A rat, a bat and more: movies viewed

RATATOUILLE (2007) is the delightful Pixar film in which a rat, Remy (Patton Oswalt) baffles his clan by turning up his nose at human refuse in favor of fresh food, preferably combining tastes or even cooking. Inspired by a master chef’s cookbook, Remy winds up as covert cook by helping a hapless kitchen drudge (Lou Romano) cook spectacular dishes, reviving the restaurant he works for. However that doesn’t suit the goals of head cook Ian Holm, nor acerbic food critic Peter O’Toole. Can Remy and female chef Jeanine Garofalo win th day?This was quite charming and like most Pixar films, great visual style. It does bug me some that like so many Disney films, father/child relationships are prioritized and Mom’s forgotten — while it’s not surprising Remy’s mom is dead (“rat” is a hazardous occupation) it’s annoying when seen as part of a pattern. “I don’t like false modesty — it’s another word for lying.”

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017) is another piece of animated fun: Batman (Will Arnett) stubbornly resists working with new commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) even though she’s a hyper-capable graduate of “Harvard for Police.” His stubborn soloing only leads to trouble when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) manipulates him into trapping the Hoodlum Harlequin in the Phantom Zone, from which the Joker returns with the World’s Greatest Villains (including Voldemort and the Eye of Sauron) to destroy Gotham City. Can Bats reach out to his “Batman family” in time to save the day?This movie beautifully sends up both the ultra-grim, emotionally closed off Batman of the 21st century and the characterization of the Joker as Batman’s obsessed soulmate, determined to be the most important person in his life (“In 79 years, you’ve never once said you hate me!”). It also has a spectacular array of visual jokes, including obscure villains such as Zebra Man in bit parts. While I didn’t care for the Joker or Batman voices, Dawson, Michael Cera’s Robin and Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred were all great. “We’re going to punch these guys so hard, words describing the impact are gonna spontaneously materialize out of thin air.”

By contrast, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING (2021) is an entry in the I Wasted 90 Minutes Of My Life On This? genre as a family find themselves sealed into their own house and begin cracking up under pressure, hunger and fear, with occasional hallucinatory sequences to weird things up. This becomes tedious fast and while not explaning anything worked when Luis Buñuel used a similar concept for Exterminating Angel, these creators aren’t Buñuel. “That’s right, I’m a good boy.”

SUMMER OF SOUL (2021) is an excellent documentary on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, footage of which languished unseen for fifty years despite a black audience in the thousands (“We tried calling it ‘Black Woodstock’ but still nobody was interested.”).This covers both the behind-the-scenes stuff (when the NYPD wouldn’t provide security, the Black Panthers stepped up), the politics, and interviews with and about the acts including the Fifth Dimension (“People thought we sounded white so we really wanted to make an appearance.”) and Sly and the Family Stone (“We couldn’t get over the fact their drummer was white.”) plus of course music from famous names (Gladys Knight, Nina Simone) and several acts whose names I didn’t recognize (they may be just as famous, of course, as music isn’t my field of expertise). “We didn’t know anything about therapy but we knew Mahalia Jackson.”

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