - as represented in Hollywood films re- written as an Orwellian satire, albeit with laughs. Still, it'll probably put more people off eating poultry than Animal Farm did. So, Stalag 17 becomes a battery farm and the camp commandant farmer Tweedy's domineering wife (voiced by Miranda Richardson). In the hutches, Ginger (Absolutely Fabulous' Julia Sawalha) rallies her fellow hens (including Jane Horrocks) to escape, which seems a real possibility when Rocky the Rhode Island Red rooster (Mel Gibson) flies into the coop.

. ..

What's missing is chemistry, surprisingly between Everett and Madonna

The P.0.W. experience re-written as an Orwellian satire, albeit with laughs

.. ~ , i i a ' \3 5 1‘ . ' f

Like the Wallace and Gromit films, Chicken Run is packed with sly filmic references and exists in a nostalgic timewarp post-war Britain. Though the vocal cast perform admirably and the familiar Plasticine animation is ever more refined, Chicken Run doesn't hold the attention like the other films. The characters suffer from not being as well established as Wallace and Gromit, and though the longer running time allows greater plot development, it slows the action, undermining the spectacle. Thus, set pieces such as the opener work wonders while plot exposition and character development drag.

But that's a minor quibble. With Chicken Run, Aardman's cottage industry animation outfit gives its towering Tinseltown counterparts a run for their money. The words David and Goliath come to mind. (Miles Fielder)

I General release from Fri 30 Jun. An Omnibus special on Aardman is broadcast on BBC 7 on Sun 25 Jun, 70.30pm.

healthy and happy, but when Abbie meets the man of her dreams, investment banker Ben Cooper (Benjamin Bratt), the parental arrangement becomes complicated. A child custody case ensues, Which

threatens to destroy Robert and

Abbie's friendship There’s no doubting the very current

i ’3 relevance of the alternative domestic

life pictured here. The relationship between the four principles makes for an interesting dynamic, and the difficulty of finding a workable solution to the parenting problem provokes much thought. However, What’s

The Next Best Thing (12) 109 mins it ii

British critics stopped savaging Rupert Everett and ‘rediscovered' him With The Madness 0/ King George and An Ideal Husband. Around the same time the American public was singing his praises for scene stealing from Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Everett used the clout that came With that renewed success to alter the script for The Next Best Thing (he was initially on board as both producer and star), refining his character and that of his co-star and friend, Madonna.

Thus gay landscape gardener Robert (Everett) isn’t the stereotypical Hollywood homosexual (ie funny and asexual), and unhappy and unlucky in love yoga teacher Abbie (Madonna) is more sympathetic. In the film, Robert confides in best friend Abbie that he wants a serious relationship; Abbie tells him she wants a child. Finding solace in each other one night, they get drunk which leads to a Surprising impromptu shag. Later, Abbie discovers she's pregnant and so they remain friends While deCiding to share parental responsibilities. Years go by and their child, Sam (Malcolm Stumpf), grows up

missing from this comedy/melodrama is chemistry, Surprisingly between Everett and Madonna. And so the early 'funny scenes’ With Robert and Abbie fall flat, and although the later, acrimonious ones work better, the gr0undwork of their relationship hasn’t been established. Then there's the problem of Madonna’s acting: she displays emotions ranging from perplexed to perplexed and back again. Even the once great John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) can't muster some much needed alchemy between his star pals. (Miles Fielder)

I General release from Fri 23 Jun.

Rough cuts

Lights, camera, action . . .

THE DOTCOM PHENOMENON hit the Cannes Film Festival this year. While international stock market confidence in dotcom companies took a nose- dive, the film industry busied itself investigating the new arena for distribution offered by the web.

Most prominent among the dotcom companies was America‘s AtomFilms, launched March 1999 and in Cannes to increase its European profile. Broadcasting over the web throughout the festival (at, Atom's content included short films featuring ‘A list' Hollywood talent such as Neve Campbell (pictured below), Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey. A further validation of web film distribution came from business partner Aardman, which launched Angry Kid at Atom’s site. ’It's like having a multiplex cinema on your desktop,’ says AtomFilms Europe managing director Michael Cornish.

Going online this month at animation site Shockwave ( is David Lynch's Dumb Land, to be delivered in fortnightly three minute instalments. 'lt's very dumb and it's very bad quality,’ says Lynch. 'lt's going to be crude, but sophisticatedly crude.‘ That kind of product is perfect for distribution over the web: simple, striking, digestible at your desktop. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone agree, as does Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee and filmmakers Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg, all

* of whom have deals with Shockwave.

Meanwhile, animation studio Icebox ( are premiering Zombie College, a sharp, subversive show said to rival The Simpsons.

Then there's Running Time, billed as the world's first interactive movie. At viewers have been directing the film's outcome via online voting. The filmmakers, lead by The Full Monty writer Simon Beaufoy, have accordingly produced new weekly five minute episodes.

Dotcom stocks might be in a state of flux, but the internet is offering the film industry a new marketplace, filmmakers a new medium and audiences a new way of watching films. As Cornish says, ‘The internet will become as regular a place to watch great entertainment as the TV or cinema.’

22 Jun 6 Jul 2000 THE UST 23