Your Capsule Movie Review

November 8, 2007

Ratatouille:

Rewatched last night on the newly released, skimpy DVD.  There will undoubtedly be a loaded version in the future but I bought this one anyway.  As much as I love having fistfuls of extras on my DVDs, I’ve been neglecting to watch any of them for quite a while.  This’ll do.

I’m glad to hear that this movie is cleaning up in Europe, which just proves that they’re better than us Americans.  We don’t take kindly to nuanced allegories of class structure and elitism.  We do love eating, though.  We have a whole cable channel devoted to it.  We just don’t care how good it tastes as long as it gets into our faces as fast as possible. 

I haven’t researched too much into the production history, but I do know Brad Bird was brought in part way and he subsequently revised much of the plot and the characters, so I have no idea how much of the movie’s themes were there initially or were inserted by him, but that won’t stop me from diving headfirst into my own conclusions.

His involvement forces me to wonder if Bird was consciously–or even subconsciously–trying to make reparations for a fundamental flaw in his previous movie, The Incredibles.   Now, I love The Incredibles.  It’s genetically engineered to be the perfect superhero movie.  But–without getting too much into it since it’ll turn into a whole other article–there’s an underlying problem with the conflict between Syndrome and Mister Incredible: the justified resentment towards the superhero who gets accolades and special treatment and cool gadgets from the normal but inventive kid who gets kicked to gutter.  There are no origin stories presented in the movie, so we can only assume that superpowers are genetically inherited.  Thus, people with powers are basically better people.  In short, racism!  Boooo!

I may be thinking too much into the subtext, but if we want to get literary about this sort of thing, and we do, I must get it out of my head.

Oh yeah, back to the rat movie.

So now we have the class structure reversed, and the subjugated individual is the one with the superpower, and the ruling class is out to kill him and his kind, all disguised as a cartoon movie about cooking.  But through the cooking, another argument for equality is made.

In a review of the movie on some other website, the critic there failed to recognize a vital aspect of the movie, the ego of Anton Ego.  He states that Ego seems, “for no apparent reason, to harbor an enormous grudge against all those who can cook. From his cadaverous appearance to his coffin like office, we know he’s the bad guy, but we never find out what’s at the bottom of his disdain for Chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) and his restaurant. This lack of a deeper understanding of Ego weakens the dramatic impact of his participation in the story’s final conclusion.”

This reviewer apparently wasn’t listening during the very first few minutes of the movie when they blatantly say that Ego took great offense to Gusteau’s claim that “anyone can cook.”  Ego is an elitist.  It’s in his freakin’ name, for Christ’s sake.  He revels in being better than others.  He considers himself the superior authority on food and Gusteau was a threat to that.  Ego’s ego is only punctured when he discovers that the chef who cooked the meal that finally gave him a positive emotion, a surge of nostalgia, was a lowly rat.

The movie’s egalitarian “Anyone Can Cook” message falls a bit short considering that it’s not true, though the movie admits as such with Ego’s final monologue.  He still disclaims that anyone can cook, but great cooks can come from anywhere.   Which is the big truth of the movie, as much as I hate admitting that all animals are not equal.  Unfortunately, we’re not clones, and some of us are not as smart, as attractive, or as capable of making a tasty goulash.

On a strange side note, the included advertisements with the DVD had a ten dollar rebate if you bought the regular and Blu-Ray versions.  Now, unless you were planning on giving one away, why in the sweaty hell would you buy two copies of the same movie?  Nice try, Crafty Disney, trying to get me to buy Blu-Ray with the lure of ten entire dollars.

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Your Capsule Movie Review

October 30, 2007

Manos: The Hands of Fate:

The two people who read this site undoubtedly know about this movie, intimately.  But just in case…..

If you’re like me, and I certainly hope you are, and you spend your nights watching one awesome movie after another, there comes a time when you have to remind yourself there are some spectacularly awful movies out there.  Not just bad in the Must Love Dogs kind of way, but the Mystery Science Theater 3000 way.

My personal favorite awful movie is Batman and Robin, and as epically stupid that movie is, at least it could be considered competently made.  Manos is both and everything and more.

Its plot is simple and generic enough: a wayward family find themselves trapped in a spooky place and are terrorized by weird people who do bad, evil things to them.  There have been literally millions of movies with this same story.  How Manos succeeds at its failure is textbook filmmaking.  Every single facet of this movie should taught at universities: Don’t Do This 101. 

A lot of the blame is naturally heaped on the director, Hal Warren.  Rightly so, but his greatest mistake was using a camera that couldn’t record sound and could only film for thirty seconds at a time.  The budget was only a meager 19,000 samoleans, but really, that was 1966.  Where in the sweaty hell did all that money go?  He reportedly didn’t pay any of the actors, many of the actors made their own costumes, and he apparently didn’t build anything close to resembling a set.  Surely he could’ve gotten a decent camera.   But such as it is, he ended up with a slapped together mess of thirty second shots of silent footage, under lit and badly dubbed over and menaced by swarms of moths.

No wait, his greatest mistake was the script.  I mean, Robert Rodriguez shot El Marachi for a six pack of cervesa and with guns that could only shoot one blank at a time before they jammed.  That movie was turned out great because he knew how to edit, whereas our Hal didn’t.  Also, write.  Robert McKee’s Story didn’t exist back then, but I’m hoping that someone told our Hal that your movie’s conflict shouldn’t be based on the inexplicable bad decision of the idiot protagonist (played by Hal Warren) to stay at the strange lodge (I believe Roger Ebert had a term for this called The Stupid Plot).  The plot structure meanders from there, and when the conflict is almost resolved as the family finally comes upon the brilliant idea of “running away” from the danger, the wife trips and sobs a bit.  In a normal movie, the husband would drag her to her feet, yell a rousing speech right in her face, and keep on like a good American.  But this is Manos, so our Hal relents and they trudge back to certain doom.  Thus, the scene accomplishes nothing but killing screen time.

The entire movie is like this: nothing happens, and then when something happens, it takes forever to happen, and then it takes forever for something to happen again.  I should have timed it, but when our hero Torgo is told to stand up, he takes what feels like five full minutes to do so.  Supposedly the….things he was wearing in his pants was causing him real physical pain, but come on, Hal, edit that sucker down.

Oh yeah, Torgo has huge knees, if you didn’t know.  This is meant to be scary.  He also talks like Stephen Root in Office Space.  Legend has it the actor became addicted to pain killers in the course of this movie and eventually committed suicide.  Which just piles on the tragedy.

You can read more details and in depth analysis of this movie at Yakmala! and the Agony Booth. There is so much to talk about in a movie where almost nothing happens.

But yeah, this movie was bad.  Thankfully I watched the Mystery Science Theater version, wherein the evil scientists had to apologize to Joel for subjecting him to it, no less.

PS: Oh yeah, forgot to mention the inappropriate jazz soundtrack and the random couple who make out for a full twenty four hours and have nothing to do with anything.