Movie Review: Ratatouille (2007)


Title: Ratatouille
Release Date:  29 June 2007
Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Production Company:  Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of small learns to appreciate fine foods and cooking from television programs and cookbooks of the famed chef Auguste Gusteau.  When circumstance bring Remy to Paris, a vision of the late Gusteau guides him to Gusteau’s restaurant where Remy begins to pursue the dream of becoming a cook.  Remy is paired with the restaurant’s young garbage boy Linguini, and learns that he can control his body like a marionette by pulling his hair (that sounds creepier than it appears in the movie) and together they make successful new dishes.

Though the stakes are low it touches on issues such as balancing commitments to family with pursuing one’s dreams, and expanding one’s perspectives.  It’s also surprisingly educational about both the bridage de cuising and colonies of rats.  One disappointment of the film is that almost all of the characters – rats and kitchen staff alike – are male, although the sole female character Colette comments on the difficulty of women making it in the culinary field, a seeming meta-commentary on the movie itself.  Overall, it’s a cute movie and beautifully animated and I enjoyed it.

Rating: ****

Book Reviews: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Summary/Review:

The third book in this series sees Alcatraz Smedry finally arrive in the Free Kingdoms where he learns he’s quite a celebrity (lots of not so subtle jabs at Harry Potter here) and that there are currently evil librarians meeting with the kings and queens of the Free Kingdoms on a treaty.  Alcatraz’s frenemy and protector Bastille is stripped of her knighthood due to Alcatraz breaking her sword in the previous book.  Alcatraz and a whacky crew – including a daft prince and a “recovering librarian” – work to uncovers suspicious goings on while the librarians are in town.  Central to the plot is the Royal Archives (Not a Library), a running gag that makes me laugh as an archivist who has attended professional conferences, but maybe won’t be as funny to other readers.  As usual, this addition to the Alcatraz series is clever, witty, funny, and still a rather ripping adventure.

Favorite Passages:

“The love books.  However, to them, books are a little like teenage boys.  Whenever they start congregating they make trouble.”

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

What are you reading in 2018?


In years past, I’ve made a list of books I plan to read in the coming year.  You can find my current Book List 2018 up in the navigation bar with a drop-down list for previous years.

I’ve made things less complicated this year instead of listing out books to read, I’m just going to use my existing wishlist at LibraryThing.  I will also be trying to keep track of audiobooks, books for my Around the World for a Good Book project, and books for  Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge.

I will post the books that I’ve actually completed reading with a link to review and books I’m currently reading on the Book List 2018 page as well.  If you’re reading something good, I’d love to hear about it and I’m always happy to open a discussion of books on this blog.

Photopost: Frosty Photos


Some recent photographs from Boston and Vermont of a land encased in snow and ice.  This time of year creates some interesting photo opportunities but with them the challenges of light and white balance.

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 6


Hub History :: Annexation Making Boston Bigger for 150 Years

Boston grew first by making new land in Back Bay and the South End.  Then it grew even more starting 150 years ago by adding surrounding communities of Roxbury, Dorchester, Brighton, West Roxbury, and Charlestown.  Find out how it all happened in this podcast.

Hang Up and Listen :: The 200 Seventh Graders Versus LeBron Edition

A whimsical year-end look at some sports conundrums such as how many seventh graders would you have to put on the court to defeat LeBron James playing solo.  Or, what would a NFL field or NBA court be like if they were built with the irregularities common in baseball stadiums.

Have You Heard :: Segrenomics

The long sad story of how inequality and segregation in education have long been the source of profit in the United States.

Slate’s Hit Parade :: The Silver Medalists Edition

A look back at some of the great songs that peaked at #2 on the pop charts with a special focus on “Shop Around” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Gos, and “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson.

All Songs Considered :: Ice Music: Building Instruments Out of Water

Bob Boilen interviews Norwegian musician Terje Isungset who shapes and plays instruments out of ice.

Science Fiction Double Feature – Vanity Edition


Last night I watched on Netflix an episode of Star Trek and an episode of The Twilight Zone back to back.  The thread that connected these two tv shows together is their guest actor, a man who shares my name, Liam Sullivan.  Despite my best efforts, he is probably the most famous Liam Sullivan of all time, known for his many appearances on television shows, particularly as a villain (albeit I’d argue he plays a sympathetic character in The Twilight Zone episode).

Sullivan is quoted as saying about his villainous roles:

“Playing truly evil people is a great way to release tension and anger and disgust with humanity. Show bad people what they really look and act like and maybe they’ll recognize themselves and change. Who knows?”

I remember seeing Liam Sullivan’s name in the credits of tv shows when I was growing up and it was a treat.  Unlike the present day when the name Liam is a frequent top ten baby name for boys, it was an unusual name outside of Ireland in the 1970s and 80s.  It’s all the more remarkable that the actor Liam Sullivan was born and named in Illinois in 1923.

In the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” (1968), Sullivan plays Parmen, an immortal with telekinetic powers who cruelly bullies and torments the crew of the Enterprise.  This is third season Star Trek episode so you have to look past some plot and dialogue absurdities to appreciate the actually very strong acting performances put in by both the series’ regulars and guest actors like Sullivan and Michael Dunn.  This episode is famous for the interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura.  The kiss is actually forced by Parmen in his efforts to humiliate the crew, so hey, someone named Liam Sullivan is behind one of the most famous moments in television history.

The Twilight Zone episode “The Silence” is a rare instance of the show not featuring a supernatural or extraterrestrial element, and is in fact based on an Anton Chekov story called “The Bet.”  Sullivan plays Jamie Tennyson, a young member of a gentleman’s club who talks constantly much to the irritation Colonel Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone).  Sullivan appears much younger in this show although it’s only 7 years earlier than Star Trek, and appropriately, is ruggedly handsome.  Taylor proposes a wager that Tennyson must remain silent for twelve months under observation of club members, and should he do so would win half a million dollars.  Since Sullivan doesn’t speak for much of the episode, it is remarkable how well he conveys emotions through facial expressions and movements.  This is especially true when Taylor begins to realize he may lose the bet and starts to cruelly torment Tennyson. The episode has a twist at the end as you might expect, one which I’m not sure would actually work physically, but shocking all the same.

So that’s the story of my name in lights.  Who is the most famous person that shares your name with you?  Do you feel any kinship with them?

Related post: People Who Are Not Me

No Such Thing as Free Parking in Boston


A recent article in the Boston Globe asks “Are the days of free residential parking in Boston numbered?” Unlike neighboring cities like Brookline, Somerville, and Cambridge that charge $25 to $40 a year for parking permits, residential parking permits in Boston are “free.”  Of course, nothing is really free, and as the research of UCLA Urban Planning professor Donald Shoup shows in “The High Cost of Free Parking,” the costs of a city providing “free” parking are often shifted in inequitable ways.  This is why Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu is investigating charging an annual fee for Boston residential parking permits, an idea that I’ve long considered a good one and believe the city should pursue as soon as possible.

This is an issue of equity.  In a city where land is at a premium, a considerable amount of the public commons is given over for “free” storage of private property.  And it is a use of public land that benefits wealthier people who are more likely to own a car than poorer people, and in fact wealthier people are more likely to own multiple cars, as the article notes “at least 300 residences have more than five parking permits.”

With a major winter storm coming up, this is a time when many Boston residents are concerned with a shortage of on-street parking.  And yet this is a time when we can most see the negative effects of free residential permits.  Go down any street after a snow storm and you will find at least one car that remains unshoveled for days, or even weeks after the storm.  The owner of that car probably rarely drives but because there is no cost to them to store the car at the city’s expense, they keep the car there just in case.  Similarly, people who typically keep their cars off-street on driveways and in garages will move their cars on to the street before a storm because they know the city will plow the street, but they are responsible for clearing their own driveways.

Charging an annual fee for a residential would not be primarily for revenue, but a means of regulating the behavior of on-street parking in the winter and all year round.  It need not be an onerous amount, just priced enough to make someone who has one car that they rarely use but are keeping “just in case” to take the plunge and go car free.  Or for someone who has two cars to decide to go car-light.  Neighborhoods that are higher density, have higher property values, and/or have a shortage of on-street space would also obviously pay a higher annual rate than a neighborhood that is low-density, low income, and/or has surplus space. Major arteries can also be priced to reduce on-street parking and allow for dedicated bus and bike lanes. I’d also propose that while the annual rate for a single residential parking permit be relatively affordable, that permits for a second, third, or so on car be increasingly and prohibitively expensive.

The income that is raised from parking permits can be redirected into the neighborhoods.  Money can be invested into repairing and widening sidewalks, planting trees and improving greenspace, and constructing protected bicycle lanes.  In some places, the recovered space may even be used to construct new housing or retail spaces.

I hope that Councilor Wu and others in our community embrace paid residential parking permits as one means of increasing the quality of life for all residents of the city.

Movies that Everyone Has Seen Except Me


I like movies, and I’ve seen a lot of them in my time, but there are some movies that seem ubiquitous in popular culture that despite no particular effort to avoid, I’ve never seen.

Avatar – apparently no one actually likes this movie, but it is currently the top grossing movie of all-time without my contribution.

Blade Runner – I’ve been meaning to watch this for decades.  Of course, it’s difficult to determine which “cut” of the movie I should watch first.

The Godfather (and all its sequels) – I remember my sister watching one of these movies when I was a kid but I was too young to handle reading the subtitles of Sicilian people yelling at one another.

Goodfellas – I guess I’m just not into mobster movies

Jurassic Park (and all its sequels) – I actually did avoid this one because I read the book and it was styooo-pid.  I’m surprised it’s still such a big cultural phenomenon.

Mrs. Doubtfire – This was once on the list of top-grossing films of all-time but has been usurped.  It looked dumb and creepy so I never saw it.

Pulp Fiction – I actually have avoided this one because I’ve been told that someone gets shot in the head which is something I find too disturbing to watch.

The Shawshank Redemption – I rented the videotape once, but it malfunctioned.  Why have I never followed up?

The Shining – Over the years, I think I’ve gleaned the entire plot of this movie, at least the part that was reenacted by bunnies.

Shindler’s List – Always meant to watch, but never found the right time.

What hit or classic movies have you missed seeing?  Which of these movies should I try to watch first?

 

Book Review: Papi: My Story by David Ortiz


Author: David Ortiz with Michael Holley
Title: Papi: My Story
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
Summary/Review:

I know that David Ortiz is a prodigious slugger, has a big heart, and a potty mouth.  From his baseball memoir, I’ve also learned that he holds a grudge.  A bit too much of this book is full of Ortiz’s resentments against his manager in Minnesota (and two different managers in Boston), the Red Sox front office, the Boston media, and everyone who suspected him of PED use.  Granted he actually is justified in his anger against these people, but it weighs down what is otherwise an insightful book about his life in baseball.  I particularly enjoy what Ortiz says about how he became a student of the game and studied pitchers while on the bench so that he could become a better hitter.  He talks of learning a lot from fellow players, especially Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. And then he passes along that knowledge to younger players from Dustin Pedroia to Andrew Benentendi.  Outside baseball, Ortiz reflects on his marriage to his wife Tiffany and how he was contending with their marriage falling apart right around the same time as the magical 2013 series.  It’s an entertaining book and a must read for fans of Big Papi and the Red Sox, and baseball fans in general.

Favorite Passages:

“I’ve always been amazed at people who criticize baseball players for showing emotion, especially in playoff games. What do they expect when every move you make is with the game on the line?  You’re a competitor.  You want to be sucessful for your team and your city.  You’re not supposed to respond when everyone is losing their minds in the stands, to the point where you really can’t hear anything?

Why not?” – p. 76

“To me, Pedroia is the prototype.  I’d never met anyone like him in baseball.  It’s hard to explain.  For example, I love baseball.  Love it.  But what I saw from Pedroia made it clear to me that his connection to baseball was beyond everyone else’s.  It was so much more than just love for the game.  He was the game. Seriously.  Everything that was good and true about baseball was in Dustin Pedroia.  He breathed it.  He lived it.  He’d do anything to play it, to be around it, to talk about it.He was such a force of energy, talent, and humor that it lifted our entire clubhouse.” – p. 116

“I believe the Boston media is powerful when it comes to the fans and, in some ways, influential when it comes to the way the team is managed.  When the media make a big deal about something, when they create a problem or issue, what are the fans supposed to think?  They figure that these people are around the team 24/7, so they must know what they’re talking about.  But they don’t.” – p. 151

Recommended booksBecoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes, Pedro, Carlos, and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball’s Top Latino Stars by Adam Rubin, and Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O’Nan
Rating: ***1/2