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Film Clips

Hairspray, Sicko, others



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RATATOUILLE Cinema has given us so many marvelous movies set around the kitchen that it's easy to lose count among the tantalizing dishes laid out on display. But onto a long list that includes Babette's Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, and Like Water for Chocolate, I never expected to add an animated yarn about a culinary rat. Ratatouille (a pun-tastic title that also ends up playing a part in the proceedings) is the latest winner from Pixar, the animation outfit whose win-loss ratio still manages to equal that of the '72 Miami Dolphins. That is to say, John Lasseter's company has yet to produce a dud, and one can only wonder when (or if) this streak will end. The rat is Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), whose skills in the kitchen are exemplary, and the primary human protagonist is Linguini (Lou Romano), a skinny lad who possesses none of his late father's superb culinary abilities. Since restaurant kitchens aren't exactly rodent-friendly, and since circumstances force the singularly untalented Linguini to pass himself off as a master chef, the pair pool their resources to return a once-great Paris eatery, now struggling following the publication of a disastrous review by food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), back to its lofty position as one of France's finest. Written and directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), Ratatouille serves as a love letter to Paris, a valentine to the fine art of cooking, and a gift to summer moviegoers. ***1/2

SICKO Forget illegal immigration or the war on terror or any other faddish domestic crisis that regularly tops the polls: It's long been clear that health care ranks as the number one problem in America, and only a complete moron -- or a well-to-do Republican -- would believe that there's nothing wrong with our current system. So here comes Michael Moore to tackle the subject, in what arguably stands as his most ambitious project to date. As with past works by this controversial filmmaker, Moore proves himself to be more a professor with some fanciful ways of explaining the matter at hand than a documentarian in the strictest sense of the term: He often places himself at the center of the spotlight, and he lets niggling details fall by the wayside in his rush to accentuate the greater truth. Sicko is no different: One can quibble about the presentation or the soft-pedaling of certain points, but there's no doubt that Moore's heart is in the right place, or that, in a just world, his powerful picture would serve as an agent for change. A patriotic American who believes that no one should be left behind, Moore employs his latest film as a bludgeoning tool against insidious insurance companies and the corrupt politicians who let them get away with murder -- often literally. Not surprisingly, Moore's solution on how to wrest this nation away from the hands of the insurance companies, lobbyists and politicians is to provide universal health care for everyone. Michael Moore is hardly the person I'd pick to bring a measure of sensibility back to a great nation long ruled by venal profiteers, but I suppose he'll do in a pinch. ***1/2

TRANSFORMERS I was a fraction too old for the whole Transformers rage when it swept through the nation back in the mid-1980s, though professional dedication did force me to sit through the crappy animated feature that hit theaters in 1986. Yet even folks who wouldn't know a Transformer from a Teletubby can expect to have a good time at Transformers, which easily emerges as the biggest surprise of the summer thus far. A movie about robots that turn into cars (and trucks and tanks and airplanes) would seem to have a more limited fan base than many other blockbuster wanna-bes, and the presence of Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) as director certainly puts critics on alert. Yet perhaps the secret ingredient here is in the producing credits. Instead of Bay's usual partner in crime, Jerry Bruckheimer, it's Steven Spielberg who snags an executive producer citation, so it can't be a coincidence that in its finest moments -- most contained within the first half of this 145-minute yarn -- this picture harkens back to the sort of filmic roller coaster rides that Spielberg often built during the 1980s. Bolstered by ample amounts of humor (a popular comedian makes an early appearance as a car salesman) and decidedly more character-driven than expected, Transformers for the most part does a fine job of balancing action with emotion, which makes the final half-hour -- wall to wall battles with little to individualize the raging robots on either side -- a bit of a slog. Still, it's a given that Transformers fans won't be disappointed. The shock is that the rest of us might not be, either. ***

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