Dog Day Matinee

It was so good to hide from the scorching Summer heat in air conditioned theaters in the last few weeks. I caught up with some of the second-tier films like ONCE and YOU KILL ME (reviewed below) that are competing with the blockbusters. I did however make it beyond my local art-house theater haunting ground that I normally dwell in to hit the multiplex to see –

RATATOUILLE (Dir. Brad Bird, 2007)

When walking out of the matinee I asked the common after-movie question to a friend who saw the movie with me – “so, what did you think?” He said “it sucked! No, just kidding – it was awesome.” Sure, an obvious joke but still apt because we knew going in that it was going to be awesome. Pixar has a high level of quality streak that they are riding on and the casting of comedian Patton Oswalt, who is also having a bit of a winning streak lately *, is pure genius. Oswalt voices Remy – a French rat who’s a “foodie” – not content to sift through trash for his meals because of his sophicated palette. After infiltrating a famous restaurant that has dropped a star off its four star rating after the passing of its owner and head chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) Remy teams up with Linguinni (Lou Romano)- an incompetent klutz who has just been hired as janitor. With Remy’s culinary genius – inspired in part by a ghost of Gusteau – Linguinni rises above his mere kitchen help status to become the star chef. The animation is fluid and flawless, the dialogue quick and witty, the script with its honest passion for food and cooking is sharp as can be, and the supporting cast (including Janeanne Garafolo, Ian Holm, and Peter O’Toole) is spot-on. Man, I hope this Pixar winning streak lasts for a long time.

* This great Onion AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt reveals that he has done script doctoring punch-up work on 25 movies alone this year including SHREK THE THIRD. I would really like to give him props for his newest stand-up comedy disc “Werewolves and Lollipops” on SubPop. If you are not in the habit of purchasing comedy discs (most people I know aren’t) you should break the habit and buy this one – it’s hilarious all the way through and it comes with a bonus DVD of a performance at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia in which an audience member pees on another audience member because he didn’t want to leave to go to the bathroom and miss any of Oswalt’s set. Don’t worry – you don’t actually see this happening but it becomes a part of the routine in a glorious way.

And now for the arthouse also rans :

ONCE (Dir. John Carney, 2006) This highly touted Irish drama finally arrives in my area and has been charming the pants off of nearly everyone I know who sees it – me included. The story is simple – struggling songwriter Guy (Glen Hansard) meets piano playing Girl (Marketa Irglova) , Girl helps Guy * to make a demo recording and the will they-won’t they get together question is amplified through the music they create together. A very low-fi griminess adds to the realistic almost documentary feel and the music is heartfelt and catchy. ONCE has a sweet sincere melody to it and that’s a pretty good endorsement for a movie that is almost a demo itself.

* that is actually how they are credited – we never know their names.

YOU KILL ME (John Dahl, 2007) Ben Kingsley is Frank, a New Jersey hit-man whose alcoholicism has interferred with his ability to pull off his mafia contracts. Told by his boss (Phillip Baker Hall) he must attend AA meetings and sober up in San Fransisco where he gets a job in a funeral home. Yep, if the first half of this plot description made you think of The Sopranos the second half takes us to Six Feet Under. Through his new temporary line of work he meets Tea Leoni, gets sponsered by Luke Wilson, and monitored by creepy real estate agent Bill Pullman. There are a number of mild chuckles but this film isn’t the delightful dark comedy it wants to be. I didn’t really buy its ‘drinking : bad/murder : okay’ message either but the acting which is so much better than the material saves this from being forgettable. Kingsley should actually consider doing that “I’d pay to watch him read the phone book” project that people have been pitching for years.

Now for a review of a recent release DVD if you please (or even if you don’t) :

Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon) – “Why was the 911 switchboard unplugged?”
Deputy Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney-Silver) “We had to plug in the popcorn maker!”

RENO 911! : MIAMI (Dir. Ben Garant, 2007) I’ve enjoyed the modern Keystone-esque antics in the satire of the reality TV standard Cops since Reno 911 premiered on Comedy Central in 2003 but then I’ve also liked Strangers With Candy and its transfer to the big screen yielded pretty patchy results. This is better than that by at least a notch and for the record funnier than another likewise stoner cop comedy SUPER TROOPERS (’01) by a long stretch. It has these things going for it – the full cast of TV regulars appears including Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (who both co-wrote) it has a good Laughs Per Minute ratio, some clever cameos (Danny Devito, The Rock, Paul Rudd, and all the members from the sketch comedy troup/MTV show The State *), and a consistent tone throughout.

The squad journeys to a police convention on Spring Break in Miami and after a major arena quarentine they are made the only law enforcers of the city ensuring a wave of wackiness. Since this review is based on the unrated DVD version I can’t comment on the theatrical version obviously but there is a lot of scatological humor of which I’m not a fan of – I could have really done without the cheap motel masturbation sequence for instance. Still as a whole it’s funnier than it has a legal right to be. RENO 911! : MIAMI may never be considered a cult classic but it will be preferable to many of the films that air on Comedy Central for years to come.

* Also Patton Oswalt appears in the more-than-mere-cameo role of acting Miami-mayor Jeff Spoder – okay! That’s enough Patton promoting for now!

This post is dedicated to Laszlo Kovacs (1933-2007)- the recently deceased legendary cinematographer who has made his mark on 60 movies including classics like EASY RIDER, SHAMPOO, PAPER MOON, and GHOSTBUSTERS.

More later…

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