This isn't hyperbole: Ratatouille is the best movie of the year.
I saw it Tuesday night, with a lot of kids and some adults who laughed at the slapstick, but I found myself engaged in a film to a level I haven't in a long time. It's ingenious, charming, and more than once deeply emotional in a clean, overpowering manner.
Brad Bird, the screenwriter/director, made The Incredibles work so well, but more importantly he crafted Iron Giant, a film that remains in the my tiny hierarchy of perfect stories. Also, it has a scene that never ever fails to make me blubber like a child. Ratatouille has such a scene -- distinct in set-up and wallop -- but nonetheless suddenly wrenching. It got me and Your Sis, and we agreed afterward that we didn't see it coming and were still surprised it worked so well.
Aside from this scene, the film is a love letter to cooking and kindness, specifically how the latter can stretch too far and be withheld too often. It has a very slow beginning despite some top-notch animation, but once we get past the first 10-15 minutes, the movie moves to Paris, and comes alive. The kitchen scenes are masterpieces of choreography, direction, and timing.
Surprisingly, the rat isn't talking that often nor is he specifically onscreen. The film moves from character to character very well, but more important, it works a specific formula with novelty. When we encounter the Meet Cute, the Crisis of Friendship, and the Calamity from All Sides, they happen organically and credibly. And whoever roped Peter O'Toole into playing the food critic should get a raise.
I thoroughly enjoyed and adore this movie.
We had a free dessert at a local hidden restaurant, free because a waiter tripped Your Sis right out of her shoes.
But Wednesday was the race.
I slept horribly the night before. I took a Naproxen and two Advil to numb my raging jaw pain but woke up several times. I got out of bed before my alarm went off at 6:20. I ate two bananas and had a small OJ before stretching. I got to the race at 7:20. There were already many more folks than at the Halloween race, and most of them were from out of town. The registration line was eight to ten-people deep, but I walked right up to the pre-registration line for my bag of goodies and race number (29). Another table had our timer chips and t-shirts (note to self: offer to design their shirts).
As I was pinning on the number and affixing the chip, I saw folks loosening up in several ways: sitting and chatting, jogging, stretching prone on the parking lot of the town resource center (which serves as the tailgate market in the summer), running hard on the small roads around the lot. There were casual runners, people of various muscle definitions, and a few birdlike marathoners. The race was again taking place in downtown and was timed to jumpstart the holiday street festival. I discovered that the best thing one can do right before a run is to poo. The majority of runners visiting the two porta-johns, and the sheer number delayed the lines and forced the organizers to cut the lines off so the race could start on time. I heard this just as I was exiting the john, and, yes, I felt like I could run a few extra miles.
I recognized and chatted with a few people as we congregated at the start area. I was about 15 yards away from the starting line and chatting. The organizers were instructing us via a megaphone, but we could hear none of it. I had the advantage of familiarity with the route. It was the opposite of the Halloween race. Jailhouse Hill -- the soulcrusher -- was now an downhill for us just after the race began. But, more important, I ran the majority of this route before I switched to running on the campus. Those people who didn't know the geography were going to be shocked by the last mile of the race: It's all uphill, and it's steep. But this was traditionally the first mile of my almost daily run through town.
The crowd was so deep, and we were limited to one road lane, that when the gun fired, I had to stand and wait for those ahead of me to move so I could at least jog. And then I was off.
The first 100 yards was uphill, a significant slope that starts at the beginning of the library lawn. The starting line was at the library itself, halfway up this grade. Unfortunately, this was also the boundary for the street festival, and vendors had already set up their tables along our route. And I mean on our route because we suddenly had a bottleneck where the tables sat in our road lane. This was not fun to navigate, and I had to kick into a lower gear to push up the crowded hill. The slope levels out right at the main downtown intersection, and then you drop like a rollercoaster down Jailhouse. We sounded like floppy-footed horses. I noticed then the wide variety of ages. I was behind a smattering of college-age folks and some 60-year men. Beside ran a kid about ten years old. I was in the back half of the pack, and I concentrated on stride and breath. I wanted to pace myself for the last mile.
The turn onto French Broad is a pleasant flat stretch, just a bit after Jailhouse levels out. But French Broad is long, and it contains two hills. The first you can almost see from the turn. But the hill at the end, where the road meets Park, is a sudden, heartbreaking incline. I heard people spot it and grown in despair. It was before the first incline that I started to pass people. Some simply gave up and walked. Some were slowing down to what I assume was their race pace after bursting out the gate. An older man who settled into a pace was breathing very hard and clopping his feet. I was a little worried, and then he started blowing snot rockets, and I decided that not only was he OK, but he also needed more space, so I moved ahead. I noticed the ponytails of the college girls right up ahead, and this is some small way gladdened my heart as ponytails do. But this was nothing compared to the thrill of passing them once we got onto Park. I had a smooth pace, almost a jog really, but it was consistent, and I again knew this territory.
I knew when to relax my breath and when I needed to bellow my lungs around hills. I also knew when to run by focusing on my thigh muscles instead of the feet. I found myself right behind a kid who was flailing along in exhaustion. Couldn't have been more than eight. And his parents had cruelly dressed him in a thick polo shirt and dress shorts. If he was running from a fire in the church bathroom, he would have looked normal. Here, he might as well have been escaping explosions or zombies. I felt bad for him. I had my running shirt with extreme wicking action and my running shorts. I was also bolstered by fantastic weather. It was maybe 60 degrees with no wind. I was enjoying this climate as I passed Flailing Child.
Park is a winding road with some rises and flats. It's a nice street to run at a cruising speed. Nothing dramatic. When it ends, you're halfway home. I hit the intersection with the Greenville Highway and took inventory. Breathing was OK, legs were a little sore. I think I had a toe blister or maybe a cut from a toenail. Systems were nominal.
The highway leg is maybe 50 yards, and then we turned on Gallimore. Now, it was here that the organizers offered the race's water station. They didn't have this at Halloween. Nice gesture, horrific execution. The station was a cardboard box sitting at roadside with a woman filling up cups. One woman with a jug of water standing next to a box about a foot tall. We couldn't simply stick out our elbow, grab a cup, and maintain our stride. No, you had to, if able, squat at a full clip, snag a cup, rise, and continue running. Or you could do as one woman did and run orbits around the jug woman while she poured a cup, anxiously yelling out "It's almost ready!" Then she take the cup from her hand and joined the race again. Me, I don't drink when I run. But other folks may have needed that, and this is where the organizers failed them.
Gallimore dips a bit, but otherwise its a deceptively rise. Again, I'm passing some folks along the way but rarely being passed myself. Gallimore has a hard curve to the right, lined with trees so you don't know what awaits you: a high dome. I slowed my pace a bit because this immediately precedes the last bad mile. It was here I caught up to a mob of runners -- some kids, some surrendering teenagers, some surprised thin marathoners. We also started to collect by-standers applauding us on, including three cyclists. If I had the time and breath, I would have asked one of them if I could rent their bike for the next ten minutes. The dome levels out right as Gallimore connects with Broad, and this the last real leg of the mile. This is all uphill. This is my road. Literally. I live less than a mile other direction. I make the turn, and note that vehicles have slowed to a crawl behind some of the runners ahead. They're blocking the road, and we have to file onto the sidewalk to run past them.
Here's what Broad does: It slopes down for about 20 yards and then goes up hard. It dips to a brief bowl about 200 yards later, again goes up hard for a half mile, and then it becomes a sly grade. Its very easy to relax after leveling off, ignorant that you're still shoving your way uphill. This is a quad-killer. Your only inspiration here is the cemetery across the road, and it's fantastic for me. I got it better than they do, I can run harder. Up I go. This always reminds me of Six Feet Under.
Unfortunately, stupid, stupid people are standing on the sidewalk watching for friends. They aren't even gesturing to move aside for the runners, and I practically ram one clueless woman backward. I'm also managing to pass runners who are starting to suck wind. A clutch of college gals passes me a bit up the road, and I don't mind. I feel OK. I'm getting tired, and I've w0rked my lungs like pedals, easing up and goosing them on this incline. But there's no side pain at all, and I have zero pain from the wisdom teeth extraction. This is as good as it can get for me, the casual runner. Behind me, I hear a man coaching his son along the way. "Almost there, Patrick. You can do it. Two more minutes. Hardest part's behind us." I saw Patrick earlier. He's as tall as my navel, and he was about to crumble before we left Gallimore. He was one of the kids who would run a while, walk, run a while, walk. I passed him and others about four times before I hit Broad.
When Broad bleeds toward downtown, the road widens, which again helps us spread out from the jerk who's blocking the sidewalk with his dog. But the asphalt bends toward the gutter so strongly that I'm afraid I'll roll my ankle. I drift back to the sidewalk. The route then turns between the library and the unitarian church, and an organizer informs us we only have to "run 200 yards and turn left for the finish line." And now I'm starting to wind down. It's here, I made it, and I didn't walk one step. I ran it all.
Speaking of running, when I run at the college, I always make myself open up the throttle for the last quarter mile. I have an OK jog stride, and it's pleasant to find that notch and work along the college paths. But I love to flat-out run. And that's what I do to end these training runs: Crank up the elbows, throw forward the feet, and push. Sometimes I'm on fumes, sometimes I got power. I never know until I start that last bit. This is where I make up for cruising in earlier spots of a run.
When this road meets South Gaston, the spectators are loud and cheerful. This is where everyone gathers to see the finish. The road leans upward behind the library, and a blue inflatable finish arch sits about 100 yards up. I've paced myself to this point. I turn onto Gaston, and I tell myself to run. I ask myself what remains. And, honest to God, It's like I found another gear.
I'm flying. I'm zooming. I'm passing people like they're standing. Some are; the spectators, but also the dogged racers chugging themselves along, looking down at their feet and forcing themselves farther. Me, I'm making a jet stream. What I hear changes from "you can do it, you're almost there" to "wow, he's really running." And no one is more surprised than me. It actually gets quieter as I approach the line, and a little voice in my head says three things at the exact same time:
1) You should have started this earlier.
2) This feels unsportsmanlike to the other runners. They're struggling here. Look at that guy. He's about to collapse. He's gotta be about 50. That woman has the back of a distance runner, and she's toiled to get up these hills. She's gotta be from out of town. She didn't know what this would be like. You're mocking them with this outburst. You should be ashamed.
3) "Whose house? Run's house!"
I keep it going -- with an accompanying giddiness, probably what all these kids felt half an hour ago -- until I cross under the arch. The chutes quickly shoot left, and I hop to a stop before I crash the barriers like a skier. I make eye contact with one woman praising me on the finish. Yeah, so there. This is my town. This is my street. I've run this leg since September. I can't run a half marathon, but I can run this.
An organizer collects our timer chips, and I didn't see the finish timer anywhere. I learn later it was hidden among the chute-standers. I grab an orange and water from the recovery table and walk back to my car. I feel like a million damn dollars. I grab my camera only to learn the batteries have died. I meet up with some of those I talked to beforehand, and we talk about the fireworks later on in the evening and meeting up for that. I find the times printed and posted about a half hour later. I am tagged as the 119th person to cross the line at a time of 28:53. Five minutes better than my Halloween run. I can definitely live with that, and now I know I can do a bit better if I kick into that gear sooner. I'm already thinking of the next race. And now I have to go home, wake up the wife, and have a decent breakfast.
She's already up, to my surprise, and we snag stuff at the bakery before hitting the grocery store for cookout materials for tonight. We drop those back at the house and go right back out to Asheville. I grab new camera batteries, and she gets an external CD driver for her school laptop. She piles up on books at B&N, and back home we go. I spend the remainder of the day in a weary euphoria.
We make a poundcake from scratch while watching the Twilight Zone marathon. That bakes up OK (my first cake), and I start the grill. The lighter fulid reliant charcoal fails me, and I cool them off enough to load on the quick-light coal, and they combine to make a superheated pyre. Everything cooks very quickly. Kathy and Travis come over for a dandy dinner and we head out to the college to catch the fireworks. The racing folks are there and confess they laid low after running. I confess I'm hopped up on frappuccino.
And when I go to bed that night, it's with a sudden and almost painful collapse. This morning? Yeah, I feel it in my calves. But if I had to, I'd run the race again tomorrow.
Picture of the Day
The closest I could come to Simpsonizing myself at the movie website.