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'Ratatouille' charms, 'Transformers' disappoints 

click to enlarge Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Previews

Opening Wednesday, July 11, is one of the major films of the summer: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix . The fifth in the Boy Wizard series features the usual all-star cast of British actors and new director David Yates who will also helm the sixth Harry Potter ( Half-Blood Prince ). See the preview by Heidi Walters in the July 5 issue of the Journal . Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. 148 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and the Fortuna, with midnight screenings on Tuesday at the Broadway and Fortuna.

Opening Friday, July 13, is the psychological thriller (torture-porn?) Captivity , with the unfortunately typecast Elisha Cuthbert as a woman who is kidnapped after drinking an apple martini at a bar and wakes up in a dungeon where some sadist has nasty things planned. Sharing her new quarters is a guy played by Daniel Gillies ( Bride & Prejudice ; Spider-Man 2 ). Maybe this is really a different strokes romance set in an unusual place, or a cautionary tale for those of you who drink stuff like apple martinis. Roland Joff?©, who used to do somewhat better fare such as The Mission , directs this U.S./Russian co-production. Rated R for strong violence, torture, pervasive terror, grisly images, language and some sexual material. 95 m. At The Movies and Mill Creek.

Continuing the Eureka Library July series of Barbara Stanwyck films is Howard Hawks' 1941 film Ball of Fire . The film also stars Gary Cooper as Professor Bertram Potts, an academic who meets the too-hot-to-handle Sugarpuss O'Shea (Stanwyck) while researching slang. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, Potts falls for nightclub singer O'Shea, but there might be a problem with her gangster boyfriend Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews). Guess we'll all learn the meaning of "yum-yum." Wendy Butler will introduce the film. The program starts promptly at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 17, at the Main Library located at 1313 3rd St.


Reviews

TRANSFORMERS: So I go away for a week to Portland for some chamber music and a little R&R. Well, as so often happens on vacations, the rest part didn't happen, and now I'm trying to achieve relaxation back in Humboldt County and write a column wherein I'm supposed to be a film reviewer/previewer. In my post-trip haze, what do I discover? Journal staffer Heidi Walters has already covered next week's one major opening ( Harry Potter ) in a feature length preview and guest reviewer Jay Herzog has taken all the interesting films that opened in my absence. Desperately scanning the movie ads, I discover that my choices devolve into a boys and toys film, a Robin Williams vehicle that would require copious amounts of antacid to stomach and a cartoon about a rat in a kitchen. I decided to turn off what's left of my brain and give Transformers a try.

Born in 1984, that once-ominous year, the Transformer toys begat collectibles, TV shows, comic books, a previous animated feature in 1986, an apparent large group of rabid followers who may have been transformed themselves — can it be a coincidence that another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is in the offing? — and now a mixed animation/live action movie directed by Michael Bay ( Armageddon ; Pearl Harbor ) with a lot of noise. For the second time in a few weeks, our beleaguered Earth is threatened with extinction and, as in Live Free or Die Hard , our elaborate computer infrastructure is useless.

Unfortunately, perhaps given the target audience, Transformers is totally lacking in the irony that enlivened the Bruce Willis film and instead of the less-than-fantastic four, we Earthlings are reduced to being saved by teen geek Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf, who runs a lot and seems to be having a good time). As it turns out, there's nothing like the threatened end of the world to elevate the social status of a geek. When we first see Sam, he is trying to sell his great-grandfather Archibald's memorabilia disguised as a class report while his classmates, including the very attractive Mikaela (Megan Fox from TV's Hope & Faith ), make fun of him. But before you know it, Sam acquires a lovable classic Camaro that is in actuality the good robot Bemblebee (voiced by Mark Ryan) and Mikaela herself when she realizes that he's much more interesting than the jocks she has been hanging out with. What ensues is a battle between good and bad alien robots that transform themselves into various shapes, more weaponry fired than Peckinpah could ever have imagined and a lot of adolescent humor, sexual and otherwise. There is also a lot of blather about freedom, sacrifice and victory that sounds hollowly familiar. You might have more fun playing with your toys. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language. 154 m. At the Broadway, Minor, Mill Creek and Fortuna.


RATATOUILLE: As it turned out, I was short on antacids, so I took my chances with a genre I normally skip — animation. Surprisingly, given my biases, going to Ratatouille turned out to be a good decision. Beautifully and lovingly animated by Pixar and effectively written and directed by Brad Bird ( The Incredibles ), the film tells the story of a rat who dares to dream the impossible dream. What is more intriguing, though, than the standard narrative itself, is that the film actually delves into the nature of art itself and what it means to be an artist while not losing its animated center. The main theme of the film is summed up in the title of deceased (but not absent) Parisian chef Auguste Gusteau's (voiced by Brad Garrett) book: Anyone Can Cook .

Well, that might not be completely true, as we discover in the film, but a talented cook can come from the most unexpected places. In this case, the cream rises to the top in the form of country rat Remy (Patton Oswalt), whose family and friends think that garbage is good enough for the likes of them. But Remy has an exceptional nose and a great talent, and due to chance circumstances he ends up in Paris in the kitchen of Gusteau's Restaurant, a formerly five-star establishment that has fallen on hard times since it lost one star to a bad review and another because of the subsequent suicide of Gusteau. The new head chef is an opportunistic, no-talent loser and the place needs a savior. Remy is it, but how can a rat run a kitchen? That's the challenge the film answers in a surprisingly complex and satisfying way.

While Remy gets a lot of help from newly hired garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) and tough sous-chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo), the film is more interested in inter-species communication, family versus career obligations and the recognition of true artistry whatever its guise. Plus, any film that has such a nicely nasty critic such as restaurant arbiter Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), has got to be enjoyable for the likes of me. Turns out, Ego has a heart of mush. Don't we all? At almost two hours and with a somewhat complicated narrative, Ratatouille may not be for the very young, and indeed, there was some unrest at the screening I attended. I can't say what the ideal age might be, but the film certainly made this jaded old guy happy and finally relaxed. Who needs Portland? Rated G. 120 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

— Charlie Myers


Continuing

1408: Haunted-house novelist checks into spooky hotel room; spooky hotel room unleashes writer's inner demons. Based on a Stephen King horror short story, so it's more psycho than icky. Rated PG-13. 104 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

EVAN ALMIGHTY: Unfunny Christian-lite treacle-comedy about suburban Hummer-dumbo who wants to pave over paradise. But Morgan Freeman — er, God — commands him to build an ark instead. Rated PG. 105 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

EVENING: The harmonic convergence of chick-flickery. On her deathbed, an elderly woman (V. Redgrave) reveals a secret of her past to her two daughters (N. Richardson, T. Collette). Also: M. Streep, G. Close, C. Danes. Rated PG-13. 117 m. At the Broadway.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER: Weirdos with superpowers and tight-fitting costumes meet intergalactic surfer and — spoiler alert! — save Earth. Rated PG. 102 m. At the Broadway.

KNOCKED UP: In J. Apatow's latest comedy of manners, no-account schlub makes gorgeous TV star pregnant. They marry. Rated R. 126 m. At The Movies and Mill Creek.

LICENSE TO WED: The Rev. Robin Williams don't want them kids gettin' married till they've been through the pre-marriage ringer. Rated PG-13. 110 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD: In the latest and perhaps last installment of B. Willis' "Die Hard" franchise, there's a bunch of computer stuff that's gonna asplode the world. Rated PG-13. 130 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END: The action moves to Singapore where Davy Jones (Nighy) and Capt. Jack (Depp) continue their battle, with the profession of piracy in danger of extinction. Rated PG-13. 178 m. At the Broadway.

SHREK THE THIRD: When the lovable ogre is crowned King he tries to find someone more suitable for the role. Voices by M. Myers, C. Diaz, E. Murphy, A. Banderas. Rated PG. 102 m. At The Movies.

SICKO: Shock documentarian Michael Moore's latest takes on the health care industry. Rated PG-13. 123 m. At the Broadway and the Minor.

SURF'S UP: Penguins surf, kids delight. Animated blockbuster. Rated PG. 85 m. At The Movies.

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Charlie Myers

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