Film: “Ratatouille”

I finally saw Ratatouille this weekend (seems 9:30pm is a good time to go if you’re looking at avoiding the under-12 crowd).

Like most Pixar films, the ‘follow your dreams’ message was inherent, as well as a reinforcement of the importance of family. Still, despite Remy being very cute, and the romance of the animated Paris cityscape, this is a weak addition to the Pixar canon. I don’t want to ruin the movie for those who haven’t yet seen it, but for anyone who has watched a certain clip of a, erm, cleanliness-challenged fast food restaurant in America, one of the last scenes in Ratatouille will not ring so fantastical.

And if anyone was wondering what the ratatouille dish consists of – it’s a French stewed vegetable dish.

Film: “The Bourne Ultimatum”

I watched The Bourne Ultimatum on Friday night. It’s funny, I really didn’t know the title before going into the movie (instead, identifying it as “That Bourne movie,” or “The one with Matt Damon”), and I probably will not be able to tell you any of the minute plot points two weeks from now. That said, the film was very entertaining.

Echoing many critics – Ultimatum is a fantastic chase movie, with gripping action sequences, intriguing backroom drama and unexpected twists. Matt Damon and Joan Allen were great in their roles, and it was nice to see Julia Stiles again, though I had no idea she would play such a vital part in this movie. Director Paul Greengrass’s style does take some getting used to, however – his closeups of fight scenes must have been difficult to shoot, and yet, easily mask prying audience eyes attempting to distinguish stuntperson from star. Lastly, recently back from Europe, I certainly appreciated the London and Paris city settings, and was excited at recognizing landmarks (Waterloo and Gare du Nord stations!) that I had just seen in person.

With the variety of cinematic fare available this summer, I can’t recommend any one film that will appeal to every taste. But as far as thrillers go, you will not be disappointed.

Film: “Hairspray”

After not being able to find good seats to our first choice, Ratatouille (sob), Dickson and I ended up ducking into Hairspray on Sunday afternoon.

Based on the Tony-award-winning musical, I remember being drawn to the film simply because of its Broadway connection. Of course, nothing beats a live stage performance, but as screen musicals go, Hairspray is as upbeat and fun as they come.

I had no idea racism and overcoming segregation were such an integral part of the plot, but it worked really well alongside Tracy’s struggle to be recognized for her talent in the face of her larger frame. As a whole, the movie was very well acted, but I especially admired the work of the delightfully wicked Michelle Pfeiffer, and believably genuine newcomer Nikki Blonsky. John Travolta in drag as Tracy’s mother took some getting used to, and I may have to agree with critics that said Travolta in this role was stunt-casted; his presence seemed to subvert all of the sincerity Blonsky was exhibiting. Lastly, the choice of Zac Efron for the part of teen pin-up Link Larkin was an easy way to inflate audiences with the High School Musical-mad set (though I’m not just referring to tweens – it seems Dickson has quite the man-crush on Efron).

Hairspray isn’t a must-see, but if you’re looking for a movie that will leave you with a smile on your face, this is it.

More “Sex & the City” Movie News

Furthering a story I posted about late last year, Sarah Jessica Parker confirmed that a movie version of Sex & the City is in the works:

“Speaking on TV show Entertainment Tonight, she said, ‘This is a very complicated puzzle to put back – not for the reason that people speculate about because as far as I know all of the actresses want to be together again for this movie. Somehow in my brain I think the timing is fortuitous because if we had done it years ago… we couldn’t have done it now. I’m hopeful and very excited about it.'”

The IMDB page for the movie has the release date pegged to be 2008. I’m not holding my breath until someone other than Parker speaks about the film (in particular Kim Cattrall, who’s rumored riff with Parker was the reason a movie immediately following the television finale was quashed), but based on both her and Kristen Davis’ lack of upcoming projects, I’m sure any work that would push them back into the pop culture spotlight would be a welcome assignment.

Film: “Shrek the Third”

I just returned from Shrek the Third, the movie we watched to cap off Michael’s farewell evening.

As with Pirates, though of less importance, I could only vaguely remember what had taken place in the movies prior. Perhaps because of lowered expectations going in, I did enjoy this third installment. Justin Timberlake, the new voice addition, was pitch perfect as the whiny, adolescent heir (who, in Doug’s opinion, resembled Corey Feldman – you be the judge), and crowd favorites Donkey and Puss in Boots were their usual smile-inducing selves (they really could have their own movie). I will also admit to enjoying the princesses coming-of-age sequence (Snow White could be the X-Man who controls animals!). And with the exception of the Frog King’s twice-over fake-out deaths, there were enough lighthearted, humorous moments to keep me entertained.

Though I didn’t originally intend to catch this sequel in theatres, I didn’t regret doing so.

Film: “Knocked Up”

I went to watch Knocked Up with Mack late Thursday afternoon. In the weeks since it premiered, the movie has received surprisingly positive coverage, and not just because of its directorial connection to the also-critical darling The 40 Year Old Virgin.

A story about two strangers deciding to try to make a relationship work after the titular consequences of a one-night stand, Knocked Up was well-done on many levels. The situations, dialogue and acting all seemed so natural, quite an accomplishment on the part of the filmmakers. Nothing (except possibly the ending, but more about this later) seemed staged, and the conversations and crises faced by the characters would be ones expected in the real world. Katherine Heigl put in a strong performance, but I thought (echoing many critics) that supporting cast members Paul Rudd and the hysterically energetic Leslie Mann stole the show. As for the ending, while I can appreciate the desire to cap a supposed “romantic comedy” with a happy conclusion, I am of the opinion that the real struggle for Ben and Alison would begin when they realize that their relationship must exist outside of the bubble created by a child (an assessment that the hopeless romantic Mack disagrees with).

Knocked Up is a good, funny alternative to the bloated summer blockbusters in theatres now.

Film: “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”

Over the weekend, I watched the second of three summer blockbusters I’ve been looking forward to, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

I don’t have too much to say, not because I didn’t enjoy the movie, but because I can’t say I really understood what was going on. Between Calypso’s heightened importance, the drudgeries of Davy Jones’ servitude, and Jack Sparrow’s dead/not dead state, I ended up throwing the details to the wind and decided to just sit back, soak up the special effects, spirited soundtrack, and marvel at the on-screen wonder that is Orlando Bloom (he’s just so darn pretty!). Though some would disagree, I was really rooting for Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters to end up together (the hopeless romantic that I am), and so I didn’t find the post-credits scene cheesy at all. As they parted at the beach at the end of his free day, I thought their honeymoon was much too brief – the movie was definitely tipped in favor of action sequences over romance!

So though it was a fun ride, I’d be fine with Pirates ending on this note.

“High School Musical 2” Premiere Date

Mark your calendars – High School Musical 2: Sing it All or Nothing will debut on the Disney Channel and its Canadian Family Channel affiliate on August 17.

Speaking of HSM, rumors are abound that its leads Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens are an item! My cynical self thinks this to be a spring-summer romance, but regardless of the catalyst, it’s a great publicity stunt for the upcoming release.

And if you thought one sequel was enough, I’m sorry to disappoint you with the news that the third installment, Haunted High School Musical has already been planned for a 2008 theatrical release. How’s that for tween power?

Film: “Spiderman 3”

I went to watch Spiderman 3 at the South Common theatres last night. It was quite a festive atmosphere for the younger set, with an inflatable jump house set up just outside the theatre, comic books and Spiderman-balloon animals offered inside, and even a costumed Spiderman available for photographs in the lobby.

We bypassed the peripheral fun in favor of lining up early to secure good seats. Though I tend to build up unwarranted expectations when waiting is involved, the movie didn’t disappoint. I failed in my attempt to avoid all reviews before the screening, but I do agree with Mack’s opinion that the critics were unnecessarily harsh on the third installment. I didn’t have a problem with what they deemed to be an abundance of villiains, and if anything, my favorite scene in the movie was the eleventh hour partnership between Spiderman and New Goblin (admittedly, I have a soft spot for redemption storylines).

As expected from the Spiderman franchise, there were stunning visual effects, and the requisite Sam Raimi everyman hero humor (but who else thought Parker’s bang-tastic street dance went on a tad long?). As for the new cast additions, Topher Grace did surprisingly well in his turn to the dark side, and James Cromwell’s bit appearance was a waste for someone of his acting caliber. And oh, the crying – the movie might as well have been subtitled S3: Waterworks Edition.

All in all, it was a good night at the cinema. Spiderman 3 definitely deserves its place as the first blockbuster of a sequel-filled summer movie season.

Film: “Jesus Camp”

I watched Jesus Camp over the weekend. I remember Roeper and his guest critic of the week giving the film two thumbs up, but I can’t say I would have done the same.

The movie suffered from a lack of clear storytelling direction – it began with a look at a one-week Bible camp organized by an Evangelical Children’s Preacher, with some interviews with the kids attending the camp. I was expecting the directors to use this event as the main plotline of the movie, with, in typical documentary fashion, several linked peripheral stories told here and there. But this wasn’t the case, as the screen randomly jumped to Mike Papantonio, a radio talk show host commenting on the radical nature of some Evangelicals, and then to a sermon by Ted Haggard in Colorado Springs. Unlike anything by Michael Moore (arguably not the gold standard of documentary makers, but undoubtedly very good at ensuring the audience understands the point he is trying to make), the movie ended without a clear message. Perhaps the directors wanted the audience to judge for themselves, and simply wanted to capture and present a day in the life of these children, but to me, it felt as if the movie didn’t know its own purpose.