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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 years.

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 both work.

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 unforgettably good.

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 bad.

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 that movie.

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 many years.

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 review.

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 story.

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 Drugstore.com.

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 cups.

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 seeps out.

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 truck somewhere.

This is the real thing, folks, and I just can't get enough of it.


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