Ratatouille: Phooey

I haven’t mentioned movies lately, but I am compelled to put something on the record. I don’t care how cute the story, how brilliant the animation: an attic full of rats? No. A kitchen full of rats?

No. No. No.

Who can suspend disbelief watching a river of rats flowing out of a house? My skin crawled, my stomach turned, my physical being rebelled. I was rooting for the old lady with the shotgun. I managed to listen to the whole thing, but I rarely looked up from the sewing in my lap.

For the record: I have nothing against individual rats. The Girlchild has a friend who has a pet rat, a very intelligent little creature I have held in my hand. A very clean, calm, rodent. A single rat without five hundred if its nearest and dearest nearby.

But a rat jumping into a vat of soup in the process of seasoning it? Animated or not:

No no no no no no.

Of course the rest of the chefs walked out when they found out what was going on. I imagine my father sharing a work station with a couple rats. Or rather, I try to imagine this, but it just won’t solidify in my mind’s eye.

So that’s that. My review of Ratatouille. Call me a philistine, call me boring, call me anything you like, but I prefer my food without rodents.

[asa book]0380730359[/asa] While I’m at it, a quick review of Gone, Baby, Gone, the film version of Dennis Lehane’s novel. I have mentioned his series of novels about two private detectives in working class Boston, because I really like them. Gone, Baby, Gone is my favorite of the series, though it is very, very dark. In fact, anyone who is prone to bad dreams probably shouldn’t read the book or see the movie. The subject is kidnapping and pedophilia, and now you’re wondering why in the hell I could like such a story.

[asa book]B0010ZR160[/asa] Coupla reasons. Lehane writes about a working class neighborhood a lot like the Chicago neighborhoods I grew up in, and he captures the atmosphere and the mindset perfectly. He can tell a story and his characters are interesting and complex and often surprising. But mostly I’d have to say I admire this novel because it’s terrifically hard to address the topics raised. Lehane pulls it off with finesse. Which for me means, the horror of the subject is not trivialized nor is it used to titilate. It’s a thoughtful look at a terrible situation, well done.

Bottom line: I liked the movie, but I think that I wouldn’t have liked it if I didn’t know the novel so well. The careful layering that carries the novel along is missing from the movie. It’s just not possible to get those kind of nuances into film. So I recommend the novel, if you are interested in a well told story, and then, if you are curious, the movie.

Sweet Land: a review

All I knew about this movie before I watched it was (1) the title, which is evocative; and (2) the premise: A young German woman travels to Minnesota in the 1920’s to marry Olaf Torvik, a Norwiegan immigrant and farmer.

This could have been sticky sweet, a tale of young love facing the elements and winning. But it was more complex than that, and more rewarding. In Minnesota in 1920 there is no love for anything German. Too many fathers and sons didn’t come back from WWI, and they hold Germany responsible, even years later. Inge and Olaf don’t have the awkwardness of dealing with each other, because the pastor refuses to marry them. She could be a spy. She could be amoral. They will have to look into the legalities.

I know from first hand experience how small farmers live and work, and the director doesn’t pull any punches here. Inge and Olaf aren’t married — they must wait for papers from Germany — and they sleep separately, but they are partners in a very elemental sense. Inge takes on field work, and together they manage when around them farms are going bankrupt and being auctioned off.

The joy of a movie like this is the clarity and simplicity of the relationship. For most of history, marriage was a survival mechanism. There wasn’t time to consider what it meant to be married, what goals they had in common. That was really straight forward: food on the table. Of course marriages went wrong in those circumstances as well, but not because the couple couldn’t agree on a political philosophy, or if they wanted to live in the city or suburbs. They just wanted to live.

This is a love story, but it’s a very quiet and subtle one. It is sweet, but it’s not artifically so. The young farmer and his soon-to-be bride are very well drawn, given how little dialog there is. A few of the secondary characters were a bit flat — the avaricious sheriff in league with the heartless banker, for example. But Inge and Olaf are the important characters, the ones you want to have on the screen. I’m sure I’ll watch this movie again, to see what I missed in the photography and imagery. There was so much of it — up to the very end, when the titles are rolling — that it’s hard to look away.

The New World, written and directed by Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is one of those directors people either love or hate. His movies — this new one especially — are more about poetry than they are about narrative. Long stretches of intense, glorious photography without a single word spoken, and still the story is there.

But it’s not for everybody. The mathematician, who is not so much about the visual as I am, would have fallen asleep. I kept wanting to stop the flow of images so I could study them. Because they are so beautifully framed, and because Malick does such an incredible job of capturing a time and place. The Native American world is rendered with great attention to detail, but it’s the long-shots that really tell their story.

The story of Pocahantas and John Smith has been told many times, most usually trivialized and recast for modern sensibilities. I think there’s some of that here too in the way the young woman’s emotions are portrayed, but in general it seems to me that Malick probably has done the best job so far of approximating what it must have been like for the Englishmen who put foot on what was to be called Virginia in the year 1602. Who John Smith might have been, and how the land and people would have looked to him. Maybe.

I’m wondering how the Native American peoples are reacting to this movie.

Oh yes, the actors: they are very good, but with the exception of the young woman (apparently Q’Orianka Kilcher was just fourteen when the film was being shot) who played Pocahontas, they are almost beside the point. She’s the central character, the one the camera cares about most.

When it comes out on dvd I will rent it and spend a lot of time pausing to look at details, to study shots that right now I can recall with perfect clarity. Whether you should go see it depends on your interest in the subject and your patience with a story told mostly in visual terms.

how I can’t really relax, and wish I could

I have been in a general putter, sleeping, reading, television, book cataloging. Yesterday the mathematician  and I went to lunch in a little town about a half hour south of us which I like because of two particular shops where they sell high end arts and crafts. And I mean: high end. Gorgeous one of a kind furniture, art, clothing. Everytime I go to this place I know what it would really mean to be rich. I can’t imagine walking into that shop and saying:

I’ll take this whole set, please. Oh and the gorgeous adirondack type chair of birds eye maple, with hand tooled and painted leather cushions and the carving and painting on the arms? No, the one there in the corner, four thousand bucks– but now that you point out the other one, I’ll have them both.

The mathematician was hoping that I’d find something I love for oh, a hundred bucks and point it out so he could sneak back there and buy it for my birthday, which is coming up way too fast. Because you know I’m turning FIFTY. How’s that for a jolt? It makes no sense to me, how such a thing is possible.

I’ve got flu symptoms. My hope is that this is all fallout from finishing Queen of Swords and it will go away soon, but definite flu symptoms. Headache, gut ache, swollen glands, and bone pain. It’s the bone pain that gives it away. I never really had the flu until I was about 35. I believed I had had the flu, but once the real thing digs in, you realize what the fuss is all about. I remember, from that particular illness, two things: the feeling of ground glass in my bones, and telling the mathematician that I was dying. I said this in a quiet voice in all seriousness, that’s how bad it felt.

So you’ll understand when I say I hope I’m wrong here. Probably I’ll know one way or the other by tomorrow morning.

The good thing, of course, is the repeated jolt of remembering the book is done. I wake up in a oh dog I should be writing panic and then collapse, remembering: done. I think about going to the dvd rental place, am consumed with prophylactic guilt, and then remember: done.

I never have learned how to relax. It’s partially my upbringing. Adult children of alcoholics (my mother) often have this thing where they stay away from alcohol (me) but can’t keep off the adrenaline (also, in a big way, me). Some of us are indeed addicted to chaos. I don’t think I’m that bad, but I do gravitate toward it. The movie Changing Lanes did the best job I’ve ever seen of getting to the alcohol-adrenaline connection. This was, in my opinion, a really underrated movie — if nobody else got any nominations out of it, Chap Taylor, who has credit for the story and the screenplay, should have. Certainly Ben Affleck was at the top of his (rather limited) arc. And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson. Maybe I’ll watch it again.