Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
An instant classic, Ratatouille just might be the best film yet from both director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) and Pixar Studios. A rare computer-animated movie made by artists, not just technicians, the film combines a heartwarming story with some of the most accomplished animation I´ve seen – and a lovable, irrepressible rat. CGI has grown a lot in recent years, but this is the first film to truly blend it with the artistry of classic, hand-drawn animation. The characters move fluidly and the ‘camera´ takes us to a world that that we´ve never been to; instead of mimicking live-action techniques, as so many animated features try to do, the filmmakers understand the art behind animation and Ratatouille does things that no live-action movie could hope to do.
Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) has a desire to discover all the flavors in the world, and to put them together in various combinations – in short, to become a chef. There´s only one problem – he´s a rat; his brother can´t understand his desires, and his father employs his talents only to sniff garbage for rat poison. But after Remy is separated from his horde, and washes ashore in the sewers of Paris, he finds the restaurant of recently deceased Auguste Gusteau, beloved chef and author of ‘Anyone Can Cook´ – it´s here he will attempt to realize his dream. His talents are soon discovered by Linguini, new garbage boy at the restaurant; despite the fact that the two can´t really communicate, a plan is devised where Remy hides in Linguini´s hat and controls his motions by pulling his hair, transforming the clumsy garbage boy into a master chef. There´s something simplistic about the ugly duckling storyline, a small town rat becoming a big city chef, but the filmmakers pull it off with gusto, tying in a number of sideplots and pulling them all together beautifully. And Remy is absolutely delightful – rarely have I felt as much affection for an on-screen character. I loved this film.
Co-directed by Prague-born filmmaker Jan Pinkava, who left Pixar before the film was completed; Ratatouille marks his feature-length debut.
A fascinating true-life story, Lasse Hallström´s The Hoax comes close to hitting the mark at various points along the road but falls just short by the end. Richard Gere plays Clifford Irving, the infamous hoaxster who made headlines in the early 1970´s with his ‘authorized´ autobiography of Howard Hughes that was eventually proven to be a complete forgery. Along the way, however, Irving and ‘business partner´ Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina, who´s excellent) managed to almost scam publishing giant McGraw-Hill out of a million dollars for the rights to Hughes´ story (Hughes was a complete recluse at the time, so the publishers mostly had to take Irving´s word for his access to the billionaire; the conmen did manage to fool handwriting and voice analysts). Gere is great as the conniving Irving, but the film fails as a character study; the offered reasons for his hoax are little more than he´s a conman, and he needs money. The rest of the film is a straightforward retelling of the story by Hallström; the story so compelling that the film thrives just by detailing how this thing was pulled off. But in the end, the whole enterprise is sunk as The Hoax ventures darker political territory, and the film alleges that Nixon´s fear over the potential content in Irving´s book eventually led to the Watergate scandal. It never quite convinces, however – ironic in this film about hoaxes – and often feels as if the writers are reaching for credibility by tying Irving´s story to something of, perhaps, greater importance; entirely unnecessary. A documentary on same subject would likely prove more rewarding; on that note, check out Orson Welles´ F for Fake, which comes close enough.
A rather bland and unimaginative remake of Sandra Nettelbeck´s 2001 Mostly Martha, No Reservations marks a large disappointment from director Scott Hicks (Shine). Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as Kate, head chef at an upscale Manhattan restaurant whose life is altered by the death of her sister – as Kate becomes the guardian of her young daughter Zoe. Boss Patricia Clarkson orders Kate to take some time off; when she returns, she finds new chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart) crowding her kitchen. The two start off as enemies, but of course Eckhart and Zeta-Jones play off each nicely as competing chefs, but have absolutely no chemistry together – and their romance is awkwardly handled in this timid PG movie that feels destined to appeal to no one. Full of ‘Hollywood´ moments – such as Kate slamming a raw steak in front of a difficult customer who wanted it rare, or Zoe getting upset and running through Manhattan traffic (has this ever happened in real life?) – that starkly contrast with the more realistic nature of the screenplay. Excellent original score by Philip Glass should have carried the film, but instead is limited to fleeting ‘dramatic´ moments as pop tunes and Pavarotti overtake the happier moments in the movie.