Ratatouille - Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is a rat, and as everyone knows, rats eat garbage. Most rats, including the rest of Remy's clan, are happy to just eat garbage, but Remy has a more heightened sense of taste and smell than most. Because of this, Remy has higher standards of what he chooses to eat, and also wishes to be a cook just like his idol Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). After being caught raiding the kitchen of the home in which he and his clan live, the old woman who lives there chases Remy and the rest of the rats away. During their escape Remy is separated from the group and sails through the sewers to find himself smack in the middle of Paris, France, the home of the finest cuisine the world has ever known. Making his way to the late Gusteau's restaurant, Remy observes the new garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano) as he accidentally messes up a pot of soup in the kitchen. Head Chef Skinner (Ian Holm) scolds Linguini when he catches him trying aimlessly to fix the soup. Meanwhile, unwilling to let an imperfect meal be served in his idol's restaurant, Remy risks life and limb to fix the soup himself before being caught by the staff. When the soup is served, the patron who ordered it gives her compliments to the chef, which surprises everyone else in the kitchen because as far as they know, Linguini is the one who made it taste so good. Upset that he's been upstaged by the garbage boy, Skinner demands that within the next few days Linguini must re-make the soup to prove that he knew what he was doing, which he of course didn't. Afraid of losing his job, and after discovering that Remy knows how to cook, Linguini offers the captive rat his freedom in exchange for assisting him in becoming a successful cook himself. After Linguini wows everyone by making delicious dish after delicious dish, word comes around that the harshest food critic in the city, Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) will be returning to Gusteau's restaurant for the first time since he gave it a bad review (which cost the restaurant one of it's five stars) to review it once again. With time running out before Ego returns for his meal, Linguini and Remy must keep their partnership a secret, which could prove difficult because of Skinner's desire to find out how Linguini learned to cook so well. With a track record like Pixar's, including such films as Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars, it's not hard to imagine that Ratatouille is a great movie. Helmed by Brad Bird, the man responsible for The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, Ratatouille is the most stunningly beautiful of Disney and Pixar's computer animated films to date. Of course, seeing the progression that they've made from film to film, this is also not hard to believe. The city scapes of Paris at night in the film are stunning, and perhaps most impressive of all is a scene in which Skinner chases Remy through the city. Also of note is the first scene in which Remy finds himself in Gusteau's kitchen. What truly impressed me about Ratatouille though, was the story. Sure, it seemed fun and funny from the get-go, but I never expected Ratatouille to be as heartwarming and, dare I say, mature as it is. All of Pixar's movies have walked the fine line between being child-oriented and adult-oriented, and this is definitely the film that's leaned the farthest toward being meant for adults, but they still managed to keep the story simple and innocent enough to be ideal for all ages. As far as the story is concerned, as I said, it's easy to understand, even for those not familiar with the intricacies of fine-dining. It has a few morals sprinkled throughout as well, but doesn't shove them down the viewer's throat. All of the characters are likable and memorable. Linguini has a great chemistry with Remy, as well as with the one woman in the kitchen, Colette (Janeane Garofalo), who provides a potential love interest for him. All of the staff of Gusteau's kitchen and several of Remy's fellow rats have interesting designs and personalities, providing a great supporting cast with voice acting performances by the likes as Will Arnett, James Remar, Brian Dennehy, and Pixar staple John Ratzenberger. As for what I didn't like, there isn't much. One thing I wasn't a big fan of was the beginning of the film before Remy gets to Paris. I can't even put my finger on why I didn't like it, but I felt like it was the weakest part of the movie. Another small problem that I had was that I saw the ending coming from a mile away. Obviously I'm not going to say what it entails, but I knew what was coming about halfway through the film. I guess that's essentially all of my gripes, though. Ratatouille is a fine addition to Pixar's library of impeccable computer animated films and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. And by the way, I give Brad Bird and his team great praise for making perhaps the first story about a mouse or rat that doesn't involve a single cat. Kudos.
Strange Days - In the year 1999 (lets keep in mind that this film was made in 1995), on the eve of the new millennium, there is a new form of media that you can buy on the black market known as "squids". They are called squids because of the shape of the media player that you place on your head to watch them which has several small protrusions resembling tentacles. Squids are more than audio or video, though. They're memories. Squid dealers like ex-cop turned street hustler Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) pay people to rob businesses, perform death-defying acts, and have sex with beautiful women, then extract their memories of these events, upload them onto discs, and sell them on the street to people who can't or won't do the things they desire most, allowing them to live vicariously through other peoples experiences. Life is going poorly for Lenny. The love of his life, a musician named Faith (Juliette Lewis), has left him and he can't seem to get over it. Then one day someone anonymously delivers a package to him containing a squid disc that shows someone's memory of murdering one of Lenny's few friends. The only people he can turn to for help in tracking down the perpetrator are former co-worker Max Peltier (Tom Sizemore) and limo driver Lornette "Mace" Mason (Angela Bassett). Fearing that Faith may be in danger, Lenny asks Max to tail her, which is no easy task considering that her new boyfriend is a criminal named Philo Gant (Michael Wincott) who has several lackeys around them at all times. Meanwhile Lenny and Mace search for the truth behind the death of Lenny's friend, slowly discovering that the recent police shooting of an African American pop icon by the name of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer) may be involved as well. As the plot thickens, Lenny realizes that me may be in over his head. Strange Days has flown under my radar for years, and seemingly, the radar of the movie-going public at large. This could be partly due to the fact that while James Cameron, the the man who practically invented the science fiction action genre with films such as Aliens, The Terminator, and The Abyss, devised the plot and wrote the script for the film, he left the directorial reins under the control of former wife Kathryn Bigelow. There is nothing wrong with the direction of the film, but I have a feeling that Strange Days would be a bit more well known had it been directed by Cameron himself. Chances are it would have been a little better in the directorial department as well, though. The premise of Strange Days is fairly original and makes for a decent plot, but the timing of the film seems a bit odd to me. It was made in 1995, and meant to take place in 1999, a mere four years later. There is, of course, no way that in 1995 the filmmakers could have assumed that the technology in the film would exist a short four years later, but I'm sure that they set the plot when they did so that it could revolve around the turn of the century, which plays a fairly large role in the climax of the film. Still, that bothered me a bit. Ralph Fiennes does a decent, but not outstanding job of portraying the down on his luck Lenny Nero. He wasn't horrible, but I didn't think that he was great either. Really, none of the actors turned in a particularly memorable performance. Angela Bassett and Tom Sizemore's characters felt like they could have been played by anyone. Michael Wincott was his normal evil self, which can't be hard to pull off with that voice of his. As per usual, Juliette Lewis was decent, but no matter how good she is in a role, I still find her incredibly annoying. There are some exciting moments, as there are with all Cameron films, but nothing that makes this movie really stand out in it's genre. Based on the sub-par nature of Strange Days I can see why Cameron didn't bother directing the film himself, but I can't help but wonder what it would be like if he had. Strange Days is an enjoyable viewing experience, but not one that I'm overly excited about seeing again anytime soon.