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