March 8th, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)

On February 26th, we went to see "The Secret World of Arrietty," which is the most recent Studio Ghibli animated feature to be released in the US under the Disney aegis.

This is the Ghibli version of Mary Norton's award-winning 1952 book, "The Borrowers," which deals with the adventures and misadventures of tiny people living "below the radar" of normal-sized humans. Studio Ghibli's treatment has quite successfully updated the story from the book's quasi-Edwardian setting to the modern day, and moved it from the specifically English setting to a non-specific but gorgeously realized setting.

The plot is simple; the Borrowers are discovered by a young boy (Sean, English voice by David Henrie)whose attempts to learn more about the little people and to cultivate a friendship with the girl Borrower, Arietty (Bridgit Mendler), lead to discovery by others whose intentions are not benign, and trouble ensues. The pleasure of the movie is in the character interactions, and in the marvelous settings conceived by the animators. On the one hand, the internal world of the Borrowers, inside walls and under floors, is cleverly done and in its way, believable. The humans' house is a lovely construct, with its combination of European and Japanese features. The outside world, with its wild garden of flowers, is just beautiful, despite its dangers.

Adventurous Arietty and curious Sean ("The Boy", for much of Norton's book) are quite true to the original text, as is Homily (Amy Pohler), Arrietty's rather hysteric and agoraphobic mother. I think that the character of father Pod (Will Arnett), monosyllabic and workmanlike, is rather an improvement on the Micawberesque father-figure in Norton, partly because the film adaptation's emphasis is more on adventure than on humor.

A charming film,recommended for all ages.

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Video: "Keeper of the Flame"

Georgie came across a video of this 1942 Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy vehicle in the library collection and brought it home out of curiousity. Neither of us had ever heard of it.

Hepburn plays the recent widow of an American hero and industrialist, "George Forrest," who has been killed in an automobile accident. Tracy plays a crusading journalist who is intent on writing a biography of the "great man," and is puzzled by the resistance he initially receives. Eventually, he works his way into a romance with Hepburn's character, and then into the heart of the dead man's dark and dangerous secrets.

Unfortunately, although directed by the famous George Cukor, the movie's pacing is dull and dramatic tension levels low. It's not either Hepburn or Tracy's best acting. In fact, I found the most interesting character to be Tracy's sometime colleague, wisecracking newspaperwoman Jane Harding (Audrey Christie), and much of the other interest was in picking out and identifying the young images of well-known character actors such as Ward Bond, Howard Da Silva, and Percy Kilbride.

Given the 1942 release date, it's understandable that the movie got made, as the dangers of "creeping Fascism" are a major plot element, and the cynical media manipulations planned by the bad guys are still rather fresh in these days. Nevertheless, for fans of Hepburn and Tracy, their comedies are far better.

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New Restaurant: Pastiche

We went out to dinner to try a new restaurant in the Bay View neighborhood, "Pastiche Bistro and Wine Bar" at 3001 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue.

The proprietors have done a very nice job of converting a classic Milwaukee corner bar building into a cheerful bistro setting. The bar has been cut back to a small service bar area, making room for the ten or so restaurant tables.

As usual, we tend to dine early, so the place was not full when we came in on a weekday night, although it did fill up later on. The small number of tables were handled by one server team, with assistance from the hostess, and service was managed quite well.

Although the business includes a wine shop, I was was a bit surprised that the didn't have any specifically aperitif wines (I like an occasional dry sherry), and referred me to the dessert wine list. At the server's recommendation, I opted instead for a dry white wine to accompany the charcutrie plate we split as appetizer. The plate included a couple of very nice home-made pates, a couple of types of sausage, and some pancetta, served with a lovely whole-grain mustard and crackers. All good, althogh I would have preferred more of the pates and less of the sausages.

For entree, I chose the cassoulet, a dish I've been wanting to try for a long time, but haven't found on a menu anywhere else, and haven't made at home since it's a major production. Cassoulet is a French white bean stew, which includes usually at a minimum ham, sausage and duck. Pastiche describes theirs as: "classic French dish of slow-cooked white beans with pork shoulder, duck confit, smoked pork shank, sausage and lamb." The dish was presented in a bowl, with a whole duck leg on top, the other meats in small chunks in among the tasty and well-cooked beans. I found it very good, and very interesting, and I am edging toward making my own some time soon. Again, at the recommendation of the server, I accompanied the meal with a glass of Cotes du Rhone, a rich red wine.

Georgie opted to try the coq au vin, and also found it very good, but not as richly flavorful as the version served by Coquette Cafe, where it is one of the signature dishes. She had a glass of a nice rose wine with her meal.

For desserts, Georgie had the Puff Pastry Apple Tart ("apples baked with cinnamon and sugar on puff pastry; served with vanilla bean ice cream and homemade caramel sauce") and I had the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart("homemade hazelnut crust with a dense chocolate and hazelnut filling; served with caramel sauce and Frangelico creme anglaise"). Both again very, very good. The Chocolate Hazelnut Tart was a dense hunk of dark chocolate with the hazelnut crust and hazelnut slivers on top. Delicious, but I had been expecting more nuts.

All in all, particularly for a newish restaurant, very promising and very pleasant. Prices are quite reasonable, comparable or less than we would have paid at restaurants offering similar fare.

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