Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Movie Magic

Just to show that I can rant about more than geopolitics, I want to offer some thoughts about the summer's movies. I happen to be a movie fanatic. I don't think the term "cinephile" applies, because I have yet to see all the required titles that make up the syllabus of any decent college film appreciation course. As I write this, film fans all over the world are mourning the coincidental passing of two cinema legends, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. I confess that I am way behind on the Bergman filmography, but was blown away by Antonioni's "The Passenger" in 1975. (I learned this week that the rights belong to the movie's star, Jack Nicholson.) The movie has been recently released on DVD and is worth a look. I happen to agree with those critics who judged it one of the best films of the 70's.

Okay, the summer of 2007. "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" was fun, but proved to be a mild disappointment. It was over-long and could have used more of Johnny Depp, though not as clones of himself (a cinematic vehicle I found disagreeable and head-scratching). I met Depp briefly once as an extra in his film "Benny & Joon." I can confirm he is a nice guy in an industry not know for them.

Since I was not impressed by "Shrek 2," a cynical and sad excuse for a movie if there ever was one, I didn't bother with "Shrek the Third." Yeah, it'll do amazing business and help keep Dreamworks afloat for another year.

"Spiderman 3" was underwhelming. Someone asked me why there were so many villains. All you need do is look at the companion video game for the answer. You have to wonder if the gaming companies assign employees to advise the screenwriters on projects like these. Not bad enough to have prompted me to ask for my money back, but it was a letdown after the first sequel.

"Ratatouille," on the other hand, was a revelation. Brad Bird directed this as a follow-up to his amazing "The Incredibles." It's unfortunate that Bird's work at Pixar is judged by critics solely by the box office grosses. Apparently, "Incredibles" did less than its predecessor, "Finding Nemo." And "Ratatouille" did worse than "Cars" in its opening weekend. Count me as one of those critics who found Bird's movie a lovingly-crafted and original story about bucking the odds and believing in yourself. "Anyone can cook" is the motto of a master French chef at the heart of the story and an ordinary rat takes that motto to heart in his pursuit of a career as a culinary craftsman. For once we're treated to a movie experience that isn't supported by a numeral in the title. The animation is uniformly good and the voice work is superior to anything that's been on-screen in ages. Kudos to Patton Oswalt ("The King of Queens") as Remy and Brad Garrett ("Everybody Loves Raymond") as Chef Gustave. I've seen this movie twice and expect to go back one more time before the summer ends.

Speaking of movies for foodies, "No Reservations," with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart ("Thank You for Smoking"), is a cute romantic comedy that's getting middling reviews and box office. That's a shame because I found it charming and sophisticated. Apparently, it's inferior to the original German movie, "Mostly Martha," but I haven't seen "Martha" yet so I can't comment. Zeta-Jones, in my opinion, is quite good as the career woman who has no room in her life for anything but haute cuisine. Eckhart is the devilish foil and love-smitten sous chef who upsets Zeta-Jones's life and perfect routine.

"Live Free and Die Hard" would have been my pick as the best action movie of the summer, but I am hearing raves about the third "Bourne" film with Matt Damon. I have a feeling I will be one of those who anoints it as the sleeper hit of the year. (Aside: thanks to Paul Greengrass's expert and no-frills direction of "The Bourne Supremacy," the producers of the Bond films stripped their cash-cow bare of any non-essential CG action and made what is arguably the best Bond film of all time.) At any rate, Bruce Willis is still a force in the action genre and proved worthy of yet another adventure for detective John McClane. The business with the collapsing freeway was heart-stopping and was accomplished, I hear, without much in the way of computerized magic.

Yes, I did see "Transformers." The less said about it, the better.

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