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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 11, 2002

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


Punch-Drunk Santa Clause

The Santa Clause 2 is really two movies -- one good, one bad.

The good movie is about how Tim Allen, as Santa, has to find a wife. The women he tries to meet don't work out -- but his son's stern principal (played by the deft and radiant Elizabeth Mitchell) ends up winning his heart.

If only the whole movie had been about these engaging characters. It would have been funny, heartwarming, and clever all the way through.

Instead, there's this other movie that keeps interrupting the good one. The bad movie is about how Santa, for reasons known only to the writers, has to leave a fake Santa behind him at the North Pole. The fake Santa turns into a sort of Castro Claus, ruling the North Pole with the help of a bunch of huge toy soldiers.

Not one moment of this plot is interesting or funny. And young children might even be a bit frightened by it.

Why was this bad movie stuck into the middle of a good one? Because at some stage of script development, some idiot in a suit said, "This storyline is too soft. We need more jeopardy. We need some edge." And because this moron was somebody whose temporary job made it so smart people had to obey him or not get paid, they came up with a plot with "edge" and "jeopardy."

To fit it in, of course, they had to cut out half of the good script. To our loss.

Sometimes I wish that instead of a "directors' cut" there could be an "audience cut."

*

I'm an Adam Sandler fan. I know this is a fact I should hide, but I am not ashamed. I think Adam Sandler is an extraordinarily talented comic actor with enormous potential. Yes, he made Little Nicky, and there's that obvious loser of an animated booger movie coming out this Christmas -- but Steve Martin made The Man with Two Brains, and Bill Murray made Scrooged. I mean, nobody's perfect.

However, I must warn you about Punch-Drunk Love.

First, let me say that I liked this movie. In a weird I-can't-believe-I'm-still-watching-this way.

But this is not, repeat not what one would normally think of as an "Adam Sandler movie." It is not one of his gentle nebbish comedies like Wedding Singer or Mr. Deeds, and it is not one of his I-can-play-dumber-than-Jerry-Lewis movies like Waterboy.

Punch-Drunk Love is, of all things, an art film.

No, not at "independent film," which might lead you to expect My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Il Postino.

I mean an art film. Somewhere between Ingmar Bergman and Being John Malkovich.

I would bet that 95% of the people who normally like Adam Sandler movies will absolutely hate this one. And I daresay that 5% of the people who normally hate Adam Sandler movies will absolutely love this one.

This is not like The Cable Guy, where Jim Carrey used up a perfectly good thriller script to prove that it takes a special kind of movie not to make him look like an embarrassingly bad actor.

This script is not a thriller. It is comedy of the absurd. And yet, in the midst of some serious weirdness, there's rather a sweet little love story -- which is primarily earned by the sweet simplicity of Adam Sandler's restrained and honest acting.

You heard me.

Don't get me wrong -- Paul Thomas Anderson is as pretentious an art-film director as you're likely to find anywhere.

But at least he didn't kill Sandler's performance -- or that of his winsome costar, Emily Watson, or the maddeningly dead-on performances of the actors playing his sisters.

So I've done my part, folks. If you want an Adam Sandler comedy, I've warned you away. But if you're open to an unusually watchable art film, then maybe I've enticed you.

*

Dumb quote of the week: After the City Council reversed itself and banned billboards on Painter Boulevard after all, City Councilor Vaughan explained to the N&R why he changed his mind: "I guess I received over 500 calls or letters or e-mails opposed to billboards, and not that many in favor."

Well, duh. When you pass an ordinance allowing billboards, are you going to get calls from people who favor billboards? No. You'll only get calls from people opposing them. People who just won don't call to complain!

If this is how our city councilors make their decisions, no wonder we have no sidewalks, no water, and a white elephant baseball stadium.

*

News from HBO: Arli$$ has been canceled! A show that long reigned as the dumbest comedy on TV, with the most repulsive characters, has finally, after five long years, been taken off the air!

Unfortunately, HBO did not replace Arli$$ until it had found an even less funny "comedy" filled with even more repulsive characters. Apparently this is a record they are grimly determined to keep.

I speak, of course, of the hideously unwatchable Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you found these characters living in your neighborhood, you'd move. If they worked for your company, you'd quit. If they lived in your house, you'd start wondering how hard it might be to buy arsenic.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is a living demonstration of the rule "Don't let writers get in front of the camera."

*

We stopped in at Cargo Kids the other night (at Friendly Center not far from Barnes & Noble). We'd never heard of the store before.

It's ostensibly a kids' furniture store -- and their merchandise looks pretty good. But it's also one of the most charmingly arranged and decorated stores I've seen. You almost want to tour the place, as if it were the Museum of Cool Stuff You Wish You'd Had in Your Bedroom When You Were a Kid

We're not talking about TV-advertised movie-tie-in toys. We're talking about an older tradition. The kind of thing that doesn't get discarded as soon as the movie is old news.

And if you stop in during the next little while, they've got a wooden "magic cube" that looks like an especially insane Rubik's Cube -- but isn't. They're giving $5 gift certificates to people who can solve it there in the store.

I didn't get the certificate. But I had fun trying.

*

You might want to take a look at The Road to Malpsychia by Joyce Milton. It's a withering account of how the completely unsubstantiated (and largely false) psychological theories of Abraham Maslow took over and continue to influence most of America's "intellectual" and educational establishment.

I know that I certainly got a dose of Maslow's "hierarchy of relative prepotency" in high school.

I remember arguing with a teacher who told us that, according to Maslow, people can't be concerned with intellectual and creative pursuits when their basic physical and emotional needs aren't met.

To which, as a high school student, I obnoxiously pointed out that there are starving people who will trade food for a book, or give up security for art, or sacrifice their lives for an abstract cause. The teacher was very angry with me. That's what always happens when you contradict somebody's religion.

Maslow's ideas are so obviously wrong, if you know anything about actual human behavior, that one has to conclude that he was living a completely sheltered life at the time he wrote them.

Apparently, points out Joyce Milton, Maslow based his concept of the ideal, "self-actualized" person on a model of "successful creative people" who shared his liberal ideas -- so that, by definition, you can't be religious or conservative and be "self-actualized."

It's also from Maslow that the ludicrous idea that "self-esteem" should be a goal of education is ultimately derived. As Milton says, Maslow didn't take into account the fact that we become truly happy and grow as people through what we do for others.

Self-esteem, in other words, can't be bestowed by teachers or parents -- it can only be earned by doing estimable deeds.

In a speech covered by C-SPAN this past weekend, Milton also talked about how ineffective -- even harmful -- "grief therapists" can be. Of course we've all seen how, after any disaster striking schools, a veritable horde of "grief therapists" descends upon our children (without bothering with such things as parental consent, I might add).

Unfortunately, what the "grief therapists" advise is often completely counterproductive. For instance, the National Institutes of Health issued a report suggesting that people who don't talk about their grief actually recover better than those who do. Why? Because talking about grief makes people avoid normal contact you, while those who don't talk about it are able to associate with other people in a normal way -- and it is that normal association that does the best job of healing.

But, say I, this is all just part of the establishment of the religion of Pseudo-science as a replacement for traditional religions. If hordes of priests and ministers descended upon the schools to dole out "grief therapy," someone would scream about separation of church and state.

Yet there is zero evidence that the so-called professional therapists are more effective than -- or even as effective as -- ministers, priests, parents, or even just talking about things with friends.

Despite the utter lack of scientific basis for the beliefs of the grief therapists -- derived as they are from philosophies made up by swamis and imams with Ph.D.s after their names -- they nevertheless use science as a justification for their ability to (a) get paid by tax money extracted from the population by force and (b) intrude in the public schools where children are required by law to be present.

And we're so proud of not having an established church ...


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