May 1, 2011
Brad Bird, Brian Dennehy, Camille, Disney, Dreamworks, Film, film music, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo, Lou Romano, Michael Giacchino, movies, Oscars, Paris, Patton Oswalt, Peter O'Toole, picture, Pixar, poster, Randy Newman, Ratatouille, review, score, Shrek, soundtrack, The Incredibles, Up
Rats must be the most hated of pests and animals in general. But trust Disney’s Pixar to take the tale of a rodent right out of the Parisian sewers and make him one of the most likeable and cuddliest animated characters of all time. Very few have enjoyed as continuous a success as the studios’ computer animation division. Be it with toys, fish, superheroes or talking cars, their well of talent is seemingly bottomless. Written and co-directed by Brad Bird, the man behind “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” shows all the hallmarks of a true Pixar production that is thoroughly enjoyable for children and adults alike though thankfully steering clear of the endless pop-culture that perpetrate so much of the Dreamworks output. It’s an ode to cuisine, to France and more universally – to friendship, self-belief and to la vie that makes it virtually impossible to dislike.
Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) has always been a special rat in his colony. Not only does he have the most delicate nose around, he has always dreamt of becoming a gourmet chef at Gusteau’s famous restaurant in Paris. Ill luck and a very evil granny sees the rat pack abandon their cosy country home in panic and swept downriver, Remy is tragically separated from his friends. After some time in the sewers, Remy realises he is in fact in the aforementioned city, right at the kitchen door of said famous restaurant. Since Gusteau has since died, the place is now run by tyrannical head-chef Skinner (Ian Holm) who would turn it into a lucrative packed food company. Through necessity, Remy teams up with luckless escuelerie Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) to save the restaurant from Skinner, harsh critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) and to win the heart of fellow cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo). And if those colourful character names enticed you in the least, this is made for you – the entire film is hilarious, heartfelt and absolute genius. The love that the Pixar folks have got for their characters is visible in every frame. Equally, the film manages to instil a deep love for food and cooking. This may not be something we’d expect from a children’s film but we didn’t think that about fish either.
Very often in films that feature animals, these are made much too human in their behaviour but that too has been avoided. Remy, even though he can talk, never mind cook, communicates best without any words at all: One of the film’s best scenes is that in which Linguini, told to destroy the rat after Remy is caught in the kitchen, cannot bear to drown him. For all the success Dreamworks have had with “Shrek” and others, they simply cannot match Pixar for touching moments of pure emotion just like this one. In this regard, Bird’s screenplay deserves the ultimate credit. His story is incredibly deep and rich for what is essentially a children’s movie. “Ratatouille” is about dreaming big and the self-belief required to see those wishes through. Remy is constantly being told by his father (Brian Dennehy) and rodent friends that a rat has no place among humans. Although he loves Remy he would rather have his son’s keen nose sniffing out rat poison than poking around a gourmet restaurant. If the film can instil such determination and inspire such dreams in its audience -which no doubt it will – then it has succeeded. Deservedly garnering another Oscar for Pixar, “Ratatouille” is their best film to date and any lingering doubts as to the longevity of their idea pool will have been dispelled.
With “The Incredibles” Michael Giacchino replaced Randy Newman as Pixar’s composer of choice and after providing a great spy-parody score, Giacchino was hired for this film too. Through gentle waltzes, cool salsa and orchestral hyperactivity, the composer perfectly captures the tone of the adventure. Though instruments like the accordion to represent France are cliched, the score kicks off with a great rendition of the Marseillaise, leading into a spirited performance of one of the main themes. This is heard again in the album’s best cue “Dinner Rush” which includes a full orchestral arrangement. Remy’s theme is a bit on the short side on album, making appearances in the Camille song “Le Festin” as well as on beautiful piano and clarinet in the last track. In between Giacchino will have you dancing and whistling along with great action music (“100 Rat Dash” and “The Paper Chase”) and charmingly quirky material like “This is Me” and “Remy Drives a Linguini.” Listeners will hear similarities with Giacchino’s later theme for “Up” and although that score won him an Oscar, this score is probably the superior of the two. Highly enjoyable all round, this is Michael Giachino’s best music to date and will probably see him hired for animated films for years to come. Only the underuse of Remy’s theme prevents it from the full five.
Like “Up” two years later, “Ratatouille” is high on appeal for both adults and children, playing with comedic adventure and much deeper messages, it’s entirely adorable. Nobody within animation (and only very few without) can come close to Pixar’s masterful style.
What’s your favourite Pixar film? Please do leave a comment and discuss. Thank you all so much for reading!
March 18, 2011
Alexandre Desplat, Amy Adams, Chris Messina, Doubt, Film, film music, Hans Zimmer, James L. Brooks, Julia Child, Julie & Julia, Julie Powell, Margaret Whiting, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, McCarthy, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, movies, Nora Ephron, Oscars, Paris, picture, poster, Rachel Portman, review, score, Sleepless in Seattle, soundtrack, Stanley Tucci, Time after Time, When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail
Not since 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail” have audiences been able to enjoy the sort of charming comedic and romantic fluff that writer and director Nora Ephron used to produce with ease. Her output in the noughties has been lacklustre at best and therefore “Julie & Julia” was perhaps received with lower expectations than her previous films. And while her ode to culinary arts can’t quite reach the heights of her early 90s form, it does remind us of Ephron’s not insignificant talents. Perhaps the first significant point to be noted is that it operates around a dual-storyline form which has become an Ephron trademark as much as Meg Ryan, though in this case the two strands do not intertwine in a physical sense as the characters are separated throughout. It’s a format that can work well though here it also serves to highlight the film’s flaws.
Sick of her day job and at general crossroads in life is Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an aspiring author with a great love of cooking. Following a suggestion by her husband Eric (Chris Messina), Julie decides to cook her way through the greatest cooking bible there is, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and to keep a blog about it. 365 days, 524 recipes. In parallel we follow the tale of Julia herself – played with great vigour and alacrity by the great Meryl Streep – as she writes and tries to find a publisher for the book. With her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) working for the American embassy in Paris, the food-loving but cooking-illiterate Julia begins taking classes to pass her time as much as anything else but soon finds love for the pastime. Both women struggle through the highs and lows of their chosen tasks, taking both their happiness and frustration out on food. Based on the memoirs of Julie and Julia (and also claiming to be the first film based on a blog), each story is given its necessary screen time, neither strand coming up too long or too short, often a problem with films like this. Switching between the settings of France and New York, Ephron’s screenplay thus manages a healthy balance of opposites and even though the denouement isn’t particularly mind-blowing, the film can maintain enough likability to maintain the viewer’s interest throughout.
Meryl Streep’s performance has been much praised and is very much in keeping with the real Julia’s rather exaggerated and eccentric personality. To the casual viewer unaware of the likenesses, Streep may however come across as completely overblown and just that, exaggerated. As a result, while this does not always lead to believable results, Streep all the right notes of the Child nuances that doubtlessly made the latter’s shows so enjoyable in the first place. Amy Adams on the other hand is generally more low-key but this serves as a good counterpoint to Streeps performance. The pair had already worked together on “Doubt” one year earlier and it is clear that each has knowledge of the other, the acting adjusted accordingly. There are problems however: As a comedy, the film is far less funny than it would like itself to be, too often relying of “French charm” to entice laughs rather than being truly witty itself. Furthermore, an attempt to insert a more serious note into Julie’s strand at the end of the second act to parallel with the McCarthy investigation of Paul (which is well handled), comes out of the blue and lacks believability in its execution. Worst of all the film fails to make the viewer truly hungry, a detriment to any movie about food. Nevertheless, driven largely by Meryl Streep, the film will remain amusing to most, of not one that will be revisited too often.
Rising French composer Alexandre Desplat composed the original score for “Julia & Julia,” perhaps the most “appropriate” assignment he has received in Hollywood. The film provides a great opportunity for Desplat to explore his roots, and rise to the challenge he does. Separating out the two storylines, charming accordions and strings play to Meryl Streep while a more jazzy rhythms form the basis of Julie’s theme. As always with Desplat, there is great orchestral precision in the music, highlighted on the album in tracks like “The Original French Chef Theme” and “Eggs.” It’s an accomplished effort, with styles more often heard in romantic comedies by the likes of Rachel Portman and Hans Zimmer’s work for James L. Brooks. Musically charming, the soundtrack to “Julie & Julia” is a score that will never win any awards for originality, nor is it a groundbreaking score by any means but an easy-going, very enjoyable score. The placement of songs like “Time after Time” by Margaret Whiting on the album however, makes for a bigger distraction than it does in the film, even though they help set the time period for one of the film’s halves.
Make no mistake, this is not “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally” but Nora Ephron has proven she can still churn out very likeable fare that makes for easy viewing. Outside of Meryl Streep’s Oscar nominated performance however, it is unlikely that “Julie & Julia” will linger very long in the mind.
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