Friday, November 16, 2007

"Bee Movie" is 'Bee'-Rated

**1/2 out of ****

Among talking ants, fighting insects, dancing penguins, partying cows, zoo animals running amok in the wild and cooking rats, a new member of the critter kingdom gets a chance to be animated. This time it's a bee.

"Bee Movie" is Dreamworks' latest animated film and one of the most "buzzed" about for the past few months. Though the animation isn't as detailed as "Shrek" or "Ratatouille," it is simple and glossy like "Meet the Robinsons," it does a good job making an insect with bad conduct cute enough to stick in a McDonald's Happy Meal.

"Bee Movie" starts off with Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), an idealistic bee, who just graduated from his three days of school, a clever joke about the short life span of a bee. He and his conservative bee friend, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick), now must pick a job to do for the rest of their lives.

Barry decides to become a pollen jock, a bee that leaves the hive to collect nectar, spreading around pollen to give other plants life.

On Barry's first trip out of the hive into New York City, he encounters a few pratfalls. Getting separated from the group, Barry finds shelter in the home of florist Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellwegger). Vanessa's husband, Ken (Patrick Warburton, a frequent guest star on "Seinfeld"), tries to kill Barry, but Vanessa saves him.

Wanting to thank Vanessa, Barry deliberates whether or not to break bee law number one -- no talking to humans, or giving in to friendliness and curiosity. Affable Barry decides to befriend Vanessa. After the initial shock, Vanessa quickly warms up to Barry and the two become friends. When Barry and Vanessa hint at being more than friends, the movie flies off into act three, as if all this weren't enough.

On a supermarket trip with Vanessa, Barry learns that humans are collecting honey from the bees. Barry is repulsed and so is his hive when he tells them. This leads Barry to sue the human race.

Vanessa and his best friend Adam are his lawyers. But in court, one of the funniest parts in the film, Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman), a Southern attorney for the honey companies, may be too much for the unlikely team to handle.

The film is created, produced, co-written and stars comedian Jerry Seinfeld in his first major role since "Seinfeld" ended in 1998. "Bee Movie" lacks that extra "sting" to make it rise above the recent animation fare. The extensive cast includes Oprah Winfrey as the judge at the trial, Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson playing Barry's bee parents, fellow "Seinfeld" alumnus Michael Richards, Rip Torn, Chris Rock as a mosquito, Megan Mullally, Larry King as a bee version of himself and Ray Liotta as the label of an evil honey-making company. Even the real Sting makes a cameo, being sued for the rights to his name.

Jerry Seinfeld is goofy, but personable and charismatic, as Barry. With a few jokes that fly over the heads of kids, "Bee" still is a kiddie-flick that can hold the younger crowd's attention, but lacks in keeping older kids entertained, unlike "Shrek."

With all the buzz, this is still a "bee"-rated movie.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Boy Meets Girl?

**** out of ****

Amidst an overflow of serious films in the multiplexes, you can find relief in the light-hearted comedy, "Lars and the Real Girl," one of the gems of 2007.

Ryan Gosling stars as the title character Lars Lindstrom, a lovable loser, who is socially inapt. Lars' rare trips out are either to go to church or to his job, where his new co-worker, Margo (Kelli Garner), is attracted to him. He lives in a sparsely furnished garage off of his brother Gus' house. Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer), are expecting their first child.

Gus insists to Karin that Lars likes to live alone. Karin, however, is persistent in her attempts to socialize with Lars.

The events change quickly when Lars actually knocks on Gus and Karin's door to have dinner with them saying he has a girlfriend, Bianca. Gus and Karin want to meet her, but are shocked when they find out that Bianca is a custom made life-size doll.

Lars treats Bianca as if she were real. He even gives her a life story -- that she is a Brazilian missionary with nurse training whose parents died at birth, among other various things.

Gus thinks Lars is crazy and Karin also has her doubts. But family doctor/psychiatrist, Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), says he is fine but delusional, slowly letting out his bottled up feelings. The doctor recommends that they should treat Bianca as if she were real and Lars will eventually stop using her when he has come to terms with his issues. Easier said than done.

The movie progresses as Lars and Bianca step out and the snowy, small town accepts Bianca. She and Lars actually become minor celebrities.

Taking the place of last year's "Little Miss Sunshine," "Lars" is a subtle comedy with laugh-out-loud moments. At times it is a sad film about loneliness and the kindness of others, which is inspiring at the end.

After "The Notebook" and coming off his first Academy Award nomination for "Half Nelson," Ryan Gosling is a smart guy when it comes to films, and this only adds to his near perfect resume. Gosling is phenomenal as Lars. In a role with spare lines, he pours his emotions out on screen.

Indie-film star Emily Mortimer shines on screen. Playing a natural do-gooder, Mortimer is memorable in one of the few tear-jerker scenes towards the end where she confronts Lars.
Patricia Clarkson also stands out. Her character connects with Lars with their mutual loneliness in heart-touching conversations.

This is director Craig Gillespie's first film (his second "Mr. Woodcock" was released in September), and is a marvelous attempt. The same goes for screenwriter Nancy Oliver -- this is her first feature film screenplay.