Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 28, 2005
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Prison Break, Red Eye, Valiant, Lemonade, and Spelt
I first saw Wentworth Miller as Joan of Arcadia wrapped up its last season.
They didn't know it was going to be their last season, so they set up a
mysterious stranger, Ryan Hunter, who might or might not have been good or
evil. But we were leaning toward evil.
Miller played that part. A man with an unforgettable face -- handsome, yet so
deep that even in repose it looks as if he knows more about pain than anyone
should. The question is whether it's his own pain, or someone else's.
That face won't be seen on Joan anymore, because CBS, in its finite wisdom,
dropped a show with decent ratings because, apparently, it was bringing them
the wrong demographic. Can't sell cars or records to families who watch shows
about people who believe in God, apparently.
But Wentworth Miller has landed on his feet. I confidently predict that he is
now appearing as the lead in his last television series.
Last, because after this, he will be in films. Steve McQueen, Robert Redford,
Burt Lancaster -- there is a short but proud list of true movie stars that got
their start on the small screen.
The thing is, when Wentworth Miller is on the screen, it isn't small.
The show is Prison Break, and it debuted on Fox on Monday night. You
missed it? It runs again on Thursday.
When I first heard the premise of the show, I laughed. Michael (played by
Miller) robs a bank solely to get himself into the same prison where his brother
Lincoln is on death row. He believes his brother is innocent, and he plans to
get him out.
But the farther we got into the show, the more I bought into the premise. For
one thing, Michael is a structural engineer and he worked in an office that,
unbeknownst to anyone outside, had a complete set of blueprints of the prison.
And I'm not going to say another thing about the plot. Except that it's
unbelievably intricate -- but the writers (Paul Scheuring and Nick Santora) and
the director (Brett Ratner, who directed the Rush Hour movies and will direct X-Men 3) have done a good job of making it look both plausible and extremely
This is not a case where a guy makes a plan and everything works out.
At the same time, it's obvious that this is not a prison movie. It starts in prison,
but it has the kind of franchisability that The Fugitive had. Because once they
make it out of prison -- and it's reasonable to suppose they will, though who
will make it through the process alive is anyone's guess -- they still have to
clear Lincoln's name. And, for that matter, Michael's, since Lincoln might have
been set up, but Michael definitely robbed that bank.
The supporting cast is amazing -- Stacy Keach plays the warden, for heaven's
sake, and the prisoners we meet are fascinating, played by terrific actors.
But just as 24 is Kiefer Sutherland's show, Prison Break belongs to Wentworth
The Fox network was no doubt looking for something to create the same kind of
fervor that 24 has aroused in its viewers -- and they have it here.
And, unlike Joan of Arcadia, the viewers will be the right demographic (young,
hip, brandable). Plus me.
I like lemonade. Not the namby-pamby over-sugared kind of lemonade that
makes you want to brush your teeth because your mouth feels like it's been
candied. Real lemonade.
What I mean is: When a waiter tells me they don't have lemonade, I say: Do you
have lemons? Then can you squeeze a couple of lemons into water and bring
that to me? No sugar. None. Just lemons and water. Now that's good.
So keep that in mind: My preference is for tart, flavorful lemonades.
Let's face it. Like most soft drinks sold in cans or bottles or powders in
America, lemonades are usually over sugared. And if you like that, then skip
this section because I'm not going to steer you toward anything you'll like.
The other day I was providing refreshments during the intermission of a show. I
had to be able to provide drinks for hundreds of people during three
intermissions. And I was too lazy to buy a bunch of gallon jugs and find room
for them in the fridge.
I also knew perfectly well that nobody else was going to like my idea of great
So I bought a couple of bags of ice, some cheap-but-good Rubbermaid pitchers,
and sugar-free Crystal Light powdered lemonade mix.
Unfortunately, the store didn't happen to have enough, and I didn't have time to
go to another store. So I also bought some other Crystal Light flavors -- you
know, lemonade plus berries of one kind or another -- and a couple of packages
of other brands of powdered lemonade mix.
The clear winner: Crystal Light. People actually complimented me on it. Till
they saw that I was just pouring the powder into the icewater and stirring it up.
Nobody complimented the other brands.
Crystal Light also makes tiny packets of lemonade (and other flavor) mixes
that are designed to be mixed into a regular-size bottle of water -- the size you
buy out of the fridge at the convenience store. You pour it in, shake it well, and
voila -- a way better flavor than the nasty stuff they label "Vasa" or "Evian."
But don't try it with, say, a small bottle of Sprite, much as it might need the
additional flavor. Because for obvious reasons, you really don't want to shake it
No, I didn't try it. I haven't shaken a bottle or can of carbonated beverage since
I was in college and had a target in mind.
If you add Crystal Light to soda pop in a glass, make sure it's a big enough
glass that you have room to stir the powder well. Because if you get a chunk of
it unmixed, it's like eating Kool-Aid straight.
Yeah, I know, we all did that as kids. But we also ate that stuff that exploded in
our mouths. We Baby Boomers don't run the world because we're smart, we
run it because there are more of us than any other generation.
If you want your lemonade premixed, and you like it on the tart side, and with
almost no calories, try Tropicana's Diet Lemonade. No carbonation, and it's
delicious. Not too sweet -- though not as sour as my lemons-in-a glass recipe.
The real surprise for me this summer came at the beach. Apparently the Outer
Banks were part of a test marketing of Dasani water with added flavors. I tried
it with trepidation -- I'd had some flavored waters before, and except for the
carbonated San Pellegrino Limonata and Aranciata waters, I hadn't found any
that I liked. And the San Pellegrinos are loaded with calories.
Dasani's lemon-flavored water is a little weaker than lemonade. So it doesn't
fill your mouth with flavor, it still drinks like water. You can chug it down if
you're really thirsty. But ... it's delicious.
I thought it was in national release, so I expected to find it on the shelves in
Greensboro grocery stores. Instead -- nada. Now, maybe that's part of the
Greensboro grocery-store conspiracy to remove from the shelves anything I like
a lot. But I suspect Coca-Cola is test-marketing it before a national release.
I hope it passes the test. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic. Because soft-drink
companies tend to go for whatever tastes sweetest, instead of the products you
can actually stand to drink day after day, year after year.
Speaking of products I loved that disappeared from local grocery-store shelves:
I found a store in Greensboro that stocks the Yoplait Light Key Lime yogurt
that I used to buy at Harris-Teeter, till they realized that it was the flavor that
always sold out first in our local store, and therefore discontinued stocking it.
Yep, that's right. I'm now going to be buying a healthy supply of my favorite
yogurt flavor at Target. Until they realize I'm getting way too happy and stop
carrying it, too.
The world just works that way. It revolves around me. Kind of like a whirlpool
in the drain I'm going down ...
Red Eye is a kind of movie I usually don't go to with a lot of hope: a thriller.
Why? Because most thrillers are so jacked up by film school dogmas that
believability is tossed out the window. So you wait for the stakes to be
artificially raised to the point of absurdity; for the car chases to try for
something we haven't seen before (is there anything left?); for the villain to be
ever more comically evil and dangerous.
And this one's directed by Wes Craven. Come on, what was I supposed to
think? I expected it to be icky, gory, and carried to the point of wretched
Well, there are in fact a couple of icky moments. But they are well earned by an
extraordinarily intelligent script. Who knew that a former writer for Animorphs,
Carl Ellsworth, had such a screenplay in him?
The setup leads you to expect another hijacked-airplane movie, another find-the-bomb-in-the-big-plane-before-it-lands extravaganza. We watch the other
passengers board and we think: Little girl -- somebody will hold a knife to her
throat. Two teenage boys -- they're gonna do something really brave. Snotty
flight attendant -- well, she's gonna die. And the obnoxious guy who's in such
a hurry in the ticket line -- he's gonna be the one who won't shut up and the
terrorists blow him away.
No. Wrong. It's far, far quieter than that. In fact, almost no one on the plane
has the slightest idea that anything is going on until after it lands and the
seatbelt chime goes ding. (Though the script uses every single character that is
featured -- just not in the way you might expect.)
It's a film about a personal moral dilemma of the first order: Who do you save,
the person you love most in all the world, or the person who might save America
from its enemies? Do you go along in hopes that it will all turn out right, or do
you take bold, dangerous action that might get you killed?
Those questions are answered in unpredictable, intelligent, believable ways.
Because above all, the script gave some terrific actors a chance to create
fascinating, believable characters.
Rachel McAdams, a survivor of Hot Chicks and Mean Girls and one of the best
things about Wedding Crashers, holds firm as the center of reality in this film.
We absolutely believe every moment of her performance.
And Cillian Murphy, blessed -- or cursed? -- with the creepiest eyes I've ever
seen on the screen, while still being a good-looking guy and a terrific actor --
seems to have specialized in playing roles in movies I wouldn't go see for a
million bucks, until he turned up in Batman Begins, where he stole every scene
he was in.
And now -- well, what a match!
I wanted the animated movie Valiant to be good. And it should have been.
The animation is terrific, the gags are funny, if you list all the "elements" it has
them. Promotable as "by the makers of Shrek." A slam dunk.
Except that along the way, nobody took the time to notice that the story was so
deeply wrong that there was no hope of ever saving it.
And here's why it was wrong:
The idea is to humanize the homing pigeons used to carry messages from the
French resistance to England in World War II. You drop the pigeons by
parachute, the resistance gets them, puts messages in the little tubes on their
backs, and releases them to fly home.
The most dangerous enemy in this process isn't the Nazis, it's falcons.
So ... get this, this is such a good idea! ... we have the falcons be Nazis, with
their own bunker right on the coast of France, and their job is to intercept
pigeons and ...
Wait, now, what do falcons do? Um, they eat the pigeons.
Ick. OK, that's not a good ending for the movie. So ... let's have the falcons
interrogate the pigeons they capture in order to find out where they're getting
their messages from.
And let's have the torture be funny! Records of yodeling music! Ha ha ha! And
when they give truth serum to one of the pigeons, he tells them everything,
talking on and on and on -- everything except the one thing they need to know.
Oh, this is funny already.
They forgot one tiny thing: World War II really happened. Nazis really tortured
people. It wasn't funny.
Shrek worked because there are no ogres, or enchanted princesses, or talking
donkeys. (Well, usually.) It was fantasy. So, for that matter, was Toy Story.
And where good animated films touch on reality, it's ok if it's long ago and far
away, as with Ice Age.
But World War II -- there are hundreds of thousands of soldiers still alive who
fought in that war, and millions who remember it well. People who still miss
those who died in that war.
It was the central event of the twentieth century, a confrontation between good
and evil. Not the fantasy version of either, the real thing.
It's fine to imagine making the pigeons into a parody of human soldiers. But
they never picked a balance point. Let's have the pigeons go through basic
training and do pushups using their wings!
Only ... nobody thought of a single thing that doing pushups might be for. It
served no purpose except to have the sight gag of pigeons doing pushups.
It might have been funny, if they were real pigeons. But they were animated
pigeons. So unless it meant something in the movie, it was a waste of screen
There's so much wasted screen time that I found myself dozing off. Nothing
mattered. Nothing was believable enough to lead the audience to care about
anybody. The only people who would care about parodies of military life were
people who knew something about military life -- and those people would be put
off by the sheer stupidity of everything that happened.
Culminating in the big twist ending -- which I'm going to tell you, so skip this
paragraph if you have the remotest hope of seeing the movie and caring one
whit about anything in it -- in which the message they carry leads Churchill to
change the destination of the June 6th fleet that had already sailed for the
Was that supposed to be funny?
It just made me sad. World War II mattered. The Allies saved much of
humanity from the hell of Hitler's rule. Funny movies can be made about it,
even satirical ones. But only if they show decent respect for what was actually
accomplished and what it actually cost. Mr. Roberts did; Catch-22 did.
Valiant didn't even try.
There's funny stuff in it. These are good animators. They simply have no idea
what a story is ... or how story works in comedy. They also showed no respect
for things that really matter. Shame.
On Monday I stopped by Great Harvest Bread Company because I was hungry.
I had run four miles that morning, after bicycling and doing a complete upper
body workout the day before. (It doesn't look like it to casual onlookers, but
underneath the newsboy's-worth of extra poundage I carry around, I'm buff.)
They had wheat rolls, and so I asked for some. The clerk told me that they
weren't wheat. "They're spelt," he said.
I wanted to retort that all the words on all the signs were spelt, and most of
them correctly. But I had the feeling that "spelt" in this context was not a Brit-sounding past participle.
They make spelt bread once a week (presumably Monday) for their customers
who can't eat regular wheat.
Since spelt is a variety of wheat -- it's called a "forerunner" of modern wheat --
I'm not sure how safe it is for people with powerful wheat allergies. The word
from on high -- er, I mean, online -- is: "It is high in gluten but can be tolerated
by some gluten intolerant individuals. Allergy sufferers should introduce Spelt
gradually into their diets under medical or dietetic supervision." (From the
website of Doves Farm Organic.)
What I do know is that it's delicious. I mean, over-the-top delicious. Whether
it's always good I can't say; but when Great Harvest makes spelt bread, it's
great. I'll be back for more.