July 13th, 2007

Lazarus (Galaxy Quest) (by mimisoliel)

"You know, once you muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of possibilities open up."

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This is an interesting spin on the apocryphal Amadeus paradigm. Playwriter Peter Shaffer cast Salieri in the role of the mediocre given the ability to recognize Wolfgang Mozart's genius but unable to emulate him. Now, Shaffer himself is quite open about the fact that his story is an allegorical fictionalization , using Salieri as an avatar of the pedestrian.

However, Conan Doyle's comment implies that Salieri would need some talent in the first place in order to recognize the true scope of Mozart's brilliance. This is actually borne out by listening to Salieri's music. It is not bad or incompetent, quite the opposite; Salieri's music can be rather exciting and powerful at times. No, he wasn't ever the genius that Mozart was, but he certainly had talent. The "mediocre" in the play and film of Amadeus would, in fact actually be embodied by Joseph II, who lacks the ability to understand what Mozart's music was all about.

Of course by mixing actual history with its fictionalized counterpart is dangerous - Salieri's jealousy of Mozart was a conceit of Shaffers, by all historical accounts, Mozart and Salieri were probably friends.

The real frustrating aspect of The Transformers is how good it almost is. Unfortunately, between some sloppy plotting (they couldn't come up with a better MacGuffin than a pair of glasses>) and Michael Bay's complete inability to properly direct a film, it all adds up to another disaster, perhaps not quite as much of a headache as Armageddon, but not far behind. The action sequences are so tightly framed that it makes the battles visually incoherent. The robots themselves look okay, although once the fighting starts, they start looking very brittle. There is also an annoying Jar-Jar Binks style Decepticon that is really annoying.

The cast gets by primarily by mugging and spouting cutesy dialogue (I think that one really has to work to get a bad performance out of John Turturro, but Bay is clearly up to the task). Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen does an excellent job of framing the action from the perspective of a person in the throes of an epileptic seizure, and Steve Jablonsky should be arrested for his vicious assault on film music with a deadly weapon. I say this despite his attempt to curry favor by incorporating a blaster beam-like sound in the score.

No, I don't like Michael Bay, and I won't deny that I am biased. I will say in my own defense that I found both The Rock and The Island entertaining, but The Transformers has everything I dislike about his style. This film has been getting a lot of raves, and while I have to admit that it isn't completely terrible, it also really isn't that good either.

Remy loves good food, and, spurred on by the ghost of famed but deceased chef Gusteau, he sets out to become a cook. Being what most people would consider vermin, Remy has something of an uphill battle ahead of him, but is encouraged on by Gusteau's motto "anyone can cook." He ends up hooking up with the clumsy Linguini and their collaboration forms the crux of the film. That Remy is such an unusual rat becomes an issue for him with regards to his relationship with the family, and so the film is able to address the dichotomy between aspiring to one's dreams and taking care of one's responsibilities.

Ratatouille is another one of those films where the concept is the plot, and like Brad Bird's other work, balances amiable characters with forward momentum, the result being that the films 110 minute running time breezes by... and does its damndest to make the viewer ravenously hungry (the food looks absolutely delicious). Michael Giacchino's score adds a delightful touch to all of the proceedings.

The cast, led by Patton Oswalt, is fantastic; a lot has been made of the fact that he appears in a film distributed by Disney while his standup is so raunchy, but his performance works beautifully with the character animation and makes him one of Pixar's most endearing protagonists. Lou Romano, Janeane Garofalo and Brian Dennehy all turn in creditable performances, but the real standouts in the film are Ian Holm as Skinner, the fiercely jealous Head Chef, and Peter O'Toole's stuffy critic Anton Ego, upon whom a good chunk of the plot rests.

The animation is damn near flawless, this being a Pixar production, but viewing this film in such proximity to Surf's Up, I noticed an interesting change in the nature of animated features in general. The brilliance of Toy Story was that the subject of the film fixed the technological limitations of CGI at the time. Today, CGI has evolved to the point where human faces can be convincingly articulated, and we have seen a move away from films that try to impress the viewer with its imagery (even though that imagery might be breathtaking, and sequences from Surf's Up and Ratatouille certainly are), but rather concentrate less on situational humor and action and more on character-oriented material.

Persons with rat phobias be forewarned... while the rats are indeed anthropomorphized, they are for the most part anatomically accurate (i.e. naked tails), and the movie features several scenes in which Remy's family swarms (for a good cause, of course).