Reviews — Jan. 18
The last time I recommended the film “Mildred Pierce,” it was “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz’ decidedly noirish 1945 adaptation of James Cain’s novel, starring Joan Crawford in the title role. A couple of years ago, Todd Haynes was afforded the luxury of a five-part HBO miniseries to tackle it again with Kate Winslet doing the heavy lifting as a Depression-era single mother climbing the social ladder in Los Angeles.
Mildred Pierce is a gargantuan role, and Winslet’s performance — requiring her to appear in virtually every scene — is genuinely brilliant.
She’ll always be known for “Titanic,” but this is the role I suspect she’d rather have people remember. The story spans nearly a decade, and Winslet will convince you she’s lived every moment. Two actresses play her daughter Veda (one of the better pairings of actors for the same role I’ve seen) with whom Pierce has a complex, and ultimately tragic, relationship.
This is a film that is keenly aware of class — set during the Great Depression, how could it not be? To Haynes’ credit, one is never unaware of the financial considerations that simmer beneath the myriad of relationships portrayed in the story. It’s less convincing in its depiction of 1930s L.A. (the entire film was shot in New York) but that’s more than compensated for by Winslet, the rest of the cast, and the painterly cinematography, which looks amazing on Blu-ray. Block out a week for this one; it’s worth it.
“Mildred Pierce” (2011) Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Brian F. O’Byrne, Melissa Leo, Morgan Turner and Evan Rachel Wood. 344 minutes. Unrated, but definitely in “R” territory for sexuality and nudity, brief violence.
You already know that those bright red, perfectly round tomatoes you see at the grocery store this month (and, frankly, most of the year) have hardly any flavor. But you may not realize that many of the big companies that grow those tomatoes don’t give a darn about taste — they’re interested only in tomatoes that are uniform, good-looking and able to withstand being picked, shipped and held for long periods.
Journalist Barry Estabrook makes that point and more in “Tomatoland.” It’s a comprehensive look at the fresh tomato industry, good and— mostly — bad.
Much of the book focuses on the huge business of growing tomatoes in Florida, which provides most of the fresh tomatoes sold in stores on the East Coast and much of the rest the country. (California is the center of the canned-tomato industry.)
Most important, Estabrook does a good job of showing that tomatoes are not simply tomatoes — they’re also the men and women working long hours for little pay to plant, tend and pick the fruit. “... The underlying irony: Workers who pick the food we eat cannot afford to feed themselves,” he writes.
The author describes deplorable conditions that have been the norm in the fields, where workers are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals as they prepare the soil and keep the plants pest-free.
In one case, three farmworkers gave birth one December to babies with severe, rare deformities; only one survived. Their mothers had been exposed to toxins as they worked in the fields; bosses told them they had to continue working or they’d lose not only their paltry wages, but their living quarters, as well.
Estabrook documents many similar cases of ghastly working conditions and horrible treatment. Although the agricultural companies deny knowledge of the practice, he says that Florida officials have even discovered many cases of slavery — either by coercion (charging workers exorbitant amounts for transportation or housing, then saying they cannot quit before they pay off their impossible debts) or by physical restraint (beating workers who took a water break, for instance, or locking them into the back of a box truck overnight so they couldn’t leave).
“Tomatoland” is a disturbing, eye-opening book that will change the way you look at store-bought tomatoes.
“Tomatoland,” Barry Estabrook, 2011, Andrews McMeel Publishing.