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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 from them.

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 purchases.

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 Dennis's character.

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 Night's favor.

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 believability.

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 contempt?

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 inventive.

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 them.

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 Hawn.

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.

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