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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ratatouille serves up bountiful cinematic feast

Since that screaming train engine bolted out at startled filmgoers during the turn of the last century, our best cinema miraculously makes us believe in the unbelievable. No other art form is so founded on the suspension of disbelief, and I know my most profound cinematic experiences have come when I am no longer in any doubt about what I am seeing. Cinema allows us a raw, visceral association with the images on screen and our own experiences. This magnificent power to tap into our hopes and fears also makes cinema the most manipulative of art forms. The master of this manipulation was Walt Disney. In Disney's films you could become whatever you wanted-puppet to boy, apprentice to sorcerer, washing girl to princess. Over the span of eighty or so minutes, his animation revealed our own naive wishes. Disney's golden age of animated features ended in the late '50s, and over the next forty or so years the genre never came close to achieving the impact of his films.

Toy Story arrived in 1995 from Pixar Studios. Its simple, heartfelt story reminded me how much I loved the early Disney films. Over the next decade, Pixar released one gem after another-A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. I saw most in the theater, and made sure I gobbled them up when they were released on DVD. These films brought a more modern, post-Dr. Spock perspective to the animated feature. The characters struggled with identity, purpose, and loss on an intimacy level that the live-action feature films of recent vintage could barely suggest. I must admit I have not seen and do not own Cars; the ugly trailer and mediocre reviews scared me off. I did not want Pixar to disappoint me.

Ratatouille, their latest feature, is maybe their most unlikely tale yet as it is their first to truly deal with real-world human characters. The movie is set in France, where a young rat with a well-honed palette finds himself suddenly not only in Paris, but in the restaurant whose recently deceased chef speaks to him from beyond the grave. There this most unlikely rat meets his equally unlikely partner, a stumbling cleaning boy in badly need of a job and some direction. Well, we know what magic can be made from this. But the people of Pixar prod deeper, forging a film which struggles with not only conflicts of class but with our own expectations of art and culture. Each character brings with him an ardent humanity, be it rat or sous chef. No film has dealt with the dualities of criticism and appreciation as tenderly as Ratatouille. If you walk out of this film unmoved than you have never longed to create art that will last forever, as this film surely will.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

'Ghostbusters' hit Manhattan. For real this time.

Wow! I don't know if you saw this today, but all I needed was Slimer or Ernie Johnson to make me think that Ghostbusters 3 was being shot. NYC really does have it all-arts, business, and the opportunity to have a mixture of water, steam, and debris rain down on your way to the subway.

YouTube and CNN announced they will combine to hold presidential debates. YouTubers are already posting their questions, which will not be selected by acclamation but by CNN's Washington bureau chief and Anderson Cooper. Yes, THE Anderson Cooper (please always remember this sap is Gloria Vanderbilt's son (yes, those jeans)). I'm going to go out on a limb on this one and say that those questions will be the most melodramatic and politically obsequious that Mr. Cooper can find. What I would really love is to have a crying cancer patient tearfully ask her question, camera pan to a sniveling Anderson Cooper, and then to the candidates all tearing up themselves. I'm all for creative remedies for what ails our political systems, but do we really think YouTubers will provide the most revealing questions? As of right now, the highest rated question on YouTube asks the candidates if Arnold Schwarzenegger is really a cyborg. The prosecution rests.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Democrats 'hit the cots.' Not really.

The Senate Democrats pulled out all the stops for their 'Mr. Smith...' inspired all-night legislative marathon, which resulted in a Republican filibuster and no action on Iraq. As an indication of their commitment (?), the Democrats' put out cots in their deliberating chamber. Who knows if they were trying to sympathize with the troops or simply steal a page from 'The Godfather'. If it was a sign of their tenacity, that picture on the front page of the Times of all places is not doing them any favors.

So all speed ahead to 'Status Quo Land'! God, I loathe politicians. But I would have hi-fived myself if both Trent Lott and Barack Obama were arrested.

What will happen next? My guess is this bickering in the Senate will continue ad naseum until September, when the sacrificial lambs (Petraeus and Crocker) will show up on the Hill right in time for a Metro bus to crush them. The Democrats will blame the Republicans for stalling, the Republicans will label both chambers a do-nothing Congress. And, for the first time in a looooooong time, they'll both be right.

Michael Vick has been indicted for raising killer pooches. When I grew up, I wanted to be a great baseball player so bad it hurt. Real pain, real tears. But pretty much everything in the sports world today bums me out. Sure, everybody was exposed to the breaks Joe Jock earned as he progressed through our high school, and I'm not even against that. Athletes have a God-given talent, and like most talented people should earn a few comps from the public at large. But killing dogs? I'm not even an animal person and that raises the hairs on my neck. I wonder what it will take for corporate America to stop buying up the luxury boxes. A star to kill someone? Professional sports skates further and further out on that thin ice every day, and I stand on the bank, jealous and wanting that ice to break.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Japan reactor leaks waste. World shudders.

Japan suffered a massive earthquake yesterday. Old people died, and a small amount of nuclear material was released into the ocean from a reactor close to the fault. Come again? Nuclear material released in Japan? Besides the obvious tragic atomic history, let us not forget the cinematic results of atomic accidents in Japan.

Come on people! Do we really trust the Japanese to tell us this was a minor accident? If my years of watching Svengoolie as a child taught me anything, it was that atomic waste and Japan equals cardboard cutouts of cities going up in flames. Don't believe me? Well, don't blame me when Mothra makes Tokyo the world's largest sweater.

In other news today, the Chicago Cub announced the signing of Jason Kendall yesterday. The Cub is now completely assured of winning the National League pennant. Obviously, all they were missing was a .226 hitting catcher. I do not hate the Cub. Only their fans. These delusional, uneducated fans need to know that 3.5 games back is tough to overcome, especially if you only play the Brewers in one more series. The Cub's sure failure to get to the playoffs will have to comfort me as I watch my Sox stumble through the rest of their season (they are currently losing to the Indians 2-0). Fans of the Cub, don't get too excited just yet.

I am off to lose money at cards. Please feel free to take whatever I leave when I'm gone.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Faux hipsters return to their faux Brooklyns

Chicago returns to normal today after the end of Pitchfork 2007. Tens of thousands of mewling music fans came to my fair metropolis to celebrate music snobbery and the spread of rabid internet-bred pop fragmentation. I did enjoy myself at the Fest this year, as did my friend Kev (Pop Zeus). Bests-Mastodon, De La Soul. Worsts-Battles, the Cool Kids. I also have to give a shout-out to something called cevichee (sp?), a gypsy fair food consisting of lamb, pork, beef, onions, and salt all blended together and grilled on a kebab. It was served on a warm pita, and then you poured this spicy eggplant sauce on it. Fantastic! But overall I found the scene this weekend discouraging. When I was a teenager I went to fests to listen to tunes and get fucked up. The kids today (jesus, did I begin a sentence with that? I'm getting old) seem to be there to be seen and get fucked up, the music being an ancillary item. Sure, poseurs have always plagued the pop world, from hippies to punks, but hipsters (their most common label) have taken this to an art form. I do not believe that this forebodes some looming pop music apocalypse, as some old fogies have charged, but I do believe it may further erode one of the most powerful results of genius pop-its ability to bind people from different backgrounds into audiences where prejudices can be dissolved and commonalities found. At Pitchfork, I saw very many affluent young white people, but I saw too little of youth of color or lower economic status (that last sociological observation was made more difficult because there was an awful lot of rich kids vested in thrift store junk). Pitchfork did the right thing with the cheap ticket prices, but it will be interesting to see how the Festival develops over the next few years. There is a strong possibility that it may end up as a Warped Tour kind of event-a place for suburban teens to get their indie on. Again, I hope I don't sound like Oscar the Concert Grouch. This all just could be a sign that I am getting way too old for this type of thing.

Oh, and if you were there, I was the guy with the home made 'Hey Hipster, Nice Uniform' shirt.