This weekend, three new wide releases will compete for your box office dollar: the animated romp 'Cars,'Robert Altman's ensemble dramedy 'A Prairie Home Companion,' and the "of course we needed to remake it!" horror flick 'The Omen.' If you have little kids, the matter of what to see is a no-brainer -- and by that I am not advocating that you take your children to see 'The Omen' (even if they do behave like satanic midgets, give you ominous looks and put poop on top of your TV). I am referring, of course, to 'Cars' -- the latest in a long line of astounding movies from animation juggernaut Pixar, the studio also responsible for the 'Toy Story' movies, 'Finding Nemo' and 'The Incredibles.' I am happy to report that 'Cars,' Pixar's maiden release since being acquired by Disney, is the first unequivocal crowd-pleaser of the summer.

The film follows the adventures of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a hotshot racecar who takes a wrong turn on Route 66 and ends up in a has-been town full of has-been cars. Ironically, it is here that Lightning finally gets his life on track: He befriends a goofy tow truck named Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), finds the mentor he's never had in Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) and falls in love with Sally Carerra (Bonnie Hunt), a sleek Porsche with one helluva nice rear bumper. The message of the film is simple -- friends are good! -- but the story is sweet and engaging, and the jokes are witty, plentiful and appealing to adults and kids alike. Not convinced? Consider this: Even Larry the Cable Guy had me cracking up. And that, my friends, is tantamount to a cinematic miracle.

A Prairie Home Companion

'A Prairie Home Companion,' on the other hand, walks a fine line between drama and comedy. Directed by 81-year-old auteur Robert Altman and written by Garrison Keillor, 'Prairie Home Companion' ('PHC' for short) is a fictionalized account of Keillor's own legendary Minnesota variety show. In the film, the show is going off the air after a much-ballyhooed 30-year run, and we are invited to get to know a rich cast of characters -- Keillor as the silk-voiced and scatter-brained emcee, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as raucously funny dirty-song-crooning cowboys, Kevin Kline as P.I.-turned-security-guard Guy Noir, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as momma-lovin' singing sisters, and Lindsay Lohan (in a very mature turn) as Streep's morose poet-writing daughter -- as the final performance unfolds within the walls of St. Paul's famed Fitzgerald Theater. The film is at its best when focusing on the sentimental aspects of bidding farewell to something you've known for so long -- unleashing emotions long supressed, revelling in those last bitersweet moments of doing what you love, and gradually looking forward to life's next adventure. Unfortunately, there's a kind of supernatural/spiritual element to the movie (Virginia Madsen as the angel of death?) that both confused and distracted me. Still, if you're a 'PHC' fan or if you dig the Lohan, this flick will not disappoint. And don't worry -- the real 'PHC' is still on the air.

And finally, there's 'The Omen.' I'm not going to lie -- I actually haven't seen it. Sitting through yet another horror remake in the theater just doesn't appeal to me when I can rent the DVD of the original 1976 'Omen' and watch it from the comfort of my couch. That said, anyone who does want to see this one in theaters has my blessing. I don't judge. That satanic brat Damien in 'The Omen' -- he's less forgiving.

Cars, Owen Wilson, Lindsay Lohan, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor, The Omen, summer movies
categories Features, Cinematical