Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 21, 2009
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
The Proposal, Warbreaker, Cups, and Yogurt
The Proposal looked like it was going to be a dumb movie.
I have always liked Sandra Bullock, but she lost a lot of credibility with the
Miss Congeniality franchise, and the clips they showed in the trailer promised
complete unbelievability. But my wife and daughter wanted to see a movie and
this was the only one that showed any possibility of being entertaining to us.
Fortunately, the movie is far, far better than the trailers suggested.
The premise is that Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a demanding, selfish
nightmare of a boss -- but she gets the job done. She completely dominates
the life of Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), her assistant for the past three
He puts up with her rudeness and control-freakitude and does a superb job for
her -- because he hopes to become an editor at the publishing firm where they
But Margaret, a Canadian, ignored repeated warnings to protect her visa status
in America, and suddenly it has come to a head -- her visa has expired and
she has to go back to Canada and stay there for a year before she can return to
the U.S. to work. Her company doesn't want to lose her -- but she can't do the
management part of her job from Toronto.
So on the spur of the moment, with Ryan in the room with her in front of her
bosses, she declares that they're engaged, and so the visa won't be a problem.
There are only two problems -- Mr. Gilbertson (Denis O'Hare), the immigration
official who is determined to prove that their marriage is a fraud, so he can
deport Margaret and put Andrew in jail; and the fact that Andrew hates
Margaret and finally she has gone too far.
But ... he realizes that she needs this marriage so desperately that he can get
some leverage out of it. So he negotiates with her: He gets his editorial position
now instead of waiting, and then he'll go through with it. And they'll fly to
Sitka, Alaska, for his grandmother's 90th birthday, which Margaret had
previously forbidden him to do because she "needed" him in New York.
Now, all of this is the stuff of horrible stupid comedy, except for a few tiny
things. First, the writing is actually surprisingly good in the relationship
between Margaret and Andrew, so that we are shown why these people might
indeed make these weird decisions.
Second, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are such good actors that they
make it totally real. It helps that they also have Mary Steenburgen and Craig
T. Nelson as Andrew Paxton's parents, and Malin Akerman as Andrew's ex-girlfriend. The core of the story is held together so well that I ended up
believing and enjoying long stretches of this movie.
I even cared about the characters. I believed they could fall in love as the
movie shows. In fact, I fell in love with both of them myself, in a movie-goer
kind of way -- which is what romantic comedy must accomplish in order to be
The problem is that the writer (Peter Chiarelli) and director (Anne Fletcher)
thought they were doing a screwball comedy about twice too often, and so there
are also some sections of the movie that are embarrassingly bad. Train-wreck
One of them is an appalling trip to a male strip act. The joke is that in Sitka,
there's only one exotic dancer, who isn't very good but the town supports him
anyway. The reason it's bad is (a) it goes on forever, (b) not for a moment is it
funny, and (c) they keep bringing the exotic dancer back again and again, each
time less funny than the time before.
The other movie-wrecker decision was to cast Betty White as the grandma.
Now, I love Betty White -- her biting, sarcastic stock character has been perfect
in many a show. But it is hopelessly wrong for this one. The believable
relationship that Bullock and Reynolds were stunningly successful in creating
was savagely undermined every time Betty White was on the screen. She didn't
fit in. She was in the wrong movie.
It was even worse than Sean Astin's and Rob Schneider's appalling characters
in 50 First Dates, because nobody was actually trying to create anything real in
The blessing is that Betty White is mostly ignorable, and while the male-stripper scene seems to go on forever, it actually does end. And the good parts
are funny-but-real enough that I ended up enjoying the movie immensely.
But let's get something cleared up right away: This movie has serious nudity in
it. Not that we actually see the most naughty parts of their bodies, but for long
minutes on the screen, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are starkers.
It's not sexual -- really -- and it's very funny. And since we're being shown her
body, it's not unfair to comment that Sandra Bullock is (as Reynolds's
character says) beautiful, but hers is definitely a womanly body rather than the
girlish -- no, let's admit it, boyish -- shape that has been in fashion for so
In short: She has a fertility goddess's hips. And you know what? She's
gorgeous, in a grownup womanly way. Meanwhile, Reynolds is gorgeous in
that standard works-out-every-day-and-has-no-body-fat way that makes old
coots like me grateful to be married to a faithful wife.
If you're offended by nudity, this movie will offend you. Personally, I'm only
offended by nudity that becomes pornographic, which this does not. In fact, I
really appreciated the fact that in this movie, the lovers never sleep together
and in fact only kiss a couple of times -- it's quite chaste.
The Proposal is about character and relationship, not about sex, and it actually
says some good things about what love is, and how men and women fall in
love. And it's funny. Some people will even like the male stripper and Betty
White sections, and so for them the movie will be downright perfect. For me,
it's only very good. But hey, this miserable summer that puts The Proposal in
the top five!
I already told you about Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, one of the best
works of recent fantasy literature.
When I was writing that review, I almost wrote a dismissive little mini-pan of
his latest book, Warbreaker, because I had started reading it and found it
hard to accept the magic system in the book.
In Mistborn, Sanderson had created a strange new magic system in which
talented people metabolized metal in order to get particular magical powers.
Well, in the opening chapters of Warbreaker, Sanderson shows us a magic
system in which power comes from draining the color out of objects.
Draining color? Yes, I know, it's fantasy, but puh-leeeeze. The metal-metabolizing made a kind of sense; our bodies really do metabolize metals in
tiny quantities. But colors? How do you get power out of that?
To me, as a writer, it seemed as if Sanderson was flailing around trying to come
up with another cool new never-before-seen magic system. Meanwhile, the
main character was a young girl who seemed to come out of central casting --
the "free-spirited" adolescent who has no responsibilities and likes it that way.
In short, the first two chapters disappointed me and greatly lowered my
expectations. So, as I said, I almost gave the book a short, dismissive negative
But then, plagued by insomnia one night, I picked it back up and read on, and
almost immediately the problems went away.
Well, mostly. The color magic is still lame -- but fortunately, it's not the colors
that matter. The draining of color is more a symptom of magic use than the
source of power.
Instead, what Sanderson has created is a weird world in which, for reasons
unknown, certain people who die in noble circumstances come back to life,
having been filled with a powerful Breath that sustains them for a week. Some
of them come back with visions to tell people; and during the time they live,
they can give up their renewed life in order to heal one other person.
Or they can live longer -- if someone else gives them their Breath. Not their
life, but rather their inborn vigor and power; afterward, the donor becomes a
"drab" -- but the powerful Returned person can live another week.
In fact, the real source of magic is the collected Breaths of dozens, hundreds,
even thousands of people, which can be passed from person to person as an
astonishing inheritance -- or can die with the person who holds the breaths, if
he didn't pass them on in time.
As with all good fantasy fiction, the story isn't about the magic; that's just the
rule set within which the real story takes place. That story is absolutely up to
Sanderson's very high standard, with political intrigue, carefully differentiated
cultures, and believable human motivations.
The story is full of liars who are actually honest and friends who turn out to be
liars; trust misplaced and trust that turns out to be justified. There are brave
and noble deeds, but they are almost never the kind of derring-do that we
normally associate with heroic fantasy.
And more than that I cannot tell you, because this story unfolds itself so deftly
that I can't say anything else without spoiling the effect.
Warbreaker is probably the first in a series, but Sanderson is very, very good
about having each volume in a series stand alone. The ending of this book is
completely satisfactory; the only reason for a sequel is because you simply
want more, not because the author failed to resolve the main threads of the
Mistborn is a finished series -- three volumes already out in paperback.
Warbreaker is, for now at least, a standalone hardcover. All of them are
excellent choices for your summer reading.
I'm brand-loyal to a fault -- when I find something I really like, I go out of my
way to keep getting it.
For instance, I find that 7-ounce Dixie paper cups are the perfect size to keep
beside our bottled water dispenser. A full cup of that size is almost always
exactly the amount I want to drink.
But the grocery stores around Greensboro have pretty much stopped stocking
7-ounce Dixie cups, and I'm not going to make do with 9-ounce cups (too big!)
or 5-ounce kitchen cups (too small!) -- so I order the 7-ounce cups online from
I've been using Dixie-brand paper cups since I was a kid, and even when they
have horrible child-oriented pictures on them -- Dora the Explorer, for
instance, which makes us all cringe -- I keep buying the brand.
So you can imagine how wrenching it was even to try a different brand of 3-ounce bathroom cups. These are the cups for pill-taking and late-night sips.
For me, it's a couple of swallows, and I had no complaints about Dixie's paper
But there came a day when we were running out of the 3-ounce Dixies, and the
grocery store happened to be out. Hefty brand plastic bathroom cups were
the only choice. So I bought a package, fully intending to chuck whatever was
left when the Dixie cups came back in stock.
Well, guess what? We aren't going back. In every way, the 3-ounce Hefty
plastic cups are superior -- especially because we have a habit of leaving the
cups beside the sink for later sipping. The paper cups are, after all, paper, no
matter how thoroughly they're waxed -- eventually, any water left in the cup
But the main thing is that we just like the Hefty cups' feel on our lips, and the
lack of extra taste. They also slide off the stack in the dispenser much more
easily than the paper cups did.
So Mr. Brand-loyal has changed his brand.
Though I'm not giving up my seven-ounce cups for anything.
So far, anyway.
A few years ago, Yoplait introduced a line of drinkable yogurts that I quite liked
-- until they changed the packaging and the flavor, so that it was suddenly as
sickeningly sweet as cotton candy.
Now, years later, I've found an absolutely exquisite drinkable yogurt, this time
a thicker-than-milkshake in several flavors from Traderspoint Creamery.
They come in a classy bottle, and everything is organic and/or grass-fed (I'm
surprised that it isn't packaged in organic glass with grass-fed labels).
The texture is thick and slow and smooth, and there's just a hint of the tang of
real yogurt. The flavors are subtle -- none of that habitual American smack-you-in-the-face hyper-flavor that always wins the taste tests but then gets
sickening when you have more than a sample.
Fresh Market's dairy section carries two flavors -- Wildberry and Orchard
Medley -- and both are superb. My only complaint is that the yogurt is so
thick that it clings to the sides of the bottle and I couldn't figure out a way to
get it all out of the bottle or out of the glass! There's a limit to how long I can
stand there holding the bottle while the last dregs drip slowly out.
You can also order even more flavors of the yogurt online, at
http://www.traderspointcreamerystore.com/. Of course, you'll be paying for
overnight delivery -- you don't want these perishable products stuck on a slow
This is the real thing, folks, and I just can't get enough of it.