Then again Ratatouille does come from Brad Bird the creator of The Incredibles so you know you are in for something good. Meet Remy (Patton Oswalt) a rat who dares to dream the impossible dream of becoming a gourmet chef. All his life Remy has had a gifted sense of smell. While his family rummages through the garbage for scraps Remy only goes for the good stuff stealing directly from the kitchen. For instance a piece of brie combined with a fresh berry is just heaven for Remy. Then circumstances literally drop Remy into the Parisian restaurant of his dreams Gusteau’s where he soon discovers having whiskers and a tail is detrimental to cooking five-star meals. So close and yet so far away. But as luck would have it the petite rodent befriends the restaurant’s shy outcast garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) and together they form a most improbable partnership. With Linguini’s clumsy body channeling Remy’s creative brains they turn Paris upside down. Vive Remy! Ratatouille doesn’t have any showboating animated characters in need of A-list voices to bring them to life. Instead the vocal talent all take a backseat to the story and it works out perfectly. Stand-up comedian Oswalt (TV’s The King of Queens) taps into a rodent frame of mind and gives Remy a nice mix of intelligence spunk and food savvy while voiceover veteran Romanoo is effectively goofy and sweet as Linguini. There’s a slew of other more well-known voices as well including: Ian Holm as the domineering slightly sadistic short-in-stature chef Skinner at Gusteau’s; Janeane Garofalo as Collette the only female in the kitchen who at first resents Linguini but then grows to love him (mais oui!); Brad Garrett as the late great chef Auguste Gusteau Remy’s mentor whose spirit resurfaces in Remy’s imagination; and finally Peter O'Toole—yes THE Peter O'Toole—as the pompous food critic Ego who hates everything he eats. Well that is until he samples Remy’s cuisine. What can I say? Helmed by the ultra-talented Brad Bird Ratatouille is simply a masterpiece in animation which is quite a compliment in this day and age of the CGI glut. Reaching the standard they set with Toy Story Pixar has never stopped churning out the highest quality CGI you’ll ever see onscreen unsurpassed by any of their competition. Ratatouille’s attention to detail is nothing less than amazing down to Remy’s rapid breathing when he’s frightened just as if we are watching a real rat to the way Bird and his crew turn the City of Lights into a truly mesmerizing sight. And for those who love to cook—or eat good food for that matter—forget about it! Ratatouille is the delicacy you’ve been waiting for on par with expert cooking movies such as Like Water for Chocolate or Babette's Feast. Pixar clearly has defined the way we watch animation creating films that are not only entertaining for the children but just as hilarious compelling and heartfelt as any live action film. Now if only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can just get off their high horse and consider an animated film worthy of a Best Picture Oscar. Ratatouille might just have a chance.
Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) has a really bad rep and with good reason: Five years ago convicted killer Riddick escaped the galaxy's law enforcement during a botched interplanetary prison transfer and has been on the lam ever since. As The Chronicles of Riddick picks up our antagonist finds his relative freedom has been compromised when mercenaries out for the $1 million bounty on his head discover his location and hunt him down. Riddick escapes their clutches steals their ship and sets off for Planet Helion to find Imam (Keith David) the Muslim cleric he rescued in Pitch Black and the only person who could have squealed his location to authorities. But while Riddick's hunch about Imam are correct the cleric has a reason for luring the mammoth murderer out of hiding: Helion is falling to unholy armies of Necromongers--warriors who conquer by force in the vein of Star Trek's Borg. Of course Riddick doesn't give a damn about the Helions or their plight--until he gets wind that the Necromogers want to kill him because of an old prophecy that foresees their end at Riddick's hands. Like it or not Riddick is left with no other choice but to battle the Necromongers.
The character of Riddick is unquestionably what made Pitch Black one of the most sequel-worthy sci-fi films in years. And Riddick would not have been one of sci-fi's most intoxicating characters if it weren't for Diesel. Like his Dominic Toretto in the 2001 actioner The Fast and the Furious Riddick is a villain of few words but when he speaks his carefully chosen words have impact--even if the dialogue is at times overly theatrical. Riddick is the perfect antihero; a cold-blooded and indifferent being who somehow evokes more compassion than the film's so-called good guys. Joining Riddick are some recurring characters including David as Imam but Riddick benefits the most from the addition of some new characters particularly Colm Feore as Lord Marshal the Necromonger leader whose goal is to rid the universe of all human life. Feore channeling nuggets of Julius Caesar into his role makes for one of Riddick's most thrilling foes. Another prominent addition to the cast is Judi Dench who has a surprisingly small role as Aereon an Elemental captured by the Necromongers and used for her special powers including ESP.
Writer/director David Twohy took his horror pic Pitch Black which gained a cult following since it was released four years ago and managed to successfully turn it into an sci-fi actioner of epic proportions. Everything is grander here which is almost a given considering Twohy shot Pitch Black on a dime in Australia using colored filters. In Riddick the director distinguishes the film's different environments--the Necros' mothership Crematoria's cavernous prison and Helion--using warm to cool tones that are dazzling yet more subtle than its predecessor. The CGI effects get a little gamey at times but production designer Holger Gross' gargantuan sets are impressive and help craft Twohy's otherworldly vision into a plausible one. And although Twohy jumps genres from Pitch Black to its sequel his storyline evolves logically from the original premise. But while moviegoers unfamiliar with Pitch Black will be able to follow the story easily enough they may have a difficult time grasping what makes Riddick such a big deal; the film explains the legend but never fully captures its quintessence. This could hurt Riddick's chances to broaden its Pitch Black fan base.
From the creators of the TNT miniseries Gettysburg including executive producer Ted Turner and writer/director Ronald F. Maxwell Gods chronicles the Civil War from its beginnings when the South rises up. Confederate General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall) a distinguished military man but also a loyal native Virginian chooses to fight for his home rather than his country while Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) a devoutly religious man becomes Lee's most trusted lieutenant. On the other side we have Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) a professor from Maine who ends up one of the Union's finest military leaders. In between there are glimpses of the wives and families left behind. Stories of this magnitude with their dramatic bloody battles and tragic endings usually leave you numb or crying for those lives lost and destroyed. Instead Gods and Generals holds no resonance whatsoever meticulously plotting out the details and making this decisive moment in American history interminable at three and a half hours. It's like wading through a textbook--or worse watching Civil War fanatics carefully reenact the famous battle scenes on the very ground they were fought over and over again--while the players stand around quoting long-winded verse from the Bible or Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Blech.
The actors in Gods and Generals must have honestly thought they were making something important when they signed up. Main players Lang (who played Major Gen. George Pickett in Gettysburg) and Daniels (who reprises his Gettysburg role as Chamberlain) have their moments but after hearing them recite one speech after another especially Lang's Jackson who says more prayers to God than anything else you start to wonder if they ever realized they made a mistake. (Or have we for sitting through it?) One of the more superfluous scenes is when Jackson and his black cook Jim played by Frankie Faison are standing outside in the freezing cold night for about 15 minutes both looking up at the stars and praying to God. It seems like the actors are trying to make such sermonizing poignant meaningful but all this pontification simply drags the movie further down. These speeches aren't just Lang's and Daniels' territory--Mira Sorvino as Chamberlain's wife and Kali Rocha as Jackson's wife get their own personal moments in the sun too. If you count the cast of thousands each with their own things to say well you get the point. Thankfully Duvall who is the only good thing about the movie gets to keep the talking to a minimum.
If you want to see a Civil War melodrama at its best where watching the heroes race through a sacked city makes you hold your breath and witnessing horrific hospital scenes makes you squirm then watch Gone With the Wind. If you want gut-wrenching Civil War battles or more understanding of how slaves truly felt then watch Glory. If you want a heartening history lesson about the Civil War that not only teaches you about the era's political machinations but also shares the insights and thoughts of the men and women who experienced it then watch Ken Burns' documentary series The Civil War. Gods and Generals offers none of that in its dry textbook version of the Civil War which uses the same shots are used over and over again (how many times does the camera pan up to the night sky or show the panoramic view of Fredericksburg Virginia? I lost count) features more actors waxing prophetic than real drama and actually makes you yawn during what should be intense battle scenes.