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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 10, 2011

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


In Time, Cool Touch

Tell the truth now. Did you ever wish you could hear a whole community of Eskimos perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah?

Me neither.

The good news is, the Eskimos, apparently aware that they weren't quite the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, did not sing the chorus. Instead, they held up signs, Burma Shave style, that showed the words of the song, while somebody else sang it.

Then someone edited the scenes together, so that you get just about the snowiest, sweetest visual performance of the Hallelujah Chorus ever.

Ignore the spot where they misunderstood and put the word "world" where "Lord" should have been. ("The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.")

What matters are those beaming faces and the fact that somebody thought of doing this, and the whole group decided to do it, and then it ended up on YouTube with half a million hits.

*

I'm so bummed. Last week, having noticed that Asiano Restaurant had been replaced by something called Aztec Dragon, I took my family to check it out.

Turns out it was the same people who ran Asiano, only they took advantage of their Mexican chef's vision of gourmet Mexican food and remade the menu with true Pacific Fusion cuisine.

Pacific Fusion usually means some combination of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Polynesian, and Californian cuisines. I've never seen anybody include Mexican food -- though Mexico is every bit as "Pacific" as any of the others.

Well, Aztec Dragon did an absolutely brilliant job. In fact, the Mexican parts of the menu were so good that they immediately made this the best Mexican food in Greensboro. Add this to Asiano's already wonderful Asian dishes, and we were in heaven. We couldn't wait to gather friends and come back.

Then, this past Tuesday night, my wife and I decided to go back to Aztec Dragon after a meeting that ended at 8:30. Imagine our dismay to discover that the parking lot was empty, the restaurant dark.

Apparently, between last week and this week, the management decided that the restaurant would only be open for parties and groups.

I won't even speculate as to why they've cut back so drastically. Let's just say that I can't imagine how anybody can discover the restaurant if it isn't open. If you haven't tasted this excellent food, then you're hardly going to commit to taking a large group or holding a party at the restaurant!

Usually great restaurants wait until after I've raved about them to close their doors. Will Aztec Dragon, after I ate there a single time, join the roster of deeply-missed restaurants? I think of Le Rendezvous, with its unforgettable Parmentier; 223, with the most brilliant collection of salads ever; and a dozen favorites in other cities, whose offerings I'll never taste again.

Well, as long as it's still possible to book Aztec Dragon for special events, I think I'm going to splurge and have a party there. At least my friends will know what I'm in culinary mourning for.

*

I think that Kleenex has finally got it right. After years of trying variations on their theme -- tissues with aloe, tissues that feel extra soft, tissues with antibiotics -- they have created a facial tissue (aka "nosewipe") that won't tear your skin apart as you fight your way through a cold.

The new product is called Kleenex Cool Touch, and it really does feel cool when you pull it out of the box.

More to the point, it feels good when you blow your nose.

I was in Kerr Drugs at Cornwallis and Lawndale, picking up my Pradaxa prescription (my blood is now so thin you could use it to dilute water), when I saw a display that didn't just talk about Cool Touch tissues, it offered some for me to try.

So I tried it, and I was blown away. Or, rather, what I wanted to blow away was blown away, and the tissue felt good.

I bought four boxes on the spot.

Then, just to help me with this review, the very day after I bought my first box of Cool Touch tissues, my wife thoughtfully got sick and now vouches for the fact that these tissues are a blessed relief.

If you have mucus flowing out of your nose, or you repeatedly blow it out of your nose and prefer to have it go into a tissue rather than, say, your clothes or the people near you, then there's simply no rational excuse for buying any other kind of tissue.

And Kimberly-Clark, the Kleenex people, believe in their product so much, and are so serious about converting everybody to using it, that they are giving free samples. Even if you can't get to the display at Kerr Pharmacy, you can go online to https://www.kleenex.com/softnessworthsharing/home/cooltouch. Their Send One, Get One promotion lets you send a sample to somebody else -- and get one for your own use, too.

But you can trust me. Buy a box of it. Try it. You'll thank me, at least the first time you use these tissues to get you through a cold.

*

Isn't it about time that conservatives and moderates in Greensboro got organized the way liberals are? It is incredible that the liberals won this election after forcing all of us to pay much more for our garbage service than we need to, and all to benefit people who knew they were buying houses near a landfill -- which is why their houses cost so little to buy in the first place.

That kind of special legislation to benefit a tiny group of favored people is precisely what we call "corrupt" when the group that is benefited is rich insiders. But apparently it's not corrupt when they can cast themselves as "victims," even if they selected themselves for victimhood. We could have condemned and bought all their houses for far less than we'll end up paying for landfill services at remote locations. That's what a fiscally responsible government would have done.

Instead, we'll have two more years of people "doing good" for a select group of their friends, using our money.

If you didn't vote, you've got no right to complain. I voted, so I can say it: Ick!

Let this be a warning to you about the presidential and congressional elections next year. When you're not looking, when you get complacent, thinking that the times are moving in your direction, somebody comes along and sneaks an election out from under you -- because they cared enough to get organized and get out the vote, and you didn't.

Mary Rakestraw, you're the best I've seen in local government in the nearly twenty-nine years I've lived in Greensboro -- intelligent, hard-working, compassionate, principled, unbullyable. Take the lead in this, and I'll support you any way I can in getting a permanent organization -- a PAC, a get-out-the-vote crew -- to support fiscally responsible government that doesn't let a handful of whiners rob us all.

*

There's a reason why I don't like most sci-fi movies. Written sci-fi has two huge advantages over the movies.

First, we sci-fi writers have time to explain things, to justify the odd things about the strange new world we're creating. In film, every moment of screen time is not just expensive, it's also got to be part of the forward momentum of the story. It's hard to get enough explanation into the film to let things make sense.

Second, we sci-fi writers don't actually have to show anything. I know, that usually works to the advantage of the film people. But things that sound cool in a book or short story look pretty silly when you actually have to bring them to life on the screen.

Think of Quidditch. Sounded cool in the Harry Potter books, didn't it! But when you actually had to look at human beings supposedly riding on broomsticks, wasn't it both boring and stupid? Boring because who cares what happens in an imaginary sport with the most ludicrous rules ever; stupid because you can't sit on a broomstick. Get real -- there is no underwear that can make broomstick-riding anything other than excruciating and unsafe. There's a reason why bicycles have seats instead of forcing us to sit on the metal tube of the frame!

This all brings me to the movie In Time, which is both awful and quite wonderful at the same time.

There are so many ways that it's awful. The fundamental idea is utterly unbelievable. The whole world has apparently converted over to a health-care system that lets people stop aging at 25, so that whatever you're like at that age, you'll be forever.

However, this would fill up the whole planet with people -- we have to have a nice steady death rate to make room for babies and such. So at age 25, you're given exactly one year to live. In order to live longer, you have to earn more hours and days of life.

So instead of some arbitrary coinage, which is a mere medium of exchange, for some reason people have switched over to using days and hours as money.

There is simply no way that any rational human being would ever allow such a thing to happen. Money is simply too convenient, in part because, when you run out of it, you're not automatically dead. You can hang around long enough to borrow money from relatives and friends, or beg on the streets, or apply for welfare, or do some quick labor to earn more.

Why would you ever consent to replacing money with a little ticker on your arm that records how much time you have left before you die, and if you ever run out of time, your heart will simply stop, and that's it, you're toast, no calls to 9-1-1, no CPR.

Not only that, but the time of your life is pathetically easy to steal -- thieves only have to put their wrist by yours and suck out the time. So every robbery becomes a murder.

We would never go there. It could never happen.

Plus, the little LED numbers on your wrist that display how much time you have left are so deeply unbelievable that I had to laugh when I first saw them. Oh, really? How did these things get implanted? Why do parents allow their babies to have such things installed?

For that matter, why aren't there substantial numbers of people in the world who have opted out of the system? Where are the nations of refuseniks? Do you think Muslim countries would ever consent to this? It's so unbelievable that ...

That you just shake your head and go on watching. It's like Johnny Carson always said: Buy the premise, buy the bit. That is, if you don't accept the idea that, literally, "time is money," then there's no movie. So you say, OK, if this impossible system actually existed, what then?

The movie is well designed, in a strange retro way. Most sci-fi movies try to invent futuristic styles, which always look stupid, for the excellent reason that unfamiliar fashions, be definition, look stupid. So the designers went for a retro look -- this could all be 1970 for the cars and architecture, Punk Generation crossed with Clockwork Orange and Communist chic for the fashion.

So it looks strange but acceptable. We can watch without ridiculing every moment. The cool people look cool.

Within that context, it's not a bad story. Since the premise and the general story movement and style are all ripped off from Harlan Ellison's brilliant short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," it should be pretty good.

Writer/director Andrew Niccol is pretty good. He wrote and directed Gattaca, in which he managed to write dialogue that actors could actually say. His script for The Truman Show was a good one -- it was Jim Carrey's complete misunderstanding of the part that wrecked the movie. So it's no surprise that actors are able to bring this off with decent believability.

There is one truly awful moment, where the hero's mother dies. Staged like an old cigarette commercial, with mother and son -- both looking about 30 years old, remember, and movie-star beautiful because it's a movie -- running toward each other, the moment of death could have been effective.

Except that Niccol made a beginner's mistake: He wrote that Justin Timberlake, holding his mother's dead body in his arms, had to sob.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Don't you know anything, Mr. Niccol? Well, apparently not. When you want the audience to be sad, you don't make the actors sad. You make the characters go through a really sad experience, and then you have them show nothing at all, and let the audience do the feeling for them.

If Justin Timberlake had simply held his mother, looking dead-eyed and despairing, we might have had some emotion. Instead, Niccol forced the poor actor -- and Timberlake is not a bad actor, just not a particularly good one -- to bow his body over the corpse of his mother and sob. At least he didn't make us look at his face squeezing out a tear.

But the emotional display was so forced, so wrong for the moment (has Niccol ever seen a man respond to the sudden death of a loved one? I didn't think so), that the person I was seeing the movie with laughed out loud.

That's what happens when you push an audience to feel more emotion than you've earned. We had no investment in this relationship. We were barely buying the premise at this point in the movie; there was no way we were going to get all teary-eyed over people we hardly knew.

Especially since the build-up was so faked-up. You know, like the LED lights counting down the time till the bomb goes off. You know, as an experienced movie-goer, that the number will go almost to zero before somebody gets saved. Or, of course, it will get to zero and bad stuff will happen.

But please: enough with the ticking clock! Enough! Stop! If any more movies show us any more damn ticking clocks all the people who worked on those movies should be banned from the business forever!

Well, such drastic action isn't really necessary. Because the ticking clock doesn't work anymore. It's already a complete failure. The moment we see countdowns or clocks we in the audience get a tired feeling and think, yeah yeah yeah, there's a time limit, and instead of getting more tense with each new view of the clock (which always takes ten times as long to get to zero as the clock says it's taking), we just get more impatient.

Impatience is not the goal, folks. But that's what ticking clocks now achieve. We're no longer thinking "Oh, hurry, you've only got a minute left! Will they make it?" We're thinking, "Get on with it already, skip to zero, do what you're going to do and put us out of our misery!"

So those little LED lights on the characters' arms had the opposite effect from what Niccol intended. As they ran toward each other, the mother nearing zero while the son has all kinds of time to give her if they can only reach each other in time, we're actually thinking: Die. Or don't die. Just do it and move on.

OK, that's the awful stuff. And it's pretty awful.

But apart from that, I actually enjoyed the movie in a dumb-fun, watch-this-at-home-while-cross-stitching kind of way. Justin Timberlake isn't going to be Oscar-nominated anytime soon, but he's a likeable guy and delivers natural lines naturally, which is harder to do than you think.

Both parts are hard, actually -- writing natural lines, and then saying them naturally. Niccol gave him the lines, Timberlake said them, and it mostly worked. Amanda Seyfried as the love interest got past her wide-eyed moppet look and did a pretty cool job.

But the movie is absolutely stolen -- and saved -- by Cillian Murphy as Inspecter Javert. Oops, I mean as The Ticktockman. No, no, I mean as "Raymond Leon," the time cop who relentlessly hunts down the hero for stealing time (which, by the way, he's completely innocent of doing, at least at first).

Looking like a perpetually menacing Christopher Reeve, Cillian Murphy has such fire and life in him that he dazzles us even when he's trapped in completely vile movies (which this one is not).

Look, this doesn't even try to be a great movie, but it does aspire to be interesting, and it achieves that.

If you don't take it seriously as predictive science fiction, but instead take it as more of a timeless fable, a literalizing of metaphor, it's a pretty good anti-capitalist movie. Way more effective than the clowns who occupy Wall Street instead of actually accomplishing something with their lives.

There's a lot to hate about capitalism, unless you're comparing it to socialism or communism or cronyism or oligarchy. And it's good to have a movie that finds a vivid way of pointing out the fundamental unfairness and instability of systems that allow a few rapacious people to amass ridiculous wealth, out of all proportion to their actual contribution to the system.

The trouble is that in all of human history, that's a pretty good description of all economic systems. Because it's human nature to amass wealth if you can, while most people barely keep their heads above water.

What people keep missing is the fact that the tightly-regulated capitalism of the past sixty years or so has created the least unfair economic system in the history of the human race. The right wing refuses to see that the tight regulation is an essential component of the general prosperity; the left wing refuses to see that the incentive of disproportionate gain is also an essential component. Both sides miss the fact that if either side got its way completely, we'd be back to generalized misery in no time.

But if you've ever been one of the people who can't get ahead no matter how hard you work, no matter how well you follow the rules, while people that you know are cheaters and thieves end up at the top of the heap (Hi, Bill Gates!), this movie is going to resonate with you.

Not because this time-as-money idea could ever be literally true. Rather it's because it's already metaphorically true. And even though it's not the whole truth, it's some of the truth, and so the movie feels a little bit smart underneath all the dumb stuff, and a little bit good underneath all the bad stuff.

In other words. I didn't want my money back. I didn't want my couple-of-hours back. I had a good time. Take that as a thumbs-up. I think.


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