guppy's film reviews

Friday, June 29, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Brad Bird
Notable Actors: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Peter O'Toole, Janeane Garofalo
Score: A-
Summary: Another excellent addition to the Pixar line.

Pixar is one of the great success stories of American animation. Once in a while the studio will make something subpar -- but for Pixar, "subpar" just means "slightly less amazing." I'm happy to announce that the newest Pixar offering, Ratatouille, is another top-notch film deserving of the studio pedigree.

Ratatouille is the story of, yes, a rat. A rat named Remy who doesn't want to be like the other rats -- one who has watched master chef Gusteau's cooking shows and read his book, "Anyone Can Cook," and who has a genuine gift for the art. But of course the restaurants of Paris can't have rats in their restaurants. The public simply wouldn't stand for it. So he settles into an arrangement with the otherwise-incompetent beginning chef Linguini. Of course, the owner of the restaurant, Chef Skinner, isn't thrilled with the idea of being upstaged by Linguini, and so the stage is set.

Ratatouille is written and directed by none other than Brad Bird, whose resume boasts such modern classics as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. His work here gives Ratatouille a wonderful spark of liveliness from end to end -- the screen is constantly full of bright, active visuals that really engage the viewer.

I can't say that any single voice actor took top honors, but the strong ensemble cast voiced every character appropriately. Every major character is represented very well; standouts include Remy himself (Oswalt) and a wonderfully understated Colette (Garofalo).

The script is great as well. The characters are charismatic, and there's a joke around every corner, particularly late in the film. The animation is a real achievement as well, full of bounce and fascinating to watch. It may be a bit long for a film largely aimed at kids, clocking in at 110 minutes, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

This is the best Pixar film since Finding Nemo and I recommend it highly. It's sufficiently child-friendly to take the kids, an important feature in a family film, and adults will enjoy it as well. Highly recommended and one of the more memorable films of the year.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

Year: 2007
Director: Gabor Csupo
Notable Actors: AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick
Score: B+
Summary: A well-done, honest take on Katherine Paterson's Newberry-winning novel.

Katherine Paterson's award-winning novel, Bridge to Terabithia, is (deservedly) required reading at a huge number of elementary schools nationwide, despite the place it held for some time on the American Library Association's banned books list. When word of the upcoming Bridge to Terabithia film was released, a lot of people -- myself included -- were terrified that the novel would be bastardized for mainstream viewers. I'm happy to report that that is not the case.

Terabithia is the story of Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie Burke (Robb), two fifth-grade children who meet at school and become friends. Social outcasts at school, they invent a make-believe fantasy world in the woods by their homes. Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to elaborate further on the plot without spoiling some critical details.

The number one thing you need to know about Terabithia is that the trailers are lying to you. Released in a period notable for a string of "real" fantasy films, many unfamiliar with the book were expecting another Narnia or Lord of the Rings, and this one is nothing like those movies. The trailers, for whatever reason -- likely an attempt to cash in on the genre's recent popularity -- portrayed it that way; unfortunately, that means that the people who went to see it expecting Narnia were disappointed, and a lot of book fans didn't see it at all because they thought it was a perversion of the original. Do not under any circumstances allow the trailers for Terabithia to influence your viewing decision.

Overall, the movie does an admirable job of capturing both the letter and the spirit of Paterson's book. The story, most importantly, is intact and well. Perhaps most impressive: where many movies, particularly those aimed at a younger audience, tend to take a single message and push it throughout the length of the feature, Terabithia -- as in the novel -- is rife with multiple layers and themes, and it conveys each of them very well.

Robb is the standout actress as Leslie Burke. She absolutely shines in the role, which lends great support to the story. I'm afraid I was less enthused with Hutcherson's turn as Jess; he didn't feel committed to the role, and it detracted from the immersion. His father (Patrick), however, is excellent.

The other element I didn't like was the CGI. There isn't much, so it didn't have too much of a negative impact, but what there was seemed out of place, and I felt the mere presence of CGI in the film cheapened it.

A word of warning. The book is typically read by children of about the same age as the protagonists, and the movie will likely be seen by the same. Which is fine -- but it's exceptionally heavy material for that age, so if you're going to bring your kids along you should make an evaluation of their maturity.

Terabithia is a very good film based on an excellent novel. Above all, it comes across as genuine, and that's what counts most in a film like this one. Hats off to director Csupo.

Nota bene: Hutcherson comes off better following a second viewing. The clumsiness with certain lines remains, which is what set off alarms for me, but other, more important parts of the role are really very nuanced.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Knocked Up

Playing catch-up! Also reviewed this week: Stardust, Transformers and The Simpsons Movie

Director: Judd Apatow
Notable Actors: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Kristin Wiig
Score: B
Summary: A fun ride that successfully straddles the line between guys' movie and chick flick.

Knocked Up is the latest from Judd Apatow, creator of Freaks & Geeks and The 40-Year Old Virgin (reviewed here). It's the story of tremendously mismatched couple Ben Stone (Rogen), a stoner layabout type, and up-and-coming TV personality Alison Scott (Heigl), who get drunk at a club, go home together and, well, the title pretty much says the rest. Alison has to deal with her pregnancy's impact on her career and the scorn of her family, and Ben is terrified of the whole idea.

The plot is fairly predictable, as you might expect, so it's really the jokes along the way that make the film, and fortunately those abound. Although a minor character, my favorite lines came from Alison's bitchy coworker Jill (Wiig), who continually tears Scott down when she's supposed to be supportive. Rogen has plenty of good lines as well, but it's his charismatic personality that keeps the role going.

It's a bit difficult to pigeonhole Knocked Up. On the one hand, the trite plot just screams chick flick romantic comedy, but the humor is decidedly more geared towards men. It's hard to say which way the public will go on this one; if couples manage to get to the theater, I think they'll enjoy it, but the elements that appeal to each crowd might keep the others too wary of it to attend. Most of the people I talked to who hadn't seen it weren't sure what to make of the movie.

There's not much more to say. Knocked Up's not the best movie I've ever seen, but it's pretty decent. I definitely liked it more than Apatow's previous effort. It's a good film to see on a catch-up kind of basis -- if there's not a "must-see" movie in theaters, say, or once it hits DVD if you're looking for something to watch at Blockbuster. It's a fun ride, but nothing life-altering.