Something about finally going back to the movies to see Free Guy the other week just triggered something in me, so I started actually streaming movies again — something I also have done for a long time, plus I went to the theater yet again. It was the same chain but different location, and Thursday seems to be turning into my movie out night.
Why not? I’ve discovered something else: Catch a movie a few weeks after it opens, and you can easily be the only one in the entire theater.
This week’s at-home movies were two classics, one that I’d never seen and the other that I had several times. The premier (for me) movie was Pixar’s Ratatouille, written and directed by Brad Bird, who also did both of the Incredibles films.
In fact, Ratatouille was his next film right after the original Incredibles, and I found it to be very delightful and totally enjoyable. This was still in the earlier days of character animation, but each one of the players, human and rat, was incredibly distinct and full of character.
Again, this isn’t going to be so much of a review, since the film is older, but more my impressions. In case you’ve been living in a cave, this is a 3D animated comedy in which a rat with an incredible sense of smell and taste winds up in Paris, eventually finding a formerly five-star restaurant.
At the same time, Alfredo Linguini, a young man with a letter from the (now dead) former head chef’s mistress arrives, seeking work. The current (still living) head chef takes the letter without reading it and makes Linguini the garbage boy.
Of course the rat, Remy, wants nothing more than to be a chef, inadvertently exposing his talents to Linguini in creating a soup that the customers go nuts over. Skinner is livid, thinking that Linguini went way out of his station to dare cook in Skinner’s kitchen, so challenges him to recreate the recipe.
From there, Linguini and Remy establish a relationship and an understanding. What’s remarkable about this is that although the rats can talk to each other, all the humans ever hear is squeaking, so we don’t get the stereotype of the lovable talking rodent.
The film is all that much stronger for it once Remy figures out how to communicate with Linguini after hiding under his toque.
If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a watch — not only for the beautiful animation, but the pitch-perfect voice performances. And some of these voices you will not recognize even if you know in advance. Patton Oswalt plays Remy the rat and Janeane Garofalo voices Colette, the only female chef in the establishment who becomes Linguini’s mentor. Peter O’Toole is perfect as the villain of the piece, food critic Anton Ego, and one you probably haven’t heard of as an actor, Lou Romano, voices our lead, Linguini, perfectly.
Romano is more frequently behind the camera as an animator, artistic director, etc.
There are a few surprises in the cast besides Garofalo, though — Ian Holm sounds nothing like himself as Chef Skinner, and neither does Brad Garret as the now dead chef Auguste Gusteau. Will Arnett is also well hidden as the German-accented sous chef.
Again, it’s a delightful romp with plenty for the adults to enjoy but not so complicated that the kids will get bored, and it all comes to a wonderfully happy ending.
The next two films on the list are both colorful in their own way.
The first and other streaming film was Disney’s The Black Hole, which was (gasp!) their first ever PG-rated film. Of course, it came out before the PG-13 rating was created in response to two PG-rated films, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins.
They were classified as too intense for PG but not gory enough for R and wound up in some weird netherworld where they probably were too much for younger children but totally appropriate for teens.
Don’t worry. Disney’s The Black Hole is quite firmly in PG land, despite having some pretty grim elements to it. But despite the laser battles all of the victims are of the non-human kind.
The film itself feels like a combination of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Moby Dick, featuring a brilliant but possibly mad scientist who has lived alone for 20 years on a ship held in stable orbit above a black hole. The film begins as a ship from earth discovers the craft, and everything goes from there.
The whole thing is a surprisingly brisk 98 minutes and the special effects are decidedly old school. The closest we get to anything CGI comes in the opening credits, after the nearly three-minute overture played to a black screen — that should date the film quite nicely. The CGI comes in the form of a green grid that eventually reveals itself to be the very familiar wireframe rendering of the bottomless gravity well created by a black hole.
Computers were also used to solve all the complicated formulae to calculate the motion of the onscreen blackhole although, obviously, they hadn’t quite gotten sophisticated enough to give us the familiar modern image of the black hole a la Interstellar — with the accretion disc around back also being visible in front due to gravitational lensing.
The film used computerized motion-controlled cameras to seamlessly integrate multi-exposure shots of actors, miniatures, and matte paintings, and those effects hold up quite well. Not bad for 1979.
The story itself is rather light and somewhat cheesy, and includes such non-scientist written plonkers as Yvette Mimieux’s character mentioning that her ship’s mission is to find “inhabited life” in the universe (no, really).
On the other hand, Maximilian Schell’s Captain Nemo manque casually tosses off mention of possibly encountering an Einstein-Rosen bridge if they cross the event horizon. That fancy talk is what is more commonly known as a white hole, although they never refer to it as such in the movie or, to their credit, explain it.
Anyway, The Black Hole is more about the whiz-bang of old school filmmakers trying to make something predictive of future filmmaking techniques. The interesting part is watching an all-star, although also old school, cast running through their paces.
Incidentally, getting back to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea reference, if you’re thinking that it refers to depth beneath the sea you’d be wrong, because that depth beneath the sea would put you 69,047 miles down. This happens to be almost nine times the diameter of Earth, so you’d wind up going into orbit at some point.
But it’s not an error in the title. The 20,000 leagues doesn’t refer to a depth but rather a distance traveled without surfacing, and this is much more reasonable, representing circumnavigating the Earth entirely underwater just over three complete times.
Save that one for trivia night some. You’re welcome.
The final film is a current release, The Green Night, which a friend of mine described as a combination of Excalibur and The Emerald Forest, and I have to agree. I caught up with it rather late into its run so it’s probably leaving theaters soon, but it’s worth seeing on the big screen if you can.
Of course, because it’s so late in the run, I lucked out in having an entire theater to myself, which was great.
Starring the always amazing Dev Patel, The Green Knight tells the story of Gawain (which sounds like it’s always pronounced “Garwen” in the film), and his year-long adventure after the Green Knight shows up at Camelot’s Christmas celebration and Gawain takes up his challenge.
Unfortunately, that challenge means that in a year’s time, Gawain has to trek a six day’s journey north to the Green Chapel to meet the knight again, at which point he will strike the same blow on Gawain that Gawain did on him.
If only Gawain hadn’t lopped the Green Knight’s head off…
The film dives deep into the legend of Gawain, taken from an anonymous 15th Century poem, although one reference to the King having defeated the Saxons puts us at about 500 CE.
What’s nice is that the film never explains anything, but gives us fascinating little clues so that we know immediately that the king and queen are Arthur and Guinevere, and we can also pick out Merlin. We also learn that Gawain is Arthur’s nephew without that word ever being spoken, and that Gawain’s mother is into some very pagan magic — but this is not at all surprising if you know who Arthur’s sister was.
This particular story, though, ignores a certain incestuous offspring and the eventual battle that kills father and son, which was the major focus of the film Excalibur.
Oh yeah — the sword also makes an unnamed appearance.
If you’re an Arthurian Legend nerd, you’re going to love this one. It’s got everything. Headless saints, talking animals, meandering giants, dishonest thieves, seductive wives, and more.
And everything about the production is gorgeous — from the cast through to the sets, design, cinematography, effects, editing, and locations. You’ll believe that you’re in the mid Dark Ages watching legends being born.
Hurry though if you want to catch The Green Knight before he slips out of theatres, because, like I said, you want to see this one on the big screen.