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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 18, 2006

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


Drugstore.com, Pumice, Luck, Brave, Poetry, and Saved

When the local groceries all stopped carrying Job Squad paper towels, we gritted our teeth and limped along with the inferior, but more heavily promoted, brands.

Until I finally got fed up and went online to see if I could get somebody to ship me what the local stores won't carry.

It was a near miss. I could google my way to only one online store that had Job Squad in stock: Drugstore.com, "The Uncommon Drugstore."

The price was decent, even with shipping -- certainly it was worth it to us to get the quality we had gotten used to.

I first tried to order thirty rolls -- that should hold us for a few months, I thought, and I wouldn't have to keep reordering.

But the Drugstore.com order form wouldn't let me buy more than 15 -- "so that we can keep this item in stock for other customers," they said.

I wondered how they arrived at that number. Since Job Squad comes from the manufacturer in cartons of 16, why they should want to open the carton and remove one I could not figure out.

But it didn't matter. Because the next time I signed on to buy more, they made me stop at 6. Which means that I get to pay the shipping almost three times as often in order to get the same number of towels.

Ah, the things we do for quality ...

*

Speaking of Drugstore.com, I ended up there from quite another search -- a replacement for the foot-scrubbing brush I had bought at Eckerds. The unfamous brand of brush had four separate scrubbers on it -- a brush (whose bristles were too soft to handle any hard-to-clean area), a metal rasp (which looked like it could take off skin better than a cheese grater), an emery board surface, and a slab of pumice.

I used only the pumice -- which is perfect for cleaning and smoothing the rough calluses that we who wear sandals develop around the base of the heel. But the rasp and the rivets that held it on immediately began to rust in the humid air of the shower, and the whole thing looked nasty in very short order.

All I wanted was the pumice stone, but I hadn't found such a thing in stock in any of the local drugstores. Drugstore.com had it -- a Revlon pedicure product. It's the perfect size for my hand, it has no parts that can rust, it takes up way less space, and it does the job.

The package promised me the "softest, prettiest feet." Truth in advertising: My feet are now, in fact, soft and pretty. Eat your hearts out, you rough-heeled barbarians.

*

We haven't gone to many movies lately -- between directing a play, teaching a workshop, traveling, finishing a screenplay, and writing a novel, there hasn't been a lot of free time during the hours when movies are being shown. (I guess there just aren't enough of us who want to see a movie at nine a.m. to justify opening up the whole theater.)

Monday night, though, with our daughter's 13-year-old cousin visiting from out of town, we hit the Carousel to watch the Lindsay Lohan romantic comedy Just My Luck.

We knew Lohan as a teen star, which meant that we expected the movie to be geared toward the younger members of our contingent. They certainly enjoyed it, but so did we elderly persons. Because Lindsay Lohan has grown up.

In fact, if I were to tag Lohan with an apt comparison from an earlier generation, it would be this: Doris Day.

No, there'll be no rendition of "Que Sera, Sera." But Lohan has the girl-next-door, unthreatening charm that Day personified. She's not terrifyingly sexy, as some young actresses try to be; she's the woman who makes you feel comfortable with her even though she's obviously also pretty, strong-willed, and smart.

Add to Lohan the perfect leading man for her: Chris Pine. Pine is equally credible as an earnest, bumbling nerdy guy and as a strong-jawed hero. He has charisma, yes, and looks -- but he can also act.

Just My Luck has a simple premise: Lohan's character, Ashley Allbright, is lucky. Everything works for her. She always wins at least a few bucks in the scratch-off lottery; there's always a cab for her; the rain lets up when she goes outdoors.

Pine's character, Jake Hardin, is leading the opposite life. If it can go wrong for him, it will. Even things that couldn't possibly go wrong, do.

In fact, he is so used to having execrable luck that he carries a backpack loaded with disinfectants, bandages, anti-itch salve, umbrellas, changes of clothes, and other emergency supplies. More important, he's armed with pluckiness that triumphs over his desperate misfortunes -- he keeps trying.

The result is that when, in his desperate effort to get a demo record to a top executive, he finds himself at a masquerade ball, dancing with Lohan's Ashley, he takes his opportunity, and kisses her.

The kiss, of course, is a "kiss for luck." Lohan suddenly has his luck, and he has hers. Almost at once he gets an in with the recording executive and his band has a hit record and a gig on Times Square. Meanwhile, Lohan loses her job and faces disaster after disaster as she joins the real world.

Oddly, her misfortune benefits one of her friends, a songwriter who gets a chance to have a tune of hers played by Jake's band. So when Ashley (Lohan) finally realizes that Jake is the man she kissed, she naturally will kiss him and get her luck back. Thereby ruining his sudden lucky streak.

The fantasy premise does not require any elaborate and silly machinations (Tovah Feldshuh plays the delightful Madame Z who does not cause the change of luck, but merely foresees it). The resolution is clever and satisfying.

The rest of the cast is a delight. Samaire Armstrong and Bree Turner play Lohan's friends with such charm that we wish they were our friends, too. Sometime singer Carlos Ponce plays the male-escort-next-door to perfection.

And the movie is almost stolen by Faizon Love as the record executive. There aren't a lot of great parts for double-XL black men, but this is one of them, and Love is magnificent. He exudes power, confidence, callousness, and wit. I loved every minute he was on screen.

It's hard to tell from the credits who really did the main work of writing this light-hearted gem of a movie, but the bulk of the credit seems to belong to I. Marlene King and Amy B. Harris, though three guys are credited with coming up with at least part of the story -- which probably means that their draft was the starting point.

Director Donald Petrie also led such projects as Welcome to Mooseport, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Miss Congeniality, Grumpy Old Men, and Mystic Pizza. I don't think I'm surprising anybody by saying that this movie proves that when the script is right, he's an excellent director of comedy. Unlike some directors, he doesn't belabor his setups -- you don't feel like the movie works way too hard for very small laughs. Instead, the gags seem almost accidental or inevitable; sometimes the characters even point out that a gag is coming, yet when it does, it still works.

On a budget of $45 million, this movie grossed only about $17 million in the U.S. That, my friends, counts as a flop. And that's flat-out too bad. I suspect it's Lohan's teen image combined with the summer blockbuster time of year that did the damage and kept people away.

But you can help make up for it when it comes out on DVD. This movie is perfect for family viewing -- nobody hops into bed with anybody. It is actually less sex-centered than the old Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies. Yet this innocence is accompanied by a genuine depiction of love. We can see two good people coming to need and depend on each other. How often does a movie do that?

*

For instance, In Good Company has been omnipresent on HBO lately, and after watching various sections of it I've come to a couple of conclusions: Topher Grace is a marvel; Dennis Quaid is utterly dependable; Scarlett Johansson is an emotional black hole down which movies pour all their energy, leaving none on the screen; and the storyline is completely destroyed by the fact that the romantic leads sleep together. It makes it all seem just as shabby and meaningless as the father (Quaid) feared.

But In Good Company made a profit and Just My Luck lost money. Which one do you think we'll see more of? More Scarlett Johansson, more meaningless sex. Less genuine love story, less delightful whimsy, fewer movies that families can see together without embarrassment.

At least we've seen that Topher Grace can carry a movie. If he can survive playing Eddie Brock ("Venom") in Spider-Man 3, we'll see what he does with his own co-written script for Kids in America. I hope he understands what his own appeal is; and if he does, I hope he becomes a powerful star who can make the kind of movie that he's suited for.

But I also hope Chris Pine survives the financial woes of Just My Luck to become a star, too. But from the fact that his next movies are entitled Smokin' Aces and Blind Guy Driving, we can be sure he has a few more years of struggling apprenticeship ahead of him.

*

It's a shame that our society is right now so polarized that despite protestations by the anti-war Left that they love our soldiers, they just hate the war, the fact is that the only stories about our soldiers that make it to the airwaves are the scandals.

Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, along with Wynton C. Hall (who doubtless did all the actual writing), has assembled a collection of stories in a book entitled Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror.

Remember that much of the war has been fought in small villages, far from any major troop movements; our soldiers have often spent months working with -- and living among -- local citizens of cultures far different from our own, earning their trust and cooperation, before they have been able to find and thwart the enemy.

Such slow and delicate work does not make for good footage on the evening news; in fact, any heroism where the cameras were not present is unlikely to penetrate our public consciousness.

Which is why this book is all the more important. There are stories that can't yet be told because the operations are ongoing and the methodology can't be exposed -- more's the pity. But the stories that are here give you a much better picture of what American soldiers can be -- and usually are -- than anything we've been seeing on the news.

Don't just buy the book. Read it. Remember that there's a reason why most of the time, nations we've occupied in or after a war end up far better off than they ever were. And a good part of that reason is the soldiers we send to do the job.

*

I know perfectly well that most of you think you don't like poetry.

There's a reason for that. It's the way poetry is taught -- or, rather, not taught -- in our schools.

Long gone are the days when we learned about meter and rhyme. Because we went through an ugly spate of formless and unintelligible poetry during Modernism, and haven't been able to shake off the idiocies of that period, we still have teachers who openly regard structured poetry with disdain.

Yet there's a reason why rhymed and rhythmic poetry, both sung and recited, throve in almost every culture for thousands of years: It works. We're hungry for it.

So hungry that we keep reinventing it. And if present-day rap music is often shallow and ugly, let's keep in mind that rappers have been forced to reinvent the ancient art form, since all the generations of predecessors have been taken away from them by their teachers and by the so-called poets who, for several generations now, have declined to write much that felt like poetry.

You want to find out how poems work? I have a book for you: Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook. You'll be happy to know it's short. It's also clear.

And it contains just enough examples that you can understand how poetry works, using the fine points of language and turning it into music. Even good free verse does it, and she explains why as clearly as I've ever seen it done.

Still, it's work to learn something. But when you're done with this short book, you can open any collection of older verse and have some idea of what's going on, of how to read it aloud (the true way poetry should be experienced), and even of how to write using these forms.

Our schools have either ignored the powerful verse of the past or disdained it. I was in the last generation (with rare exceptions) that still memorized and recited poetry aloud. Our children are given haikus -- which work in Japanese, but are pathetic and rarely musical in English.

Join our Western culture. Study this book -- and then get a collection of great poetry and revel in it.

*

The TNT cable TV series Saved has nothing to do with the 2004 movie of that name. The movie was a weird take on Christians; the tv series is about paramedics who try to save lives -- and have problems of their own when they're not on duty.

Saved has a good cast and superb writing. Created and executive produced by David Manson, Saved has found that delicate balance between the gripping episode and the ongoing soap opera that so many series try for and rarely achieve.

It can be hard sometimes to find a show on the "off" networks. But give TNT credit -- amid all the Law and Order reruns, they have funded and are airing a show that can hold its own in such good company.

It's also a relief, at last, to find actor Tom Everett Scott in a venue where we can see his powerful talent. We first saw him in the Tom-Hanks-led movie That Thing You Do, where in our house, at least, we completely fell in love with him.

He might have been hampered by his physical resemblance to Tom Hanks himself. But now Tom Hanks no longer looks like himself -- age and, perhaps, plastic surgery having taken its sad toll -- and Tom Everett Scott has grown into someone deeper-seeming than the fresh-faced boy he was when we first met him on the screen.

He can seem to carry all the weight of the world inside his heart; and yet when he smiles, you can't help but love him. This is a wonderful gift for an actor to have. If he can also act, you can't stop watching him. And Tom Everett Scott can act.


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