DVD reviews
December 2007

 

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby


Hairspray

Turning popular movies into Broadway musicals has become a favorite pastime recently. Every once in a while, the idea is a perfect fit, as in the case of John Waters’ 1988 comedy Hairspray, a shockingly (for him) sweet ode to the teen TV dance shows of his youth. Once the stage version became a hit in 2002, yet another movie was inevitable, and it has arrived in all its glory.

Newcomer Nikki Blonsky plays Tracy Turnblad, who shimmies blissfully around 1962 Baltimore. Her plump weight and lack of social status keep her from joining the teen stars of “The Corny Collins Show,” who are all slim, rich WASPS like the awful Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow).

Tracy is unstoppable, though, even when she adds racial segregation to the list of grievances she’s determined to redress. As she rallies the city’s outsiders to her cause, she also inspires her own family, getting her mother (John Travolta in spectacular drag) to leave the house and have some fun.

Your tolerance for Hairspray will depend on how many shiny, happy musical numbers you can take. Although much of Waters’ subversive humor remains intact (listen closely to the song lyrics), the movie still has bouts of banality. Luckily, director Adam Shankman has a first-rate cast, starting with Blonsky, who is an absolute dynamo. The stunt casting of Travolta works out, too, as he not only performs in a fat suit and heels, but makes you forget who you’re watching. In a movie about the joy of being different, that may be the ultimate accomplishment.

Extras: Dance lessons and two commentary tracks complement the first disc, while the second is practically a feature-length documentary on the film’s evolution. There are also deleted and extended scenes, including another musical number from Blonsky. (PG). Rating: 3.5.


Ratatouille

Is it possible to make rats cute? If you’re one of the mad geniuses at Pixar, the answer is a resounding yes. Or at least a firm maybe.

Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is a French rodent with a highly refined sense of smell and a love of fine cuisine. Naturally, this makes him a weirdo among his dumpster-diving clan. After a series of mishaps, he finds himself in Paris, at the door of Gusteau’s, the city’s greatest restaurant. After befriending a hapless member of the cleaning staff (Lou Romano), Remy gets his chance to become a master chef, albeit a secret one whose discovery could close the restaurant.

Remy is a typically lovable Pixar creation, combining spunky idealism with the slightly edgy attitude of director Brad Bird (of Iron Giant and Incredibles fame). The animation is breathtaking, and not just in a “pretty pictures” way — Bird brings energy and excitement to every frame. He also wrote the witty screenplay, avoiding the made-by-committee feel of most animated features.

Most of the peripheral characters are rather dull, with the terrific exception of Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), a pompous restaurant critic who looks like something out of a Charles Addams drawing. O’Toole clearly relishes voicing this hammy villain, and he very nearly walks off with the film. It’s a testament to the skill of Bird and his collaborators that the great thespian remains part of the ensemble. Although, come to think of it, an Anton Ego spin-off wouldn’t be a bad idea. If Bird and Co. can make a rat into a sympathetic hero, they might even do the same for a critic.

Extras: The disc is thin on bonus material — a 13-minute featurette and some deleted scenes make up the bulk of it. The real treat comes from two short films, an alien-abduction parody called “Lifted” and the truly sublime “Your Friend the Rat,” which offers a spirited (and hilarious) argument for rodent rights. (PG). Rating: 4.


Sicko

The American health care system is a mess. Even people who have insurance often can’t get the treatments they need. Families go bankrupt, become homeless, and face premature death because of greedy insurance companies and politicians.

None of this is news, which is probably why Michael Moore's latest film, Sicko, did not meet with the same success as Fahrenheit 9/11. With that film, he was tapping into a growing, previously suppressed frustration with President Bush's war policies. With Sicko, he’s just saying what everyone already knows.

This being Moore, however, he does so with great technical skill and truly righteous indignation. The only thing missing is his prankster wit, an omission that drives home the seriousness of his subject matter even as it makes the movie harder to watch.

Moore profiles several people who have suffered horribly under the "managed care" system, and he wisely lets them share their stories without much comment. These scenes are powerful and infuriating, especially when Moore bolsters them with a history lesson on the ignominious rise of the HMOs.

Sicko hits some snags when Moore leaves the U.S. to check out the systems in other countries. While he justifiably ridicules American fears of “socialized medicine,” his portrait of life elsewhere is absurdly utopian. People in France and Canada may be happy with their health care, but doubters in this country won't be convinced by such a patently one-sided view.

Moore’s now-infamous trip to Cuba with 9/11 rescue workers has been commented upon endlessly since the film’s release — suffice to say that the stunt makes its point and undermines it at the same time. Yes, it’s pathetic that American heroes get better care in Cuba than they get at home, but only the most naïve viewers would not see the propaganda value in this for Castro (who would certainly not tolerate a gadfly like Moore in his own country). Moore makes his point here as effectively as always, and it's nice to see these people get the help they need. It’s still overkill, though, in a film that hardly requires it.

Extras: Extended interviews and other deleted material, including a look at Norway's social welfare system (possibly the world's best) and a piece on the phenomenon of health-expense fundraisers. (PG-13). Rating: 4.


Shrek the Third

No matter how funny it gets, the Shrek series has always seemed like the distant, frat-boy cousin of the Pixar family. While it has its irreverent charms, it's overly crude and tries way too hard to be cool.

When it sticks to its fractured fairytale roots, Shrek the Third is at its best, as Shrek (again voiced by Mike Myers) faces the twin prospects of being proclaimed king of Far Far Away and becoming a father. Terrified of both ideas, he takes Puss (Antonio Banderas) and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) on a journey to find Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake), a geeky teenager and potential heir to the throne. Unfortunately, Arthur wants the job about as much as Shrek does.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) makes his own moves, locking up Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and her mother (Julie Andrews), and enlisting a small army of famous villains to help him seize the kingdom. Naturally, Fiona and her visiting princess pals (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Rapunzel) don't make very docile prisoners.

As much as they relied on joke-a-minute gags, the first two Shrek movies had clear satirical targets, taking aim at fairytale clichés and showbiz shallowness. They also made the best possible use of the voice cast, particularly the scene-stealing Banderas. his third installment is less focused and lacks many of those deft character touches.

With so many random jokes flying around, Shrek the Third is still a lot of fun, especially when it takes apart the King Arthur legend. It may never be as smart or classy as its animated cousins, but sometimes a good food fight is just what the party needs.

Extras: Most of the material is aimed at kids, with games and educational features. The deleted scene presentations are interesting, as is a reel of animation blunders. There is also a clip of Donkey performing a take-off on the old Men Without Hats song "Safety Dance." Don't ask. (PG). Rating: 3.


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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