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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
July 28, 2003

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


3D, Bad Boys, and Orson Impersonators

When you have a nine-year-old, you do inexplicable things, like going to a movie you know is going to be very bad and putting on hideously uncomfortable cardboard glasses in order to watch it.

Guess what.

The cardboard glasses are hideously uncomfortable.

And Spy Kids 3D is very bad.

Not as bad as, say, watching Michael Moore accept an Oscar.

Nor are the glasses as uncomfortable as, say, giving birth or passing a kidney stone (neither of which I have done -- but I feel no need to have such an experience to believe the accounts of those who have). After all, this is a movie which can claim to be, at best, a dumb version of Tron.

However, you will not die from watching Spy Kids 3D. In fact, there are moments that are worth the price of admission. There are fun action sequences and chases. There are cool things about the way the world-inside-the-computer works. Of course, all those cool things have already been seen in lots of computer games -- but they've never had human actors pretending to walk around on them, and you've never been wearing really uncomfortable glasses to watch them.

The thing about 3D is that it leaves all the color washed out. You get three dimensions -- and little else. Worse, there are fringes of red and blue around a lot of objects, making everything unreal. Worst of all, the 3D effects are rarely worth the pain.

But I would have borne all of that well if the writers hadn't thought the audience was very, very stupid.

Oh, it's fine that it's camped up and played for laughs. The cameos from talented stars (who apparently have young relatives who coerced them into doing the parts) are enjoyable. And it's fine that the story is lame. After all, I sat through The Hours, too, a movie in which artistic pretension plays the same role that 3D plays in this one.

What I hated was the contemptuous way the writers dealt with the few bits of story that were supposed to make us care at least a tiny bit about the outcome.

The hero never once does anything clever or brave, but after each "triumph" other characters praise him for his enormous cleverness or courage. Did they really think that that would fool the audience -- even a very young audience? On the contrary, it just annoyed them.

And lest someone say, "Oh, that was part of the joke," I must reply, "No, it wasn't."

It wasn't part of the joke because this movie makes no subtle jokes. All jokes are pointed up and displayed proudly. But the praise of stupidity was not.

So if there's a joke, it's like the jokes in About Schmidt -- they are jokes played by the "smart" filmmakers on their "dumb" audience.

But, as usual, such jokes only show how dumb "smart" people can be.

Oh, there is one joke that was played on the filmmakers themselves. Somebody told them that casting Sylvester Stallone in a comic role would be funny.

Ha ha ha ha.

Sylvester Stallone is never, never, never intentionally funny. I'd rather watch open-heart surgery. Through a mirror.

*

But I did see several good movies last week. For instance, Bad Boys II. Many years after the original, this sequel does Will Smith and Martin Lawrence proud. However much they may have been humbled by the poor scripts they have chosen in recent years, these actors are wonderful entertainers, and this time they were given a clever script.

Lots of good action, which answers the question "Is there anything new and interesting that can be done in a freeway chase scene?" with a resounding yes.

Lots of funny character by-play between two of the most likeable stars in the bizness.

For a couple of hours of fun and, yes, some a bit of nailbiting tension now and then, you could do a lot worse than Bad Boys II.

*

Another good movie I saw was when my wife and I, faced with the choice of movies we hadn't seen yet, chose to go back to Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sure, I could have seen The Hulk or Lara Croft II or Legally Blonde 2 or Johnny English. But I haven't the slightest interest in any of them, either because they're intrinsically dull to me (i.e., Lara Croft or anything with Rowan Atkinson) or because I've heard truly awful reports from friends I trust.

But why would I go see them? For the sake of being able to write about them in this column?

This ain't a movie review column. I don't have to see every movie and report on it. They don't pay me enough to go see movies just to trash them.

Instead, I report on stuff I would do anyway. When I review soap, it's because I used the soap and have something to say about it. Ditto with movies. And if a movie doesn't look like it has any hope of entertaining me, I'm not going to go see it just so I can tell you how bad it was.

Which is, of course, a pretty awful confession to make. Because that suggests that I went to see Dumb and Dumberer and League of Really Boring Cardboard Characters because I actually hoped that they'd be good.

Well I did. So sue me.

Meanwhile, back to Pirates. It's a movie that is every bit as good the second time. And not just because I'm old enough to have memory slippage. Even when I knew exactly what was going to happen next, it was fun to watch it happen.

It was fun to look away from the main focus of a scene and see what was going on elsewhere. To catch some of the bits of cleverness or reality that were merely part of the background. This movie doesn't stop being good the moment it stops surprising you or dazzling you, like Titanic or Independence Day, which utterly collapse on repeat viewings (if you're over 15). It's good all the way down to the root.

Especially Johnny Depp. Everything that Meryl Streep makes such a big obvious deal about doing, Depp does so brilliantly that it doesn't look like he's doing anything at all, he simply seems to be.

I mean, who in the world decided he should play Captain Jack Sparrow as a lower-class fellow pretending (quite well) to be an upper-class fop -- while being slightly drunk much of the time and thoroughly drunk the rest? Instead of the foppishness being an obvious laid-on character effect, Depp played it so that the foppishness was what Sparrow fell back on whenever he was most frightened, in order to conceal his fear. The deeper layers are all still there, but instead of dropping his facade, Sparrow thickened it.

This is very, very complicated acting, and yet the audience is never aware of it. (Even after I had analyzed it and was looking for slips, I not only couldn't find any slips -- I was sucked back into forgetting to watch for them!)

What are the chances Depp will get nominated for what is without doubt the most difficult acting job of the year so far?

Come on. The movie made way too much money.

But then ... Depp has already earned his cred as a serious actor. So maybe, just maybe, the Academy will give at least a nomination to an actor who did something really hard and made it look really easy (instead of the opposite, which is the more usual pattern).

*

But wait! That was not the end of my movie-watching for the week!

I got to thinking about how the only well-made musical in recent years was Chicago, which had a story so repulsive that amusing as it was, you wanted everybody to lose. (Unlike Moulin Rouge, which was never amusing and you wanted everybody to die -- faster, please.)

I couldn't take my nine-year-old to see Chicago. But we could pull out our DVD of Oliver!, the last musical to win Best Picture back in the days when musicals were still expected to be Good, as well as good.

You know what? The movie is still thrillingly quick and tight. The choreography was as brilliant as anything in Chicago, without having to put the dancers in obscene costumes and poses. Even though little Mark Lester had no talent for acting, he had a face so sweet and a voice so angelic you could cry -- and the rest of the cast was truly superb. The staging, the camera work, the fact that the music was never boring even though they used the long version of every song ...

So why did musicals die? Only Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind as a successful musical after Oliver!, and it does have sections that drag more than a little.

I think Hollywood lost the soul that knew how to tell this kind of story sincerely. Like the makers of Spy Kids 3D, they thought they could put just anything up on the screen and the audience couldn't tell the difference.

But we could.

*

It's happening again.

About fifteen or sixteen years ago, I got a call from a woman who had met a guy in the Fifth Season bar -- a guy who told her he was Orson Scott Card.

And when, on the phone, I told her that I had never been inside the Fifth Season -- or any other bar in Greensboro -- she absolutely wouldn't believe me. "If you want to get rid of me, fine," she said, "but you don't have to lie and pretend we never met."

Well, today my wife got such a call again. And the woman this time was equally certain she had talked to the real Orson Scott Card. My wife asked how old the guy was, and the girl said late twenties or early thirties. "My husband is 51, and no one would mistake him for thirty," she said. "Did the man you met have greying hair? Bifocals?"

To which the woman replied that my wife must be in denial about her husband's activities when he cruises bars in Greensboro.

I don't know what irritates me more: That this guy is apparently way more successful at being charming to women than I have ever been, or that he has the chutzpah to do this in my own city.

I mean, the guy (apparently a sailor) who was doing this back in the late 70s and early 80s didn't come to where I lived -- we only heard from women in Annapolis and Galveston. But this guy does it in Greensboro!

And clearly it's not the same guy who did it fifteen years ago -- I mean, he would have been a teenager then, to still seem thirtyish now.

Do I have to take the drastic step of putting my picture on my books to put a stop to this? (Or will he just lie and say he uses a false picture on the books so he won't get recognized?)

The reason I don't put my picture on my books is (a) I have a very clear idea of my attractiveness as a human being and do not wish to detract from the sales of my book and (b) Robert Parker.

Pick up any of Parker's "Spenser" novels, look at the picture of Parker on the back, and try to read the book without thinking of Spenser as looking like the author.

I don't want my readers to have the same struggle. Let there be no visual image of me to make them think of my face in connection with any character in my books.

But meanwhile, what about the women who are put upon in this way?

Well, first, let me say to my impersonator: It isn't the sham that you're me that is winning their tender hearts, buddy, because I am me and it's never won over a soul. So you're winning them on your own charm -- so stop bringing me into it, OK? Let go of Dumbo's feather and fly on your own.

And to the women he charms: I really am 51, and even though I run enough that my calves are all right, you would not mistake me for either an athlete or a man of 30.

Furthermore, if you meet a guy in a bar and he says he's me, he's lying. I don't go to bars. I don't even go to bars with friends who are going to bars. I get physically ill at cigarette smoke, I loathe the smell of alcohol, and since I'm a non-drinking Mormon, even simple hypocrisy would keep me out of bars in my home town.

And if I were the sort of man who, despite being married for 26 years, still hit on women in bars, then do you think I would be so colossally stupid as to do it in the town where I live? I travel the country. I travel the world. I'm not as dumb as Bill Clinton. If I wanted to commit adultery, I'd at least do it under someone else's name in someone else's town.

Kind of like this guy is apparently doing.

So I guess that kind of answers my question about why he's pretending to be me.

All I ask is, can't you use somebody else's name? What about Skip Alston? Billy Yow? Jim Melvin? Al Gore?

Of course, for all I know there are already people using their names. Maybe bars are like the internet, and you never know who someone really is....

*

Remember how I recommended XM-PCR -- the satellite radio connection for PCs? And I said that I planned to use it when traveling?

Nope. Uh-uh. Too much depends on antenna placement. In a car, you're generally on the open road, with a clear shot at the sky. But in a hotel room or office building, you can easily end up with hundreds of feet of concrete and metal between you and the satellite.

Still, I absolutely thrive on XM-PCR at home. The programming on the dozen channels I listen to regularly is terrific; they introduce me to artists I'd never find on my own; and I love the feature where you get alerted whenever an artist you like is playing on channels you aren't listening to. So I still recommend it. Just not for the road.

*

We've never had anything catered before, but for my son's wedding reception, we decided we actually wanted to talk to people -- and we wanted our friends to be guests, not volunteer servers all night.

Catering ain't cheap, and I'm not rich -- this may be the last catering I pay for till one of my daughters marries, which they both assure me will be long after I'm dead.

So we bit the bullet and asked the good folks at Leblon to prepare the food for the reception.

Now, I've seen -- and sampled -- acres of catered food at various events. But I have never tasted better food than Leblon served in our home to celebrate my son's wedding.

If you are someone who gets to decide on the caterer for an event, now you know that Leblon has pleased at least one customer.

And if, like me, you are far more likely to attend such an event than sponsor it: If you hear that Leblon is catering, then for heaven's sake, go. Eat.


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