The Summer 2007 movie scene was marked by animated rats, a knocked up Grey’s star, the comeback of John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Moore rants (both by and about), and, of course, Harry Potter. The Record editorial staff has pooled its movie-watching expertise to bring you our annual summer movie roundup.
Does Pixar ever get it wrong? In one hyphenated word, “Ratatouille” is heart-warming. Despite being surrounded by sewer-dwelling, scrap-grabbing rats pressuring him to be just as unrefined as them, the lovable Remy (Oswalt) audaciously follows his dream of becoming a master chef. Remy is just one of a host of memorable characters. From the clumsy Linguini (Romano), to the malicious Skinner, to the disheartened Anton Ego, and Remy’s well-meaning friends and family, all of its characters are unforgettable. Combined with a poignant, fast-paced storyline and delightful humor fit for children and adults alike, “Ratatouille” is both charming and meaningful. Remy’s boldness and drive, tempered by the occasional glimpse of his self-doubt, should be a lesson to every law student facing looming career decisions.
Rating: * * * *
As the other film with gourmet cooking as its backdrop this summer, “No Reservations” stood a distant second to “Ratatouille.” I wasn’t expecting much from this romantic and family comedy about a perfectionist New York City chef (Zeta-Jones) who suddenly becomes the legal guardian of her niece (Breslin) around the same time as her kitchen is invaded by an easygoing sous chef (Eckhart), and it doesn’t give much. “No Reservations” is predictably boring, lacks any semblance of character development, and desperately tries but ultimately fails to involve its audience in the tragedy of the niece’s unexpected circumstances. I expect that “No Reservations” will be optioned to TNT or TBS in a couple of years. If there is absolutely nothing else to do, it may be worth watching at that point.
Rating: * 1/2
“Knocked Up” follows Seth Rogen in the role of a schlubby, unemployed stoner who, well, knocks up statuesque beauty and E! reporter Alison (Heigl). From the director – and much of the cast – of “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” is often hilarious. Rogen’s stoner roommates are a highlight, as is Heigl’s passive aggressive boss. Similarly, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are frequently amusing as Heigl’s shrill sister and immature brother-in-law. The film’s stars lack some essential element of chemistry, however, and are never quite believable as a couple, and not just because of the discrepancy in their appearances. Heigl is at her best not with Rogen, but with Mann. She never quite morphs into a real character rather than an instrument of Rogen’s personal growth. All the same, they’re likable characters, and easy to root for, and the film’s (heartily predictable) climax is as touching as it is funny.
Rating: * * *
“Superbad” really needs two separate reviews – one for people who enjoy two hours of dick jokes, and one for people who don’t. Luckily for us, we do. The plot is simple and overdone – awkward high school boys try to get liquor so they can hook up with hot girls – but clever writing and hilarious performances from the three young stars make the movie work, especially the acting of newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse as “McLovin.” The only question is why Bill Hader and Seth Rogen get so much screen time as hapless cops, since their banter isn’t nearly as funny or sweet as that of leads Jonah Hill and Michael Cera.
Rating: * * * 1/2
There are a lot of people who won’t like “Hairspray,” a candy-colored confection of a musical that follows the rotund young Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) whose dream is to dance on local television show. Fans of the original may bemoan the movie’s lack of satirical punch and its simplistic view of race relations (while the rest of us may simply be grateful that this new version does not feature Ricki Lake). Those who are baffled by the tendency of musicals to have their characters burst out into song and perfectly choreographed dance at odd moments will find “Hairspray” perplexing throughout. And, admittedly, people with eyes will cringe at the thought of John Travolta singing and dancing his way through this movie in drag and a fat suit.
If you can suspend your disbelief, however, “Hairspray” is utterly lovable. The music is so catchy you’ll find yourself humming it for days afterwards and the cast, both young and old, sells the song and dance numbers. Blonksy is adorable and delightful, and Travolta manages to put forth a performance that allows the audience to forget “Battlefield Earth” for long stretches of time. The costumes and designs reflect the movie’s bright, cheerful optimism and feel-good message. Sit back and enjoy the ride; you may not leave “Hairspray” any smarter, but you will leave it with a smile on your face.
Rating: * * * 1/2
Unlike everyone else I know who saw “Sicko” and apparently a majority of critics, I left the theater with mixed feelings. Yes, Michael Moore makes France look like paradise and America look like purgatory, and yes, he miraculously was able to find foreign doctors to treat his patients’ every ailment, but at some points he takes it a bit too far. Nevertheless, the subject matter of the “Sicko” is important and Moore’s entertaining, opinionated, and occasionally moving style make “Sicko” a disturbing documentary that succeeds in raising questions and warning flags. Although I didn’t need Moore to bash me over the head with the failure of the American medical system quite so forcefully, if there are some in America who do, I suppose “Sicko” serves its purpose expertly.
Rating: * * * 1/2
The Simpsons Movie
The common analysis of “The Simpsons Movie” is that it’s “like a really long, pretty good episode of The Simpsons.” Is this a criticism or a compliment? It’s both – good to know the “Simpsons” team isn’t brain-dead, but we hoped that they’d saved some great stuff for the big screen. The tale of Homer’s latest screw-up, leading to a Springfield encased in a bubble and marked for destruction, won’t blow your mind. But it’s cute and has a few laughs, and the “Spider Pig” tune will get in your head for a day or two. Worth a rental, if not a full-price ticket.
Rating: * * 1/2
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Probably a bit confusing for those who haven’t kept up with all the books and movies, but a fun ride for the rest of us Potterheads. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is full of teen angst, dark corners, and wonderfully creepy performance by Imelda Staunton and Helena Bonham Carter. The scenes of Dumbledore’s Army in training are great to see, and after five movies, there’s even a (little) romance thrown in. As huge summer franchises go, Harry Potter movies are still the least-commercialized and the best-cast.
Rating: * * * 1/2