Rat – The Other White Meat

Friday, February 22nd, 2008


I was wandering the wide halls of the Internet here recently (it’s how I get my exercise), when I ran across a curious article on CNN asking whether Ratatouille was “ripped off” because the stalwart minds in charge of the Oscars had denied it a best picture nomination. The article brings up numerous points in the favor of the film, including glowing reviews from dilettantes and true art devotees alike; it compares it to another Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, which had been considered for a best picture nomination (considered by whom, I couldn’t say); and it brings up the movie’s success in France, a country apocryphally accused of worshiping Jerry Lewis (the denial of which proving they do, indeed, have great taste), and notorious for poo-poohing food, words and other cultural delights that ain’t al’origine français. What the article failed to consider, however, and what I feel is a gaping flaw in the whole piece, was that the movie was le blah.

In fact, Pixar makes a lot of yawners.

Visually, as with almost all Pixar films, Ratatouille was stunning. If nothing else, Pixarian artists do an amazing job creating a visual style, keeping with it throughout the film, and paying attention to even the tiniest detail that you easily find yourself immersed in the atmosphere. It doesn’t matter that our human hero in Ratatouille has a phallic nose worthy of Ron Jeremy; that you can peer into the nostrils and see that someone needs to grab a tissue and blow is what matters. I give full props to the animators.

The writers, however… meh.

Pixar, as highly touted as they are (they almost have an Apple cult-like following… and, indeed, the two groups often intersect in the Venn Diagram of Obsessiveness) spends the vast majority of their budget on animation, yet settles for lackluster storylines. The only exception so far has been the Brad Bird-helmed The Incredibles. But then, Brad Bird, when involved with a project from the very beginning, makes overwhelmingly touching films. His earlier Iron Giant was probably one of the best cell-animated films ever, and each film is a result of his vision and hard work. (Not to mention the incredible talent who help put the film together. Bird couldn’t do it without them.)

The writing sin committed in Pixar films–and for Disney animated films in general–is that everything is predictable, and not in a good way. Familiarity with a story isn’t bad, per se; however, the director should put a shiny new spin on the story; maybe present it to us from a different, and enticing, point-of-view. That’s what Bird did with The Incredibles. Stories of superheros aren’t new or original; neither are stories of families having problems; but Bird combined the two and gave us a world both comical and serious: we laugh at the sight of Mr. Incredible lifting locomotive cars to get in shape, and we’re stunned by the admission of Mrs. Incredible when she warns Violet and Dash:

Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys aren’t like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.

The dismay on the faces of the kids when they hear this, and the realization that Helen is now expertly acting two roles, mom and superhero, is palpable. It’s a moment that could have been incredibly hokey, yet Bird and company pulled it off better than even most live-actioned shows could have done.

Ratatouille, though, lacked such expert emotional subtlety. The whole film was working on a single plane of blandness, and despite the efforts of Bird to salvage the film (he was brought in after Disney execs lost faith in the original director), the film was defeated by an onslaught of the doldrums. The characters are shallow, their interactions lack emotional fruition, and we’re told about relationships instead of being shown them. The romance between Linguini and Colette isn’t something that blossomed, or something that burst forth from an animated lust volcano; instead, the two of them go from strangers who are wary of one another to, without any indication why, “the couple”. Anton Ego was amusing, and the potential for depth was certainly there, but he lacked the attention and screen time needed to make him a truly excellent character. Remy, arguably the film’s star (although, I think the animation won out here), is best summed up as a result of a silly joke taken too far. (“What if a rat–kitchen vermin!–wanted to cook? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?” No, not really.)

In the end, we know who’s going to win, but there’s no real lesson learned here; there’s no underlying message or hint about how we should view the world or each other. In The Incredibles we also know who’s going to win, but in that movie it was the journey that mattered, not the destination. Thanks to the excellent script and voice acting, we know the Parrs love one another and are devoted to the family, and we know this without having to be hit over the head with it.

I don’t suggest people avoid Ratatouille (I save that warning for the notorious Doc Hollywood rip-off, Cars), but I simply don’t understand why anyone would bemoan its lack of a best picture nomination. The film simply belongs in the pantheon of other Disney movies that hide poor writing with neat animation (A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, etc…) or catchy songs (The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, etc…).

To be honest, though, the film did make me hungry. So, there’s that.

Valentine: A Love Story (Not Really)

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

February 14th. Hearts and candy day (but not real hearts; at least, I was told to stop giving those as gifts). This is the day when bloggers regale you with tales of romance, stories of love, and oaths of devotion to “the most beautiful wife a guy can have” or “the bestest husband, ever”.

Not me. (Especially not the husband bit.)

While I adore the Insta-Princess and couldn’t have hoped for a more gorgeous and brilliant creature to worship, happiness and light don’t always make for the most interesting stories. No, pain is needed. Sadness. Possibly even some torture if it can be worked in. You know, dating.

Most of my friends own up to having at least one dating tale of woe; some of them even go so far as to seemingly attract the troublesome men and women wandering the dark streets of our city. Not me, though; I mean, yes, I’ve had a boring date (she was brunette, stunning, and probably the most unexciting person I had ever met; it was if she looked into the mirror one day and said, “You know, I’m hot. That’s all I need to be.”); I’ve had the worshipful date (she giggled at everything I said–which, while amusing and flattering the first ten minutes, gets old and grows mold quickly after… which isn’t to say we didn’t make out afterward); and I’ve had the date where we almost seemed to despise each other right off the bat. “Ah,” I said. “So this is what marriage is like!” But, I never really had the kind of date I fully regretted.

Until Gossamer.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t our first date that was terrible; in fact, I’d say that the first handful of dates were pretty good. Gossamer, the woman with a shock of long, red, red hair, was nice, polite, and shared quite a few of the same interests I had. She even taught 8th Grade English, which meant my crush on her was instant. Teachers are awesome, even when they’re nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s poop. Plus, I got to make out with a teacher–my inner child was both awe-struck and disgusted at the same time.

It wasn’t until after we began The Relationship that I found out how truly crazy she was. Gossamer had, the previous year, divorced her husband. Her ex, a guy called ‘Jeff’, was a college sweetheart who had a huge brain problem. That is, his brain wasn’t huge, but the problem he had with it sure was. Gossamer, to her credit, stood by him through it all, even making sure he married her when he could barely muster enough energy to stand, much less mutter his vows through slurring speech and drooping eye. (Seriously. She made him wear an eye patch to cover it up. The wedding photos were priceless.) “We made a promise to God,” she told me.

Huh. I guess God likes pirate weddings.

Jeff’s brain problem eventually worked itself out. Either the swelling went down (I guess he had a big brain, after all), something was sliced, or they sent him to the Wizard, I dunno. But, he healed and they moved to Kansas City. Which is the place he met a cute blond by the name of Shelly, and cheated on Gossamer with her. That, my friends, is the first hint to which I should have paid attention; I mean, if Jeff jumped the Good Ship Coitus as quickly as he could despite the love, attention, and the nursing-back-to-health Gossamer heaped on him, there must have been a giant, flashing neon sign of “No, No! Go Back!” that he saw above her head and I didn’t.

And, boy, I didn’t.

Gossamer had an endless bag of problems (like Mary Poppins, except nothing really cool ever made its way out of Gossamer’s bag), and were they ever the popular ones: she drank too much and became nonsensical and vicious; her father cheated on her mom and then failed to pay enough attention to her after he hooked up with a new family; she was a preacher’s kid two times over, and even had a few uncles who were preachers and a step-father who was studying to become one; she struggled (struggled!) for her kids at work, but never felt as if anyone gave a damn; she had a whole slew of gastrointestinal medical worries (okay, that’s not really a popular problem to have); and whenever she got gussied up, her eyes were weighted down with so much make-up that, if she blinked, it took a half-hour and a crowbar to get her to see again.

Okay, that last one was less a problem for her and more a complaint on my part. But then, I had to keep on buying the crowbars.

One Christmas season, right after some major stomach surgery for her, I drove Gossamer to and all over Oklahoma so that she could spend the holiday season with her divided family. Actually, I was happy to help out; I liked to travel and I knew she wouldn’t have been able to make it without a chauffeur. Unfortunately, she must have misunderstood what it meant to be an atheist (me, that is), because I was hollered at for not singing religious songs with her Father-The-Preacher-Who-Ignored-Her-And-Cheated-On-Her-Mother-And-Blah-Blah-Blah and his family. “But, I’m atheist,” I explained to her.

Didn’t matter, she insisted. I know the lyrics, it’s a family activity, and I should play along.

“But, I don’t know the lyrics. I was Catholic. We didn’t do so well with the Protestant songs.”

Now I was being stubborn, she told me. Everyone knew the lyrics to these songs.

“Except Catholics,” I pointed out.

Nope. Even them.

So, I lost that battle. Disarmed by her craziness and a lack of knowledge concerning Protestant song lyrics , I failed to impress her father, a man who pulled her aside to advise her on how I lacked “a spiritual side”.

“But, I’m atheist,” I tried explaining again. Ah, well.

Still, Gossamer was cute, the red hair was a plus, and I had nothing else better to do, so I stuck with her. Right up until the point she accused me of getting into her e-mail. Man, she ranted and raved for days about how I had betrayed her, and how her ex-husband had betrayed her, so maybe betrayal wasn’t a good thing. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what she was talking about; it didn’t matter she couldn’t explain how I did it or even how I got her password; all that mattered was that she couldn’t trust me and was I ever rotten. She went on for days while I remained baffled, and she continued on until she slipped up by admitting she had been reading MY e-mail the entire time. (This, I knew how she accomplished. I had left a copy of my e-mail program on her personal computer, locked, but once I was careless and left it unlocked and open to sneaky eyes.)

So, I dumped her. And I came to the conclusion that the first date we went on was one of the worst in my life, due solely to the fact that it led to The Relationship and my experiences visiting Gossamer’s own personal insane asylum. I vowed to hold off on dating at that point until I accomplished a few personal goals and until I could devise a way to make sure my next date was not another Gossamer.

That worked for six months until I met the Insta-Princess.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for hot women.

She’s Not Playing Fair(ly)

Friday, February 8th, 2008

In the past year I’ve been hit with walking pneumonia, stomach flu, and now the regular flu.  Which, by the way, is in its fifth day–when it used to only last a couple days back when I was hale, hardy and not quite 30.

Ma Nature, you blustery old windbag, you’re cheating and you know it.  Two types of flu within a year?  Really?  You’re pissing me off.