Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 9, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Iron Man 2, Cinnamon Chips, Lost Finale
Let me make one thing clear from the start: I enjoyed Iron Man 2. It was fun
I will never see it again, will never buy the DVD, but I'm glad I saw it the once.
This is in contrast with the first Iron Man, which I bought on DVD and which I
will watch again.
What's the difference? The second one had all the stuff that Hollywood
executives think made the first movie so good:
1. Robert Downey Jr.
2. Cool suits.
3. Fast pace.
4. Exciting fights.
5. Great casting.
6. Good-looking women.
7. A wealthy lifestyle, presented with irony.
But they're missing two huge elements from the first movie:
2. Coherent story.
What? No characters? What about Tony Stark (Downey)? What about Ivan
Vanko (Mickey Rourke)? What about Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Pepper
Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson)?
In the first movie, Tony Stark was given a life. In this movie, he's given toxic-looking lines moving up his body -- but not following any existing blood veins,
so it looks like somebody's erector-set project being built under his skin. He's
dying. Got that.
Also, he had a father. He felt neglected by his father. Later he finds out that
his father had high hopes for him. But we find all that out long after it would
have been interesting. By the time we get the information, it feels like formula,
plugged in to justify Stark's finding the solution to his toxic power source.
Each time we're given information about Stark, it comes right after it was
needed. If any actor but Downey were playing the part, we would detest Tony
Stark before finding out why he behaves in such repulsive ways. The character
is coasting on Downey's talent. That's careless, lazy writing.
As for the others -- the only one that comes close to being a character (instead
of a face, a menace, a body, or a fight scene) is Mickey Rourke's Vanko. Again,
writer Justin Theroux, instead of leading with the information about Vanko
that would have made him interesting and sympathetic all along, chose to
withhold it all until later.
So if Mickey Rourke had not been so charismatic, Vanko would have been a
zero to us until way too late in the movie. The time to give us a character's
motivations is before he does the things that the motivation would explain.
This is elementary storytelling, and the exceptions are rare and hard-earned.
Be warned: The rest of this review is full of spoilers. But I cannot imagine that
it will make the slightest difference to anyone who has not seen the movie.
Because you won't actually care about any of the plot points I discuss. It's just
... stuff that happens.
So let's look at "coherent story." Nobody involved with this movie seems to
have cared at all. For instance: Stark is told by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg)
that he is essentially under house arrest. He is not allowed to leave the
compound or he will be tazed.
A few moments later, we see Stark tooling along in his sports car, clearly
disobeying that instruction. How did he get away? Nobody seems to notice
that he's out of custody. Then he goes back. Nothing happens. Finally Agent
Coulson comes back and they mention that Stark violated the perimeter -- but
again, it's no big deal, because Coulson has been reassigned.
Only after the end credits do we get the snippet of scene that shows us why
Coulson even exists in this movie: to set up another Marvel-Comics-based
I know that comics fans love to fit together the whole "Marvel Universe." But
this is a movie. Whatever they take screen time to show us is supposed to
amount to something in this movie. Instead, the whole Coulson storyline is
Likewise: What does Scarlett Johansson's character actually do? She ends up
having no relationship with anybody. She's merely intriguing and enigmatic
while showing no emotion whatsoever (Johansson's specialty as an actor) and
she has one long, long, long fight scene, whose entire point is to get her into
Vanko's headquarters in time to reboot Don Cheadle's Iron-Man suit.
She does nothing else in the entire movie, after consuming enormous amounts
of screen time. Nobody's personal life changes because she's there. She has
no relationship with anybody.
And Don Cheadle as James Rhodes -- he's there because the Iron Man comics
mythos requires his presence. But instead of giving him a real relationship
with Stark -- a friendship -- he exists only in a quasi-parental role, trying to
make Stark behave.
Until the climax of the film, where his suit is taken over by Vanko, Rhodes does
only one thing: He has a big fight with Stark in which each of them wears an
Iron Man suit. Supposedly Stark is so drunk he can hardly stand up -- but
there isn't the slightest hint of drunkenness in his movements in the fight.
Supposedly both Stark and Rhodes are good guys -- but they carry on their
fight surrounded by party guests, putting them all in serious danger.
And at the end of the fight, when Rhodes gets away with the suit, we are
almost immediately told that Stark could have stopped him with a simple
override of the suit's commands. In other words, Stark could have prevented
the fight in the first place, and could have let him take the suit without a fight.
What was the fight for? Perhaps one might make the case that Stark wanted
the government to think he didn't want them to have the suit when he really
did. Except that this possible explanation amounts to nothing in the story.
The reason Rhodes and Stark fight is so that there can be a cool fight between
two Iron Man suits. Period. There is nothing at stake. It's like a car chase
where, at the end, the winner and loser drive off and later get together for
beers. You have to wonder: What was that all about?
So ... yes, Iron Man is a fun popcorn movie, I'm glad I saw it, and I don't mind
that they got some money from me.
But it's completely empty. It's about nothing at all. If there's never another
Iron Man movie, I won't care, because there was nothing at stake and nobody to
Iron Man could have been a brilliant franchise. But these filmmakers decided
to settle for "good enough" -- good enough to make a huge splash for the
opening weekend. But not good enough to live on in your memory as a great
If you cook, and you care about having the finest ingredients, you probably
already know about King Arthur Flour.
We're talking about a wide variety of seriously high-quality flavorings,
seasonings, flours, sugars, chocolates, yeasts -- and mixes so you can make
practically anything without having to acquire the ingredients separately.
They also have serious advice and instructions on making really hard-to-bake
But you don't have to be a chef-in-the-making to use this website, because
they have one thing I haven't seen anywhere else: cinnamon chips.
And here's why they matter to me: I have a person in my family who hates
chocolate. Hates the sight of it, the smell of it, the knowledge that it exists.
She doesn't hate the taste of it, because she's never tasted it in her life. From
earliest childhood on, she simply rejected it.
But my wife and I are chocolate addicts. (My wife proudly wears a t-shirt that
sees "Will sell husband for chocolate" and people laugh as if she were joking.)
I used to bake chocolate chip cookies all the time. It was almost a religious
ritual -- caramelizing the sugars first; using mini-chips, and fewer of them by
far than the recipe calls for.
But how can I spend hours making chocolate chip cookies when by their very
nature they exclude one-third of the people who live in our house?
That's where cinnamon chips kick in. We make chocolate chip cookies, using
the normal Nestle's Toll House cooky recipe, only we substitute cinnamon
chips for the chocolate.
Here's the surprise: Cinnamon chip cookies are better.
It's like blending snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies into one perfect
cooky. I didn't miss the chocolate, not a bit. I also didn't miss the work of
rolling the snickerdoodle dough balls in the cinnamon-sugar mix.
That may not be how you feel about it, of course -- it's just a matter of
preference -- but hey, for $6.95 plus shipping, a 16-ounce package of
cinnamon mini baking chips might introduce you to a whole new world of
During these last weeks of new episodes of Lost, as we come close to winding
up the whole series, a few hundred true fans are gathering at the Carousel
Theater to watch them all on the big screen.
The Carousel isn't charging any money (though if you bought refreshments
from them it would be a nice gesture, like a collection plate with calories). With
the cooperation of the TV station ABC-45, it's like having a party every week.
Well, the Lost party to end all Lost parties -- literally -- will take place at the
Carousel on Sunday, May 23rd. They've been using a medium-size theater for
the earlier showings, but that night they're using their biggest auditorium and
brightest projector, so there'll be room for 300 fans, seeing the final episode of
Lost on an epic scale.
ABC-45 is contributing Lost door prizes. Not only that, but soda and popcorn
will be only $1.50 each. High-priced concessions are the lifeblood of movie
theaters -- and the Carousel is forgoing that profit! This smacks of generosity.
This suggests that the management of the Carousel loves Lost and just wants
to have a great party.
They'll be showing the two-hour recap that starts at 7:00 p.m., for those who
lost track of the series somewhere along the way, or who can't hold all the plot
threads in their memory at the same time. So my personal prediction is that if
you don't show up until 9:00 p.m., when the actual final episode starts, you'll
probably find the very best seats gone. But hey, with a screen that size, there
are no bad seats.
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thursday, May 13 -- "My Guy" Day
Mary Wells, Motown's first big star, was born on this day in 1943."My Guy" was her
Friday, May 14 -- founding of Jamestown
Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the territory that would
become the United States of America, was established on this day in 1607.
In 1804, the Lewis & Clark Expedition set forth on this day with the charge from President
Thomas Jefferson to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. Captain Meriwether Lewis and
Lieutenant William Clark left St. Louis, Missouri, with a "33-member group skilled in botany,
zoology, outdoor survival and other scientific skills." They arrived at the Pacific coast of
Oregon in November 1805.
Saturday, May 15 -- Oz Day
Lyman Frank Baum, the American newspaperman who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
was born on this day in 1856.
Sunday, May 16 -- Biographers Day
In 1929, the first Academy Awards were given, with Best Picture bestowed on the silent
On this day in 1763, in London, England, James Boswell met Samuel Johnson for the first
time, beginning history's most famous biographer-biographee relationship. "Boswell's Life of
Johnson" was notable for also beginning the tradition of biography in which the biographer
spends as much time on stage as his subject.
At least everybody who knew Johnson confirmed that Boswell really did spend as much time
with Johnson as he claimed. Stephen Ambrose, the late excellent writer and, alas, plagiarist and
faker, has recently been revealed to have spent, not the hundreds of hours he claimed to have
spent interviewing frequent subject President Dwight David Eisenhower, but about five,
rendering it highly unbelievable that any substantial number of his "quotations" from
Eisenhower on a vast number of unrelated topics is genuine. At least we fiction writers admit we
make up our stuff.
This is recommended as a day to starting reading or writing a biography. But I recommend
that instead, you use it as a day to start writing the kind of material about yourself that a
biographer would be thrilled to have. Instead of trying to write your whole life in a memoir or
autobiography, just jot down particular memories -- everything about a certain subject that
comes to mind. Don't worry about dates or names if they don't instantly come to mind -- that's
what can bog you down or stop you cold.
For instance, pick a house you lived in and start remembering different rooms and what
happened in them and the objects they contained. Or pick something you owned -- a particular
bicycle -- and write down places you went and people you rode with. Include the date when
you wrote these jottings, and put them in a box or a file folder. Or post them online in a
Memory Blog. If you do this consistently, pretty soon you'll have an amazing amount of your
life recorded for your grandchildren and their grandchildren to enjoy and learn from.
Monday, May 17 -- Wall Street Day
The New York Stock Exchange was founded on this date in 1792. Commemorate it by
putting a hundred dollars in a sock in your drawer.
National Backyard Games Week begins. Get out that croquet set! Or just line up the
neighbors and play a game of Red Light Green Light or Mother May I. I'm not talking about the
kids, I'm talking about the adults. You can still do it.
Tuesday, May 18 -- International Museum Day
Visit Your Relatives Day. But call ahead. And bring food or take them out to dinner --
don't make them dread next Visit Your Relatives Day.
Frank Capra was born on this day in 1897. Arguably the best director who ever lived (far
more important to American culture than narcissists like Orson Welles), Capra won three Oscars
for Best Director, for It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can't Take It
with You. But his favorite film was It's a Wonderful Life.
And as long as you're picking from among Capra movies to watch, don't forget classics like
A Hole in the Head, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lost Horizon, and
Meet John Doe. His greatness came in part from a commitment to stories that featured the
common man, and in many of his films the minor characters are as memorable as the stars.
He was the first director to get -- and deserve -- his name above the title. Which inspired
the title of his highly entertaining autobiography, The Name Above the Title -- it's well worth
Wednesday, May 19 -- Go Home to Tara Day
Margaret Mitchell's brilliant and moving novel Gone With the Wind was published on this
day in 1936. This serious and ironic historical novel won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book
Award, though people today have the foolish idea that it was a "romance novel." It also sold
about a billion copies* and is going strong. Oh, yeah, they also made it into a movie.