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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 19, 2003

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Matrix, Bad Art, New Eateries, No Second Chance

After seeing Matrix Reloaded, I heard some audience members complaining about how talky -- no, how downright verbose -- the movie was.

Oddly enough, though, I don't think there was a minute more talk in this movie than in the first Matrix. However, the first time we saw it, we clung to every word because we were desperate to figure out what was going on. Plus, we were wowed by the action, the special effects, showing us things we hadn't seen before.

This time, the action is of a kind with what the first movie offered. It was still cool, but it didn't dazzle. So we were more likely to notice how much explaining went on.

And the writers made some mistakes this time. Remember how in the first movie, Agent Smith spoke ve-e-e-e-ery ve-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ery slowly at first? Later he got a little faster, so people didn't actually die of old age before the movie ended. But by having his speaking style so different from that of the other Great Explainers, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the Oracle (Gloria Foster), the writers distracted us from just how much talking there was.

This time, when the Architect appears, they thought they'd provide yet another style. Instead it was a horrible mistake. They made him use ten high-falutin words where plain English would have done the job much better. It didn't make him sound smart, it made him sound like a writer who wanted to impress people.

To make us not notice how much explanation we're hearing, you don't make it less intelligible while it takes longer. Especially when this character's revelations are the climax of the movie.

But so what?

It's a fun rip-snortin' religious movie that thinks it's really smart, and even if it's pretty much undergraduate three-beers philosophizing, it makes for one cool movie. I had a great time, and I'll be in line to see the third movie this fall.

Of course, it does earn its R rating with a completely unnecessary and redundant sex scene. But, perhaps in order to show us they knew how ridiculous the scene was, the filmmakers juxtaposed it with the stupidest futuristic dance scene since the Ewoks' sock-hop at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Why do movies keep showing "future" dances? In the real world, future dances would always look stupid prior to their invention. The twist would have looked stupid to the jitterbuggers and Saturday Night Fever's disco dancing even dumber to the twisters. It's always -- always -- a needless distraction from the story and a waste of screen time.

But it doesn't last long. When the dancing starts, go out for popcorn.

The only thing I worry about is, now everybody has saved everybody else in this film, I think in the next one they're going to have to kill of some of our favorite characters.

Predictions about the next movie:

Agent Smith will turn out to be a valuable ally, either on purpose or inadvertently, now that he's a rogue virus carrying out his own agenda.

The traits Neo acquired in the matrix will now start appearing in the real world.

Or, as one skilled predictor of movie plots suggested, they will now start appearing in the "real" world -- because he thinks that they will discover that the world they thought was real is just another matrix; so the first matrix is just a matrix within a matrix.

Can't wait to find out. Cause with this one, I'm along for the ride.

P.S. I love that they cast Carrie-Anne Moss as Keanu Reeve's love interest, Trinity. While striking -- they used to call such women "handsome" -- Moss is not beautiful in a Halle Berry kind of way, yet she's a powerful actor who holds her own with Reeves and Fishburne, and she is exactly right for this part.

*

Quote of the week: In the current issue of New American Paintings: A Juried Exhibition in Print there appears this quote from an artist talking about his art:

"These paintings, taken together, represent a seven-year study of the effects of a particular method of paint application. By utilizing a single rubber tipped drywall blade (commonly used for the rapid distribution of plaster) and several gallons of high gloss gel medium, I have produced a series of three-foot-square fields of translucent paint spread across the canvas, leaving the excess to rapidly drain from the edges." (Robert Chaney, NAP #45, p. 41)

Quite apart from the fact that he sounds like a high school student explaining his science project, the reason this quote is so awful is because it is an absolutely accurate portrayal of what his paintings look like.

They are an experiment in paint application and nothing else.

Somewhere along the way, one must suppose that an eager, talented young artist who liked to draw pictures got hoodwinked and intellectualized and coopted into thinking that mere representation of the real world is not "art," but "illustration."

Which means, of course, that ordinary people who want art that speaks to them are going to have to look elsewhere.

As for the pursuit of either beauty or truth, fuhgeddaboudit.

*

Pacific & Vine is the new restaurant inhabiting the building on Cone just west of Church Street, the one where XXXXX used to be.

The new menu is a great improvement over the old, and we had high hopes. As far as the cooking was concerned, those hopes were largely fulfilled.

But some of the old service problems remain: some food arriving cold because the kitchen couldn't get things ready at the same time, a few requests forgotten.

I finally realized this time why I'm not terribly comfortable in what should be a lovely environment. It's because the interior has that country club feeling -- you know, the attitude that we should all be impressed with ourselves because we're here.

But the service is far from stuffy, and most people appreciated how light and airy the place feels, and how you don't feel like you're in a huge dining room, even though the building has quite a large seating capacity.

It doesn't help Pacific & Vine that not even a week after trying their homemade potato chips with a bleu cheese sauce, I sat down at a table in EM Bistro in Los Angeles (at 8256 Beverly Blvd.) and had their homemade potato chips with creme fraiche.

I realize that Pacific & Vine doesn't have to compete with EM Bistro. But there are a lot of restaurants in LA that do have to compete with it, and for perfection of cooking and service, it's a hard one to match.

The menu is not trying to impress us with originality for its own sake (though the chef can be daring when it suits the dish); rather this new restaurant strives for perfection in the performance, so that if the short ribs with polenta or halibut over sweet corn and brussel-sprout leaves sound like a dish you could have in many different places, you discover, when it arrives, that nobody knows how to do it quite so perfectly.

Or at least that's how it seemed to me. The spinach and beet salad, for example, didn't aim to thrill a beet-lover like me; the beets were almost a garnish rather than a feature. Yet the dressing was so perfect that I ate every speck of it and did not wish it had been different in any way.

There's a huge price difference between EM Bistro and Pacific & Vine, of course -- even if you don't count the cost of flying from Greensboro to LA. But perfection ain't cheap.

*

Another wonderful restaurant surprise in LA is Jimmy's Tavern, which just opened in the building on Pico where the much-missed Primi used to be. Normally I avoid restaurants with names suggesting an emphasis on alcohol, but it's Irish cuisine, for heaven's sake, there has to be a substantial bar just for authenticity.

Our non-drinking crowd, however, was delighted with the food, which combines genuine Irish cuisine (yes, corned beef and cabbage on mashed potatos) with other hearty fare. My prawn bisque was excellent, and my short ribs were good enough that I ordered something else at EM Bistro a few nights later.

This is a great neighborhood restaurant, and if you're in the mood for something different, it's worth visiting even if you're not from the neighborhood.

*

I know I already reviewed Tamora Pierce's first quartet of YA fantasy books, but I must tell you that her second quartet, The Immortals, is even better. She matured as a writer, and her storytelling has broadened and deepened.

The books still suffer a bit from anything-can-happen syndrome, but what does happen is so marvelous that it's quite all right.

And I've never seen fiction set in a multi-deity fantasy universe that so wisely links and balances the invented gods and the characters who serve (or annoy) them. No one will mistake this for the real world, but she handles the religion of the fantasy worlds in her books with far more grace and wit than, say, The Matrix does.

*

Harlan Coben's latest novel, No Second Chance, continues his pattern of writing novels with gripping suspense that never overshadows the human hungers and moral dilemmas of characters you can't help but care about.

In this novel, a doctor wakes up in the hospital, recovering from being shot and nearly dying; his wife was found dead in the house at the same time; and their little daughter is missing. When he gets a ransom note, he begins a desperate search for the child he loves more than life.

Without giving away a thing, I can promise you a surprising, disturbing, and yet genuinely satisfying ending to this novel.


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