Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 18, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
NC's Prying Tax Men, Date Night
North Carolina's Department of Revenue (NCDoR) is trying to force
Amazon.com to report to them on every single purchase you have ever made
Our state's tax people are demanding that Amazon turn over your name, your
address, and identify every single item you have bought through Amazon.
Amazon.com already reports to the NCDoR on all the items sold to customers
in North Carolina. The only thing new about this is that our state government
is demanding your personal identity information in connection with all these
Amazon is now suing in federal court to prevent the NCDoR from getting that
personal information, citing your -- and Amazon's -- first amendment rights.
Personally, I think that it's absurd for one state to be able to demand tax
money for items I purchase by mail, telephone, or internet from another state.
If North Carolina is jealous of all the revenue that's flowing from our state to
others, then North Carolina should adjust its tax laws to favor internet and
mail commerce so that top etailers will have an incentive to locate here.
It's called competition.
When we try to get companies to locate here, we give them ridiculous tax
breaks. But we don't do something as insane as trying to tax corporations for
not locating here.
Are we slaves, here in North Carolina? Does our state government own every
dollar we make, so that they have a right to tax us on every purchase we make,
wherever we might go to make it?
And, above all, do they have a right to know the name of every book, movie, or
music album we buy? Why do they need that information?
Amazon is suing to stop this pernicious practice. But we who live in North
Carolina have another route we can follow.
We can demand that our state legislators put an immediate stop to the
NCDoR's grab. Yes, our state needs to balance its budget -- but instead of
spying on us and taxing us on our purchases out of state, why not get the state
government to spend less?
Steve Carell and Tina Fey are the two finest comic actors working today, and
so it's no surprise that Date Night is a very funny movie. An exhausted couple
determined to bring some romantic spark back into their marriage, a few
daring moves get them caught up in a criminal enterprise that puts their lives
hilariously in danger.
Both actors are at their best when they play characters that are believable.
And the writing of Josh Klausner mostly allows them to keep their comedy
within the bounds of reality.
I can't help but compare Date Night favorably to the 1970 Neil Simon comedy
The Out of Towners. Meant as a satire of life in New York and seen through the
eyes of visitors played by Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, what ultimately
made The Out of Towners fail for me was (1) the catalog-like nature of the
comedy, where every cliche about what was wrong with New York in 1970
happened to them in a single night, and (2) the complete unlikability of Sandy
There is no unlikability problem with either Tina Fey or Steve Carell -- they are
two of the most likable actors in Hollywood, both on screen and off.
And while the comedy does depend in part on strange and terrible events piling
onto each other, what makes it work are the surprising twists and turns of the
story. This is not catalog comedy.
For instance, nothing in Date Night goes as expected when they find the couple
who really committed the crime they have been accused of. And when they
crash into a taxi while driving a "borrowed" car, the ensuing complications are
so funny I almost cried from laughing. Nobody can accuse Klausner of relying
on cliches in that sequence!
There is another movie comparison, however, which does not work in Date
Jim Cameron's 1994 spy comedy True Lies was funny, yes -- but there was one
scene so appallingly heartless and unfunny that now, years later, it makes me
think of the whole movie with distaste.
I'm speaking of the awful scene where husband Harry Tasker (Arnold
Schwarzenegger) tricks his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), into doing a
striptease. This exercise in humiliation was unnecessary and cruel, and
anybody who found it either funny or sexy seems to me to be lacking in
fundamental decency or empathy.
Date Night has a similar scene that is just as unnecessary and just as
sickening to watch. Supposedly the married couple played by Fey and Carell
have to perform a sexy dance in order to get close to the bad guy.
None of the filmmakers knew what to do with this scene. First of all, it is
unbelievably stupid: When they begin the dance they are already in the room
with the bad guy they are trying to get close to, so all they have to do is start to
deliver their message. They don't have to dance at all.
Second, the filmmakers try to eat their cake and still have it: Fey and Carell
dance ineptly in order to go for laughs, but the bad guy is still shown as
pantingly aroused by it. You can't have it both ways and maintain a shred of
Third, not everybody thinks that there's anything remotely sexy about watching
another couple go through ridiculous parodies of sexual acts. The audience for
this movie is, presumably, adults. What adult can watch this scene without
It requires that the audience have a detached attitude toward sex that is the
opposite of the sexual attitudes that allow a faithful, monogamous marriage to
be sustained over time.
Good taste is not a matter of arbitrary rules that "brave" filmmakers must
violate to maintain their artistic integrity. Good taste is simply the matter of
recognizing what audiences composed of decent people will actually find funny,
and what they will turn away from in disgust.
Maybe these filmmakers are right -- maybe people who think of sex between
married people as a private thing, not to be ridiculed in absurdly unbelievable
scenes, are now in a minority so small that it can be ignored when making a
movie whose goal is to please a paying audience.
Fortunately, the scene doesn't actually last forever (though it feels as if it's
heading that way), and the rest of the movie is wonderfully funny and
Then we run into the ridiculous rule that allows one f-word in PG-13 movies.
Date Night uses amusing paraphrases for all the other places where f-words
were thought of -- but chooses one of them as the single allowable f-word.
But, as with the stupidly offensive f-word in Julie and Julia, it was not
necessary, it was not amusing (or at least not more amusing than a substitute
would have been) and it merely showed the slavish obedience of the filmmakers
to the culture of offense.
Both Date Night and Julie and Julia proved over and over that they could be
wonderful and funny without using such crude language; so apparently they
used the word solely because it was allowed. As if it were their duty to use the
word, and our duty to hear it.
The MPAA needs to rescind that rule and ban the f-word (and its kin) entirely
from movies that are not rated R or NC-17. No movie has ever been helped in
any significant way by allowing one offensive obscenity instead of none.
I want to see Steve Carell and Tina Fey again, in movie after movie -- this is too
delicious a pairing, their styles of comedy are too well-matched, not to give us a
wealth of excellent romantic comedies or comedy-thrillers starring the two of
Think of William Powell and Myrna Loy, or Spencer Tracy and Katharine
Hepburn, or Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or even Chevy Chase and Goldie
But they are such good actors that they deserve scripts written by writers with
the taste and talent to be funny without reaching for crudity. Because crudity
quickly palls, while a comedy that never descends to it has a chance to keep
giving pleasure for many years.